Hostiles movie review

For inSing

HOSTILES

Director : Scott Cooper
Cast : Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Q’orianka Kilcher, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Jonathan Majors, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet
Genre : Adventure/Drama/Western
Run Time : 2h 14m
Opens : 4 January 2018
Rating : NC-16

Over years and years of westerns, it’s been ingrained in popular culture that ‘Cowboys = good, Indians = bad’. While there have been several films in the past that have attempted to redress this balance, there have been far from enough, and Native American history is often misinterpreted, glossed over or otherwise done a disservice in Hollywood movies. Hostiles is writer-director Scott Cooper’s take on this.

It is 1892, and Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who is about to retire from the military, receives his final mission, by order of President Harrison. Blocker is to escort the elderly Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his homeland of Bear Valley, Montana. Also in the party are Yellow Hawk’s son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), Black Hawk’s wife Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher) and the couple’s son. Many of Blocker’s men had died at Yellow Hawk’s hands, hence Blocker’s resistance in aiding Chief in any way.

Along the way, Blocker and his men encounter Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a widow whose family was brutally murdered by Comanche warriors. Rosalie joins Blocker and company, but the road to Montana will not be a smooth one. Along the way, they must brave attacks from warring tribes, fend off avaricious fur trappers, and escort treacherous prisoner Philip Wills (Ben Foster) north. Blocker must try to forgive, or at least tolerate, a man whom he has spent much of his life hating, as each learns to see the other’s point of view.

Hostiles is based on an unproduced manuscript by the late screenwriter Donald E. Stewart, which Cooper has adapted for the screen. This is a downbeat, uncompromisingly brutal film. Given the subject matter, it should be a degree of grave, but Hostiles just wears the audience down, never providing even the briefest moment of levity. One gets the impression that the film functions more as a political statement than as a story. Its heart is in the right place, but there is still considerable nuance left unmined, the result being occasionally clumsy.

The characters are fleshed out reasonably well and are given dialogue that is never painfully on-the-nose. They are all weighed down by something or another, and while there are moments that approach poignancy, Hostiles often feels more like a slog than an involving, powerful drama.

Christian Bale has repeatedly proven over his career that he’s a dab hand at playing the tortured hero. Blocker is someone whose hatred of Native Americans is deep-seated and intertwined with painful events from his past. We see that despite how Blocker has hardened his heart, he is still capable of great empathy and compassion, which he directs towards Rosalie. This is an expectedly intense performance from a famously intense actor, but the character’s arc is all too predictable.

Pike’s portrayal of a woman who has barely survived an unthinkable trauma and is now at her breaking point is heart-rending and wince-inducing in the right ways. It can be argued that Rosalie has the most compelling personal arc in the film, and it’s a role that Pike bites into. However, we know it won’t be long before the film suggests (at the very least) a romance between Rosalie and Blocker, with this relationship becoming the film’s emotional centre.

While Studi lends a quiet, stern authority to the Yellow Hawk role, the film does not give him equal power to Blocker in deciding the direction of the narrative. The Comanche are depicted as villains, with the Cheyenne as the film’s heroes. The film ostensibly wants to undo the old dichotomy of heroic cowboys and villainous Indians, but still needs ‘savages’ for audiences to root against. Kilcher spends most of the film silent and with her head bowed, and the film would have benefitted from giving the Native American characters more agency in the narrative.

The supporting roles are all inhabited with sufficient authenticity, but as with many films of this type, Hostiles struggles to make Blocker’s men seem distinct. Rory Cochrane conveys a distant hauntedness, Blocker shares a sincere, tearful moment with his right-hand man Cpl. Henry Woodson (Jonathan Majors), and Ben Foster gets to play quite the scoundrel, but the motley crew isn’t sufficiently memorable.

Even as it unfolds against sweeping landscapes and features actors giving the material their best, Hostiles feels considerably longer than its 135 minutes. While it’s clear that the film is made with noble intentions, its still encumbered by certain trappings of the Western genre, and doesn’t the deliver the depth which it promises.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Inferno

For F*** Magazine

INFERNO

Director : Ron Howard
Cast : Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu
Genre : Mystery/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 1min
Opens : 13 October 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language And Violence)

inferno-posterHell hath no fury like a bioengineer scorned. In the third instalment of the Robert Langdon film series, Langdon (Hanks) is up against Bertrand Zobrist (Foster), a genius billionaire geneticist who has formulated a virus with which he will solve the world’s over-population crisis. The Harvard professor awakes in a hospital in Florence, Italy, stricken with amnesia and pursued by the assassin Vayentha (Ularu). Sienna Brooks (Jones), the doctor tending to Langdon, helps him escape. Langdon discovers that Zobrist has left him a trail of clues, giving him a chance to prevent the virus’ release. Said clues point to Dante’s epic poem Inferno. Visions of hell as described by Dante haunt Langdon, as Elizabeth Sinskey (Knudsen), the director-general of the World Health Organisation, assigns agent Christoph Bouchard (Sy) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Surveillance and Response Support Unit to track Langdon and Brooks down. Behind the scenes, Harry Sims (Khan) a.k.a. ‘The Provost’, who runs a shadowy organisation called The Consortium, is manipulating events for his client Zobrist.

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Inferno is based on the fourth book in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. We more or less know what to expect: Tom Hanks shoves tourists aside as he sprints through European cities, following a trail of breadcrumbs involving art history in order to foil a sinister plot. Both director Ron Howard and Hanks have said they’re not contractually obligated to make the Robert Langdon movies, but it does feel like most involved are going through the motions. For all its high stakes and ticking clocks, Inferno can get a little tedious, with obscure bits of art history trivia awkwardly bolted onto the dialogue of David Koepp’s screenplay. The bulk of the film is mildly interesting rather than breathlessly arresting. Inferno doesn’t have The Da Vinci Code’s long exposition lectures, but it also doesn’t quite reach the gleefully bonkers over-the-top heights of Angels & Demons.

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Where the film succeeds is as a travelogue. Brown may not be a particularly gifted novelist, but he does pick locations with a beguiling air of long-standing history and splendour to them. Director of Photography Salvatore Totino showcases Florence, Venice and Istanbul in all their glory. A chase sequence in which Langdon and Brooks are pursued by a police drone through the Boboli Gardens isn’t the nail-biter it could’ve been, but the climactic set-piece makes marvellous use of the cavernous Basilica Cistern. Don’t expect to gain any particular insight into the overpopulation crisis or an alternative solution that doesn’t involve genocide. It’s a topic that’s worthy of in-depth discussion, but here, it’s little more than the motivation for a Bond villain. Some of the visuals depicting the various circles of hell as witnessed by Langdon in his hallucinations come off as slightly goofy rather than unnerving.

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Hanks is the definition of a dependable performer, but this reviewer still isn’t quite convinced that he’s the best fit for the character of Robert Langdon. Perhaps Hanks is more affable everyman than tweedy professor. For nearly the entire duration of the film, Langdon is disoriented and out-of-sorts, struggling to recall events that occurred before he wound up in the hospital. A bedraggled, confused Hanks isn’t particularly fun to watch, but it helps that we’re dropped into the thick of the mystery, giving the audience the illusion that we’re piecing things together alongside our hero.

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The supporting characters in the Robert Langdon stories mostly exist as plot devices as opposed to actual characters, with each tale featuring a gallery of red herrings. Jones follows in the ‘Langdon ladies’ footsteps of Audrey Tautou and Ayelet Zurer. While she is convincing as an intelligent woman, Brooks’ staggering achievements (child prodigy, marathoner, humanitarian, literary scholar) seem very Hollywood-ish and border on self-parody. Foster mostly appears via video messages and TED talk-esque presentations, but it is a neat structural twist that the primary antagonist is absent for the majority of the film.

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Sy runs around clenching his teeth, his character fitting the dogged Inspector Javert stock type to a tee. Khan steals the show, essaying Sims’ analytical nature and amorality while still imbuing the character with considerable charisma. The film doesn’t delve into the inner workings of the Consortium as much as this reviewer would’ve liked, but its depiction of a powerful, shadowy organisation hired to pull any number of strings is somewhat plausible. Knudsen doesn’t get too much screen time, but does strike a balance between sternness and warmth in her portrayal of Sinskey.

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Inferno may not be as searing as its name suggests, but there’s still entertainment to be derived from the Amazing Race-style obstacles Langdon has to navigate. The big reveal is as silly as one expects, but it does lead to a frenzied, competently-orchestrated finale. And as far as cinematic tour guides go, one could definitely do worse than Tom Hanks.

Summary: It has the veneer of learnedness rather than actually being smart, but Inferno does have its entertaining moments and shows off some quality globe-trotting.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Warcraft: The Beginning

For F*** Magazine

WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING

Director : Duncan Jones
Cast : Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Ruth Negga, Daniel Wu, Anna Galvin, Clancy Brown, Terry Notary
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hrs 3 mins
Opens : 9 June 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Blizzard’s fantasy franchise comprising video games and novels finally makes its leap to the big screen. Sir Anduin Lothar (Fimmel), the military commander of the Stormwind Kingdom in Azeroth, faces an unprecedented threat: Gul’dan (Wu), a powerful orc warlock, is leading the orc hordes from their dying homeworld of Draenor into Azeroth. Garona (Patton), a half-orc, half-human woman enslaved by Gul’dan, must decide where her loyalties lie. The noble orc chieftain Durotan (Kebbell), whose mate Draka (Galvin) is pregnant with their first child, does not see the merit in Gul’dan’s attack. At the behest of Stormwind’s King Llane Wrynn (Cooper), Lothar must defend Azeroth from the invaders. Together with young mage Khadgar (Schnetzer), Lothar seeks out the reclusive sorcerer Medivh (Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal. They must repel Gul’dan’s evil magic, known as the Fel, as the seeds of an ages-long conflict are sown.
            Director Duncan Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, weathered an arduous production process and is himself an ardent fan of the Warcraft franchise. The disparity in the reaction the film has received from critics and fans indicates that this does appeal to those already familiar with the source material and who are excited to see the characters and locations come to life in cinematic form, but that those coming in cold will likely be alienated. This is very much a generic high fantasy tale, and there are so many characters introduced from the get-go that it’s easy to get them mixed up. The straight-face earnestness in the approach is a double-edged sword: on one hand, the filmmakers demonstrate a belief in the world they are building, but on the other, there’s an impenetrable rigidity to it all. Jones ploughs dutifully through the plot, but audiences aren’t given a chance to acclimatise to the world and the characters; the story itself is simple in nature but convoluted in execution.
            Visually, this is an achievement, if not as earth-shattering as some might have hoped. The visual effects work, handled by Industrial Light and Magic and other houses like Hybride and Rodeo FX, is superb throughout. Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer was an Oscar winner for Life of Pi, and one can tell that great care has been put into realising the digitally-created characters and environments. The props were crafted by Weta Workshop, and everything from the suits of armour to the swords to King Llane’s helmet abounds with pleasing detail. It’s a shame then that while perfectly acceptable, none of the designs really set Warcraftapart from its high-fantasy ilk.
            After boarding the project, Jones set about re-writing the script so that it wasn’t built around the hoary trope of “all the humans are good guys and all the monsters are bad guys”. Fimmel, best known as Ragnar Lothbrok on the TV series Vikings, is a serviceable heroic military commander. Lothar’s relationship with his son Callan (Burkely Duffield) is a key component of the character’s arc, but because it has to make room for everything else, that is severely underdeveloped. Patton exudes confidence and retains a degree of elegance while playing a feral half-breed; Garona ended up being the character this reviewer gravitated to the most. Foster lacks the other-worldly mystique that Medivh should have, while Schnetzer is a fine sidekick to Fimmel.
            In addition to playing the orc chieftain Grommash Hellscream, Terry Notary was also the movement coach for the actors playing the orcs. Notary’s credits include Avatar and Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The orcs are brutish by nature, and the gentleness with which Durotan holds his new-born son does lend the character more shades beyond that of a fierce warrior. Cooper looks the part of a dashing young king and Negga is plenty regal as Llane’s Queen-consort Lady Taria. Gul’dan is as one-dimensional as villains get: he’s little more than the snarling, hunchbacked wizard with an unquenchable thirst for power. We would offer Wu some praise, but it is hard to find him (or most of the other actors playing orcs, for that matter) in the character, since his voice has been treated in post-production and there’s no resemblance whatsoever. This reviewer feels Wu should be a much bigger star in Hollywood, so it was a bit of a disappointment knowing he’s in this movie but is hardly noticeable.
            Warcraft is not a total wash, but given the build-up and the massive following the franchise has, it’s a shame that the film carries with it the vibe of going through the motions. Jones is obviously passionate about the property and has filmmaking talent to spare, but the cluttered narrative holds neophytes at bay. It’s hard to shake the feeling that one has been dropped in the deep end of the Warcraft lore pool, when this is meant to be an origin story that builds the world from the ground up. It’s more frustrating than genuinely aggravating that Warcraft stumbles so many times in its would-be epic journey.
Summary:For long-time fans of the franchise, this might be a dream come true, but it will be challenging for newbies to make head or tail of the overstuffed story, or differentiate a number of the characters.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

The Finest Hours

For F*** Magazine 

THE FINEST HOURS 

Director : Craig Gillespie
Cast : Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, John Ortiz, Josh Stewart
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 118 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

Venture into the tumultuous waters of Cape Cod to witness of one of the most harrowing rescues in maritime history in this historical disaster drama. It is February 1952 and the S.S Pendleton, a T2 oil tanker, is caught in a severe storm off the Chatham coast, breaking clean in twain. Bernie Webber (Pine), a newly-engaged Coast Guard crewman, is dispatched by Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Bana) to take his tiny lifeboat out to sea to rescue the Pendleton’s crew. Bernie takes Richard Livesey (Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) with him. Aboard the severed stern section of the Pendleton, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) is forced to take charge, devising a method to keep what’s left of the ship afloat as long as possible. Bernie’s fiancé Miriam Pentinen (Grainger), along with the townsfolk of Chatham, await the safe return of Bernie, his crew and the men of the Pendleton, as their odds of survival grow slimmer by the minute.

            The Finest Hoursis based on the book of the same name, subtitled “The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue”, by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. Director Craig Gillespie has delivered a resolutely old-fashioned adventure drama, harking back to the days “when men were men”, so to speak. While there’s definitely a certain dignity to The Finest Hours in its celebration of heroes who aren’t widely known to non-maritime history buffs, it’s also something of a drag in parts. There are individual sequences that are genuine nail-biters featuring convincing visual and special effects work, but in between those, there’s a curious dearth of momentum or urgency, particularly since this revolves around a time-sensitive rescue attempt. In fact, it’s only around 45 minutes into the film that Bernie and his crew actually get into their lifeboat and set sail.

            
While Pine is more Abercrombie pretty boy than Old Hollywood rugged, there’s a matinee idol quality to him that makes him an ideal candidate to portray the determined, courageous hero in a period adventure piece. That “Bawston” accent he’s attempting is iffy, though. The film doesn’t begin on the high seas, but rather by establishing the romance between Bernie and Miriam, hoping that this will be the emotional anchor. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly compelling romance and this element of the film has been dramatized the most from how things really unfolded. Miriam is portrayed by Grainger as a headstrong, proactive woman, but when she charges into Cluff’s office to demand that he makes Bernie turn the lifeboat around, it comes off more as an annoyance than a loving act of concern. The trope of the worried significant other back home pining for our hero’s safe return is often unavoidable in films of this type, and the attempts to add to this are generally unsuccessful.

            Casey Affleck’s demeanour is not as traditionally masculine and heroic as that of his older brother Ben, but he does sell the role of someone who has to think fast and work hard under pressure. As the boss from out of town who is not generally well-liked, Bana has sufficient gravitas but noticeably wrestles with the character’s southern accent. The performances are generally serviceable but ultimately, there isn’t enough to distinguish most of the crew members of the Pendleton, or the men with Bernie in the lifeboat, for that matter.

            Michael Corenblith’s production design and Louise Frogley’s costume design bring a level of authenticity to The Finest Hours and in the grand scheme of movies billed as “based on a true story”, The Finest Hoursmakes relatively minor deviations from established history. This is director Gillespie’s second film for Walt Disney Studios, following sports drama Million Dollar Arm, also based on a true story. While The Finest Hours is Gillespie’s most ambitious film on the technical front, it pushes no boundaries in its narrative. The startlingly intense and immersive scenes of the tiny lifeboat getting ravaged by immense waves are thrilling, but the film never quite reaches the rousing, inspirational heights it’s aiming for.



Summary:Harking back to the disaster dramas of yesteryear, The Finest Hours has its riveting moments but the story, as remarkable as it is, ends up insufficiently impactful.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

            

The Program

For F*** Magazine

THE PROGRAM 

Director : Stephen Frears
Cast : Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Denis Menochet, Dustin Hoffman
Genre : Drama/Sport
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 19 November 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use And Coarse Language)

We all remember Jeff Goldblum muttering to himself “must go faster, must go faster”, while being pursued by dinosaurs (and later, aliens). What happens when a man lives his life solely in the pursuit of going faster, at any cost? Lance Armstrong (Foster), having defeated cancer and becoming the darling of the professional cycling world, is admired and adored the world over, both for his multiple Tour de France championship titles and his charity work. David Walsh (O’Dowd), a sports journalist with the Sunday Times in the UK, begins to suspect that Armstrong may be using performance-enhancing drugs, despite Armstrong’s repeated and empathic claims to the contrary. Sports doctor Michele Ferrari (Canet) has devised “the program”, a sophisticated doping regimen that Armstrong and all the cyclists on his team are put on. The illicit drug use is enabled by Armstrong’s agent Bill Stalpleton (Pace) and the team’s directeur sportif Johann Bruyneel (Menochet). This weighs on the conscience of Floyd Landis (Plemons), a promising cyclist recruited onto the team, as Walsh gets ever closer to uncovering the devastating truth.


            The Program is inspired by David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong. The film’s approach is that of a David vs. Goliath tale, with an honest journalist battling the odds to expose the deceit of a nigh-untouchable superstar athlete. As such, it is as much an “uncovering the scandal” thriller as it is a biopic, with sports in place of politics. Seeing as that’s the starting point, this was never going to be a particularly objective or balanced account of Armstrong’s life, and to an extent, that’s fine. Director Stephen Frears, whose recent credits include The Queen and Philomena, is an experienced filmmaker and The Program is assembled with style and panache. As a takedown of a false idol, it is aggressive and damning, but as a thoughtful investigative drama, it lacks clear-eyed credibility.

            The movie’s pacing is appropriately brisk, Valerio Bonelli’s editing making it all quite a heady trip. Screenwriter John Hodge ensures events unfold coherently and efficiently. Even if one isn’t into pro cycling, The Program is likely to hold one’s attention and it’s a dynamic, even thrilling film. However, it doesn’t take much to step back and go “wait a second, just how Hollywood-ed up is this thing?” The Lance Armstrong story has all the elements that make for a compelling true story: deceit, betrayal and conspiracy on a very public stage, but all those elements feel drummed up and slightly inauthentic here. Furthermore, it’s all ground that’s already been covered in Alex Gibney’s documentary The Armstrong Lie. This reviewer was hoping the film would explore the effect that Armstrong’s deception had on his family and others close to him in more detail, but The Program trundles down a different path. Armstrong meets his wife Kristin Richard (Chloe Hayward), marries her in the next scene, and she’s never actually seen again, since that would slow things down.


            Armstrong as portrayed by Foster isn’t just a villain, he’s a supervillain. The film’s depiction of the cyclist is a man seduced by and obsessed with victory, a master manipulator and a detestable, unrepentant fraud. With an inspiring, carefully-constructed public persona hiding sneering malice, giving rousing speeches and comforting children in cancer wards while threatening any and all who would give away his secret, Armstrong is basically Lex Luthor. Foster puts in an electrifying, passionate performance, but it is one almost entirely devoid of nuance and altogether too difficult to take seriously. On hearing of Walsh’s accusations, Armstrong bellows “I am Lance Armstrong and he is f***ing no-one!” as he strides down a grand staircase in his mansion. Doing a spot of method acting that we’ll neither condone nor condemn, Foster actually took performance-enhancing drugs under medical supervision to better get under Armstrong’s skin.

            O’Dowd’s Walsh is a standard-issue “dogged reporter” hero, dedicated to his family and to his profession, persistent in hunting the truth to the bitter end. The character is so idealised that it’s impossible to overlook that the real-life Walsh’s account of events was the primary source for the film, and if Armstrong is a supervillain, then that must make Walsh a superhero. O’Dowd is likeable without trying too hard, and for an actor better known for playing the goofy schlub in many a comedy, he puts in a solid dramatic turn.


Canet is spectacularly over the top in this, playing Dr. Michele Ferrari like a mad scientist in a monster movie, exaggerated accent and all. “No longer confined to the earth, now we can learn to fly,” he intones, squirting droplets of Erythropoietin from a syringe. Plemons, truly coming into his own as a capable character actor, is very sympathetic as Floyd Landis, who was raised a devout Mennonite and whose father strongly discouraged his pursuit of cycling. Dustin Hoffman makes a brief appearance as Bob Hamman, the founder of SCA Promotions who sought the repayment of $10 million in prize money after discovering Armstrong was doping. In what is likely a sly reference to The Graduate, The Lemonheads’ cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s song Mrs. Robinson is used in the film.
There’s a fun, bitingly cynical scene in the film, in which Armstrong and his teammates are having the performance enhancing drugs administered to them and are discussing who might play Armstrong in a movie. Matt Damon is out and Jake Gyllenhaal, whose name Armstrong mispronounces, is in. It’s a good thing Hollywood waited. The Program isn’t all that incisive or searing, more an entertaining diversion than awards contender prestige pic, but it is a rip-roaring ride.

Summary:Slick and entertaining but ultimately superficial, Ben Foster’s delicious albeit obvious lead performance keeps this biopic on track.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong