Victoria and Abdul movie review

For inSing

VICTORIA AND ABDUL 

Director : Stephen Frears
Cast : Judi Dench, Ali Faizal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Olivia Williams, Tim Pigott-Smith
Genre : Drama/Historical
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 9 November 2017
Rating : PG

Victoria-and-Abdul-poster20 years ago, Dame Judi Dench played Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown. That film was about the controversial relationship between Victoria and her servant John Brown, and now, Dench returns to the role in a film about another controversial relationship between Victoria and a servant, but one of a different stripe.

It is 1887, the year of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Abdul Karim (Ali Faizal) and Mohammed Buksh (Adeel Akhtar) are chosen to travel from India to England to present Victoria with a ceremonial coin known as a mohur. Abdul catches Victoria’s attention, and she hires him as an attendant. Abdul begins to teach Victoria Urdu, and becomes Victoria’s ‘munshi’, or teacher. Victoria’s affinity for Abdul, an Indian Muslim, earns the ire of the royal household and the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon). Victoria’s son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), the future King Edward VII, develops a hatred for and jealousy of Abdul. As the royal household plots to have Abdul removed, the relationship between Victoria and Abdul transcends that of a Queen and her servant. The former prison clerk finds himself becoming a confidant to Victoria, the Empress of India, in her waning years.

Victoria and Abdul is directed by Stephen Frears, who has helmed awards season prestige films including The QueenPhilomena and Florence Foster JenkinsBilly Elliot writer Lee Hall adapted the screenplay from Shrabani Basu’s book, also titled Victoria and Abdul. The film opens with a tongue-in-cheek declaration that it is “based on a true story…mostly”. The film endeavours to be funny and heart-warming, and it often is, but many have taken issue with its depiction of historical events, which have been termed revisionist.

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The film wants to be a character piece that is anchored by the unlikely bond shared between the Queen and a servant, but it is impossible to detach the story from the surrounding political and historical context. Victoria is made out to be progressive and tolerant, with the royal household and staff treating Abdul with utmost prejudice. The film seems to exaggerate and simplify events for the sake of coherence, as historical films often do, and it is unlikely that the real Victoria was an activist who denounced Islamophobia. The film also sanitizes the atrocities committed by the British Raj during the Empire’s rule of India, a painful period in history which has left scars that are still evident today.

Victoria-and-Abdul-Judi-Dench-1
However, these flaws in the film’s approach are significantly papered over by Dench’s remarkable performance. She plays Victoria as a lonely, curmudgeonly elderly woman, who has never quite recovered from the loss of her husband Albert. There’s tender vulnerability in the portrayal, which is tempered with formidable power. Even if this particular portrayal of Victoria might not be the most historically accurate, Dench is consistently riveting. As if there were ever any doubt about it, she once again proves to be a national treasure of the highest order.

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The dashing Faizal is immensely likeable as Abdul, playing the part with a genuine warmth and having a certain glow about him. Unfortunately, Abdul feels under-written, and the film takes on undertones of Orientalism by depicting Abdul as overly servile, sagely, gentle and enlightened. It seems the real Abdul was more aggressively ambitious than the benign film version. That said, the chemistry between Dench and Faizal does work, and both actors play off each other well.

Victoria-and-Abdul-Eddie Izzard

The supporting characters are largely one-note caricatures, with the various members of the royal household tut-tutting about Osbourne House. Izzard’s Bertie is drawn as an especially despicable villain who’s easy to hate, and while Izzard bites into the role with relish, the character is difficult to buy as an actual person. Akhtar is funny as Buksh, who is constantly playing second fiddle to the taller, more handsome Abdul. He also gets an excellent dramatic scene.

Victoria and Abdul boasts pedigree behind the camera beyond the director and writer – costume designer Consolata Boyle’s re-creations of Victorian fashions are lavish and eye-catching, while Thomas Newman’s score incorporates Indian instruments like the sitar, tabla and santur hammered dulcimer into his usual new age orchestral style. Cinematographer Danny Cohen presents the English and Indian locations in all their grandeur, with Victoria’s Glassalt Shiel retreat in Scotland looking especially gorgeous.

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The film starts out as a comedy and is often amusing, but as it journeys into more dramatic territory, one might get distracted attempting to parse the implications of the film and the liberties it takes with historical events in service of emotional beats. It’s a good thing then that Victoria and Abdul has Dench’s peerless skill as an actress to count on.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Tanks for the Memories: Ah Boys to Men 4 set visit

For inSing

Tanks for the memories: on the set of Ah Boys to Men 4

A tank flattens a car as Jack Neo takes us through the mayhem

By Jedd Jong

On a sweltering September afternoon, this writer walked past overturned cars in an open-air parking lot full of debris. There were open flames and smoke, as a bloodied extra covered in dust shuffled by. Bricks were scattered about, as egg crates were being burned to create smoke, the smell of cordite hanging in the air.

Hiding in the distance behind some trees, almost as if waiting the wings of a theatre, was a Leopard 2SG main battle tank.

inSing was on the set of Ah Boys to Men 4, the latest instalment in Jack Neo’s highly popular series of comedy films, which follow a group of Singapore Armed Forces recruits through their National Service.

In this film, our heroes are serving their reservist duty in the Armour Unit, operating tanks and armoured fighting vehicles. The scene that was being filmed that day involved a Singaporean tank pursuing an enemy armoured vehicle.

The film stars Tosh Zhang, Wang Weiliang, Joshua Tan and Maxi Lim, reprising their roles as Sergeant Ong, Lobang, Ken Chow and Aloysius “Wayang King” Jin respectively. New additions to the cast include Apple Chan, Jai Kishan, Ryan Lian and Hafiz Aziz. None of the principal actors were present during the set visit, because the interior scenes with the actors had already been shot earlier. Actual soldiers from Headquarters, Armour were operating the vehicles on the set, with Major Audrey Kon keeping a watchful eye over the proceedings.

Director Neo assured us that unlike the war scene glimpsed in the first Ah Boys to Men film, this was not a video game, and the film would depict Singapore actually at war. Where the invading troops hail from, he wouldn’t say. “We are not going to say where. Enemy can be anywhere,” Neo told the visiting media.

Speaking to inSing in Mandarin, Neo laid out the scene for us “These HDB blocks in Dover have been sold en bloc, so we’re able to take over this area and turn it into our war zone,” he said. “In around a month’s time, the whole thing will be taken down. Nobody’s staying here anymore, so it’s safe for us to do our explosions. We’ve spent a lot of time and money converting this into our war zone. As you can see, there’s lots of debris, as well as real cars that we’ve wrecked.”

“There are so many crew members required, we need lots of coordination,” Neo remarked, gesturing to the people around him. “We’re working with machines, and sometimes machines will throw tantrums. They’ll go ‘oh, I’m malfunctioning now, too bad for you,’ and you have to sort that out.” When asked if humans throw tantrums too, Neo replied, “occasionally”.

Two main action beats were on the agenda: the Leopard tank was set to roll over and completely flatten a car, and there was a major explosion planned for later that day. We waited around for hours, and Neo explained why things weren’t moving at a breakneck pace. “It’s very troublesome to shoot,” he said. “Once there’s a mistake, you have to reset everything to zero, to check that everything is safe, so the process is very, very slow. But slow is good, to make sure everyone is safe.”

After several hours of making sure everything was just right, it was time for the big event. The tank trundled along, gaining speed, crushing the Chevrolet beneath its treads. After the sequence was complete, Neo happily posed next to the flattened automobile.

After another two hours, it was time to film the next big sequence. An unassuming bespectacled elderly man in a red polo shirt and navy-blue shorts set up an explosive charge in front of the enemy armoured fighting vehicle. This is Jimmy Low, founder of The Stunt Production and the go-to guy for pyrotechnic stunts in local film and TV productions.

After making sure everyone was at a safe distance, that the debris was arranged to hide the explosive charge from the camera, and with a drone positioned overhead to get an aerial shot, it was time to blow stuff up. Even with earplugs in, the explosion was deafening and the shockwave palpable.

The film is being released the same year that the Singapore Armed Forces celebrates its 50th anniversary. Why should audiences return to cinemas for a fourth go-round? “Just from listening about the personal experiences of the men in your family who’ve undergone National Service, you might not get a full understanding of what it’s like,” Neo commented, adding that the Ah Boys to Men films “bring you inside the units, and convey why National Service is important to our nation, especially in times like these.”

Ah Boys to Men 4 opens in Singapore on 9 November 2017

Brad’s Status movie review

For inSing

BRAD’S STATUS 

Director : Mike White
Cast : Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee, Mike White
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 2 November 2017
Rating : M18

           It’s a familiar, painful feeling: the sense that everyone else has overtaken you, that your peers have gone on to bigger and better things, and you’re left wondering what you’ve done with your life. This might sound depressing, but it’s the basis for a comedy. Well, a comedy-drama.

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is 47, married to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and runs a non-profit organisation. Every day, he seems reminded of how successful his college classmates are: Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) went from a job at the White House to being a bestselling author and sought-after speaker, Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) is a wealthy hedge fund manager, Billy Wearsiter (Jemaine Clement) sold off his tech company and has retired to Hawaii, and Nick Pasquale (Mike White) is a Hollywood filmmaker who lives in a mansion in Malibu.

Brad takes his 17-year-old son Troy (Austin Abrams) on a tour of potential colleges. Troy, an aspiring musician and composer, hopes to get into Harvard. As Brad attempts to reconnect with his old friends to call in a favour for Troy, he is forced to re-evaluate his disillusionment, discovering that perhaps the grass really isn’t greener on the other side.

Writer-director Mike White makes many pithy observations about the anxiety of feeling one doesn’t measure up. This is not the first movie about a man navigating a midlife crisis, but it’s done in a largely down-to-earth, relatable manner. The debilitating practice of comparing oneself to one’s peers isn’t particularly healthy, but it’s something everyone catches themselves doing. Brad’s Status punctuates the mundanity with dream sequences and flights of fancy, in which Brad imagines how glamorous and exciting his friends’ lives must be, as well as imagining how his own son might end up.

The film makes heavy use of voiceovers, but these sequences feel organic. Hearing Brad’s internal monologue makes audiences feel like they’re in the protagonist’s headspace, understanding how he ticks and becoming intimately familiar with his crippling insecurities. This is a role that fits Stiller to a tee – he isn’t do any forced, over-the-top mugging here, but is tapping on his appeal as a beleaguered everyman. Brad openly wallows in self-pity, and yet, he’s sympathetic because we’ve all been there. There’s a point in the film when Brad is told point blank that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and that his obsessing over his perceived shortcomings is a sign of self-centredness. There are no drastic leaps in his belated journey of self-discovery, and it’s easy for viewers to go along with him on this ride.

Abrams comes off as an ordinary kid, delivering an understated, amusing performance that parents of teenagers are sure to find thoroughly authentic. The relationship between father and son is convincingly developed, and the tensions that arise between the two during the college tour seem natural. Brad is at once anxious that his son achieve greatness, and simultaneously afraid that his Troy will eventually end up more successful than he is. There’s enough awkwardness and sincerity in the relationship for it to work as the film’s emotional core, without things coming off as overly saccharine.

The supporting cast is smartly selected, with Michael Sheen being the standout. Sheen grins his way through the performance, coming across as glib and self-satisfied, but not necessarily a bad person. Brad does a lot of projecting onto his friends, fantasising about how much better their lives are than his, when he has plenty to be thankful for. Shazi Raja is memorable as Troy’s friend Ananya, who winds up challenging Brad’s worldview. Luisa Lee, a violinist whom you might have seen on YouTube, also appears.

Brad’s Status doesn’t make any grand statements, but it is poignant and thought-provoking. It highlights the exhausting pointlessness of feeling like one never has enough and that everyone else has it so much better, without taking time to be grateful and to assess one’s priorities and maintain the personal relationships that truly matter. As a gentle takedown of entitlement, Brad’s Status might sting those who feel indicted by it, but it’s funny and heartfelt.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Geostorm

For inSing

GEOSTORM

Director : Dean Devlin
Cast : Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Amr Waked, Eugenio Derbez, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia
Genre : Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 12 October 2017
Rating : PG13

There was a period in the 90s when disaster movies were huge: think TwisterDante’s PeakVolcanoArmageddonDeep Impact, movies like that. Roland Emmerich attempted to revive that subgenre in 2000s with films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Now, Emmerich’s long-time co-writer and co-producer Dean Devlin has made Geostorm, which is like one of those movies on steroids.

            In the near future, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is a scientist and astronaut who supervised the creation of a network of satellites that regulates the earth’s climate, nicknamed ‘Dutch Boy’. Jake’s younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who works at the U.S. State Department, calls on Jake when Dutch Boy starts malfunctioning, causing freak weather incidents around the world. Jake travels to the International Space Station, working with an international crew of astronauts led by Commander Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara) from Germany.

            Back on the ground, Cheng Long (Daniel Wu), who supervises the Dutch Boy satellite positioned over Hong Kong, informs Max of a possible conspiracy to sabotage the satellite. At the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, Max convinces his girlfriend Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), a Secret Service agent, to help him kidnap President Andrew Palma (Andy García). The President is the only man with the kill codes to shut down the satellite before more damage is caused. It’s a race against time to stop the ultimate calamity: a Geostorm.

            In many ways, movies like Geostorm are why this writer wanted to become a film critic. It’s definitely not a good movie, but is ludicrously entertaining and might just be the best comedy of the year.

The movie underwent a troubled production, and disastrous test screenings led to Warner Bros. ordering reshoots which reportedly cost $15 million. Because Devlin was unavailable, Danny Cannon was brought in to conduct the reshoots, with Laeta Kalogridis rewriting the screenplay, cutting characters from the film and adding new ones. Presumably, the reshoots added more jokes, giving the movie a semblance of self-awareness. As it stands, Geostorm is halfway between a straight-ahead disaster thriller and a full-on comedy. It ends up hitting the sweet spot, in that it is maximally entertaining, never unwatchable and funnier than it would’ve been had it been an intentionally bad movie akin to Sharknado.

One of the punchlines bandied about when the trailers for Geostorm first came out were that it looked like a SyFy Channel original movie with a $150 million budget. It is glorious that so many resources were spent on something this stupid. It’s a little like the Transformers movies, but Geostorm is never as smug, never as insulting, never as unbearable or self-indulgent as those films can be. The visual effects look great, and the spectacle is grand, especially in IMAX 3D. There’s an action sequence in which two astronauts are on a spacewalk and one of their spacesuits begins malfunctioning. It’s genuinely thrilling and staged quite well.

Naturally, the timing isn’t ideal. 2017 has seen several devastating hurricanes in quick succession, making it harder to accept large-scale global destruction as popcorn escapism. This is mitigated somewhat by the sci-fi context and inherent goofiness of the whole enterprise, but it is a touch tasteless that the film opens with what appears to be actual news footage of natural disasters and the dead left in their aftermath.

The movie is crammed full of stock characters, none of whom even remotely feel like they could be real people. Butler’s filmography is filled with awful movies, and Geostorm feels like the ideal use of his talents. Jake is the  totally reckless but ultimately noble hero, a man of action who’s also a super-genius, and Butler is plenty of fun in the role.

Playing opposite Butler as the brother with whom Jake doesn’t quite get along, Sturgess summons likeable earnestness and tries to take the material as seriously as possible. Cornish gets to do a little more than your average ‘designated girlfriend’ in a film of this genre does, taking the wheel and shooting at pursuers during a car chase. Unlike your average Michael Bay film, Geostorm isn’t misogynistic, and Alexandra Maria Lara’s space station commander character Ute is capable and an equal to Jake Lawson.

For his part, García plays a credible president, getting to yell the line “I am the god***n President of the United States of America!” Zazie Beetz, who is playing Domino in Deadpool 2, makes for a fun comic relief hacker character.

Geostorm is the rare mega-budget movie that’s genuinely so bad it’s good. This reviewer burst into fits of laughter any time a character says the word ‘Geostorm’ out loud, or when the word appears on a screen above a countdown timer. Sure, it’s bad, but it moves briskly and is absurdly enjoyable. If you can somehow get discounted tickets to see this in IMAX 3D, maybe as part of a cinema loyalty card program, do so.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 2

Here’s the Mega Picture Post for Day 2. I had a little more fun because I had gotten my bearings, but the layout still did throw me for a loop. I spent most of this day hanging out with my friend Shaun, who was dressed as the Joker and stopped for lots of photos with children, none of him he killed – so he didn’t go all the way into character. Please check out Day 1’s Mega Picture Post here.

Jay as Doctor Strange

Shaun as the Joker in the Millennium Falcon

Is the Joker worthy?

Mjolnir may have made its choice, but that doesn’t mean Thor has to approve.

KO!

The Marvel gang seems quite accepting of the Joker.

Eunice as Harley Quinn and Alice as Poison Ivy

Joker gets all the gals

Something the Joker is very used to.

Another Tiny Rey

The reptilian conspiracy is real!

The First Order assembles

Theresa as Velma

Joker and Dany

Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock

Abigail as Wonder Woman

Another Harley and her best friend (or maybe something more)

“Chewie…we’re home”

Alexander as Anakin Skywalker: “Grandson, why?!!?”

All the Tiny Reys!

The Comic Giants panel (From left): C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Art Adams, Frank Cho, Sonny Liew

Don’t breach the quarantine zone!

Cheryl as Black Canary

James C. Mulligan speed-painting

I wonder what that could be

Ah, I see it now

5 minute master piece

ILM Singapore visual effects supervisor Nigel Sumner speaking about the visual effects of Rogue One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: hammerhead

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Batman

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Don’t know what this resembles

Viv as Kida and Dom as Milo

Tiny Rey!

Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond

Red Hood and Joker

Hikka as Rapunzel

Joker and Deadpool slapfight!

With the gorgeous Cara Keilani as Miranda Lawson

Jaye as Chell

Fiz as Narrator Core, Neptys as GLaDOS and Jaye as Chell

Life-sized Gladiator Hulk and Thor by Hot Toys

Hot Toys’ Wonder Woman

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman

Hot Toys’ Executioner Trooper

Hot Toys’ Kylo Ren

 

Big ol’ group shot to cap off the event

It

For inSing

IT 

Director : Andy Muschietti
Cast : Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 15m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : NC16 (Horror and violence)

Stephen King’s creation Pennywise the Dancing Clown is one of the best-known evil clowns in popular culture, and rears his grinning head again in this big screen adaptation of King’s 1986 novel It.

Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is the default appearance of an evil entity known as It, that exploits and feeds on the specific fears of its victims. Pennywise is responsible for a spate of disappearing children in the town of Derry, Maine. Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is one such child, and his brother Billy (Jaeden Lieberher) has been investigating Georgie’s disappearance. Billy is the de facto leader of The Losers’ Club, a collection of outcast kids that includes Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Waytt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). The group is tormented by a gang of bullies called the Bowers gang, led by the cruel, unhinged Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). As the Losers’ Club goes about solving the mystery of the disappearing children, they uncover the dark history of Derry, with It/Pennywise seemingly at the centre of horrific events in the town’s past. This collection of misfits must band together to defeat an unimaginable evil and put a stop to its reign of terror.

This remake of It has long been anticipated, with a few bumps on the road on its way to the screen: director Cary Fukunaga was replaced by Andy Muschietti, and Will Poulter was originally cast as Pennywise, but was replaced by Skarsgård. The result shows no trace of any behind-the-scenes tumult. Muschietti establishes the period and place in which the story takes place, building the mythology without it feeling tedious and drawing the audience in. The characters are easy to care about and relate to, and there is intent in how each scene links to the next.

Muschietti pulls off quite the tonal balancing act: It is variously heart-warming, funny, even romantic, and yes – extremely scary. The humour derived from a bunch of kids hanging out and the friendly ribbing that arises from their friendship does not undercut or diminish the visceral, lingering horror that saturates the film. While there are the expected jump scares and the soundtrack is trying a little too hard to startle the audience, much of what makes this movie frightening is finely calibrated and well thought-out. There’s a whole bag of tricks here, such that the scares do not feel repetitive or stale. The set-piece involving a slide projector is an especially elegant, effective moment.

With Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise from the miniseries being as iconic as it is, it would be difficult for anyone to step into those oversized shoes. Skarsgård turns in a menacing performance that is minimally campy. The redesign, which highlights how Pennywise has been around since the earliest days of Derry’s formation, is unsettling and is more understated than the classic Pennywise look. There’s some creepy physicality, and the different manifestations of It have elements that make them as scary as It’s Pennywise mode in their own way.

The Losers’ Club is one of the great assemblies of kid heroes, not unlike the boys in King’s Stand By Me. The characters are brought to life by a talented cast, led by Lieberher of Midnight Special fame. His portrayal of the stuttering Billy is sincere and intense, and he’s far from the ‘boring hero’ type one would expect to be leading a team. Wolfhard, best known as Mike on Stranger Things, steals the show as the loudmouth Richie, who is always handy with an insult. The characters appear to be defined by superficial traits, but are mostly meaningfully developed as the film progresses.

Lillis is destined to be the breakout star of the bunch: the camera adores her, and she handles some of the film’s most challenging and emotional scenes with admirable confidence. All the boys are immediately smitten with Beverly, and the way she integrates herself into the Losers’ Club, becoming a driving force, is compelling. Most of the adults in the film are either creepy or downright evil, with Beverly’s abusive father Alvin (Stephen Bogaert) being the foremost example. This plot point is handled without being gratuitously exploitative.

Packed with potent imagery, a finely-honed mythology, terrific performances from young actors and flat-out terrifying creepy clown, It ranks as one of the finest film adaptations of King’s work. It evokes nostalgia without relying solely on it and those who grew up in the 80s will recognise certain references, but enjoyment of the film is not contingent on that. Regardless of one’s background or prior familiarity with the source material, It is an affecting, haunting work.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Cars 3

For F*** Magazine

CARS 3

Director : Brian Fee
Cast : Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria, Tony Shalhoub, Katherine Helmond, Cheech Marin, Paul Dooley, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 49m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) was once the fastest car alive, but his days at the top of the heap are numbered. In the third instalment of Pixar’s Cars series, Lightning’s status as a seven-time Piston Cup champ is threatened by newcomer Jackson Storm (Hammer), a high-tech, hothead next generation racer. Lightning’s Rust-eze team has been sold by owners Rusty (Ray Magliozzi) and Dusty (Tom Magliozzi) to the wealthy Sterling (Fillion), who has constructed a state-of-the-art training facility. Sterling assigns trainer Cruz Ramirez (Alonso) to Lightning, who resents the implication that he is old and on the brink of retirement. While initially dismissive of Cruz, the two eventually bond as they go in search of Smokey (Cooper), the former mechanic and crew chief of Lightning’s late mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). With his girlfriend Sally (Hunt) and his friends Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), Guido (Guido Quaroni) and Mack (Ratzenberger) in his corner, Lightning gathers the courage to regain the title and beat Jackson.

The Cars series is not viewed as one of Pixar’s crowning achievements, with 2011’s Cars 2 often viewed as the studio’s worst film. Cars 3 is a definite improvement on the second entry, often sincere and never aggressively obnoxious. However, it’s still difficult to get swept up in the story: the basic plot structure of an aging champion threatened by a rookie competitor brings films like Rocky Balboa to mind. It’s no surprise that co-writer Mike Rich is primarily known for penning sports films, including The Rookie, Miracle and Secretariat.

Lightning’s arc in this film isn’t exactly the easiest for kids to readily relate to. The themes of re-evaluating one’s purpose after getting a wake-up call in the form of a younger, faster rival might not resonate as well with the film’s young target audience as Pixar hopes. There’s also a great deal of sentimentality, with the impact that Doc Hudson had on Lightning, and Lightning’s search for inspiration in his late mentor’s wisdom being a crucial plot point. The adults might get a touch misty-eyed, but this might be lost on most kids.

As expected from Pixar, the animation is top-notch. The Cars are easy to buy as actual characters, and the way the characters shift their weight from one wheel to another is amusingly expressive. We get some gorgeously-rendered backgrounds and realistic atmospheric effects such as sparks and dust. However, Cars 3 lacks memorable set pieces. A Demolition Derby sequence is the most exciting the film gets, and even that falls a good distance short of the creatively conceived set pieces in other Pixar films. The bulk of the movie is spent chronicling Lightning’s training, which is good for character development, but isn’t all that exciting.

Wilson’s easy-going charm makes Lightning likeable even when the character gets caught up on his own success. The biggest thing Cars 3 gets right is the new character Cruz Ramirez. Alonso lends the character an upbeat eagerness and she’s set up to be annoying because she’s standing in Lightning’s way, but the character’s motivations are gradually revealed and the relationship between her and Lightning evolves organically. The dynamic between the two characters is sufficiently different from what we usually see in animated films, and to make another comparison to a boxing movie, is a little Million Dollar Baby-esque.

Thankfully, Mater takes a back seat in this one – arguably the biggest mistake the second film made was elevating him to a leading role. Fillion’s performance as billionaire Sterling is coolly sophisticated and just the right amount of condescending. Unused recordings of Newman from the first film are used for the flashbacks featuring Doc, displaying significance reverence for the legendary actor. Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria has plenty of fun as the sadistic monster schoolbus Miss Fritter. As in the previous instalments, real-life racing drivers and sports commentators making vocal cameos: listen out for Lewis Hamilton, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Junior Johnson, Daniel Suárez and others.

While Cars 3 has its heart (or engine, as it were) in the right place, it’s far from impressive enough to justify its own existence. It surpasses the low expectations generated by its disappointing sequel and showcases surprising depth, but instead of sending heart rates racing, Cars 3 mostly coasts along.

As is customary for Pixar films, Cars 3 is preceded by an animated short. This one is Lou, directed by Dave Mullins, and about a loveable creature who lives in the lost and found box at an elementary school playground. Built on a charming, simple premise and packing a whole lot of emotion into its six minutes, Lou is a fine example of the storytelling power can summon.

Summary: Despite a story that most kids might find challenging to connect to and a dearth of memorable set pieces, there’s enough amiable sweetness to Car 3, making it a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kill Switch

For F*** Magazine

KILL SWITCH 

Director : Tim Smit
Cast : Dan Stevens, Bérénice Marlohe, Charity Wakefield, Tygo Gernandt
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 24 August 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language And Violence)

Dan Stevens looks set to be 2017’s breakout leading man. This year alone, The Downtown Abbey star can be seen in Beauty and the Beast, Colossal, The Ticket, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Permission, Marshall and The Man Who Invented Christmas. He’s also on TV, playing the lead in Legion. In this sci-fi action thriller, Stevens must stop the implosion of existence as we know it.

 

It is the year 2043, and Will Porter (Stevens), a physicist and pilot, is recruited by the massive corporation Alterplex. The company is on a mission to harness energy from parallel universes, hiring Will to travel to a realm known as ‘the Echo’. The experiment goes awry, and Will finds himself being pursued by a phalanx of heavily-armed mercenaries, and waves of deadly drones. Will must transport a mysterious obsidian box called the ‘Redivider’, which functions as a kill switch, to Alterplex’s tower. If he fails, his sister Mia (Wakefield) and her young son, not to mention the entire population of the world, will perish. Will discovers that Abigail Vos (Marlohe), the Alterplex employee who recruited him, might not be all she claims. Amidst the chaos, a rebel organisation that plans to undermine Alterplex might just be Will’s only hope.

Kill Switch is based on director Tim Smit’s 2009 short film What’s in the Box? Filmed from a first-person perspective, What’s in the Box? garnered considerable interest online because of the possibility that it was linked to the long-rumoured video game Half-Life 3 (it was not). The feature-length version is a perplexing, frustrating, but intriguing film. All the action scenes are filmed from a first-person perspective, giving this a video game-like feel. Because it’s set in two parallel worlds and of the queasiness-inducing factor of filming chaotic, frenetic shootouts and pursuits in that format, Kill Switch is disorienting and is far harder to follow than it should be.

Smit is a visual effects artist whose first feature film is Kill Switch, and it’s an ambitious debut. Shot in the Netherlands with a largely Dutch crew and several Dutch actors in the cast, the computer-generated effects work is solid and rivals Hollywood productions with much larger budgets. There are certain glimmers of cleverness: the original title of the film was ‘Redivider’ which, like the name ‘Tim Smit’, is a palindrome. Unfortunately, Smit’s focus is clearly trained on the visual effects spectacle, with the plot suffering as a result. While the screenplay by Charlie Kindinger and Omid Nooshin packs in exposition to explain the sci-fi workings of it all, it’s still tough to make head or tail of the proceedings.

Stevens has an intensity to him that sets him apart from the bland, cookie cutter action leads Hollywood who are sometimes hyped as ‘the next big thing’. He takes this far more seriously than he hast to. The unique thing about the role is that because all the action scenes are filmed in the first-person perspective, he doesn’t perform any of the action, merely providing the voiceover for those scenes.

Marlohe, best-known for playing a Bond girl in Skyfall, makes for a stiff femme fatale. Interestingly, Will is not in a romantic relationship with any of the female characters in the film, which is another element that differentiates Kill Switch from the average action thriller. Mia is Will’s sister, when in any other film, that character would be the male lead’s wife instead. It’s a shame that Will’s bond with his sister and nephew gets insufficient development, and the potentially emotional scenes fall flat.

Low-to-mid-budget science fiction films usually pique this reviewer’s curiosity, since conventional wisdom dictates that futuristic films are expensive to pull off convincingly. Kill Switch is sporadically fun, the visual effects are confidently and competently executed, and Smit shows considerable promise in an audacious debut. However, the first-person perspective gimmick wears out its welcome all too quickly, and the gee whiz sci-fi plot is confusingly rendered.

Summary: Recommended only for curious sci-fi fans, Kill Switch boasts impressive production values that are in service of a muddled narrative.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

47 Meters Down

For F*** Magazine

47 METERS DOWN 

Director : Johannes Roberts
Cast : Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Chris J. Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura, Matthew Modine
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 30m
Opens : 17 August 2017
Rating : PG13

What would horror movies be without American tourists making horrible decisions? From Hostel to Turistas to Chernobyl Diaries, filmgoers have witnessed would-be fun vacations turn horrifying in the blink of an eye. In this thriller, Lisa (Moore) and her younger sister Kate (Holt) are on vacation in Mexico. Lisa’s boyfriend Stuart has just broken up with her, claiming Lisa made the relationship boring. Two handsome strangers (Gellman and Segura) whom the sisters meet convince them to go on a shark cage dive. After all, what better way to prove Lisa isn’t boring? Kate has some diving experience and Lisa has none, so Lisa is initially reluctant, but goes along with her sister anyway. Captain Taylor (Modine) takes the sisters out to a rickety boat, and they get into an even ricketier shark cage. Lisa’s worst fears are realised when the cable holding the cage snaps, sending the sisters plummeting to the ocean floor. Trapped and surrounded by great white sharks, Lisa and Kate must find a way out of their predicament before they run out of air.

47 Meters Down is one of those movies that must’ve made a great elevator pitch: two women get trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. We have seen films built on intriguing premises that fall apart after a while, the high concept unable to sustain a feature-length film. 47 Meters Down has its genuinely thrilling moments, but even running a lean 85 minutes, it feels padded out, with it being around 20 minutes before our heroines step into the shark cage.

The film is built around a set piece, so director/co-writer Johannes Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera don’t seem to be particularly concerned with crafting compelling characters. It’s all about the situation the characters are trapped in. It’s inevitable that any shark movie be compared to Jaws, the granddaddy of them all. It’s important to remember that Jaws had Brody, Hooper and Quint, and the dynamic between those three characters was as important to the movie as the shark was, if not even more so.

The sharks created by Outpost VFX look sufficiently convincing, but they don’t pop up quite as often as this reviewer would’ve liked. Even if there isn’t enough to the protagonists to care deeply for them, Roberts generates a visceral sense of panic and there are just enough jump scares without overdoing it. Any film is bound to take artistic license with the subject matter at hand, and any expert diver will probably be beside themselves with amusement and bemusement at the dive science on display in 47 Meters Down. Even for non-experts, some moments strain suspension of disbelief. The articles that break down the myriad inaccuracies in 47 Meters Down are expectedly technical, but make for interesting reading after watching the film.

47 Meters Down is a low-budget film that boasts above-average production values. Thanks to cinematographer Mark Silk, production designer David Bryan and other crew members, it’s easy to believe that Kate and Lisa are in the waters off Mexico when the film was mostly shot in a modest tank in Essex. As with many horror movies, 47 Meters Down is sometimes guilty of using the score to signal when audiences should be frightened – then again, that could be seen as merely following the example set by Jaws.

This reviewer quite enjoyed last year’s shark thriller The Shallows. What made that film better than 47 Meters Down was that audiences could assign a certain intelligence to the shark, and that it played out as a game of wits between the protagonist and her toothy tormentor. 47 Meters Down isn’t quite as inventive and is consequently not too memorable, but when the scares work, they work.

Summary: A spare thriller with just enough jolts to keep it afloat, 47 Meters Down is gripping in parts, but is also repetitive and even at just 85 minutes, feels too long.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

For F*** Magazine

THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

Director : Patrick Hughes
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Élodie Yung, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Kristy Mitchell, Richard E. Grant, Sam Hazeldine
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 51m
Opens : 17 August 2017

This reviewer has long thought that The Hague would be a cool setting for an action movie to unfold. Imagine this scenario: a brutal dictator is brought before the International Court of Justice, but his sympathisers disrupt the trial, taking the judges, witnesses and other attendees of the trial hostage. It’s up to a John McClane-style hero to save the day. The Hitman’s Bodyguard uses a similar premise, but with a comedic twist.

Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is a triple-A rated executive protection agent, and his services are highly sought-after by arms dealers, warlords and other shady figures with a long list of enemies. After a botched job, Bryce’s career is in the dumps. His shot at redemption is a job escorting hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to The Hague, where Kincaid is set to testify against Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Oldman). Kincaid agrees to testify on the condition that his wife Sonia (Hayek), herself a career criminal, is released from prison. Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Yung), has learned that there is a mole within Interpol and Bryce, being on the outside, is the only person she can trust to protect Kincaid. The catch: Bryce and Kincaid have been sworn enemies for years, Bryce finding himself caught in Kincaid’s crosshairs countless times across their respective careers. Kincaid insists that he doesn’t need Bryce’s protection, but the unlikely duo must rely on each other to survive the onslaught of Dukhovich’s mercenary army.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard seemed promising: there’s plenty of potential in teaming up Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, and the marketing campaign that riffed on the 1992 film The Bodyguard was reasonably witty. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Director Patrick Hughes, who helmed the mediocre The Expendables 3, struggles to make the film seem fresh or genuinely thrilling. Despite the obvious chemistry its stars share, there’s only so much expletive-laden bickering one can take before it just gets tiresome. The conflict between Bryce and Kincaid is meant to be amusing, but it just feels like a single joke that’s stretched out. As written by screenwriter Tom O’Connor, the back-and-forth between Reynolds and Jackson isn’t nearly clever enough to keep our interest.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard also suffers tonally: a bloody bar brawl scored to Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, and Atli Örvarsson’s over-the-top Bond movie-esque score indicate that the film is aiming for ironic self-awareness. However, the villain is depicted committing full-on war crimes, and one character’s tragic backstory is depicted in a dark flashback. Then there’s general silliness, like when our protagonists hitch a ride on a bus full of nuns. The Hitman’s Bodyguard doesn’t commit to full-tilt madcap comedy because it also wants to be a cool action flick, and ends up stranded in between. The action sequences are mostly filmed in shaky-cam so they’re difficult to enjoy, but the boat chase through Amsterdam’s canals and the explosive finale are reasonably fun set pieces.

Reynolds and Jackson play strictly to type: the former is a wisecracking action hero, and the latter is a foul-mouthed badass who doesn’t suffer fools. While they appear to be enjoying themselves, the dysfunctional buddy cop dynamic falls short of the fireworks one would expect from the pairing of performers who, in the right roles, can be supremely entertaining. The incessant arguing between the pair does draw out a few laughs, but most of the would-be zingers Reynolds and Jackson exchange fall flat. You might find yourself wondering how this would go if Reynolds and Jackson were playing Deadpool and Nick Fury respectively – that would be more exciting.

Gary Oldman can always be counted on to play a fantastic villain: he can throw a shouting fit like few others. He’s good here, no surprise, but he seems to have wandered in from a different movie. The character is introduced committing war crimes, that introductory scene feeling uncomfortably out of place in what is ostensibly a light-hearted action comedy.

Hayek is ridiculous amounts of fun, swearing up a storm and putting in a performance that’s markedly different from what we’ve seen from her before. Yung doesn’t make much of an impact, but it is fun to imagine Deadpool and Elektra being former lovers.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard seems like it should’ve been an entertaining lark, but it comes off as generic and oddly lethargic, despite trying hard to come off as funny. While its action sequences are unremarkable and its comedy is largely forced, The Hitman’s Bodyguard can thank its leads for wringing some laughs out of the material.

Summary: It’s mostly a rehash of buddy action movie clichés and the fights and chases are nothing to write home about, but even when given middling material, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson make some of this work.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong