Cymbeline

For F*** Magazine

CYMBELINE 

Director : Michael Almereyda
Cast : Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, Dakota Johnson, Penn Badgley, Anton Yelchin, Ed Harris, John Leguizamo, Delroy Lindo, Bill Pullman
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Violence)
Shakespeare is the gift that keeps on giving, artists of all kinds continuing to find inspiration in the Bard’s work centuries after his death. The play Cymbeline provides the basis for this crime drama, which updates the setting of Ancient Britain to the present day. Instead of being the King of Britain, Cymbeline (Harris) is the leader of the Briton biker gang. His daughter Imogen (Johnson) is in love with the lowly Posthumus (Badgley), whom Cymbeline has taken on as a protégé, and has married him in secret. An enraged Cymbeline exiles Posthumus. Iachimo (Hawke) bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and bring him proof. In the meantime, Cymbeline’s wife the Queen (Jovovich) hatches a plot to murder Cymbeline and have Cloten (Yelchin), her son from an earlier marriage, marry Imogen so he can usurp Cymbeline’s place as head of the gang. Also under threat is the fragile truce between Cymbeline and corrupt policeman Caius Lucius (Vondie Curtis-Hall), the King’s empire slipping through his fingers.

            Cymbelineis adapted and directed by Michael Almereyda, known for his 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet. Almereyda’s Hamlet, which starred Ethan Hawke in the title role, was also a setting update – Hawke delivers the “To be or not to be” soliloquy while wandering the aisles of a video rental store. With Cymbeline, Almereyda was clearly inspired by Kurt Sutter’s TV series Sons of Anarchy, which revolves around a biker gang and takes inspiration from Hamlet. Cymbeline was even titled “Anarchy” at one point. Alas, it’s very clear that Almereyda is struggling to jam a square peg into a round hole, but not for lack of trying. The film strains to make its re-contextualisation a successful one, ultimately failing. Cymbeline is generally not regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greater plays and it has been noted that it recycles elements from the Bard’s earlier works, including Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet.

            Second-rate Shakespeare is still high art, and this adaptation retains most of the original dialogue. Hearing the signature iambic pentameter outside of its intended context can be jarring if handled clumsily, and this take on Cymbeline has butter fingers. The original text has been abridged but not streamlined, the dense, labyrinth plot still pretty confusing. While Ethan Hawke looks like he knows what he’s doing, Penn Badgley and Spencer Treat Clark often deliver their lines as if they were reading the ingredients off the back of a shampoo bottle. Anton Yelchin bites into the Cloten role with glee, but his whiny performance gets annoying pretty fast. Regardless of how good an actor one is, it’s impossible to make the line “On her left breast/A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops/I’ th’ bottom of a cowslip” sound naturalistic in a contemporary context, and perhaps it was never meant to be that way.

            Ed Harris as the tough leader of a biker gang? Sure, we’ll buy that. Ed Harris as the tough leader of a biker gang trying to make the line “Thou took’st a beggar; wouldst have made my throne a seat for baseness” sound like something the tough leader of a biker gang would actually say? That’s a harder sell. Both Milla Jovovich and Dakota Johnson are very stiff throughout the film, Johnson playing Imogen with an “ugh, whatever” air. Jovovich does get to perform an appropriately moody cover of Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes”, one of several atmospheric touches that are limited in their effectiveness thanks to everything else.

            We know we sound like a broken record, going on about how awkward and stilted the film comes off in its presentation, but that’s because Cymbelinecould have been saved. It could have worked as a dramatic romance set against a war between a biker gang and corrupt cops, had Almereyda not been so precious about retaining the original text. There’s an attempt at verisimilitude, with characters scrolling through photo galleries on their iPads and looking up locations on Google Maps, but it still rings false. Re-contextualisations can work, if they’re handled deftly enough or if they revel in the silliness of the premise and spin a colourful alternate world around the story. Cymbeline is neither and falls flat because of it.

Summary:Some excellent actors and several mediocre ones are all left high and dry by this unwieldy adaptation that most audiences will find alienating and odd.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

The Equalizer

For F*** Magazine

THE EQUALIZER

Director : Antoine Fuqua
Cast : Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Haley Bennett, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Johnny Skortis
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Opens : 25 September 2014
Rating : M18 (Violence and Coarse Language) 
Running time: 132 mins
Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer. Robert McCall (Washington) is a former Special Forces operative who has forged a new, quiet life as an unassuming worker at the Home Mart. During his regular stops at a diner after work, he meets underage prostitute Alina, working under the name “Teri” (Moretz), and is moved by her plight to take on the Russian gangster pimps she is forced to work for. McCall’s actions attract the attention of Spetsnaz-trained Russian Mafia enforcer Nicolai, who goes by “Teddy”. Teddy’s innocuous nickname belies his cold, psychopathic nature. Teddy and his men begin relentlessly pursuing McCall, but little do they know that they’re dealing with a bona fide one man army. 

            The Equalizer is based on the 80s TV show starring Edward Woodward and re-teams Denzel Washington with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. One thing is abundantly clear after watching The Equalizer: Fuqua knows how to make Washington look very cool. Washington’s Robert McCall is a stone-cold badass, collected, unflappable and supremely deadly. This is a guy who sets a stopwatch to time his fights to make sure he’s still got it. The graphically violent efficiency with which he dispatches his opponents stands in contrast with how nurturing a mentor figure he is to his co-workers at the Home Mart. A subplot has him helping the overweight Ralphie (Skortis) get into shape so he can pass the security guard test. This is the same guy who streamlines the Russian Mafia’s payroll with the help of guns, hedge trimmers, barb wire, nail guns, canisters of oxygen in the microwave and of course his own bare hands. All that’s missing from scenes in which Washington performs that “cool guys don’t look at explosions” strut is a choir in the background singing “he’s a badass! He’s a badass!” to the tune of “Gonna Fly Now”.

            Here’s the problem – as assuredly-directed as it all is, one can’t help but feel that The Equalizer’s protagonist is a nigh-invincible superhuman who is never really in any palpable danger from the film’s villains. He’s cool, sure, but he’s far from a unique, memorable action hero. There are no depths for Washington to plumb here, even given how the character is supposed to come off as sage-like in addition to tough. What helps mitigate this somewhat is Marton Csokas’ turn as the villain. The bad guys in this movie are old-school – evil and uncomplicated. Csokas is a charismatic, commanding presence without going overboard with the scenery chewing or affecting too-ridiculous an accent. A scene in which Teddy confronts another prostitute about Teri’s whereabouts is chillingly played. Chloë Moretz isn’t in this as much as the trailers would lead one to believe but her portrayal of shattered innocence and world-weariness is pretty moving, recalling Jodie Foster’s turn in Taxi Driver.


            The Equalizer is stylish and atmospheric, reminding this reviewer of Jack Reacher. Before he strikes, McCall sizes up and analyses each of his opponents, shown in the form of a dramatic Sherlock Holmes-style breakdown. There is very little in the way of shaky-cam and hyper-kinetic editing, allowing the mood and suspense to sink it. The action does get rather grisly, so if you’re squeamish about sharp implements, be forewarned. The Equalizer looks polished but it isn’t sophisticated, and this won’t lead to a Best Actor Oscar for Washington like his earlier collaboration with Fuqua did. But we get Denzel Washington going all lone-wolf guardian avenger in a slightly different mode from in Man on Fire, and we can’t complain about that.


Summary: It’s formulaic, but with action sequences that are equal parts slick and visceral and a cooler-than-cool lead performance from Denzel Washington, The Equalizeroffers up a decent amount of genre thrills.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong