A Bigger Splash

For F*** Magazine


Director : Luca Guadagnino
Cast : Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Genre : Crime/Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 125 mins
Opens : 31 March 2016
Rating : M18 (Nudity and Sexual Scenes)
For years, fans have noted an uncanny resemblance between actress Tilda Swinton and the late David Bowie. In this erotic drama, Swinton finally gets to play a rock star, but this is far from a typical paean to the hard and fast living of glamourous rock gods/goddesses. Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a famous singer who is recuperating from surgery on her vocal chords. Marianne and her documentary filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Schoenaerts) are holidaying on the Italian island of Pantelleria. A spanner is thrown in the works of their idyllic getaway by the sudden arrival of music producer Harry (Fiennes), Marianne’s former flame. Harry has his college-aged daughter Penelope (Johnson) in tow. As personalities and egos clash and sexual tensions simmer, our little group isn’t going to sit about all quiet-like, with some ugliness bubbling to the surface against the backdrop of some very beautiful scenery.

            A Bigger Splashis a remake of the 1969 French-Italian film La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. As odd as this comparison will sound, it might be more helpful to describe the film as a dark take on something like Mamma Mia! A very European frankness with regards to sex and nudity is on full display throughout, and this is a film in which the relationships between the characters are fleshed out via their interactions in various contexts, rather than through clunky exposition. However, this is also a film in which nothing much really occurs, with the bulk of it coming off as Italian tourism board-sponsored scenery porn, and the rest of it is porn in the more traditional sense.

There are farcical and tragic moments, with uneasy tonal shifts that seem intentional if not altogether successful. There is so much lounging and lazing about that when something of actual significance to the plot happens at around the one-and-a-half-hour mark, it feels as if the film has suddenly acquired a focus but does not know what exactly to do with it. During a scene in which Marianne and Harry watch a local woman make traditional ricotta, we hear the migrant crisis in Europe being mentioned via the news on TV in the background. We also hear that boats carrying refugees are stranded off the Pantelleria coast. If director Luca Guadagnino is making some statement about rock star privilege in contrast with the lives of the far less fortunate, said statement is at once on-the-nose and very muddled.

This film marks Swinton’s fourth collaboration with Guadagnino, after The Protagonists, Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory and I Am Love. Swinton’s natural mystique lends itself well to the character of a rock star, and Swinton has stated that Marianne is a mash-up of the afore-mentioned Bowie, Chrissie Hynde and P. J. Harvey. Marianne does not speak throughout the bulk of the film, to avoid straining her vocal chords, and it turns out that this is a character choice on Swinton’s part. The actress made the film shortly after the passing of her mother, and the anguish and loss that she conveys as Marianne are palpable and affecting, even if this is far from the flashiest performance Swinton has given.

The task of chewing up that sun-washed scenery falls to Fiennes, who is at his most comically unrestrained here. It is a fiery, energetic performance, with Fiennes putting it across that Harry’s garrulous, hyperactive nature might be a façade hiding some real brokenness. Fiennes gets to perform a goofy yet mesmerizing dance to the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescueand yes, we do get more than a fleeting glimpse of Voldermort’s, uh, wand. The power struggle and competition for Marianne’s affections that exists between Harry and Paul provides the bulk of the film’s tension, with Schoenaerts perfectly serviceable as the “safe”, or “safer”, romantic interest. While Johnson probably won’t want her career to be defined by 50 Shades of Grey, she’s not one to shy away from other risqué material, her Penelope coquettish and aloof. This reviewer thinks the original choice of Margot Robbie might have worked better, though.

Guadagnino had such a good time working on A Bigger Splash that he’s reuniting with the four leads on his upcoming remake of the Italian horror classic Suspiria. There are moments when the film sparks to life, but that only occurs in between long stretches of dilly-dallying across the volcanic island. The talented cast spends most of their time spinning their wheels and this reviewer couldn’t help but be reminded of By the Sea, even though A Bigger Splash is considerably more tolerable than that vanity project. With a setting rife for some deliciously dark goings-on to unfold, A Bigger Splash stirs the pot all too rarely and never comes to the boil.

Summary: Somewhat sexy, somewhat dangerous, beautiful to look at but often pointlessly so, A Bigger Splash’s arthouse-ness overcomes its potential for true intrigue and dark humour.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars.

Jedd Jong 

Black Mass

For F*** Magazine


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 


For F*** Magazine


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