Serenity review

SERENITY

Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane, Jeremy Strong, Rafael Sayegh
Genre: Drama/Thriller/Mystery
Run Time: 1 h 46 mins
Opens: 21 February 2019
Rating: M18

           Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway reunite under extremely bizarre circumstances in this neo-noir thriller, which is already being called the worst film of 2019.

McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a fisherman on the idyllic Plymouth Island who takes tourists out to sea on his fishing boat, the Serenity. Baker’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives on the island, asking Baker to kill her current husband, the abusive Frank (Jason Clarke). The plan is to get Frank drunk during a fishing trip and throw him overboard. Baker is initially resistant to the plan, but eventually feels he owes it to his and Karen’s son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) to free Karen from Frank’s grip. A tale of murder, madness and vengeance unfolds in paradise as Baker soon finds himself in way over his head.

Within days of opening in the U.S., Serenity’s badness has become legendary: the movie was a box office bomb that marked the lowest openings in McConaughey and Hathaway’s careers. Distributor Aviron gave up on marketing the movie altogether, cancelling planned publicity events and talk show appearances for its stars.

Is Serenity as bad as everyone is saying? Short answer: it is. Writer-director Steven Knight set out to make a “sexy noir” thriller, and for the first hour or so of the movie, it comes across as awkward and slightly melodramatic but never offensively bad. Then, as things ramp up and the plot reaches a crescendo, the film builds to a baffling, staggering twist ending. It’s a twist that truly must be seen to be believed, the kind of reveal that nobody could have ever thought was a good idea.

The movie feels like a hybrid of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and 90s erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct and The Colour of the Night. The film was shot in Mauritius and setting it on a remote island away from the madding crowd gives the movie an initial air of mystery, but everything is so over-the-top and ham-fisted that Serenity has no dramatic impact at all.

Matthew McConaughey may be an Oscar winner, having found redemption after years of floundering about in sub-par romantic comedies, but he still makes missteps in choosing his projects. As the tortured hero with a tragic past, McConaughey does a lot of yelling at the sky. There’s an extended skinny-dipping scene, which is perhaps the most worthwhile thing in the movie. The character is intended to be sympathetic but doesn’t come close to making audiences root for him.

Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post described Anne Hathaway’s performance as “kind of a live-action Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and we can’t come up with a better description than that. Everything is heightened and hard to believe, but Hathaway’s turn as a blonde femme fatale is the most heightened and hardest to believe part of Serenity.

Jason Clarke’s abusive husband character is just that, a one-dimensional villain. It looks like Clarke had fun playing him, but he has played despicable characters with more nuance to them and it’s just more interesting that way.

Diane Lane shows up as a woman whom Baker sleeps with for money. That’s about it as far as her character goes. Oh, Djimon Hounsou is in this movie too.

There’s a version of this movie which is a tongue-in-cheek stealth parody of erotic thriller conventions that might have worked, but this is just a failure on every level. There’s a novelty factor to two Oscar-winning movie stars headlining what promises to be a steamy thriller, but Serenity fizzles out in spectacular fashion. By the time the mind-boggling conclusion rolls around, the movie has done a slow-motion faceplant on the ground. It’s also a shame that Serenity tarnishes the good name of 2005’s Serenity, the movie continuation of Joss Whedon’s space western TV series Firefly.

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

Alice Through the Looking Glass

For F*** Magazine

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Director : James Bobin
Cast : Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Matt Vogel
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 hr 53 mins
Opens : 6 July 2016
Rating : PG

Alice Through the Looking Glass posterUnderland beckons Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) once more in this sequel to the 2010 fantasy adventure. After spending the last three years on the high seas as the captain of her father’s ship the Wonderland, Alice returns to the magical realm she has visited twice before. Absolem (Rickman) the butterfly leads her through the Looking Glass, whereupon Alice is reunited with her friends Mirana the White Queen (Hathaway), the Cheshire cat (Fry), Nivens McTwisp the White Rabbit (Sheen), Bayard the Bloodhound (Spall), Mallykun the Dormouse (Windsor) and Thackery Earwicket the March Hare (Whitehouse). They inform her that Tarrant Hightopp the Mad Hatter (Depp) is ill, and the White Queen convinces Alice to journey through time in search of the Hatter’s family, long presumed killed. Alice comes face to face with Time (Baron Cohen), who controls all time in Underland with a device known as the Chronosphere. To save the Hatter, Alice defies Time himself in an odyssey that will upend all of Underland.
Alice Through the Looking Glass Anne Hathaway, Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska

2010’s Alice in Wonderlandgrossed over $1 billion worldwide, and that seems like just about the only reason Alice Through the Looking Glass was made. With the first film, director Tim Burton delivered an Underland that was stuffed with eye candy but a plot that bore little resemblance to the irrepressible anarchic surrealism that fuelled Lewis Carroll’s stories. Burton is replaced in the director’s chair by James Bobin, who inherits and competently carries forth the first film’s visual style, but who does not steer the material any closer to the spirit of the source.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Cheshire Cat, Bloodhound and Anne Hathaway

Linda Woolverton, who also wrote this film’s predecessor, has bolted a time travel story onto the world and characters of Alice in Wonderland, and not a particularly inspired one at that. By having Alice meet younger versions of the Mad Hatter and the White and Red Queens amongst others, this functions as a prequel without strictly being one. This approach whittles away at whatever charm and mystique the characters possessed in the 2010 film, and the backstories are distinctly underwhelming. The Mad Hatter has daddy issues and the Red and White Queen have a bog-standard petty sibling rivalry, hardly the stuff of euphoric whimsy.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska and chessmen

Granted, it is pretty to look at. Time’s domain, a cavernous Gothic cathedral is suitably foreboding and the action set pieces are intermittently entertaining. Costume designer Colleen Atwood’s creations are intricate and delightful, with Alice spending the bulk of the film in a kaleidoscopic dress inspired by Chinese imperial costumes. The way the Hatter’s makeup subtly morphs depending on his mood was a fun idea from the first film that works just as well here. The Red Queen’s servants draw inspiration from the paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, famous for his creations of humanoid figures comprised of fruits and vegetables. The visual splendour just doesn’t quite make up for the film’s narrative shortcomings.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Helena Bonham Carter

The bulk of the cast from the first film are back, but most of the characters seem to be here just for the sake of it. Yes, there’s some joy to be derived from seeing Alice reunited with her other-worldly pals, but the character interactions come off as largely perfunctory. Wasikowska’s Alice is meant to be plucky and spirited, but she’s difficult to buy as an action heroine – never mind that turning Alice into an action heroine still reeks of boardroom mandate. Many of the crises that arise in this film seem to be the direct result of Alice making silly mistakes, and there’s the sense that she should know better since this isn’t her first Underland rodeo.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Sacha Baron Cohen

Baron Cohen plays Time with an air of moustache-twirling villainy layered atop his usual goofiness – except the character really isn’t written as that bad a guy. The question of whether or not time can be considered an abstract concept has led to much chin-scratching amongst philosophers through the ages. Having the personification of time as a fantasy film antagonist is a fine idea, and the German accent Baron Cohen affects brings precision engineering to mind. Alas, it’s hard to shake the feeling that most of the character’s potential remains untapped.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Johnny Depp

The rest of the characters are much as we remember them. Johnny Depp’s just being Johnny Depp – not much more to say than that. The wild abandon with which Bonham Carter essayed the Red Queen’s petulance and sadism was a highlight of the 2010 film and here, the attempt to give the character a degree of sympathy seems like a massive miscalculation. The mellifluous voices of Fry, Spall and the late Rickman are a welcome aural treat to supplement all that eye candy. The Hatter’s family, in particular his father Zanik (Ifans), are meant to be the linchpins of the plot, but have minimal screen time and make little impact. Andrew Scott, Sherlock’s Moriarty, is also criminally wasted in a throwaway role as a sinister psychiatrist.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp in town square

Unlike a large number of critics, this reviewer did not find Alice Through the Looking Glass to be an unmitigated disaster. Despite its wrongheaded approach and lacklustre plot, it still manages to be entertaining and attention-grabbing. While the design work might be too gaudy for some, it’s still lavish and immersive. Still, it’s disappointing that this film repeats its predecessor’s mistake of attempting to squeeze Lewis Carroll’s bizarre and iconic creations into a tent-pole blockbuster mould.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska and Absolem the butterfly

Summary:Back to the Future did it better” isn’t quite what we should be saying after an Alice in Wonderland movie.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Interstellar

For F*** Magazine

INTERSTELLAR

Director : Christopher Nolan
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy
Genre : Sci-Fi/Adventure
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language) 
Run time: 169 mins
Following the conclusion of the Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan could only head in one direction – up. Way up. In this sci-fi adventure, we journey into the cosmic unknown with engineer Cooper (McConaughey). It is the near-future and with most of its natural resources depleted, earth is dying. NASA scientist Dr. Brand (Caine) ropes in Cooper to embark on a mission through a wormhole in search of a new planet to call home on the other side. Rounding out the crew are Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Brand’s own daughter Amelia (Hathaway). Cooper leaves behind his teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and young daughter Murph (Foy). Because of the time slippage that results from being near a black hole, Cooper stays the same age while his children back home grow older. The now-adult Murph (Chastain) holds out hope that her father will return home as the situation on earth worsens.

            The marriage of heart-tugging sentiment and awe-inspiring sci-fi spectacle in Interstellarbrings the work of director Steven Spielberg to mind. Indeed, Spielberg was attached to the film in its early stages, with Jonathan Nolan hired to write the screenplay. Eventually, Jonathan’s brother Christopher came on board to rewrite the script and direct. Just as we’ve come to expect from the director, big ideas are tackled in grand fashion. Going to see a movie in the theatre isn’t quite the event it used to be and sure, big-budget blockbusters are a dime a dozen, but Nolan seems keen on delivering a true film-going experience. Shot and finished on film as per his insistence, this is quite a visual feast on the giant IMAX screen, enhanced by theatre-shaking sound effects and Hans Zimmer’s ethereal, techno-tinged score.

            Of course, just as Spielberg’s work is often decried as schmaltzy, more cynical viewers might be unmoved despite the best efforts of Nolan and his cast. There are moments when the seams are visible and the film strains under the weight of its ambition to appeal to both heart and mind. The line “love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends the dimensions of time and space” could be described as “hokey”. Nolan does make full use of the anguish inherent in the idea of time passing faster for one party than the other, having played with the concept differently in Inception. Interstellar attempts to explore the themes of how tenacity and the survival instinct in mankind might be a two-edged sword when push comes to shove.  Interstellaris inspired by the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who is the technical consultant and an executive producer on the film (and for whom one of the robots in the movie, KIPP, is presumably named). The film does feel well-researched and credible and once it inevitably enters metaphysical territory, suspension of disbelief has been well and truly earned.

            Fresh off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Cluband having broken free from rom-com purgatory, Matthew McConaughey makes an appealing leading man here. Cooper has his eyes towards the stars, refusing to be bound by the mundane despite what society dictates. The scenes McConaughey shares with Mackenzie Foy are sufficiently touching. Any other film would have an obligatory shoehorned-in romantic subplot between Cooper and Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand, but that’s not the case here, with Cooper’s arc driven by his desire to return home to see his children while time keeps on slipping. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the emotional core of the movie is at the expense of meaningful character development for the crew of the space mission. The grown-up Murph is still angry at her father for seemingly abandoning her but this is only because she misses him so, something Chastain conveys effectively. We never thought a comic relief robot would show up in a Christopher Nolan movie, but here we have the garrulous TARS, entertainingly voiced by comedian, clown and character actor Bill Irwin.

            Nolan has made no secret of being inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that film’s influence is very much evident here. It would be an injustice to call Interstellar a “rip-off” because of the care taken in realising the film, the photo-realistic visual effects work supervised by Paul Franklin of Double Negative particularly impressive and a shoo-in for the Oscar. As is his style, Nolan played his cards to close to his chest, keeping the production secretive and while there are a few great surprises, Interstellar feels more familiar than one might expect. Perhaps this familiarity makes the sweeping epic with its wormholes and spacecraft that much more accessible.


Summary: Interstellaris a thrilling, moving sci-fi adventure and while the end result isn’t as earth-shatteringly profound as the filmmakers probably intended, it’s still a superb movie-going experience.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong