Churchill

For F*** Magazine

CHURCHILL 

Director : Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast : Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham, Danny Webb, Richard Durden, Ella Purnell
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 45min
Opens : 6 July 2017
Rating : PG

Sir Winston Churchill just might be the most iconic Briton in recent history. The wartime Prime Minister has become a nigh-mythic figure, and it’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to telling his story. This historical drama focuses on the leadup to D-Day as the Second World War rages on. Churchill (Cox) prepares for the beach landing of allied forces in France, meeting with American general Dwight D. Eisenhower (Slattery), Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Wadham) and other high-ranking personnel in the allied command. Churchill fears a repeat of the horrifically botched beach landing he oversaw during the First World War, and he takes his anxieties and frustrations out on his wife Clementine (Richardson), who becomes increasingly concerned about Churchill’s ability to deal with the pressure of leading the country through the war. Depending on a multitude of factors, D-Day could turn the tide for the allies or lead to tragic consequences. Churchill must call on his fortitude and decisiveness, when the troops and civillians need it the most.

Churchill is directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, who told a markedly different World War II story with The Railway Man. Teplitzky works from a screenplay by British historian Alex von Tunzelmann. Going into Churchill, one knows what to expect: a reverential, respectable historical drama, but one that might be a chore to sit through. While there is an attempt to humanise the titular historical figure, Churchill ends up as a stodgy and inaccessible work. The official synopsis for the film describes it as a “ticking-clock thriller”, but despite the incredibly high stakes in play, Churchill lacks urgency or momentum. As a result, the audience feels like they’re watching events unfold from a distance, rather than engaging with them.

Many great actors have played the steadfast British Bulldog, and Cox proves himself to be up to the task, having already accumulated a respectable body of work. Because a particular image of Churchill is so ingrained in the public consciousness, actors have to work extra hard to push past the caricature of an unyielding, principled curmudgeon. While Cox does what he can with the material, his portrayal of Churchill isn’t as indelible as John Lithgow’s recent turn in the Netflix series The Crown. Granted, Lithgow played Churchill at a slightly later stage in his life, but he evinced the inner conflicts roiling beneath the brickwork exterior better than Cox does.

In addition to being a historical drama, Churchill wants to be an unconventional romance. Richardson’s Clementine is often the only one in the room who can stand up to Churchill or even try to talk him down – after all, as his wife, Clementine has had years of experience. Richardson achieves a lot with just a glance, and we wish she were in more of the film. Unfortunately, the dramatic moments between the couple seem contrived and predictable, and while Churchill’s outbursts are violent and dramatic, there isn’t enough emotional heft behind them.

The supporting cast is fine, with Slattery a standout as a dashing, serious and commanding Eisenhower. Purefoy is an appropriately sweet, if slightly bland, King George VI. Ella Purnell plays the requisite audience identification character, the fictional secretary Helen Garrett. Churchill harshly berates her when she makes a spacing error in typing up a document, but one knows it’s going to build up to Churchill eventually treating the young woman with kindness, as she wells up with admiration for the great man. It’s a forgivable cliché, but a cliché all the same.

The best historical dramas transcend the niggling feeling that one is fidgeting in the back of the classroom during history period. Alas, Churchill does not overcome this. While there are snatches of clever repartee between the characters, and a smattering of powerful imagery, Churchill feels circuitous and unnecessary instead of illuminating or compelling.

Summary: A bog-standard historical biopic, Churchill features Cox giving it his best shot to play the iconic Briton, but it fails to drum up much urgency or strike an emotional chord.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Pixels

For F*** Magazine

PIXELS

Director : Chris Columbus
Cast : Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Jane Krakowski, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson, Sean Bean, James Preston Roger
Genre : Comedy/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 13 August 2015
Rating : PG

Beloved characters from days of gaming past are no longer confined to arcade cabinets, rampaging through the streets and tearing across the skies in this sci-fi action comedy. When aliens invade earth in the guise of classic arcade characters like Galaga and Pac-Man, President Will Cooper (James) calls upon his childhood best friend Sam Brenner (Sandler) to combat the threat. Brenner was once a Pac-Man champion, but was beaten at Donkey Kong by his rival Eddie Plant (Dinklage), who is provisionally released from prison to help fight the aliens. Rounding out the team is the mal-adjusted conspiracy theorist Ludlow Lamonsoff (Gad), who has an unhealthy obsession with buxom video game character Lady Lisa (Benson). They answer to Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Monaghan), who has helped develop cutting-edge light ray guns to use against the invaders. Brenner and his team, branded “The Arcaders”, are all that stands in the way of the disintegration of the planet. 

Pixels is based on Patrick Jean’s 2010 short film that quickly became an internet sensation. It’s not the first good idea that has been completely mishandled by Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company, nor will it be the last. It’s an utter disappointment that Sandler got his hands on this – it may seem fashionable to hate on the actor/producer, but it’s completely understandable that many filmgoers are not swayed by his frat boy humour and his penchant for varying shades of prejudice in his movies. His lack of popularity is such that there have even been only semi-joking conspiracy theories that his films are elaborate money laundering schemes. Director Chris Columbus does not have a spotless track record, but having directed the first two Harry Potter and Home Alone movies, is more successful than Sandler oft-collaborators Dennis Dugan and Frank Coraci. This gave this reviewer a glimmer of hope that Pixels would end up better than other Sandler movies. This glimmer was quickly extinguished. 

This is especially a shame considering the technical polish with which Pixels is made. The visual effects work, supervised by Matthew Butler and produced by Denise Davis, is excellent and some of the imagery is eye-catching and inventive. A battle against the Centipede from the Atari game of the same name is an absolute blast and the film makes great use of stereoscopic effects, with visual gags like the game scores floating off the screen. The sequence in which our heroes hop into kitted-out Mini Coopers (with the license plates “Pinky”, “Inky”, “Blinky” and “Clyde”) to fight Pac-Man in a high-speed skirmish on the streets of New York is plenty of fun as well, even if it owes a huge debt to Ghostbusters

This might have worked with a different plot and different characters, because the characters are generally very unlikeable. Sandler stars as a ne’er-do-well home theatre system installer, his ego overwhelmingly apparent as he’s cast himself as the underdog who is “the only man for the job” and is eventually adored by the public as an international hero. Kevin James is the least believable movie president since Charlie Sheen in Machete Kills. Granted, it’s supposed to be a joke, but the casting of a credible actor as the President would have given the film at least some grounding, because if it’s all a joke, then the stakes are diminished. 


Josh Gad plays the stereotypical basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing nerd, who actually seems to have some very serious issues that we’re supposed to laugh at instead of be concerned about. It’s a shame that the character is as loathsome and unimaginative a caricature as he is, since Gad has displayed a fair amount of charm in other roles. Peter Dinklage is similarly wasted as the show-boating Eddie Plant, who was apparently modelled after real-life Pac-Man and Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell. Dinklage is clearly having a lot of fun in the role, but his character is so repulsive that’s it’s difficult to enjoy his performance. Part of Eddie’s terms in order to help the government fight the aliens is that he gets to have a threesome with two unlikely female celebrities, a joke which is followed up on instead of being treated as an absurd and offensive request. 

This brings us to the lead female character, Michelle Monaghan’s Lt. Col. Van Patten. We’re left picking at scraps, and at the very least, this reviewer is grateful that there’s a woman in a position of power in the film and Monaghan carries herself with as much dignity as she can. Of course, there’s an inane romantic subplot involving Van Patten and Brenner, complete with the “they start out hating each other!” romantic comedy arc. Ludlow’s slobbering obsession with the Red Sonja-esque Lady Lisa is nauseating, and one of the takeaways of the film is that women are trophies who can be won and owned. On top of that, there are multiple casual sexist remarks, such that the film’s atrocious attitude towards women is impossible to ignore. Not content with being flagrantly misogynistic, Pixels also tosses in a stereotypical portrayal of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani (Denis Akiyama) and a nigh-incomprehensible, buffoonish British Prime Minister (Penelope Wilton). A scene set in India takes place in front of the Taj Mahal, because how else are audiences supposed to recognise that it’s India otherwise? 

Pixels is Adam Sandler’s attempt to hop on the geek bandwagon in a bid to cash in on the retro nostalgia trend. The film bombed upon its opening in the U.S., another blow for Sony just as the studio has been reeling from a massive cyber-attack. This could have been excellent in the hands of someone with a genuine love for classic arcade games, a passion that was palpable in Wreck-It Ralph, which was fuelled with lots of heart and had jokes that were actually funny instead of offensive and cringe-worthy. Animated sci-fi comedy series Futurama also did the “aliens attack earth in the guise of video game characters” plot way back in 2002 – and, needless to say, far better. It’s truly a shame that all Pixels amounts to is Adam Sandler hurling barrels at the audience for two hours. 



Summary: Pixels has Adam Sandler’s grubby fingerprints all over it, smearing a fun premise and some engaging visuals with crass, tasteless jokes and unlikeable characters.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars 


Jedd Jong 

Mindscape

For F*** Magazine

MINDSCAPE

Director : Jorge Dorado
Cast : Mark Strong, Taissa Farmiga, Brian Cox, Indira Varma, Noah Taylor, Clare Calbraith
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens: : 8 May 2014

“Journey into the body” movies like Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace can be fun, but it’s often “journey into the mind” films that are truly intriguing and trippy. In this psychological thriller, Mark Strong plays John Washington, a “memory detective” working for the agency Mindscape. He has the ability to take subjects back into their memories and has used this skill to solve several crimes. Reeling from the loss of his wife, he takes a job from Mindscape boss Sebastian (Cox) to help 16-year-old Anna Greene (Farmiga) break her hunger strike. What appears to be a simple job soon becomes unpredictable and dangerous, as John tries to figure out if the girl is a helpless victim or a sociopathic mastermind herself, all while memories of his late wife intrude into his mind.

Mindscape is the feature film debut of director Jorge Dorado and is produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, director of Orphan, Unknown and Non-Stop. Collet-Serra co-founded studio Ombra Films as a platform for promising Spanish directors to make English-language movies, akin to what Luc Besson did for France with his studio EuropaCorp. Also known as Anna, Mindscape aims for a Hitchcockian flavour but comes off feeling more like a 90s erotic/psychological thriller, a tamer Basic Instinct meets The Sixth Sense. If we’re talking more recent films, there’s a tinge of Red Lights and Trance here too. Dorado creates a good deal of atmosphere, but he relies on tried and tested suspense movie tricks such as disorienting editing, recurring visual motifs (clocks, staircases, roses), slow focus pulling, and a score featuring what sounds like the string section of an orchestra having a collective seizure.

Sibling team Guy and Martha Holmes’ screenplay is filled with awkward, clumsy chunks of exposition and some unnatural dialogue, but the set-up does pull one in and the mystery is initially engrossing. As can be expected of this genre, there are several twists and turns and while there isn’t an outright preposterous cop-out, it’s still far from truly satisfying. Still, there is a valiant attempt made at characterisation and like with a good page-turner, this reviewer wanted to keep watching to find out how it all plays out. Films featuring a Lolita figure can end up feeling trashy and exploitative, and Mindscape doesn’t feel too cheap and schlocky in that way.

Mark Strong is one of those actors who gets typecast as villains in Hollywood films (hence his inclusion in Jaguar’s “Good to be Bad” advertising campaign) but his intensity and presence give him more range than a string of baddie parts suggests. As the “memory detective” plunged into the skeletons-in-closets-filled world of a wealthy and powerful family, Strong’s mix of wariness and vulnerability is quite convincing. The interplay between him and Taissa Farmiga is quite fun to watch. Farmiga bites into her meaty role in an entertaining fashion, her portrayal of the disturbed Anna Greene reminiscent of many a Saoirse Ronan performance. Anna is part Cole Sear, part Catherine Tramell (or is she?) and Farmiga gamely unravels the Gordian knot that is the character before the audience and is mesmerising at it. Brian Cox doesn’t really do much in his supporting role.

This neo-noir mystery film falls back on many conventions of the genre, substituting “psychologist playing head games with a mysterious female client” with “memory detective playing head games with a mysterious female client”. Strong and Farmiga work well with each other but ultimately, Mindscape is more convoluted than complex and while its game of “who’s manipulating who?” is intriguing in some places, it’s tiresome in others. It’s a twisty whodunit that busies itself with old stylistic tricks and lacks a sensational pay-off.

Summary: Taissa Farmiga is captivating and Mark Strong plays against her well, but Mindscape feels too much like any number of psychological thrillers even with its sci-fi-tinged setup.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong