Greenland review

For F*** Magazine

GREENLAND

Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast : Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, David Denman, Hope Davis, Andrew Bachelor, Holt McCallany
Genre: Action/Disaster
Run Time : 2 h
Opens : 13 August 2020 (Sneaks 7-12 August)
Rating : PG13

Gerard Butler’s last brush with the disaster movie genre was the delightfully bombastic, ludicrous Geostorm. This time, Butler stars in a disaster movie of a different stripe, one that strives to be serious, harrowing, and relatable.

A comet designated ‘Clarke’ is headed for earth. While initial estimates were that the fragments would burn up on re-entry, they instead begin decimating cities around the world. Structural engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) are selected to be relocated to a shelter at a classified location, later revealed to be Greenland. Mass unrest ensues as people learn of the existence of these bunkers and fight for a chance to be taken there. John and his family must get to safety within 48 hours, when the largest fragment is estimated to strike, causing an extinction-level-event akin to what killed the dinosaurs.

Greenland takes a different approach from the typical Hollywood disaster movie formula. The focus is kept on the Garrity family, such that there aren’t a thousand subplots fighting for viewers’ attention. This isn’t about NASA sending astronauts to destroy the comet in its tracks, and we don’t get any scenes set in Mission Control. The intimate scope is juxtaposed against a global disaster and there are multiple tense sequences that keep viewers invested in the protagonists’ desperate journey. Brief appearances by Scott Glenn and Holt McCallany add texture to the proceedings without distracting from the Garritys. This reviewer was worried that Vine star Andrew Bachelor, better known as King Bach, would be distracting, but his cameo was not an obnoxious one.

Greenland taps into the paranoia of needing to count on strangers in a time of crisis and not knowing if they can be counted on. Some of the side characters that our heroes come across are kind and selfless, while others are opportunistic and selfish, and this seems to reflect the spectrum of responses one sees in any disaster scenario. Butler, Baccarin, and Floyd are reasonably convincing as a family unit, and unlike many American movies Butler has starred in, this film acknowledges his Scottish roots and uses that as a plot point. He is not an invincible action hero here and the movie is all the better for it.

The movie strives for grounded realism, but a degree of implausibility is unavoidable given the premise. Director Ric Roman Waugh, who previously collaborated with Butler on Angel Has Fallen and whose other movies include Snitch and Shot Caller, is a competent journeyman director with a background as a stunt performer. He is most comfortable staging sequences involving vehicular collisions, an action movie staple, but that is not as compelling as everything else that is happening in Greenland.

Greenland wants to be emotional but not gooey and sentimental, but it sometimes tips towards the latter, especially with the gauzy flashbacks of the family in happier times, and some clumsy heart-to-heart dialogue. The film’s limited budget is also noticeable in scenes involving mass hysteria, where there are a great many extras, just not enough. The full-on CGI destruction sequences are just a touch synthetic-looking, but they are not the movie’s focus and they get the job done.

Current events have put many audiences in an apocalyptic mindset – one would think that audiences would actively avoid watching movies that remind them of real-world fears, but movies like Outbreak and Contagion received renewed popularity during lockdown. Movies allow us to face our fears in a physically safe way, and disaster movies usually contain an element of “this could happen to you” that is scary but also exciting. The problem is that disaster movies often trade on spectacle, and it is hard to accept said spectacle as entertainment if it hits too close to home. Greenland’s approach is much closer to the Norwegian disaster movie The Wave and its sequel The Quake, and maybe this is an overall better direction to head in than the “destruction porn” style of disaster movie popularised by directors like Roland Emmerich.

Greenland is not especially sophisticated and succumbs to some disaster movie clichés, but it is generally more believable than most movies of its ilk and is effective at generating sympathy for its central characters.

Summary: Greenland is sufficiently harrowing and engaging, reimagining a familiar disaster movie scenario with intimacy and immediacy.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Guns Akimbo review

For F*** Magazine

GUNS AKIMBO

Director: Jason Lei Howden
Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
Genre: Action/comedy
Run Time : 1 h 37 mins
Opens : 19 March 2020
Rating : M18

Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career has featured several eclectic roles. From playing a man who grows horns out of his forehead in Horns to playing a corpse in Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe isn’t afraid to get a bit weird. In this movie, a very normal fate befalls his character: getting pistols bolted onto his hands.

Radcliffe plays Miles, a mild-mannered programmer working on a successful mobile game. He takes delight in “trolling the trolls”, engaging in online spats with those who get their kicks from posting deliberate offensive comments. An underground fight club called Skizm is fast gaining popularity, with alarming numbers of people watching the live deathmatches online. After Miles trolls the Skizm chat, he is targeted by Riktor, the mad mastermind behind the game. Riktor and his goons break into Miles’ house and surgically bolt guns to Miles’ hands. He is then forced to fight the reigning Skizm champion Nix (Samara Weaving), who wants to quit the game after this final match. Miles attempts to explain his predicament to his ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and unwittingly involves her in the dangerous proceedings. As the masses watch online, Miles must survive the ordeal and defeat Nix to escape with his life.

Guns Akimbo seems to follow in the tradition of Crank and other Neveldine/Taylor movies: they’re not for everyone, but the people that they are for embrace the craziness. There is something clever and just the right amount of twisted in the premise, with Radcliffe being the ideal sympathetic protagonist. The movie gets a lot of mileage of the logistic challenges of going through life with two loaded guns surgically attached to one’s hands, let alone doing so when someone else is trying to kill you. This is an ambitious action film that wears its neon-soaked, hopped-up style on its sleeve and accomplishes a lot on a limited budget.

The film’s best scene is an exchange between Miles and the vagrant Glenjamin (Rhys Darby), because its one of the few times the movie slows down enough to catch its own breath.

Unfortunately, Guns Akimbo ramps everything to eleven to the point of being altogether numbing. The action is so frenetic that after a while, it stops making an impact. The film’s hyperactivity makes it difficult to engage with, such that it crosses the threshold of being exhilarating to being exhausting. This is something that would have been great as a 15-minute-long short film.

The film’s messaging is confusing: apparently, Miles deserves to have guns bolted to his hands and to be forced into a live deathmatch because he claps back against online trolls. In writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s estimation, it is those who oppose cyberbullies who are worse than the cyberbullies themselves. While Miles’ motivations are far from pure, the movie deems his behaviour worthier of ridicule and scorn than that of online harassers.

Guns Akimbo is so enamoured of its own perceived edginess that it fails to make any insightful or incisive statements on toxic online culture. The movie wants us to root for Miles, but also take sadistic delight in his comeuppance, as if he’s gotten exactly what he deserves. There are times when this film feels like Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer, which was often gross, nihilistic and pointless. It is disheartening but unsurprising that Howden himself perpetuated an online harassment campaign, targeting film journalists and falsely accusing them of driving another film writer to suicide.

In addition to Radcliffe, the film has a strong cast. Samara Weaving is fast becoming a genre darling, especially after starring in last year’s Ready or Not and with Snake Eyes and Bill and Ted Face the Music on the way this year. As the stereotypical leather-clad badass punk girl, Weaving is plenty of fun to watch and the film manages to surprise when it reveals Nix’s back-story.

Ned Dennehy is also great fun as the villainous Riktor, a sadistic close talker who sports a face full of tattoos. Everyone in the film knows what they signed up for, and even though Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s role is pretty much the stock girlfriend, she’s still watchable in the role.

Summary: Guns Akimbo is a would-be cult movie that is too enamoured with its status as a would-be cult movie. It expends more effort loudly announcing how out-there and edgy it is while not being as entertaining as it hypes itself up to be. There are moments when it’s genuinely amusing and Radcliffe is superb in the lead role, but the movie’s manic obnoxiousness winds up working against it. There is a fair bit in Guns Akimbo that works, including its cast and the inventiveness of its premise, but this is a movie that gets in its own way too much to truly be enjoyable.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bloodshot review

For F*** Magazine

BLOODSHOT

Director: Dave S. F. Wilson
Cast : Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Guy Pearce, Lamorne Morris, Talulah Riley, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson
Genre: Action/sci-fi/comics
Run Time : 1 h 50 mins
Opens : 12 March 2020
Rating : PG13

Marvel and DC might be the big boys in the comics game, but avid readers know that there are many other publishers out there whose characters have great cinematic potential. There has been talk of movies based on Valiant Comics characters for a while now, with Bloodshot being the first Valiant character to arrive on the big screen.

Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is an elite Marine who, following a successful mission, is brutally murdered. He is brought back to life using cutting-edge regenerative nanotechnology devised by Rising Spirits Technologies (RST), headed up by Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). In this powerful resurrected form, Ray – codenamed “Bloodshot” – vows revenge against the man who killed him and his wife. However, Ray is not being told the whole story and there is an insidious conspiracy afoot. Ray realises that Dr Harting and his associates KT (Eiza González), Jimmy (Sam Heughan) and Tibbs (Alex Hernandez), who all sport cybernetic enhancements, may not be entirely trustworthy. Ray might be reborn, but he is not free – using his newfound abilities, he must uncover the scheme that he is entangled in and wrest control from those who seek to use him for their own ends.

Bloodshot may feature high-tech sci-fi gadgetry, but it is a throwback, in ways both good and bad. It is a straightforward superhero origin story with an emphasis on technology rather than the fantastical, but it’s often still over-the-top and bombastic. There may not be any grand surprises here, but Bloodshot is entertaining and paced well enough.

There are a few outstanding action sequences, such as the first time Bloodshot’s full powers are revealed in combat. That scene is set in a barricaded tunnel where a truck transporting flour has crashed, making it atmospheric in an inventive way. There’s a big set-piece that takes place in the external elevator shaft of a skyscraper which is dynamic and eye-catching.

The practical effects work including the high-tech prosthetics and exo-suit, created by WETA Workshop, is done well. Director Dave S. F. Wilson’s background is in video game cinematics – he worked on games including Bioshock Infinite, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 2 and Halo Wars for Blur Studios. This is Wilson’s directorial debut and while his inexperience does show, it’s entirely possible that he could improve.

The hook here is that a non-Marvel/DC comic is receiving a big-budget adaptation, but Bloodshot is too generic and mired in clichés to be its own thing, unlike the Guillermo del Toro-directed Hellboy movies were in the 2000s. Bloodshot makes a stab at being self-aware – one character mentions “movie clichés” – but it doesn’t wear that self-awareness well. This is the kind of movie that has not one but two comic relief tech guys.

The dialogue is often exceedingly stupid, but despite several moments of unintentional comedy, the movie is slightly too competent to qualify as something that’s so bad it’s good. All the characters are flat, despite the efforts of some of the actors. Eiza González is doing the best she can with the material and almost contributes some level of emotional resonance to the proceedings. Diesel has the action hero cred but is altogether too bland – this is not helped by the blank slate nature of the character. One gets the sense that Wilson just isn’t a good director of actors, at least he isn’t yet. It seems beside the point to call this “predictable” because it was never going to be anything but predictable. There’s a lot of potential in the concept of a hero who is being manipulated using technology, but the film doesn’t want to delve too deeply into any of those implications.

Bloodshot is intended to launch a Valiant cinematic universe, but it’s to its credit that unlike, say, 2017’s The Mummy, it’s not overly concerned with frantically gesturing to Easter Eggs and hinting at what’s to come (even if an Easter egg or two for Valiant fans would have been nice). There isn’t even a post-credits scene. Bloodshot is closely linked to the Harbinger series, but the Harbinger movie adaptation has moved from Sony to Paramount, meaning that previous plans for an interconnected universe have likely been affected. The only time that an official other media adaptation of Valiant properties has been made before this is the 2018 web series Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe, co-produced by Bat in the Sun. In that series, Power Rangers star Jason David Frank portrayed Bloodshot.

 

Summary: Bloodshot is not a great movie – it’s not even an especially good movie – but it has a lot of things that this reviewer loves about the sci-fi action genre and even if it doesn’t reach the full potential of the source material, one can tell that some or even most of the people involved were giving this their best shot. If you’re looking for something to rival the best Marvel and DC movies out there, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for diverting, entertaining sci-fi action that sometimes feels like it’s out of the early-mid 2000s, Bloodshot has you covered.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Till Death: the star and creators of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her talk the dark comedy series

For F*** Magazine

Munah Bhagarib, Caitanya Tan, Noah Yap and Haresh Tilani in She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her

With its wanton swearing, sexual situations, sometimes-graphic violence and yes, depictions of terrorism, She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her doesn’t sound like a typical Singapore-made comedy series. That’s exactly why its makers are hoping it will shake things up.

The series is the first Singaporean show to be picked up by the streaming service Hooq. She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her was the winner of the second annual Hooq Filmmakers Guild and because it is hosted on the platform, it is not bound by the typical constraints that govern Singaporean TV series. The premium video-on-demand service is a joint venture between Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers and Singtel and is available in Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and India.

She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her revolves around extremists Zeta (Munah Bhagarib) and Lang (Caitanya Tan) who aim to blow up key landmarks in Singapore. They are members of the anti-capitalist Children of the Harvest terror network, led by the fanatical Kong (Benjamin Kheng). To infiltrate Singaporean society, Zeta and Lang enter sham marriages with sex shop technician Hayden (Noah Yap) and recently-divorced Jo (Haresh Tilani) respectively, both heavily indebted to a brutal loan shark. Under the guise of marrying these Singaporean men, Zeta and Lang will be able to carry out their deadly mission – but what happens when the terrorists and the men they’ve essentially taken hostage start to develop real feelings for each other?

She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her is the brainchild of Terence Chia and Haresh Tilani, who are behind the YouTube comedy channel Ministry of Funny. The first three episodes of the eight-episode series are available to watch for free on Hooq and MeWatch (formerly Toggle).

Terence Chia, Jordan Nalpon and Haresh Tilani on the set of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her

In this in-depth, no-holds-barred interview conducted at Ministry of Funny’s office, F*** speaks to Terence, Haresh and their producer Jordan Nalpon about everything that went into making the series. They discuss how they hope the series will pave the way for Singapore-made content going forward, their experience working with Hooq, the genesis and development of the concept, the demanding production schedule, the social issues addressed in the series and what the dynamic between the cast was like – plus the vital matter of Noah Yap putting dildos in his mouth.

F***: I’m interested in stuff that comes out of Singapore, especially English-language stuff and stuff that has a genre bent, that’s a little bit towards action, sci-fi or horror. I’ve always felt like in Singapore, there exists a spectrum where the stuff that plays to the heartland uncles and aunties is on one end, and the stuff that goes to Cannes is on the other end, and there’s nothing in the middle. That’s frustrated me to no end. I feel like this a step towards filling that void?

HARESH TILANI: We’ve used that analogy quite a lot.

TERENCE CHIA: You’ve described the entire Singapore industry in one sentence.

HARESH: And what we’re trying to do, and hopefully did with this show.

I started out wanting to write things and make things and gave up on that after a while. I feel like everybody faces that – how did you overcome that hump, how did you get from “Cannot” to “Can”?

HARESH: A lot of trying. We started off on YouTube – the beauty of YouTube is that if you make stuff that people like, you can grow. It doesn’t matter whether you went to film school. That is a value that you see in Youtubers, but when I talk to people who come from the traditional path, it’s not as apparent. It’s almost like the internet trains you. It also teaches you that you can have a s***-ass video, but the next video might go viral. During that pitching process, we got rejected a f***-ton of times by people we were pitching to. We need to maintain our own voice, our own brand and not compromise that, and someone will say yes.

TERENCE: Comedy itself, we’ve been chipping away at it for eight years, starting from short-form, small YouTube videos, trying all kinds of different formats because social media changes every day, then finally getting to apply everything we learnt to a long-form show. In our minds, comedy was the ultimate destination we wanted to get to, to make people laugh. Whatever format it is, we will do what it takes to get there, and this was the biggest challenge so far.

HARESH: I think one thing that helps is reading biographies or stories of people that I admire or respect a lot. Anyone in the creative or media industry who has done anything that is worth mentioning, they had their own long-ass path to get there.

What was the genesis of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her, and how did the pieces of the concept snap into place?

TERENCE: Through our YouTube [channel] and everything, we’ve been involved in recent years in some counterterrorism, making videos that are PSAs about [terrorism] – telling people to be alert about their surroundings but also to understand where terrorism originates from. Oftentimes, it originates from people who are very disgruntled with society. A lot of times, they’re left on the fringes. A concept like this is really examining people on the fringes and how they slowly fall on the wrong side of the tracks.

I’ve also seen in my own family and friends people trying to marry foreigners. The whole process is intricate and at certain points, almost comedic. Some of the things they’re made to do – they get a lot of mistrust not only from the state but from other family members or friends of the bride or groom, depending on which side is the foreigner. When you hear about the struggles that these people go through to get married to a Singaporean and you think about some guys who get into sham marriages for a few hundred dollars, you think “What could possibly push a man to sell his singlehood to get into all this trouble?” That was the seed of it.

HARESH: My background is I’m Indian, so I’ve seen a lot of my cousins get forced into arranged marriages, even cousins who are only a few years older than me. In some ways, [the scenario in the show] is a forced marriage, a loveless marriage and [perhaps] love can develop somehow.

One thing that’s tricky about tackling the subject matter in a comedy was the tone. In the writing and shooting process, did you find yourselves second-guessing how funny or serious a given moment might be? Were there points when you went “nope, too much” or “too little, we can push this more”?

TERENCE: I’ll speak for the writing process – we were very cognisant to run it as collaboratively as possible and try to not just pay lip service by having a two week-long writers’ room, which is a rarity as far as I know. TV shows in Singapore, it’s usually one-two writers max. We had a team of writers and Jordan was in the writers’ room as well. We really hammered out the A-Z of the story, Episode 1-Episode 8, including any jokes that came out in the process. We had index cards over the whole wall. We also made sure our writers’ room was fairly diverse in terms of race and gender, so we had a pretty broad swathe of who finds what funny. In that sense, keeping the tone was, from the very start, ingrained in us.

HARESH: We knew we didn’t want to do a show that had three laughs a page, which is the sitcom standard. We did face some resistance at some point talking to some people, but we were clear that we wanted it to go very dark at some points, but also have moments of laughter. There are shows that do [jokes per minute] very well, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the best example of that – it’s super-funny, it always ends on a nice note. We used a few shows for reference: there’s Barry, which I think is the best reference. Some parts, you can have him strangling somebody to death, and other parts are just laugh-out-loud funny. Even in our writers’ room, there were a few jokes that ruffled some feathers, but if it’s just one out of six, chances are we’ll go with it.

We were very cognisant of the fact that this show involves terrorism, so we didn’t want to open ourselves to unnecessary backlash. We wanted to flip stereotypes: typically the stereotype of a terrorist is a bearded dark-skinned man. We initially wanted an all-female cult, but then we thought there was a lot more to talk about with the power dynamics between male and female, so we made it a point to make them all light-skinned, we never tied them to a religion or ethnicity or culture, we made them anti-capitalists. We were thinking, if a terrorist wanted to attack Singapore, why would they? We’re still more secular than other countries. One thing Singapore is known for is capitalism.

TERENCE: On the production side, we were very collaborative with the actors with improvising lines, even though there was a script there. We knew the general tone of what we were looking for, but a bit more intelligent comedy, a bit darker. We tried to make it like that through the whole production. Once you get into production, you don’t have time to workshop stuff at all.

HARESH: One thing that helps is that we had an online editor to do an initial cut, but the final offline edit was handled by Terence and I, so we knew the tone we were looking for. You can do a lot to shape the tone in editing.

It sounds like Hooq gave you a lot of control.

TERENCE: Working with them was a joyful experience. They even came in and sat in on our writers’ room for a while to give us ideas. They told us to really push the limits in terms of vulgarity, sex, violence and anything.

HARESH: In fact, at certain points they pushed us to certain places we didn’t think of going. We got a lot of notes from them, they were pushing us, but it was always motivated by telling a good story, which is not what I’ve heard other people talk about when they work with Singapore networks. Other networks are a bit more constrained by censorship, where the notes they give you really harm the story, but you have to work within those constraints.

JORDAN NALPON: During the development stage, there was a lot of self-censorship going on, because would say “oh, you can’t do this in Singapore, the show needs to travel.” A lot of time for us, it was “no, we have to push this.”

TERENCE: It was very refreshing working with Hooq and hearing from them “just push it in whatever direction you want.”

The series speaks to a lot of anxieties that Singaporeans, especially millennial Singaporeans, face. The series addresses elitism and the veneer of meritocracy, workplace sexual harassment and racism. Was this something that you set out to do, or did that kind of organically grow out of the story?

TERENCE: I think just looking at our YouTube videos, a lot of them [already] deal with these themes and these topics. I don’t wake up and say “I’m going to fight racism today”, we’re not social justice warriors, but these themes run through our day-to-day thinking and some of it comes through in our writing as well.

HARESH: Some of it also grew organically. When we talked about the Michelle (Tiffy G) character in the office, we knew we wanted to have a workplace to talk about bureaucracy, then when we decided the character would be female, we said “if it’s a female in a corporate workplace, sexual harassment [might happen]”. We had certain high-level things: the main question the series wanted to ask was “are you willing to sacrifice your life for what you believe in?” Once you distil it, it can be sacrificing your career for what you believe in.

When you introduce the character of Jo’s daughter, that becomes a factor, that raises the stakes.

HARESH: The way this happened was we made the pilot first, so when we got [picked up] to series, we wanted to expand the world, and that’s when we brought it Kong and the daughter, just to give a bit more depth to [the world].

I’ll preface this question by saying that comedy is subjective. One thing that a lot of content creators fear is that their work will be deemed “cringey”. Leaving aside that that’s not the right way to put it – it should be “cringe-inducing” or “cringe-worthy” – how do content creators mitigate a fear of making stuff that’s cringe-inducing, and how do you avoid comedy that could be cringe-inducing?

JORDAN: I would say confidence plays a part in the whole thing, like I mentioned just now about self-censorship. I think ‘cringeyness’ is when you see people holding back in their performances and it gets to that awkward position. We got the freedom – it was “guys, go full on, ch**b**, k**i*a, just whack.” When you say things in full confidence, you don’t give a s*** about whether it’ll be cringe-worthy, that’s how it becomes not cringe-worthy.

TERENCE: That’s the thing about comedy – if you don’t go all the way with confidence, then it becomes flaccid, it becomes lame, it becomes cringe-inducing. If you go all the way and people don’t find it funny, just move on. If you run with the joke it won’t fail.

HARESH: What you’re saying is from the perspective of an actor performing it, but even in the editing process, we try to make it as rigorous as possible such that there’ll be one person editing it for that episode, but everyone gives as honest feedback as possible – even down the second: “this one goes two beats too long”. We have that internal kind of check, but I would say that I showed it to a few of my friends and I was so anxious through the whole thing, asking them “do they find this funny?” “Do they find that funny?” And I don’t think it will ever go away, which is why I finally understand why directors and filmmakers say they don’t watch their stuff, because I don’t think there will come a time when we can say “that was definitely funny”.

What was the dynamic like between the four leads, Haresh, Munah, Caitanya and Noah, on the set? Who is most different in real life from their characters in the series – in other words, who has to do the most acting?

HARESH: I would say because it was an intense shoot, quite a lot was demanded of every character. On set, the professionalism was all there, but then the off-set personas needed a bit more time to gel. At the end of the day, everyone was on the same page and wanted to do something kick-ass. I would say we got along very well. The nice thing I felt as an actor was that there was a lot of room to feed off each other. It helped that we were both the writers and directors, as opposed to other sets where the writers are not on the same. We knew that if certain lines change or if they something that is not per script but doesn’t affect the story, we can run with it. I would say between the actors and supporting actors, everyone enjoyed the possibility of not having to filter what they say.

TERENCE: Building on from that, they had a very good dynamic, so even for a first-time director like myself, a lot of times I left them to their own devices to work the lines out, then I made sure the tone of the show was maintained – nothing too slapstick, nothing too raw. These guys are all very talented; they really shocked me at certain points where I was struggling to give them directions. If we do a watch-through, I can tell you which parts were improvised. Who would you say is the most different from their characters?

HARESH: Cait and Munah. In the show, their characters are serious and are the fiercest, but when the camera cuts, they’ll run off to a corner to sing. Cait and Munah, in person they’re very friendly, very energetic, very outgoing, but in character they’re like “no, for the mission, we must do this.”

TERENCE: I would say Haresh is the most different from Jo. Jo is someone who doesn’t plan and doesn’t think ahead, but by virtue of being the showrunner as well, [Haresh] was always thinking ahead of where his and the other characters were. On set, we’d be having discussions as showrunners, then the next second he has to jump into “Jo the joker” mode, so kudos to him.

HARESH: Would you say Noah is almost himself?

TERENCE: I think he’s very different.

HARESH: It’s good that we’re having this debate that all are so different, because I was going to say Noah. Noah in real life is like “eh, f*** lah!”

JORDAN: I thought Cait and Munah would be the most different.

HARESH: I guess everyone is different, which is a good thing.

As I was watching the episodes, I thought “there are so many night shoots!” What was the schedule like?

TERENCE: (Laughs) It was insane!

JORDAN: We had 30 days of shooting, because we had a lot of night shoots. We shot in a lot of complex locations – we shot in an actual sex shop, we shot in an actual HDB [flat] and there were a lot of night shoots there as well, we shot at the Merlion, Sentosa…we had 12 hours of 30 days, a lot of overnights. A lot of kudos to the team for powering through. We shot overnight then the call time would be 6 pm the next day. There was a lot of juggling the main talents’ schedules, we had to juggle the location schedules – it was a nightmare, but somehow, we pulled it off.

HARESH: We heard that the benchmark of the number of pages you [shoot] a day in Singapore is six-seven, and in Hollywood it’s one-two – we were pushing 10-11.

JORDAN: 10-12

HARESH: If you think about when we started writing this show to when it launched, it was a super short period. We started writing in June, then in February, the whole show was out. We didn’t have as much time to plan as we would have liked and also, we wanted the story to be as big as possible but there are constraints. We decided the story first and had to fit it into 30 days, which was intense.

HARESH: That’s where it also helped that Terence and I were showrunners, because on set, if we needed to cut a scene, we would immediately know the impact of the scene on a future episode, as opposed to being on set where the writer is not even there.

What do you think Singaporeans who want to pursue a career in filmmaking or in the arts can do to combat the very understandable disillusionment that they might face?

HARESH: One thing is to understand that it’s going to be a long-ass process. Now with social media, the notion is that you can get famous in a short time. Even when I started, I thought “within one year, I can gauge what this going to be,” but it’s a long f***ing process. If you’re not willing to think long-term, it will be hard.

TERENCE: Patience is underrated in this industry. Social media gives people this expectation of overnight success, but for us, through YouTube, when we wanted to do long-form stuff, people would say “What qualifications do you have to shoot something longer-term or write or direct?” We just had to slowly build up our war chest over time. When the time comes and all the cards are in place, you just activate everyone. By then, you have built up enough networks, enough cred, to get people to want to work with you. Even thought it might be your first time doing something so big, which is what happened to us, we said “one day we want to work on something big together”. Like the AD (Assistant Director) for example – he started off as a PA on one of our one-day shoots somewhere in town.

HARESH: And now he’s one of the finalists for this year’s Hooq Filmmakers Guild, he’s writing and directing.

TERENCE: We’re not taking credit for his hard work, but [you build] working relationships and then you learn to trust each other, later when the bigger projects come along, suddenly you realise “hey, I have this team of people.” Everybody wants to see you succeed.

HARESH: To build on that, doing it in a group, not just on a project-by-project basis, helps a lot. If I were doing this alone, I’d be f***ed. Having Terence and Jordan to work with helps a lot, because if you feel like s***, then other people can prop you up. It’s the same advice given to start-up founders: if you do a business yourself, it’s going to be f***ing shag (fatiguing), you need people to support you. Two other things I try to do are think of ways to perk yourself up. I actually have a list of videos that I watch or articles that I read whenever I feel like s***.

You have a self-care playlist.

HARESH: Yeah, I do. Just listening to people that I respect and hearing their stories, it does help. Also, what I tell everyone who feels a sense of jadedness is just go to Hollywood for a week, find some way to go to Hollywood. I’m not saying move there, but just go there, because it’s a breath of fresh air and suddenly things seem possible again. The last thing is to know that for every person you find who questions you and who is jaded, there’s also somebody who wants to create something epic, that helps a lot. We’re not young, but we’re still doing this. On set, we had a lot of people who had not done a long-form [project] of this intensity before, but we valued this hunger and attitude over experience.

How did you put the crew together?

TERENCE: A big part of our job is selling, and to assemble the crew at the very start, we had to sell them the idea, the possibilities of the script. When the art director Matt came on board, we were totally not expecting someone of his experience and calibre to agree so quickly to a project like that. He read the script, he said it feels like it’s exciting and something he wants to do, and on the spot, he said “I’ll do it”. It was like a shock to us – when you have a script that can really sell the idea well, that’s when people jump on it.

JORDAN: The people who are on board are very keen on the idea that this is a project where we can just go to the extremes, we’ve got a lot of creative freedom, we can do a lot of stuff that doesn’t normally appear in other local productions.

TERENCE: Like what ah?

JORDAN: We have the sex shop, bare ass, dildo in the mouth…

Whose bare ass?

JORDAN: You carry on watching.

HARESH: One of the older guys in the production.

TERENCE: There’s a sex scene.

There is a sex scene.

TERENCE: Male orgasm.

HARESH: Normally a sex scene is the male gaze, but we flip it and focus on the male.

TERENCE: There is a very big sex scene that will make people who thought Last Madame was the s*** blush.

JORDAN: When we tell this to everyone on our team and tell them that this is what the project will be like, they say “we want in”.

That’s attractive to people because when things have felt stagnant for so long, and not for lack of talent or lack of creativity but because of the structure that’s in place, something that breaks the structure is attractive to people.

HARESH: I think it also helps that we had a pilot and it beat out hundreds of entries from around Asia, so it was like this is something that’s been validated.

So, what’s next, what do you have cooking?

HARESH: We have a slate of long-form ideas in various stages of development. Some are just at the logline stage, and some have a full treatment. That’s where this show has opened doors to check with a lot of people about the possibility about these projects. Also, reviving our Facebook and YouTube presences.

TERENCE: Back to what you said about being in between the heartland-aimed movies and the prestige festival movies, with this one we feel like we’ve made our mark in Singapore in trying to do something in the middle.

And to travel, as well.

TERENCE: Making something regional is our next target, something the region as a whole can hang their hat on, like Shutter, which for Southeast Asia was very big thing, something for Southeast Asians to say “this is from our region”. It can be in English and not make people cringe.

HARESH: Like what you said, in Singapore there’s definitely talent: for crew, for cast, for everything. It’s just finding a story that is not just applicable to Singapore, but global.

A lot of people will start off with ambitions and ideas, and after a certain point decide that there isn’t a point to it anymore, so I think it’s showing that there still is a point, and things are able to break through that and say “hey, this works”.

JORDAN: I agree with Terence on the whole thing of being between Jack Neo and Eric Khoo, because we need to cater to the masses, the common audience. I grew up in film school on all these foreign films. I went to National Service and talked to my friends over that who have no film background, and I asked them what they thought the best film was. They thought the best film was Transformers 2, they considered that the best film. It dawned on me that it’s them that we need to cater [to], it’s for people who want to come home, sit down, turn on the TV and watch something. I don’t think we need to do super arthouse – I don’t think people want to come home and destress by watching super arthouse stuff.

You want to destress by watching Noah Yap fixing a vibrator.

JORDAN: I think we need to head to that direction, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

It’s not that there’s no artistic merit to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A lot of people love it and it’s still good.

HARESH: It’s a great show.

Haresh and Terence, both of you met at UPenn in Wharton. What you’ve done is basically every Asian parent’s nightmare – you’ve left the business world for the world of the arts, but it has of course worked out very well for you. What has that journey been like?

TERENCE: It’s not worked out that well [laughs]. We’re still working on it. There’s never a point where you actually feel like you’ve “made it”, whether it’s the first viral video or the first time you get paid to do something you love. Obviously over the years, I’ve developed a much thicker skin. You go to meet family and they look at you like you could have been the pride of the family and now, look at you, you’re vermin. Over time, especially the cousins and the people in our generation, they’re much more open to people pursuing their passions. You learn to celebrate the small victories, which is how you stay sane. I feel very proud of how far we’ve all come. Each of us has our own individual stories of the challenges before we got to this point. The whole series is something we’re proud of.

HARESH: I was working for an airline. I have an older brother and it’s the same thing, my family would say “it would be nice if you could stay in the corporate world,” but there’s also something that I think is worth sacrificing that stuff for this. The reason why we’re so open in saying “we haven’t made it yet” is I don’t want to portray it such that people think we’ve made it.

What helped me cope with being down is knowing that everyone you respect went through s*** times. If we were to say “we’ve made it,” it’s not fair to people who might read this and say “f***, they made it from zero to this in five years”. It’s always going to be a struggle. Even if you listen to people in Hollywood, some actors I respect, they say the anxiety never leaves you. You can be in a movie, then the next six months, you get nothing. That’s the nature of the industry. Over the years, you learn to deal with it.

JORDAN: For me, it’s the definition of “making it”. I’ve had this conversation with others as well, “making it” is an ongoing battle for your whole life. If you say you’ve “made it,” you stop pursuing this career. It’s a matter of “you’ve done this, what is next?” We did a TV series, so what is next for us? If you say you’ve made it, then you’re done, you do something else, but I’ll say we’ve never made it and we carry on the fight.

All eight episodes of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her can be viewed here. The first three episodes are available for free.

Onward review

For F*** Magazine

ONWARD

Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast : Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, Lena Waithe, Mel Rodriguez
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 42 mins
Opens : 5 March 2020
Rating : PG

Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt take a detour into another fantastical realm in this animated adventure comedy from Pixar.

Holland and Pratt voice elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot respectively. They live with their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), their father having passed away when Barley was very young and before Ian had any memory of him. On the day of Ian’s 16th birthday, he is gifted a magical staff and an accompanying scroll – inscribed upon it is a spell that could bring their father back to life for just one day. Unfortunately, there’s a hitch and only their father’s legs materialise. Ian and Barley must go on a quest in search of the Phoenix gem to bring all of their father back before the 24-hour window expires.

Onward uses its lead voice actors to great effect, with Holland and Pratt both playing to type – Holland’s Ian is the awkward reserved young man who’s coming of age, while Pratt’s Barley is enthusiastic and boisterous if irresponsible. The movie hinges upon Ian and Barley’s relationship as siblings and does a good job of showing how even though they fight and disagree, they ultimately love each other and must be there for each other especially since they have lost their father.

This being Pixar, the animation is superb, even if the film is not quite as remarkable design-wise as some of the studio’s other efforts. There isn’t much in the way of elaborate set-pieces, save for a big climactic battle sequence. There’s still a great attention to detail and there is amusement to be derived from the film’s milieu of a modern world populated by magical creatures. There are several inspired gags that are set up and paid off nicely, as well as a good amount of physical comedy – the film gets a lot of mileage out of the floppy “dummy” that stands in for the missing upper body of Ian and Barley’s father.

Octavia Spencer voices Corey, a Manticore who runs a tavern and whose glory days are somewhat behind her. The film includes a subplot in which Laurel seeks Corey’s help to find her missing sons and ensure their safety. Corey makes for a fun side character.

While Onward has the novelty of being Pixar’s first real foray into the high fantasy genre, its plot is extremely generic – it’s a chosen one hero’s journey, right down to the rite of passage that takes place on a significant birthday. It feels like the movie has bursts of inspiration, with serviceable story beats in between. Almost all of Pixar’s movies can be classified as road trip stories in some form or another, and Onward is no exception. We know our heroes will meet colourful characters and get into scrapes along the way, but it feels like Onward falls just a bit short of its full imaginative potential. It lacks the poignancy and the considered observations of other Pixar films – it is effectively emotional and moving, but also often in danger of coming off as emotionally manipulative.

The filmmakers demonstrate a palpable affection for Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering and tabletop/card games of their ilk. The film even includes two actual D&D monsters, which appear courtesy of Wizards of the Coast. Once the target of the 80s “Satanic panic”, Onward is yet another sign of how D&D has entered the mainstream pop culture consciousness.

A big part of what makes the movie work is that there is a personal component for director and co-writer Dan Scanlon, who also helmed Monster’s University for Pixar. Scanlon’s father passed away when he was one and his brother was three, leaving behind a tape recording of him simply saying “hi” and “bye”. The film’s palpable emotional resonance is a result of Scanlon bringing this personal history to the table.

Summary: Onward’s plot may be an old-fashioned hero’s journey and its fantasy elements might be familiar even though they’re blended with modern day trappings, but there’s sincerity and joy in this tale of brotherhood and bereavement. This is not quite Pixar’s best, but it’s still going to find a devoted audience.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Invisible Man (2020) Review

For F*** Magazine

THE INVISIBLE MAN

Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast : Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman
Genre: Sci-fi/Horror
Run Time : 2 h 4 mins
Opens : 27 February 2020
Rating : M18

H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man has captured the imaginations of readers for over a century and spawned multiple adaptations, among the best known being the 1933 Universal Pictures movie starring Claude Raines. Writer-director Leigh Whannell, the co-creator of the Saw franchise, brings a new version of this classic sci-fi horror tale to the big screen.

Cecilia Kass’ (Elisabeth Moss) abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a brilliant scientist in the field of optics. Cecilia has been plotting her escape from Adrian for months, finally succeeding with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and their childhood friend, police officer James Lanier (Aldis Hodge). Adrian apparently commits suicide, but Cecilia suspects he is faking his death and can turn himself invisible. When Cecilia tries to tell Emily and James about what’s happening, they do not believe her, with James worrying that Cecilia might harm his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). A desperate Cecilia must prove that her life is being controlled by this terrifying unseen force before the Invisible Man hurts her and those she loves.

Some classic Universal Monsters characters are harder to update to the present day than others, usually because of their basis in folklore and mythology. The Invisible Man lends itself well to a present-day reimagining because of its science fiction element. This version has little in common with the source material besides a man named Griffin who can turn invisible, but Whannell approaches the familiar premise from an interesting angle. He is a good genre filmmaker, as evidenced by 2018’s sci-fi action horror Upgrade. He plays up the tension, paranoia and suspense in a movie that touches on the omnipresent fears of surveillance and that draws parallels between horror movie monsters and domestic abusers. The Invisible Man is the right amount of clever – it puts enough of a spin on the well-worn idea, without straining too hard to be something you’ve never seen before. This is not a film with a huge budget, but Whannell makes good use of the resources available to him.

Elisabeth Moss puts in a thoroughly convincing central performance. We root for Cecilia as we see things spin out of control because we know that she is being tormented by an actual invisible man and that it isn’t all in her head, but the other characters don’t know this. Moss sells the deep anguish the character feels and gives the movie an emotional urgency. Her performance is reminiscent of the parts of Terminator 2: Judgement Day in which Sarah Connor is yelling at asylum orderlies who don’t believe her warnings of Judgement Day.

Aldis Hodge is a warm, reassuring and heroic presence, and it is genuinely frustrating when he suspects Cecilia of awful things she didn’t do, because Adrian has engineered it to look that way.

It’s clear that Whannell and his crew took great pains to not make this a silly movie. Unfortunately, it seems like at least some silliness is unavoidable. There are some quality scares in this movie, but it’s hard not to chuckle at multiple scenes of a gun floating through the air or at characters being dragged across the room, pounding away at nothing with their fists. The movie is also slightly too long – Whannell pushes the suspense, but we all roughly know where it’s headed, so it seems like there are a few too many ominously-framed shots of empty rooms to emphasise their apparent emptiness. While the movie is not exploitative in its depiction of a domestic abuse survivor and is about how Cecilia wrests power back from her abuser, there are times when the movie feels a bit too much like a Lifetime channel movie of the week.

The Mummy (2017) was meant to kickstart the Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe populated by classic Universal Monsters characters. The critical and commercial failure of that film threw a spanner into those works, which led to the planned Invisible Man movie starring Johnny Depp being scrapped. Somewhat confusingly, an unrelated movie called The Invisible Woman is also in development, with Elizabeth Banks starring and directing. A new Bride of Frankenstein film is in the works with John Krasinski attached, while Paul Feig is developing a project called Dark Army that is said to contain multiple Universal Monsters characters.

This new take on the familiar story is largely tense and frightening, even if it takes a while before we get to the scares and the action.  Leigh Whannell skilfully updates the classic H.G. Wells story by tapping on present-day fears and anxieties, helped immensely by a gripping lead performance from Elisabeth Moss. While the movie still feels somewhat slight and a bit repetitive, this is a further showcase for Whannell’s abilities as a genre filmmaker.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Gentlemen review

For F*** Magazine

THE GENTLEMEN

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast : Mathew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Tom Wu
Genre: Crime/Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 53 mins
Opens : 27 February 2020
Rating : M18

When Guy Ritchie made the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr, there still was a rough-and-tumble street quality to them. Then he made a movie version of the 60s spy-fi series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which still had recognisable Ritchie elements. Then he made the medieval fantasy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and even more out of left field than that, directed the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin. With The Gentlemen, Guy Ritchie returns to his wheelhouse of street-level gangster mayhem, complete with crass irreverent dialogue and plenty of violence.

American-born Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is the UK’s top marijuana kingpin – he reigns over a carefully cultivated empire and now, he’s looking to sell, to live a life of peace with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) who runs a custom car garage.  Fellow American Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) has his eye on Mickey’s operation and faces competition from Dry Eye (Henry Golding), the ambitious apprentice of crime boss Lord George (Tom Wu). Newspaper editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) hires private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) to investigate Mickey’s dealings, after being snubbed by Mickey at a high society shindig. Fletcher offers to sell his findings to Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), meeting Raymond to tell him all the juicy details.

This is vintage Guy Ritchie – rough-and-tumble, witty, twisty, stylish and entertaining. Taken by themselves, none of the individual components of The Gentlemen offer anything new, but Ritchie has assembled them into a whole that works. Ritchie balances the silly and the sinister – there’s a lot about The Gentlemen that’s intended to be funny, but there are also genuinely tense scenes in which characters face off and you’re not sure who’s going to make it out alive. While The Gentlemen is predictable overall, Ritchie’s strength is in creating the illusion of unpredictability in the moment. The movie’s framing device is a meeting between Fletcher and Raymond, which provides the ideal framework for expository details about each characters’ backstory without it seeming tedious. There is a playfulness to The Gentlemen – the meta-fictional component of Fletcher writing a screenplay means that the movie winks so hard a couple of eyelashes almost fly off, but there’s a bit of charm in that.

As with any filmmaker who has cultivated a recognisable style and has become a brand name, there will be those who find said style annoying. The Gentlemen is not a restrained movie, with the Ritchie-ness turned up to 11: adherents will be there for it, but those who aren’t already fans of the director might well be alienated. There are attempts to be shocking that are in line with what one might expect from a Guy Ritchie crime movie – many instances of the c word are dropped and there are many racial slurs used against Jews, East Asians and black people (the film is slightly too amused with the Vietnamese name “Phuc”). Sure, this is a gangster movie populated by unpleasant characters whom we expect to do and say unpleasant things, but there are times when it feels like Ritchie is straining for relevance, that he’s an old dog trying and not always succeeding at performing new tricks. The casual racism is more lazy than shocking. There’s so much going on to the point where it feels like all the subplots and digressions are there to distract the viewer from how rote it is.

Ritchie has assembled a strong ensemble – the casting largely makes sense. McConaughey is having a grand old time playing the wily American – for how over-the-top this movie often is, there’s a level of control to his performance which is quite impressive, even though this doesn’t seem like an acting challenge for McConaughey.

Grant plays against type as a weaselly private investigator who is flamboyant and all too pleased with himself. He plays off Hunnam, Ritchie’s King Arthur, who plays the gruff straight man. Some of the film’s best moments are the interactions between the two, during which it almost feels like a stage play.

Henry Golding plays against type as a young crime lord on the way up – it’s probably the role that’s the most different from the others he’s played in his relatively brief career, but is one that gives him acting cred – “gangster in a Guy Ritchie movie” just looks good on an actor’s CV. It’s a shame that the character is the target of most of the movie’s racism.

Colin Farrell is entertaining as a wrestling coach who wants nothing to do with the drug-dealers and gangsters but is drawn into the fray because his students have stolen from one of Mickey’s weed farms and filmed it, the video going viral. We’re grading on a curve, but he is likely the most decent, ethical character in the film.

Michelle Dockery is, as predicted, under-used – the movie wants to establish Rosalind as being as formidable as her husband, but the narrative always favours him, such that she takes a backseat because that is the nature of the story.

Summary: A vulgar, dirty crime comedy that’s often as dumb as it is clever, The Gentlemen is, for better and worse, trademark Guy Ritchie material.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Color Out of Space review

For F*** Magazine

COLOR OUT OF SPACE

Director: Richard Stanley
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong
Genre: Horror/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 51 mins
Opens : 20 February 2020
Rating : NC16

Two years ago, fans of cult horror films received the gift of Mandy, starring King of Weird Nicolas Cage. Cage reunites with Mandy’s producers for another outing into the land of the bizarre and unsettling, bringing writer-director Richard Stanley with him.

Cage plays Nathan Gardner, a man who lives on his family farm in rural Massachusetts with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), witchcraft-practicing daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and sons Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). A meteorite crashes outside the Gardners’ home, unleashing an alien force known as the Colour that begins to mutate the living things in its proximity, warping reality itself. The Gardner family is soon consumed by madness as they are trapped by the Colour.

Richard Stanley has not made a narrative feature film since he was infamously let go from 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau; the tumultuous behind-the-scenes process is detailed in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s good to have Stanley back, and it’s clear that his eccentricities as a filmmaker make him a good candidate to adapt the work of the influential sci-fi/fantasy-horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. Stanley demonstrates a love for and understanding of the source material, delivering both the mounting, paranoid dread and the gooey Cronenbergian body horror that an adaptation of The Colour Out of Space should possess. The practical creature work by 13 Finger FX is appropriately gross and stomach-turning. This is not a movie for the squeamish: horrible things happen to animals and children and there is a graphic scene depicting self-harm.

While Stanley demonstrates a good command of mood and creates some entrancing visuals, the film’s dialogue is often unconvincing. One of the main things that makes Color Out of Space fall short of greatness is that none of the characters seem like real people, even though we spend a considerable amount of time with them. Joely Richardson puts in a serious, respectable performance, but it’s much harder to buy the Gardners as a family unit than it was to buy, say, the Abbotts in A Quiet Place as a family unit.

Nicolas Cage is at once the film’s greatest asset and its biggest liability. Stephen King disapproved of the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in the film adaptation of The Shining because the story was about a normal man’s descent into madness, and Nicholson already seemed crazed to start with. This problem is eminently present in Color Out of Space.

Stanley’s favourite film starring Cage is Vampire’s Kiss, in which Cage plays a literary agent who unravels after being convinced that he has been bitten by a vampire. This is the movie from which the “You Don’t Say?” meme is derived. Stanley asks Cage to do too much – few can freak out or melt down on screen the way Cage can, but this undercuts the terror that Stanley has carefully constructed, and the silliness of Cage’s performance sometimes prevents us from relating to the Gardners.

A subplot involving the haughty Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kilcher) doesn’t quite seem to go anywhere. Elliot Knight is a good straight man as Ward Phillips, a hydrologist surveying the area for a dam project, but like his equivalent in Lovecraft’s short story, the character functions as a narrator and doesn’t have much presence in the story.

It’s also hard not to compare this movie to the other adaptations of the story, or even unrelated films that were clearly inspired by The Colour Out of Space. Annihilation is the most obvious recent example – what was called “the Shimmer” is basically the Colour. That film did almost everything this one does, just a little bit better.

Stanley has wanted to make this film for a long time, announcing the project in 2013 and releasing a proof-of-concept trailer online that year. There are many little bits of world-building in this film that Lovecraft fans will notice – Ward wears a “Miskatonic University” t-shirt, referencing the fictional university that first appeared in Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator. Stanley intends to make a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations, with The Dunwich Horror to follow Color out of Space. Considering how Lovecraft’s work is interconnected and taking the richness of the Mythos into account, there’s a lot to be mined here.

Recommended? Only if you’re a hardcore Lovecraft fan or really love small, weird genre movies. Even then, this asks more patience of its viewers than the average gory body horror movie.

Summary: Color Out of Space marks a welcome return for long-absent cult filmmaker Richard Stanley, but the silliness of star Nicolas Cage’s lead performance undoes the truly unsettling, disturbing elements of the film.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

 

Birds of Prey review

For F*** Magazine

BIRDS OF PREY

Director: Cathy Yan
Cast : Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor
Genre: Action/Crime/Comics
Run Time : 1 h 49 mins
Opens : 6 February 2020
Rating : NC16

The DC Extended Universe has had its ups and downs. While the franchise has its ardent supporters, moviegoers at large have decided that in the cinematic battle between the two big boys in comics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has emerged victorious. DC’s not going to take that lying down, and as the DCEU heads towards each of the movies being more of their own thing instead of having the close interconnectivity that was originally planned, there’s the opportunity for some exciting alchemy. Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is one such opportunity.

Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie) has struck out on her own and left the Joker – for good, as she tells herself. On a mission of reinvention, Harley finds herself in the crosshairs of mob boss and nightclub proprietor Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis is after Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pickpocket who has stolen something priceless from him. Also caught in the mix are vengeful mafia daughter Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), nightclub singer-turned Sionis’ driver Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Gotham City Police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who wants to bring Sionis to justice. These colourful characters collide on the battleground that is Gotham City as Harley brings her signature blend of chaos to the proceedings.

Birds of Prey knows and embraces what it is. This is a very smart adaptation –  screenwriter Christina Hodson, working closely with Robbie (who also produced the film), changes a lot from the comics but also combines the pieces in a way that works. The character of Harley Quinn is not a member of the Birds of Prey, and interestingly, the film doesn’t try to make her a member of the team – she’s narrating their origin story. Harley is an unreliable narrator, which gives the film license to mess around with the structure, rewinding and fast-forwarding as Harley gives telling the story her best shot. Director Cathy Yan has style to spare, and unlike several earlier DCEU movies, this isn’t one that feels like it has been obviously been meddled with by studio executives. There will inevitably be comparisons to Deadpool, but perhaps Birds of Prey owes a bit more of the oft-overlooked Tank Girl.

Birds of Prey is messy, but it’s messy in a way that feels natural. Robbie has only played Harley Quinn once before, yet displays such ownership of the character, understanding and embodying her in a way that demonstrates her investment in the character and the source material. The fear that many DC Comics fans had going in was that Robbie had turned a Birds of Prey movie into a Harley Quinn movie – this movie feels like a Harley Quinn movie that has collided with a Birds of Prey movie in a “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”/”You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” way.

The movie’s messiness may work for some more than it does for others. The device of Harley as unreliable narrator means that what should be a straightforward narrative is sometimes unnecessarily complicated. The movie must cover multiple back-stories and does so efficiently, but it can still sometimes feel like it’s spreading itself too thin, the way other comic book hero team-up movies sometimes do.

Some deviations from the source material can be difficult to be come to terms with – Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle is often instrumental in forming the Birds of Prey but is entirely absent here. Harley has just one pet hyena because it was too expensive to animate two – not a big deal. The biggest change from the comics is the character of Cassandra Cain, and this doesn’t quite work. The character bears almost no similarities to her namesake from the comics, who was a mute, deadly daughter of assassins who eventually became Batgirl. This iteration of Cassandra has more in common with Catwoman supporting character Holly Robinson. None of this is Ella Jay Basco’s fault – she plays the mouthy kid with enough attitude and is often entertaining in the role – but it is frustrating that there technically is a Batgirl in a Birds of Prey movie, just not the right one.

Margot Robbie is a great Harley. This movie further explores the characters flaws and her desire to be a part of something bigger. That something might not necessarily be the Birds of Prey, but it is fun to watch her pop in and interact with the team just as it is forming.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is outstanding as Huntress – the crossbow-fu is dazzling stuff and she manages to be both formidable and endearing. After the brutal murder of her family at the hands of a rival mob, Helena trained to be an assassin and as such has no social skills to speak of. Winstead plays both the icy killer and the awkward member of the friend group equally well.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary is a riveting character – she’s trying to get out from under the thumb of Roman Sionis and is suppressing a power that she doesn’t quite know how to use. In the comics, Black Canary is an expert martial artist who favours kicking, and there’s quite a lot of that here.

Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya is meant to be a cliché, a hard-drinking, one-liner-dispensing caricature of a tough cop from an 80s movie, which she pulls off well.

Ewan McGregor is having the time of his life. He’s over-the-top and goofy but also suitably intimidating and unhinged. Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz is Sionis’ creepy, sycophantic lackey and they both play off each other well. Each time McGregor enters a scene, there’s the sense that he will not leave until he has stolen the show.

The film boasts some of the best action sequences of any DCEU film yet. The integration of gymnastics into Harley’s fights is done exceedingly well. The fights are stylised but also feel tactile – prepare to wince as many, many bones get broken with a loud crunch. There’s a motorbike-roller skates-car chase that is beautifully executed, and as mentioned above, all the crossbow stuff is impressive. Stunt coordinators Jonathan Eusebio, Jon Valera and Chad Stahelski of 87Eleven Action Design craft many enjoyable action sequences that while not as slick as what might be seen in a John Wick movie, do fit the overall feel of the film.

Summary: Birds of Prey is enjoyably grimy, a comic book movie that is breezily entertaining, packed with violent action and finished off with a generous sprinkle of zaniness. It’s a lot more cohesive than many previous DCEU outings and left this reviewer wanting to see more of these characters. Now can we please get that Gotham City Sirens movie already?

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Underwater review

For F*** Magazine

UNDERWATER

Director: William Eubank
Cast : Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie
Genre: Action/Horror
Run Time : 1 h 35 mins
Opens : 30 January 2020
Rating : PG13

Genre movie aficionados remember 1989 as the year of the aquatic horror movie: upon learning that James Cameron’s next project would be a deep-sea sci-fi movie, other studios scrambled to make their ‘Aliens but underwater’, even if that’s not what The Abyss ultimately ended up being. That’s how we ended up with DeepStar Six, The Evil Below, Lords of the Deep, and The Rift/Endless Descent all being released in 1989. 31 years later comes Underwater, a movie that does feel like it could have fit in with those, even if it is better (and feels more expensive) than most of them.

It is the year 2050. Tian Industries’ Kepler 822 station sits at the bottom of the ocean and is one of the outposts the company is using to drill 11 km into the seabed for natural resources. When a catastrophic failure of the rig happens, mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart), systems manager Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie), biologist Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick), engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.), comic relief guy Paul Abel (T.J. Miller) and Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) appear to be the sole survivors. They band together to attempt to walk across the seabed in pressurised diving suits, to get to Roebuck Station, where they will take the escape pods to the surface. The horrifying something-or-other that caused the initial destruction of the Kepler station menaces our heroes as they try to escape said something-or-other’s tentacled grasp.

This is a theme park ride. There’s no story to speak of and you don’t have to know too much about the characters beyond wanting them to not die. Underwater is heavy on the claustrophobic thrills – director William Eubank pays great attention to detail and does a good job of making sure the physical environments feel credible even when things get fantastical, as they must. In other words, the theming is meticulous, and you get the feeling of being in a ride queue at Disney World admiring the weathering on the railings.

Kristen Stewart is good in the lead role – it’s clear the filmmakers had “young Sigourney Weaver/Jamie Lee Curtis-type” scribbled in the margins of the screenplay and Stewart fulfils this. Yes, there is some objectification going on since Stewart runs around in her underwear a lot, but the role does not feel conventionally ‘Hollywood’ sexualised – she sports a blonde buzzcut and wears glasses, with Stewart saying that shaving her head was her decision because it made it easier to take the diving helmets on and off.

The rest of the cast takes this all seriously enough, with Jessica Henwick being a standout. The character who’s afraid but goes through with it anyway and is encouraged along in their ordeal by the other characters is one of this reviewer’s favourite action/horror movie archetypes and this is something which Henwick plays convincingly. No one was having a fun time making this, so respect to the cast for suffering for their art.

Most negative reviews of Underwater have called it “derivative”, which it absolutely is. While the design elements and Eubank’s direction go a good way to making this immersive, the textbook action-horror elements are recognisable from a mile away and do pull one out of it. The first main-ish character to die is a laughably predictable choice, and after this happens, one wonders just how many clichés Underwater will adhere to (answer: a lot). You could cut and paste the exact same formula, set it in space instead of at the bottom of the ocean, and it would play the same way. In fact, a movie like that already exists: 2017’s Life. A lot of the dialogue feels canned and one character even gets a badass 80s action movie hero one-liner before doing something cool and heroic.

T.J. Miller is playing a T.J. Miller type. This is not necessarily the film’s fault, but between when Underwater was shot in 2017 and when it is finally being released, T.J. Miller has been the subject of sexual assault and work misconduct allegations, and then made a false bomb threat on an Amtrak train. It is speculated that his involvement in the film is part of why it is being released in January, commonly thought of as ‘dump month’ for studios, when Underwater has all the makings of a late-summer release. Miller is not bad in the film, but it’s just the same performance he gives in everything else.

In order to heighten the feeling of claustrophobia, there is a lot of shaky cam, even in very tight shots, which makes it hard to tell what’s going on. The characters wearing identical diving suits also makes it hard to tell them apart in some frenetic scenes, not to mention the dialogue being slightly garbled when the characters are wearing their helmets.

The film’s moral, insofar as there is one, feels kind of tacked on – “if you take from Mother Nature, she will lash out”

The Poseidon dive suits are the coolest thing about this and are created by Legacy Effects, which has worked on multiple Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Films set in and around water generally make for unpleasant shoots, and the addition of the suits must have been nigh-unbearable for the actors. Stewart said in an interview that the suit weighs 63 kg and she weighs 50 kg.

Summary: Underwater feels like a 1980s B-movie made with the pacing of present-day action movies. It is not very sophisticated, nor does it break the mould, but it is good at being the entertaining thing it is.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong