Kung Fu Yoga

For F*** Magazine

KUNG FU YOGA

Director : Stanley Tong
Cast : Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 26 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

kung-fu-yoga-posterAfter hanging out with John Cusack and Adrien Brody in the Mongolian desert in Dragon Blade, Jackie Chan sets his sights on India with this Chinese New Year blockbuster. Jackie plays renowned archaeologist Jack Chen, who is enlisted by Indian professor Ashmita (Patani) to locate the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack assembles his team, comprising his assistants Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing) and Nuomin (Muqi) and the treasure hunter Jones (Rahman), the son of Jack’s old friend. Along the way, Jack and his crew face off against Randall (Sood), a billionaire who claims to be the rightful heir to the treasure. The adventure takes Jack and his cohorts from Xi’an, China, to the Tibetan glaciers, to Dubai and finally to Rajasthan, India.

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Jackie Chan has had a long association with the ‘adventurer archaeologist’ subgenre. From the Armour of God series to its semi-reboot CZ12, and from The Myth to the animated series The Jackie Chan Adventures, you’d think Jackie would have gotten the formula right by now. No such luck. Kung Fu Yoga might not be as jarring a cultural mishmash as the afore-mentioned Dragon Blade, but it’s still an ungainly, vaguely insulting creature. Things are preposterous from the outset, with a bizarre video game-esque animated prologue setting the scene. The story of Wang Xuance, a Tang Dynasty guard officer and diplomat who was sent as an ambassador to India in the 7th Century, serves as the jumping-off point for the plot. The chunks of exposition are ostensibly to lend the film some historical plausibility, but everything is so ridiculous that they needn’t have tried.

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Kung Fu Yoga’s central quest is difficult to care about, and even when Jack and company are menaced by armed mercenaries on snowmobiles, there’s little urgency or peril to be found. The film’s globe-trotting is poorly justified, with the story leaping from locale to locale without much rhythm. Shooting on location in such places as Svínafellsjökull, Iceland and Rajasthan, India does give Kung Fu Yoga a sense of scale, but this is undercut any time the action moves into patently phony underground tombs. The scenes set in India showcase regrettably retrograde clichés like snake charmers, levitating yogis and the Indian rope trick. This lazy exoticism was already embarrassing in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy, let alone in 2017.

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The action sequences are mostly gag-driven, lacking the robust kinetics of classic Jackie Chan fights. While Jackie has maintained himself far better than many action stars his age; his martial arts prowess is not enough to salvage Kung Fu Yoga. The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai, featuring such shenanigans as a pet lion in the backseat of Jack’s car. While China Daily has claimed that this is a real big cat, it is often obvious that many of the shots feature a computer-generated lion. Not a terrible one, mind you, but conspicuous enough to stick out. Besides the lion, Kung Fu Yoga is positively stuffed with digitally-created critters, including elephants, wolves, cobras and hyenas. This contributes to the film being an altogether cartoony affair.

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Leave it to Jackie to force some preachiness into an action-adventure comedy. “I told you, the treasure doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the whole world, it belongs to the people,” he proclaims beatifically. Not quite as snappy as “it belongs in a museum!” Speaking of Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Yoga cribs heavily from the series. There’s even a female student who stamps her eyelids with heart shapes to woo Xiaoguang, exactly like the student in Raiders of the Lost Ark with “LOVE YOU” written on her eyelids. We can’t decide if we love or hate that Jack actually name-checks Indiana Jones in the film itself. It’s a rip-off passed off as a homage, which is as gleefully shameless as it gets.

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The supporting cast is attractive and serves mostly as window dressing. Patani’s character introduces herself as a professor of archaeology, which is about as believable as when Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist. Patani seems like she’s reading off cue cards most of the time. It’s more than a little creepy when Jack makes googly eyes at Ashmita, considering the 38 year age gap between Patani and Jackie.

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Zhang Yixing a.k.a. Lay of Exo fame is just here to fulfil the unwritten rule that every Chinese blockbuster movie must include at least one boyband star. The camera leers lasciviously at Miya Muqi, dubbed “China’s most beautiful Yoga instructor”. Rahman comes to closest to exhibiting any discernible personality, working his roguish charm for all it’s worth. And yes, his character really is named ‘Jones’. In the meantime, Randall’s motivations do not stretch beyond “this belonged to my ancestors and now it belongs to me! MINE!” so Sood is stuck playing an utterly generic villain. Aamir Khan was briefly attached to play Randall, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Dangal.

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Some spoilers about the film’s ending follow.

[SPOILER ALERT] It ends with a dance party. A dance party. A. DANCE. PARTY. Minutes after Jack and Randall engage in a battle to the death, Kung Fu Yoga closes with a big, obnoxious, dance number. It reads as a case of “there are Bollywood actors in the film so that’s something we have to do.” [END SPOILERS]kung-fu-yoga-jackie-chan-and-disha-patani

There’s a less cynical, more engaging China-India co-production hidden deep beneath the grating silliness that fills Kung Fu Yoga. Given the resources available to director Stanley Tong and the production, a straightforward adventurer archaeologist yarn shouldn’t be that difficult to get right.

Summary: Unfunny jokes, pulchritudinous but wooden co-stars, ropey visual effects and a dose of Jackie Chan’s signature self-aggrandisement make Kung Fu Yoga a cross-cultural embarrassment.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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The Jackie Chan Misadventures: Kung Fu Yoga Press Conference

For F*** Magazine

THE JACKIE CHAN MISADVENTURES
F*** meets Kung Fu Yoga stars Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Muqi Miya and director Stanley Tong in Singapore
By Jedd Jong

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Crashing supercars, almost drowning in Icelandic ice caverns and getting chased by stuntmen pretending to be hyenas is all in a day’s work for Jackie Chan and company. The 62-year-old actor was in town to promote his latest action comedy Kung Fu Yoga. Joining Jackie were leading ladies Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Muqi Miya, as well as director Stanley Tong. The group held a press conference at the Equarius Hotel on Friday afternoon, ahead of a meet-and-greet session at Plaza Singapura and the film’s gala premiere at VivoCity that night.

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Kung Fu Yoga also stars Aarif Rahman, Zhang “Lay” Yixing and Sonu Sood. In the film, Jackie plays archaeologist Jack Chen, who is joined by his associates on a globe-spanning odyssey in search of the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack and his team are pursued by the descendant of an ancient militia leader, who claims the treasure rightfully belongs to him. This quest takes Jack and his allies from Xi’an in China to Tibet, to Dubai and to Rajasthan, India.

A prop from the film, a jewelled sceptre called “The Eye of Shiva”, was on display. The piece boasts a pink crystal with 28 facets and was created especially for the production by Swarovski.

2017 marks 25 years since the release of Police Story 3: Super Cop, which was the first of several collaborations between star Jackie and director Tong. These include Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie’s first foray into mainstream American cinema, and the fantasy adventure The Myth, in which Jackie also plays an archaeologist named Jack and which was also filmed partially in India. “I watched his movies growing up,” Tong stated.

“I think everybody watched my movies growing up,” Jackie remarked.

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“I never thought I would have to opportunity to help him direct a film,” Tong said. On the cross-cultural elements of Kung Fu Yoga, Tong explained that “Kung Fu represents the culture of China and Yoga represents the culture of India.” He added that both disciplines were not merely about a few moves or poses, but a complete philosophy, which he attempted to incorporate into the plot.

Host Danny Yeo asked Jackie about a medical emergency which Jackie experienced recently. Jackie expressed surprise that Yeo found out about this incident, since it had been kept under wraps. “It’s all Stanley’s fault,” Jackie said to laughter. He explained that after he felt some pain in his abdominal area, Stanley told him it was nothing to worry about, and they carried on filming. While shooting The Foreigner in London, Jackie was ordered to stop work by the on-set medic and was hospitalised. It was discovered that his abdominal skin and muscle had atrophied, and Jackie underwent a five-hour-long operation.

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“I tried to get back to work as soon as possible,” Jackie said. Shortly after the procedure, he flew off to Iceland to resume filming on Kung Fu Yoga, where he dived into the frigid ice cavern waters. “I could have paused production and waited a few months to recover, but I knew the whole cast and crew were already on location,” Jackie continued.

Tong tried to delay the shooting of the underwater scenes, but said “you can only tweak the schedule so much, so Jackie persevered.”

Jackie insisted on doing the scene without the help of a stunt double. “I’m still around, thank heavens,” he said to applause.

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The 24-year-old Patani was impressed with Jackie’s work ethic. “I think he’s a superhuman and I especially learned a lot from him when I was shooting,” she enthused. “It doesn’t matter how harsh the conditions are wherever we’re shooting, he’s always there before anyone else. He’s always, always up for it.”

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Patani had to film the underwater sequence alongside Jackie, who bemoaned how all the safety divers would rush to Patani’s aid, ignoring him. “Everyone went to save her, and nobody went to save me!” Jackie described the harrowing situation, being submerged in cold temperatures and unable to grip the scuba mouthpiece because the hose wasn’t long enough.

“He’s Jackie Chan, he’s super-strong, so nobody really thought about that, that he needs help,” laughed Patani.

“Jackie has filmed for hours with a shark, so I knew he could handle it,” Tong quipped, referring to Police Story 4: First Strike.

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Making Kung Fu Yoga was a novel experience for 23-year-old Dastur, who plays the sister of Patani’s character. “My first scene ever was when Stanley threw me into this huge sand pit,” she recalled. “We had Jackie’s stuntmen being hyenas and they chased after us. It was so funny, imagine guys crawling around the floor in these green little jumpsuits!”

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Tong was aware of needing to up to ante to cater to increasingly discerning audiences. “Every film that I’ve made with Jackie has something new in it,” he declared. “There must be an original element, while keeping the action and comedy that have become Jackie’s trademark. Now, the audience is more demanding. If the film has only one setting or a small number of action sequences, audiences will find it boring.”

The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai. The production had help from Dubai’s princes, who lent the crew their luxury supercars. The stunt drivers ended up crashing Ferraris, Lamborghinis and MacLarens. “I was wondering how we were going to repay the princes,” Jackie mused.

“They didn’t want us to repay them, all they wanted was to have a meal with Jackie and get his autograph,” Tong revealed. “We had crashed a yellow car, and the princes had another car of the same make, but only in blue. So, they repainted the blue car yellow overnight so we could replace the crashed car,” Tong said, praising the royal family of Dubai for being as gracious and accommodating to the film crew as they were.

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Due to a mix-up in the schedule, Muqi Miya’s flight was delayed, and she arrived at the press conference late. The model and yoga instructor has been called “the goddess of Yoga”, her steamy pictorials earning her legions of admirers online. “I’m happy to breathe the clean air here in Singapore,” she said, having just gotten off the plane from Beijing. After Yeo called her a “Yoga expert,” Muqi demurred, motioning to Jackie and saying “I have to tell everyone that the real expert is him.”

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Is there anything new under the sun for Jackie? “Over the years, I’ve done pretty much everything,” Jackie stated matter-of-factly. “Every year, I have to wrack my brain for how to provide a new experience for my fans.” Jackie described going from the historical epic Dragon Blade to the contemporary action-comedy Skiptrace, and from that to the WWII-era adventure Railroad Tigers and then to Kung Fu Yoga. Jackie promised that his next film, the thriller The Foreigner, will be a serious affair.

Jackie said that he hopes to emulate the long-lived careers of such Hollywood actors as Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. “As I’ve said before, I want to be viewed as an actor who can perform action. I am not an action star,” Jackie declared empathically. “I’m an actor who knows how to do action. The life expectancy of an ‘action star’ is very short.“

Kung Fu Yoga opens on 27 January 2017.

 

 

 

 

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

For F*** Magazine

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Director : D. J. Caruso
Cast : Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Pakudone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Tony Jaa, Michael Bisping, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

xxx-return-of-xander-cage-posterAny action star worth his salt has got to keep more than one franchise going, so get ready for more Diesel-powered action with this continuation of the xXx series. Extreme sportsman and elite secret agent Xander Cage (Diesel) has long been thought dead, but his services are needed again as a new threat emerges. Xiang (Yen) and his team of highly skilled adrenaline junkie operatives have gotten their hands on a device called Pandora’s Box, which can be used to crash any satellite in orbit. NSA handler Jane Marke (Collette) draws Xander back into the fray. Xander calls on his associates, including sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Rose), stunt driver Tennyson Torch (McCann) and deejay Nicks Zhou (Wu) to back him up. They are assisted by tech expert Becky Clearidge (Dobrev). They must face off against Xiang and his team, comprising Serena (Pakudone), Talon (Jaa) and Hawk (Bisping), as Serena questions where her loyalties lie. xxx-return-of-xander-cage-kris-wu-ruby-rose-rory-mccann-and-vin-diesel

The first xXx film was pitched as a hipper, cooler competitor to the Bond franchise. In the same year, the Bond film Die Another Day tried to pull off some extreme sports action. It was not a good look. The premise of devil-may-care thrill-seekers recruited into a spy program is silly, but in the right hands, it can be the fun kind of silly. xXx: Return of Xander Cage is absolutely the fun kind of silly. From the first scene, director D.J. Caruso practically announces that this is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. What follows is a string of outlandish stunts and set pieces which, while smaller in scale, almost rival those showcased in the recent Fast and Furious flicks. Anything that was considered remotely cool in the 2000s is, by now, painfully awkward, so xXx: Return of Xander Cage boldly embraces the cheesiness and is all the more enjoyable for it.

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F. Scott Frazier’s screenplay bursts with quips and one-liners of varying quality, but at its core lies a generic spy thriller plot: one team of agents has the MacGuffin, and the other must get it back. There’s globe-trotting, car chases and shootouts, as well as shifting alliances and standard-issue plot twists. Then again, nobody’s going to watch this for the plot. There are enough bells and whistles and a spirited embrace of ludicrousness to lift this above the humdrum formula of many a disposable action flick. You will believe a man can ski through a rainforest and that motorcycles can transform into jetskis to ride ocean swells. The visual effects work is surprisingly competent, and the explosive climax doesn’t look conspicuously phony.

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Diesel’s Xander allows the star to indulge his ego as a coolly laconic, an anti-establishment rebel who lives life on the edge. This was never a particularly grounded character and Diesel seems aware of that. This time, he has an eclectic ensemble supporting him.

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Yen is on excellent form here, the film making good use of his skill set. He’s is charming and menacing as Xiang, but the character is not a moustache-twirling villain and surprisingly, there’s some nuance to him. Yen gets to perform more martial arts here than he did in Rogue One, and he plays off Diesel superbly. Jet Li was originally cast in the part, and it is speculated that he dropped out due to health concerns. We think Yen is a better fit for Xiang than Li might’ve been.

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Bollywood starlet Pakudone is counting on this film to help her break into the American market. She’s a serviceable femme fatale, but is far from the most memorable actress to play the archetype.

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It’s Rose who steals the show as the smart-alecky sniper Adele. The epitome of cool, Rose seems right in her element whether she’s handling a rifle or hitting on every woman in sight. McCann, best known as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane on Game of Thrones, puts in an amusing turn as the slightly-unhinged Tennyson. Dobrev plays up the ‘adorkable’ shtick for all it’s worth, but borders on grating as the resident tech geek. Out of Xander’s sidekicks, it’s Wu who makes the least impact as Nicks, who serves no apparent purpose on the team. Each character is introduced with a title card listing their special skills, akin to the ones seen in Suicide Squad. Nicks’ just says he’s “fun to be around”.

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As the no-nonsense boss lady, Collette delivers her many dramatic declarations with gusto, and appears to be having fun being a part of a big, silly action movie, since she doesn’t do those too often. Jaa has his hair dyed blonde and styled into a faux-hawk, and his role is largely comedic. If there’s any big missed opportunity here, it’s that Jaa isn’t given more to do, and that he doesn’t have a fight scene in which he either teams up with or faces off against fellow martial arts expert Yen. Jackson’s reprisal of the Augustus Gibbons role amounts to little more than a cameo, but there are a couple more cameos sure to elicit a reaction from the audience.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage isn’t particularly original or, god forbid, smart, but it’s good at what it does. Erring on the right side of self-aware without plunging into obnoxious self-parody, this threequel announces “this is silly, and that’s perfectly okay”. If this gang is staying together, bring on xXx IV.

Summary: The rip-roaring third entry in the xXx series put a smile on this reviewer’s face. A big, dumb smile.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Hacksaw Ridge

For F*** Magazine

HACKSAW RIDGE 

Cast : Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths
Genre : Drama/History/War
Run Time : 2h 19min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence and Gore)

hacksaw-ridge-posterStepping behind the camera for his first film as director in ten years, Mel Gibson tells the true story of war hero Desmond T. Doss (Garfield). Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Doss’ father Tom (Weaving), a traumatised World War I veteran, often lashes out at his wife Bertha (Griffiths). Doss’ brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlists in the military to serve in World War II. Doss decides to enlist, but his strongly-held beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist forbid him from taking a life, or even touching a weapon. Doss’ superiors Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington) try to get Doss discharged out of fear that Doss will be unable to contribute as a soldier. Doss persists, training as a medic, and his unit is eventually deployed to the Pacific theatre. In the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’ unit faces off against hordes of Japanese troops atop the cliff face of the Maeda Escarpment, nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”. Without firing a single bullet, Doss goes about rescuing his fellow men who are wounded on the battlefield, hoping to make it home to his wife Dorothy (Palmer).

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For years, the real-life Desmond Doss, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 87, resisted the idea of a film being made about him. Doss feared that his religious beliefs would be misrepresented on the big screen, and was finally convinced in 2001. Hacksaw Ridge was stuck in development hell, as producers Bill Mechanic and David Permut tried for 14 years to get the film made. Mechanic sought Gibson to direct, and Gibson agreed after turning Hacksaw Ridge down twice. While Gibson has some ways to go if Hollywood at large is to forgive him for his inflammatory anti-Semitic outbursts, homophobic remarks and other erratic behaviour, Hacksaw Ridge is a big step along Gibson’s path to redemption. Permut, himself Jewish and gay, has publicly stated that Gibson is not the man that tabloid headlines make him out to be.

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It’s a positive thing that Hacksaw Ridge finally got made and that Doss’ story will now reach a wider audience than it ever has. The real-life Doss is worlds away from the pre-conceived notion of a square-jawed action hero who charges into battle with guns blazing, and this underdog quality is quietly compelling. Garfield, as rangy and awkward as he is charming, imbues Doss with a folksy charm and an unwavering earnestness. Through its depiction of Doss’ Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and the opposition with which he was met, Hacksaw Ridge paints a vivid portrait of someone who stuck to his guns. Maybe that’s not the best way of putting it, but you get what we mean.

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Hacksaw Ridge spends a little too long setting up Doss’ childhood and his training at Fort Jackson before his deployment. We understand the need for meaningful character development, but in between Doss’ courtship of Dorothy and his tumultuous relationship with his father, these earlier scenes feel embellished for dramatic effect. The character of Smitty (Bracey), Doss’ squad mate who accuses Doss of cowardice, is fictional. However, the journey Smitty undertakes to respect Doss’ beliefs and his heroism is moving all the same.

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On a relatively modest budget of $40 million, Gibson pulls off explosive battle sequences which are effectively concussive and chaotic. The Japanese forces are depicted as ferocious, relentless and faceless – this is not a war movie which even remotely attempts to give the enemy a shred of empathy. The battlefield carnage is excessive – we see viscera strewn all over the place, limbs blasted off and rats picking at corpses of the fallen. Perhaps it’s a moot point to call out a war film for being “too violent”, but Gibson sometimes crosses the line from authentically grim to self-indulgently gory. It’s not as pronounced as in The Passion of the Christ, which was also a graphically violent faith-based film, but is in that vein.

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Hacksaw Ridge is squarely Garfield’s to carry, but there are supporting performances of note here too. Vaughn plays very much against type as a harsh drill sergeant and is surprisingly believable in the part. Weaving’s portrayal of Doss’ father Tom is menacing but also sympathetic, with the audience understanding that it’s the trauma of war that has made Tom this way. Palmer brings a dose of old Hollywood glamour to the part of Dorothy, but as is often the case in war films, the character amounts to little more than “the wife waiting back home”.

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The screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan contains moments that border on being cheesy, including when Sgt. Howell announces “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy”. Perhaps it should be expected from a war movie about a pacifist, but Hacksaw Ridge’s message of standing by one’s principles seems a little at odds with how the camera lingers on grisly brutality. Even taking all this into account, Hacksaw Ridge manages to be rousing and emotional, a grand tribute to an unlikely hero.

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Summary: Beneath the over-the-top carnage and war movie clichés lies a fascinating true story brought to life by a remarkable performance from Andrew Garfield.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Split

For F*** Magazine

SPLIT 

Director : M. Night Shyamalam
Cast : James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, Brad William Henke, Neal Huff
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 56min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Mature Content And Violence)

split-posterThe X-Mansion is crowded enough as it is, what with all those gifted youngsters, but imagine if there were 24 Professor X-es running about the place. In this psychological thriller, James McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Kevin has 23 distinct personalities or ‘alters’, including a young boy named Hedwig, a flamboyant fashion designer named Barry, schoolmistress-type Miss Patricia and the severe, obsessive Dennis. Kevin kidnaps Casey (Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Sula) and Claire (Richardson) in broad daylight as they are leaving Claire’s birthday party. Casey, a social outcast at school, attempts to decipher Kevin’s behaviour and plot an escape for the three girls. In the meantime, Kevin’s therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Buckley) suspects that something is amiss with her patient, but is unaware of his criminal activities. The various alters ominously warn that a 24th personality, named ‘the Beast’, is about to emerge.

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has busied himself with paving a path towards redemption. With a string of high-profile missteps, the once-lauded auteur who was heralded as the next Hitchcock or Spielberg quickly became a laughing-stock. With 2015’s The Visit, Shyamalan returned to lo-fi suspense horror, and he re-teams with producer Jason Blum for Split. While nowhere near as embarrassing or inept as The Happening and Lady in the Water, Split is problematic.

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First, the good: the film is often tense and creepy and with McAvoy firing on all cylinders, is largely engaging. The bad: Split takes advantage of how controversial and misunderstood Dissociative Identity Disorder is, playing up many misconceptions and potentially demonising the mentally ill. Sure, this is fiction and many viewers won’t take offence because it isn’t intended to reflect reality, but it reminds us of horror movies in which physical deformity is used to signify that someone is evil. Nobody is going to walk into Split searching for clinical accuracy, but it seems lazy of Shyamalan to use mental illness as a plot device in this way.

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Joaquin Phoenix was originally cast in the role and Split would’ve reunited Phoenix with his Signs director. McAvoy is fully committed to the challenging part, but have a feeling that Phoenix would’ve been significantly more menacing in the role. McAvoy is creepy enough, but is also goofy. This performance can be viewed as little more than a string of funny voices and exaggerated mannerisms. It’s a valiant effort and however tasteless the premise, we will admit that the concept of a movie villain who unpredictably manifests multiple personalities is unsettling and potentially compelling.

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Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of The Witch, is haunting and mesmerising as Casey. A misfit with a dark past, Casey gets character development by way of flashbacks which show her hunting with her father and uncle. When it’s ultimately revealed, her back-story turns out to be clichéd and emotionally manipulative. The most interesting bits of the film are Casey’s attempts to get into Kevin’s head and to play his alters against each other. Alas, there’s not nearly enough of that. Despite Shyamalan’s effort to give Casey an air of mystery, she ends up embodying many recognisable horror movie heroine tropes, right down to being pursued through a basement by, for all intents and purposes, a slasher film villain.

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To throw Casey into sharper relief, both Marcia and Claire are given very little character development and fade into the background. We also have to endure stretches of dialogue, with which Shyamalan demonstrates how he thinks teenage girls talk. Buckley’s psychiatrist character, a well-meaning elderly woman who finds herself in over her head, seems intended to give the film’s portrayal of mental illness a modicum of credibility. However, Dr. Fletcher amounts to little more than yet another plot device. At least it’s more dignified than her role as the creepy lady in The Happening who demanded to know why Mark Wahlberg was eyeing her lemon drink.

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Many critics are praising Split as a return to form for Shyamalan, but we’re not so convinced. For all its atmospherics and McAvoy’s wild lead performance, Split is about someone who kidnaps (maybe kills?) young women because he has a mental illness, extrapolating this premise into B-movie horror hijinks. It’s not the first movie to demonstrate a misunderstanding of mental illness, nor will it be the last. If that’s something you can overlook, Split has its thrilling and entertaining moments. In lieu of a big Shyamalan signature twist, Split serves up a surprise connection to an earlier film in his oeuvre (hint: it’s not The Last Airbender).

Summary: Split gives James McAvoy a meaty, showy role, but that doesn’t diminish how tasteless it is to play mental illness for scares. Still, Shyamalan should continue down this path of smaller-scale, performance-driven thrillers.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Light Between Oceans

For F*** Magazine

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS

Director :  Derek Cianfrance
Cast : Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson, Thomas Unger
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 2h 13min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene)

the-light-between-oceans-posterAs Elizabeth told us in the video game Bioshock Infinite, “there’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city.” There isn’t really a city in The Light Between Oceans, but two out of three ain’t bad.

In this period romantic drama, there’s a lighthouse – it’s situated on Janus Rock, off the coast of Western Australia. There’s a man – World War I veteran Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender), in search of a quiet existence after braving the horrors of war. Tom becomes the lighthouse keeper of Janus Rock, and falls in love with local girl Isabel Graysmark (Vikander). Tom and Isabel marry; the couple keen on having children. One day, a rowboat washes ashore. Its occupants: a dead man and a newborn baby girl. Isabel convinces Tom that they should raise the girl, whom they name ‘Lucy’ (Clery), as their own daughter. Tom later spots a woman visiting the grave of her husband and daughter, who were lost at sea the day Tom and Isabel found Lucy. This is Hannah Roennfeldt (Wesiz), and it turns out that Lucy is indeed her daughter and is actually named Grace. This revelation torments Tom and Isabel, who know it’s the right thing to return Lucy/Grace to her biological mother, but who have grown attached to her after raising her as their own child.

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The Light Between Oceans is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by M.L. Stedman. Writer-director Derek Cianfrance, known for The Place Beyond the Pines and Blue Valentine, stated that he had set out to make “a John Cassavetes movie in a David Lean landscape”, which is quite the lofty goal. The Light Between Oceans has the makings of an old-fashioned, sweeping romance, bolstered by the picturesque setting of Stanley, a seaside town in Tasmania. While Cianfrance adopts the vocabulary of classic filmmaking, The Light Between Oceans sometimes feels like a pastiche of arthouse prestige period pieces. The film is bald-faced in its emotional manipulation and while the central conflict has the potential to be heart-rending, it’s handled more as a full-bore assault on audiences’ tear ducts than anything else.

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With its acclaimed indie darling writer-director, leads who are either Oscar nominees or winners and a bestselling novel as its basis, The Light Between Oceans has a lot going for it. If one can overlook the heavy-handed cheesiness and leave their cynicism waiting outside the theatre, the film has its charms. Some viewers might find themselves pondering what decision they would make if they found themselves in the dilemma that plagues Tom and Isabella. However, others will be distracted by the contrivances in the narrative and the nigh-absurd coincidences required to keep the story moving.

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Both Fassbender and Vikander are ideal leads for a period romance: he has the pulchritude of a male lead from Hollywood’s Golden Age, she is expressive and endearing, and they both have acting chops to spare. Despite their considerable skills and the chemistry the leads share, Tom and Isabel can’t help but feel more like ciphers than satisfyingly developed characters. The circumstances under which Tom and Isabel fall in love are awfully convenient. He’s the withdrawn, tormented soldier and she’s the beautiful, lively local lass who gives his existence meaning. It’s not plain sailing, and that’s when we get slightly more histrionics than are strictly required.

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Since Weisz’s Hannah only shows up during the second half of the film, we’re conditioned to root for Tom and Isabella. Weisz’s performance allows us to see Hannah’s point of view as well, leading us to accept that there really aren’t any bad guys in the equation. The scene in which Lucy/Grace is separated from Isabella is difficult to watch, and parents will be able to relate to the anguish experienced by both Hannah and Isabella. The supporting cast consists of reliable Australian character actors, including Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson.

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Adam Arkapaw’s sumptuous cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s melancholic score might give The Light Between Oceans an air of class, but pare away the standard prestige pic bells and whistles and you’ll be left with soap opera hokum. Granted, it’s soap opera hokum that’s packaged and presented extremely well. This reviewer felt a little like Elaine from Seinfeld, who is confused and angry at how everyone around her seems to adore The English Patient, which she finds insufferably dull.

Summary: The Light Between Oceans features gorgeous scenery and gorgeous leads, but it’s hard to stay afloat in its sea of mawkish sentimentality.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Patriots Day

For F*** Magazine

PATRIOTS DAY 

Director : Peter Berg
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea
Genre : Drama/Historical/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 13 min
Opens : 12 January 2017
Rating : M18

patriots-day-posterFollowing Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have re-teamed for a third film based on a recent tragedy. Patriots Day centres on the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Boston Police Department Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg) is on duty at the finish line when the bombs go off. As the city is stricken by shock and grief, Saunders joins the effort to hunt down the perpetrators, brothers Dzhokhar (Wolff) and Tamerlan (Melikidze) Tsarnaev. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (Goodman) and FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers (Bacon) coordinate the manhunt. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan steal a car from Dun Meng (Yang), the brothers eventually engaging in a fierce firefight with Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (Simmons) and his men in a quiet Watertown neighbourhood.

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It’s a question that gets asked any time a film based on actual tragic events, particularly recent ones, is made: is this exploitative? There isn’t a clear answer to that question where a film like Patriots Day is concerned, since so many factors must be considered. Some who have lived through the Boston Marathon bombing have condemned the film as opportunistic and insensitive, while others have voluntarily taken part in its production in the hopes that the stories of the heroism and perseverance in the wake of the attack are told. Patriots Day concludes with tributes to the three civillians who were killed in the blast, in addition to interviews with survivors and law enforcement personnel. While it is respectful in that regard, one could argue that nobody really needs to see maimed victims lying in the streets, complete with close-ups on gory makeup effects.

One aspect of the story that’s noticeably omitted is the death of Sunil Tripathi, a student at Brown University who was misidentified as a suspect in the bombing and was hounded by online vigilantes. His death was ruled a suicide. While it’s likely that this is because there’s enough going on in the film as it is, it can be interpreted as a reluctance to confront challenging issues like racial profiling.

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Patriots Day works best as a procedural, detailing the detective work that went into tracking down those responsible for the terrorist attack. In a warehouse, crime scene analysts reconstruct a mock-up of Boylston Street, where the bombs went off, determining which security cameras might have caught a glimpse of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan. The firefight between the brothers and Watertown police is an intense, impactful action sequence that is visceral and unnerving. Berg avoids the gloss of blockbuster action thrillers while keeping things tense and propulsive. When Patriots Day goes the docu-drama route, it feels like a big-budget version of the re-enactments one would see in a National Geographic program. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is not one of their most remarkable, but the droning electronica does an adequate job of signalling impending dread.

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The character of Tommy Saunders is a fictional one, a composite of Boston police officers who functions to string the events in a linear fashion. He’s there when the bombs go off, he’s there at the gas station after the Tsarnaev brothers escape, he’s there at the firefight, and he’s there when Dzhokhar is captured after hiding in a boat. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be more obvious that Saunders is a plot device, albeit one that’s justified. Wahlberg makes a valiant effort, but comes up short, especially when he’s sharing the screen with actors like Bacon, Goodman and Simmons. When Saunders objects to the way DesLauriers is running things, it comes off as petulant rather than impassioned. For most of the film, Wahlberg wears this expression which is someone between a look of surprise, and the face you make seconds before you sneeze.

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As with most procedurals, it is the characters’ function more than who they are which matters, which is just an exigency of films of this type. While the afore-mentioned trio of Bacon, Goodman and Simmons (a show about the three of them heading up a law firm would be insanely entertaining) don’t get to show the range they’re capable of, they’re all convincing and steadfast.

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Both Wolff and Melikdze refrain from going over the top as the Tsarnaev brothers, with Wolff being the right shade of annoying in the moments when Dzhokhar displays expected teenager traits. As Tamerlan’s wife Katharine, Melissa Benoist, TV’s Supergirl, displays her dramatic chops in an intense interrogation scene opposite Khandi Alexander. Alas, the female characters in general get overlooked, with Michelle Monaghan having close to nothing to do as Saunders’ wife. The closest Patriots Day gets to outright sentimentality are the scenes with newlyweds Patrick Downes (O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Brosnahan). Their story is as romantic as it is inspiring and moving, but the attempts at ‘aww shucks’ couples banter border on grating.

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For this reviewer, it was Jimmy O. Yang’s turn as Dun Meng that was the revelation. O. Yang is known to fans of Silicon Valley as Jian Yang, in which he displays impressive comedic chops. In Patriots Day, the scenes in which the Chinese app-developer is at the mercy of the Tsarnaev brothers turn out to the most harrowing and suspenseful in the film.

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Patriots Day is riveting, compelling and moving, but it’s difficult to shake the notion that even if it wasn’t made for the sole purpose of profiting off tragedy, it’s still profiting off tragedy. Then again, any studio film is made primarily to turn a profit, so at the risk of sliding down a slippery slope, we’ll end our review here.

Summary: Patriots Day is solidly constructed and resonant, but making its main hero a fictional character for expedience of storytelling is just one of several ways in which it is possibly distasteful.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Collateral Beauty

For F*** Magazine

COLLATERAL BEAUTY 

Director : David Frankel
Cast : Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomi Harris, Jacob Latimore, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Kylie Rogers, Ann Dowd
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1 h 36 min
Opens : 5 January 2017
Rating : PG-13

collateral-beauty-poster“Will Smith wants an Oscar.” That’s what we were thinking on first hearing about this film, and that’s what you probably were thinking too. Is this cynicism warranted? Let’s find out if beauty is, as they say, skin-deep.

Smith plays Howard Inlet, a successful New York advertising executive whose life has taken a downward spiral after the death of his six-year-old daughter. His estranged friends and partners at the advertising firm, Whit Yardsham (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet), and Simon Scott (Michael Peña), attempt an intervention out of concern for Howard’s well-being and the company’s future. They hire private investigator Sally Price (Dowd), who discovers that Howard has been writing letters to the abstract concepts of ‘love’, ‘time’ and ‘death’ as a therapeutic outlet. Whit, Claire and Simon engage the services of Love (Knightley), Time (Latimore) and Death (Mirren) themselves – we’ll get into the mechanics of this in the spoiler section below. Howard doesn’t know what to make of these encounters with the supposedly supernatural entities. In the meantime, he tries working up the courage to attend a support group for bereaved parents, led by Madeleine (Harris), who lost her daughter to cancer, leading to the dissolution of her marriage.

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Collateral Beauty has been roundly savaged by critics, with the consensus being that it’s overly sentimental, melodramatic, hokey and that its brand of inspiration will appeal to the ‘unwashed masses’. We aren’t saying that there’s no truth to this, but it needs to be contextualised. The hostility that Collateral Beauty has been met with can be partially attributed to its awards season-timed release and its big-name cast. If this were a stage play, or maybe a French film, it likely would’ve enjoyed a warmer reception. Collateral Beauty’s depiction of grief and healing might strike many as patronising and vaguely insulting, yet there are glimmers of profundity buried within. We’d hesitate to call this “original” seeing how it’s built on the template of A Christmas Carol/It’s a Wonderful Life. However, there’s an element of risk to a big studio putting out a drama with a premise that requires such a leap of faith to buy.

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Director David Frankel, best known for helming The Devil Wears Prada, stepped in after Alfonso Gomez-Rejon departed the project. His direction is largely competent and while the New York setting is familiar to anyone who’s seen a handful of American films, Maryse Alberti’s cinematography is inviting and sometimes even lyrical. The screenplay is written by Allan Loeb, whose credits include such mediocre romantic-comedies as The Dilemma, Just Go with It, Here Comes the Boom and the straight-to-DVD Miley Cyrus-starrer So Undercover. Some of the dialogue in Collateral Beauty is clunky, and the string of reveals in the closing minutes comes off as cheap, but we will argue that as inelegant as it is, there’s some wit and heart to the overarching concept.

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It’s safe to say that whatever works in Collateral Beauty works because of the actors more than anything else. This is as solid an ensemble as one can get – nearly everyone has prestige pic cred, but on top of that, there are certain choices that are truly inspired. Surprisingly, Smith isn’t in this as much as one is led to believe. While he does affect an exaggerated pained look in several scenes, the casting works because Smith’s persona is one of charisma and exuberance, so seeing him sullen and grieving does make us miss the ‘default’ Smith.

(l-r) Edward Norton as Whit, Kate Winslet as Claire and Michael Pena as Simon in COLLATERAL BEAUTY. ©Warner Bros. Entertainment. CR: Barry Wetcher.

Norton is slimy and unlikeable, and we’re not sure how intentional that is. Whit is meant to be Howard’s best friend, but it seems that most of his decision are financially motivated. He also hits on Love quite aggressively, when she repeatedly rebuffs his advances. Winslet’s talents are largely wasted in a career woman role; there’s a bit of Claire’s back-story that is borderline sexist. Of the three ‘friends’, Peña is the most sympathetic, but the reason for this can be seen as another helping of tragedy in a movie that’s already drowning in it. The next paragraph deals with the characters of Love, Death and Time, and will contain spoilers, so be warned.

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[SPOILER ALERT] This is revealed in the first act, but it’s something the trailer tries to obfuscate, so we’ll consider it a spoiler: Love, Death and Time are all portrayed by actors. Love is actually Aimee, Time is Raffi and Death is Brigitte, members of a small New York theatre troupe. Collateral Beauty does a surprisingly decent job of conveying an actor’s psyche, of the satisfaction that is derived from the pursuit of ‘truth’ and the balance between putting it all out there in the name of art, and drawing the line where ethics are concerned. Mirren handily walks away with the whole film, delivering an entertaining, engaging performance. Latimore, a promising young actor whom you might remember from The Maze Runner, is a good fit for the deliberately aggravating “millennial-on-edge” persona chosen for Time. Of the three, Knightley gets the short shrift, but her performance is still a safe distance from terrible. [END SPOILER]

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In the film, Simon has a young son named Oscar, which is the closest Collateral Beauty get to anything named “Oscar”. Standard film critic snarkiness aside, everyone deals with grief differently, and perhaps it helps to look at Collateral Beauty not as an instruction manual but as an interesting-if-flawed arthouse approach to the subject. Are there morally objectionable actions being passed off as uplift? Yes. But would we go far as to call it repulsive? No. Its execution does leave something to be desired, but we think this is not quite as worthless as the bulk of reviewers are making it out to be.

Summary: Collateral Beauty has a premise that’s as intriguing as it is problematic and while a significant portion of its talent is wasted, there are commendable performances here too.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Allied

For F*** Magazine

ALLIED

Director : Robert Zemeckis
Cast : Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Simon McBurney
Genre : Romance/Drama/Historical
Run Time : 2 h 4 min
Opens : 5 January 2017
Rating : M18

allied-posterBrad Pitt is playing spy games again, and this time his partner is the slightest bit more fetching than Robert Redford. It is 1942 at the height of the Second World War, and Max Vatan (Pitt), a Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer, is dispatched to French Morocco. He is partnered with Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), a beguiling French Resistance fighter who is the lone survivor after the members of her resistance group were compromised and killed. Their mission is to assassinate the German ambassador Hobar (August Diehl) at a party in Casablanca. Against their better judgement, Max and Marianne fall in love with each other, eventually marrying and having a daughter. Just as he is growing accustomed to their new idyllic existence, Max winds up facing the possibility that there might be more to Marianne than meets the eye.

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Director Robert Zemeckis, whose credits include such influential films as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, has assembled a resolutely old-fashioned film with Allied. This is a throwback to the wartime romantic thrillers of days gone by, but with considerably more swearing, sex and violence (in that order) than the Hays Code would’ve allowed. In invoking classics like Casablanca by setting its first half in, well, Casablanca itself, Allied has its charms. However, despite the afore-mentioned adult content, Allied comes off feeling sanitized. Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight seem to be going for the romanticised movie ideal of World War II over an authentic portrayal of the setting. The inadvertently makes Allied reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films, even though the tone here is markedly more serious.

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Zemeckis stages several suspenseful scenes with a master’s touch, and the moments in which Max and Marianne practice their spycraft are fun to watch. In hewing so close to established tropes and styles, Allied often teeters on the edge of cheesiness. For example, Max and Marianne share a steamy moment in the front seat of their car as a sandstorm rages outside, the camera lovingly swirling around them. It’s beautiful in its own way, yet ridiculous and snicker-inducing at the same time. Much of the film is like that, though it’s most obvious during the tryst-in-a-car-in-a-sandstorm.

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It’s a safe estimate that Pitt and/or Cotillard are in around 95% of the shots in Allied, with the supporting cast dwarfed by the leading stars. There was some salacious, sensationalist gossip that emerged at the time of the Brangelina divorce announcement, that Angelina Jolie had suspected Cotillard of coming on to Pitt while making this film. As such, it’s a bit of a shame that the pair share altogether too little chemistry. The earlier scenes in which the pair shares playful banter, which Marianne coaching Max on his Parisian accent, promise an explosive, passionate romance to remember. Alas, that is not the case.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

Pitt spends most of the film looking morose, and Max Vatan emerges as a largely uninteresting character. Max is sometimes too credulous to be an elite spy, even with romance clouding his judgement factored in. Pitt is by no means a terrible performer, but Cotillard acts rings around him and is significantly more magnetic a presence. She’s sultry and slinky, but always more than a mere caricature of a femme fatale.

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The stars and the costumes they wear are pretty to look at, but Allied provides little more than that. Thanks to Zemeckis’ years of experience, it is competently assembled and there are no egregious missteps along the way, but neither the thrills nor the romance have the visceral impact the story needs to be truly affecting.

Summary: Allied’s megawatt star pairing should have yielded more excitement than this, but Robert Zemeckis’ direction saves this old-timey wartime romance from being a completely staid experience.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Arrival

For F*** Magazine

ARRIVAL

Director : Denis Villeneuve
Cast : Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Genre : Sci-fi/Drama
Run Time : 1h 58min
Opens : 12 January 2017
Rating : PG-13

arrival-posterIt’s Close Encounters of the Learned Kind: aliens are greeted not with a barrage of laser fire, but by academics seeking to understand their motive for travelling to Earth. When 12 extra-terrestrial spacecraft appear hovering above Earth, US Army Colonel GT Weber (Whitaker) ropes in linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) and theoretical physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Renner) to head a team that will attempt communicating with the aliens. The arrival of the 12 ships throws society into disarray, with other countries’ handling of the situation posing the threat of all-out war. Louise and Ian enter the ship, making contact with the aliens, which come to be known as ‘heptapods’. Louise studies the heptapods’ language, a series of complex circular shapes, gradually figuring out how to speak to them. In the meantime, tensions escalate worldwide, with many Americans calling for a show of force against the heptapods after the aliens convey that their purpose on Earth is to “offer weapon”.

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Arrival is based on Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, a Nebula Award-winning novella. Director Denis Villeneuve, currently working on the Blade Runner sequel, had wanted to make a science fiction film for some time. Meanwhile, screenwriter Eric Heisserer had been unsuccessfully pitching an adaptation of Story of Your Life and was about to give up on it. Producers Dan Cohen and Dan Levine eventually united Villeneuve and Heisserer, with the result being a towering achievement in the genre. Villeneuve’s approach of measured stillness gives this first contact story considerable gravitas, while keeping it intimate and personal in that the events are largely seen from one character’s point of view. Aficionados of the genre will recognise certain elements in Arrival, but the way they’re assembled and presented is unlike any sci-fi film before it.

arrival-shipVilleneuve refrains from flashy stylistic flourishes, with the aliens and their ships deliberately under-designed. Much of the atmosphere comes courtesy of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score. Its ominous electronic tones are contrasted with the stirring strings of Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight, which opens and closes the film.

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Arrival’s premise is built on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the concept in linguistics that one’s worldview is intrinsically shaped by the structure of one’s language. While Arrival does require its audience to be engaged in the story, it doesn’t drop one off in the deep end to drown in dense techno-babble. Several sci-fi/fantasy TV shows and movies have boasted entirely invented alien languages, but this has generally been done as a world-building move to give the fictional civilisations more texture. In Arrival, the heptapods’ language is the backbone of the story rather than a detail, with the structure of the language demonstrating the heptapods’ transcendent perception of time. By the time we get to the mind-bending conclusion, we were fully invested in the plot. As trippy as the ending is, it does not break any of the earlier-established rules.

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Villenueve’s films can generally be described as “cold”, but Adams’ performance anchors Arrival with warmth and humanity. Adams’ ability to convey a rich range of emotions while remaining understated is an invaluable asset here. We are presented with a back-story for Louise that seems emotionally manipulative, but Adams’ performance gives the character great depth, and we are later provided context for said back-story. Louise is analytical, but not condescending in the way academics in movies often can be. She is shaken by her initial encounter with the aliens, as anyone would be, but she forges ahead to make sense of the information she’s been given.

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Renner’s Ian serves as a foil to Adams’ Louise, with Renner bringing just enough roguish charm to the part. Ian takes a back seat to Louise for most of the film, but in the middle of stressful circumstances, they find solace in each other. In Ian’s introductory scene, he disagrees with Louise that language is the foundation of any culture, contending that science is instead. Louise and Ian’s relationship is symbolic of how the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences intersect. By working together towards a common goal, Louise and Ian overcome the obstacles in their path instead of getting in each other’s way, making the duo one that is easy to root for.

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Whitaker plays the military man whose every action is governed by orders from on high, and who baulks at some of the unorthodox methods employed by Louise and Ian but is ultimately supportive of their efforts. The film lacks nuance in its portrayal of how other countries are reacting to the alien ships stationed in their backyards. Louise and Ian are spearheading the American effort to establish contact with the heptapods and as expected, Russia and China are seen being the most aggressive. Still, “lacking nuance” is relative, since most the film is complex and sensitively realised. It is disheartening to think that the current U.S. President-Elect would likely nuke the heptapods into oblivion as a knee-jerk reaction instead of sending a linguist and a physicist to deduce the aliens’ raison d’être.

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While Will Smith welcoming an extra-terrestrial marauder to Earth with a swift punch to the face might be the pop culture conception of first contact with aliens, sci-fi abounds with more contemplative approaches to this hypothetical situation. As Arrival draws to a close, it becomes clear that this film deserves a place in the sci-fi pantheon alongside the very best examples of the genre.

Summary: As intelligent and thought-provoking as it is moving and profound, Arrival’s approach to the scenario of mankind’s first contact with beings not of this Earth is powerful and sublime.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong