The Secret Life of Pets

For F*** Magazine

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

Director : Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Cast : Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Albert Brooks, Tara Strong
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1 hr 31 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG

The Secret Life of Pets posterDouble lives make for inherently intriguing storytelling: from the playboy/vigilante to the Wall Street stockbroker/serial killer to the electronics salesman/superspy, we can’t get enough of them. This animated film sheds light on what pets get up to when their owners head out to work. Naturally, it’s not quite as dramatic as the above examples.

Max (C.K.) is a Jack Russell terrier who is completely devoted to his owner Katie (Kemper). His idyllic existence is upended when Katie brings home a new dog, the shaggy mongrel Duke (Stonestreet). Upset that he is no longer the sole beneficiary of Katie’s affection, Max plots to get Duke kicked out of the house. The two get into an altercation and get lost, running into a gang known as the “Flushed Pets”. These unceremoniously abandoned animals are led by the psychotic rabbit Snowball (Hart), who has vowed vengeance against all humans. Gidget (Slate), a Pomeranian who has been nursing a crush on Max, leads a group of their friends to search for and rescue Max and Duke. The group includes aloof tabby cat Chloe (Bell), geriatric basset hound Pops (Carvey) and Tiberius (Brooks), a red-tailed hawk who has to keep his killer instincts in check. An odyssey through New York ensues, as Max and Duke have to put aside their differences and try to make it home.

The Secret Life of Pets Duke, Katie and Max

The Secret Life of Pets is directed by Chris Renaud, who helmed the Despicable Me movies, and Yarrow Cheney, who was the production designer for them. Animation studio Illumination Entertainment is on a roll, with The Secret Life of Pets now a worldwide box office hit. The bits and pieces that have been cobbled together from other films are clearly evident and have been frequently pointed out: Max’s resentment of Duke echoes Woody’s jealousy when Buzz Lightyear enters Andy’s playroom in Toy Story and the story of stranded pets finding a way back to their owners is reminiscent of Homeward Bound.

The Secret Life of Pets Chloe, Max and Mel

While it isn’t exactly original, the film is energetic and vibrant and remains engaging throughout. The animation isn’t a dizzying sensory overload, and the design of New York City is just heightened enough while still being recognisable. Composer Alexandre Desplat channels George Gershwin with a breezy, jazzy score. Inventive moments of physical humour are showcased during several intricately choreographed set pieces, including a skirmish in which Max and Duke are bounced about between multiple clotheslines and when Buddy (Buresss), a dachshund, navigates a fire escape. While there are obvious jokes about bodily functions, The Secret Life of Pets does hit a few balls in the direction of the parents in the audience. “For me, every breath is a cliff-hanger,” the elderly Pops wheezes. Elsewhere, there’s a reference to the gentrification of Brooklyn. It’s the right shade of ‘adult’. A hallucination sequence in which Sausage Party seems to have invaded this film is more miss than hit, though. It’s not razor-sharp wit, but this reviewer laughed more often than not.

The Secret Life of Pets Chloe, Mel, Buddy, Tiberius, Gidget and Sweet Pea

This film marks C.K.’s first voice role. Cynicism and wry, world-weary observation is very much built into C.K.’s persona as a comedian – as such, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised at how convincing he sounds as an earnest, enthusiastic Jack Russell terrier. The conflict between Max and Duke is efficiently established and predictably enough, they have a few bonding moments along the way, eventually reaching inevitable that “hey, you’re not so bad” point. Stonestreet is a good choice for the loveable big lug, who isn’t as dim-witted as one might expect. Yes, we’re guilty of judging books by their covers.

The Secret Life of Pets Snowball and friends

Speaking of going off appearances, a lot of the humour in The Secret Life of Pets is derived from first impressions being deceiving. There’s the refined poodle who head-bangs to System of a Down’s Bounce, and of course there’s Snowball. Hart does a lot of manic yelling, and while it’s not a bad concept for the primary antagonist, the character’s drastic change of h(e)art towards the film’s conclusion is difficult to buy. As it stands, Snowball is not much more than a less esoteric Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, left, and Max, voiced by Louis C.K., appear in a scene from, "The Secret Lives of Pets." (Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures via AP)

Slate’s distinctive raspy tones sound very apt emanating from a Pomeranian, and the character’s determination to rescue her beloved Max is endearing. Brooks, voicing a very different animated character from Marlin in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, gets some of the film’s funniest moments. Tiberius is a lonely hawk cooped up in a cage whose nature as a predator gets in the way of him making any friends, and it’s always fun to see a kids’ film with talking animals actually acknowledge the fact that animals eat other animals, while giving the carnivore in question some redeeming features. Bell’s cool indifference as Chloe the cat is an amusing counterpoint to the overall enthusiasm expressed by the various dogs.

The Secret Life of Pets gnarly cats

            We’ve avoided this comparison for this long, so here goes: The Secret Life of Pets can’t match the warmth and profundity of Pixar’s best works, but it’s still sufficiently moving and entertaining, with quality animation work making it a visual treat. Oops, we said “treat” out loud. No, sit, sit!

Summary: Thanks to a funny, talented voice cast and eye-catching animation, The Secret Life of Pets is good fun in spite of its familiar aspects.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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War Dogs

For F*** Magazine

WAR DOGS 

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast :  Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, J.B. Blanc, Bradley Cooper, Barry Livingston, Kevin Pollak
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 54 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Drug Use)

War Dogs posterWar, what is it good for? If you play your cards right, raking in the dough. It’s 2005, and the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan is in full swing. David Packouz (Teller) is a directionless twenty-something living in Miami, reluctantly working as a massage therapist. When his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill) shows back up in town for a mutual friend’s funeral, the two do some catching up. It turns out that Efraim has founded AEY Inc., an arms dealership, and has managed to secure several contracts supplying weapons and other equipment to the U.S. government. David goes behind the back of his pregnant girlfriend Iz (de Armas), who is against the war, and goes into business with Efraim. The pair soon find themselves in way over their heads, travelling to Jordan, Iraq and Albania as they chase lucrative deals. Is it just a matter of time before the dog that is success turns around to bite them?

War Dogs is based on Guy Lawson’s Rolling Stone article Arms and the Dudes, which he expanded into a book. Screenwriter Stephen Chin called on his own experience, having travelled to Iraq while trying to buy the rights to the story of two American businessmen who were setting up a radio station there. With War Dogs, director Todd Phillips of the Hangover trilogy fame faces the challenge of making the audience root for inherently unlikeable characters. Both Efraim and David idolize Tony Montana, with a huge poster of the Scarface protagonist decorating their office. They’re simultaneously scrappy underdogs and shady wheeler-dealers. Multiple artistic liberties are taken in the name of making things more exciting, and Alex Podrizki, the third partner, doesn’t feature in the film at all. That said, it does feel like the audience is getting a peek behind the curtain of a world most of us know nothing about. The technicalities of how Efraim and David go about their business are explained clearly enough without being too dry.

War Dogs Miles Teller and Jonah Hill 1

The narrative conceit is that David is the strait-laced one while Efraim is the brash go-getter, and as such, David is our way in and is the narrator of the story. It might actually be that way in real life, but it definitely seems like character traits have been greatly exaggerated to keep things interesting. Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were initially considered for the lead roles, presumably Eisenberg for David and LaBeouf for Efraim. Instead, we have Teller and Hill. The two generate watchable buddy chemistry, and there’s an undercurrent of tension because we know it’s somehow all going to implode in the end.

Few can play dazed and confused like Teller, who for most of the film, is unwittingly being strung along. Of the two main characters, David is ostensibly closer to the traditional ideal of a movie hero, and the real David Packouz has a cameo as a singer at a nursing home. The real Efraim Diveroli wanted nothing to do with the movie. It makes sense that Teller is given the lower-key role, with Hill having the time of his life playing a character who is as boorish as he is savvy. Hill doesn’t have to be endearing or charming, and he steals the show with much gusto on multiple occasions. As expected, de Armas is relegated to the playing the stock nagging girlfriend who actually has a point, but is mainly in the movie to look pretty, since the two male leads don’t.

War Dogs Miles Teller, Ana de Armas and Jonah Hill

The world of “grey market” arms dealing offers plenty of dramatic storytelling possibilities, with room for sanctimonious finger-wagging as well – the compelling Lord of War comes to mind. Phillips tries to play down the seriousness of the subject matter, instead playing up the goofy absurdity of the premise. Just as Efraim and David find themselves in over their heads, it seems Phillips does as well, since the consequences here are graver than any of the mishaps that befell the Hangover Wolfpack. Speaking of those guys, Bradley Cooper makes a brief but memorable appearance as a notorious gun runner. Also, celebrity poker player and infamous playboy Dan Bilzerian cameos as himself. It seems the kind of people who idolize Bilzerian are exactly the target audience for this film.

War Dogs Jonah Hill, Miles Teller and Bradley Cooper

War Dogs mostly steers away from insightful satire, instead taking the “have your cake and eat it too” tack of glamourizing its subjects while also mocking them. It’s inevitable that impressionable younger viewers will aspire to be just like Efraim and David: who cares if it’s moral or even legal if there’s a payday to be made? It seems the takeaway is “if these stoner dude-bros could wriggle their way into multi-million dollar contracts, why can’t I?”

War Dogs Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in Albanian arms warehouse

It is entertaining and intermittently fascinating, but it’s hard to shake the sense that Phillips’ lowbrow slacker dude comedic sensibilities might not be the best fit for the true story. Yes, there’s comedy to be mined, but diving headfirst into the can of worms and actually making a statement about the implications of war profiteering might’ve been a more worthwhile enterprise.

Summary:  War Dogs plays to the strengths of both its stars, but in playing squarely to the dude-bro demographic, it passes up the chance to be searing and impactful.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ)

For F*** Magazine

SHIN GODZILLA (シン・ゴジラ)

Director : Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuichi
Cast : Hiroki Hasegawa, Satomi Ishihara, Yuteka Takenouchi, Mansai Nomura
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 25 August 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Shin Godzilla posterThe king of monsters is coming home to roost in this reboot of the Godzilla franchise. The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line floods and collapses, as cell phone video footage of a colossal unidentified organism rising from the ocean goes viral. The Japanese cabinet calls an emergency meeting, and the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hasegawa) is put in charge of handling the unknown threat. As the government evaluates their options, Kayoko Ann Patterson (Ishihara), the Special Envoy for the President of the United States and the daughter of a U.S. senator, enters the fray. Kayoko reveals that a disgraced zoology professor named Goro Maki had been studying the creature in secret, naming it “Godzilla”. As Japan is engulfed the chaos the monster leaves in its wake, Yaguchi and his team have to devise a way to neutralize Godzilla, and time is not on their side.

Shin Godzilla Godzilla 1

It’s perfectly understandable that purists aren’t fans of Hollywood’s Godzilla movies, not even the decently-received 2014 film. The title ‘Shin Godzilla’ roughly translates to ‘true Godzilla’, as in “those other versions are false”. It’s the first Japanese Godzilla movie since 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. With this film, Japanese studio Toho is starting from scratch, depicting the first emergence of the iconic kaiju in modern day Japan. Shin Godzilla is jointly helmed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuichi. Anno, who also wrote the screenplay, is famed for creating the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, while Higuichi is one of Japan’s most prolific special effects directors and is the director of the live-action Attack on Titan movies.

Shin Godzilla Godzilla vs. Helicopter

The approach here is that of a procedural – the audience is given a bird’s eye view of the protocol that unfolds in dealing with a crisis, and there are moments when the film really gets into the minutiae of dealing with a large-scale catastrophe. This works both for and against Shin Godzilla: on the one hand, this largely straight-faced nose-to-the-grindstone tack gives the inherently outlandish premise a considerable degree of real-world grounding. On the other hand, audiences go to a giant monster movie to see, well, the giant monster. Any potentially awe-inspiring spectacle is strictly secondary to planning, strategy and delegation of tasks, with the politicians and bureaucrats outnumbering the monster roughly 1000 to 1. By the end of the film, this reviewer felt he had become intimately familiar with the 5th floor of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office.

Shin Godzilla Godzilla task force huddle around laptops

Anno and Higuichi have several tricks up their sleeves when it comes to this new Godzilla’s physiology. Iconic design elements and powers that the creature is known to display are preserved, with a bit of a spin put on things. At the same time, it’s evident that these filmmakers have a love and respect for what’s come before, and fans of the classic Godzilla movies will recognise some particular music cues. Instead of the traditional man-in-a-suit technique, Godzilla is portrayed by Mansai Nomura via motion capture. There are bits of the design that we found a little awkward, chief of them being the giant unwieldy tail, and the short, skinny arms, with palms faced upward in a pose of perpetual puzzlement. While the visual effects work is spotty in parts, the destruction of Tokyo skyscrapers carries enough weight, and is far more convincing than the traditional knocking aside of miniature Styrofoam towers.

Shin Godzilla Godzilla 2

The standard “military vs. monster” conflict that is a staple of this genre is in full effect here, with oodles of hardware on show. However, Anno is careful enough in devising the story such that it doesn’t come off as totally jingoistic, and a key plot point focuses on the participation of the Americans in battling Godzilla. When the last resort of nuking Tokyo is proposed, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is brought up, but not in an emotionally manipulative manner. After all, in the original 1954 film, Godzilla himself was a metaphor for the nuclear destruction which was rained down on Japan. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown served as inspirations for this reboot. The massive toll that Godzilla’s emergence takes on Tokyo is given consequence, and the destruction doesn’t feel as hollow as in most effects-driven Hollywood disaster movies. It’s still far from subtle though: the line “man is more frightening than Godzilla” is uttered with nary a hint of irony.

Shin Godzilla Satomi Ishihara and Hiroki Hasegawa

Hasegawa’s Yaguchi is nominally our protagonist, but we don’t actually spend all that much time with him. A seemingly endless parade of officials and advisors from every branch of the government marches across the screen, and because there isn’t an everyman’s point of view, it can be difficult to get into the proceedings. Hasegawa is sympathetic and it’s easy to root for him to keep his composure under enormous pressure. Ishihara lends the ambitious and confident Kayoko a cheekiness and gives the film much of its energy, but it would have made more sense to cast a Japanese-American actress in the role, seeing as the character grew up in the United States. Ishihara noticeably struggles with the chunks of English dialogue she’s given, and admitted in a press conference that learning the lines was so frustrating that she was often on the brink of tears.

Shin Godzilla Hiromi Hasegawa and Yuteka Takenouchi

Shin Godzilla unfolds mostly in conference rooms and offices, but there’s enough momentum in the plot such that it’s interesting throughout, if not exactly riveting. As a “what if?” scenario depicting how the Japanese authorities would deal with the sudden appearance of an unidentified giant monster, Shin Godzilla is broadly plausible. It is, however, disappointingly short on satisfying thrills.

Summary: It’s politicians and bureaucrats vs. a giant monster in this intelligent and thoughtfully-crafted but not particularly exciting or affecting Godzilla reboot.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Infiltrator

For F*** Magazine

THE INFILTRATOR 

Director : Brad Furman
Cast : Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Juliet Aubrey, Yul Vasquez, Amy Ryan, Said Taghmaoui, Jason Isaacs
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 2 hrs 7 mins
Opens : 25 August 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene and Coarse Language)

The Infiltrator posterIn Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston played a ‘cook’. In this biopic, he’s mixed up with treacherous drug cartels yet again, but this time, he’s a ‘washer’. Cranston portrays Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs agent who takes on the alias “Bob Musella” to go undercover as a money launderer. Through the connections of fellow undercover agent Emir Abreu (Leguizamo), Bob is able to infiltrate the power Medellin Cartel, run by Pablo Escobar. Bob is paired with rookie agent Kathy Ertz (Kruger), who poses as his fiancée. They ingratiate themselves with high-ranking Medellin trafficker Roberto Alcaino (Bratt) and Alcaino’s wife Gloria (Elena Anaya), winning the couple’s trust. The high-risk nature of the job puts a strain on the relationship between Bob and his actual wife Evelyn (Aubrey), additionally threatening the safety of their two young children. Bob puts everything on the line as he journeys deeper down the rabbit hole, immersing himself in a world of violence and deception.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo

The real-life Robert Mazur served as a consultant on Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, and after Mann told Mazur that his own story had enormous potential as a movie, Mazur sat down to pen an autobiography. The double lives that undercover operatives lead have always been compelling to audiences. The Infiltrator is a tale of a decent man who went swimming with sharks for a living, with the danger of the prop dorsal fin coming unstuck from his back an ever-present possibility. There are moments of nail-biting tension and shocking brutality is employed with utmost effectiveness. However, director Brad Furman’s stylistic flourishes, including a marked overuse of colour filters, undermine the story’s authenticity instead of enhancing it. The screenplay by Furman’s mother Ellen Brown does hew to certain crime movie conventions, but there is a palpable sensitivity to the character interactions lying beneath the blood-soaked luridness.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston

The film rests squarely on Cranston’s shoulders, and there’s never any doubt that he can carry it all the way. He’s an actor who is immensely capable of eliciting sympathy, but can also summon an intimidating toughness that Breaking Bad fans are all too familiar with. Bob comes face-to-face with the searing ugliness at the heart of the drug trade on multiple occasions, and the way Cranston conveys Bob’s struggle to maintain his composure is harrowing. The realisation that he will have to betray people who, however ruthless, have trusted and shown kindness to him, eats away at Bob. The combination of Cranston’s performance and the circumstances in the plot mean that Bob is never just a boring hero despite his innate nobility.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo and bridesmaids

The relationship between Bob and his pretend fiancée, juxtaposed against that between Bob and his real wife, result in some moments that are overwrought and others that are quite moving. Aubrey’s Evelyn never comes off as unreasonable, and a scene in which Bob takes Evelyn out for an anniversary dinner but is recognized by a client is one of the film’s highlights. The mutual respect that forms between Bob and Kruger’s Kathy is heartfelt, and when they’re both in the trenches, they’re the only ones the other can truly seek solace in. The possibility that Bob will succumb to temptation lingers over this relationship, but it’s never played up to a manipulative extent.

The Infiltrator Benjamin Bratt and Bryan Cranston

There are too many characters to keep track of, and it’s sometimes challenging to remember who does what for whom. Bratt brings considerable charm to the role of Alcaino, nicknamed “The Jeweller”. It’s made abundantly clear that he’s a dangerous man, but when Alcaino and his wife invite Bob and Kathy to their house and treat them with such hospitality, one can’t help but dread the inevitable betrayal. Leguizamo plays the comic relief as he often does, but the wily Abreu still has an edge to him despite his jocular nature. Olympia Dukakis is a hoot when she briefly shows up as Bob’s larger-than-life Aunt Vicky, but Amy Ryan’s turn as Bob’s no-nonsense U.S. Customs boss Bonni Tischler borders on caricature.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston and cartel members

The History vs. Hollywood website has become an invaluable resource in evaluating the accuracy of movies touted as being based on true stories. A cursory look through their write-up on The Infiltrator reveals that the most explosive, intense parts of the movie, including moments when someone right next to Bob gets killed, didn’t actually occur. Nevertheless, the real-life Mazur is pleased with Cranston’s portrayal of him, and he continues to work to fight money laundering. The Infiltrator reinforces the stereotype of cartels as being as colourful as they are deadly and doesn’t provide much insight into their inner workings, but its protagonist’s perspective gives the story emotional heft.

Summary: Bryan Cranston is electrifying as he dives into Robert Mazur’s double life, but the echoes of other films and TV shows diminishes the impact of the true story.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Time Raiders (盗墓笔记)

For F*** Magazine

TIME RAIDERS (盗墓笔记)

Director : Daniel Lee
Cast : Lu Han, Jing Boran, Ma Sichun, Wang Jingchun, Vanni Corbellini, Mallika Sherawat
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 3 mins
Opens : 25 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Time Raiders posterChinese filmgoers seem to have developed a fascination with tales of intrepid archaeologists, with another fantasy adventure flick arriving to cater to them. Wu Xie (Luhan) is the proprietor of an antique store and was born into a long line of grave robbers. He’s eager to carry on the family business, despite his third uncle Wu Sanxing (Wang) insisting that it’s too dangerous. Wu Xie embarks on an expedition in search of the fabled tomb of the Snake Empress (Sherawat), a sorceress who has been lying dormant for millennia. The enigmatic and apparently immortal Zhang Qiling (Jing) joins the team, and Wu Xie finds himself drawn to this steely stranger. A gang of mercenaries led by A-Ning (Ma) is also out to find the Snake Empress’ tomb. This rival group has been sent by the mad scientist Hendrix (Corbellini), obsessed with the secret to immortality. Untold other-worldly dangers, chief of which being the Snake Empress herself, lie in wait for our heroes.

Time Raiders Luhan and Jing Boran 1

Time Raiders is based on the immensely popular novel series Daomu Biji (Grave Robbers Chronicles), written by Xu Lei and first published online. Time Raiders was a box office success in China, despite the fact that a TV show telling the same story already exists, a testament to the appeal of the source material. This reviewer is always up for a fun adventurer archaeologist tale, but Time Raiders is entirely too difficult to enjoy at all. Time Raiders is laden with the unintentional goofiness, unconvincing visual effects and general incoherence with which recent flashy Chinese fantasy blockbusters have become associated. It’s also highly derivative – there’s no doubt that the English title is intended to invoke the Tomb Raider franchise.

Time Raiders the expedition 1

The premise of a protagonist who discovers his family’s history and actively wants to be a part of that legacy has potential, but director Daniel Lee fails to convey the sense that Wu Xie is part of anything special at all. The framing device in which Wu Xie relates his story to a novelist seems quite extraneous, as do several flashbacks intended to flesh out his backstory – do we really need to see his father in the hospital corridor waiting for Wu Xie to be born? The action sequences are choreographed by Tony Leung Siu-hung of Ip Man fame and Jack Tu, the winner of a reality TV show search for Jackie Chan’s disciple. Some of the moves are fun, but the film doesn’t earn any suspension of disbelief, so the physics-defying wire-fu comes off as cheesy instead of thrilling.

Time Raiders the expedition enters the tomb

The computer-generated effects are an egregious eyesore. The climactic sequence takes place in a remarkably phony subterranean chamber outfitted with ancient clockwork contraptions, so cartoon gears end up flying all over the place as the Snake Empress attacks her unwelcome guests with CGI tendrils. On top of that, she summons an army of mutant worms, which are hilarious rather than frightening in the slightest. There are also hordes of giant spiders and cave crickets, which look like they’ve wandered out of a cutscene from a game on the PlayStation 2. It’s enough to make one yearn for the halcyon days when cinematic treasure hunters fell into pits of rubber snakes.

Time Raiders Luhan

Luhan, a former member of the Chinese/South Korean boyband EXO, has boyish charm to spare. He is however completely out of his element in this adventure flick. The character is meant to be inexperienced, but even given that, Luhan is so far away from the ideal of a rugged Indiana Jones-style explorer that it’s wont to pull one straight out of the proceedings. But yes, he looks considerably fetching in glasses, and perhaps that’s all that matters to his fanbase.

Time Raiders Jing Boran

One could argue that Jing appeals to pretty much the same demographic that Luhan does, and as such, the contrast that’s supposed to exist between the wide-eyed and bushy-tailed Wu Xie and the strong, silent, world-weary Qiling just doesn’t take hold. There’s an undeniable homoerotic subtext at play, further strengthened by the fact that neither male lead actually has a female love interest. The scenes in which Wu Xie snaps photos of Qiling looking broody bring to mind Peter Parker meekly asking Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy if he can take their pictures “for the school yearbook”.  They’re cute enough together, but their chemistry is far from explosive.

Time Raiders Ma Sichun and gang

Ma Sichun is also generally unconvincing as the stock badass chick, who commands a posse of grizzled hired guns who all look far more capable than she does. Corbellini’s vaguely Nazi villain is entirely mono-dimensional, and is yet another moustache-twirling “foreign devil” baddie in a Chinese film. There’s a scene in which Wu Xie attempts to appeal to the conscience of the mass-murderer obsessed with eternal life, which is pretty funny. Sherawat is little more than a prop here, playing what might as well be any given Tomb Raider boss.

Time Raiders Luhan and Ma Sichun

This review makes it sound like Time Raiders is a case of “so bad it’s good”, but even viewed through that lens, this movie’s appeal is strictly limited. It’s way too drawn out, the ending is needlessly confusing and the ineptitude displayed by the filmmakers is too frustrating to be really fun. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have angry Luhan fangirls to hide from.

Summary: If time is a precious resource to you, don’t give any of yours to this woefully incompetent movie.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ben-Hur (2016)

For F*** Magazine

Director : Timur Bekmambetov
Cast : Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Sofia Black D’Elia, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbæk
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 5 mins
Opens : 18 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Ben-Hur posterThe epic tale of Ben-Hur is told yet again in this, the fifth film adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel. Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) is a Jewish prince residing in Roman-occupied Jerusalem during the 1st Century A.D. Judah’s adoptive brother Messala (Kebbell) becomes an officer in the Roman army, and after Judah is falsely accused of an assassination attempt, the brothers become enemies. All that Judah holds dear, including his mother Naomi (Zurer), sister Tirzah (D’Elia) and Esther (Boniadi), a servant with whom he has fallen in love, is taken from him. After being arrested by the Romans, Judah encounters Jesus (Santoro), a carpenter who preaches compassion and love. Judah becomes a slave in the galley of a Roman vessel, and years later, has his chance for revenge against Messala. Judah trains under the wealthy Sheik Ilderim (Freeman) to become a charioteer, facing off against Messala in the arena.

Ben-Hur Jack Huston chariot race 1

The 1959 Ben-Hur film, directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston, is widely venerated as a classic of American cinema, and remaking it seems to be a fool’s errand. Sequels and remakes have proven profitable, and nothing’s off-limits, so here we are with another big-screen version of Ben-Hur. Director Timur Bekmambetov is known for favouring style over substance, coming into prominence with the Russian horror fantasy blockbusters Night Watch and Day Watch, and following that up with Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. There are still plenty of dramatic scenes, but they tend to carry little emotional weight, one getting the impression that Bekmambetov is spinning his wheels until the next big set-piece.

Ben-Hur Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston chariot racing

The action sequences in Ben-Hur are meant to be its selling point, with Bekmambetov reining in (pun intended) the indulgences he’s displayed in his other films. Alas, it seems chariot races in cinema have forever been ruined by The Phantom Menace, and this reviewer couldn’t help but be reminded of that infamous sequence, which was itself inspired by the 1959 Ben-Hur. Go-Pro camera shots, reminiscent of those that show up in modern car racing movies, detract from the sequence’s authenticity rather than enhancing it. Bekmambetov insists that he tried to shoot as much in-camera as possible, but there’s no denying the phoniness of the computer-generated effects. This is evident in the ship battles even more than in the chariot race. Despite its $100 million budget and location shooting in the historical Italian city of Matera, Ben-Hur often looks cheap.

Ben-Hur Jack Huston training

There’s definitely an attempt made at fleshing out the title character. Judah’s arc, which begins with him as an entitled nobleman ambivalent to the struggles of his countrymen, sees him put through the wringer as a slave, and concludes with him questioning his drive for vengeance at the foot of Jesus’ cross, does have its impactful moments. Huston gives it his best shot, but there’s just something about the actor which makes it difficult to buy him as a truly heroic character – it’s as if his face is always a moment or two away from scrunching up into a snarl. It makes sense that Huston was originally considered for the role of Messala. The heart-warming plot point of Judah saving and eventually being adopted by Roman warship commander Quintus Arrius is excised here.

Ben-Hur Toby Kebbell chariot racing

Thankfully, Messala is not characterised as a moustache-twirling villain, with the possibility for reconciliation between him and Judah never entirely out of the question. The film strains too hard in trying to convince audiences that the two really started out as best buds, with a friendly chariot race between the two early on that’s pretty much ripped from The Prince of Egypt. Santoro is fine as Jesus, who is given a slightly larger role here than in the 1959 film. Alas, it seems Jesus had more impact when there was an air of mystery to Him – the famous scene in which Jesus offers a parched Judah some water had considerably more impact in the 1959 version, when we only saw Jesus from behind and He didn’t say a word. In this film, Jesus’ mini-sermons seem tacked on.

Ben-Hur Rodrigo Santoro and Jack Huston

The emphasis is placed on the bond and eventual rift between Judah and Messala, leaving the rest of Judah’s relationships somewhat under-developed. There isn’t enough to the women in Judah’s life for us to care about him, with Huston and Boniadi in particular sharing little chemistry. The film’s inability to convey the passage of time is also a factor. Chyrons reading “3 years later” or “5 years later” pop up, but even when Judah sports a scraggly beard and scars from repeated flogging, it doesn’t seem like more than a few months have elapsed. As such, it’s hard to buy the desperate longing Judah has for his beloved Esther.

Ben-Hur Morgan Freeman

Freeman can always be counted on to lend some gravitas, but those dreadlocks do undercut his screen presence. While we don’t miss the brownface sported by Hugh Griffiths to play Ilderim in the 1959 version, we do miss the effusive warmth and light-heartedness he brought to the part, which is entirely absent from Freeman’s stern, serious Ilderim.

Ben-Hur Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston chariot racing 2

Ben-Hur isn’t a travesty, but it’s every bit as unnecessary as anyone thought the moment this remake was announced. This reviewer feared that any and all character development would be jettisoned for stylistically overblown action, and while the story of Judah Ben-Hur is abridged, it’s mostly intact. The film is pervaded by the feeling of going through the motions, and it’s not long before the wheels come off this chariot.

Summary: This remake is occasionally sincere but generally uninspired, its dramatic moments cheesy rather than potent and its spectacle underwhelming rather than awe-inspiring.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The BFG

For F*** Magazine

THE BFG

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Hall
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 hr 57 mins
Opens : 18 August 2016
Rating : PG

The BFG posterDuring the 90s, Wall Street securities analyst Joe Tinker stated “there are only two brand names in the business: Disney and Spielberg.” Now, these two juggernaut childhood-shapers have joined forces with The BFG. Sophie (Barnhill) is a young orphan who is spirited away to Giant Country by the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG (Rylance). The BFG catches and distributes dreams to the children of London in the dead of night. Sophie is initially fearful of the BFG, but is soon convinced that he is benign. The other giants who call Giant Country home however, are not. The man-eating giants, led by the towering Fleshlumpeater (Clement) and his sidekick Bloodbottler (Hader), bully the BFG and suspect that he might be harbouring a tasty “human bean”. Sophie decides to set up an audience for the BFG with none other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II (Wilton), so the other nasty giants can be dealt with once and for all.

The BFG Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance 1

The BFG is adapted from Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book of the same name. Steven Spielberg was once strongly associated with heart-warming escapist tales, but over the last two decades or so has turned most of his attention to prestige pictures like Lincoln and Bridge of Spies – though there’s still the occasional The Adventures of Tintin or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The BFG re-teams Spielberg with the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who penned E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; the film is dedicated to her memory. The BFG has plenty of charm, but lacks a narrative impetus, and is thus difficult to get into. Not every movie has to feature life-and-death stakes, but surely Spielberg of all people knows that a little peril can go a long way. For most of the film, Sophie is pretty much just hanging out with the BFG, and even when she’s threatened by the supposedly fearsome giants, the sense of danger just doesn’t take hold.

The BFG Mark Rylance Buckingham Palace breakfast

 

The BFG is very agreeable family entertainment, and in keeping in the “sweetness tinged with rudeness” spirit of Dahl’s writing, features what is likely the first-ever fart joke in a Spielberg movie. The performance capture work and the visual effects that integrate Sophie with the computer-generated giants are of excellent quality. Visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, whose credits include the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, Avatar, and Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is a four-time Oscar winner, after all. There is, however, a noticeable trade-off: the giants, the villainous ones in particular, can sometimes come off as cartoony, because making them too realistic would result in falling headlong into the dreaded uncanny valley. As it stands, some audience members might find the BFG creepy rather than endearing, but this reviewer isn’t among them.

The BFG Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance 2

Rylance, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn in Bridge of Spies, seems to have become Spielberg’s new favourite person: he’s already secured roles in the director’s next two films, Ready Player One and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The design of the BFG himself retains the defining features as drawn by Dahl’s regular illustrator Quentin Blake, and the performance capture approach allows for all of Rylance’s subtle expressions to shine through. The malapropisms and neologisms that pepper the BFG’s speech, as delivered by Rylance, give the character a folksy charm. He’s the absent-minded but well-meaning doddering grandfather, having taken on a larger-than-life form. The BFG also has a surprisingly tragic backstory that isn’t in the book, and as a tool for character development, it does work.

The BFG Ruby Barnhill 1

Barnhill makes for a spirited Sophie, with a dash of another Dahl protagonist, Matilda, evident in this incarnation. The interaction between Sophie and the BFG is wonderfully acted by both performers, and Barnhill’s turn is all the more impressive when one remembers there wasn’t actually a giant there for her to act against. In some ways, its reminiscent of Neel Sethi’s Mowgli from The Jungle Book earlier this year. Barnhill certainly deserves a place in the pantheon of memorable child actors from Spielberg films.

The BFG evil giants

 

While a semblance of Rylance’s features is evident in the BFG’s digitally animated face, Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler and the other markedly less friendly giants do not resemble their respective voice/performance capture actors, meaning that less of the performers’ personality comes through. Wilton moves from Downton Abbey to Buckingham Palace, and her portrayal of the Queen is amusing and affectionate without becoming too much of a caricature. As the Queen’s butler Tibbs, Rafe Spall is on fine comic form. Rebecca Hall, Spall’s co-star from the Wide Sargasso Sea TV movie, is the picture of class as the Queen’s maid Mary.

The BFG Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Penelope Wilton and Ruby Barnhill

The scenes in which the BFG carefully crafts the dreams could be seen as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Spielberg is a consummate crafter of dreams. It’s pretty to look at and composer John Williams is in full Harry Potter mode here – unfortunately, the music is pleasant but nowhere as memorable. Alas, The BFG is far from his most magical work, and we’re not sure that the typical kid’s attention span would be able to withstand its unhurried pace.

Summary: The BFG features delightful performances from its two leads, but the lack of narrative drive means it’s only intermittently engaging.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Indignation

For F*** Magazine

INDIGNATION 

Director : James Schamus
Cast : Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Danny Burstein, Linda Emond, Sonny Cottler, Ben Rosenfield, Phillip Ettinger
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1 hr 51 mins
Opens : 18 August 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Sexual Scenes)

Indignation posterPhilip Roth is considered a pre-eminent American writer, whose work centres around the Jewish-American experience. Indignation, adapted from Roth’s novel of the same name, revolves around Marcus Messner (Lerman), a Jewish college student. The son of kosher butcher Max (Burstein) and Esther (Emond), Marcus is exempted from being drafted to serve in the Korean War because he is going to college. Leaving his hometown of Newark, New Jersey for Winesburg College in Ohio, he is immediately smitten with the beguiling Olivia Hutton (Gadon), who comes from a wealthy family but who has had a troubled upbringing. After a disagreement with his roommates Bertram Flusser (Rosenfield) and Ron Foxman (Ettinger), Marcus requests a transfer to a different dorm room. When the school’s dean Hawes Caudwell (Letts) requests to see Marcus, the two butt heads, Marcus taking issue with the mandatory chapel attendance. Departing from his Jewish roots and embracing atheism, Marcus must come to terms with his own religious views as he experiences a sexual awakening.

Indignation Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman 1

Indignation marks the directorial debut of James Schamus, a veteran producer and screenwriter who is an oft-collaborator of Ang Lee. Roth himself hails from Newark and attended college in the 50s, Indignation’s semi-autobiographical elements making it a personal project for the author. As a coming-of-age period piece, Indignation approaches the fairly common themes of falling in love and questioning the beliefs with which one was brought up with considerable poise. Indignation is measured in its pace and many of the shots are symmetrically framed, visually reinforcing the juxtaposition of the fictional college’s stuffy atmosphere and the frank sexuality that is displayed. There’s a sprinkling of drol humour in just the right doses throughout the predominantly sombre piece. However, the film does often come off as distant, and the use of voiceovers in an effort to preserve some of Roth’s prose is occasionally awkward.

Indignation Logan Lerman 1

Lerman leverages his boy-next-door charm for all it’s worth in Indignation, getting to bust some heretofore unseen dramatic chops. It’s a mostly quiet performance, and Lerman is able to find the core of a character who is intelligent, but doesn’t have everything figured out. The character of Marcus isn’t one who questions authority because it’s cool to rebel, and the scenes between Lerman and Letts are masterfully acted. Letts can play the prickly, unlikeable authority figure in his sleep, yet Dean Caudwell isn’t a cartoon villain, and it is entertaining to see how the confrontation starts out relatively polite, and becomes heated while stopping short of being wildly uncivil.

Indignation Tracy Letts

While Gadon’s delivery is a little stilted, she’s still able to create a compelling, magnetic figure in the form of Olivia. Here impeccably put-together exterior, comprising 50s frocks and topped with soft blonde curls, belie a damaged soul. Yet, Olivia doesn’t function as a broken woman whom the protagonist feels is duty-bound to put back together. In all the interactions between Marcus and Olivia, one gets the sense that there’s raw passion lurking beneath a façade of politeness and conformity. Gadon has yet to hit to big time, but a few more roles like this one might be just what it takes.

Indignation Sarah Gadon
Both Burstein and Emond fit the expectations of Jewish parents of that era, and it’s easy to see why Marcus longs to get out from under their thumbs, even if all the haranguing ultimately comes from a place of love. While there are impactful moments in Indignation, this reviewer felt like he couldn’t leap all the way in. The handsomeness of the piece sometimes works against it, making the story seem stodgier than it really is. Its abrupt conclusion is also as frustrating as it is intriguing.

Summary: Logan Lerman gets a platform to shine, but Indignation could use a little more urgency in getting audiences invested in its protagonist’s struggles.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Shallows

For F*** Magazine

THE SHALLOWS

Director : Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge, Angelo José Lozano Corzo, José Manuel Trujillo Salas
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 26 mins
Opens : 11 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Some Intense Sequences)

The Shallows posterBlake Lively has to keep from becoming shark bait (Ooh ha ha!) in this survival thriller. Lively plays medical student Nancy Adams, who has travelled to Mexico in search of a secluded beach where her mother once surfed years ago. She hitches a ride from local resident Carlos (Jaenada), heading into the water to catch the waves. Nancy meets two other surfers (Corzo and Salas) and is enjoying herself, but the fun is cut short when she’s attacked by a great white shark. Nancy is able to swim to the relative safety of an isolated rocky outcrop, but with the tide coming in, Nancy has to signal for help or swim back to the beach, all while the shark ominously encircles her.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s last three films, Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night, starred Liam Neeson, who will also be in his next film The Commuter. It’s a bit of a shame he didn’t continue that run by having Neeson voice the shark. Serra works from a screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski – originally entitled ‘In The Deep’, it was a hot script that sparked a bidding war. As far as X meets Y elevator pitches go, “Jaws meets 127 Hours with a dash of Gravity” is pretty exciting. The result is a self-contained thriller in which the protagonist is paradoxically trapped in an open space, braving a variety of obstacles that are flung her way. It runs a brisk 86 minutes and Collet-Serra’s direction enables the audience to share in Nancy’s desperation. Most viewers might start out chiding Nancy for going out into the water alone, but soon enough, we’re right in her corner.

The Shallows Blake Lively 1

Lively’s husband Ryan Reynolds spent the majority of the film Buried trapped in a wooden coffin, and it was this role that inspired Lively to take on a project in a similar vein. She makes for a pretty convincing surfer girl and conveys gut-wrenching panic when required. The character gets wounded early on, with Nancy’s expertise as a medical student coming in handy when she has to McGyver some first aid. A few laughs ease the tension, most of which come courtesy of Nancy’s interaction with a wounded seagull stuck on the rock alongside her.

Sure, there are plenty of lingering shots of Lively’s bikini-clad physique, but Collet-Serra displays enough taste such that it doesn’t end up being uncomfortably leery. By the time the climactic confrontation rolls around, this reviewer was primed and ready to see Lively in full-on badass mode, and the final showdown is a rip-roaring, white knuckle sequence – if a little overblown and silly compared to what’s come before. Serra has revealed in interviews that the shark is female, because female great whites tend to be larger and thus more visually intimidating, making this faintly reminiscent of Ripley going up against the Alien Queen in Aliens.

The Shallows Blake Lively and seagull

While the central premise of woman vs. shark is rock solid, the attempts to give Nancy some characterisation through her back-story ring false. There’s been a death in the family and Nancy’s relationship with her father (Cullen) is somewhat strained. These elements come off as unnecessary and undercut the purity of the visceral, stripped-down “mission: survive” narrative that powers the film.

The Shallows Blake Lively 2

Strong production values make this relatively small film feel grander, with the photogenic Lord Howe Island in New South Wales, Australia doubling for the story’s unspecified Mexican beach. The visual effects work, supervised by Scott E. Anderson, is top-notch. If the shark looks phony, nobody’s going to be on the edge of their seat cheering for Nancy to triumph against the apex predator. Thankfully, the digitally-created great white is entirely convincing, coming off as a living, breathing beast.

The Shallows Blake Lively 3

Apart from the occasional Open Water or The Reef, most modern shark movies are intentionally goofy: nobody’s going to be genuinely terrified when watching Sharknado, Sharktopus or Ghost Shark. As such, it’s pretty gratifying to see a frighteningly plausible natural horror thriller that plays on the common fear of what lurks within the open ocean.

Summary: Feeling fatigued from overblown summer blockbusters? Come frolic in The Shallows.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Nerve

For F*** Magazine

NERVE 

Director : Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast : Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Barker, Kimiko Glenn
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 37 mins
Opens : 11 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Mature Content)

Nerve posterCalling something a “game” just makes it sound so innocuous, even if it’s anything but. In this thriller, the online reality game Nerve is all the rage. “Players” participate in dares that escalate in risk and monetary rewards, aiming to accumulate as many “watchers” following their exploits as possible. Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Roberts), a reserved high school senior from Staten Island, is introduced to Nerve by her outgoing friend Sydney (Meade). Tommy (Heizer), also close friend of Vee’s, is wary of the game and begins investigating it on the dark web. Vee is paired with Ian (Franco), a stranger who is quickly climbing the Nerve ranks. Vee’s mother Nancy (Lewis) is unaware of what her daughter is mixed up in, and what began for Vee as an exercise in taking risks and stepping out of her comfort zone quickly becomes a heady, deadly adventure.

Nerve Dave Franco and Emma Roberts 1

Nerve is based on Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 Young Adult novel of the same name. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman direct from a screenplay adapted by Jessica Sharzer. Joost and Schulman are best known for their documentary Catfish, which chronicled the online relationship between Schulman’s brother and a woman who might not be who she claims to be. Nerve’s premise is reminiscent of the Thai horror film 13 Beloved and its Hollywood remake 13 Sins, in which an unwitting salesman performs increasingly dangerous and humiliating acts for money. Nerve can also be described as The Game for millennials. The quest for online recognition and an easy payday is something most teens can relate to, and while several elements are quite a stretch, it’s not completely implausible to imagine the YOLO (you only live once) set embracing an app like Nerve.

Nerve Emma Roberts and Dave Franco

Nerve is very much tailored for maximum teen appeal, slick and trendy but occasionally feeling like it’s trying too hard to pander to its target audience. It’s peppered with soon-to-be-dated slang and there’s even a cameo from prominent YouTube personality Casey Neistat. It’s intended as a satirical cautionary tale, warning against peer pressure and of the ugly side that the blind pursuit of likes and followers might have. However, the film wants to have its cake and eat it too, by making Nerve look seductively exciting. Its finger-wagging indictment of hiding behind online anonymity is clumsily preachy, and the climax somewhat deflates the edge-of-your-seat thrills that have been building up to that point. Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in the mounting stakes, experiencing the illicit thrills vicariously.

Nerve Kimiko Glenn, Emily Meade, Emma Roberts and Miles Heizer

While it’s initially difficult to buy Roberts as an awkward outcast who can’t muster up the courage to talk to the jock on whom she’s nursing a crush, the character of Vee makes for an ideal entry point. She’s the outsider who gets swept up in the Nerve craze, equally overcome by the euphoria of shedding her inhibitions and the creeping dread of the consequences that could arise by her continued participation. She makes for an appealing lead who is easy to root for even as we question her judgement.

Nerve Dave Franco and Emma Roberts 2

Franco isn’t necessarily who comes to mind when one thinks “sexy bad boy” – his brother James probably fits that description slightly better. Ian and Vee are suddenly flung together by the mechanics of the game, and it is fun to watch the relationship between the characters develop. Franco is too earnestly likeable to be wholly convincing as a roguish, enigmatic figure astride his motorcycle, but that affability ends up serving him well. The supporting characters are quite thinly sketched, but serve their respective purposes. Heizer’s Tommy is the sensible nice guy stuck firmly in the friend zone and whose hacking expertise comes in handy later, while Meade’s Sydney is every bit the stereotypical vampy queen bee. Lewis is stuck in kind of a nothing part, looking worried and demanding to know what her daughter is up to and doing little else.

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The cleverest thing about Nerve is how it appears to be more subversive than it really is, with nothing that makes this wildly inappropriate for younger teens. If you’re not in the target demographic, this might induce a tinge of “get off my lawn you darn millennials” sentiment, but it’s never annoying to an alienating extent. The ending is too pat to be satisfying, but it’s a safe enough distance away from being a howl-inducing cop-out. Teenagers glued to their smartphone screens might feel like they’ve been suckered into a Public Service Announcement with the message “don’t get too carried away on social media”, but the sharply crafted thrills make for a palatable coating.

Nerve Emily Meade

Summary: While Nerve’s commentary on chasing after online fame is on-the-nose, it moves along at a good clip and is entertaining enough that you’ll resist checking your phone for the 96-minute duration.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong