Paddington 2 movie review

For inSing

PADDINGTON 2

Director : Paul King
Cast : Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin
Genre : Comedy/Family
Run Time : 1h 44m
Opens : 7 December 2017
Rating : PG

Everyone’s favourite marmalade-loving Peruvian bear is back on the big screen. Unfortunately, he finds himself in the big house, too. Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is thrown in prison, after being framed for a robbery he did not commit. His adoptive family, comprising Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) Brown, plus housekeeper Mrs Bird (Julie Walters), must clear Paddington’s name. Paddington must find a way to foil the dastardly plans of Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a fading actor who will stop at nothing to acquire a priceless treasure. While in prison, the cuddly little bear must defend himself from various nasty types, including the imposing prison chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson). With a positive attitude, good manners, and a little help from people who care about him, Paddington just might survive this ordeal.

After the runaway success of 2014’s Paddington, a sequel was inevitable. We can’t stop the cynics from viewing this film as a shameless cash-grab, but we don’t have to. Paddington 2 does a fine job of that all by itself. This is a film that brims with heart, is ever-so-English, impeccably acted, and not too sickeningly twee. Like its predecessor, there’s also a sweet pro-inclusivity message, conveyed by way of Peter Capaldi’s Mr. Curry, who hates Paddington just because he’s an immigrant.

On top of that, Paddington 2 is hilarious. Director and co-writer Paul King, who also helmed the first Paddington film, delivers a delightfully witty movie that features a mix of expertly-choreographed physical comedy set-pieces and clever wordplay. The film is a masterclass in the art of the setup and the payoff – things that register at first as silly details later become important in the plot, and it snaps together in such a satisfying way. The action-packed finale plays like a cross between the climactic scene of Back to the Future Part III and the opening set-piece of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The first Paddington movie was going to star Colin Firth as the voice of the loveable bear, and Ben Whishaw was brought on as a last-minute replacement. Whishaw is effortlessly sweet and earnest without it coming off as an affectation. The computer-generated effects seem to have improved since the last movie, and it’s easy to buy Paddington as an actual character. While it’s not as photo-real as the work in War for the Planet of the Apes (nor is it intended to be), this reviewer found himself as invested in Paddington’s journey as he was in Caesar’s.

The stable of talented English actors who fill the supporting cast returns from the first film, with the addition of a few big names. Bonneville plays the pragmatic patriarch who, after years in the insurance business, has lost his taste for whimsy. Hawkins serves as a foil as the warm-hearted Mary. Walters is endlessly amusing as the plucky Mrs Bird, while Capaldi is as crotchety as he can be without Malcolm Tucker-style swearing.

Hugh Grant is the runaway scene-stealer. He gamely sends up his own career, playing a self-obsessed actor whose glory days are far behind him. Seeing as Grant was one of the hottest stars of the 90s and saw his stock fall after personal scandals and massive flops, it’s admirable that he’s willing to poke fun at himself. Not only that, he appears to be having a grand old time doing so. As excellent as Nicole Kidman was in the first film, Grant’s villainous turn handily one-ups hers.

Brendan Gleeson is also a joy to watch as the widely-feared prison cook whom Paddington gamely tries to befriend. All the actors seem to enjoy being a part of the project, and nobody looks like they’ve been forced to put on a happy face.

Given the current political and pop culture climate, few things are cynic-proof. There are popular YouTube channels dedicated to mercilessly dismembering every last thing anyone finds remotely enjoyable, and plenty of think-pieces endeavour to do the same. Paddington 2 is a shining light in this fog of scoffing and irony. What the film possesses in sincerity, it matches in technical accomplishment and engaging storytelling. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel the warm fuzzies.

In a year that’s given us some surprising, spectacular blockbusters, Paddington 2 might not be a shock to the system, but it shouldn’t be. It should be a hug, and that it certainly is. The film is dedicated to the memory of Paddington creator Michael Bond, who passed away just before filming wrapped. If future Paddington movies are anywhere as good as this, his legacy is in the safest paws.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Alone in Berlin

For F*** Magazine

ALONE IN BERLIN

Director : Vincent Perez
Cast : Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Brühl, Mikael Persbrandt, Katharina Schüttler, Louis Hofmann
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 43min
Opens : 16 February 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

alone-in-berlin-posterAdapted from Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel Every Man Dies Alone, Alone in Berlin tells of a small but spirited resistance from within the heart of Nazi Germany. It is 1940, and working-class Berliners Otto (Gleeson) and Anna (Thompson) Quangel receive news that their only son has died in combat. After witnessing the treatment of an old Jewish woman in their apartment block, Otto and Anna begin writing postcards containing short messages exhorting for the people to resist Hitler and the Nazis. Otto wants to leave his wife out of it for her protection, but Anna insists in standing alongside her husband. They leave the postcards in public places, and this soon attracts the attention of the police. Escherich (Brühl), the detective put in charge of hunting down the perpetrators, finds himself gaining respect for his elusive targets, while starting to question Nazi ideology.

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Every Man Dies Alone is a fictionalisation of the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, has been adapted for TV and film in German several times, and was also made into a Czech television miniseries. The English translation of the 1947 German novel was only published in 2009. While the story of ordinary German citizens who attempt to stand against the oppressive Nazi regime has the potential to be powerfully resonant, said potential is only glimpsed a few precious times in this film. The family of Swiss actor/director Perez, who also co-wrote the screenplay, experienced the horrors of World War II first-hand. Perez’s grandfather was shot by fascists in Spain, his great uncle was gassed by Nazis, and another uncle died in battle on the Russian front. As such, it’s curious that he seems to approach the material with a distinct lack of passion.

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Thanks to location filming in Berlin, Cologne and Görlitz, Alone in Berlin possesses decent production values. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to pull the viewer in. For a film about a time and place where there was danger on all sides, Alone in Berlin fails to generate any urgency or tension. We get an adequate sense of the oppression that the Nazis imposed on their subjects, but nothing leaps off the screen. It’s generic historical drama stuff, when the story of Otto and Elise Hampel deserves a more searing telling.

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Thompson and Gleeson are both fine actors. They don’t get too many notes to play beyond “downtrodden”, but are invested in the material. The varying strength of the German accents across the cast can be a little distracting. Mark Rylance was originally cast as Otto, and in part because Gleeson is still unmistakably Irish, we think he might have been a better choice. Brühl tries to give Escherich notes beyond that of the typical dogged inspector, but only makes an emotional impact in the film’s closing moments. The Gestapo agents are stereotypically, blandly evil.
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The perspective of the common man living in Nazi Germany coupled with the fact that it’s based on a true story should have made Alone in Berlin a powerful work. Instead, even with its strong lead performances, much of the film is mired in mediocrity. Offering not enough insight into the minds of dissidents in Nazi Germany, nor serving up any wartime cloak-and-dagger mystique, Alone in Berlin will leave most viewers cold.

Summary: Finely-acted but too sluggish and dour to be genuinely moving, Alone in Berlin is far from the full-bodied, stirring tale it should’ve been.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Assassin’s Creed

For F*** Magazine

ASSASSIN’S CREED 

Director : Justin Kurzel
Cast : Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Denis Ménochet, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1h 56min
Opens : 22 December 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

assassins-creed-posterNobody expects the Spanish Inquisition – least of all Callum Lynch (Fassbender), a death row inmate who is spirited away to the late 15th Century. It’s not time travel per se, but regression via ‘genetic memories’. Callum is the descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, a warrior who belonged to the secret society known as the Assassins. The Assassins have long been at war with the Templars. Alan Rikkin (Irons), the CEO of Abstergo Industries, is a Templar. Callum lives out the experiences of Aguilar using a machine called the Animus, developed by Alan and his daughter Sophia (Cotillard). Alan endeavours to discover the whereabouts of an artefact known as the Apple of Eden, which is said to contain the origins of free will. Callum must come to grips with his destiny as he finds himself caught in the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars, a conflict that is about to reach its tipping point.

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It’s no secret that films based on video games have long had a bad rap, and many had hoped that Assassin’s Creed would mark a watershed moment, proving that good movies based on video games could actually exist. After all, promising director Justin Kurzel was picked to direct, with Michael Fassbender starring and co-producing. Alas, a video game movie that can be universally considered ‘good’ remains elusive. Assassin’s Creed has the task of appealing to fans of the game franchise, while remaining easy enough for neophytes to get into. The decision to create an original story that would not be a direct adaptation of any of the games in the series seemed like a wise one. While this should have freed Kurzel and the film’s creative team from the burden of condensing a sprawling plot into one film, the end result is infuriatingly muddled.

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The suspension of one’s disbelief is key to buying into the premise of Assassin’s Creed. A sinister corporation seeking out the descendants of a sect of assassins and tapping into their genetic memories for their own ends sounds silly on paper, but could be worked into something compelling. The screenplay is credited to Michael Lesslie, who adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth for Kurzel; and the team of Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, who wrote The Transporter: Refueled and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Assassin’s Creed is an inchoate work, a mish-mash of history, sci-fi and philosophy that refuses to gel into a workable whole.

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The Apple of Eden is as ludicrous a MacGuffin as they come. In the games, the mystical orbs are the creations of the godlike Isu, and have granted incredible power to figures from Moses to George Washington. In the film, the Apple contains, uh the cure to violence? Or something. It’s one of many ways in which Assassin’s Creed is stubbornly hokey.

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The scenes set during the Spanish Inquisition are the best bits of the film. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw treats us to sweeping establishing shots, the environments are rich with period detail and the action choreography is slick. It is difficult to get into the ‘flashbacks’ because we’re constantly jerked back to the present day and reminded that it’s all a simulation (even though ‘simulation’ is not an entirely accurate description). The big parkour chase set piece is executed well, making us wish there was more of that and less wading through an exposition swamp. The Spanish Inquisition has been codified as an example of oppression through religion. As expected, it’s not depicted with much nuance; the Catholics portrayed here as moustache-twirling villains. The violence is as brutal as a PG-13 rating will allow, and it’s clear that a movie about assassins shouldn’t have to pull this many punches.

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Fassbender has leading man charisma to spare and is a believable action hero, which is why it’s so frustrating that Callum Lynch is kind of a nothing protagonist. He has a tragic past, has been dealt a bad hand in life and becomes a pawn in a far-reaching conspiracy. Those are fine ingredients for a hero, but something’s missing here. Perhaps it’s in how the film gets bogged down in the mechanics of the plot, instead of letting the characters carry the story forward.

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Cotillard delivers her poorly-written dialogue with admirable conviction, while Irons stands around and looks solemn. Aguilar’s fellow Assassin Maria (Labed) could’ve been the character to steal the show, but she’s just required to look cool. It’s difficult to get invested in the relationship between Aguilar and Maria, or in the relationships between any of the characters, for that matter. Moussa (Williams) a descendant of the Haitian Assassin Baptiste, emerges as the character with the most personality.

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Kurzel’s brother Jed composed the film’s score, as he’s done for most of the director’s films. It’s tinged with world music flair, and like the rest of the atmospherics, is fine. While there’s something of a silver lining to be found in a filmmaker treating a video game-based film as seriously as Kurzel has here, Assassin’s Creed is po-faced to a detrimental extent. Dull and convoluted rather than spirited and entertaining, this is a let-down for anyone who was hoping it would herald the success for video game movies that comic book movies have been enjoying lately.

SUMMARY: Assassins are deft and swift; this movie is clumsy and plodding. The sequences set in the thick of the Spanish Inquisition are the closest Assassin’s Creed gets to actually being entertaining.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

In the Heart of the Sea

For F*** Magazine

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Michelle Fairley
Genre : Action/Adventure/Drama
Run Time : 121 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)

Pull up a chair, because director Ron Howard’s got a whale of a tale to tell you lads, a whale of a tale or two. Author Herman Melville (Whishaw) travels to Nantucket Island, Massachusetts to interview innkeeper Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson), in order to research the novel Moby-Dick. At age 14, Nickerson (Holland) was a cabin boy aboard the whaleship Essex, sailing with Captain George Pollard, Jr. (Walker), First Mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth) and Second Mate Matthew Joy (Murphy). It is the year 1820 and whale blubber is a valuable commodity for its use as fuel. While off the South American coast, the Essex is rammed by a bull sperm whale and sinks, stranding its crew at sea. Nickerson recounts the harrowing events to Melville, confronting dark memories of starvation, madness and survival, during which the crew drew lots to determine who would be killed and eaten for the others to live.

            In the Heart of the Seais based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 non-fiction book of the same name. The film was originally set for release in March this year, but was pushed back to December presumably for awards season consideration. The true story seems like it has all the makings of a gripping film, but while the end result is competently executed, it fails to be truly thrilling or moving. By now, audiences know what to expect from a survival at sea drama – the elements will be braved, there will be desperate situations, the crew will be at each other’s throats, the survivors will have to band together to stay alive and so on. In the Heart of the Sea hopes to offer something different in the form of the whale, but there is very little of the film in which the crew of the Essex actually face off against their Cetecean nemesis.

            This is a film about extremes that often plays it very safe, even with the depiction of cannibalism. There are times when In the Heart of the Sea comes across like it’s trying to emulate a prestigious British costume drama epic and while effort is made to capture the whaleship setting and time period, the film never quite attains the desired level of authenticity. Because of the way the framing device is set up, with the middle-aged Nickerson reluctantly telling Melville about the events he braved in his youth aboard the Essex, there is a significant amount of exposition. It feels like we have to wade through the history to get to the exciting bits, as opposed to being actually invested in these characters and caring about what happens to them.

            The cast take the material very seriously and while this is not a poorly acted film, there isn’t quite enough personality to each of the historical figures. There is conflict between Captain George Pollard, Jr. and First Mate Owen Chase, because Chase was promised the captaincy but Pollard got the position through his family connections. The two men eventually come to an understanding, but given the circumstances, their interaction should be more riveting than this. Hemsworth, reuniting with his Rush director, famously went on a diet of 500 calories a day to portray the starving sailor. Bidding farewell to all that muscle must be like sending a firstborn child off to college. Hemsworth’s Chase is the hero who looks out for his men, a very straight-forward role. Walker is often quite bland opposite him and even though he’s playing the captain, there are moments when this reviewer almost forgot he existed.

            Murphy’s usual magnetism and subtle unpredictability are all but absent from his turn as Second Mate Matthew Joy, and given how the story is told from Nickerson’s point of view, we expected Holland to be given more emotional beats to play. The sequence in which the Essex goes down in flames after it is struck by the enraged whale is excitingly staged, but most of the drama is predictable and the film stops short of being truly immersive. There are also scenes depicting baby whales in the pod, and one can’t help but side with the whales at times. Sure, the whalers are doing their job and we don’t mean to get all Greenpeace, but at the end of the day, this is a movie in which our heroes are killing animals that wouldn’t bother them if they didn’t get all up in their business. This reviewer never really felt like he was stranded alongside the crew of the Essex and the detachedness is what ultimately lets In the Heart of the Sea down.



Summary:What should be an epic adventure is mostly dull and doesn’t offer anything drastically different from other survival at sea films.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Edge of Tomorrow

For F*** Magazine

EDGE OF TOMORROW

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Franz Drameh
Genre : Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Opens : 6 June 2014
Rating : PG13

It’s like this: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Major Bill Cage (Cruise) learns this the hard way, forced onto the frontlines against his will. In the near future, Europe has been invaded by a vicious alien species called the Mimics, and former ad man and PR guy Cage hasn’t the first clue how to fight them. He has no idea how to work his Jacket exo-suit and dies in battle, but reawakens, living the whole day over again. Over the course of several “tries”, he realises he is caught in a time loop, and seeks out the help of Rita Vrataski, a seasoned warrior nicknamed “The Angel of Verdun”. Through lots of trial and error and under the tutelage of Rita, Cage starts to get the hang of it, figuring out how to outwit the Mimics in the hopes of winning the war.



            It’s like this: at first glance, Edge of Tomorrow, based on the light novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, looks pretty generic. Once you’ve seen one military sci-fi action alien invasion flick, you’ve seen them all, right? Director Doug Liman knows you’re thinking this, he knows his audience will be familiar with all the genre has to offer, and so he deconstructs the clichés and turns them on their heads. Despite superficial evidence to the contrary, Edge of Tomorrow is fresh and inventive, Liman and co. having unearthed new, exciting elements with which to elevate what could have been loud, dumb, derivative blockbuster fare. There’s a propulsive energy combined with just enough self-awareness, the screenplay by Christopher MacQuarrie with sibling team Jez and John-Henry Butterworth an unexpectedly humorous one.

            It’s like this: Edge of Tomorrow looks a lot more conventional than last year’s Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi action movie Oblivion, but it winds up being the more creative and entertaining of the two. We’ve seen soldiers in robotic exoskeleton suits in everything from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to District 9, so that’s not where Edge of Tomorrowstands out design-wise. The look of the Mimics is what gives this film the edge over other alien invasion films in recent memory. Remember how utterly bland the aliens looked in Battleship? Here, we have angry-looking bundles of spiky roots, lashing out and striking with alarming speed and ferocity. These are genuinely scary opponents that are a lot of fun to watch in action. The film’s central beachhead battle is also a refreshing change of locale from the city centres in which such wars are often fought in the movies. From a helicopter crash in a barn to a training arena in which spinning metal blades stand in for the Mimics, the action sequences are consistently terrific and eye-catching.

            It’s like this: Tom Cruise has remained a brand name A-lister for well over 20 years and once again proves why. Instead of being an invincible badass, his Bill Cage starts the movie as a vulnerable, unwilling fighter way out of his depth, someone who tries to charm his way out of combat duty but who is unable to. Just as it was satisfying seeing Bill Murray get better and better at playing the piano or ice carving with every successive February 2nd, it is satisfying seeing Bill Cage gradually grow into a skilled warrior. It seems Cruise has set some of his ego aside, allowing for several amusingly ignominious death scenes early on.

It’s like this: Emily Blunt isn’t who most moviegoers would pin as the next Sigourney Weaver, but darned if she doesn’t kick a whole lot of ass in this movie. The ever-versatile Blunt is able to sell not only Rita’s physical toughness, but her determination and steely demeanour as well. In the interplay between her and Cruise, the Romancing the Stone-style screwball comedy is kept to a suitable level, and the lengths he goes to in order to win her trust and respect are admirable. Bill Paxton does a funny, sly parody of “tough blowhard drill sergeant” types, and Squad J, the group of soldiers Cage is forced to join, are reminiscent of the Colonial Marines from Aliens in the best way possible.

            It’s like this: Edge of Tomorrow takes the time loop, what might be considered a tiresome gimmick, and uses it to give what would already have been a decent sci-fi action flick that extra something. It’s well-paced, it’s well-acted, the action and the spectacle is engaging and immersive and it’s just about the best use of 3D we’ve seen in a live-action feature this year thus far. This puts recent attempts at military-centric alien invasion movies like Battle: Los Angeles and the afore-mentioned Battleship to absolute shame. We didn’t quite expect Edge of Tomorrow to be this clever, this adrenaline-pumping and this much darn fun.
Summary: It’s like this: go see the most invigorating action sci-fi film in recent memory today rather than tomorrow.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong