Godzilla: King of the Monsters review

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast : Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 2 h 12 mins
Opens : 30 May 2019
Rating : PG13

            The king of all monsters is back, and he’s brought friends and enemies with him in this sequel to 2014’s Godzilla.

It has been five years since Godzilla triumphed over the MUTOs in San Francisco. The organisation Monarch has discovered that there are several more ancient megafauna known collectively as ‘Titans’ lying dormant around the world. Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a paleobiologist working for Monarch, has developed a device called the Orca that can communicate with the Titans. She has separated from her animal behaviourist husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), formerly also a Monarch employee, and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) lives with her.

Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), a defected British Army Colonel who is obsessed with restoring balance to the world, sets off a chain of events that awakens the Titans. These include the benevolent Mothra and the hostile King Ghidorah and Rodan. A team of Monarch scientists led by Dr Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) must figure out the best way to put an end to the global rampage caused by the ancient monsters.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie that gives the people what they want: lots of monsters that fight each other a lot. The film has a rather tricky task of balancing the absurd spectacle and inherent silliness of the kaiju movie genre with a certain gravity to the colossal destruction. Director Michael Dougherty is mostly up to the task, delivering a movie that is reverent of the illustrious history of kaiju films but one that’s also unafraid to have ludicrous amounts of fun.

Part of the beauty of this movie is that it very much knows what it is, and all the actors are aware of this too. It is hard to care too much about the human characters, but the movie knows that the human characters are secondary to the Titans. As a result, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the dialogue is very cheesy, and that everyone talks exactly how you’d expect characters in a disaster movie to talk. Godzilla: King of the Monsters often stays on just the right side of stupid, and like Kong: Skull Island before it, is very much a B-movie with an A-movie budget.

The visual effects, supervised by Guillaume Rocheron, are plentiful and astounding, with a huge number of creatures and environments to be created in CGI. Many scenes are awe-inspiring, but this reviewer found a quiet sequence in which a submarine comes across an ancient sunken city to be the biggest ‘wow’ moment in the film. The dogfight sequence which pits the Pterodactyl-like Rodan against a squadron of fighter jets is thrilling, satisfying and is the kind of thing that could’ve only been assembled by someone with an abiding affection for this genre.

While the monsters are created digitally, Dougherty took the right approach in hiring special effects houses known for animatronic and prosthetic effects to design them. Amalgamated Dynamics provided the design for Rodan, while Legacy Effects designed Mothra and King Ghidorah. Both studios were founded by former collaborators of Stan Winston, and there are times when the Titans feel like they could be animatronic or performer-in-suit creatures like those seen in Jurassic Park and Aliens. This is also helped by the motion capture performers TJ Storm, who reprises the role of Godzilla from the 2014 film, and Jason Liles, Alan Maxson and Richard Dorton, who play King Ghidorah’s three heads.

Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, who play the film’s central family, are taking things seriously enough. While the characters’ back-story and their link to the events of the 2014 film is established effectively, there is not much that’s truly compelling about these characters. Like the rest of the human characters, they are mostly there to react to all the monster mayhem, but Brown especially continues to show what a natural and talented actor she is.

This film gives Ken Watanabe’s Dr Seriwaza more to do besides making grave proclamations, though he still does plenty of that. We get two characters who squarely serve as comic relief and little else, played by Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford. Whitford’s character Rick Stanton is nakedly based on the brilliant but constantly drunk and chaos-prone Rick Sanchez from the Rick and Morty cartoon. This is where the movie is dangerously close to crossing into 90s disaster movie-levels of silliness, but Dougherty doesn’t let the humour get too self-indulgent.

Charles Dance can always be called upon to deliver gravitas with a sinister tinge, which is just what he does here. He’s there to ominously intone lines like “we’ve opened Pandora’s box, and there’s no closing it now,” with just the slightest whiff of irony.

The idea behind Zhang Ziyi’s character is more interesting than the character is in execution is: she’s a third-generation Monarch scientist whose speciality is mythology. The film’s constant references to the legends of old and how mythological beasts were depictions of the Titans is a rich vein that could be further explored in future MonsterVerse movies.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters can sometimes feel like overkill, but then again, a movie about a giant monster battle royale should feel like overkill. The film’s playfulness is exemplified in its choice of end credits song: a cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla” by Serj Tankian and Dethklok, as arranged by the film’s composer Bear McCreary. This is exactly the right approach for a Godzilla movie, and indicates that the film is intent on delivering B-movie delights on a grand scale. It achieves this.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Underworld: Blood Wars

For F*** Magazine

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS

Director : Anna Foerster
Cast : Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Charles Dance, Daisy Head
Genre : Action/Horror
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : M18 (Violence)

underworld-blood-wars-posterTo paraphrase Dracula, the granddaddy of all vampires, “Watch them, the children of the night. What terrible movies they make!” The fifth instalment of the Underworld franchise sees Selene (Beckinsale) hunted by the Lycans and the Vampire coven that betrayed her. She can only trust her protégé David (James) and his father Thomas (Dance), a vampire elder. The duplicitous, power-hungry Semira (Pulver) plots Selene’s destruction, while the Lycan leader Marius (Menzies) plans a Lycan siege of the Vampires’ stronghold. Both sides of the conflict are in pursuit of Eve, Selene’s daughter with the Vampire/Lycan hybrid Michael. Selene and David pay a visit to the reclusive Nordic Coven, appealing to Vidar (Andersson) and his daughter Lena (Nicholson) to ally themselves with them as the centuries-long war rages on.

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Back in 2003, there was at least a modicum of novelty in the premise of Underworld, which blended slick Matrix-style action with supernatural horror. Also novel was the casting of Kate Beckinsale, then known predominantly for English costume dramas, as an action heroine. It’s safe to say that 13 years and four further movies later, said novelty has eroded. Underworld: Blood Wars is impressive in that it somehow manages to make vampires fighting werewolves (with machineguns flung into the mix) boring. This was originally conceived as a reboot and ended up being a sequel – we can’t say for certain if either option is better than the other.

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Director Anna Foerster has several TV credits to her name and makes her feature film debut here. Instead of injecting some new blood into a franchise that sorely needs it, Foerster dutifully emulates the style established by the first two films’ director, Len Wiseman. While location shooting in Prague does lend the proceedings some mystique and grandeur, everything is smothered in that bluish-grey filter the series has become infamous for.

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The screenplay is written by Cory Goodman, whose credits include the mediocre genre flicks Priest and The Last Witch Hunter. The plot is muddled and conveyed via awkward chunks of expository dialogue. Even though we begin with a “previously on..”-type recap, what should be a straightforward story is still a challenge to keep track of. The political intrigue and back-stabbing within the vampire nobility is a pale imitation of the devious scheming we’ve seen on Game of Thrones and shows of its ilk. The action sequences are uninspired, barring a fun take on a cage match. The unintentionally funny computer-generated Lycans do make one hanker for the animatronic effects on display in the earlier films. A sojourn to the ice caves populated by the Nordic Coven should have made for a refreshing change of scenery, but it looks like a chintzy theme park.

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Beckinsale cuts as elegant a figure as ever in that PVC catsuit, but she’s going through the motions. Selene’s long life has been marked by multiple tragedies, but she never feels like an actual person the way iconic action heroines like Ellen Ripley from the Alien series and Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise do. She’s just there to look badass, which isn’t going to cut it.

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James reprises his sidekick role from Underworld: Awakening, remaining sullen and uncharismatic. It is always fun to see respectable English actors pop up to cash a paycheck, with Dance also returning, albeit briefly. Pulver hams it up as the vampy femme fatale, something she’s perfected on Sherlock as Irene Adler. Semira struts about in an assortment of costumes, including a particularly daring criss-crossing barely-there number, Pulver relishing the silliness of it all. It’s too bad that Menzies, sporting a scraggly wig, is altogether too bland as her Lycan counterpart. Also suffering aesthetically are The Nordic Coven vampires, who look like rejects from an episode of Xena: The Warrior Princess.

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After sitting through 92 minutes of a film that felt far longer than that, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that this franchise’s blood has long since curdled. Providing neither pulse-pounding action spectacle nor a compelling, propulsive mythos, Underworld: Blood Wars leaves not a mark, but a stain.

SUMMARY: Between the confusing, over-plotted narrative, the stilted performances and the dull visuals, we can’t find much of a reason for the fifth Underworld movie to exist.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ghostbusters

For F*** Magazine

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Director : Paul Feig
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy García, Charles Dance
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 56 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

Ghostbusters posterA new gang dons the jumpsuits and the proton packs in this reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a particle physics professor at Columbia University who had a falling out with Abby Yates (McCarthy), a paranormal researcher who co-authored a book with Erin. Abby is now working with nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), and an unexplained occurrence at New York’s historical Aldridge Mansion forces Erin and Abby to make amends. After witnessing a ghost on the train tracks, Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker Patty Tolan (Jones) volunteers to join the trio, rendering in-depth knowledge of New York’s history and geography. The dim-witted but handsome Kevin Beckman (Hemsworth) is hired as the crew’s receptionist, and they come to be known as the ‘Ghostbusters’. The team traces the recent spate of paranormal activity back to Rowan (Casey), an unhinged hotel bellhop bent on unleashing hell on earth. The Ghostbusters take on both malevolent spectres and repeated attempts to discredit them as the city is brought to its knees by the ghastly apparitions.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones

It’s impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without bringing up the spectre of negativity that has clung to it from the moment the idea was mooted. Across the internet, there were innumerable cries of childhoods being ruined, and dismay that the four members of the classic team had been replaced by women. Vitriol including death threats was spewed at all involved. The cast and filmmakers hit back, with McCarthy opining that all opposed to the Ghostbusters remake were man-children living in their mothers’ basements. It just kept getting uglier, on all sides. The original cast endorsed the reboot and several of them have cameos, but leaked emails revealed that Sony was threatening “aggressive litigation” against Bill Murray if he didn’t promote the film. Murray was famously reticent to appear in 1989’s Ghostbusters II and his refusal to co-operate with Dan Aykroyd was what put the nail in the coffin of a third film in the original series.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy

Sure, some of the arguments against the Ghostbusters reboot have merit, and this is yet another demonstration of how heavily Hollywood banks on recognisable, marketable franchises. It’s not so much that there are no new ideas, but that studio executives largely refuse to put faith in said ideas because they aren’t proven. There’s a lot to strip away, but when one gets down to it, this can’t help but feel like a storm in a teacup – or an ectoplasmic vortex in a ghost trap, if you will. Stop the presses: Ghostbusters ’16 is nowhere near as disastrous as its detractors have been hoping it would be.

Ghostbusters Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon suited up

Director Feig and his cast have a proven track record of bringing the funny, which they do in spades here. The style of humour is brash and in-your-face compared to the more sardonic jokes in the original Ghostbusters films, but a good amount of jokes land. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them. Abby, Erin, Jillian and Patty are not merely gender-swapped versions of Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston. An adequate balance has been struck between respectful tips of the hat to Ghostbusters movies past and comedic stylings that are unmistakably Feig’s, with Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s affection for the source material readily apparent. As such, it is a bit of an ironic shame that so many die-hard fans have long decided to boycott this reboot when more than a few morsels of fan-service are tossed their way. The cameos are generally pretty fun and had this reviewer wanting to see more, but they’re brief enough so as not to be wholly gratuitous.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on the train tracks

This reviewer thinks McCarthy is funnier when she’s more understated, so it’s great to see her ably take on the position of team leader. This is a cast that absolutely clicks, and we never thought we’d say it, but their camaraderie does rival that of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson in places. Jones’ Patty is plenty loud and sassy and might come off as a racist stereotype, but her character actually feels more like she’s a part of the team than Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore did. And hey, a regular everywoman who’s not a scientist is a Ghostbuster; that’s absolutely fine. It is McKinnon who handily steals the show, getting some of the best lines as the team’s resident wacky wild card. McKinnon’s spot-on impressions of Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber amongst others on Saturday Night Live have garnered her considerable attention, but Ghostbusters just might be what rockets her up the comedy actor A-list, where she belongs.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth

Hemsworth is game and entertaining as the receptionist who’s practically too dumb to function, slightly reminiscent of Jason Statham’s sendup of his action hero persona in Feig’s previous film Spy. The characterisation does seem like it comes from some place of resentment though, seeing as Annie Potts’ memorable Janine from the original films wasn’t an airhead at all. The film’s villain is obviously not where the focus lies, but while Casey’s Rowan is creepy, he doesn’t cross over into being legitimately threatening and amounts to a regrettably forgettable foe. It’s also less than ideal that the film’s climax is pretty much a bog-standard big ole CGI-infused melee in Times Square, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. It doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man rampage of the first film, or even the Statue of Liberty marching through New York in the second.

Ghostbusters climactic battle

Is the Ghostbusters reboot the best idea to come out of Hollywood? No. But thanks to the efforts of Feig and his talented, watchable cast, it succeeds where many reboots haven’t, as just enough of its own thing. Feig, Dippold and the other filmmakers have been given enough free rein such that this doesn’t come off as just a studio-mandated cash grab. There’s also no indication that there was any desire to supplant the original films or deny their legacy exists. Stick around for extra clips interspersed through the end credits, plus a post-credits stinger to cap it all off.

Summary: It’s not too hot to handle nor is it too cold to hold, but Ghostbusters is largely funny and well-made. Despite being stuck in the shadow of the towering original, it’s pretty enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

For F*** Magazine

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

Director : Burr Steers
Cast : Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 11 February 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence)

Something is rotten in the state of England – human flesh. It is the 19th Century and a plague has befallen the nation, resulting in zombie hordes. Country gentleman Mr. Bennet (Dance) has ensured that his five daughters are trained in martial arts and weaponry to defend themselves against zombies, while Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is more concerned that they marry well. When the wealthy and single Mr. Bingley (Booth) purchases a nearby house, Mrs. Bennet sends her daughters to the first ball where Bingley is expected to appear. The girls defend the party from a zombie attack, and attraction sparks between Mr. Bingley and the eldest daughter Jane (Heathcote). Meanwhile, the second eldest daughter Elizabeth (James) clashes with Bingley’s friend, noted zombie slayer Col. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Riley). Meanwhile, local militia leader George Wickham (Huston), who had a falling out with Darcy, takes a shine to Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Darcy must overcome personal pride and societal prejudices to battle the zombie menace and discover their true love for each other.

            Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is based on the 2009 parody novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who combined Jane Austen’s 1813 classic Pride and Prejudice with zombie fiction elements. A film adaptation has been in the works since even before the novel’s publication, with Natalie Portman set to star as Elizabeth and David O. Russell directing. Alas, the end result doesn’t have quite that level of pedigree, with 17 Again’s Burr Steers writing the adapted screenplay and directing. Portman remains as a producer. Across the development process, it ended up that Grahame-Smith’s follow-up novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter got a film adaptation first.

            While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was criticised for being too self-serious, Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesacknowledges its inherent absurdity more readily. It’s not a dour affair and there is a great deal of winking self-awareness to be had, which led to this reviewer laughing more than he anticipated to. However, it’s quickly all too apparent that this is built on just one joke, that zombies are having their heads blown to bits amidst all the Jane Austen refinement. This is how the idea was conceived: an editor at Quirk books literally compared a list of “fanboy characters” like ninjas, pirates, zombies and monkeys with public domain classics like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment and Wuthering Heights. Sounds arbitrary, doesn’t it? This laziness comes through and the novelty factor proves insufficient in sustaining the film.



            We’ve had Charlize Theron with a bionic arm driving a giant oil tanker across a post-apocalyptic wasteland and Emily Blunt in a mech suit fighting aliens, so kickass heroines are in vogue. In this film, the Bennet girls were trained in a Shaolin monastery and are proficient in various forms of combat. In one scene, two of the sisters engage in sparring practice while gushing over Mr. Bingley, speaking the original Austen dialogue. It’s pretty fun.



James makes for an adequate plucky, wilful protagonist and the actress demonstrates her awareness of the type of film she’s in. The Cinderella and Downton Abbeystar is perfectly convincing as an aristocratic 19th Century English woman fighting social norms, albeit a little less convincing as a formidable zombie killer. Riley’s Mr. Darcy is brusque and brooding, clad in a leather duster. Unfortunately, Riley and James share little chemistry and there’s no flow to the progression of their relationship. Matt Smith showcases good comic timing as the bumbling clergyman Mr. Collins, heir to the Bennet estate. In Austen’s original novel, George Wickham turned out to be a liar and conman, if not an out-and-out villain. Things end a little differently here. Huston’s pulchritude has a slight tinge of menace, which makes him suited to the role. Dance is a welcome presence as the kindly yet strict Bennet patriarch, but his Game of Thrones co-star Lena Headey gets all too little screen time as the eyepatch-wearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.



Many readers have used charts and diagrams to follow the interwoven relationships in Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trips up when it tries to get through the plot of the story as quickly as possible so it can get to the next zombie attack. The genre mashup isn’t as seamless and confident as it needs to be to fully sell the conceit. Furthermore, the action sequences aren’t particularly memorable. It’s also lacking the raw sex appeal of, uh, Colin Firth.

Summary: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not the unmitigated train-wreck it could’ve been, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that all the premise should sustain is a mock trailer on Funny or Die.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Victor Frankenstein

For F*** Magazine

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN

Director : Paul McGuigan
Cast : James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Charles Dance
Genre : Drama/Thriller/Horror
Run Time : 110 mins
Opens : 26 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Disturbing Scenes)

A classic tale is struck with a new spark in this adaptation of the landmark Mary Shelley novel. A nameless hunchback circus freak (Radcliffe) with a penchant for anatomical science has his life changed when he is rescued from the circus and taken in by Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy). Frankenstein is a medical student who is embarking on radical, controversial experiments to bring living beings back from the dead. The hunchback assumes the identity of “Igor Strausman”, Frankenstein’s former flatmate. Inspector Turpin (Scott) of the Scotland Yard is convinced that there is something fishy about Frankenstein and his new associate, the nature of their experiments offending Turpin’s religious sensibilities. In the meantime, Igor pursues a relationship with circus aerialist Lorelei (Findlay), whom he has long harboured affections for. As Frankenstein becomes increasingly obsessed with his experiments, Igor finds himself caught in a web of monsters and madness. 


           Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, is a massively influential work that has been adapted countless times across multiple mediums. This version is told from Igor’s point of view and is kind of “The Social Network in the 19th Century”, with two friends collaborating on a project that will have untold ramifications. There are significant departures from the source material – after all, Igor wasn’t even in the original novel. However, Victor Frankenstein does get a lot right in not straining to be a drastic reinvention or to turn everything on its ear. This is still a science fiction horror story and the heady themes so crucial to the longevity of the tale are very much intact and expounded upon.



Adapted by Max Landis of Chronicle fame, there are knowing winks and nods in the dialogue and there is explicit acknowledgement of the misconception that “Frankenstein” is the name of the monster instead of the scientist. There’s even a line about a “Presentation in Hall H,” a reference to the San Diego Convention Centre hall that hosts Comic-Con’s largest movie panels each year. It is sometimes smart-alecky, but never overwhelmingly so. The tone is consistent, moody and grave with just the right concessions to campiness. The gloomy, gothic Victorian London setting is heightened without being goofy, Eve Stewart’s production design and Jany Temime’s costume design lending the project considerable period piece cred. Director Paul McGuigan employs some neat stylistic flourishes, most notably superimposing annotated anatomical diagrams onto the image, which is a fun visual device. 


The film’s two leads are invaluable assets and in their hands, the “mad scientist bromance” comes off as a viable and compelling angle from which to approach the story. Radcliffe is eminently vulnerable and sympathetic as Igor, a character who is given multiple dimensions and is satisfyingly developed past the shambling, subservient hunchback he is commonly depicted as. McAvoy tackles the Frankenstein role with brio, this is clearly a man possessed but his motivations do come from an honest place. McAvoy partakes in histrionics and ravenous scenery-chewing, but he always seems in control of the theatricality and doesn’t let the over-the-top elements of the role run away from him. McAvoy and Radcliffe have marvellous chemistry and the film revels in its homoerotic subtext. Their relationship is genuinely affecting and the duo bring out the sincerity in a story that can be very cynical.

Because so much of the film is focused on Frankenstein and Igor’s partnership, the supporting characters do get the short shrift. Both Lorelei and Turpin are somewhat under-written roles that can’t help but feel like the designated love interest and antagonist respectively. Since Radcliffe shares so much more chemistry with McAvoy than with Findlay, the romance between Igor and Lorelei feels entirely peripheral to the relationship between Igor and Frankenstein; this was likely intentional. Scott, best-known for his portrayal of Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, delivers a terse performance that is ultimately not very arresting. Turpin’s personal beliefs are a way of depicting the conflict of science and religion, which is heavy-handed in parts. Charles Dance makes an all-too-brief brief appearance as Frankenstein’s haughty, disapproving father.

When a studio rolls out yet another iteration of a beloved tale, with the producers promising a take “like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” one can’t help but roll one’s eyes. Victor Frankenstein introduces new elements to the story that do not seem awkwardly out of place. The relationship on which the story hinges is fleshed out and there’s a vibrancy to the storytelling as opposed to a self-important stuffiness. Instead of coming off as an unnecessary re-tread, Victor Frankenstein feels like a retelling that is clever enough to justify its existence. There is also just the right amount of gore – it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers are pulling any punches, which is rare for a PG-13 horror movie. The explosive sexual tension between the leads certainly doesn’t hurt either. 



Summary: Assured in tone and boasting electrifying lead performances, Victor Frankenstein is a dynamic, entertaining retelling of the sci-fi/horror classic.

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

Dracula Untold

For F*** Magazine

DRACULA UNTOLD

Director : Gary Shore
Cast : Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Diarmaid Murtagh, Charles Dance, Charlie Cox, Art Parkinson
Genre : Horror/Fantasy/Thriller
Opens : 2 October 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Disturbing Scenes) 
Run time: 93 mins
The title character of Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula has reared his fanged head in popular culture, the vampire of vampires a perennially popular subject in every entertainment medium. This origin story takes us back to 1462, when Dracula preferred the taste of coffee to that of blood and was still known as Vlad Tepes III (Evans). The peace that Prince Vlad’s domain of Wallachia, south of Transylvania, has enjoyed for a decade is under threat. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III (Cooper) demands 1000 boys to serve in his army – including Vlad’s young son Ingeras (Parkinson). Driven by a love for his son, his wife Mirena (Gadon) and a dedication to his people, Vlad makes the proverbial deal with the devil. In this case, that devil is the Master Vampire (Dance) who has waited centuries for someone worthy enough to inherit his powers. Of course, there’s a price: with the superhuman strength, speed and the ability to transform into a colony of bats comes an insatiable thirst for human blood and various specific weaknesses, including to sunlight and silver. Will Dracula bear this curse for all eternity to save his people?

            Your willingness to accept this incarnation of Dracula will be contingent on which version of the character, if any, you hold dear. Distancing itself from Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman’s famous performances, Dracula Untold recasts its protagonist as a tortured antihero not unlike the Crow, Spawn or the Punisher. The character is handled similarly to in the Castlevaniavideogame series and the “perspective flip” is perhaps reminiscent of Maleficent. The medieval fantasy action feel the film is striving for is also clearly influenced by Game of Thrones, with actor Charles Dance and composer Ramin Djawadi involved in both. Unfortunately, this approach makes the film come off as generic. Largely dreary and self-serious, Dracula Untold would have benefitted from just a dash of theatricality and operatic grandeur, elements often associated with Dracula. The film’s production values are decent, the costumes designed by Ngila Dickson (co-designer and Oscar-winner for the Lord of the Rings films) especially praiseworthy – that dragon relief detail on Dracula’s armour sure is cool. Blurry CGI used for set extensions and to create landscapes does let it down somewhat.

            Luke Evans is solid if unremarkable in the lead role. In terms of presence, his Dracula (im)pales in comparison to those of the afore-mentioned three actors, whom every actor to play the role will be measured against. Evans’ Vlad is stoic and strong and there is an attempt on the part of screenwriters Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless to give him character development. You might be left wondering “how can someone who loves his wife and child so much be okay with impaling thousands of villagers?” The morality and inner dilemma of the character is touched upon, sure, but it isn’t given the depth required to be truly compelling. The line “sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster”, in addition to being something that probably applies more to Hellboy than to Dracula, just isn’t enough.

            Dominic Cooper, who had a brush with vampires in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and who’s memorably portrayed real-life villain Uday Hussein in The Devil’s Doubleand who was the bad guy earlier this year in Need For Speed, is the adversary here as well. In this story, Mehmed III grew up alongside Vlad, when Vlad was forcibly conscripted into the Ottoman army as a child. Cooper does look evil-cool in that ornate gold chest plate and guyliner but doesn’t get a lot to do, the story not playing up the angle of “blood brothers-turned-enemies”. As Mirena, Sarah Gadon is little more than “the wife” and could have done with even just one ass-kicking scene to herself. As the being who turns Vlad into a vampire, Veteran actor Charles Dance steals the show, his naturally menacing mug covered in makeup designed to echo Count Orlok from Nosferatu.

            Dracula Untold is intended to launch a new Universal Monsters cinematic universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe got its start with Iron Man, and Iron Man this ain’t – even with Howard Stark in it. That said, Dracula Untoldisn’t the mess it could’ve been, considering that this is director Gary Shore’s first feature film. While horror aficionados might thumb their noses at the PG-13 rating, there are still some brutal moments in the film – these vampires don’t sparkle in the sun, they burn, as it should be. There are a few moments of unintentional silliness – when Vlad hurls Ottoman soldiers into the air, they look like they’re victims of a trampoline accident and when he commands swarming bats, it brings to mind Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Fantasia. As a period fantasy action film, Dracula Untold is a passable diversion, but as a reimagining of one of the most iconic characters in all of fiction, it leaves a good deal to be desired.
Summary: This “untold” story is a familiar one and in place of elegance and mystique we get humdrum fantasy action, but we’ll take these vampires over those from Twilight any day of the week.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong