Wonder Woman

For F*** Magazine

WONDER WOMAN 

Director : Patty Jenkins
Cast : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 21min
Opens : 31 May 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

All the world’s been waiting for her, and at long last, here she is in a movie of her own. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) is a demigoddess raised by the mythical Amazons on the island of Themyscira. Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen) wants to shield her from the outside world, while Diana’s aunt General Antiope (Wright) wants to train Diana into a warrior. When American pilot Captain Steve Trevor (Pine) crash-lands on Themyscira, Diana volunteers to escort him back to the outside world, against her mother’s wishes. It is the final days of World War I, and German General Erich Ludendorff (Huston) is working alongside treacherous chemist Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison (Anaya), devising deadly weapons to use in the war. Diana befriends Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (Davis), and goes to the front to end the war. Diana is accompanied by Steve’s ragtag band of operatives, including Sameer (Taghmaoui), Charlie (Bremner) and Chief (Brave Rock). However, the forces they face are beyond mere armies of men.

Wonder Woman made her first appearance in Sensation Comics in 1941, and a big screen solo outing for the superheroine is long overdue. After varied failed attempts to bring the character to the screen, DC has finally found success – and what a success this is. The DC Extended Universe has generally been greeted with scorn. Moviegoers heading into this movie can be roughly grouped into two categories: those who are eager to see this fail because it’s a DC film, and those who are cautiously optimistic. With Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins has crafted a movie that might stun detractors into silence. Working from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg (known in the comics sphere for Young Avengers and his Wonder Woman run), who rewrote earlier drafts by Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder, Jenkins has delivered a worthy epic that does the iconic character great justice. The filmmakers demonstrate an innate understanding of what makes Wonder Woman tick, and eloquently articulate her motivations, laying out the events that shape her into the heroine she becomes.

Jenkins must have faced the dilemma of depicting an action heroine who’s all about peace, love and understanding: as the lyrics of the theme song go, “make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love”. On one hand, Diana stands for all that is good and pure, and on the other, she’s a bona fide badass who is formidable in battle. Wonder Woman navigates the quandary admirably, and gets surprisingly moving in the process. While the film doesn’t try to give a simple answer to why it’s in mankind’s nature to fight, it attempts to make sense of why conflict comes so naturally to us, and how someone from outside man’s world would process this. It’s also tonally assured: the scenes of war get the appropriate gravitas, but there is a healthy amount of fish-out-of-water comedy, though not so much as to take one out of it. Some took issue with Batman v Superman’s handling of philosophical issues, and Wonder Woman doesn’t get too bogged down with big questions as it serves up plenty of spectacle.

There’s a grandeur to the film, which takes us from the idyllic fantasy paradise of Themyscira to the gritty corpse-strewn battlefield of the Western Front. Aline Bonetto’s production design and Lindy Hemming’s costume design makes Themyscira a thoroughly-realised world, supplemented by location filming on the Italian coast. The statuesque Amazons are fantastical figures, yes, but their domain is immersive and believable. There is enough authenticity to the settings of London, Belgium and the Ottoman Empire, such that this works as a war movie. The action sequences are exciting and staged with finesse, the fight choreography incorporating Diana’s sword, shield, lasso and bracelets. They are just the right degree of showy, a dazzling blend of elegance and strength. When Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and charges brazenly through No Man’s Land, it’s wont to give viewers quite the buzz.

Gadot’s casting was met with considerable backlash, and if her turn in Batman v Superman made doubters eat their words, she’s back with a heaping second serving here. Gadot more than proves herself as the ideal embodiment of the superheroine. Diana starts out as an idealist, and Gadot parses the character’s status as an invincible naïf. Audiences at large are not as familiar with Wonder Woman’s back-story as they are the origin tales of Superman, Batman or Spider-Man, and it is told coherently and engagingly. Not only does Gadot truly come into her own as a leading lady in this film, but she looks absolutely fantastic doing it – in both the action sequences and the quiet dramatic moments.

In many comic book films, the romance tends to feel tacked on. This isn’t the case here. The strapping, roguish Steve Trevor is Diana’s primary link to man’s world, and the relationship between the two is crucial to the plot. Through Steve’s eyes, Diana sees both the good and the evil that man is capable of. Pine is charming as always, with a twinkle in his eye and never a hair out of place. It seems like a bit of a waste to cast him as Steve Trevor instead of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, since Hal is pretty much Captain Kirk. Still, it’s great that Steve is drawn with some depth, instead of being the standard dashing but boring hero. Owing to the respect he shows Diana, he’s as good a role model as she is.

Davis’ bubbly Etta Candy is true to how the character is portrayed in the comics, and as the designated comic relief, she stays a safe distance from being annoying. While Steve’s band of merry men all exhibit stereotypical traits, they get enough development. Taghmaoui is suave and amusing, Bremner has fun playing the wild-eyed Scotsman but also brings out the trauma that mars the character, and Brave Rock is steadfast and a comforting presence as Chief. While Huston and Anaya play largely generic villains, they serve the plot well and chew just enough scenery.

There was a lot riding on this film, with the fear that if it failed, it would spell doom for any female-led comic book movies going forward, just as Catwoman and Elektra sounded the death knell all those years ago. Those fears should be allayed, as this is a grand, heartfelt and rousing film. Despite its 141-minute running time, Wonder Woman doesn’t feel bloated and is light on its feet. At once refreshing and reminiscent of classic wartime romance films, Wonder Woman is a giant leap forward for the DC Extended Universe.

Summary: A soaring, inspiring adventure centred by Gal Gadot’s assured star turn, Wonder Woman is the movie long-time fans of the iconic superheroine have been waiting for.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Regression

For F*** Magazine

REGRESSION

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast : Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Lothaire Bluteau, David Dencik, Aaron Ashmore
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Sexual Scenes)

Ethan Hawke is out to unearth diabolical secrets in a small town in this mystery thriller. Hawke plays Detective Bruce Kenner of Hoyer, Minnesota, who is investigating the case of John Gray (Dencik). Gray confesses that he sexually assaulted his daughter Angela (Watson) but has no recollection of it. It is 1990 and the wave of “Satanic panic” sweeping America is at its height. Kenner begins to suspect that a devil-worshipping cult might have a hand in the case. Psychology professor Kenneth Raines (Thewlis) is called upon to perform “regression hypnosis”, a therapy intended to unlock repressed memories. Kenner goes to meet with Angela, clearly troubled and now under the care of Reverend Murray (Bluteau). Nobody is above suspicion, including Kenner’s partner, Detective George Nesbitt (Ashmore). As Kenner becomes more preoccupied with the case, he is afflicted by horrifying nightmares – but are they just dreams or something far more sinister?

            Regression is written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, whose best-known English language film is the Nicole Kidman-starring supernatural thriller The Others. While gloomy, oppressive atmosphere abounds in Regression, actual thrills and scares are scarce. The film claims to be inspired by true events, but it’s referencing the “Satanic panic” of the 80s and early 90s in general rather than any specific case. During this period, many Evangelical Christians were convinced that devil-worshipping, baby-sacrificing cults were operating right under their noses. Regression does that old dance of “maybe something supernatural is afoot, maybe it’s all perfectly explainable,” going around in circles until it reaches its predictable, unsatisfying reveal.

            Hawke has repeatedly proven himself as a talented leading man, but the Bruce Kenner character is a bland protagonist, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. He’s basically every movie detective ever, yelling at suspects during interrogations, letting the case get under his skin, in danger of being consumed by his quest for the truth, etc. He doesn’t seem to be very good at police work either: if leaping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, then Bruce Kenner would be a gold medallist. This is a movie in which the main character amounts to little more than a plot device.



            Watson is the big draw here, and while she’s certainly competent, she doesn’t get very much to do either. Angela is the scared little girl, the weeping victim. Watson is believable as a small town girl, affecting a convincing accent, but the question of whether Angela is a survivor of unspeakable trauma or is stringing everyone along failed to hook this reviewer’s interest. There is a modicum of amusement to see Thewlis and Watson together onscreen, meaning it’s a Hermione and Remus Lupin reunion. Hoyer is presented as a small town in which everyone is some degree of creepy, though nobody is memorably so. Even Dale Dickey’s crazy cat lady hysterics as Angela’s grandmother Rosie fail to enliven the proceedings.



            Regression partakes in a laundry list of horror clichés, including an obvious, heavy-handed score by Roque Baños, eerie visions of dagger-wielding hooded cultists in white makeup and a jump-scare-by-cat. At the same time, it very much wants to be taken seriously as a grim exposé of how mass paranoia can cloud perception. The hallucinogenic haze never wraps itself around the audience, the spooky misdirection pointless rather than intriguing. Amenábar tries his darndest to sell the movie as a suspenseful mind trip, but most viewers familiar with the genre won’t be fooled for a second. Offering neither riveting tension nor all-out scares, Regression is dour and unsatisfying.

Summary: Regression is ominous in its atmosphere but obvious in its plotting, actors Hawke and Watson unable to imbue it with any energy.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Legend

For F*** Magazine

LEGEND

Director : Brian Helgeland
Cast : Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Chazz Palminteri
Genre : Drama/Crime
Run Time : 132 mins
Opens : 12 November 2015
Rating : M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)
After going Mad earlier this year, Tom Hardy’s going Kray-zy in this gangster biopic. Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, identical twins who ruled the London criminal underworld in the 60s. Reggie is the savvy businessman while institutionalized Ronnie is the unhinged, unpredictable loose cannon. After threatening a psychiatrist into declaring Ronnie sane, the pair rise through the ranks, running protection rackets and buying up nightclubs. Reggie falls in love with Frances Shea (Browning) who eventually marries him, much to the disapproval of her mother (Tara Fitzgerald). In the meantime, Ronnie openly pursues a relationship with Teddy (Egerton). The twins become business associates of Philadelphia crime family don Angelo Bruno (Palminteri) and are pursued by Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read (Eccleston), intent on putting an end to their reign of terror. 
Legend is based on John Pearson’s biography The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. The twins were the subject of the 1990 biopic The Krays as well as the straight-to-DVD 2015 film The Rise of the Krays, the latter apparently made to ride the coattails of this film. Writer-director Brian Helgeland earned his crime movie bona fides with 1997’s Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential and the Kray twins’ colourful history and trail of violence makes them attractive true crime biopic subjects. While Legend is a superb showcase for its star, it falls short in almost all other departments. Like many period gangster movies, Legend all too frequently invokes the classics of the genre while feeling like a mere echo. Its portrayal of 60s London is at once stylish and slightly artificial, Helgeland never achieving the authenticity he strives for. 
The film falls into a pattern of Ronnie doing something despicable and outrageous with Reggie cleaning up after him, the twins often coming into conflict with each other and those around them. It’s odd: even though the film spends a lot of time with its central characters, it doesn’t dig very deep into the psychology of the twins and by its conclusion, we only actually understand very little about them. It is eventful, but sometimes difficult to follow, everything tied together with a voiceover by Browning’s Frances. The voiceover is often heavy-handed and there are some clumsy attempts at breaking the fourth wall. In the end, it feels like the main purpose this voiceover serves is to give Frances some semblance of agency, since for most of the film, she is just there, just “the wife”.
Hardy has emerged as an A-lister who can headline big-budget blockbusters and prestige dramas with equal ease, and his dual role here is plenty impressive. Of course it’s gimmicky, but it’s a gimmick that works. With the help of body double Jacob Tomuri (who was Hardy’s stunt double in Mad Max: Fury Road and the upcoming The Revenant) and some clever visual effects trickery, two distinct versions of the actor co-exist and after a while, the sleight of hand becomes truly seamless. When Ronnie and Reggie come to blows during an especially heated argument, the fight is spectacularly convincing. Affecting an East End dialect, Hardy is able to play both twins as distinct characters, the end result far less stilted than when Armie Hammer’s head was duplicated and pasted onto Josh Pence’s body to play the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. Reggie is the tortured antihero and Ronnie is the wild-eyed, mal-adjusted psychopath. In very loose terms, Reggie is the “good” twin, though that is of course relative. 
The afore-mentioned Browning looks gorgeous, appropriately retro-chic in a selection of 60s ensembles, but is given little to do beyond fretting over her husband’s illegal activities. Christopher Eccleston huffs and puffs as the cop on the Krays’ case, but Helgeland doesn’t seem too interest in the cat-and-mouse cops vs. criminals aspect of the story. Egerton, having made a splash in Kingsman: The Secret Service earlier this year, is also underused as Ron’s boy toy. Paul Bettany pops up very briefly as rival gangster Charlie Richardson. The British character actors who make up the Krays’ criminal posse come off as sufficiently tough and unsavoury, with Palminteri adding a touch of American mob movie cred. 
Given how Legend has been positioned as an awards contender, the film ends up surprisingly superficial. Even more so than other gangster films, it revolves around relationships, given its main characters are twins, but few of those relationships are satisfyingly developed and explored. Slick but formulaic and often unfocused, Legend offers very little real insight into the lives of the fascinating Kray twins. 
Summary: Tom Hardy’s dual role is dynamite stuff, but Legend is hampered by its heightened glossiness and is ultimately too shallow to pass as a gripping biopic. 

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong