Tomb Raider (2018) movie review

For inSing

TOMB RAIDER

Director : Roar Uthaug
Cast : Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nick Frost, Derek Jacobi
Genre : Action, Adventure
Run Time : 1h 58m
Opens : 8 March 2018
Rating : PG13

One of the gaming world’s most iconic heroines is reborn in this reboot-based-on-a-reboot. Lara Croft is back in this film based on the 2013 Tomb Raider game.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a bike courier who races through the streets of London. She could inherit a fortune, but she refuses to accept that her billionaire father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who vanished seven years ago, is dead. Lara unearths clues that lead her to his destination – the fabled island of Yamatai, the final resting place of the mythical Japanese Queen Himiko.

Lara hires ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to the island. Braving a fierce storm and a shipwreck, Lara arrives on Yamatai, where she comes face to face with the treacherous Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). The mysterious organisation Trinity has ordered Mathias to find Himiko’s tomb, planning to harness whatever lies within as a powerful weapon. Lara must fight for survival as she braves the adventure that will forge her into the Tomb Raider.

Video game movies haven’t quite been able to catch a break – While some had pinned their hopes on 2016’s Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed to turn the tide, those films received mixed to negative notices. Tomb Raider isn’t a game-changer, but it gets the job done.

The 2001 Tomb Raider film starring Angelina Jolie is a guilty pleasure of this reviewer’s. This incarnation eschews the glamour and nigh-superhuman imperviousness displayed by Jolie’s Lara, in favour of a human character who bleeds and gets very grimy – but still possesses impossible levels of upper body strength.

Norwegian director Roar Uthaug has made a largely efficient, straightforward adventure yarn. The movie takes a while to get into gear, and contains a few stretches of unwieldy exposition. The story has been whittled down almost to the point of being overly simplistic, but it counts for something that this is a video game movie with a coherent plot.

Once Lara enters the actual tomb, which happens over an hour into the movie, the film hits its stride. It’s exciting to see Lara navigate traps and solve puzzles as the floor falls out beneath her feet, and it’s when Lara dodges spike-covered cylinders tumbling from the ceiling that this movie becomes Tomb Raider.

This reviewer’s favourite set-piece involves Lara clambering across the wreckage of a plane that hangs over a waterfall, trying to gain purchase as the creaky metal carcass gives way. There are individual moments that made this reviewer cheer, and the best sequences are ones that closely echo those in the game. There’s also a fun if superfluous foot chase set in a bustling Hong Kong harbour.

Vikander lends Lara charm and likeability, and has gotten herself into incredible physical shape. Lara is a little more fearless and less sheltered than the character is in the 2013 game. Vikander acquits herself well during the action sequences, and it doesn’t feel as if the Oscar winner thinks this material is beneath her. Lara is resilient and resourceful, and while her back-story of searching for a long-lost parent and facing her destiny is familiar, Vikander never feels like she’s going through the motions.

In the game, there was a whole expedition who accompanied Lara to the island. The film streamlines this by mashing them into a single character, Wu’s Lu Ren. He brings swagger and action hero cred to the role. While he doesn’t get too much to do in the film’s second half, the character is integral to Lara’s journey.

Walton Goggins is a vastly underrated actor who can be counted on to play a terrific villain. Unfortunately, Mathias is a somewhat bland part – he commands an army of mercenaries and he’s ruthless, but there isn’t very much to him. The film doesn’t do the best job of establishing the looming threat that Trinity, a far-reaching secret society, poses. It seems like this will get further explored in the sequel, if one materialises.

Dominic West is just 19 years older than Vikander, so he seems a touch young to play her father. The father-daughter dynamic wants to be moving, but never quite gets there. Nick Frost shows up to provide comic relief as a pawnshop proprietor. It does feel like this movie’s supporting cast needs to make more of an impact.

Tomb Raider is gritty and grounded but never bleak and is often entertaining, but it feels like that last sprinkle of magic dust is missing. However, it does get enough right, more than most video game movies before it have and we’d be more than game for a sequel.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Shaping a Survivor: interview with Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider personal trainer Magnus Lygdback

For inSing

Shaping a Survivor: personal trainer Magnus Lygdbäck talks Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander’s coach tells inSing about transforming the Oscar winner into Lara Croft

By Jedd Jong

Anyone who’s played the Tomb Raider games will tell you that adventurer archaeologist Lara Croft must be in peak physical condition to accomplish the feats she pulls off. Whether it’s dodging deadly traps in ancient tombs, fighting off hordes of enemies human and otherwise, or leaping from platforms before they collapse beneath her feet, Lara is always being pushed to the limit.

The new Tomb Raider film, based on the 2013 reboot game, is no different in this regard. While it’s pitched as a more grounded take with a less-superhuman Lara, it still asks a great deal of its star Alicia Vikander. Vikander put on 5 kg of muscle, underwent MMA training and went to the gym every day before filming began, sometimes as early as 4 am.

Vikander first showed off her new physique when she wore a backless dress to the Oscars last year, garnering attention for her defined muscles. She also gained an impressive eight-pack over the course of training for the film.

Vikander got into beast mode under the guidance of personal trainer and fellow Swede Magnus Lygdbäck. Many took notice of the trainer and nutritionist after he helped get Alexander Skarsgård into Tarzan shape for the 2016 film.

Lygdbäck is the creator of the Magnus Method physical conditioning and nutrition program, and his other film credits include training Ben Affleck for Justice League and Gal Gadot for the upcoming Wonder Woman 2. In the world of music, his starry clientele includes Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Harry Styles and Max Martin.

Lygdbäck spoke exclusively to inSing over the phone about the arduous process Vikander weathered to play Lara, and the extents to which Vikander happily pushed herself to attain the desired results.

 

inSing: Please take us through the responsibilities of a personal trainer assigned to an actor.

Magnus Lygdbäck: I’m responsible for training and overseeing the amount of training, which means I’m with Alicia on everything she did physically. Everything from stunt training to MMA fighting with different instructors, just kind of overseeing it all.

 

You’ve worked with professional athletes and musicians like Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Harry Styles. How does working on a movie differ from that? 

Oh, it’s very different. What I do with my artistes is a little more life coach-related, helping out with structure, physically and mentally preparing them for [a] tour. If Katy Perry has a show tonight for 20 000 people, to me it matters when she gets up, what kind of breakfast she eats, what kind of workout she does, what mental preparation she does three hours before the show. What you do when you get off the stage, where you store all your energy – that’s very different. It’s all about building a character when you’re doing a movie. I love doing both, but they’re very different from each other.

What was the time frame you had to work with Alicia in pre-production, and did she impress you with her progress? 

I met Alicia seven months before filming. I was working with Ben Affleck at that time on Justice League. I got one day off, flew to L.A., and had a meeting with Alicia. We discussed the character with the director, and I started off on my nutrition plan, my Magnus Method lifestyle plan. She sent me weekly updates via video. Then four months before filming, I joined her in London. That’s when we started working together physically on a daily basis. Two months before filming, we started on her diet, the cutting cycle.

 

Both you and Alicia are Swedish. Was that something that the both of you bonded over? 

Oh yeah. It was nice, and the director’s Norwegian, so the three of us had our own secret language. It’s always special to work with a countryman. At the same time, she’s been out in the world for a long time, and I’ve been out there for many years, so we’re just as comfortable speaking English as Swedish, but it was special.

One of the differences between the movie and the game is that Lara is depicted as a bicycle courier. Did Alicia undertake specific training to shoot those sequences?  

Well, to become good at something, you have to do it. She worked with the stunt team on cycling around and doing different things, obstacle courses. She was working with the great stunt team that we had to become a good cyclist.

 

In many of the Tomb Raider games, Lara performs some very impressive gymnastics moves to navigate around tombs. Was there an emphasis on gymnastics in Alicia’s training? 

Yeah, we definitely looked at the games and we want the fans to be happy with the movie, so we were looking at the games for sure.

While Lara performs very impressive physical feats, she’s not a superhero. You’ve trained actors who’ve played superheroes before. How did you reach that sweet spot where Lara can handle herself in a fight, but she’s not superhuman?

That’s up to the director to portray her the right way. Physically, you don’t want to go over-the-top, you don’t want her to look unnatural, you want to keep that feeling of a regular person. We had that in mind, we wanted a strong, gritty, bold young woman, but who’s far from perfect like a superhero would be. You keep that in mind when you build the character, but on set, that’s much more up to the director, that’s when my job is done.

 

What was the input of the director Roar Uthaug when you were working on Lara’s physicality with Alicia?

We had our initial meeting seven months before, and then, not so much. When I work, I monitor my actors. I take pictures and measurements and I keep everyone in the loop. If they’re happy with the progress or if they trust you to build a character, you don’t really need to discuss too much. Some directors want to be very involved in the process, and others don’t feel like they need to be.

 

Was there a moment when you were working with Alicia where she surprised you the most?

She surprised me every day, I have to say. With not enough sleep, with the hard schedule of all this stunt work and prep, she is such a hard-working person. She will bring it every day. She will wake up with her fist clenched and she will go to war, which I love. My job is actually much more of stepping in and telling her to take a step back. “You don’t have to do that stunt a fifth time, you’re gonna hurt yourself!” [Laughs] I would force her to take a day off in the gym, I would tell her not to do that extra rep sometimes, and I would really tell on set “take a step back, we got stunt people who can do this a seventh time, you don’t have to do it”.

 

So she was really motivated?

 

Extremely. That’s how she is. She’s motivated in everything she does, and I think you can tell. When you see her in action, she’s a perfectionist, she’s extremely hardworking. She needs someone like me to line things up and say “take a step back” every once in a while.

The Light Between Oceans

For F*** Magazine

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS

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

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

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

the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-alicia-vikander-and-baby-1

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

the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-alicia-vikander-and-baby-2

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

the-light-between-oceans-alicia-vikander-and-michael-fassbender

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

the-light-between-oceans-rachel-weisz

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

the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-and-alicia-vikander-lighthouse

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

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

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jason Bourne

For F*** Magazine

JASON BOURNE

Director : Paul Greengrass
Cast : Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 58 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Jason Bourne posterIt’s been nine years since his last appearance onscreen, and Jason Bourne (Damon) slips out of the shadows and back into cinemas in the fifth instalment in the Bourne franchise. Nicky Parsons (Stiles), Bourne’s former contact, hacks into the CIA, discovering documents detailing a family connection that Bourne has to the Treadstone project. CIA director Robert Dewey (Jones) makes hunting Bourne down a top priority, as Heather Lee (Vikander), the head of the CIA’s cyber division, contains the damage done by the hack. Ironhand, a black ops project run by Dewey, is at risk of being exposed. Dewey assigns an assassin known only as the Asset (Cassel) to kill Bourne. In the meantime, tech billionaire Aaron Kalloor (Ahmed) is having second thoughts as Dewey demands access to the private information of the 1.5 billion users that Kalloor’s social network Deep Dream has accumulated. Bourne finds himself caught up in the shifting intelligence landscape, where even his resourcefulness and wits might not be enough for him to stay ahead of the curve.

Jason Bourne Matt Damon on bike

Jason Bourne sees Damon reprise the character he has become most closely associated with, bringing The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass back with him. Greengrass co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Rouse (also the film’s editor), with the story straining for timeliness by tackling topics including the U.S. government infringing on private digital data in the name of security. The Bourne Identity revitalised the spy movie genre with its realistic approach, but years later, Jason Bourne seems like it’s struggling to keep up. The story never becomes outright ridiculous and there is a degree of joy in seeing Damon play Bourne again, but a sense of going through the motions pervades Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne Matt Damon and Julia Stiles

Greengrass is somewhat notorious for his use of shaky-cam, which rears its jittery head again in Jason Bourne. There’s a trade-off between coherence and visceral thrills. In several scenes, the approach yields results: a riot in Athens feels authentically chaotic, with Greengrass’ direction placing the audience in the thick of the mayhem. The big action set pieces however suffer noticeably – the climactic car chase down the Las Vegas strip would’ve looked downright spectacular if we could make head or tail of what’s going on. That said, Greengrass sustains a healthy level of tension throughout, and there’s enough for audiences to grab on to such that we want to find out where the story takes Bourne next.

Jason Bourne Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones

The first Bourne film made an unlikely action hero out of Damon, and while he doesn’t seem particularly excited to return here, he isn’t phoning it in either. One does get a kick out of seeing Bourne outwit his pursuers and devise diversions so as to slip by unnoticed. The bit of personal history that’s revealed here does seem rather convenient and clichéd, but this revelation doesn’t overwrite or undo the events of the previous instalments. Jones is a great casting choice for the head of the CIA, unscrupulous and insidious yet ill-equipped to deal with the new frontiers which crop up in the digital realm on a daily basis.

Jason Bourne Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander

Vikander is believable as an ambitious, savvy intelligence agent adept at employing technology to confound her targets, but she gets precious little to do and for the bulk of the film, stays a distance away from the action. Cassel’s ice-cold, ruthless contract killer isn’t too much of a departure from the operatives Bourne often finds himself eluding. He does come off as a credible, sinister threat to Bourne, but the Asset’s personal vendetta against Bourne is formulaic and underdeveloped. Stiles’ Nicky is the only other character from the original Bourne trilogy to return, and serves as a catalyst in drawing Bourne out. For this reviewer, the subplot involving Ahmed’s Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech darling was the most intriguing, with the connection between Silicon Valley and Langley, Virginia as depicted in the film ringing eerily true.

Jason Bourne Vincent Cassel

The events of The Bourne Legacy are not alluded to, apart from a folder titled ‘Outcome’, the black ops project central to the plot of that film, being glimpsed on a computer monitor. Oddly enough, that spinoff was more entertaining and felt like less of a cash grab than Jason Bourne does. There are plenty of talented people involved and this is far from being a mess. Greengrass and Rouse demonstrate a decent understanding of a brave new world fraught with paranoia, a sentiment echoed by Oliver Stone when he warned against “surveillance capitalism” during a panel for his upcoming film Snowden (the whistle-blower is name-dropped twice in Jason Bourne for extra zeitgeist-y effect). Jason Bourne is competent, but the character’s return to the big screen should’ve been more – it should’ve been triumphant.

Jason Bourne Alicia Vikander and Matt Damon

Summary: While Jason Bourne is a serviceable spy thriller, it’s tackling of timely themes feels like a desperate bid to prove the franchise’s relevance and staying power, which is flagging here.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Danish Girl

For F*** Magazine

THE DANISH GIRL

Director : Tom Hooper
Cast : Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 7 January 2016
Rating : R21 (Mature Theme)

An adaptation of David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name, The Danish Girl tells the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It is 1926 and Lili, born Einar Wegener (Redmayne), is a landscape painter married to portrait artist Gerda (Vikander). When a model is late, Gerda has Einar stand in for her, wearing the model’s stockings and shoes. This unlocks Einar’s lifelong identification as female, and he begins to cultivate the persona of “Lili”. Gerda’s portraits of Lili attract the attention of the art world and she is invited to stage an exhibition in Paris, and Gerda tracks down art dealer Hans Axgil (Schoenaerts), a childhood friend of Einar’s. Hans’ attraction to Gerda establishes a complicated love triangle as Gerda struggles in supporting Einar’s transition into a woman. Eventually, Lili and Gerda seek the help of Dr. Wanerkos (Koch), who performs a two-part sexual reassignment surgery that is unprecedented and risky but is Lili’s only hope.

            Playwright Lucinda Coxon adapted The Danish Girl and the screenplay made the rounds for a decade before the film finally got made. The subject matter made it something of a hard sell, with Charlize Theron, then Gwyneth Paltrow attached to the role of Gerda opposite Nicole Kidman as Einar/Lili. Tomas Alfredson was initially set to direct, then was replaced with Lasse Hallström before that incarnation fell through. Director Tom Hooper of The King’s Speech and Les Misérablesbrings an awards contender pedigree to the project – it’s a bonus that star Redmayne is fresh off his Oscar win for The Theory of Everything. The film may be called “The Danish Girl”, but just as there was nary a French accent in earshot in Les Misérables, everyone in this movie sounds very English indeed. It can be seen as pandering to Academy voters, who seem to equate Englishness with prestige.



            While first stepping out in public as Lili, Einar worriedly asks his wife “am I pretty enough?” The Danish Girl is a film that does seem to be worried it isn’t pretty enough in a self-conscious manner, but cinematographer Danny Cohen, costume designer Paco Delgado and production designer Eve Stewart, all Hooper’s collaborators from Les Mis, ensure it is quite the pretty movie to look at. Any way one slices it, there was always going to be controversy surrounding the film, and it is incredibly difficult to appease everyone where the hot-button issue of gender identity is concerned. In a way, the period setting is a costume that lends a non-traditional story a more familiar guise, all of this prestige picture classiness a way in for audiences who might otherwise be clutching their pearls at the thought of a movie about a transgender woman.


            This brings us to the elephant in the room: the casting of a cisgender man to play a transgender woman. Transgendered actors are slowly gaining more visibility via projects like Orange is the New Black, but it seems we’re still some ways off from having a trans woman headline a mainstream awards contender film. There’s also the matter of drawing attention and scrutiny, plus the danger of typecasting. More cynically, the Academy loves physical transformations, and Redmayne has already bagged one Oscar after undergoing a physical transformation to play a real person. It’s difficult to talk about but it’s a conversation worth having and we’re trying to take a balanced view. Redmayne put a great deal of thought into the portrayal and spent time with trans women including activist Paris Lees, who gave Redmayne her blessing. “As a trans woman, I don’t think that if and when they make a biopic of my life I would want a cisgender man playing me,” Lees told Out Magazine. “Politically, it makes me groan. But if anybody’s going to do this justice, then I’m happy it’s Eddie. We had a good chat about everything.”

            The hype surrounding Redmayne’s portrayal is worth buying into, because this is an excellent, soul-baring performance. Lili’s emotional journey in coming to terms with her gender identity is eloquently conveyed by Redmayne. When the film is in danger of getting swallowed up by the larger issues at play, his portrayal pulls it back to a remarkably humane sensitivity. Vikander is just as worthy of praise and there is a good deal for her to sink her teeth into with the role of Gerda. This is a woman who sees the man she fell in love with slowly vanish, but her selfless love for him makes her want to see her husband arrive at a place where he is happy and comfortable with himself. Vikander’s performance is at once raw and measured, and if there was any doubt that she is 2015’s biggest breakout star, The Danish Girl erases said doubt once and for all.



            The Danish Girlis based on a fictionalised account of Lili’s life, with most of the characters besides Lili and Gerda created from whole cloth by Ebershoff. As such, both Whishaw and Schoenaerts can sometimes feel like hangers-on in the proceedings, but in addition to Gerda, their characters reinforce just how vital the support of a loved one is in undergoing a transition.

            The Danish Girldoes over-romanticise and simplify Lili’s story a fair bit, side-stepping Gerda’s possible bisexuality and the eventual dissolution of Lili and Gerda’s relationship. The final scene also contains a visual metaphor that is heavy-handed in quite the cringe-worthy manner. However, Lili’s story is an important one to tell and there is considerable talent behind this biopic. The more jaded might dismiss this out of hand as shameless awards bait and it does possess those elements, but above and beyond all that, the genuine emotional resonance of the story rings true.

Summary: While not as challenging and in-depth an exploration of Lili Elbe’s life and times as it could have been, powerful performances and technical polish make this a worthwhile telling of a moving story.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Burnt

For F*** Magazine

BURNT

Director : John Wells
Cast : Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Lily James
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 100 mins
Opens : 29 October 2015
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language)

Can you smell what the Rock(et Raccoon) is cooking? Raccoons are known for foraging for food in the trash, but this drama takes place in the rarefied realm of haute cuisine. Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, a former rising star in the Paris culinary scene who crashed and burned due to his self-destructive tendencies. Now clean and sober, Adam is hoping to make a fresh start and earn his third Michelin star with a new restaurant in London. He coerces maître d’ and hotel heir Tony (Brühl) to help him manage the front of house, with his old colleague Michel (Sy) as his sous chef. Adam takes a shine to single mother Helene (Miller), whose talents he feels are not put to proper use. The opening of the Adam Jones at the Langham earns the ire of Adam’s fierce rival Montgomery Reece (Rhys), and Adam has to keep his demons at bay as he strives for that coveted third star. Matters are further complicated by drug dealers to whom Adam still owes a great debt, as well as the presence of his former flame Anne Marie (Vikander), the daughter of Adam’s late mentor Jean-Luc. 

The title ‘Burnt’ conjured up images in this reviewer’s head of an alternate-universe Disney animated film starring a pyrokinetic princess named Elsa. Burnt was earlier named ‘Adam Jones’ and before that ‘Chef’, but that title was taken by Jon Favreau’s 2014 film. Since Chef was the last major narrative feature centred on making it in the kitchens of restaurants, Burnt does invite comparisons with it. Sure, Chef was more than a little self-indulgent, but it did have warmth, soul and earnestness and was clearly a passion project of Favreau’s. Directed by John Wells, Burnt is cynical and formulaic, a rock star redemption tale set in the high-stakes world of choleric chefs smashing plates on the floor and yelling at their underlings. Adam Jones is established as being obnoxious and obsessed, and the underlying message seems to be that if you’re good at something, it doesn’t matter how awfully you treat everyone around you. 
Steven Knight’s screenplay packs in the contrivances and somewhat clumsily attempts to explain kitchen lingo to the layman. There is a joke in which a plastic sous vide pouch is derisively called a “fish condom”, and this joke is apparently funny enough to repeat. This is a slick, well-paced film which paints a tantalising picture of a glamorous world while also emphasising how challenging it is to become a star in said world. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman’s camera glides from one cook’s station to the next, capturing both the frenzied activity and the aesthetically-plated dishes that leave the kitchen. Michelin Guide reviewers are presented as secret agents and everyone is struck by awed panic when they think these critics have arrived. The food, plated by food stylist Nicole Herft, looks very tempting indeed, with celebrity chefs Marcus Wareing and Mario Batali serving as consultants. 
Cooper dons his chef whites again after starring in the short-lived TV show No Reservations, based on Anthony Bourdain’s autobiography, ten years ago. Both Bourdain and the fictional Adam Jones struggled with substance abuse in the past, with Burnt chronicling Adam’s quest to rise from the ashes. Cooper is charismatic as usual and gets to break out the French (both Français and swearing), but the character is aggressively unlikeable. The film doesn’t try to make his driven nature endearing, explaining it away with a tragic back-story and everyone around Adam makes concessions for him because he’s that talented a chef. The film’s attempts to humanise the character come across as treacly and manipulative. It’s a character who’s difficult to root for, and this is supposed to be charming in and of itself, when it isn’t at all. 
Cooper is backed up by a good supporting cast, though the characters aren’t drawn with too much depth. Brühl is an endearingly if cartoonishly prickly fussbudget as Tony. There’s an obvious homoerotic subtext between him and Adam that is acknowledged but of course, played very safe. Instead, Adam’s love interest is Miller’s Helene, marking a reunion for the American Sniper co-stars. The film goes the eye roll-inducing route of having Adam treat Helene condescendingly, even humiliating her in front of the other kitchen staff, but Helene eventually warms to him because he’s just that sexy. It seems that the main purpose Sy serves is as a volley partner for Cooper to bounce his French dialogue off of. Rhys’ portrayal of the chef whom Adam is at loggerheads with is stops a safe distance short of being the stereotypical bully, though it does lack nuance. Vikander may be one of this year’s breakout stars from her roles in Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but she gets really little to do here as the one that got away. Emma Thompson is called upon to dispense gnomic advice as Adam’s therapist and Uma Thurman shows up in what is essentially a cameo as a food critic. 
After Gordon Ramsay’s fiery temperament has been ingrained into popular culture, at this point, it seems like a movie about a chef who’s quiet and calm and treats his co-workers politely would, ironically enough, be more interesting than a film about an unstable hair-trigger culinary wunderkind. Cooper is watchable, but no matter how strongly the movie wills it, it’s tough to get in his corner. It’s a “rise-fall-rise” narrative with few twists and additions to the formula, but if good-looking people and even better-looking food is what you’re after, Burnt has got you covered. 
Summary: We’ve gotten through the bulk of this review without any corny food metaphors, so allow us this indulgence: Burnt is lukewarm at best. 
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

For F*** Magazine

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Luca Calvani
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens : 3 September 2015
Rating : PG-13 (Brief Nudity and Some Violence)
While superheroes do most of the world-saving on the big and small screen these days, back in the ‘60s, that was primarily the domain of the superspy. In this reboot of the classic TV show, we are transported back to 1963, at the height of the Cold War. When nuclear scientist Udo Teller (Christian Berkel) goes missing, American and Soviet intelligence agencies form an uneasy alliance to track him down. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) must go undercover to find Teller, with Kuryakin posing as the fiancé of Teller’s daughter, Gabby (Vikander). Gabby’s uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) works for an Italian shipping company run by Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Debicki) Vinciguerra, a couple in cahoots with former Nazis and with deadly designs on cutting-edge nuclear technology. Solo and Kuryakin have to work through their obvious differences while secretly pursuing their own agendas as the world stands on the brink of an all-out nuclear calamity. The seeds for a new agency, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.) are thus sown. 
A cinematic Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot has been in the works at Warner Bros. for over a decade, with a multitude of writers and a laundry list of directors including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Matthew Vaughn attached at some point or another. Practically every Hollywood male A-lister, from Christian Bale to Michael Fassbender to Tom Cruise, was considered for the lead role of Napoleon Solo. The film finally arrives with director Guy Ritchie at the helm and the Superman of the hour, Henry Cavill, playing Solo. Ritchie has obviously set out to make a throwback that stops a safe distance short of being a parody, seeing as this genre and this time period does lend itself so well to being lampooned. “Groovy, baby” anyone? Or maybe “LANAAAA!”? The end result is a bog-standard espionage thriller which Ritchie tries his best to spice up. 
This is very much a case of style over substance, as it has been with most of Ritchie’s movies. Editor James Herbert employs funky transitions and split-screen effects and the subtitles are rendered in an old-timey font with yellow lettering. Composer Daniel Pemberton’s jazz flute-heavy retro score is an aural treat and a refreshing change from the same-old same-old Hans Zimmer-style action movie music audiences have become accustomed to. “You Work for Me”, performed by Laura Mvula, is a wonderful homage to the Shirley Bassey-sung Bond themes of yore. There are also a few clever uses of cinematic sleight of hand, where the characters reveal something to each other but the audience is left in the dark until an opportune moment. 
Unfortunately, most of what’s interesting about this is purely superficial. The screenplay is heavy on both unwieldly exposition and double entendres that just aren’t quite witty enough. The pacing is patchy at best, with noticeable talky stretches in between the action. While there are several fun set pieces, including a boat chase as seen from a unique point of view, the film never achieves genuine edge-of-your seat thrills. Part of the climax includes a dune buggy chase which is somewhat incoherently shot. The comparisons to the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation are unavoidable, and that film certainly outclasses The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when it comes to exhilarating stunts. 
Henry Cavill, stepping into the role originated by Robert Vaughn, is appropriately debonair and old school chic, reminding audiences that he was only narrowly beaten to the James Bond role by Daniel Craig. Cavill is not the most arresting actor in the world and the cadence he affects sounds a little off at times, but he’s got his classically handsome features to fall back on. Armie Hammer, succeeding David McCallum, fares little better in the accent department, but he looks like he’s in on the joke as the brawny, stoic Kuryakin and he manages to be funny while playing the unfunny character. The scenes of comic one-upmanship and hints of bromance tend to hit their marks, even if this is far from the most memorable action hero buddy pairing we’ve seen. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Cavill’s or Hammer’s performances per se, but they can’t help but feel like the third or fourth choices for the roles. 
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who broke through with a mesmerizing turn in the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, possesses the requisite slinky mystique as the leading lady here. The character is a mechanic and a skilled driver, with Vikander valiantly attempting to keep Gabby from coming off as a third wheel. Vikander also gets to display her comedic chops, goofily dancing to Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” in an attempt to get Kuryakin to loosen up. Once again however, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation trumps this film in the female lead department, with fellow Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson getting a meatier role in the proceedings. Elizabeth Debicki has fun as the femme fatale, but doesn’t go as deliciously dastardly as she needs to be an outstanding villainess. Hugh Grant balances out the charming and authoritative sides of Solo and Kuryakin’s boss Waverly, but he’s in this for a very short time. 
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a watchable if unremarkable serving of spy-fi nostalgia. It’s sporadically entertaining and its leads are definitely very easy on the eye, but it’s lukewarm rather than sizzling, with all snazziness strictly on the surface. While Warner Bros. actively pursued a Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot for quite a while, it doesn’t seem like something audiences in general were clamouring for. It has its moments, but not quite enough of them for it to be worth getting excited about. 
Summary: Moderately stylish, moderately sexy and moderately entertaining – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t reach any particular heights, but it’s a decent spy-fi throwback.  
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong

The Man from Krypton meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

Seventh Son

For F*** Magazine

SEVENTH SON

Director : Sergei Bodrov
Cast : Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Djimon Hounsou, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams, Kit Harington
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 31 December 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence And Brief Coarse Language)
Swords and sorcery, dragons and shape-shifting mages, a young apprentice destined for greatness studying under the wizened master – it never gets old – until it does. John Gregory (Bridges), a.k.a. The Spook, is the last of the ancient order of Falcon Knights. When his nemesis, the treacherous and powerful witch queen Mother Malkin (Moore) resurfaces, Gregory goes in search of an apprentice. Tom Ward (Barnes), supposedly possessing magical powers as he is the seventh son of a seventh son, is chosen by Gregory. Tom becomes besotted with the beautiful Alice (Vikander), who happens to be the niece of Mother Malkin, complicating things. Gregory and his pupil must defeat the cabal of supernaturally-gifted assassins sent after them by Mother Malkin to eventually storm her stronghold of Pendle Mountain and cease her imminent reign of terror.

            Adapted from John Delaney’s novel The Spook’s Apprentice, the first in his Wardstone Chronicles series, Seventh Son has had its release date pushed back several times after being originally set to open in February 2013. This is rarely a good omen and the result is a film that is profoundly middle-of-the-road. It’s not a flat-out train wreck, but there’s every chance it would’ve been more entertaining if it actually were one. “Remember, all you need is inside you. Just don’t be afraid to look,” Tom’s mother tells him with all the sincerity actress Olivia Williams can muster. It’s as “seen it a million times” as it gets.

Past the story, the film offers precious little in the way of genuine visual spectacle. Sure, the requisite battles with otherworldly creatures, chases through forests and leaps off sheer cliff-faces are all in place and there are even several effective, entertaining 3D effects, but it all just feels so perfunctory. By now, you’re probably tired of hearing critics and fanboys alike knocking computer-generated imagery, so allow us to say that we do acknowledge the effort that goes into creating the many CGI sequences in movies like Seventh Son. Industry giant John Dykstra is the visual effects designer here and Rhythm and Hues, the effects house behind Life of Pi, did most of the animation. However, it is clear that director Sergei Bodrov is desperately trying to recapture the magic of the fantastical stop-motion animated monsters created by Ray Harryhausen in the fantasy flicks of yore. Though considered quaint and dated by now, they possessed a real soul-stirring charm that masses of pixels just do not have.



Jeff Bridges is the surly old master whose glory days are behind him. Naturally, the character is at its most entertaining when glimmers of the Dude surface (such as when Gregory takes swigs from his trusty flask), but for most of the film Gregory is stern and grim. Ben Barnes, who has experience with fantasy flicks from playing Prince Caspian in the second and third Narnia movies, is handsome and bland like so many leading men are these days. Tom knows he is destined for greater things and doesn’t want to be stuck on a farm feeding pigs for the rest of his life. It’s so familiar that one almost expects him to break out in song, arms outstretched, declaring “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!”

Julianne Moore, currently receiving Oscar buzz for Still Alice, is evidently not above revelling in the other end of the spectrum, chewing the scenery with expected relish while her retractable CGI tail swishes for all it’s worth. The thing is though, there appears to be only one way to play a witch in these fantasy action flicks and a long line of actresses including Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Michelle Pfeiffer and Famke Janssen have delivered just about the same performance in movies past. Antje Traue, who memorably went toe-to-toe with Superman in Man of Steel, has little to do here as Mother Malkin’s sister Bony Lizzie, her major action scene involving the shape-shifted dragon version of her instead. Alicia Vikander and Ben Barnes seem to share little chemistry, with the “forbidden romance” coming off as little more than tacked-on.

Perfectly content with being nothing special, Seventh Son will likely hold special resonance if you’re a kid who’s never seen a fantasy film before (and who isn’t attached to the book series). For everyone else however, it will hardly register, drifting away in a cloud of its own mediocrity.
Summary:Late on the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings bandwagon by over a decade, even the likes of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore can’t make this also-rans fantasy flick worthwhile.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong