Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast : Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez
Genre: Action/Adventure/Horror
Run Time : 126 min
Opens : 4 May 2022
Rating : PG13

The following review is spoiler-free

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues apace with an exploration of the Multiverse. Following the build-up from the Loki and What If…? series on Disney+ and Spider-Man: No Way Home, this entry leaps into the heady unknown as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and company traverse alternate planes of existence.

The combined events of WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home set the stage for this adventure. Doctor Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong), who took over as the Sorcerer Supreme from Strange, meet America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). This is no ordinary teenager: she has the power to punch portals in reality to travel between Multiverses, and she arrives to warn Strange of an oncoming incursion. Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for help, but she has other plans. Strange and Chavez travel to other universes, meeting alternate versions of Strange. Strange must also reckon with his decision to leave the love of his life, Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), having never fully gotten over her. As our heroes face great unknowns and tangle with forces beyond their comprehension, the fate of the Multiverse hangs in the balance.  

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is into its 14th year of existence, garnering both supporters and detractors. While there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the impact of the franchise’s outsized success on the film industry, it’s hard to deny that these movies are broadly well made – something we get reminded of each time less successful attempts at comic book movies emerge. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness continues that tradition while bending and twisting what these movies can be. It’s like one of those toys that springs back into shape after you’ve played with it. Screenwriter Michael Waldron, who was the head writer of Loki, crafts engaging and out-there scenarios while keeping the movie focused. The formula that underpins the movie prevents it from spinning too wildly out of control, while there is also room for plenty of weirdness and for director Sam Raimi to put his stamp on things. Audiences have come to expect big tentpole movies to be overlong affairs, so at 126 minutes, Multiverse of Madness doesn’t overstay its welcome.

As with so many other MCU movies, there is a lot of computer-generated imagery. Much of it is good, but not all of it works. As wondrous as these movies can be to look at, the artifice can sometimes take viewers out of it. In this movie, CGI is used to create trippy dreamscapes, but also big monsters that are not quite as charming as they would have been had they been done practically.

While actress Xochitl Gomez cannot be faulted, the America Chavez character feels almost entirely like she only exists as a plot device, even with some time taken to establish her backstory. She is very much the living MacGuffin of the piece, which is a bit of a shame considering the character’s potential, but there are places to go yet.

The speed at which the movie moves is often in its favour, but sometimes it gets in the way of some of the emotional beats and it can feel like we are being whisked from set-piece to set-piece. It’s a good thing that the set-pieces are all enjoyable.

Beyond the cameos and the references to the comics, the big highlight here is the return of Sam Raimi, who hasn’t directed a feature film since 2013’s Oz: The Great and Powerful. Raimi boarded Multiverse of Madness after the departure of Scott Derrickson, who directed the first Doctor Strange film. We’ve seen what happens when studio meddling gets in Raimi’s way, as evidenced by Spider-Man 3. As such, it’s a good thing that Multiverse of Madness often feels as much like a Raimi movie as it does an MCU movie. There is quite a bit of goofiness and one fight scene that’s instrumental to the story is pure, classic Raimi. The wildly kinetic camera, representing the point of view of the Evil Dead in the titular film, makes a return in a way. This is the closest to horror an MCU movie has come, to entertaining results.

Raimi is often mentioned in the same breath as Peter Jackson, in that both came from low-budget horror and wound up helming the biggest and most influential blockbusters of the time. It could be said that James Gunn is in the same mould. Multiverse of Madness makes a good case for the MCU as a sandbox, and it’s to Marvel Studios’ credit that this thoroughly feels like a Raimi picture.

Summary: An enjoyable excursion into realms unknown, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks a welcome return for director Sam Raimi. While containing all the MCU hallmarks, it is also unmistakably Raimi’s work, with several moments approaching horror movie territory. This is a rewarding watch for long-time fans of the MCU and those who have followed the WandaVision and What If…? series on Disney+, but the underlying story is straightforward enough that other audiences won’t feel completely stranded. Both reliably entertaining and just surprising enough, Multiverse of Madness gets a lot right.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Spider-Man: No Way Home review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Jon Watts
Cast : Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comics
Run Time : 148 min
Opens : 16 December 2021 (Sneaks 15 December 2021)
Rating : PG

The following review is spoiler-free.

For months, anticipation for Spider-Man: No Way Home has been building to a fever pitch. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has begun toying with the multiverse, a concept familiar to comic book readers. The Disney+ shows Loki and What If…? have been planting the seeds, with the upcoming Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness set to further establish the concept. Before that, No Way Home flings open the gates.

At the end of Spider-Man: Far from Home, online journalist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K.Simmons) broadcast a video revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity: Peter Parker (Tom Holland). The public believes that the villainous Quentin Beck/Mysterio was really a heroic inter-dimensional warrior, turning on Spider-Man for apparently murdering Mysterio. Now the subject of intense scrutiny, which affects his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter grows desperate. He turns to Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. Doctor Strange devises a spell to make everyone forget Spider-Man’s secret identity, but the spell goes awry, causing fractures in the multiverse to form. Soon, villains from alternate realities arrive, including Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx), Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Curt Connors/the Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Spider-Man must contend with forces far beyond his understanding, as the displaced villains formulate an agenda of their own.

Watching Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like reading a comic book in the best way. Comic books aren’t confined by the same logistical constraints that live-action movies are. If a character needs to make a surprise appearance in an issue of a comic, there aren’t scheduling conflicts to contend with. Drawing an elaborate set is a different matter from constructing one. Like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse before it, No Way Home indulges the “oh, wouldn’t it be fun if…” daydreaming, something all comic book movie fans are given to. We’ve all had conversations where we voice our hope for something to happen or some character to show up, only for the reality of franchise rights and actor availability to dash those dreams. No Way Home takes viewers to the other side where all that is possible.

At the centre of it all, however, is the emotional arc of Peter Parker’s fear that his secret identity is putting those he loves and cares about in danger. Tom Holland’s performance remains endearing and relatable, with the supporting cast of Peter’s loved ones supplying both humour and emotion. Amidst the wild multiversal goings-on and the assault of multiple villains, this through-line holds the movie together. This is a movie that’s constantly in danger of being too convoluted and of having too much plot, but director Jon Watts keeps all the plates spinning. The general plot beats are easy to follow and the 148-minute runtime passes by at a pleasant clip.

Just like comics often do, No Way Home requires viewers to have at least some prior knowledge of the preceding material in the series – and not just of this current Spider-Man trilogy, but the iterations that came before it. There is an attempt to establish each villain with a two-line summary of what their whole deal is, but the nature of this story requires a level of engagement with the material which not all audiences will have. If you’re not already sold on the conceit, then everything will be faintly to extremely ridiculous. One of the features of present-day geek-centric entertainment is the prevalence of fanservice, of presenting something and then going “here’s that thing you like!” Like any device, this can be deployed artfully or clumsily. While No Way Home tends towards the former, it can sometimes feel like a wobbly Jenga tower of references to other stuff.

Unfortunately, a lot of the visual effects work comes off as especially synthetic. Wholly digital characters like Sandman and the Lizard feel phony, and several of the set-pieces are very reliant on digital backgrounds, such that it’s hard to place the characters in a physical space. Compare Doc Ock’s tentacles in this movie, which are completely computer-generated, with those in Spider-Man 2, which featured both digital and elaborate animatronic tentacles.

No Way Home promises to be a nostalgia trip, and it makes good on that promise. Few thought we’d see Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprise their roles as the Green Goblin and Doc Ock respectively. Both actors are given more than mere cameos, and do get to give wonderful performances which remind us how good they were in their original appearances. Jamie Foxx’s Electro is slightly more menacing and credible and less cartoonish than in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The screening this reviewer attended was sometimes reminiscent of when a guest star enters the room in a sitcom and the live audience goes wild. There was a lot of cheering and whooping, which is gratifying and enjoyable.

Summary: Spider-Man: No Way Home is reliant on nostalgia by design. However, it also deftly juggles multiple elements without things seeming too cluttered. While being very ambitious, the movie never loses sight of the emotional arc in which Peter Parker just wants to protect those he loves and cares about. If you’re a Spider-Man fan of any description, this is a treat. Not every comic book movie should try to be like No Way Home, because it is something special, but also something that other movies could trip up in attempting to imitate. Stick around for one mid-credits and one post-credits scene.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

1917 review

For F*** Magazine

1917

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast : George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Jamie Parker
Genre : War/Drama
Run Time : 1 h 59 mins
Opens : 9 January 2020
Rating : PG13

1917-posterHollywood has made many World War II epics, but not quite as many World War I movies, likely because of America’s increased participation in World War II compared to World War I. Still, there are several movies set during the Great War which are considered masterpieces, including All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory. Sam Mendes directs and, with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, co-writes this relentless war film that takes place over two days in April 1917.

In Northern France, British soldiers Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with a vital and seemingly insurmountable mission: they must deliver an order from Army Command to tell a battalion of 1600 soldiers to stand down from an assault, as a trap set by the Germans lies in wait for them. Schofield and Blake must cross No Man’s Land into treacherous enemy-controlled territory to deliver the message in time. For Blake, the stakes are personal too, as his older brother is among the soldiers who will die if this information is not conveyed. Braving enemy gunfire and the elements, Schofield and Blake bravely undertake the mission of their lives.

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Filmmakers strive to achieve immersion, to make the audience feel so engrossed in watching the movie that they forget they’re doing so. 1917 achieves this. This is an awards season film, but unlike many prestige movies that vie for the Oscars and other awards, 1917 is far from a stuffy, airless affair. Mendes breathes life into the historical event, closing the 100-plus-year gap between World War I and the present day with an intense and involving epic. He was inspired by the stories of his grandfather Alfred H. Mendes, a Trinidadian World War I veteran and novelist, which increases the personal investment Mendes has in the subject matter. The result is almost akin to a cutting-edge exhibit at a museum, not entirely unlike The Scale of Our War at Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, an exhibit that tells the story of the Gallipoli campaign using oversized hyper-realistic sculptures.

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There is an immediacy to 1917, but while the movie seems constantly gripping, it is also a masterclass in pacing – there are peaks and valleys, quiet moments and frenetic, intense ones, all carefully yet organically situated within the story. This is a movie that effectively essays anxiety, with the throb of Thomas Newman’s percussion-heavy score signalling dangers around every corner. Several set-pieces are among the most visceral and thrilling of any war film in recent memory, yet Mendes executes them with just enough restraint.

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George MacKay anchors the film, with Dean-Charles Chapman right alongside him. The film doesn’t need much to make these characters feel compelling, and just a few interactions between the two establish who they are as soldiers and as people. MacKay is remarkable in the role, especially when the film calls for him to look exhausted and tired. Our two heroes are put through the wringer and face obstacles which are incredible but never implausible.

1917-Dean-Charles-Chapman-George-McKay-German-plane

There’s not a lot that doesn’t work here. Some reviews have cited the lack of character development as a flaw, but this movie is focused on the experience of the characters and on putting the audience in their shoes, and doesn’t need a lot of back-story or a heartfelt monologue about their childhood to accomplish that.

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One element of the film that is possibly distracting is its big-name supporting cast. The structure of the movie means that actors like Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Richard Madden and Andrew Scott show up for roughly one scene each. They play people whom our two heroes meet along the way, meaning there is even less to them as characters than to Schofield and Blake. As such, it is possible that their appearances, which almost seem like cameos, might break the immersion, but this did not happen for us.

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Spectre, the second Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, opened with a pre-credits sequence shot and edited to look like one continuous take. Mendes ups the ante here, presenting the entirety of 1917 as if it was filmed in one continuous take. This might sound like a gimmick, but the film deploys it as an excellent storytelling tool. The film’s first moment of violence is a small one – Schofield cuts his hand on barbed wire. This reviewer winced more than he normally would, realising this is because the single take approach increases the subjectivity. Cutting away means retreating, however momentarily, to safety. 1917 offers no such safety.

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Acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins can add yet another notch to his belt, and credit must also go to Steadicam operators like Pete Cavaciuti. Deakins also deployed remote-controlled cameras on wires, flying across the battlefield. Editor Lee Smith deserves plaudits too, as after a while, the game of looking for the hidden cuts becomes just too hard to play. The device of making the film look like it was magically filmed in a single take calls attention to itself because it is hard not to marvel at the technical mastery required to pull it off, and yet, it is also invisible, creating immersion rather than detracting from it.

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Summary: 1917 drops audiences onto the Western Front and is exciting, emotional and harrowing, its visceral impact the result of finely calibrated filmmaking. Inspired by his grandfather’s war stories, Sam Mendes crafts a masterpiece. 1917 captures the weariness, the adrenaline, the desperation, the horror and the sadness of war like few movies before it have.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Avengers: Infinity War review

For inSing

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Directors : Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast : Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 29m
Opens : 25 April 2018
Rating : PG13

We’re going to do things a little differently.

Going into Avengers: Infinity War, you’ve been told to avoid spoilers like the plague, and yet, we want you to read this review, which will be spoiler-free.

This will be a review, and yet not a review. We’re hoping that you’ll read this, but if you don’t wanna, that’s fine.

We’ll say it up front: this is a particularly tricky movie to write a spoiler-free review of, but we’ll give it the best shot we’ve given anything.

Marvel has hyped Avengers: Infinity War as the most ambitious crossover event staged in entertainment media. They’re not wrong. No matter which way you look at this movie, it’s tricky to put together. It’s a puzzle with the pieces constantly moving.

Even with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War under the Russo brothers’ belts, there are still many times during Infinity War when one is wont to wonder aloud “how did the guys from Arrested Development and Community get here?” This is a film with a sprawling scope, even for a genre which is all about scope. The Russo brothers, with the in-built support at Marvel Studios, do a commendable job of wrangling it all.

This reviewer would love to have been a fly on the wall while the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were hammering this out. Imagine all the iterations, all the bits and pieces that maybe didn’t quite work, before we got here.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A studio hasn’t quite been able to announce to the audience “right, you should’ve seen all 18 of these movies, or at least most of them, before you watch this. Off you go, then.” Not even long-running franchises like the Bond movies, Star Wars, or Harry Potter can really demand that, and know that most audiences would have fulfilled that demand. There’s a swaggering confidence about Infinity War, and yet it’s not off-putting or self-congratulatory. If anything, Marvel Studios is deliberately making things really difficult for themselves going forward.

Over the years, the MCU has garnered its fair share of detractors. There are purists, there are ardent fanboys who have fixated on one niggling aspect or another that dissatisfied them, there are those who loyally back the other team (this reviewer has been accused of being both paid off by Disney and being biased towards DC movies), there are those who say it’s all too funny and nothing is taken seriously enough. Depending on the context, some aspects of these criticisms are valid, but it’s important to take a step back and consider all the myriad hurdles that the people making these films have cleared to get here.

At the core of Infinity War is a MacGuffin hunt that has spanned multiple movies, with so much being set up in previous instalments, leading up to this. The film takes inspiration from the Infinity Gauntlet comic book arc in 1991, written by Jim Starlin, and the 2013 Infinity crossover event, written by Jonathan Hickman. Infinity War is the culmination of intergalactic warlord and ‘mad titan’ Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) search for the Infinity Stones. We’ve seen five of the six stones in previous movies, and he’s looking to collect them all.

This is a quest that has attendant consequences and sacrifice, and from the beautifully staged, dramatic and grave opening scene onwards, viewers have a good idea of what to expect. There are plenty of jokes, but unlike in previous MCU movies, this reviewer felt less of a sense that said jokes were stepping on the dramatic beats.

This reviewer wasn’t the biggest fan of Civil War, because there was noticeable bloat and the central conflict didn’t really get enough room to breathe. Weirdly enough, that seems like less of a problem here. Clocking in at 149 minutes and costing an estimated $300-400 million, it seems a foregone conclusion that Infinity War would be more bloated than a beached whale, but it moves with great finesse.

Infinity War could easily have come off as a string of unrelated set-pieces. It’s evident that this was not constructed by devising the set-pieces first, with the plot being filled in around those. Our massive ensemble is handily organised into groups, with said groups meeting and then diverging as the story progresses. The groups all make sense, and there is considerable time dedicated to reinforcing and evolving existing relationships.

The romance between Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) elicited the most emotion out of this reviewer. The Guardians of the Galaxy team up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and we delve a little deeper into the relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her estranged adoptive father Thanos.

It seems like Markus and McFeely really enjoyed writing the Guardians, nailing the voices of each character. There’s a consistency which feels organic and yet must’ve been challenging to achieve. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) butt heads and egos, while Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) faces more struggles in getting control of his alter ego, the Hulk. A good portion of the film is set in Wakanda, which in Black Panther, has just opened itself to the outside world, its people getting more than they bargained for here.

It wasn’t really that long ago when we thought we’d never see Peter Parker in the MCU, so it’s a genuine thrill to see Holland’s Spider-Man interact with so many characters and feel like he was always meant to be in this line-up.

Thanos feels like an actual character rather than just an obstacle our heroes must overcome. We get just enough back-story and there is respectable gravity to the proceedings. There’s a lot of fantastic acting on display from everyone involved. This is not a movie in which the spectacle does all the legwork.

Avengers: Infinity War is a staggering work of virtuosic audacity. Its filmmakers play the audience like a fiddle. The ending is either a howl-inducing gut punch or sheer genius – maybe both at once. You’re probably going to be frustrated at some point or another, but there will be gasps, there will be cheers, there will be laughter, and depending on how fragile the audience at your screening is, there might be open sobbing.

Given the nigh-insane parameters the filmmakers were working within, Avengers: Infinity War is the best movie it could’ve been.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Black Mass

For F*** Magazine

BLACK MASS

Director : Scott Cooper
Cast : Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Saarsgard, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 122 mins
Opens : 17 September 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language And Violence)

A “Black Mass” is a type of Satanic ritual, a dark inversion of the Catholic Mass. This true crime drama recounts the profane partnership between the FBI and one of the most notorious gangsters in United States history. James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is the head of the Irish-American Winter Hill gang in South Boston. His brother Billy (Cumberbatch) is a United States senator. Their childhood friend John Connolly (Edgerton), now an FBI agent, approaches Whitey with the offer of becoming an informant in order to take down the rival Angiulo crime family. As Whitey’s clout increases, he begins to be more brazen in his criminal activities, with his fingers in everything from drug trafficking to a Jai alai betting racket to funding the Irish Republican Army, almost casually killing anyone who crosses him. Whitey and his partners Stephen Flemmi (Cochrane), Kevin Weeks (Plemons) and Johnny Matorano (W. Earl Brown) continue their criminal reign of South Boston unchecked, benefitting from a deal with the Feds that seems too good to be true. 
Black Mass is based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The “unholy alliance” between two childhood friends which would end up having untold ramifications is one of the most morbidly intriguing organized crime stories in recent memory. “Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doing it for real in the streets,” Kevin Weeks says in the police interview framing device. Working from a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk, director Scott Cooper has crafted a crime drama in the mould of Scorsese’s genre-defining mob movies. Black Mass is bleak but never boring to look at, thanks to Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography which is slick but not flashy. Cooper stages several moments that are bubbling over with almost unbearable intensity. It is often downright terrifying and it boggles the mind to think how long Whitey’s criminal activities were allowed to go on for. 
Post-Jack Sparrow, it has been difficult to take Johnny Depp very seriously, even with his three Oscar nods. You know it, we know it and Depp himself knows it too. Suffice it to say that this is a far cry from Mortdecai and is the best Depp has been in years. Great acting is about disappearing into the part, and with the help of special effects makeup designed by Depp’s oft-collaborator Joel Harlow, he does indeed. Cooper hired some of Whitey’s former associates as consultants and they looked at footage of Depp as Whitey, simply commenting “that’s Whitey.” Much of Depp’s later work has been characterized by traipsing about with wild abandon, so the subtle, understated quality he brings to bear with this performance is welcome. He convincingly essays a master manipulator, a savvy criminal with an unpredictable streak and delivers searing, disturbing turn as Whitey in what is definitely a high point in his career. 
While the film is primarily Depp’s to carry, there is a vast number of supporting players. Edgerton balances out Connolly’s self-confident air with his inner conflict between loyalty to a boyhood pal and duty to upholding the law, as his turning a blind eye to Whitey’s criminal exploits eventually snowballs. Edgerton does have a tendency to play the role a little broad, but he does bring a good deal of heart to the role. Replacing the initially-cast Guy Pearce, Benedict Cumberbatch gets precious little to do as Whitey’s brother Billy, and how Whitey could get away with so much when his brother was a senator is a plot point that is never explored to a satisfying extent. He makes a valiant attempt at a Boston accent but struggles to nail it. Kevin Bacon kind of floats in and out of the film as Connolly’s boss, spending most of his screentime haranguing the agent under his charge. As is the case with many mob movies, we don’t spend a lot of time with the female characters, but perhaps that’s just a reflection of the true story. Both Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson get to share excellent scenes with Depp though, one of which is skin crawlingly creepy. 
With its framing device of Whitey’s associates being interviewed by the police years after the fact, the film can come off as episodic rather than sweeping and involving, but it is riveting nonetheless. Director Cooper is clearly a student of the mob movie subgenre and while Black Mass owes a great deal to the work of Scorsese and his ilk, it doesn’t come off as mere mimicry, the violent consequences of his “unholy alliance” laid bare. 
Summary: A true crime biopic that gets under one’s skin, Black Mass may not reach the loftiest heights of the mob movie subgenre but it boasts a stellar, terrifying turn from Johnny Depp. 
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

The Imitation Game

For F*** Magazine

THE IMITATION GAME

Director : Morten Tyldum
Cast : Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Vanessa Kirby, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard
Genre : Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 22 January 2015
Rating : NC16 
Alan Turing: mathematician, cryptanalyst, often considered the father of modern computing and a unique war hero who was persecuted later in his life. The man is as fascinating and compelling a biopic subject as they come. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, the story shifting between three pivotal periods of Turing’s life: his school days, his secret wartime code-breaking work at Bletchley Park and his post-war conviction of gross indecency. Much more at home with puzzles and ciphers than in social settings, Turing’s co-workers at Bletchley Park’s Hut 8, particularly chess champion Hugh Alexander (Goode), find him insufferable. As the Second World War rages on, Commander Alastair Denniston (Dance) breathes down Turing’s neck for results. Turing goes about developing a machine with the goal of deciphering German messages encoded with the Enigma Machine – a task deemed impossible.

            The Imitation Game is based on Alan Hodges’ biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. Graham Moore’s screenplay landed at the top of the Black List, an annual survey of the most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood, in 2011. The title The Imitation Game refers to the Turing test, which determines how well a machine can imitate the thought processes of a human being. At face value, this looks entirely like an Oscar-bait biopic carefully engineered for maximum Academy voter appeal. Despite its Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and American screenwriter Moore, it does seem very British indeed, and if there’s anything the Academy loves, it’s British-y biopics built around an attention-grabbing tour de force performance – see The King’s Speech’s triumph over The Social Network at the 83rd Academy Awards. We reckon it is possible to go into the film harbouring all these cynical pre-conceived notions and to walk out of the theatre afterwards unmoved, but one would have to be a special brand of jaded to do so.

            The standard biopic tropes we’ve come to expect of awards-contender “based on a true story” prestige pictures are all there, but The Imitation Gamehandily transcends them, never letting up in just how absorbing it is. Naturally, this is due in no small part to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing. Cumberbatch has captured the world’s imagination and is that rare combination of a superstar, a “serious actor”, a geek icon and, as he is probably tired of being described as, an unlikely sex symbol. We’ve become accustomed to “eccentric geniuses” in various media, the smartest people in the room who don’t suffer fools and have unorthodox but highly effective methods of solving problems – Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes could definitely be classified as such. There have also been various explorations of the “dark side” of genius, the inner demons that misunderstood prodigies grapple with. As Alan Turing, Cumberbatch is able to paint a highly sympathetic portrait of a man who, if he were “normal”, would not have accomplished what he had. When audiences question the veracity of a biopic, it is often brought about as much by the shortcomings of the actor as by the script’s fictionalisation of real events. This reviewer did not detect that here. To dismiss Cumberbatch’s Turing as “just another troubled wunderkind who can’t make personal connections” would be a great disservice.

            While the film was in production, there was the worry that Turing’s homosexuality would not be mentioned. Thankfully, it is addressed, and as such Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke is far from the superfluous love interest she could have been depicted as if such liberties were taken with the source material. Joan has to battle the deep-seated misogyny of the time, never mind that she has repeatedly proven herself as an expert code-breaker. The character’s introductory scene when she is almost turned away from an entrance test because it is automatically assumed she is up for a clerical position is dynamite. Knightley and Cumberbatch play off each other in a manner that steers clear of being cloying or saccharine and the relationship between Turing and Joan is a well-developed one.

            A surprising element of The Imitation Game, given its often heavy subject matter and wartime setting, is its humour. There are plenty of well-judged moments of levity, most derived from Turing’s interactions with others without feeling like they are at the man’s expense. As Hugh Alexander, Turing’s fellow code-breaker whose frustration is often justifiable, Matthew Goode is appealing and comes off more likeably caddish than smarmy. Charles Dance is also funny as the irascible Commander Denniston and Mark Strong is believable and coolly charming as spymaster Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies.

            If there’s any particular weakness, it would be the quality of the computer-generated imagery used to depict the WWII battles in brief cutaways. However, this deficiency barely registers because of how expertly the film is put together on the whole, the story flowing naturally through those three time periods in Alan Turing’s life. It seems there’s the danger of the film being written off by some, ironically enough, for its pedigree and awards potential. Ignore those voices; see this, tell everyone you know to see it. It’s a cliché, but this is a story that needs to be told and to be heard.

Summary:Moving, entertaining, thrilling, thought-provoking, even funny, The Imitation Game is a powerful, well-made biopic anchored by a brilliant leading performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.
RATING: 4.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

72nd Golden Globe Awards

For F*** Magazine

THE 72NDGOLDEN GLOBES

By Jedd Jong
The 72nd Golden Globe Awards took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in L.A. on 11th January, with Boyhood taking three wins and The Theory of Everything and Birdman bagging two. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the proceedings for the third and final time, delivering a gut-busting opening monologue that established a tone of not taking things too seriously and taking as many jabs as possible while stopping a safe distance from being confrontational or offensive – saving their sharpest barbs for scandal-plagued comedian Bill Cosby.
Putting things into perspective, Fey let fly with this zinger regarding Cecil B. Demille Award recipient George Clooney and his better half: “George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin this year. Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an advisor to Kofi Annan regarding Syria and was selected for a three-person UN commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza strip. So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.”
While naturally not nominated at all, The Interview and the attendant controversy certainly made its presence felt. Fey greeted the A-list crowd with “Welcome you bunch of despicable, spoiled, minimally talented brats,” referencing producer Scott Rudin’s labelling of Angelina Jolie in that infamous leaked Sony Pictures email.
“The biggest story in Hollywood this year was when North Korea threatened an attack if Sony released The Interview, forcing us all to pretend we wanted to see it,” Poehler added. The entire show was almost stolen by comedienne Margaret Cho, in character as a North Korean general and the editor-in-chief of “Movies Wow” magazine. Unsmiling and clad in full military uniform, this “member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association” demanded to have her photo taken with Meryl Streep, a request Michael Keaton obliged. Benedict Cumberbatch performed his signatured photo-bomb, leaping up into frame. In the hours since the ceremony aired, the jokes have attracted their share of controversy, seeing as the human rights crisis in North Korea is a very real one.
We watch live TV for the gaffes and hiccups, and while there were no major ones for this telecast, those that happened were still amusing. Lily Tomlin mistakenly said “House of Cards” when she meant “House of Lies” and Kevin Spacey dropped a precision F-Bomb when accepting his award for House of Cards. A visibly tipsy Ricky Gervais, glass of red wine in hand, sheepishly tried to avoid offending anyone, bringing his scathing Golden Globes hosting stints to mind. It was also pretty endearing to see Benedict Cumberbatch star struck as he presented the Best Supporting Actor award alongside Jennifer Aniston. The Purple One himself, Prince, made a surprise appearance to present the Best Original Song award, toting a cane.
On a more serious note, the tragic terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo loomed large over the ceremony. Helen Mirren walked the red carpet in a Dolce & Gabbana gown embellished with a blue fountain pen as a brooch. The attendees rose to their feet for Dutch journalist and HFPA President Theo Kingma, who saluted the slain journalists and cartoonists during his speech. Both Jared Leto and George Clooney uttered the phrase “Je Suis Charlie”, French for “I Am Charlie”. The phrase has become a rallying cry in the wake of the attack.
Another emotional moment came during Michael Keaton’s acceptance speech after he was named Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for Birdman. After expressing his profuse gratitude to director Alejandro González Iñárritu, he recounted his upbringing in Pennsylvania as one of seven children and fought back tears as he acknowledged his son Sean, whom he described as his “closest friend”. Also overcome with emotion was Gina Rodriguez, who beat out seasoned TV actresses such as Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Edie Falco to take home the Best Actress in a Comedy Series award for Jane The Virgin.

The full list of winners and nominees follows:
FILM:

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Boyhood – WINNER
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
The Grand Budapest Hotel – WINNER
Birdman
Into the Woods
Pride
St Vincent

Best Director
Richard Linklater (Boyhood) – WINNER
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
David Fincher (Gone Girl)
Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)

Best Actress – Drama
Julianne Moore (Still Alice) – WINNER
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Best Actor – Drama
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) – WINNER
Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
David Oyelowo (Selma)

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy
Amy Adams (Big Eyes) – WINNER
Emily Blunt (Into The Woods)
Helen Mirren (The Hundred-Foot Journey)
Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars)
Quvenzhané Wallis (Annie)

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy
Michael Keaton (Birdman) – WINNER
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Bill Murray (St. Vincent)
Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)
Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes)

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) – WINNER
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)

Best Supporting Actor
JK Simmons (Whiplash) – WINNER
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)

Best Screenplay
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo (Birdman) – WINNER
Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Best Foreign Language Film
Leviathan (Russia) – WINNER
Force Majeure (Sweden)
Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (Israel)
Ida (Poland/Denmark)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Best Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – WINNER
Big Hero Six
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
The LEGO Movie
Best Original Score
Jóhann Jóhannsson (Theory of Everything) – WINNER
Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game)
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross (Gone Girl)
Antonio Sanchez (Birdman)
Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)
Best Original Song
Glory (Selma) – WINNER
Big Eyes (Big Eyes)
Mercy Is (Noah)
Opportunity (Annie)
Yellow Flicker Beat (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1)
TV:

Best Drama Series
The Affair – WINNER
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Best Comedy Series
Transparent – WINNER
Girls
Jane the Virgin
Orange is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Best Miniseries or TV Movie
Fargo – WINNER
True Detective
The Normal Heart
Olive Kitteridge
The Missing
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Ruth Wilson (The Affair) – WINNER
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Julianna Marguiles (The Good Wife)
Robin Wright (House Of Cards)
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) – WINNER            
Clive Owen (The Knick)
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
James Spader (The Blacklist)
Dominic West (The Affair)
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) – WINNER
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black)
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) – WINNER
Louis CK (Louie)
Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
Ricky Gervais (Derek)
William H. Macy (Shameless)

Best Actor in a Limited Series
B
illy Bob Thornton (Fargo) – WINNER
Martin Freeman (Fargo)
Woody Harrelson (True Detective)
Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)
Mark Ruffalo (The Normal Heart)
Best Actress in a Limited Series
Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Honorable Woman) – WINNER
Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Freak Show)
Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge)
Frances O’Connor (The Missing)
Allison Tolman (Fargo)
Best Supporting Actress
Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) – WINNER
Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black)
Kathy Bates (American Horror Story: Freak Show)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Michelle Monaghan (True Detective)
Best Supporting Actor
Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart) – WINNER
Alan Cumming (The Good Wife)
Colin Hanks (Fargo)
Bill Murray (Oliver Kitteridge)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)
Photo Credit: HFPA

San Diego Comic-Con International 2014: The Celebrities

One of the key elements of Comic-Con is that it’s where fans get to meet creators, where those who enjoy and consume pop culture have a chance to rub shoulders with those who produce it. Hollywood has seized upon Comic-Con as an opportunity to market directly to the most passionate of target audiences and while that means the formerly comics-centric gathering has gotten commercialized and, some might say, bloated, it also means we get lots and lots of big stars descending on San Diego. This year, I was able to go in with a press pass and was granted access to the hallowed Hall H on Saturday (look out for my article on the experience coming soon). Besides Zack Snyder and his Trinity of Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot showing up, there were lots more famous faces gracing the Hall H stage – and, as is customary, incognito on the convention floor, disguised in a mask or something of that sort.
A dose of the Cumber-chins for Penguins of Madagascar

Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!

Unfortunately, Cumberbatch did not stick around for the press conference and we were all really disappointed. My theory is they needed to whisk him away to Hall H through some secret tunnels so he wouldn’t get utterly mobbed.

Author Lois Lowry and star Brenton Thwaites for The Giver

Jeff Bridges and leading lady Odeya Rush

The Paramount panel kicks off with an appearance by the voice of Spongebob Squarepants himself, Tom Kenny.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman throws his full support behind the new movie.

Director Jonathan Liebesman

Our April O’Neil and Vern, Megan Fox and Will Arnett respectively

Dwayne Johnson makes a surprise appearance to tell everyone that he’s booked out three theatres to treat us all to a screening of Hercules. First come, first served! 

The Rock demonstrating his “pimp lean”, as per his throwback Thursday Twitter post. Look that one up, fanny packs are involved.

Clark Duke exhorts, “if you see only one Hot Tub Time Machine sequel this year, make it this one.”

The star of Interstellar himself, Matthew McConaughey. Alright x 3. 

For an even bigger treat, his director Christopher Nolan makes his Comic-Con debut.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, showrunners of Sleepy Hollow and screenwriters of Star Trek, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transformers.

Greg Berlanti (Arrow/Flash), Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries) and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) complete the Showrunners panel.

Ralph Garman moderates the Batman ’66 panel. This November, the entire series is finally being released on Blu-ray, completely remastered in HD! 

Julie Newmar is helped on stage by her minions.

The eternal Boy Wonder.

Lee Meriwether, who was Catwoman for the ’66 film.

Our dynamic duo!

Thank you Burt and Julian for this opportunity! 

And who should we serendipitously run into but Guillermo del Toro himself! 

I told him I wanted to hug him because of how much I enjoy his films. This was a moment. Thanks Tedd for taking the photo.
Kurtwood Smith, Frances Fisher and Devin Kelley from the TV show Resurrection.

Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher sharing an affectionate moment.

Devin Kelley looking lovely.

Omar Epps

Batman comic book writer Scott Snyder

Managed to grab a selfie with Willa Holland, Arrow‘s one and only Thea Queen! 

Press conference for The Maze Runner

Will Poulter and Kaya Scodelario

Director Wes Ball

James Dashner, author of the book series

Kaya Scodelario

Kaya Scodelario and Dylan O’Brien

Guillermo del Toro, producer of Book of Life.

Christina Applegate and director Jorge Guttierez 
Channing Tatum

Ron Perlman

Giggles.

Hannah Ware from Hitman: Agent 47.

Zachary Quinto, main antagonist of Hitman: Agent 47

Artist Dave Gibbons and writer Mark Millar, creators of The Secret Service.
Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson
Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson 
Sofia Boutella and Dave Gibbons

I can tell you that Samuel L. Jackson was not very pleasant at all. The journalists had placed all their phones and other recording devices on the table. When one of the phones rang, he picked it up, yelled down the line and then asked the journalist to “claim your f**king phone.” 

Keagen Michael Key and Nina Dobrev of Let’s Be Cops.

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Rob Riggle

Willa Holland, Stephen Amell and Colton Haynes, stars of Arrow.

John Barrowman and Willa Holland share a cute daddy-daughter moment.

Willa Holland proves she can tough it out with the guys of the cast.

Producer James Tucker, John DiMaggio (King Shark), Troy Baker (Joker), Matthew Gray Gubler (Riddler) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) from Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Director Jay Oliva, James Tucker, John DiMaggio, Troy Baker and Matthew Gray Gubler.

We kick off Saturday in Hall H with moderator Chris Hardwick as Marty McFly.
It wasn’t on the schedule, but we were all hoping to see something from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zack Snyder presents 30 seconds of teaser footage.
And his World’s Finest

Make that the Trinity, plus Hardwick unable to resist snapping a selfie.

Channing Tatum has something of a tough act to follow, talking Jupiter Ascending.
Hardwick with George Miller, director of all the Mad Max films – including the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.

Time to head to Middle Earth with Stephen Colbert, dressed as his cameo character “The Laketown Spy” and seen here with his son.

Director Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens, Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug, Sauron), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Andy Serkis (Gollum)

Jessica Chobot and Legendary Studios chief Thomas Tull open the Legendary Studios panel.

John and Drew Dowdle, the brothers behind As Above, So Below.

Michael Mann, director of Heat, Thief, The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral and now Blackhat

All swoon for Chris Hemsworth 

Warcraft director Duncan Jones, wearing a shirt from his earlier film Moon.

Guillermo del Toro talks Crimson Peak.
The voice stars of The Boxtrolls, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning and Ben Kingsley.

Direcotr/animated Travis Knight 
The Sin City: A Dame to Kill For panel begins. Director Robert Rodriguez, comics creator Frank Miller, Rosario Dawson (Gail), Josh Brolin (Dwight) and Jessica Alba (Nancy)

Gotta love Miller’s face here.

The Women Who Kick Ass: Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Maisie Williams and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones).

Comic-Con gets antsy: Producer Kevin Feige, director Peyton Reed, actors Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Michael Douglas (Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne) and Corey Stoll (Darren Cross)

A rose by any other name…

Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/the Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff), Paul Bettany (Jarvis/Vision), James Spader (Ultron), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff)
Where are your Avengers now? Here they are! 

Josh Brolin and his toy Infinity Gauntlet crash the party! 

Hey Jensen Ackles. Lookin’ handsome as always.

The Supernatural panel: Jeremy Carver, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard. 

Special appearance from Osric Chau! 

Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman of the Young Justice animated series

DC Animation producer James Tucker 

Producer Michael E. Uslan, co-owner of the Batman media rights 

Selfie with James Tucker! 

As with last year, my Comic-Con adventure concludes with watching Jim Lee, the master, at work. 

“Alfred, never sext me again.”
Tasteful note to go out on! See you guys in San Diego next year.