Geostorm

For inSing

GEOSTORM

Director : Dean Devlin
Cast : Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Amr Waked, Eugenio Derbez, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia
Genre : Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 12 October 2017
Rating : PG13

There was a period in the 90s when disaster movies were huge: think TwisterDante’s PeakVolcanoArmageddonDeep Impact, movies like that. Roland Emmerich attempted to revive that subgenre in 2000s with films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Now, Emmerich’s long-time co-writer and co-producer Dean Devlin has made Geostorm, which is like one of those movies on steroids.

            In the near future, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is a scientist and astronaut who supervised the creation of a network of satellites that regulates the earth’s climate, nicknamed ‘Dutch Boy’. Jake’s younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who works at the U.S. State Department, calls on Jake when Dutch Boy starts malfunctioning, causing freak weather incidents around the world. Jake travels to the International Space Station, working with an international crew of astronauts led by Commander Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara) from Germany.

            Back on the ground, Cheng Long (Daniel Wu), who supervises the Dutch Boy satellite positioned over Hong Kong, informs Max of a possible conspiracy to sabotage the satellite. At the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, Max convinces his girlfriend Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), a Secret Service agent, to help him kidnap President Andrew Palma (Andy García). The President is the only man with the kill codes to shut down the satellite before more damage is caused. It’s a race against time to stop the ultimate calamity: a Geostorm.

            In many ways, movies like Geostorm are why this writer wanted to become a film critic. It’s definitely not a good movie, but is ludicrously entertaining and might just be the best comedy of the year.

The movie underwent a troubled production, and disastrous test screenings led to Warner Bros. ordering reshoots which reportedly cost $15 million. Because Devlin was unavailable, Danny Cannon was brought in to conduct the reshoots, with Laeta Kalogridis rewriting the screenplay, cutting characters from the film and adding new ones. Presumably, the reshoots added more jokes, giving the movie a semblance of self-awareness. As it stands, Geostorm is halfway between a straight-ahead disaster thriller and a full-on comedy. It ends up hitting the sweet spot, in that it is maximally entertaining, never unwatchable and funnier than it would’ve been had it been an intentionally bad movie akin to Sharknado.

One of the punchlines bandied about when the trailers for Geostorm first came out were that it looked like a SyFy Channel original movie with a $150 million budget. It is glorious that so many resources were spent on something this stupid. It’s a little like the Transformers movies, but Geostorm is never as smug, never as insulting, never as unbearable or self-indulgent as those films can be. The visual effects look great, and the spectacle is grand, especially in IMAX 3D. There’s an action sequence in which two astronauts are on a spacewalk and one of their spacesuits begins malfunctioning. It’s genuinely thrilling and staged quite well.

Naturally, the timing isn’t ideal. 2017 has seen several devastating hurricanes in quick succession, making it harder to accept large-scale global destruction as popcorn escapism. This is mitigated somewhat by the sci-fi context and inherent goofiness of the whole enterprise, but it is a touch tasteless that the film opens with what appears to be actual news footage of natural disasters and the dead left in their aftermath.

The movie is crammed full of stock characters, none of whom even remotely feel like they could be real people. Butler’s filmography is filled with awful movies, and Geostorm feels like the ideal use of his talents. Jake is the  totally reckless but ultimately noble hero, a man of action who’s also a super-genius, and Butler is plenty of fun in the role.

Playing opposite Butler as the brother with whom Jake doesn’t quite get along, Sturgess summons likeable earnestness and tries to take the material as seriously as possible. Cornish gets to do a little more than your average ‘designated girlfriend’ in a film of this genre does, taking the wheel and shooting at pursuers during a car chase. Unlike your average Michael Bay film, Geostorm isn’t misogynistic, and Alexandra Maria Lara’s space station commander character Ute is capable and an equal to Jake Lawson.

For his part, García plays a credible president, getting to yell the line “I am the god***n President of the United States of America!” Zazie Beetz, who is playing Domino in Deadpool 2, makes for a fun comic relief hacker character.

Geostorm is the rare mega-budget movie that’s genuinely so bad it’s good. This reviewer burst into fits of laughter any time a character says the word ‘Geostorm’ out loud, or when the word appears on a screen above a countdown timer. Sure, it’s bad, but it moves briskly and is absurdly enjoyable. If you can somehow get discounted tickets to see this in IMAX 3D, maybe as part of a cinema loyalty card program, do so.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Mother!

For inSing

MOTHER!

Director : Darren Aronofsky
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2h 2m
Opens : 14 September 2017
Rating : NC16 (Horror/Violence)

Jennifer Lawrence gets in touch with her maternal side – and an infernal side – in this psychological horror film from Darren Aronofsky. Lawrence’s character, the otherwise-unnamed Mother, is the wife of an author, the otherwise-unnamed Him (Bardem). Mother and Him have moved into a remote house, which Mother is attempting to fix up while Him struggles with writer’s block. Out of the blue, the couple is visited by an Orthopaedic surgeon, Man (Harris), and Man’s wife Woman (Pfeiffer). Man professes to be a fan of Him’s writing, and Him appreciates the attention, but Mother becomes wary of their new guests. This opens the gateway to more surprise visits, as Mother and Him grapple with issues within their marriage that are made manifest by the strangers who have come to their house.

Mother! is a film that is difficult to review because the filmmakers want us to know as little about it as possible. The marketing has had to be creative, because it’s such a challenging film to sell – a deejay friend of this reviewer’s received an actual pig’s heart in a box as a gift from the movie’s distributor. This is very much an arthouse film, and audiences going to see it because of Jennifer Lawrence will be thrown for a loop. Mother! is packed with potent imagery and thought-provoking ideas, but it feels like a film that was made with the intent to alienate the audience. Aronofsky does a fine job of establishing mounting dread, and there is a pervasive uneasiness to the affair, but because Mother! is so mannered and arch, there’s a barrier separating the viewer from the movie. This makes it difficult to get into, and no matter how intense and visceral the movie becomes, it engenders a certain detachedness.

As with many arthouse films, there is plenty to pick apart and muse over, and there are several themes that root the movie. Mother! reflects the power to create and to destroy inherent in every person. Mother! touches upon the culture of celebrity worship, and how cult-like it can become. Mother! is about the relationship between artists and their audience. Mother! is about the anxiety of, well, motherhood, the joy and hardships of bringing another human being into the world. Mother! is about how women can be side-lined, about how wives are sometimes forced to alter their lives to orbit around their husbands. One could write a paper, nay, several papers about Mother!, but perhaps a film should be more than something to dissect.

There’s a purity to Lawrence’s presence in this film, and she emanates an almost ethereal radiance. This is different from other projects she’s undertaken, clearly pushing the actress outside her comfort zone. While the character seems to be victimised for most of the film, she does bring a quiet strength to the role. Audiences know Bardem is capable of being creepy, and to his credit, he doesn’t come across as overtly evil – but we’re plenty suspicious of him all the same. Lawrence and Bardem are mismatched, but that seems to be the point, with the age gap between them being repeatedly pointed out by other characters.

The story is focused tightly on the dynamic between Mother and Him, but the supporting players do make an impact. Pfeiffer is especially fun to watch as someone who’s passive-aggressive and calculative, but outwardly pleasant. Of all the performers, Pfeiffer appears to be having the most fun. There is a certain Saturday Night Live who shows up later in the film – if you don’t who this is yet, it’s a fun surprise, but also comes off as deliberately gimmicky.

Mother! has attracted its share of controversy – you might have seen headlines online along the lines of “Mother! could be the most hated film of 2017” or “Has Darren Aronofsky gone too far?” After a near-excruciating slow burn, Mother! does build to a chaotic, gory frenzy. There are moments of raw, searing power here, and it is immensely thought-provoking. However, because of how much attention the film draws to its own construction, and how desperately it seems to want to be seen as a piece of art, Mother! is more a bubbled-over cauldron of allegory and metaphor than an absorbing story.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Cymbeline

For F*** Magazine

CYMBELINE 

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 

Run All Night

For F*** Magazine

RUN ALL NIGHT

Director : Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Boyd Holbrook, Genesis Rodriguez, Common, Bruce McGill, Holt McCallany
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 12 March 2015
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Liam Neeson goes from training the Dark Knight to running all night in this crime thriller. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, an aging hitman who used to work for crime boss Shawn Maguire (Harris). Shawn has supposedly reformed, and refuses to do business with drug dealers who are brought to him by his son Danny (Holbrook). It just so happens that Jimmy’s son Mike (Kinnaman), a limousine driver, is hired by Danny and witnesses a deal go horribly awry. Jimmy ends up killing Danny to save Mike, which leads to Shawn ordering that both father and son be killed in retaliation. Mike resents his father for the strain that being a hitman put on their relationship, but the duo have to stick together if they want to survive this long, brutal night.  



            Run All Night marks the third collaboration between Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also helmed Unknown and Non-Stop. Neeson claims that this will be his last action-centric leading role in a while. As cool as the actor always is, he is very much in danger of being a caricature of himself, if the Taken memes still all over the internet are anything to go by. Unfortunately, even though it’s meant to be more dramatic and character-driven than the Takenmovies, Run All Night is still a let-down. Collet-Serra intends for it to be a gritty 70s-style crime flick, set in a grimy, misty New York City during the Christmas season over 16 hours. However, the scene transitions are Google Maps-style CGI camera moves, swooping out of one street, up over the city, and right into another. This comes off as nothing more than a jarring stylistic flourish, supposedly to disguise how surprisingly boring the film ends up being.

            The story is a predictable one – an ex-hitman must wade back into the muddy waters of his former life when things get personal. That logline can also be used to describe last year’s John Wick. Where that movie was surprisingly inventive, original and stylish, Run All Night is, well, a more run of the mill affair. The two relationships at its core are the personal connection between an enforcer and his old boss/long-time friend and between said enforcer and his estranged son. Brad Ingelsby’s screenplay strains to make this more than your typical father-son action movie team-up – the relationship isn’t amusingly dysfunctional, it’s downright toxic. And yet, it’s just not sufficiently compelling, some moments unintentionally funny rather than dark and dramatic. During the first half of the film, when Jimmy and Shawn wistfully reminisce about their youth, it’s meant to set up this deep bond that will inevitably be shattered over the course of the film, but it feels more like filler than anything else.

                Liam Neeson grimaces, wields a gun and talks tough through gritted teeth – daring, uncharted territory for the actor. We all love Liam Neeson but especially coming on the heels of the dismal Taken 3, it’s very easy to see why audiences are getting tired of this character type. Joel Kinnaman is good here as a clean-cut family man who wants nothing to do with the dangerous, seedy world which his father was a part of. He’s certainly less annoying than Jai Courtney’s Jack McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. Alas, the clash of titans that is Liam Neeson vs. Ed Harris is something of a let-down. When all is said and done, it feels like Harris hasn’t really done all that much throughout the film, even though he has a substantial role. Harris is an unsung old-school cinematic badass, so seeing him go toe to toe with the old-school cinematic badass du jour should be more of an event. The macho friends-turned-enemies plot is undercut by what can be interpreted as homoerotic undertones between the two characters. Common shows up as an ice-cold bespectacled assassin; his night-vision eyepiece and high-powered pistol equipped with a laser sight likely referencing the first Terminator movie. He provides the best thrills of the film.  

            Run All Night is too predictable and contrived to work as an engrossing crime drama but also lacks the over-the-top action spectacle required to make it successful as a piece of escapist entertainment, falling into an uncomfortable no man’s land. It’s sturdily-constructed, shot well and solidly acted all around, but it has nothing to distinguish it from every other New York-set crime thriller out there.

Summary:Nowhere near as exciting as its title makes it sound, Run All Night never goes off the beaten crime thriller path. Its central trio do turn in strong performances, but even then the film can’t outrun the realm of the generic.
RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Planes: Fire and Rescue

For F*** Magazine

PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE

Director : Roberts Gannaway
Cast : Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Stacy Keach, Danny Mann, Julie Bowen, Wes Studi, Dale Dye, Teri Hatcher, Hal Holbrook
Opens : 4 September 2014
Rating : G
Running time: 84 mins

 

         This year, we’ve seen the release of some highly anticipated sequels: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to name a few. Here’s one that’s not so highly anticipated, the follow-up to last year’s Carsspin-off Planes. Facing trouble with his gearbox, cropduster-turned-racing-champ Dusty (Cook) is forced to give up racing. Dusty decides to train to become a firefighter, stepping in for aging fire truck Mayday (Holbrook). Reporting for duty at Piston Peak National Park, he is mentored by the gruff Blade Ranger (Harris) and attracts the over-zealous affection of new colleague Lil’ Dipper (Bowen).

            Following the box-office success of Planes, originally intended as a straight-to-video release, one imagines the discussion in the Disney boardroom went something like this: “okay, so we sold lots of tickets and merchandise on that Cars with Wings movie. Let’s rush out a sequel. What can happen in this one?”


“Uh, he becomes a firefighter?”
“What has that got to do with racing?

“Uh, nothing.”
“Great! Now go make that movie.”
            Disney has long been held as a bastion of quality family entertainment, but they’re most certainly not above churning out a production line flick for the sake of making a quick buck. Planes: Fire and Rescue combines another formulaic story with juvenile humour and a few quick, inappropriately dirty gags for the older audience members to snicker at. Just as in the previous film, the animation is not bad at all, given DisneyToon Studios’ reputation as the B-team. The kids will go in for the bright colours and there’s a white water rapids sequence that’s somewhat cool. However, the film fails to muster up any real energy or sense of peril. This is a movie about fighting fires and yet it is largely bereft of thrills or any semblance of danger. Kids want to be excited and wowed too; at least a few will find this film lacklustre – especially when compared with the airborne action of the afore-mentioned How to Train Your Dragon sequel.

            Believe us when we say this: yet again, your personal tolerance threshold for puns will be tested. One of the VIPs at a mountain resort re-opening is “Boat Reynolds”, Dusty exclaims “I kicked As-ton Martin up there!” and apparently, a “George Lexus” produced “Howard the Truck”. Just as the first film had its cringe-inducing national stereotypes with racing planes from various nations, here we get Wes Studi as the Native American helicopter Windlifter, speaking entirely in stock platitudes. There’s not much to say about the voice acting. Dane Cook tries to sound earnest and it’s easier not wanting to punch the notoriously unlikeable comedian without seeing his face. Ed Harris does the “harsh taskmaster who actually has a tragic back-story” thing fine; he’s Ed Harris. Julie Bowen squeaks through all her lines as the clingy, borderline stalker-ish Dipper. The vocal cameos by real-life Hollywood couple Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara as two elderly RVs celebrating their anniversary lends the slightest modicum of charm to the often-grating proceedings. “CHoPs”, a take-off on 70s cop show CHiPs but starring two helicopters, did get a chuckle out of this reviewer.

            The film opens with a surprisingly solemn title card that reads “dedicated to the courageous firefighters around the world who risk their lives to save the lives of others” as noble-sounding horns play in the background. What follows are talking planes, bad puns and a moth-eaten story. We have the utmost respect for firefighters and other emergency servicemen and women – if we were firefighters, we’d be feeling at least a little insulted. At one point, Dipper lowers her retractable wing pontoon, squeezing Dusty next to her. “Oh yeah, they’re real,” she purrs. Real classy, DisneyToon Studios. Real classy.

Summary: Solid animation can’t make up for how rushed, formulaic and alternately unfunny and lowbrow Planes: Fire and Rescue is. They can’t all be Frozen.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong