Spider-Man Homecoming

For F*** Magazine

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Director : Jon Watts
Cast : Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Michael Chernus, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 14min
Opens : 6 July 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)

In Captain America: Civil War, we were introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland). After the events of that film, Peter returns home and having been in the thick of a big superhero battle, wants more excitement. A high school sophomore, Peter juggles school work, hangs out with his best friend Ned (Batalon), nurses a crush on his Decathlon team captain Liz (Harrier), weathers the put-downs of bully Flash (Revolori) and tries to keep his Aunt May (Tomei) from discovering his secret identity. In the meantime, Spider-Man tangles with Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Keaton), a former salvage worker with a grudge on Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Peter’s mentor. Toomes’ associate Phineas Mason (Chernus) has developed various gadgets using alien and other technology illegally gleaned from the aftermath of various Avengers battles. Stark thinks Peter is acting recklessly, and Peter must prove he is worthy of not only the suit that Stark has created for him, but of the mantle of a superhero.

The Spider-Man film rights are something of a tangled web: after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 under-performed and a planned franchise collapsed, Sony Pictures leased the film rights for the character to Marvel Studios. This makes Spider-Man: Homecoming technically a Sony film, but Spider-Man can now co-exist with the other heroes in the MCU – as he should be able to.

Jon Watts, a relatively fresh director who impressed Marvel execs with his film Cop Car, carves out a niche in the MCU that fits Homecoming perfectly. We’re reminded that this film takes place in a larger universe, but Homecoming doesn’t busy itself with excessive franchise set-up work – which was arguably the downfall of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Instead, Watts strikes a fine balance between the superhero action and the high school movie aspects, crafting something with a scope and scale that doesn’t exceed his grasp. These movies can get bloated, but despite a large cast of characters, Homecoming remains buoyant.

We called Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 the funniest MCU movie yet. Its reign is short-lived, as Homecoming is a worthy challenger to the title. Those Captain America public service announcement videos are a hoot. Despite a screenplay which is credited to three pairs of writers, the film doesn’t feel cluttered or scattershot. The central theme is that of responsibility – while this certainly isn’t an alien concept to the Spider-Man movies, the film doesn’t just say the word “responsibility” a bunch of times. While this is obviously a big-budget tentpole movie, there’s a certain homespun feel to it. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those teen-aimed movies made by people who obviously don’t get teenagers. The bits of Peter dealing with student life and the parts of the film in which he’s Spider-Man don’t feel like they come from disparate movies.

Homecoming boasts some quality set-pieces, with the central bifurcated Staten Island ferry sequence being the standout. The Washington Monument scene provides a judicious change of pace from the New York setting. While the visual effects work is mostly excellent and the Vulture’s wings look particularly awesome, there are some moments that lack polish. The computer-generated effects in all the previous Spider-Man films haven’t aged spectacularly, and while that’s less egregious here, there are still times when the digital double for Spider-Man himself looks too cartoony. Since Spidey’s moves are more elaborate than the standard ‘swing from building to building’ routine, the weaknesses of the CG Spidey show up a little more obviously.

Holland won plenty of fans over with his turn as Spidey in Civil War, and gets the chance to further develop the character and come into his own. Holland effortlessly essays Peter’s wide-eyed enthusiasm at the slightest thing, which probably echoes the actor’s own awe at being a part of the blockbuster franchise. There’s an earnestness to Peter and he’s just the right shade of flawed. Getting to play with a high-tech suit is fun, but when crime-fighting encroaches on Peter’s school and social life, it’s a burden he must shoulder. Holland’s physicality is a key factor to him being as good a Spider-Man as he is. However, as expected, most of the fighting and acrobatics seem to be done by the afore-mentioned digital double.

MCU villains get a bad rap, so it’s a good thing that the Vulture is one of the better ones. Keaton is ideal casting, and while he does have fun with the role, he’s intimidating without doing too much. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffered from a surfeit of one-dimensional, maniacally cackling villains. The Vulture’s motivations are logically laid out, and the idea of a regular guy who becomes a villain because the opportunity presents itself and as a means to a better life works as a foil against Spider-Man, the regular kid-turned-superhero. While some might worry that there are additional villains, the two Shockers (Woodbine, Marshall-Green) and the Tinkerer remain firmly in the background, with Homecoming avoiding a case of villain overload.

The supporting cast is fun, with Batalon making for an excitable, loveable sidekick to Holland’s Peter. The normally-glamorous former Disney Channel star Zendaya relishes playing the kooky, acerbic Michelle. Harrier’s Liz Allan fulfils the role Mary Jane normally would, as the unattainable crush Peter admires from afar. In one of several departures from the source material, Revolori’s Flash Thompson isn’t the traditional musclebound meathead, but is instead a snob who drives about in a fancy Audi.

While the promotional materials were heavy on Iron Man, Downey Jr.’s presence doesn’t overwhelm the film, which is squarely Spider-Man’s to carry. It’s apt that Tony step into the mentor role, and this signifies how far the MCU has come – it’s already been nine years since the first Iron Man film. And yes, the film is acutely aware that Marisa Tomei is considerably more attractive than the traditional grey-haired, hunched-over Aunt May as drawn in the comics. The montage in which she helps Peter prepare for prom is a sweet, low-key moment.

While Homecoming doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and doesn’t take the kind of risks with the comic book movie genre that we’ve seen from Logan and Wonder Woman earlier this year, it doesn’t have to. There’s a comfort factor in seeing Spider-Man back on the big screen, and the filmmakers demonstrate a keen understanding of what makes him tick, and of the character’s enduring appeal. Stick around for a stinger after the (extremely eye-catching) main-on-end titles, and another at the very end of the credits.

Summary: Like the high-tech suit that Tony Stark creates for Peter Parker, this Spider-Man reboot is spiffy but sufficiently familiar. Homecoming is tonally assured and energetic, with Holland making for an eminently personable Spidey.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

My Cousin Rachel

For F*** Magazine

MY COUSIN RACHEL 

Director : Roger Michell
Cast : Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Pierfrancisco Favino
Genre : Drama/Romance
Run Time : 1h 46min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Sexual Scenes)

When a character’s name is derived from the actor playing them, it’s known as ‘The Danza’. Take Will Smith as Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Tim Allen and Roseanne Barr in their respective sitcoms, and of course Tony Danza, who played ‘Tony’ in Who’s the Boss and Taxi, amongst other things.

In this romantic thriller, Rachel Weisz plays a character named Rachel – but seeing as the source material was written twenty years before Weisz was born, this can be chalked up to kismet. Philip (Claflin) is an orphan whose legal guardian is his godfather Nick (Glen), but who has been cared for by his cousin Ambrose. While in Florence, Ambrose meets a cousin of his and quickly becomes smitten with her. They marry, but Ambrose falls ill eventually dies. This cousin is named Rachel. Philip is sure that Rachel has killed Ambrose for his fortune, but on meeting her, Philip finds himself unable to resist her wiles. Meanwhile, Nick’s daughter Louise (Grainger) nurses unrequited affection for Philip, and Philip is caught in Rachel’s heady thrall.

My Cousin Rachel is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Daphne Du Maurier. Du Maurier’s novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and her short story The Birds spawned film adaptations directed by Alfred Hitchcock. My Cousin Rachel was first adapted for the screen in 1952, this version directed by Henry Koster and starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. This new take on My Cousin Rachel is adapted for the screen and written by Roger Michell, famous for helming the considerably sunnier romance Notting Hill.

My Cousin Rachel looks the part of a torrid yet classy affair, thanks to Mike Eley’s lyrical cinematography and the English filming locations of South Devon, Oxfordshire and Surrey. Dinah Collins’ costumes are handsome complements to the picturesque surrounds. However, it seems that the film is slightly too concerned with looking the part, and seems more mannered and stiff than untamed and dangerous. At times, the forbidden romance, the linchpin of the plot, feels ho-hum rather than risky While Michell does stage the proceedings with restraint, the stodginess creates distance between the viewer and the story when this should be beguiling and irresistible.

Weisz is an ideal fit for the titular character, and not just because of her name. She’s able to find the humanity beneath the archetypical Black Widow veil, and her take on the character is far from a laughable caricature. The effortless charm Weisz so subtly exudes Similarly, the dashing Claflin is believable as a naïve heir who’s either ensnared by a bewitching woman, or simply paranoid and delusional. Unfortunately, when the two are put together, the results are lukewarm rather than scorching. Glen delivers a respectable supporting turn, but Grainger remains strictly in the background, when a further exploration of Louise’s feelings for Philip would have made things more interesting.

Playing like a version of Crimson Peak sans the supernatural hijinks and sans Guillermo del Toro’s dark imagination and canny genre references, My Cousin Rachel is skilfully staged but isn’t as viscerally gripping as it should’ve been. Because its central mystery isn’t cleanly resolved, My Cousin Rachel could leave viewers frustrated or haunted. We lean more towards the former.

Summary: Rachel Weisz delivers an electrifying performance, but the movie that surrounds her is considerably duller, too mannered and rigid to inspire passion or generate thrills.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Overdrive

For F*** Magazine

OVERDRIVE 

Director : Antonio Negret
Cast : Scott Eastwood, Freddie Thorp, Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss, Simon Abkarian, Clemens Schick
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

Given the rip-roaring success of the Fast and Furious franchise, it’s a given that other filmmakers would want to hop on that souped-up bandwagon. In the vein of Need for Speed and Collide is Overdrive, which to its credit isn’t even pretending that it isn’t a Fast and Furious knockoff – not that it deserves too much credit.

Andrew (Eastwood) and Garrett (Thorp) are half-brothers, and the world’s greatest car thieves. After a job in Marseille goes awry, they end up being targeted by ruthless crime lord Jacomo Morier (Abkarian). To get Jacomo to spare their lives, Andrew and Garrett agree to steal the priceless car collection of rival kingpin Max Klemp (Schick) for Jacomo. With only a week to put together a high-stakes heist, the brothers enlist the help of pickpocket and con artist Devin (Weiss), who is a friend of Andrew’s girlfriend Stephanie (De Armas). Andrew plans to propose to Stephanie and settle down, but Garrett is adamant that they continue being car thieves since they’re in their prime. Everything is riding on the biggest job of their career, as Andrew and Garrett must outfox the most dangerous criminal elements in Europe to stay alive.

Overdrive is directed by Antonio Negret, who has directed episodes of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Scorpion and the MacGyver reboot. It’s written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who penned 2 Fast 2 Furious, arguably the worst entry in the Fast and Furious series. Taken director Pierre Morel is on board as a producer, taking a leaf out of his mentor Luc Besson’s playbook by making a European action flick geared towards Hollywood sensibilities. Overdrive has been in development since 2011, with Karl Urban, Ben Barnes, Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke all attached at some point or another. Instead, we end up with Scott Eastwood and Freddie Thorp. Oh well.

While it’s impossible not to view this as a bargain basement take on the Fast and Furious movies, the set pieces here really aren’t bad at all. We have a healthy number of collisions, flipping cars and explosions. The film’s climax also contains a fun sequence involving a collapsing bridge. Unfortunately, this is all bolted on to a painfully generic plot, with characters spouting excruciatingly unfunny dialogue, and the overall tone is self-satisfied rather than irreverent. The crew that is assembled for the ‘big job’ is neither distinctive nor memorable, and the big reveal is wont to inspire indifference. There are also only so many times audiences can be impressed by garage doors swinging open dramatically to reveal fancy cars. After all, one expects a garage to contain cars. If the garage doors had opened to reveal llamas, that would’ve been more interesting.

Eastwood, son of Clint, has earned his place in Hollywood as “budget Chris Evans”. Sure, he’s handsome, but is ultimately too cookie-cutter a leading man to make much of an impact. It is a little funny that he’s been cast in the actual Fast and Furious series, as an ersatz Paul Walker. The buddy dynamic between Eastwood and Thorp feels utterly forced. Thorp’s Garrett is supposed to be the witty fast-talker, but the character just ends up being annoying. Eastwood is American and Thorp is English; this is justified by having them be ‘half-brothers’, and leads into a particularly wince-inducing “brother from another mother” joke.

While De Armas seems poised to hit the big time with a starring role in Blade Runner 2049 later this year, she’s terrible here, playing the designated girlfriend who – you guessed it – gets caught in several ‘damsel in distress’ predicaments. Weiss’ Devin is meant to be seductive and wily, but she comes off as bland. Then we have the villains, wannabe Bond baddies if ever there were any – Abkarian even played the henchman Dimitrios in Casino Royale.

Negret displays a degree of style, employing several semi-clever transitions. For the first act, things move at a nice clip, then there’s that dreaded sagging midsection. Overdrive seems to know it’s not very smart, but just knowing that without doing anything with that self-awareness isn’t enough.

Summary: Bland acting, a generic plot and a smug vibe blow out the tires of what would otherwise be an entertaining if disposable action flick.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Wall

For F*** Magazine

THE WALL

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)

You won’t hear any Pink Floyd in this movie, nor will you witness Matt Damon and Jing Tian fighting of hordes of lizard beasts. Instead, The Wall centres on two American soldiers: Sgt. Allen Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) and Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews (Cena). It is 2007, and in the Iraqi desert, sniper Matthews and his spotter Isaac find themselves targeted by an enemy sniper. This is Juba (Nakli), who taunts Isaac over a radio he has taken from one of his victims. Isaac finds himself pinned down with only a crumbling section of wall for cover, as he engages in a game of wits with his unseen tormentor.

Dwain Worrell’s screenplay for The Wall was the first spec script that fledgling Amazon Studios had purchased. The script landed on the 2014 Black List of most-liked unproduced screenplays, and it’s easy to see the appeal of this project on paper. Worrell taps on his experience as a playwright to craft something more akin to a stage play than your average action drama flick.

Unfortunately, like the titular structure, The Wall begins to fall apart. It soon becomes clear that the premise, while clever, is stretched way too thin, unable to sustain a feature-length film. For most of the movie’s duration, the protagonist and antagonist communicate only by radio, and despite director Doug Liman’s best efforts, audiences will start to feel restless. It sure feels longer than its 90 minutes. Liman, having helmed The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Edge of Tomorrow, knows his way around an action sequence, but The Wall serves up precious few moments of action.

Liman does a fine job of placing the audience in the moment – one’s mouth might start to feel a little parched looking at Taylor-Johnson’s and Cena’s faces caked in dust. Viewers who are starting to feel summer movie season fatigue might be drawn to this minimalist action thriller, but The Wall just doesn’t have enough tricks up its sleeve. Contrast this with, say, last year’s The Shallows, in which Blake Lively was essentially being held hostage by a shark. In that film, the obstacles flung at the protagonist were varied enough, the threat visceral enough and the environment deceptively beautiful enough to hold our attention. Despite being wily and lethal, the enemy sniper Juba is no great white shark.

Taylor-Johnson commits to this and does look like he’s being put through absolute hell. Cena plays a supporting role, and not too much is required of him acting-wise. This reviewer thinks Cena’s true calling is comedy, and while there’s some banter between the two, this is mostly serious stuff. Nakli delivers what amounts to a purely vocal performance. Juba is erudite and crafty, quoting Edgar Allan Poe to Isaac while attempting to get under his skin and into his head. While a fun dynamic between tormentor and victim develops, Juba doesn’t feel like a multi-faceted character, even when we learn his requisite tragic back-story. The character is apparently based on an alleged sniper – it is unclear whether ‘Juba’ is a real individual, a pseudonym shared by several snipers, or merely an urban legend cooked up for propaganda purposes.

This reviewer was willing to be strung along by The Wall, even with its lulls and treading water (in the desert no less), provided there was a spectacular payoff. Alas, the ending is a cop-out, and marks the film as an ultimately hollow experience. Despite a competent leading turn from Taylor-Johnson and a convincingly harsh desert milieu, ultimately proves impenetrable.

Summary: a spare, experimental action drama, The Wall’s intriguing premise wears thin all too quickly, leaving viewers grasping at sand.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Transformers: The Last Knight

For F*** Magazine

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT 

Director : Michael Bay
Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci, Isabela Moner, Laura Haddock, Jerrod Carmichael, Liam Garrigan, Glenn Morshower. And the voices of: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Gemma Chan, John Goodman, John DiMaggio, Ken Watanabe, Omar Sy, Jim Carter
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 2h 29min
Opens : 22 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

It might be hard to believe, but it’s been a whole decade since the first live-action Transformers movie clanged its way into theatres. In this fifth go-round, the Transformers have been declared enemy combatants and are hunted by the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF). Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is a wanted fugitive for aiding and abetting the Autobots, including Bumblebee. He rescues young orphan Izabella (Moner) from a firefight, and in the process, is gifted a talisman by an alien knight whose ship crash-lands on earth. Cade is summoned by Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins), the guardian of a sect sworn to protect the Transformers’ secret history on earth. It turns out that the wizard Merlin (Tucci) was bequeathed a magical staff by alien robots; the mythical object long vanished. Cybertronian sorceress Quintessa (Chan) sends Optimus Prime (Cullen) in search of the staff, turning him against his long-time allies. With the help of Oxford literature and history professor Viviane Wembly (Haddock) and reluctant TRF soldier William Lennox (Duhamel), Cade and Burton must unravel an ancient conspiracy to prevent the destruction of earth.

No other franchise in recent memory has been more critic-proof than the Transformers films. This summer alone, we’ve witnessed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Mummy feebly attempt to kickstart would-be franchises, while this juggernaut based on Hasbro action figures trundles along. The Transformers movies have long been easy targets for critics, and this entry is particularly frustrating for us. The Last Knight does what this reviewer has always wanted from this series: it explores the alternate history built around the Transformers’ secret presence on earth – though it’s hard to imagine how giant alien robots can stay secret for too long. However, this ends up being expectedly ludicrous, with plot contrivances that beggar belief scattered throughout the film. It turns out that there is a Da Vinci Code-esque secret society entrusted with guarding said history, its members including William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, Harriet Tubman, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. How giant alien robots traipsing around are kept secret is anybody’s guess.

This film strikes us as a spectacular waste of resources – with its $260 million budget, it’s the most expensive Transformers movie yet. In a way, every big blockbuster is, but some are better at justifying that waste than others. The Last Knight unfolds on a spectacular scale, and like Age of Extinction, its story spans continents and millennia. The visual effects supervised by Scott Farrar are extensive and commendable, and the action set pieces are marginally easier to follow than in previous instalments. However, there are only so many ways one can depict giant robots punching each other, and there are only so many variations on a car chase. While rival car-based franchise Fast and Furious has been continuously inventive, the action in Transformers is concussive and numbing. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to tune out instead of staying focused on the mayhem onscreen.

We held out hope that this might be an improvement because screenwriter Ehren Kruger has been jettisoned, replaced by Iron Man and Punisher: War Zone scribes Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, and Black Hawk Down writer Ken Nolan. Alas, narrative coherence is in short supply and director Michael Bay’s oppressively juvenile sense of humour smothers anything resembling wit.

There’s a scene in which Megatron (Welker) negotiates the release of his Decepticon compatriots with lawyers seated at folding tables in the middle of the desert. We also find General Morshower poring over battle plans in the Pentagon basement, declaring “this is where I deal with the dark s***”. And yes, there are racial stereotypes aplenty – Bay is endlessly amused at those stuffy Brits, Hot Rod (Sy) has a thick French accent, gold chain-wearing Decepticon Nitro Zeus (DiMaggio) paraphrases Martin Luther King Jr. while being released from prison, and Decepticon Mohawk (Reno Wilson) is characterised as a violent street thug. Any accusations that critics are “reading into things” are rendered moot by Bay’s insouciant rejection of subtlety in any form.

Wahlberg may be a better fit as the franchise’s leading man than Shia LaBeouf was, but even then, Wahlberg’s getting annoying. It’s a relief, then, that this is supposedly his last Transformers film. By making the female lead an Oxford professor, the film goes down the predictable route of having Cade and Viviane bicker endlessly while being set up as a couple. Haddock is by far the best actress to have played the female lead in this series, but that’s a low bar. She’s also the least overtly sexualised and has the most agency of all the female leads in the series – but that’s also a low bar, seeing as Viviane struts around in tight dresses and stilettos for the first half of the film.

With Izabella and her sidekick, transforming Vespa Sqweeks, Bay appears to steer the film back to the “a kid and their X” roots, as embodied by Sam Witwicky’s friendship with Bumblebee in the first movie. This feels like an afterthought, and Izabella is one of several characters who feel like hangers-on.

After starring in HBO’s Westworld, Sir Anthony Hopkins hangs out with far bigger robots here. He looks to be having a grand old time, playing the eccentric earl with a twinkle in his eye. A lot of his dialogue is incredibly stupid, but it helps that it’s being uttered by Hopkins. Burton is given a sidekick in the form of an idiosyncratic robot butler named Cogman (Carter), who is frequently annoying and is pretty much a more annoying version of Rogue One’s K2-SO.

Duhamel, Morshower, Turturro and others return from the earlier movies, begging the question of why LaBeouf isn’t in this, at least for a little. Not that we want to see him in this at all, but given that Sam is Bumblebee’s best friend, it stands to reason that Bumblebee should seek him out over the course of this film.

To its credit, The Last Knight does feel shorter than its 150-minute runtime, and features a novel submarine chase that’s different enough from the standard action sequences we’ve seen from this franchise. It’s fine for blockbusters to be silly, but when nothing less than the end of the world is at hand, The Last Knight should be more impactful and less superfluous than it is.

Summary: Bombastic and bloated, The Last Knight’s convoluted mythos and tedious action is enlivened by the joyous presence of Sir Anthony Hopkins. Audiences with the fortitude to surrender to its thunderous stupidity might get a modicum of enjoyment out of this.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Despicable Me 3

For F*** Magazine

DESPICABLE ME 3

Directors : Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda, Eric Guillon
Cast : Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : PG

Supervillain-turned-doting-dad Gru (Carell) is back, with his wife Lucy (Wiig), adopted daughters Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel), and yes, the Minions (Coffin) in tow. In this instalment, Gru and Lucy face off against Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a dastardly, bitter former child star with an 80s pop culture and fashion gimmick. Gru faces upheaval when Valerie Da Vinci (Slate), the new chief of the Anti-Villain League, unceremoniously fires both Gru and Lucy. The Minions, longing for the glory days of being on the wrong side of the law, revolt and leave Gru’s employ. During all this, Gru discovers a secret that his mother Marlena (Andrews) has been keeping from him for his entire life: Gru has a twin brother. Gru finally meets Dru (also Carell), who is eager to join his brother on his exploits and attempts to convince Gru to carry on the proud family legacy of villainy. Gru and Dru embark on a quest to steal back a priceless diamond from Balthazar, as Balthazar plots his revenge on the town that scorned him: Hollywood.

We’ll be upfront about it: Despicable Me 3 wasn’t exactly high on our list of summer movies we were looking forward to. One is likely to find more people who are annoyed by the Minions than who find them adorable, but it’s not just that. The first Despicable Me film was weird, inventive, subversive and full of heart. At that point, Illumination Entertainment was still an underdog. Now, with a string of box office successes under its belt, not to mention tons of Minions merchandise and even theme park rides, it all seems to have gone to the heads of producer Chris Meledandri and the other Illumination bigwigs. The studio appears to be heading down the Dreamworks path, and Meledandri has been instated as Universal’s equivalent to Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. Early in Despicable Me 3, we get a particularly mean-spirited swipe at Finding Nemo. This can’t help but recall the sly, slightly bitter digs at Disney that were snuck into the Shrek movies.

Kids in general are unlikely to care about animation studios jostling for supremacy, and kids in general are likely to enjoy Despicable Me 3. The animation is energetic, the gizmos and gadgets on display are over-the-top and imaginative, and there is so much slapstick. The main issue here is that the film isn’t character-driven at all. In the first film, the blossoming relationship between Gru and his young charges served as the film’s emotional core. Then, the Minions became the toyetic marketing sensation they are, and that got pushed to the background. One can sense directors Coffin (who also voices all the Minions), Balda and Guillon struggling with the question “how much of the Minions is too much?” For most of this film, the Minions are separated from Gru, accidentally entering a singing competition and then getting tossed into prison, where they spoof Jailhouse Rock. It’s all gag-driven, and there are several genuinely funny jokes here, but it ends up being scattershot.

“Long-lost twin brother” is a plot device screenwriters truck out when they’re all out of ideas. In this case, there’s an attempt to wink and nod at how it’s a bit of a cheat, but there’s still not enough to justify going this route. Carell gets to try a slightly different, higher-pitched voice as the irrepressibly cheerful Dru, and for all of five seconds, it’s funny that Dru has lustrous blonde locks, while Gru is bald. Despicable Me 3 tries for an emotional arc with Lucy struggling in her position as the girls’ adoptive mother, clashing with Margo in particular. While it’s an attempt to add depth to the story, it doesn’t become much more than just an attempt, and the conflict is resolved too easily.

Parker, along with South Park co-creator Matt Stone, has long been the gatekeeper of offending everyone for the sake of comedy. Parker and Stone have been especially savage towards what they view as the Hollywood elites, who will stop at nothing for a quick buck. As such, it seems like a sell-out move for Parker to take a role in the Despicable Me franchise, but the character is amusing. A delusional former child actor who obsessively grasps at the remains of his glory days is a familiar archetype, but the 80s gimmick is enjoyably silly. There are perhaps one too many snippets of songs from the era, including Take on Me, Bad, Sussudio and Physical, though.

There exist more desperate examples of attempts to keep floundering franchises afloat, and there’s still enough wit on display in Despicable Me 3. However, parents are likely to get increasingly impatient with these movies as more and more get made, when there are other animated films out there that older viewers will get more out of.

Summary: if Minions make you miserable, you don’t need us to tell you to give Despicable Me 3 a wide berth. There’s more emphasis on sustaining a lucrative franchise, less heart, and more animated zaniness to amuse the kids and annoy the adults.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hunter’s Prayer

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTER’S PRAYER

Director : Jonathan Mostow
Cast : Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Amy Landecker, Martin Compston
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug References and Violence)

Sam Worthington was once a Terminator, and in this action thriller, he becomes a hunter. Worthington plays Lucas, a hitman in the employ of ruthless English magnate Richard Addison (Leech). Metzger (Compston), another one of Addison’s assassins, kills Martin (Eben Young) and Pamela (Stephanie Dooley) Hatto, torching their upstate New York home. Martin’s daughter Ella (Rush) is studying at a boarding school in Switzerland. Addison is eager to tie up loose ends, and sends his goons after Ella. Lucas takes it upon himself to protect Ella, who vows vengeance upon Addison. Because of Addison’s wealth and influence, he is untouchable. With Lucas as her guide, Ella goes to great lengths to wreak vengeance upon Addison, in a mission that takes the pair from Switzerland to France to the United Kingdom.

The Hunter’s Prayer is based on Kevin Wignall’s novel For the Dogs. The film was shot from late 2014 to early 2015, and appears to have sat on the shelf for a while. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard to look at the poster featuring Worthington and Rush looking serious in front of a rack of guns and not think “generic action thriller”. That same poster calls Jonathan Mostow, who helmed Terminator 3 and Surrogates, a “visionary director”, which is cause for stifling laughter.

Mostow adopts dreary post-Bourne spy movie sensibilities in telling what amounts to your typical hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold tale. The Hunter’s Prayer was shot in Hungary and England, but the European locations are deliberately deprived of substantial glamour, so this doesn’t come off as a scenic James Bond-style travelogue. The action sequences are nothing to write home about, with a cliffside car chase early in the film generating the most excitement.

The adjective “bland” is often used to describe Worthington, who seemed poised for superstardom after Avatar, but then James Cameron took too long in prepping the sequel. To his credit, Worthington takes the role of Lucas quite seriously, and musters up as much intensity as he can playing the tortured hitman. While Lucas is deadly and efficient, he is also shackled by a crippling drug addiction. Much as Worthington tries, the character is too bound by genre clichés to be distinct, or for the audience to care too much about him.

There’s a legacy of action films in which young girls play the lead or co-lead, including The Professional, Kick-Ass, Hanna and recently Logan. Rush won the role after the initially-cast Hailee Steinfeld dropped out due to scheduling issues. The Hunter’s Prayer is meant to be grounded, so Ella doesn’t possess any wild combat proficiency. She’s spoiled and sheltered, but is sympathetic because she’s been neglected by her father and packed off to boarding school. The trajectory of the bond that forms between Ella and Lucas is predictable, and while Rush isn’t outright annoying in the role, Ella should be easier to root for than she is.

Leech’s Addison is the typical corporate creep villain, a wealthy tycoon who delegates the dirty work to his minions. Leech does have some fun with the role and indulges in a spot of moustache-twirling, but like most everything about The Hunter’s Prayer, he just doesn’t stand out. There’s a hint of intrigue in the severe way in which Addison treats his son, but that isn’t sufficiently explored. Compston, whose Metzger is supposed to be an utterly scary henchman, isn’t as intimidating as he needs to be. Landecker’s crooked FBI agent is meant to add a layer of intrigue to the proceedings, but not enough is done with her insidiousness.

The Hunter’s Prayer has a little more polish than your run-of-the-mill straight-to-DVD action flick, but it’s an almost completely joyless enterprise. Whether it’s the bottled-up emotions, the inner conflict, the child who is ripped from their innocent existence or the car chases and shootouts, anything you’ll see in The Hunter’s Prayer has been done considerably better elsewhere.

Summary: Sam Worthington takes his role more seriously than he must, but that doesn’t help The Hunter’s Prayer rise out of the straight-to-video action flick doldrums.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Once Upon a Time in Venice

For F*** Magazine

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE 

Director : Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Cast : Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Famke Janssen, Adam Goldberg, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes And Nudity)

           In this action comedy, Bruce Willis is a dick. A private dick. Willis plays Steve Ford, a disgraced former LAPD officer who has set up shop as a detective. Steve’s domain is the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, and with the help of his beleaguered assistant John (Middleditch), Steve helps track down missing persons. The house of Steve’s sister (Janssen) is burgled, with Buddy, Steve’s beloved Parson Russell Terrier, among the stolen items. The culprit, a drug lord named Spyder (Momoa), holds Buddy hostage, demanding that Steve run several errands for him before he can have his dog back. With the help of John and surf shop proprietor Dave (Goodman), Steve must retrieve Buddy by any means possible.

Willis has been absolutely slumming it in direct-to-DVD action movies, continuing that streak with Once Upon a Time in Venice. The movie is written and directed by brothers Mark and Robb Cullen, who wrote the Willis-starring Cop Out. It’s painful to watch Once Upon a Time in Venice strain so hard to be even remotely funny. This is listless, incoherent stuff which feels like it was rejected from a network TV comedy. The best set-piece, which involves Steve skate-boarding buck naked, takes place early in the movie, with nothing approaching that level of zaniness for the rest of its duration.

The premise and the posters try to sell this as a John Wick spoof, and Once Upon a Time in Venice would have been much better had it actually been an all-out parody of John Wick. There are also shades of the far more energetic and innovative Keanu, in which a hitman’s missing cat was the linchpin of the plot. Even with swearing, nudity and violence, Once Upon a Time in Venice fails to generate even a scintilla of excitement.

The cast that the Cullen Brothers has at their disposal is not too shabby. Willis is a shadow of his former A-lister self but his declining clout notwithstanding, he still was John McClane. One would think any filmmaker would be smart enough to play up that persona in an action comedy. Silicon Valley star Middleditch can play neurotic without being unbearably annoying, but in this movie, he’s saddled with dreadfully unfunny lines. The voiceover he performs is grating.

The dependable, talented John Goodman is completely wasted, and this movie makes poor use of Jason Momoa as well. He spends most of Once Upon a Time in Venice lounging around, participating in very few action scenes. Janssen shows up for a couple of scenes, and swimsuit model Jessica Gomes is only in this movie so she can go topless. She has a sex scene with Willis, who is 30 years her senior, which is as awkward as it sounds. Adam Goldberg plays a character named “Lou the Jew”, in one of several uncomfortable moments in which mild anti-Semitism is played for laughs. Kal Penn plays a store clerk in one scene, veteran character actor Christopher Macdonald shows up in a throwaway part, and for no discernible reason, there’s a David Arquette cameo.

At once a terrible comedy and a terrible action flick, Once Upon a Time in Venice is excruciating to watch. It’s uninspired, often tasteless and awash in wasted potential. A silly, devil-may-care action comedy spoof of John Wick could have been, if nothing more, diverting entertainment. Once Upon a Time in Venice isn’t even in the same area code as entertainment.

Summary: A dismal demonstration of how low erstwhile movie star Bruce Willis has sunk, Once Upon a Time in Venice will test the tolerance of even the most hardened direct-to-DVD action movie connoisseur.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Colossal

For F*** Magazine

COLOSSAL 

Director : Nacho Vigalondo
Cast : Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Genre : Sci-Fi/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Coarse Language And Some Violence)

In this sci-fi dark comedy-drama, Anne Hathaway learns that the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic out-of-work writer whose irresponsibility has led to her boyfriend Tim (Stevens) breaking up with her. After getting kicked out of their house by Tim, Gloria moves back to Maidenhead, the small Midwestern town where she grew up. Her childhood friend Oscar (Sudeikis) helps Gloria get back on her feet, offering her a job at his bar. Gloria becomes acquainted with Oscar’s friends Joel (Stowell) and Garth (Nelson), developing a romantic interest in Joel. When a giant bipedal reptilian monster appears out of nowhere to terrorise Seoul, Gloria comes to the startling revelation that she is controlling the creature. At a specific time every day, the monster materialises in South Korea, and mirrors Gloria’s physical actions. As Gloria processes this surreal turn of events, her personal relationships take similarly unexpected turns.

There is a film franchise centred on giant robots, which releases its fifth instalment this year and has the tagline “more than meets the eye”. While there’s often less than meets the eye with that film series, there’s far more to Colossal than one might think. Colossal comes from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who helmed the mind-bending Spanish-language film Timecrimes and the experimental techno-thriller Open Windows. Colossal’s zany premise of a kaiju that just happens to be controlled by a random American woman is only its first layer of weirdness. By the film’s end, it’s evident that this is not a movie that is weird solely for the sake of being weird. The film’s genre-defying nature plus its blend of comedy and genuinely unsettling drama might alienate some viewers, but it adds up to a uniquely compelling whole.

Colossal has been marketed as a quirky comedy; its trailer scored with light-hearted music and its cutesy poster depicting Hathaway scratching her head, with the monster standing behind her, doing the same. While the inherent absurdity of the premise does lead to some laughs, Colossal winds up in an unexpectedly dark, dramatic place. As characters’ back-stories and motivations come to light, things suddenly feel a lot more serious than they did earlier in the film. Rather than feeling like whiplash, this trajectory is earned. The story is gripping enough for this reviewer to go along with – even given an explanation for the film’s central phenomenon which requires more suspension of disbelief than usual.

The film’s budget is estimated at around $15 million, which is a paltry sum compared to summer blockbusters than can cost upwards of $150 million. Vigalondo smartly allocates his resources, and the visual effects spectacle holds up sufficiently well. The climactic sequence, which includes scenes of the South Korean army ushering panicked civillians to safety, is more riveting than this reviewer thought it would be.

Hathaway is goofy and endearing, but is also able to evince the hidden conflict within Gloria. The attractive woman whose life has spun out of control thanks to a drinking habit could well be the lead character of an insufferable sitcom, but like with other aspects of the film, Colossal takes that archetype and builds it out in a surprising way.

It’s difficult to meaningfully discuss Colossal without giving too much away, so skip past this paragraph if you’re worried about spoilers – we’ll try to be vague. This is likely the most depth Sudeikis has been able to display in his acting career. The Oscar character starts out as your standard ‘nice guy’ character, but the cracks begin to form. As defined in various think-pieces, the ‘nice guy’ is a man who gives the appearance of being thoughtful and caring while pursuing women, and who becomes bitter and resentful when his advances are rebuffed. The deconstruction of this trope as performed by Sudeikis is visceral, sorrowful and engenders just the right strain of uneasiness.

 

Stevens’ supporting role is a minor one, but he does get to retain his English accent. The friction that arises from the initial friendliness shared by Gloria, Oscar, Joel and Garth in the bar unfolds in believable fashion.

It is perhaps ironic that Colossal’s producers were sued by Toho Studios, who claimed the film was too similar to their flagship kaiju Godzilla. There are superficial similarities in that Colossal, like Godzilla, features a monster stomping about an Asian metropolis. However, the underlying allegory is completely different, and Vigalondo’s boldness in crafting a film that defies classification pays off, in that it is far from a jumbled mess. Colossal not only breaks the mould, it stomps on it with insouciant defiance.

Summary: Colossal is an odd beast, but the weirdness that fuels it belies surprising depth, salient social commentary and emotional resonance.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Viceroy’s House

For F*** Magazine

VICEROY’S HOUSE 

Director : Gurinder Chadha
Cast : Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Lily Travers, Om Puri, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith, Neeraj Kabi
Genre : Drama/History
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 8 June 2017
Rating : PG

Director Gurinder Chadha takes us inside the Viceroy’s House amidst the tumult of the Partition of India. It is 1947, and Lord Mountbatten (Bonneville), the last Viceroy of India, has arrived in New Delhi with his wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Anderson) and their daughter Pamela (Travers). Mountbatten is tasked with overseeing the English withdrawal from India, after a 300-year presence in the country. As unrest among the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims erupts across the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Smith) of the All-India Muslim League champions the formation of Pakistan, a nation-state for the Muslim minority to call home. Mountbatten meets with Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi (Kabi), as the schedule for Independence is moved up.

In the meantime, Jeet Kumar (Dayal), a new arrival on the staff of the Viceroy’s House, falls in love with Aalia Noor (Qureshi), an assistant to Pamela. Jeet was a prison guard who was sympathetic towards Aalia’s blind father Ali Rahim Noor (Puri) when he was imprisoned. However, their love is forbidden because Jeet is Hindu and Aalia is Muslim. Furthermore, Aalia is promised to Asif (Arunoday Singh), who has just returned from combat overseas. With the tension manifesting itself within the over 500-strong staff of the residence, Mountbatten finds himself in a house, and a nation, divided.

The Partition is a historical event that has repercussions to this day, and this year marks its 70th anniversary. It is understandable that Viceroy’s House would be controversial, with some accusing the film of being revisionist history. Pakistani poet and member of the Bhutto political dynasty Fatima Bhutto decried Viceroy’s House as a “servile pantomime”. Director Chadha, who co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Paul Mayeda Berges, and Moira Buffini, took inspiration from the non-fiction books The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition by Narendra Singh Sarila and Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. This reviewer will admit to knowing very little about the Partition of India, and is frantically researching as he types. What we’re sure of is that as with every historical occurrence, there are a great many sides to the story. Chadha is cognisant of this, opening the film with the quote “history is written by the victors”. However, there’s a niggling lack of authenticity, a sense that this is a skewed point of view.

Viceroy’s House is an ambitious undertaking, because it attempts to neatly package deeply complicated politics and tragedy on a vast scale into a Merchant Ivory-style period piece. It’s clear that Chadha did not set out to misrepresent or offend anyone – in 2005, Chadha visited her grandfather’s home in Pakistan for the documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? This was the home he was forced to vacate when he was displaced during Partition. While Chadha’s personal connection to the story cannot be denied, there are times when it seems she has bitten off more than she can chew. Perhaps this story would be more suited to a miniseries format, as there so many players and moving parts.

While actual historical figures play an important role in the plot of Viceroy’s House, the romance between Jeet and Aalia is the audience’s way in. Both Dayal and Qureshi are lively, watchable performers and they lend this love story its sweet and moving moments, but it’s obvious that this fictional subplot was tacked on to add accessibility. There’s every chance that a relationship like Jeet and Aalia’s could have developed in the actual Viceroy’s House, but this is a device that’s recognisable from many earlier historical films. It’s not the best comparison, but think Jack and Rose in Titanic, or the recent film Bitter Harvest about the Holodomor genocide-famine in Soviet Ukraine. Instead of adding humanity, this sometimes-clumsily executed romance adds artifice.

The cast makes one wish this were a six episode-long TV event, because then we’d get more time to see the character dynamics play out. Mountbatten is depicted as a man of noble intentions, and that everything that went awry during the Partition was a result of him being kept in the dark. It seems most historians beg to differ. Bonneville is refined and respectable, but not terribly interesting. Anderson’s Lady Mountbatten is shown as striving to be inclusive and to understand the plight of everyday Indian people, eager to go beyond the walls of the House. Travers’ Penelope is a little bit of a spoiled princess, but ends up being pleasant to watch.

Smith is a charismatic presence as Jinnah, the film taking the effort to flesh out his arguments. Kabi is convincing as Gandhi, having also played the role in the television series Samvidhaan: The Making of the Constitution of India. Viceroy’s House marks one of the final film appearances of the late Om Puri, a towering figure in Indian cinema. As Ali Rahim Noor, Puri exudes good natured wisdom.

Throughout Viceroy’s House, one can sense the filmmakers tiptoeing through history, afraid to make any bold statements. The film is lovely to look at, with location filming in Rajasthan, India lending it high production values. However, it also feels distant and rigid. Even though this is a subject close to Chadha’s heart, it’s one that’s difficult to explore – let alone in the relatively brief 106-minute running time of the film. It’s a film about a fraught period in history which, any way one looks at is, is challenging to portray objectively and coherently.

Summary: Viceroy’s House appears to simplify and sanitize the complex conflict that precipitated the Partition of India, but it functions competently as a period drama.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong