Guns Akimbo review

For F*** Magazine

GUNS AKIMBO

Director: Jason Lei Howden
Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
Genre: Action/comedy
Run Time : 1 h 37 mins
Opens : 19 March 2020
Rating : M18

Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career has featured several eclectic roles. From playing a man who grows horns out of his forehead in Horns to playing a corpse in Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe isn’t afraid to get a bit weird. In this movie, a very normal fate befalls his character: getting pistols bolted onto his hands.

Radcliffe plays Miles, a mild-mannered programmer working on a successful mobile game. He takes delight in “trolling the trolls”, engaging in online spats with those who get their kicks from posting deliberate offensive comments. An underground fight club called Skizm is fast gaining popularity, with alarming numbers of people watching the live deathmatches online. After Miles trolls the Skizm chat, he is targeted by Riktor, the mad mastermind behind the game. Riktor and his goons break into Miles’ house and surgically bolt guns to Miles’ hands. He is then forced to fight the reigning Skizm champion Nix (Samara Weaving), who wants to quit the game after this final match. Miles attempts to explain his predicament to his ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and unwittingly involves her in the dangerous proceedings. As the masses watch online, Miles must survive the ordeal and defeat Nix to escape with his life.

Guns Akimbo seems to follow in the tradition of Crank and other Neveldine/Taylor movies: they’re not for everyone, but the people that they are for embrace the craziness. There is something clever and just the right amount of twisted in the premise, with Radcliffe being the ideal sympathetic protagonist. The movie gets a lot of mileage of the logistic challenges of going through life with two loaded guns surgically attached to one’s hands, let alone doing so when someone else is trying to kill you. This is an ambitious action film that wears its neon-soaked, hopped-up style on its sleeve and accomplishes a lot on a limited budget.

The film’s best scene is an exchange between Miles and the vagrant Glenjamin (Rhys Darby), because its one of the few times the movie slows down enough to catch its own breath.

Unfortunately, Guns Akimbo ramps everything to eleven to the point of being altogether numbing. The action is so frenetic that after a while, it stops making an impact. The film’s hyperactivity makes it difficult to engage with, such that it crosses the threshold of being exhilarating to being exhausting. This is something that would have been great as a 15-minute-long short film.

The film’s messaging is confusing: apparently, Miles deserves to have guns bolted to his hands and to be forced into a live deathmatch because he claps back against online trolls. In writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s estimation, it is those who oppose cyberbullies who are worse than the cyberbullies themselves. While Miles’ motivations are far from pure, the movie deems his behaviour worthier of ridicule and scorn than that of online harassers.

Guns Akimbo is so enamoured of its own perceived edginess that it fails to make any insightful or incisive statements on toxic online culture. The movie wants us to root for Miles, but also take sadistic delight in his comeuppance, as if he’s gotten exactly what he deserves. There are times when this film feels like Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer, which was often gross, nihilistic and pointless. It is disheartening but unsurprising that Howden himself perpetuated an online harassment campaign, targeting film journalists and falsely accusing them of driving another film writer to suicide.

In addition to Radcliffe, the film has a strong cast. Samara Weaving is fast becoming a genre darling, especially after starring in last year’s Ready or Not and with Snake Eyes and Bill and Ted Face the Music on the way this year. As the stereotypical leather-clad badass punk girl, Weaving is plenty of fun to watch and the film manages to surprise when it reveals Nix’s back-story.

Ned Dennehy is also great fun as the villainous Riktor, a sadistic close talker who sports a face full of tattoos. Everyone in the film knows what they signed up for, and even though Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s role is pretty much the stock girlfriend, she’s still watchable in the role.

Summary: Guns Akimbo is a would-be cult movie that is too enamoured with its status as a would-be cult movie. It expends more effort loudly announcing how out-there and edgy it is while not being as entertaining as it hypes itself up to be. There are moments when it’s genuinely amusing and Radcliffe is superb in the lead role, but the movie’s manic obnoxiousness winds up working against it. There is a fair bit in Guns Akimbo that works, including its cast and the inventiveness of its premise, but this is a movie that gets in its own way too much to truly be enjoyable.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Imperium

For F*** Magazine

IMPERIUM

Director : Daniel Ragussis
Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell, Pawel Szajda, Chris Sullivan
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 1h 49min
Opens : 29 September 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language)

imperium-posterDaniel Radcliffe solemnly swears he is up to no good, and that’s putting it very mildly. In this thriller, Radcliffe plays Nate Foster, a promising FBI analyst. His superior agent Angela Zamparo (Collette) gives Nate the assignment of infiltrating a Neo-Nazi white supremacist group, in order to foil an impending terror attack. Agent-in-charge Tom Hernandez (Carbonell) thinks that Nate and Zamparo are barking up the wrong tree, but Nate is determined to prove him wrong. Nate fully immerses himself in the role of a skinhead, with the intention of getting close to radio host Dallas Wolf (Letts), whom Nate believes is plotting something big. While he is initially accepted by Vince (Szajda) and his gang, Nate finds himself drawn to Gerry (Trammell), who appears to be a mild-mannered engineer and family man, worlds away from your typical white supremacist thug. At every turn, Nate is in danger of having his cover blown, as he starts to wonder if the risky endeavour was worth it.

Imperium claims to be inspired by real events – it isn’t based on a specific case, but former FBI agent Michael German, who receives a story credit, did have similar experiences on the job. Writer-director Daniel Ragussis makes his feature debut with this gripping film. Imperium invites audiences to not just stare evil in the face, but to dig beneath its skin and see what makes it tick. The scenarios presented are chillingly plausible, and we gain insight into the different facets of the white supremacist movement. The motivations and rationale of these people are established clearly enough. Some of these scenes are heavy on the exposition, but the film stops short of unspooling a manifesto and making the audience read through it line by line. All of the obstacles one imagines Nate might run up against when going undercover do present themselves, but the momentum of the story means it’s easy to overlook some fairly standard procedural plot developments.

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There are a few lines in the screenplay that are unintentionally funny – “we can’t control the ketchup, but we can control the streets” comes to mind (no, we’re not giving any context for that). However, most of the writing is engagingly clever, and it’s evident that Ragussis has given the premise a good amount of consideration. Nate thinks his way out of some truly daunting binds, and we are presented with characters who are very satisfyingly developed. It might be tempting to portray militant racists as one-note monsters or bumbling buffoons, but that would end up quite boring. It’s scarier when we see them as actual people. We learn that there isn’t just one type of white supremacist, and that there are rivalries of ideology even within that community. Imperium details why some would be drawn to the cause, while also acknowledging its danger.

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That’s not to say that Imperium is a work of unparalleled nuance: Ragussis falls back on familiar shock tactics, including sweet-looking children spouting hateful rhetoric. Flashing images of marching hate groups fill the screen, which comes quite close to hitting the audience over the head.

Many child actors dive headlong into eyebrow-raising, ‘adult’ roles in an effort to shake off any potential type-casting. One could dismiss Radcliffe as doing just that, but his varied post-Harry Potter career on the stage and screen shows that he is putting in the work to cement himself as a serious actor. He gives an Oscar-worthy performance here, creating a fully-rounded character whose harrowing journey is easy to go along with. Nate starts out looking like John Oliver Jr., and then goes full skinhead. Not the most drastic physical transformation, but striking all the same. This is an intelligent character who is able to apply what he’s studied to practical use, and who does his homework – there’s a montage of Nate diligently poring over Mein Kampf, Essays of a Klansmen and books of their ilk. He doesn’t look like he’s cut out for undercover work, but goes on to prove that he has a real knack for it. It’s a generalization, but English actors seem to struggle with American accents – we’ll be darned if Radcliffe doesn’t sound really natural here.

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Collette’s Zamparo is the authoritative maternal figure, and she seems to play the role a little too broadly. However, the interactions between Zamparo and Nate do reveal just enough about their respective characters, with a big part of Nate’s motivation being his eagerness to impress his superior. Letts avoids turning his radio host character into a blustery blowhard, and the character is all the more insidious for it. Trammell’s charming turn is disarming – Gerry is the friendly neighbour who builds a treehouse for his kids and throws barbeque parties; his wife makes cupcakes – albeit cupcakes that are decorated with Swastika frosting. The way Gerry views Nate as a potential successor in the movement and the hospitality he shows to Nate provide nail-biting tension cloaked in suburban normalcy.

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Imperium succeeds as a blistering thriller and a searing voyage down some foreboding paths. It may not be terribly complex, but there is a palpable effort to ask difficult questions, and it will give your skin a workout from all that crawling it’ll be doing. A likeable protagonist trying to keep a grip on his sanity as he plunges into the lion’s den ties it all together.

Summary: Placing the audience on the razor’s edge alongside its protagonist, Imperium is an affecting and deeply engrossing thriller boasting a captivating lead performance by Daniel Radcliffe.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Now You See Me 2

For F*** Magazine

NOW YOU SEE ME 2

Director : Jon M. Chu
Cast : Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Jay Chou, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Sanaa Lathan
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 10 mins
Opens : 16 June 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

The Four Horsemen ride again with new tricks up their respective sleeves in the sequel to Now You See Me. It’s been a year since the events of the first film, and Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco) have been lying low, awaiting instructions from The Eye, the secret society into which they were inducted. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) attempts to keep up the charade of pursuing the Horsemen while secretly leading them. Replacing Henley Reeves, who grew tired of waiting, is the enthusiastic Lula (Caplan). The Horsemen’s new mission is to expose the unethical practices of smartphone manufacturer Octa, but a spanner is thrown in the works by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), Octa’s reclusive co-founder. The Horsemen find themselves in Macau, and must seek the help of magic shop proprietor Li (Chou) as Mabry forces them to pull off a nigh-impossible heist. In the meantime, both former benefactor Arthur Tressler (Caine) and magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) seek their vengeance on the Horsemen.



            Jon M. Chu replaces Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair for the second instalment of what studio Lionsgate is hoping shapes up to be their next big franchise. If the first film offered up flashy spectacle and a plot comprised of puzzle pieces that did not quite fit together in hindsight, Now You See Me 2 gives audiences more of the same. The screenplay by Ed Solomon ties itself into knots that do not untangle despite giving the appearance of doing so. This might seem like a film that imagines itself to be far smarter than it really is, but the more likely scenario is that the filmmakers are well aware that these movies will not hold up to scrutiny and that audiences will be content with revelling in the moment. Chu brings slickness and swagger to the proceedings that ever so slightly papers over the gaping plot holes. The director’s dance movie expertise is evident in several sequences that are elaborately choreographed, but ultimately more dizzying than dazzling.

            The first film’s greatest asset was its cast, comprising actors whose charisma and charm could almost rival that of Danny Ocean and his 11, if only the Four Horsemen weren’t outnumbered. Isla Fisher was unable to reprise the role of Henley Reeves due to her pregnancy, so Henley was written out and Lizzy Caplan steps in as new character Lula. The danger with these characters is that being showmen, they’re all egotistical and obnoxious to different degrees. Harrelson seems to be having twice as much fun as before, but comes across as irritating rather than actually funny. Atlas’ haughty, twitchy nature is something Eisenberg has no problems conveying, but Atlas has had to eat some humble pie since the events of the last film, and Eisenberg convincingly portrays that character development too. Caplan is a likeable performer, but her “over-eager new girl” shtick does also wear on the nerves after a while.

Rhodes’ charade is up and the audience knows that he is not only on the Horsemen’s side, but actively leading them. Ruffalo gives the role far more effort than it deserves, and his presence does elevate the material. Quite amusingly, Ruffalo becomes the latest Hollywood actor who has to pretend to be adept at speaking Mandarin Chinese. As the primary antagonist, Radcliffe isn’t exactly easy to buy as someone who would be able to run rings around the Horsemen. The actor has explored his darker side in other film and stage projects, but there’s supposed to be menace behind Walter’s smile, menace that Radcliffe is unable to muster.



It’s abundantly clear that Chou’s inclusion and the Macau setting merely serves to pander to Chinese audiences. Veteran actress Tsai Chin (not to be confused with the Taiwanese singer of the same name), who plays Li’s grandmother Bu Bu, is a far livelier screen presence than Chou. The film calls upon Caine and Freeman to provide gravitas while not doing very much at all, something the iconic actors do without breaking a sweat.

            Now You See Me 2 alternates between being supremely entertaining and frustrating. There’s glitz, glamour and eye candy effects work galore, but twist after twist after twist does not a truly engrossing thriller make. That’s the paradox: it does not hold up to close examination, yet invites audiences to do so. Ultimately, your enjoyment of Now You See Me 2 is contingent on just how willing you are to be taken on a ride. You’ll get bamboozled, but you just might have fun in the process.



Summary: Now You See Me 2 doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the first movie convinced general audiences that making sense isn’t the goal here. The goal is to entertain while misdirecting, and this has entertainment and misdirection in spades.

RATING: 3 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