Incarnate

For F*** Magazine

INCARNATE 

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Aaron Eckhart, David Mazouz, Carice Van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Matt Nable, Carolina Wydra, Emjay Anthony
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : PG13 (Horror and Some Coarse Language)

incarnate-posterWhatever you do, don’t call Dr. Seth Ember (Eckhart) an ‘exorcist’. What others call ‘demons’, he calls ‘parasitic entities’. It’s all strictly scientific, and Ember isn’t affiliated with any religious organisation. When the Vatican sends Dr. Camilla Marquez (Moreno) to engage his services, Ember wants nothing to do with it. However, he is enticed by the possibility that the case is connected to the death of his wife and son, the same apparent accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. 11-year-old Cameron Sparrow (Mazouz) is possessed by an arch-demon. His recently-divorced parents Lindsay (Van Houten) and Dan (Nable) fear for their son’s life, as it becomes obvious that something evil has taken him over. Ember must dive into Sparrow’s subconscious to forcibly oust the entity, but will his own demons get the better of him?

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Incarnate is the latest horror flick from producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse, who partnered with WWE Studios on this one. It’s easy to see why Blum was drawn to the project: what savvy producer would pass up a film with the logline “Inception meets The Exorcist”? Unfortunately, Incarnate is less than the sum of its parts.

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This reviewer’s interest was initially piqued by the psychological thriller spin put on the usual supernatural horror formula: Dr. Ember proclaims himself to be a man of science, adamant against running errands for the Vatican. The execution is clumsy, with Dr. Ember’s assistant Riley (Emily Jackson) uttering the line “each of us is like a wifi hotspot” in one of those “explain the technical concept to a layperson” exposition scenes. All the imagery associated with demonic possession – bodies flying across the room, pupils turning inky black, a deep spooky voice emanating from a child, and black acid spewed from the mouth – is stuff genre aficionados will find overly familiar.

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While Eckhart does invest effort in playing the haunted shell of a man that is Dr. Ember, the character never becomes more than a mere assemblage of clichés. He’s a shadow of his former self, shattered after the trauma of losing his family. Eckhart apparently went method, disguising himself as a wheelchair-bound, mentally ill war veteran to yell at passers-by at Venice Beach in California. We can’t say all that effort was worth it. There is a neat device here, though: when we see Ember in reality, he’s dishevelled, but when he enters his patients’ subconscious, he’s clean-shaven and has the use of his legs.

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Mazouz plays the creepy kid, bringing nothing new to the table. He’s a fine actor, but we’ve seen all the intense staring and glowing eyes before. This comes right on the heels of Ouija: Origin of Evil, in which Lulu Wilson made for a far scarier possessed child. DC Comics fans might find it amusing that Two-Face is exorcising young Batman, seeing as Mazouz plays Bruce Wayne on Gotham. As a bonus, Cameron’s dad is played by Ra’s al Ghul from Arrow. Yes, this is how we kept ourselves amused through the dullness of Incarnate.

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Both female leads are talented performers: we know Van Houten from Game of Thrones, and Moreno was nominated for an Oscar for Maria Full of Grace, her first film role. Neither gets very much to do, which can’t help but feel like a waste. Ember’s assistants Oliver (Keir O’Donnell) and Riley are supposed to add some personality to the proceedings, but they’re more than a little ridiculous. It’s as if director Brad Peyton thought that if Oliver had tattoos and Riley wore necklaces and a beanie, they’d automatically be hip and with it.

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Incarnate promises a mind-bending take on the supernatural horror formula, but has no tricks up its sleeves. The twist is easy to see through since it’s clear what the film’s influences are, and we get a cop-out ending as the cherry on top. Blumhouse is always on the hunt for a new horror franchise, but we hope they let this one lie. Then again, maybe they’ll pull an Ouija: Origin of Evil and make a killer follow-up.

Summary: You’ll leave the theatre thinking “we should have gone deeper”. Inception with demons should be a whole lot more gripping than this.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bad Moms

F*** Magazine

BAD MOMS

Director : Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast : Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumulo, Jay Hernandez, Emjay Anthony, Oona Laurence
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 41 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : M18 (Some Nudity & Sexual References)

Bad Moms posterOne would think if anyone knew a thing or two about letting one’s hair down, it would be the screenwriters of The Hangover. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have turned their attention to the demographic of women who feel the pressure to be perfect mothers; juggling careers, caring for their children and obligations as part of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Amy Mitchell (Kunis) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In between working at a coffee co-op and ferrying her kids Jane (Laurence) and Dylan (Anthony) to and from school and various co-curricular activities, she’s just about had enough of being taken for granted. Amy befriends brash single mum Carla (Hahn) and the mousy, awkward Kiki (Bell), and together they make a pact to rebel against established standards and be ‘bad moms’ for once. This earns the ire of Gwendolyn (Applegate), the PTA president who rules over the other parents with an iron fist. Always accompanied by her lackeys Stacy (Smith) and Vicky (Mumulo), Gwendolyn becomes vindictive towards Amy and her newfound friends when Gwendolyn finds her authority threatened.

Bad Moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in the bar

Teaming up actresses as funny and entertaining as Kunis, Bell and Hahn and setting them loose should’ve yielded far less disappointment than Bad Moms delivers. Above anything else, this feels lazy and insincere. Clichés and stereotypes flood the film, which begins with Kunis’ Amy addressing the audience in voiceover. “He’s a successful mortgage broker, but sometimes he feels like my third child,” Amy says of her schlubby husband Mike (David Walton). Many of the jokes sink like a stone, and the cast gets to improvise a little, but the results are mostly leaden.

Bad Moms Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn in the supermarket

The R-rated comedy subgenre of “ladies who can be as lewd and callous as the guys” is already growing tired. It’s difficult to shake the sense that the many, many jokes about genitalia both male and female are a futile attempt to make a mostly safe comedy shocking. The one scene of full-frontal nudity, built around a pubic hair visual gag, is wholly gratuitous. There’s also a miscalculated attempt at diversity, with Muslim women wearing headscarves depicted attending a party with free-flowing booze and weed.

Bad Moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in the movie theatre

Kunis is reasonably convincing as a woman who had her first child at 20 and whose entire life has been consumed by work and kids since then, and she’s well able to convey the character’s understandable frustrations. Bell plays the maladroit, square oddball and it registers as a severe case of miscasting, since she doesn’t get to display her usual effervescence. Most of the film’s dirty jokes come courtesy of Hahn’s Carla – the actress is considerably funnier when she’s more nuanced, and the confident, aggressive and overtly sexual character is gratingly one-note. Applegate bites into the part of the control freak queen bee with entertaining aplomb, but Gwendolyn is yet another example of how the exaggerated characterisation is more annoying than it is actually funny. While Anthony doesn’t get too much to do as Amy’s son Dylan, Laurence manages to be amusing as Amy’s high-strung daughter Jane. 12-year-old Jane’s preoccupation with getting into an Ivy League college does hit a little close to home. And naturally, there’s a requisite attractive guy in the form of Jay Hernandez’s Jessie, who is bluntly referred to as the “Hot Widower” amongst the mums. Classy.

Bad Moms Jay Hernandez and Mila Kunis

There’s supposed to be a heart at the centre of the bawdy gags and copious swearing, but Bad Moms is unable to blend aww shucks sentimentality with its production line crudeness. The main-on-end titles, which feature several surprise guest appearances, are obviously meant to tug at the heartstrings, but this saccharine glop at the end is blatantly manipulative. Lucas and Moore toss in a vertigo-afflicted dog – the device of a pet with a medical condition that is played for laughs is such a hack move. There’s certainly a statement to be made about the societal expectations foisted on mothers and children, and the relatable premise will resonate with any number of overworked mums. It’s too bad then that any sliver of poignancy is buried deep beneath sludgy layers of filth.Bad Moms Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumulo

Summary: Funny actresses are left floundering in this pointlessly crass comedy, which misses the “rude but sweet” mark by a fair bit.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Krampus

For F*** Magazine

KRAMPUS

Director : Michael Dougherty
Cast : Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 98 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Frightening Scenes)

This Christmas, the weather outside is far from the only thing that’s frightful. Tommy (Scott) and Sarah (Collette) Engel, along with their children Max (Anthony) and Beth (Owen), are gearing up for the annual torture that is their relatives visiting for Christmas. Sarah’s sister Linda (Tolman) arrives with her husband Howard (Koechner), their four children and Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) in tow. They’re stuck inside with no electricity due to a ferocious blizzard. Tommy’s mother (Stadler) begins acting strangely, as she usually does around Christmas, and soon the family is terrorised by some particularly nasty uninvited guests. It turns out that Max has inadvertently summoned the Christmas demon Krampus, Santa Claus’ evil counterpart, and good cheer is not on the agenda.


            Krampus, the cloaked, horned figure from Germanic folklore who punishes misbehaving children during Christmas, has only recently entered American popular culture. Krampus seems like a natural antagonist for a film of the holiday horror subgenre and we’re getting two this festive season, the other one being a Canadian anthology movie called A Christmas Horror Story. Michael Dougherty, who helmed the acclaimed cult anthology horror film Trick ‘r Treat, wrote and directed Krampus. While he does ensure the film is tonally consistent and doesn’t stray too far into campiness, Krampus is far from the hearty Christmas meal horror fans have been hoping it would be.  

            The Krampus mythology is one that most American audiences wouldn’t be familiar with, and the inclusion of a slightly creepy German grandmother figure hints that the film will dive headlong into the trove of tales surrounding this dark anti-Santa. We do get a haunting animated flashback sequence, but there is very little that makes Krampus and his minions stand out from being run-of-the-mill horror movie monsters. There are some fantastic creature effects furnished by Weta Workshop, but apart from CGI gingerbread men attacking David Koechner with a nail gun, there aren’t any particularly inventive set-pieces to be had. The justification that is given for Krampus selecting this particular family as his target is quite flimsy, and the moral of treasuring one’s relatives in spite of how annoying they might be comes off as half-hearted. The film’s scathing opening sequence is set to Bing Crosby’s It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas and depicts crowds violently jostling each other in a frenzy while Christmas shopping at a mall. It suggests a bitter satirical edge which is not followed up on.

            Scott and Collette play it straight and their steadfastness in refusing to wink and nod at the audience does help the material. Anthony, memorably loveable as Jon Favreau’s on-screen son in Chef, is a convincingly earnest good kid. While none of the performances are terrible, everyone here is a family comedy cliché: we have the harried mother who has to hold the fort when the relatives descend on her home, the teenage daughter who is never more than a minute away from rolling her eyes, the boorish uncle, and the belligerent, alcoholic grandaunt. Austrian actress Krista Stadler does lend the film some texture, keeping “Omi” from being a full-on “creepy grandma” type ala The Visit.



            The first half of Krampus has dysfunctional family members squabbling, the second half has said family members chased through the house by an assortment of Christmas-themed monsters and the ending is vague at best, a howl-worthy cop-out at worst. The Krampus legend has all the makings of a terrific horror flick, showcasing the dark side of a holiday that’s associated with commercialised cheeriness. There are some effective atmospheric touches, such as the incorporation of the already-kinda creepy Carol of the Bells into the soundtrack. At times, the film almost feels like it could be something in the vein of Gremlins, though it lacks the demented energy to reach that level. Unfortunately, Krampus doesn’t make optimal use of the legend and its PG-13 rating does somewhat hamper the scares it can provide.

Summary: There’s talent behind this horror comedy, but the rich, fascinatingly spooky Krampus legend is left largely unmined.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Chef

CHEF


Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo, Sofía Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey, Jr.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Opens: 5 June 2014

Rating: NC16 (language) 

Jon Favreau goes from Iron Man to Iron Chef, writing, directing and starring in this comedy-drama. Favreau plays Carl Casper, the Miami-born head chef of a Los Angeles restaurant. Owner Riva (Hoffman) insists that Casper abide by the popular menu, but Casper argues that creatively, things have gone stale. An explosive incident involving food blogger Ramsey Michel (Platt) is the last straw. Casper leaves the restaurant behind as he accompanies his ex-wife Inez (Vergara) and son Percy (Anthony) back to Miami. There, he starts from scratch, getting a food truck up and running. Martin (Leguizamo), his friend and line cook from the restaurant, drops everything to come over to Miami to help. Soon, Casper, Percy and Martin are selling Cuban sandwiches out of the food truck, going back to basics, Casper re-evaluating his career and his relationships along the way.
            Fulfilling the roles of writer, director and star, it might seem to some like Jon Favreau has made himself a tidy little vanity project. Chef is nothing of the sort. Watching Chef is like listening to a friend talk enthusiastically about his interest, this friend phrasing it so eloquently and enticingly that before you realise it, you’re all wrapped up in it. Favreau’s passion for food bubbles over and is extremely infectious. Then there’s the matter of just how lip-smackingly delicious everything – even the humble grilled cheese sandwich – looks. Every review has said this and mine is no different: don’t go into this hungry. I actually heard the audience at my screening crying out, almost in agony, at every lovingly-shot edible item. With acclaimed chef and food truck pioneer Roy Choi as consultant and overseer, Favreau does his own “stunts” in the film and is wholly convincing as a culinary wunderkind. It’s clear Favreau has done his due diligence, leading many professional chefs and food writers to sing the film’s praises.


            Chef is more than just a Food Network cooking show. There’s an earnestness and sincerity served alongside a heaping helping of wit and humour. Many films that are billed as “feel-good movies” can feel manufactured and contrived, but Chef flows organically, its relationships and characters largely believable and relatable. The emotional beats are genuine and even though there are over-the-top moments, this reviewer was sufficiently convinced that those were required to set events in motion; most of the film an entertainingly laid-back affair. Just as Casper trains his young son in the ways of the kitchen, Percy guides his father through the world of social media. There’s a clever visual gag in which tweets are represented as floating holographic text bubbles which are then compressed and carried away by a little blue digital bird. Favreau’s most recent film as director before Chef, Cowboys & Aliens, was not very well received. However, Favreau wisely resists demonizing critics in this film and using Chef as an avenue to vent against those who didn’t like his earlier work; the character of Ramsey Michel not portrayed as a sneering villain.


            Favreau is as adept in front of the camera slicing, dicing, sautéing, grilling et al as he is behind it. Chef Casper is utterly likeable but also flawed and most definitely human and prone to outbursts. Favreau’s Casper is a culinary force to be reckoned with, but not some kind of untouchable kitchen god the way the role could have been written and acted. He has a top-tier supporting cast as well, John Leguizamo especially fun as the faithful and capable sidekick/pal. Child actor Emjay Anthony is a revelation; his Percy isn’t your standard “smart-mouthed comedy mini-adult”, you buy that this is a real kid – in fact, he’s probably better-behaved than most real kids actually are. It’s fun and surprisingly not distracting to see Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, both alumni of the Iron Man films, pop up. Sofia Vergara tones down her usual loud, fiery shtick and it winds up being a really nice performance from her. Oliver Platt and Dustin Hoffman as the food critic and the restraunter respectively are well cast, too. Look out for a pretty funny cameo from comedian Russell Peters.


            If there’s any relatively major gripe with Chef, it would be the R-rating. Now, I write for a magazine named F*** and I know foul language is a fact of life in real professional kitchens, but the swearing makes this unsuitable for younger moviegoers. It’s a shame because a large portion of the film is about a father-son relationship and involves a child actor. There’s also no violence or explicit sex, just mild sexual references. And kids should see this; it’s inspirational and empowering for anyone who has a passion about anything. Still, Chefis sweet, heartfelt and clearly prepared with love; Favreau on fine form as a true multi-hyphenate.


Summary: Can you smell what the Favs is cooking? Why, it’s quality, soulful cuisine! Bon Appétit!
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong