Bombshell review

For F*** Magazine

BOMBSHELL

Director: Jay Roach
Cast : Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Rob Delaney, Mark Duplass, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Malcolm McDowell
Genre: Drama/Biographical
Run Time : 1 h 49 mins
Opens : 30 January 2020
Rating : NC16

Millions of Americans turn to Fox News for political commentary and opinion every day, and the channel is the preferred media mouthpiece of the current occupant of the White House. This film tells the story of how a pervasive pattern of sexual harassment perpetrated by CEO Roger Ailes and other high-ranking members within the organisation was brought to light.

It is 2015 and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), a popular anchor on Fox News, earns the ire of Donald Trump, Republican front-runner in the 2016 presidential election. After asking Trump a question about his history of alleged mistreatment of women at a televised debate, Kelly is targeted by Trump and receives a barrage of attacks for challenging him. In the meantime, Fox and Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is taken off the popular morning show and given her own show in a bad timeslot. Carlson constantly faces sexism and has repeated advances made on her by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). After meeting with lawyers, Carlson plans to sue Ailes for harassment.

Ailes’ latest victim is Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a newcomer with dreams of being a Fox anchor. Kayla befriends Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), a Fox staffer with something to hide. Soon, Carlson’s lawsuit causes tension within Fox News, with pressure mounting for the anchors to defend Ailes – something Kelly refuses to do. A rift forms between Ailes and media mogul Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell), the owner of Fox News, as many more credible accusations against Ailes and other men at Fox News surface.

Bombshell has a largely excellent cast giving the material their all. Charlize Theron has netted an Oscar nomination for her turn as Megyn Kelly – subtle special effects makeup alters her features to increase the resemblance, but the truly uncanny element of her performance is the voice she affects. While it sometimes sounds like she’s struggling to sustain it, it works.

Robbie is eminently sympathetic, playing some emotional moments such that they’re especially heart-rending.

Encased in layers of prosthetic makeup to play the slovenly Ailes, John Lithgow is especially watchable playing blustery characters, and Roger Ailes is nothing if not blustery, always a second away from yelling – and worse – at his employees.

Bombshell is often energetic and is very good at conveying the crushing atmosphere of fear at Fox News that caused many of Ailes’ victims to hesitate in speaking out. The film is not especially accessible to those that do not have prior knowledge of Fox News and its key personnel, but it does an adequate job of portraying the tension between Ailes and the Murdochs, as well as highlighting how sexism manifested itself on the Fox air.

Unfortunately, it feels like Jay Roach is not the best director for this. Yes, Roach has directed the Sarah Palin-centric film Game Change, but he is best known for his comedies, including the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. Bombshell’s overall jokey tone is at odds with the graveness of the subject matter, meaning the film’s tonal shifts are often jarring. Scribe Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for co-writing The Big Short, brings a lot of that film’s glibness to this project. There are many stylistic choices which call attention to themselves, including characters frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. This reminds audiences of the artifice of the film, and yet, there is a heavy use of handheld documentary-style camera moves, including suddenly zooming in on a character’s face as they react to something – this is perhaps more reminiscent of The Office than of most documentaries.

Not unlike 2018’s Vice, Bombshell feels like a movie that constantly gets in its own way because it is determined to present the story in a fast-paced, eye-catching manner. The movie sometimes sabotages the committed performances its actors give in the name of excitement. In trying to cover as much ground as possible, Bombshell goes for breadth over depth, with title cards popping up to introduce each new player as efficiently as possible. It does all this while keeping Megyn Kelly front and centre as the main heroine of the piece, such that it feels like the story was manipulated to give her prominence over Carlson and others. Interestingly, Kelly was wholly absent from The Loudest Voice, the 2019 TV series starring Russell Crowe as Ailes and covering much of the same ground. Kelly herself said meteorologist Janice Dean should have been featured in the film, as she became the confidant for many fellow victims of Ailes.

Many other noted Fox News personalities briefly show up in the film, including Kimberly Guilfoyle (Bree Condon), Ainsley Earhardt (Alice Eve), Abby Huntsman (Nikki Reed), Chris Wallace (Marc Evan Jackson), Sean Hannity (Spencer Garrett), Geraldo Rivera (Tony Plana), Jeanine Pirro (Alana Ubach) and Greta van Susteren (Anne Ramsay). The overall comedic tone means that some of these performances feel straight out of Saturday Night Live. Yes, this being a film about a media outlet, many of its characters are bound to be recognisable public figures, but Bombshell becomes more of a game of “how much does this actor look like their real-life counterpart?” than it needs to be.

The biggest invention in the film is Robbie’s character Pospisil. She is a composite character meant to represent the younger would-be on air talent who were subject to Ailes’ advances. Jess Carr, played by actual SNL star Kate McKinnon, is also fictional. The subplot about the unexpected bond formed between the two women rings especially false. Practically every movie based on a true story features composite characters, but because the scandal at Fox played out in the public eye, audiences can immediately tell that there wasn’t really a “Kayla Pospisil”.

Summary: Bombshell tells a compelling, important story in an off-putting jokey manner, feeling too smug and self-satisfied to properly essay its message about women fighting back against a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace. Bombshell is carried by great performances, especially from Theron, Robbie and Lithgow, but is nowhere near as effectively insightful and damning as it could’ve been.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Addams Family (2019) Review

For F*** Magazine

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Director: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Cast : Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Allison Janney, Conrad Vernon, Bette Midler, Elsie Fisher, Titus Burgess
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 87 mins
Opens : 31 October 2019
Rating : PG

The Addams Family is as old as Superman: the loveably macabre characters debuted in The New Yorker in 1938, the same year the Man of Steel graced the cover of Action Comics #1. Charles Addams’ bizarre creation has endured through the decades, spawning numerous live-action and animated film and TV incarnations. The Addamses return to the big screen in this animated movie.

Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) Addams live in an abandoned mental asylum atop a hill in New Jersey. The family unit also includes their children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and their butler Lurch (Conrad Vernon). Pugsley is preparing for the Mazurka, a rite of passage involving choreographed swordplay that all Addams men must undergo. Grandmama (Bette Midler) and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) have arrived early, with the rest of the extended Addams clan soon to follow to attend the ceremony. Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), the host of a home makeover reality TV show, fears that the Addamses’ presence will jeopardise the sales of a planned community called Assimilation. Margaux’s distaste for the Addamses grows more intense when Wednesday befriends Margaux’s daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher).

The top-shelf voice cast is incredible, each of the main actors suiting their characters to a tee. One could very easily picture Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron playing live-action versions of Gomez and Morticia Addams, and one can tell they had a lot of fun with the roles. Theron’s withering delivery is another example of how she is underestimated as a comedic performer. Chloë Grace Moretz is just droll enough as Wednesday, while Nick Kroll’s excitable Uncle Fester is goofily endearing.

The character designs deliberately hew closely to the original Charles Addams drawings, so while most might not be used to seeing a shorter, stouter Gomez Addams, that’s how he was drawn even before the characters had first names. One addition to Wednesday’s design is especially clever – her trademark French Braid pigtails now end in nooses.

The writing is not very strong, but many of the jokes do land and some sight gags are inspired – there’s a joke about Instagram filters which is legitimately funny. The film attempts to touch on the themes of parental expectations of children and the fear of the other – while it doesn’t tackle these with much nuance or insight, they are themes that go well with the Addams Family. At the very least, the plot isn’t yet another version of “a normal family moves in next door” – or at least, it isn’t just that.

There’s a long and storied legacy to live up to whenever someone attempts a new version of The Addams Family. Some versions are better regarded than others, and time will tell if this take on The Addams Family will be regarded fondly. It just feels so underwhelming. Unfortunately, the animation comes off as somewhat flat and noticeably cheaper than the big-budget work of major Hollywood animation studios. The movie’s plot is very slight and feels more like a TV episode than a feature film. Margaux’s mission to drive the Addamses out to increase house sales in Assimilation is the A-plot and Pugsley’s preparation for the Mazurka is the B-plot.

The movie also sometimes succumbs to the gimmicks that are commonly seen in animated films that try to toss the accompanying parents a bone. The chief of this is the casting of Snoop Dogg as Cousin Itt, whose speech is famously garbled, therefore making the casting of a big name in the role especially pointless, and that’s apparently supposed to be the joke.

The movie struggles with how weird and dark it should go, because it’s ostensibly still aimed at kids. Directors Conrad Vernon and Craig Tierney also made Sausage Party, so they’re no strangers to more adult animated material. However, The Addams Family has most of the edges sanded off. The jokes are all on the safe side of dark, and while there are delightful moments like Morticia using her parents’ ashes as makeup, the movie never truly lives up to the potential of the franchise. This is not the first version of The Addams Family to have this problem, but in making it commercial and accessible, the filmmakers lose some of the subversiveness that is key to the appeal of these characters. The project was apparently conceived as a stop-motion animation project to be directed by Tim Burton, before eventually morphing into what it is now. That would certainly have been more interesting.

Summary: The Addams Family is a largely competent but unremarkable incarnation of the long-time goth icons. An impressive voice cast cannot disguise that this is ultimately a cookie-cutter animated movie that just isn’t weird enough to rank among the best versions of The Addams Family.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Oscars recap: The Shape of Water wins Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards

The Shape of Water wins Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards

A politically-charged but somewhat sedate Oscars nights caps off awards season

By Jedd Jong

Many presenters and winners at the 90th Academy Awards made impassioned calls for inclusivity and acceptance in the filmmaking industry and beyond, so it seemed apt that a film helmed by a Mexican director about a romance between a woman and an amphibian monster took home the top prize. The Shape of Water was nominated for 13 Oscars and took home four.

The Oscars were held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 4. The stage was framed by a proscenium arch studded with a whopping 45 million Swarovski crystals. The stage design incorporated geometric art deco elements morphing as the night went on.

Jimmy Kimmel took on hosting duties for the second consecutive year, making repeated references to the infamous Best Picture mix-up that took place at last year’s ceremony, when La La Land was mistaken announced as the Best Picture winner when it was Moonlight that had won.

Kimmel spoke pointedly about the Me Too and Times Up movements, joking “We will always remember this year as the year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.” He quipped that the Oscar figure is “the most respected, beloved man in Hollywood,” because he “keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and most importantly, [has] no penis at all.” Kimmel added that it was “literally a statue of limitations”.

Just as it was last year, the ceremony was a political one, but the sentiment of giving platforms to new voices and opening the playing field came across as heartfelt. Some of the lighter moments included Kimmel’s promise that the winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech would take home a Kawasaki jet ski. Later in the ceremony, Kimmel led some attendees, including Gal Gadot and Mark Hamill, over to the TCL Chinese Theatre across the street from the Dolby Theatre to surprise moviegoers who were attending a preview screening of A Wrinkle in Time.

Following the drama of the Best Picture kerfuffle last year, nothing at this year’s ceremony was quite as dramatic, and things felt a little low-key. As this was the 90th anniversary of the Oscars, there were tributes to past winners. Living legends like 93-year-old Eva Marie Saint and 86-year-old Rita Moreno were among the presenters. Moreno made a throwback fashion choice, wearing the same skirt she wore to the Oscars when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for West Side Story in 1962.

The show itself might not have been too exciting, but there were several rousing speeches from the winners.

One of the night’s most memorable moments came during Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech. McDormand, who won Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, asked all the female nominees in every category to stand, sharing her spotlight with all of them. “Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said. She ended her speech with the words “inclusion rider”, encouraging actresses to demand that projects draw from a more gender and race-inclusive pool of talent.

The contribution that immigrants make to America and its culture was also highlighted. “With Coco, we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do,” director Lee Unkrich said. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.” Coco won the Oscars for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song for “Remember Me”, which was performed at the ceremony by Miguel, Natalia Lafourcade and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Allison Janney, who won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of LaVona Golden in I, Tonya, left audiences everywhere in stitches thanks to her opening line. “I did it all by myself,” Janney said immediately after accepting the statuette. After sustained laughter from the crowd, Janney added “Nothing further from the truth”. She made special mention of screenwriter Steven Rogers, who wrote the role specifically with her in mind. Rogers and star/producer Margot Robbie got teary-eyed at Janney’s speech.

Jordan Peele, writer and director of Get Out, made history as the first African-American winner in the Best Original Screenplay category. “I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie,” Peele said. Peele said that he started and stopped writing Get Out 20 times, often convinced the sharply satirical horror-comedy could never get made. He dedicated the win to his mother, who taught him to “love in the face of hate”.

Roger Deakins has often been called the Leonardo DiCaprio of cinematography: after 13 previous nominations, he finally won for Blade Runner 2049. Deakins’ impressive body of work also includes The Shawshank Redemption, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Skyfall and O Brother, Where Art Thou. “I really love my job. I have been doing it a long time as you can see,” Deakins said, motioning to his white hair. “One of the reasons I really love it is because of the people I work with in front of and behind the camera,” he continued.

The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro got to make two speeches, one for his Best Director win and the other when the film won Best Picture. “I think the greatest thing that does and our industry does is erase the line in the sand,” del Toro mused, exhorting that “we should continue doing that, when the world tells us to make it deeper.”

The film doesn’t fit the usual awards bait mould, but this fairy-tale for grown-ups has resonated with audiences thanks to its message of embracing the other, its beautiful visuals and its sensitive performances “Everyone that is dreaming of using fantasy to tell the stories about things that are real in the world today, you can do it,” del Toro said. “This is the door. Kick it open and come in.”

The full list of winners and nominees is below:

BEST PICTURE

The Shape of WaterWINNER
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriWINNER
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Gary Oldman, Darkest HourWINNER
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Allison Janney, I, TonyaWINNER
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – WINNER
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

BEST DIRECTOR

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of WaterWINNER
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Jordan Peele, Get Out – WINNER
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

James Ivory, Call Me by Your NameWINNER
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, Logan
Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, Mudbound

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger A. Deakins, Blade Runner: 2049WINNER
Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of WaterWINNER
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Remember Me,” CocoWINNER
“Mighty River,” Mudbound
“Mystery of Love,” Call Me by Your Name
“Stand Up for Something,” Marshall
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

CocoWINNER
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Dear BasketballWINNER
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

IcarusWINNER
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 WINNER
Edith and Eddie
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

The Silent ChildWINNER
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Watu Wote: All of Us

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

A Fantastic Woman (Chile) – WINNER
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, and Lucy Sibbick, Darkest HourWINNER
Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard, Victoria & Abdul
Arjen Tuiten, Wonder

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Mark Bridges, Phantom ThreadWINNER
Jacqueline Durran, Beauty and the Beast
Jacqueline Durran, Darkest Hour
Luis Sequeira, The Shape of Water
Consolata Boyle, Victoria & Abdul

BEST SOUND EDITING

Richard King and Alex Gibson, DunkirkWINNER
Julian Slater, Baby Driver
Mark Mangini and Theo Green, Blade Runner 2049
Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira, The Shape of Water
Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOUND MIXING

Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landarker, and Gary A. Rizzo, DunkirkWINNER
Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, and Mary H. Ellis, Baby Driver
Ron Bartlett, Dough Hemphill, and Mac Ruth, Blade Runner 2049
Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern, and Glen Gauthier, The Shape of Water
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Stuart Wilson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Shape of Water (Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin) – WINNER
Beauty and the Beast (Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer)
Blade Runner: 2049 (Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola)
Darkest Hour (Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer)Dunkirk (Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049 (John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, and Richard R. Hoover) – WINNER
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, and Dan Sudick)
Kong: Skull Island (Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, and Mike Meinardus)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan, and Chris Corbould)
War for the Planet of the Apes (Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon, and Joel Whist)

BEST FILM EDITING

Lee Smith, DunkirkWINNER
Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, Baby Driver
Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya
Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape of Water
Jon Gregory, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

 

I, Tonya movie review

For inSing

I, TONYA

Director : Craig Gillespie
Cast : Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Mckenna Grace
Genre : Biography, Drama, Sports
Run Time : 1h 19m
Opens : 1 February 2018
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Sexual Scenes)

Every awards season, we get at least a few inspirational sports biopics about resilient athletes who overcome insurmountable odds, becoming heroes to people everywhere.

I, Tonya is not that movie.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was the first U.S. female figure skater to pull off the extremely tricky triple axel move. If you were around during the 90s, you might have a vague recollection of the rivalry between Tonya and fellow Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). This culminated in Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and Jeff’s friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) planning an attack against Nancy. After a hired hand breaks Nancy’s knee with a retractable baton, it isn’t long before suspicion falls on Tonya and Jeff.

The film follows the lead-up to and aftermath of this incident. Tonya’s mother LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney) mercilessly pushes her daughter, and Tonya’s life revolves around abusive relationships. Facing numerous setbacks and eventually cast as a villain by the media, Tonya pursues her dream of being the #1 figure skater in the world.

I, Tonya is an acerbic subversion of your bog-standard awards bait sports biopic. It’s sometimes unpleasant, and intentionally so. Director Craig Gillespie, who previously helmed the more traditional sports movie Million Dollar Arm, takes a black comedy approach to Tonya Harding’s life story. He directs from a screenplay by Steven Rogers – this is easily the Love the Coopers screenwriter’s edgiest work.

Tonally, I, Tonya is tricky. It wants the audience to laugh at the ‘white trash’ characters that populate the story, while also empathising with them. It wants to be cynical and snarky, yet sincere. There are moments when the cracks begin to show, but given the ambitiousness of this juggling of moods, I, Tonya works far better than it might have in different hands.

The film is framed with interview sequences in which the characters, a gallery of unreliable narrators, speak directly to camera. Outside these interview scenes, we also get fourth wall breaks. Everything is caustic, everyone is varying degrees of broken, and yet, it’s funny. The ice skating sequences are also absolutely mesmerising and thrilling, pinpricks of gracefulness in the blackness of awful people being awful.

Robbie, who is also the co-producer through her Lucky Chap Productions label, holds this all together. She throws every ounce of herself into a performance that is impossible to look away from and which has deservedly netted her an Oscar nomination. Piercing through the public perception of Tonya, Robbie paints the portrait of someone who has been knocked about her whole life, Tonya’s unsportsmanlike behaviour and overall demeanour a result of that. Robbie is flashy, sincere, wild and showcases impressive physicality, under the tutelage of coach Sarah Kawahara. This is the ‘sink-your-teeth-into-it’ role actors live for, and Robbie makes quite the meal of it.

Even with that highly unflattering moustache, Stan is still quite loveable. The Jeff character isn’t meant to be – he’s a dope, and he’s abusive, but is he malicious? Is he even smart enough to be capable of malice? The relationship between Tonya and Jeff rivals that of Harley Quinn and the Joker in the ‘toxic and unhealthy’ stakes. The film’s depiction of domestic abuse is harrowing, but doesn’t quite fit in with the devil-may-care glibness established earlier.

Janney handily steals the show as the abrasive, cruel, yet oddly endearing LaVona. Janney undergoes a complete transformation, and while we’ve seen the cigarette-smoking stage mom archetype before, she unearths several layers to the character. LaVona’s abusiveness towards Tonya contributes to Tonya’s acceptance of Jeff’s abuse after they are married. Janney is hotly tipped to take home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this performance.

The film also works to dispel the myth that parents who push their children past their breaking point in the pursuit of excellence are helping their children, and that’s what their children need. LaVona thinks that Tonya performs best when she is enraged, so she engineers situations to throw her child off balance – it’s psychological abuse.

As Tonya’s long-suffering coach Diane Rawlinson, Julianne Nicholson is the sole source of purity, comfort and level-headedness in this sea of scuzziness. Her presence offers a respite from the overwhelming unpleasantness of everything else.

Paul Walter Hauser has a good deal of fun with the role of Shawn, the schlubby friend with delusions of grandeur who ‘masterminds’ a criminal plot with consequences far beyond what Jeff or Tonya could have imagined. This section of the movie plays a bit like a Coen Brothers caper, with bumbling characters who are not very good at being up to no good.

I, Tonya is challenging in that it leaves the audience laughing but uncomfortable as they’re doing so. The film is sympathetic to its title character, but also leans into the tabloid perception of her as it attempts to dig beyond that surface. Mostly, I, Tonya is a terrific showcase for Margot Robbie’s increasingly stunning talents as a leading lady.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

For F*** Magazine

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Director : Tim Burton
Cast : Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 7min
Opens : 29 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Frightening Scenes)

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-posterDirector Tim Burton has always had a preoccupation with the peculiar, one which continues in this fantasy adventure. Jake Portman (Butterfield) has long been fascinated by his grandfather Abe’s (Stamp) astonishing stories. Abe claims to have spent time at an orphanage for children with unique, unnatural abilities, run by one Miss Peregrine (Green), who can take the form of her namesake bird of prey. Jake’s psychiatrist Dr. Golan (Janney) recommends that Jake visit this orphanage himself to find closure, and so Jake’s father (O’Dowd) takes him to Wales. On a small island, Jake discovers a portal to 1943 – the orphanage is stuck in a time loop generated by Miss Peregrine. Jake finds himself drawn to Emma (Purnell), who can manipulate air. The sullen Enoch (Finlay McMillan), who brings Frankenstein’s Monster-style creations to life, feels threatened by Jake. The evil Baron (Jackson) is on the hunt for Peculiars, with Jake and his newfound friends having to fend off Baron and his cadre of monstrous ‘hollowgasts’.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is adapted from Ransom Riggs’ novel of the same name. This reviewer is completely unfamiliar with the book and its sequel, and thus cannot judge the film as an adaptation of the source material. Just going off the title alone, it would seem that Burton is the ideal fit to bring the story to the big screen, and for a time, it looked like he might not actually commit to the project. Screenwriter Jane Goldman of X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service fame brings some of the edgy wit seen in her other work to bear, but for the most part, this is pretty standard young adult stuff. There’s a chosen one who uncovers mysterious family secrets, gets inducted into a fantastical world he’s never known, falls in love, gains an eccentric but good-hearted mentor figure and has to fight a sinister organisation.

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-group-of-kids-1

While it may not be anything revelatory for those raised on a steady diet of Harry Potter and its ilk, the world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is still engaging. The mechanics of the fictional universe are laid out clearly enough and it’s generally pretty fun, not taking itself too seriously. As with any fantasy, there are some proper nouns to learn. For example, an ‘ymbryne’ is a female guardian of peculiar children who can shape-shift into a bird. It revels in the absurdity of it all without obnoxiously proclaiming “you are watching a Tim Burton movie”, which the director is prone to doing. The various abilities the children possess are at once shocking and amusing and in at least one case, genuinely disturbing. While there is an expected reliance on digital visual effects, we do get a fun sequence which makes use of old-fashioned stop-motion animation. The imagery is the right side of spooky: it will give children nightmares, but generally stops short of being completely traumatising.

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-eva-green-and-asa-butterfield

 

Butterfield does a fine job of being awkward and awestruck; ‘chosen one’ protagonists can get a little bland but he’s sufficiently likeable as a performer, so Jake doesn’t come off as merely a tabula rasa protagonist. The moment Green appears more than half an hour into the film however, it’s abundantly clear that this is her movie. She’s an actress who’s always acutely aware of the type of project she’s in, modulating her performance accordingly. Here, she’s essentially Professor X meets Mary Poppins. She appears to be enjoying herself and struts about with the utmost poise. The midnight blue streaks in Miss Peregrine’s hair, which take on a green tint in the right light, make Green even more mesmerizing than she usually is.

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One of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’s shortcomings is an understandable one that afflicts many superhero films: the bulk of the characters are defined by their powers, and that’s about it. The incongruity of the children’s ordinary appearances and their flabbergasting abilities provides most of the humour. Purnell strikes a balance between confidence and gentleness, with Emma’s link to Jake’s grandfather making her an enigma that Jake feels he needs to solve. Alas, one can almost see the label reading ‘designated love interest’ hanging above her head. In a move that might vex faithful fans of the books, Emma and Olive (Lauren McCrostie) appear to have switched powers: in the book, Emma was pyrokinetic and Olive was aerokinetic (see, we’ve done a tiny bit of research).

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The Harry Potter series packed plenty of prestigious thespians into the adult supporting roles. Here, the mix of actors is a little more eclectic. Stamp is usually cast as cold, intimidating villains and here, he’s playing an affectionate if odd grandfather. Jackson’s colourful, over-the-top villain, who lisps a little on account of the prosthetic pointy teeth, is a little too over-the-top to be genuinely frightening. Younger children might be spooked by the hollowgasts, who are essentially takes on the internet urban legend supernatural being Slenderman, but because of their CGI-ness, they can be a little too synthetic to be actually scary. There’s also altogether too little of Dame Judi Dench in this, but James Bond fans will appreciate the brief reunion between M and Vesper Lynd.

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The world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has enough to it that we would be up for a sequel, but because it generally plays it safe as far as young adult fantasy stories go, it didn’t quite grab us. Still, it benefits from eye-catching visuals and an entertaining turn from Green in the titular role.

 

Summary: It’s more adequate than extraordinary and is far from Burton’s most memorable, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fine marriage of director and source material and is pretty decent fantasy adventure stuff.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Minions

For F*** Magazine

MINIONS

Director : Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Cast : Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Jon Hamm, Steve Coogan, Hiroyuki Sanada, Allison Janney, Katy Mixon, Dave Rosenbaum, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 91 mins
Opens : 18 June 2015
Rating : PG
Clad in blue overalls with thick goggles over their eye(s), preoccupied with bananas and spouting gibberish, the small yellow creatures known as Minions have scuttled their way into the collective popular culture consciousness. In this prequel/spin-off to the Despicable Me movies, we discover the origins of the Minions, who have been on earth since the dawn of time, drawn to evil masters whom they loyally but often ineffectively serve. It is 1968 and after a long period of unemployment, Kevin, Stuart and Bob set out to seek a new villainous employer for their clan. The stylish, dastardly Scarlet Overkill (Bullock) seems to be just the new boss the Minions seek. Her husband, inventor Herb (Hamm), outfits Kevin, Stuart and Bob with nifty gadgets and they are tasked to steal the Queen’s crown from the Tower of London for Scarlet, who dreams of ruling over the British Empire. Naturally, things go awry for our tiny yellow protagonists. Uh oh.

            It is very easy to be cynical about the existence of this spin-off film. A “minion” serves an evil overlord, who in the context of the Despicable Me series, is Steve Carell’s Gru. Here, the Minions, side characters by design, are given their own show to carry. There is an industry term for something with kid-targeted merchandising potential – “toyetic”. The Minions are as toyetic as they come, designed to be slapped on everything and anything that exasperated parents can fork over the cash for, with a new wave of Minion mania set to strike with the release of this movie. When McDonalds offered Minion Happy Meal toys here in Singapore, lines snaked around the block, rivalling those for Hello Kitty merchandise. It was a goofy, likeable idea to start with, but now it can’t help but feel all market tested and focus grouped out. A story focusing solely on the Minions would have worked fine as a short film or as a theme park attraction – actually, those already exist, but that doesn’t diminish the shiny, lucrative appeal of a feature-length summer release.

            That’s essentially a roundabout way of saying that Minions has no real need to exist, which sounds like a very curmudgeon-y statement indeed now that we’ve read it out loud. For what it is, the film is harmless, often quite amusing and very competently animated. Pierre Coffin co-directed both Despicable Me films and Kyle Balda helmed three Minion-centric short films included on the Despicable Me home release. Coffin and Chris Renaud, co-director of the Despicable Me movies, voice all the Minions themselves. There are several eye-catching sequences and plenty of fun period details for the parents in the audience to grab onto – Kevin, Stuart and Bob walking beneath a giant Nixon campaign poster is a delightfully surreal image. There are perhaps one too many pop culture references – for example, the Minions bumble into the Beatle’s famous Abbey Road crossing. The expected slapstick is not in short supply, but this reviewer’s favourite gag, featuring time-travelling mad scientist Dr. Flux, didn’t involve the Minions at all.

            It was assumed that the Minions were the genetically-engineered creations of Gru – the short film “Orientation Day” follows a bunch of freshly-cloned Minions around Gru’s lab. The Minions’ new back-story raises very many questions. Is this one tribe the only group of Minions in existence? What implications are there in these creatures’ nature to be drawn to only the most unsavoury beings currently alive? Would they have leapt at the chance to serve, say, Adolf Hitler? It makes sense if their lives have no meaning apart from indentured servitude if they were grown that way in a lab, but these creatures are naturally occurring. We’re definitely expending too much thought on it, but these notions did prove very distracting throughout the film’s duration.

            Sandra Bullock is the marquee-name star chosen to headline the film as Scarlet Overkill, the super-villainess kitted out in an array of dresses that also serve as booster rockets and who’s out to prove being a flashy career criminal isn’t just a guy’s game. She’s fine, but nowhere near as charismatic and entertaining as Steve Carell before her, and it is evident that she’s not a seasoned voice actress. Playing Scarlet’s laconic husband, Jon Hamm puts more effort into transforming his voice, but it’s not an especially memorable performance. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney voice a couple who let Kevin, Stuart and Bob hitch a car ride to the villain convention; it’s little more than a cameo.

            It’s an animated film containing popular, easily-marketable critters and it’s being released during the summer holidays, so of course Minions is going to do well at the box office. It’s mostly pleasant enough, sometimes annoying but never outright cringe-inducing and it moves along at a decent clip. Because of the inherent simplicity of the Minions as characters and the fact that they have to carry this movie on their little yellow shoulders, this lacks the crucial emotional backbone present in the first Despicable Me film. Kevin, Stuart and Bob may be designed to be analogues for Margo, Edith and Agnes, but they just can’t replace the heart that the three girls and their emotional connection to their adoptive dad bring to the franchise.
Summary: Yes, the tykes will love it and the accompanying adults might find some tidbits hidden in the 60s setting, but Minions can’t transcend its function as a cash grab vehicle.
RATING: 3 out of 5Stars
Jedd Jong