Death on the Nile (2022) review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast : Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Faizal, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright, Rose Leslie
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Run Time : 127 min
Opens : 10 February 2022
Rating : PG13

For a while there, it seemed the great detective Hercule Poirot had met a conundrum even he couldn’t solve: delays brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. After at least five changes in release date, Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express finally sails into cinemas.

Death on the Nile is based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name. Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) happens to meet his friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) at the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Bouc invites Poirot along for the elaborate wedding party of heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). Linnet has booked the luxury steam paddler Karnak for a pleasure cruise down the Nile. She is wary of all the guests to some extent – these include her maid Louise (Rose Leslie), her cousin and attorney Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Faizal), her godmother Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders) and Van Schuyler’s nurse Mrs Bowers (Dawn French), doctor and Linnet’s former beau Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand), jazz singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okondeo) and Salome’s niece/manager Rosalie (Letitia Wright), and Bouc’s mother Euphemia (Annette Bening). Matters are complicated by the sudden arrival of Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), Simon’s former fiancé who is angry at Linnet for stealing him away from her. When one of the passengers is murdered, Poirot must solve the mystery before more members of the party get picked off.

The movie largely retains the style and feel of Murder on the Orient Express, that of a glamorous, old-fashioned mystery. Where that film suffered somewhat from seemed to be Branagh’s infatuation with his own performance, he is less showy here. That’s not to say Poirot isn’t still the centre of attention, but Death on the Nile humanises the character and shows us cracks in the façade by giving him more personal involvement in the mystery. Screenwriter Michael Green performs a largely clever adaptation, with several of the changes serving to add more continuity with the preceding film. The movie is gorgeous to behold, with cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos, production designer Jim Clay and costume designer Paco Delgado among other crew making things look postcard perfect. The painterly visuals of Murder on the Orient Express are pushed even further here.

Unfortunately, the movie’s look could also create a sense of artifice. It looks like there was more green screen used here than on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, and there are weirdly also almost as many computer-generated animals. It doesn’t feel like the cast ever stepped foot in Egypt, and indeed most of the production took place in Longcross Studios in Surrey and in Morocco. The digital oil painting look creates some distance between the audience and the story. The way everything is deliberately staged and choreographed lends the movie a certain aesthetic, but also reminds audiences of the artifice. Some critics have also taken issue with how long the movie takes to get to the titular murder. In addition to the necessary set-up establishing all our characters, there is a prologue set during the First World War, depicting Poirot’s time in the Belgian army.

At first glance, this movie’s cast isn’t quite as starry as that of Murder on the Orient Express, but it’s still nothing to sniff at. Branagh has settled into playing Poirot – it’s still a faintly ridiculous performance, but also a comfortably enjoyable one.

Gal Gadot is suitably glamorous as Linnet Ridgeway, while Armie Hammer plays exactly the kind of role one would cast him in while he was still able to get cast in things.

One of the major changes from the book is that Salome Otterbourne is a jazz musician instead of a romance novelist. This allows the movie to cut loose in several musical sequences, and making Salome and Rosie Black amidst mostly white characters further adds to the tension. The movie is never too heavy-handed about this, and both Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright are lively presences.

Sex Education star Emma Mackey is an appropriately dramatic spurned lover. One thing that is distracting is that Mackey, Gadot and Wright are playing characters who are meant to be around the same age, when Gadot is ten years older than Mackey and eight years older than Wright.

It’s a great deal of fun seeing comedy duo French and Saunders show up, even if their presence runs the risk of making the movie feel a bit like a comedy sketch. Annette Bening is having a great time playing the snarky, overbearing mother.

As in most whodunits, there are many characters to keep track of, but like previous adaptations of Death on the Nile, this movie has already cut the roster down by a bit and amalgamated certain characters.

Summary: While Death on the Nile is a little too self-conscious and mannered, it is still an entertaining, lavishly produced murder mystery. Director/star Kenneth Branagh’s second go-round as Hercule Poirot is a little less silly than before, and he has an eclectic, watchable cast in tow. While perhaps a little too synthetic, the scenery is still lovely to look at. It’s not quite worth all the fuss brought about by the repeated shuffling of its release dates but is far from a wash.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wonder Woman 1984 review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Lily Aspell, Amr Waked
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 151 min
Opens : 17 December 2020
Rating : PG

In 2017, the first Wonder Woman movie finally brought the iconic superheroine to the big screen. The film broke ground and was a critical and financial success, meaning everyone would watch director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot closely to see where the sequel would go.

66 years after the events of the first film, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) lives in Washington, DC and works as an archaeologist and anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute. Her new colleague Dr Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a gemologist, is meek, nerdy, and often ignored, and wishes to be like Diana. A mysterious artifact with unfathomable power that Diana has recovered begins to change the life of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a grifter who projects an image of wealth but whose multi-level marketing oil business is floundering. Things start to change for Diana too, as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed his life in the First World War, magically returns. As things begin spinning out of control, Diana must discover the source of these seemingly mystical transformations and set things right.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a corny movie, but corny in a good way. This is an earnest, sincere and ultimately hopeful film that is completely unconcerned with looking or seeming cool. As such, it will probably have its detractors, but there’s something about it that is very appealing. It almost has an Amblin movie’s soul, befitting the 80s setting. There is something Spielbergian to its earnestness, and one gets the sense that Jenkins and the other filmmakers wholeheartedly believe in what the movie is saying.

Gal Gadot continues to own the Wonder Woman role with poise, sensitivity and strength, the proportions of each component finely calibrated. She essays the quiet sadness of someone who has never gotten over losing the love of her life, while having many more facets to her than just that. There are moments when one can see the years in her eyes, and this wiser, more mature but still compassionate and good-hearted Diana is a fully fleshed-out character.

The movie also finds clever ways to reference iconic attributes of the character from the comics, some of which would be considered too cheesy to translate to live-action.

The movie feels shorter than its 151 minutes but is still too long. It certainly doesn’t feel as fresh as the first go-round, but that is par for the course with sequels. The message at the heart of the movie is straightforward to the point of being simplistic. The “be careful what you wish for” strain allows Wonder Woman 1984 to explore certain themes but can sometimes come off as shallow. The movie wants to say that everyone should be content with what they have and not fixate on wanting too much more, which is not a bad message, but that might hit differently in a year in which so much has been taken away from so many. The action set-pieces are largely unmemorable, with the best sequence being the prologue, which depicts the Themysciran Contest. A major climactic duel takes place in darkness, is shot mostly in close-ups and is choppily edited, such that it is challenging to follow.

Wonder Woman 1984 revels in its 80s setting, with production designer Aline Bonetto and costume designer Lindy Hemming creating a thoroughly convincing milieu. Diana rocks some very stylish 80s fashion (just look at those lapels!) and Barbara’s makeover from dowdy to glam is fun to watch. The movie also references geopolitical tensions at the time and comments on rampant consumerism. The 80s in America were very much about being defined by what one bought and owned – Wonder Woman is a character who is so innately good, she seems naturally at odds with greed and superficiality.

Gadot and Pine continue to share crackling chemistry, even if the reason behind Steve’s resurrection might be contrived for some. The fish-out-of-water stuff with Steve discovering life in the 80s is endearing. Diana and Steve share a beautiful moment that seems deliberately evocative of the “Can You Read My Mind” flight in the 1978 Superman movie.

Pedro Pascal is wonderfully cast as Maxwell Lord. Imagine if the fake wealth gurus who show up in unskippable YouTube ads suddenly had all the power in the world. It’s a frightening thought, and one that the film fully exploits. Pascal has said his performance was inspired by Nicolas Cage, which is evident at certain points.

Kristen Wiig is not an obvious choice to play a supervillain, which is precisely why she works in the role. Barbara’s arc is one we’ve seen in many comic book movies, with characters like the Riddler in Batman Forever and Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 bearing similar traits. However, Wiig brings a humanity and tenderness to the character, keeping her sympathetic even as she becomes increasingly vicious.

It may not have everything everyone is looking for in a comic book movie but Wonder Woman 1984 is confident about what it is.

Summary: Earnest and heartfelt, Wonder Woman 1984’s innate sweetness and optimism is hard to resist, even if its action sequences are disappointing. Stay for a crowd-pleasing stinger scene during the end credits.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ralph Breaks the Internet movie review

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

Director : Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Cast : John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Alan Tudyk, Flula Borg
Genre : Animation/Comedy/Family
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 22 November 2018
Rating : PG

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-posterWreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) may come from different arcade games, but after the events of the first Wreck-It Ralph film, they’ve become inseparable. In this sequel, the good-hearted oaf and the hyperactive princess get a lot more than they bargained for as they venture into the wild wild web.

It has been six years since Ralph and Vanellope became friends, and while Ralph finds comfort in the predictability of his daily routine as the designated villain  in the Fix-It Felix game, Vanellope has grown restless, the tracks of Sugar Rush no longer providing any excitement. When the steering wheel component of the Sugar Rush console breaks, Ralph and Vanellope use the arcade’s newly-installed connection to the internet to seek a replacement.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Vanellope-and-Ralph-overlooking-internet

In the cyber realm, our heroes meet all manner of colourful characters, including the badass driver Shank (Gal Gadot) from Slaughter Race, Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), head algorithm of video sharing site BuzzTube, search engine KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) and all the Disney princesses. While the internet contains endless wonderment and awe, there is also a dark side that Ralph and Vanellope are exposed to. When a calamity that could possibly break the internet is accidentally unleashed, Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship (and the computing power of servers around the world) will be put to the ultimate test.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Ralph-and-Vanellope-travelling-1

2012’s Wreck-It Ralph is one of this reviewer’s favourite Disney animated films in recent memory. It’s an energetic, effervescent film that cannily plays with video game tropes while delivering a heartfelt story populated by loveable characters. The sequel turbo-charges this, taking place on a larger scale and crammed with pop culture references, wordplay jokes and visual gags. Amidst everything swirling about in the teeming metropolis that is the internet, Ralph Breaks the Internet holds together because of its focus on the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Oh-My-Disney

It’s easy to be cynical about a movie like Ralph Breaks the Internet, given that much of the story and humour is fuelled by online culture. Co-director Rich Moore cut his teeth on such series as The Critic, The Simpsons and Futurama, bringing much of that self-aware reference-heavy comedy to bear. A Grand Theft Auto-like game is crucial to the plot, Vanellope hangs out with Disney princesses, and Ralph attempts makeup tutorial, hot pepper eating challenge and unboxing videos, among others, in the hopes of becoming a viral sensation. The jokes could’ve very easily been too obvious or cringe-worthy, but in the hands of directors Moore and Phil Johnston, this film never feels like it’s made by clueless adults pandering to kids they don’t understand.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Vanellope-and-Princesses-1

As is expected from Disney Animation, the visuals brim with detail and the character animation is just the right amount of cartoony, the degree to which their features and expressions are heightened varying from character to character. There is a high-octane car chase straight out of the Fast and Furious films, and the visual interpretations of sites like eBay, Instagram and Pinterest are well thought-out and amusing.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Vanellope-and-Princesses-slumber-party

The film’s signature sequence is the meeting between Vanellope and every official Disney Princess, including Snow White (Pamela Ribon), Cinderella (Jennifer Hale), Aurora (Kate Higgins), Ariel (Jodie Benson), Belle (Paige O’Hara), Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), Merida (Kelly McDonald), Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho). Ribon, a screenwriter who also worked on Moana, conceptualised the scene. The House of Mouse gamely and entertainingly takes the Mickey out of its own core sub-brand, commenting on common tropes seen in the Princess movies while providing the fantasy imagery of all one’s favourite characters just hanging out together. Vanellope also runs into Marvel and Star Wars characters, and there is a cameo that is wont to tug on the heartstrings given recent events.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Ralph-and-Vanellope-eBay

Both Reilly and Silverman continue to provide great humanity and heart to their characters. Ralph has never had a real friend before Vanellope, and is understandably distraught at the prospect that he might be replaced as her best friend. Meanwhile, Vanellope struggles with issues of identity and belonging, feeling like she is meant for something greater and perhaps a little less safe than Sugar Rush. While the misunderstandings that occur between Ralph and Vanellope feel a little like a re-tread of the conflicts in the first film, both characters continue to develop and continue to be endearing.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Shank

Gal Gadot plays a character who is pretty much exactly Gisele from the Fast and Furious series, which is a neat little nod. Taraji P. Henson voices the Yesss with effortless cool, with real-life YouTube personality Flula Borg as Yesss’ right-hand man Maybe. Alan Tudyk, Disney’s current lucky charm, voices KnowsMore; he voiced King Candy in the first film.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Ralph-Yesss-and-Vanellope

While Ralph Breaks the Internet’s pop culture reference jokes might lose some of the younger kids, its eye-catching design and heart-warming character interactions will hold their interest. The film doesn’t reach the surprising emotional heights of the first film, nor is it as creative and fresh, but it’s still plenty of fun and utterly hilarious. Stick around for a scene after the main-on-end titles and another at the very end of the credits.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Heroes United: Meet the Justice League

Heroes United: Meet the Justice League

Get to know the members of DC’s flagship cinematic superhero team

By Jedd Jong

In 1940, editor Sheldon Mayer and writer Gardner Fox created the first comic book superhero team: the Justice Society of America. Two decades later, after editor Julius Schwartz asked Fox to revisit the idea, Fox created the Justice League. The cover of The Brave and the Bold #28, depicting Green Lantern, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Martian Manhunter locked in battle with Starro the Conqueror, has become a defining image in the history of DC Comics.

47 years after that first appearance, the Justice League is finally coming to the big screen. In the intervening years, the team’s roster has expanded and changed, and various incarnations have appeared in comics, video games, animated and live-action TV shows and other media.

After a decade in development hell, during which Mad Max director George Miller was attached to direct a film called Justice League: Mortal, a Justice League film has come to fruition. This is the fifth instalment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), following Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman. Zack Snyder directed the film, with Joss Whedon taking over during post-production and reshoots after Snyder left the project due to a family tragedy.

At the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman sacrifices himself to defeat Doomsday. To ensure that Superman’s heroism is not in vain, Batman and Wonder Woman seek out superpowered ‘metahumans’ to join them in a fight to save the earth from alien invaders. Leading the enemy charge is Steppenwolf, Darkseid’s right hand man from the planet Apokolips. With an army of Parademons at his command, Steppenwolf will stop at nothing to recover three powerful artefacts from Apokolips known as Mother Boxes, which are hidden on earth.

Here’s what you need to know about our heroes, and the supervillain they must defeat, before watching Justice League.

#1: BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN (Ben Affleck)

In Batman v Superman, we saw a bitter, vengeful Batman blinded by rage. It seems that he’s become a little friendlier after realising the error of his ways, endeavouring to work better with others and taking on the role of bankrolling the Justice League. “In Batman v Superman, he was at the end of his rope. But in Justice League he’s finding hope again,” Affleck revealed. For fans who took issue with the dour tone of Batman v Superman, take heart: Affleck says Justice League is “very different from the tenor of the last movie.” Describing this depiction of Batman being “much more traditional,” Affleck promised fans that Batman is “heroic”.

As is expected of the billionaire crime-fighter, Batman’s bringing more hardware to bear: we’ll get to see specialized vehicles such as the Nightcrawler mecha and the massive Flying Fox transport plane in action. Naturally, the Batmobile will make an appearance too, and can be deployed from the Flying Fox.

#2: DIANA PRINCE/WONDER WOMAN (Gal Gadot)

The Wonder Woman solo film was a big success for DC, with the consensus being that the Patty Jenkins-directed movie is the best entry in the DCEU so far. The Amazonian warrior is back, and things get personal when Steppenwolf threatens Wonder Woman’s mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and all her compatriots on the island of Themyscira. “She understands the enemy better than anyone else,” Gadot said, hinting that this might not be the Amazons’ first encounter with the marauding Parademons. In her civilian guise, Diana is an antiquities dealer and restorer of ancient artefacts. It is speculated that since the Wonder Woman film was such a hit, the character’s role would be significantly increased during reshoots, but Gadot clarified this, saying “Diana serves as the glue of the team. She finds moments to support every one of the team and makes them feel stronger or believe in themselves, but this is not a Wonder Woman movie.”

On how the character has evolved over the 100 years between the events depicted in her solo movie and the Justice League film, Gadot said the character is “wiser and more educated about the complexities of life and the world and mankind,” but the is still the same at heart, and that “she’s always full of compassion and warmth and love for everyone.” Everyone, we assume, except Steppenwolf and the Parademons. After all the ass-kicking Wonder Woman did in her solo film, fans can expect Diana to be in the thick of the action again – after all, Gadot was a combat instructor in the Israeli Defense Forces in real life.

#3: CLARK KENT/SUPERMAN (Henry Cavill)

As mentioned earlier, the events of Batman v Superman have left the world without its powerful alien protector. The very last frame of Batman v Superman showed the dirt Lois Lane (Amy Adams) sprinkled on Superman’s grave levitating for a moment, hinting at the character’s resurrection. The death and return of Superman was a long, involved ordeal that played over several months in the comics in the 90s. While Superman will presumably rise from the grave in Justice League since Cavill is appearing in the film, the exact circumstances and details surrounding Superman’s return are being kept secret. Cavill was contractually obligated to keep the moustache he had grown for Mission: Impossible 6 when he had to do reshoots on Justice League, so Superman’s facial hair had to be digitally removed.

While Cavill has kept mum about what role Superman plays in the Justice League film, he has acknowledged that the DCEU might have made a few missteps along the way. Cavill conceded that the DCEU “hasn’t necessarily worked,” adding “yes, it has made money but it has not been a critical success; it hasn’t given everyone that sensation which superheroes should give the viewer.” Saying the “right mistake has been made” and calling the Wonder Woman film “the first step in the right direction,” Cavill assured fans that with Justice League, the DCEU is on the right track.

#4: BARRY ALLEN/FLASH (Ezra Miller)

Like in several previous other media versions of the Justice League, the Flash looks set to be the film’s comic relief. While Barry Allen is typically depicted as a Central City crime scene investigator, Ezra Miller’s incarnation of Barry is a little younger, and is a student at Central City University. Some elements of Barry’s back-story will be familiar to fans of the ongoing Flash television series on the CW. A scene in the trailer shows Barry visiting his father Henry (Billy Crudup) in prison – in the TV show and in the comics, Henry was wrongly convicted for killing his wife Nora.

Miller found it easy to relate to the character. “I definitely was feeling like Barry, stepping into the big leagues with this incredible group of collaborators,” he said, adding that just like Barry, he was focused on “trying to do the best job [he] could do.” Discussing the process of putting on the elaborate, multi-segmented Flash armour, Miller joked “I would feel like a Victorian lady with my chambermaids. Sometimes I would ask them if they could brush my hair and ask me about the boys whom I fancied.” One of the iconic, but arguably somewhat silly, elements of the character from the Silver Age comics is that the Flash’s costume can fit into a ring he wears. This will not be carried over into the Justice League film. “We want to apologize to the fans who are mad about the ring thing,” Miller quipped, adding that “there’s gonna be other cool things” for fans to look forward to in the film.

#5: ARTHUR CURRY/AQUAMAN (Jason Momoa)

The half-human, half-Atlantean warrior king Aquaman is a character who’s been the butt of jokes for a long time, owing to his silly portrayal in the Super Friends cartoon. The character was given a makeover in the comics in the 90s, complete with a scraggly beard and a hook for a hand. Jason Momoa’s take on the character seems to be tough, but not without a fun side – the character’s mannerisms in the trailer have led some to call this version ‘Aqua-bro’.

Momoa said that when director Snyder brought him in to audition, he was asked to read Batman’s lines, but Affleck had already been cast as Batman. Momoa was taken aback to find out the role he was up for was Aquaman. “All I could think of was the traditional Aquaman from the comics – who is white and blond and wears the orange and green costume. I thought he had to be joking,” Momoa recalled. However, Snyder sold him on his vision of Aquaman as an outsider, someone who belongs to two worlds but doesn’t feel he fits in either one. Momoa related to this because he was born in Hawaii but grew up in Iowa, where he felt like an outsider. He considers it “such an honour” to play Aquaman because Hawaiian culture, like that of many islands, has water gods.

Amber Heard is playing Aquaman’s wife Mera, with Willem Dafoe as Atlantean scientific advisor Nuidis Vulko. Both actors will reprise their roles alongside Momoa in the Aquaman movie that swims into theatres in December 2018.

#6: VIC STONE/CYBORG (Ray Fisher)

The former college football star-turned cybernetically-enhanced superhero Cyborg was a character created as part of the Teen Titans team. In 2011’s New 52 reboot in the comics, the character was promoted to a founding member of the Justice League. In Batman v Superman, we see Vic’s father Silas Stone (Joe Morton) attempt to create a robot body for his son, who is near-death. The key component that successfully animates Cyborg seems to be a Mother Box from Apokolips.

Fisher made his feature film debut in Batman v Superman, clinching a highly sought-after role. We’ll only see part of Fisher’s face in the film, with the rest of the character being computer-generated. According to Fisher, the character “attempts to deal with everything he’s lost: his body, his mother, and the life he once knew.” Morton says that some tonal changes were made to the Cyborg character during reshoots, so maybe he will end up closer to the goofy character we know and love from the Teen Titans cartoon. Fisher hinted at Cyborg’s constantly-evolving abilities, saying “He has powers within him that even he isn’t yet aware of…whenever he encounters an issue that he’s not initially equipped to handle, his technology can transmogrify and immediately adapt to that situation.

#7: STEPPENWOLF (Ciarán Hinds)

The fledgling Justice League will face a formidable opponent: Steppenwolf, who hails from the planet Apokolips. In a deleted scene from Batman v Superman which was restored for the Ultimate Edition, Lex Luthor can be seen communicating with Steppenwolf, who appears in hologram form. In the comics, Steppenwolf is the uncle of Darkseid, the tyrannical ruler of Apokolips, and serves as Darkseid’s right-hand man. Steppenwolf commands an army of Parademons – these insectoid soldiers were also glimpsed in Batman v Superman, as the troops fighting alongside an evil Superman in the dystopian future of Batman’s ‘Knightmare’ vision. While many might point out that Darkseid is similar to Marvel’s Thanos, Darkseid’s first appearance in the comics precedes Thanos’ by two years.

Irish actor Hinds is portraying the role via motion capture, and sought advice from his fellow countryman Liam Neeson, who played the titular monster in A Monster Calls. Hinds said that he’s “never read any of those comic books as a kid”, and that the offer to play Steppenwolf came “out of the blue”. Hinds called the motion capture suit “very tight and embarrassing”. Hinds described Steppenwolf as “old, tired, still trying to get out of his own enslavement to Darkseid,” hinting that while Steppenwolf is vicious and destructive, there might be some reluctance to his villainy.

Movie Review: Justice League

For inSing

JUSTICE LEAGUE 

Director : Zack Snyder
Cast : Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Connie Nielsen
Genre : Action/Adventure/Comics
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 17 November 2017
Rating : PG

It’s time to join the big leagues: five years after Marvel’s Avengers team made their big-screen debut, the Justice League arrives in cinemas. While Wonder Woman was seen as reinvigorating the DC Extended Universe, it’s Justice League that is deemed the make-or-break moment for the franchise. Read on to see how it stacks up.

After the events of Batman v Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are gathering a team of superheroes to fend off an impending alien threat. The recruits to this group include college student/speedster Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), the ocean-dwelling Atlantean Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and a cybernetically-enhanced former college football star Vic Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

This team must face off against Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a world-destroying alien warlord who hails from the planet Apokolips and answers to the tyrannical Darkseid. Under Steppenwolf’s command is an army of insectoid warriors known as Parademons. Now more than ever, earth needs Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill), who died at the end of Batman v Superman. The heroes must put on a united front as earth faces its doom.

There’s a great deal riding on Justice League, and Warner Bros. desperately needs this one to go over well. The film suffered its share of setbacks during production: director Zack Snyder withdrew from the film after a personal tragedy, with Joss Whedon stepping in to oversee reshoots and post-production. Then, rumour has it that the film’s 170-minute runtime was pared down to 119 minutes, under a mandate from Warner Bros. boss Kevin Tsujihara.

Justice League has a shape, but the seams are readily visible. At times, it feels choppy and fragmented, and it’s clear that quite a bit has been left on the cutting room floor. On the whole, it is a gratifying experience: there are moments that will induce cheers, and the action sequences are fun. The various abilities of the League’s members are realised in creative ways, and the visual effects work is more polished than in some previous DCEU entries, some dodgy moustache removal work notwithstanding.

The overall plot beats are familiar, and Justice League bears passing similarities to numerous recent comic book movies. There’s a motley crew with clashing personalities and astounding powers banding together to defeat the otherworldly threat of a faceless army led by a fearsome warlord.

Bits of backstory for each of the new characters are parcelled out, and one can notice the film trying to shuffle along from point A to point B. Tonally, there are some jokes that stick out as being a little unsubtle, but in trying to course-correct from being self-serious and morose to a little lighter on its feet, Justice League takes a few steps in the right direction.

 

Batman is no longer the irrational, weary, rage-driven character seen in Batman v Superman, but it’s to Affleck’s credit that it doesn’t feel like someone altogether different was swapped in. We see how the events of the earlier film have changed Batman’s attitudes, and witness him attempting to be a team player. It’s a bit of a shame that Affleck seems to be looking for an out, since he’s growing into the role nicely. He’s also got cool vehicles including the tank-like mecha Knightcrawler and the Flying Fox transport plane, which should sell a healthy number of toys. Geek gripe – the ears on the cowl look too similar to those of Nite-Owl’s from Watchmen.

Wonder Woman’s characterisation remains consistent, and Gadot continues to embody her badass side in addition to her empathy and wisdom. In many ways, Diana is the most mature of the team, who can sometimes behave like children. There are many opportunities to showcase the character’s abilities, and the introductory scene in which she foils a terrorist bombing is a stylish and exciting sequence. The dynamic that develops between Batman and Wonder Woman is the closest the movie comes to being poignant, and this reviewer wishes it were developed further.

The Flash will be the runaway favourite for many viewers. Miller eagerly conveys the character’s wide-eyed awe and just how thrilled he is to be part of the team. He’s the rookie and, since he’s prone to geeking out, is the audience-identification character. Barry, a budding criminologist, also appears to be a fan of Rick and Morty and the South Korean pop group Black Pink. He provides the lion’s share of the film’s comic relief, and never comes off as insufferably obnoxious.

Momoa’s iteration of Aquaman has been termed ‘Aquabro’ by some. While the irreverent jock personality isn’t exactly in line with how Aquaman has been portrayed in the comics, it works within the context of the larger team. It seems like more scenes set in Atlantis were cut – we only get a fleeting glimpse of Amber Heard as Mera, and Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko is altogether absent.

Fisher’s Cyborg might be the most angst-ridden character, as he struggles to come to terms with his newfound existence as part man, mostly machine. He gets a RoboCop-style character arc. If the version you’re most familiar with is from the Teen Titans cartoon, this is a significant departure from that. He does eventually get to utter a fan-favourite catchphrase, though.

Steppenwolf’s design works well and Ciarán Hinds’ expressions contribute to a fairly mean-looking character, but he’s just never that scary. Steppenwolf is largely generic and is close in characterisation and his function in the plot to Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a threat that never quite takes hold, despite multiple attempts to explain just how fearsome the character is.

Jeremy Irons’ sardonic Alfred cracks a few jokes, while J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon seems to have stepped straight off the comic book page. We can’t wait to see what he does with the role in future films.

When Whedon replaced Snyder, he dropped Junkie XL as composer, replacing him with Danny Elfman. It is a delight to hear Elfman’s Batman theme from the 1989 Batman movie in the theatre again. There are also hints of John Williams’ original Superman theme.

While Justice League has its issues and feels severely truncated, it has enough energy and verve to compensate for its shortcomings. Long-time fans of these characters will get at least a tiny bit of a thrill out of seeing them together on the big screen, and if you’ve complained about how gloomy earlier DCEU entries were, this might be more your speed.

Oh – stick around for a fun mid-credits scene, and a spectacular post-credits stinger that left this reviewer gobsmacked.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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

Criminal

For F*** Magazine

CRIMINAL 

Director : Ariel Vromen
Cast : Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Alice Eve, Jordi Mollà, Antje Traue, Michael Pitt
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

Like most moviegoers after the release of Deadpool, this action thriller finds Kevin Costner with Ryan Reynolds on the brain. Costner plays Jericho Stewart, a hardened criminal who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child, making him the ideal candidate for a top secret experimental procedure. When CIA agent Bill Pope (Reynolds) is incapacitated in London while tracking down hacker Jan Strook (Pitt), CIA station chief Quaker Wells (Oldman) enlists the help of neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Jones). Dr. Franks has spent 18 years developing a way to implant the memories of a dead person into a living human being. Jericho is coerced into completing Bill’s mission, but things do not go according to plan. Jill (Gadot), Bill’s widow, has to come to terms with the fact that a complete stranger now possesses her husband’s memories. Even though he wants nothing to do with the mission, Jericho must prevent a flash drive that Strook has from falling into the hands of ambitious anarchist Xavier Heimdall (Mollà).

            Criminal plays a lot like a high-concept 90s action movie repackaged in a strait-laced, post-Bourne espionage thriller style. The sci-fi tinged concept of memory implants is akin to the face-swapping plot device in Face/Off, albeit slightly more plausible. There’s no eye-catching bombast, but the slightly overwrought names like “Jericho Stewart”, “Quaker Wells” and especially “Xavier Heimdall” seem like they belong in a Bond movie. Criminal boasts a cast that is more star-studded than one would expect for a thriller with a relatively low budget, estimated at a mere $31.5 million dollars. Even though there are many moments that reminded this reviewer of any number of direct-to-DVD action flicks, the production values are sufficiently high and there’s a visual effects sequence involving a submarine that looks surprisingly good. The shootouts and car chases are far from inventive, but the action keeps things chugging along.

            Even though it’s largely generic, Criminal does possess a unique trait: it’s protagonist is, well, a criminal, with completely disregard for human life. He’s not a charming rogue, he’s not a conflicted hero; he’s a heartless, emotionless brute. Naturally, some character development occurs as the personality of his “memory donor” intrudes into Jericho’s mind. Jericho is introduced chained up in a prison cell, sporting scraggly long hair and a beard, being recruited against his will for a clandestine mission – not unlike Sean Connery’s character in The Rock. Incidentally, the screenwriting team of David Weisberg and the late Douglas S. Cook also penned The Rock. Suffice it to say that Costner is no match for Connery in the charisma department, but the character’s resourcefulness and violent unpredictably help mitigate Costner’s blandness somewhat.

            The supporting players, Oldman and Jones in particular, definitely seem above this material and not very much is asked of them. Oldman’s Quaker Wells stands about the situation room fretting and gets to throw his signature yelling fits. Jones frowns and looks worried. Perhaps some viewers might find that their presence subconsciously lends this silly action movie some prestige. Reynolds is in this for a very brief amount of time since, well, his character’s death is the catalyst for the plot. It’s a little funny to see Reynolds in another mind swap flick so shortly after Self/Less. Gadot is called upon to emote and she does sell that sense of loss, anger and confusion with the little screen time she’s given. Mollà is basically being discount Javier Bardem here, with his character’s motivation outlined via an interview with Piers Morgan. Actor/stunt performer Scott Adkins shows up as the right hand man to Quaker, but alas, he doesn’t get to bust any of his famous martial arts moves.

            This reviewer derived an extra level of enjoyment because a large portion of the cast has been a part of movies based on DC Comics. Just imagine: Jonathan Kent is implanted with Hal Jordan’s memories thanks to a procedure invented by Dr. Two-Face, Hal Jordan’s widow is Wonder Woman, his boss is Commissioner Gordon and the henchwoman on Jonathan Kent’s tail is Faora. It’s evident that the plot, even with its sci-fi elements and ticking clock, wasn’t compelling enough to hold our full attention. There are attempts at being topical – Edward Snowden is name-dropped – but these are ham-fisted rather than helping make the movie seem relevant. It’s somewhat ironic that a film with the plot device of memory implants will not remain in anyone’s mind for long, but its competently directed by Ariel Vromen, it doesn’t look cheap or messy and the central character is (or at least starts out) fairly different from run-of-the-mill action heroes.



Summary: Criminalis about as generic as its title suggests, but the action is decent if unremarkable and the A-listers in the supporting cast help to prop it up. 

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

For F*** Magazine

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE 

Director : Zack Snyder
Cast : Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter
Genre : Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hrs 32 mins
Opens : 24 March 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
The following review is spoiler-free.
Superheroes collide with shattering force in the second film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It has been 18 months since Superman/Clark Kent’s (Cavill) battle with General Zod in Metropolis. Clark has moved in with fellow reporter Lois Lane (Adams), and Superman has gained both admirers and fervent detractors. Falling into the latter camp is Gotham City’s Batman/Bruce Wayne (Affleck), billionaire industrialist by day, ruthless vigilante by night. His butler Alfred (Irons) advises against taking rash action, but Batman is convinced that Superman’s power, if left unchecked, will lead to global annihilation. Also plotting to take down Superman, albeit for more selfish purposes, is young tech mogul Lex Luthor (Eisenberg). Luthor lobbies Kentucky senator June Finch (Hunter) to support his R&D efforts in developing a deterrent to use against Superman, while Finch calls for Superman to explain himself before the senate. In the meantime, Bruce’s curiosity is ignited by the presence of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gadot), an elegant and capable warrior of yet-to-be-determined origin.


2013’s Man of Steel left critics and fans sharply divided, and it’s an understatement to say that this follow-up has quite the burden to bear. There’s no question that DC is playing catch-up to Marvel at the movies and there was the valid fear that Batman v Superman would be overstuffed to make up for lost ground. Batman v Superman does have apparent flaws, but a conscious effort is made to incorporate a substantive depth that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) doesn’t yet possess, outside of Netflix anyway. Character motivations make plenty of sense, conflicts are given context, major disagreements are not conveniently settled and the main criticism of Man of Steel, the wanton destruction caused or at least enabled by Superman, is directly addressed. Characters wax philosophical on the nature of god and man, the implications of nigh-unlimited power and notions of justice. This may come off as portentously logy to some, but to others, these are icons worth delving into.

Much has been made of the film’s 152-minute running time. Structurally, it is front-loaded with plot, with the bulk of the action being slathered on thick towards the conclusion. This reviewer did not feel the film was too long, and the character development we get during the first two acts is very satisfying. However, some audiences are bound to be fatigued and hard-pressed to care all that much about the climactic battles if they’ve already tuned out while Bruce is at the Batcomputer decrypting a hard drive. The Senator Finch subplot also proves largely extraneous.

Full disclosure: this reviewer is a massive DC Comics fan and is able to appreciate director Zack Snyder’s interpretation of seminal imagery and plot points from the source material, most notably The Dark Knight Returns. Nothing in this film made us throw our hands up in the air, crying “they just don’t get it!” Because of the sheer breadth of these characters’ history in the comics, there’s no way to please everyone, and this reviewer found that the interpretations of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman feel like they belong in the same cohesive universe.

Any time Batman and Superman are in the same piece of media, the former is bound to steal the limelight from the latter. Affleck’s casting was controversial, with many deeming him insufficiently intimidating. This version of Batman is a grizzled veteran who’s 20 years into his crime-fighting career, employs a dazzling array of high-tech gadgets and is driven and obsessed. Good enough for us. Sure, he displays a sadistic streak, branding criminals with his bat insignia, but then again, Michael Keaton’s Batman shoved clowns into potholes, leaving them to explode as he grinned. There are references to allies and rogues, Batman’s relationship with Alfred gets sufficient play. Irons brings both the wry charm and the gumption to stand up to Batman that are integral to the Alfred character. The Bat-centric action sequences are strongly reminiscent of the recent Arkham video-game series, which this reviewer feels contained some of the best sequences of Batman in combat ever presented.

Superman is variously referred to as a “god” and a “devil” and Cavill continues to dig for the humanity behind the iconography. While he might lack the acting chops to flesh out a truly compelling Superman, particularly when pitted against Batman, it’s good to see Clark juggle the heroics and his reporter day job. There’s also the element of class warfare: Bruce is the scion of a wealthy family; Clark was raised on a farm in Kansas and works the daily grind as a journalist. There are some genuinely sweet moments that Cavill shares with Adams. While we do get to see Lois in the thick of it doing a good deal of snooping around, the main purpose the character serves is to get rescued and get rescued and get rescued. Lois had a significant role in the proceedings in Man of Steel, but is side-lined a little because of everything else occurring in the story here.

Eisenberg’s performance is the biggest problem this reviewer has with the film. This is meant to be a reinvention of Lex, traditionally more of a quiet schemer type. Lex’s reworked back-story, which sees him as a young tech mogul who has reshaped his father’s aging company into a Silicon Valley power player, is just fine by this reviewer. Many of the character’s lines are clever and his actions and appropriately devious. However, Eisenberg’s twitchy jumpiness is unable to convey the deep-seated menace one of the most iconic DC supervillains should inherently possess. His words and actions are despicable enough, but his mannerisms diminish their impact.



Wonder Woman’s presence here reminded this reviewer of Black Widow’s role in Iron Man 2. Since there’s so much already afoot, the character’s first big screen appearance is more of a pointer to her upcoming solo film, with several clever allusions to Diana’s roots in Greek mythology being included. The moves she busts during the final fight, her entry onto the battlefield heralded by Tina Guo’s rocking electric cello solo, are sure to elicit cheers. That’s the standout bit of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s soundtrack for sure. Gadot does not have too much to do here, but her blend of mystique and strength fits Wonder Woman just fine. The product placement is toned down considerably from Man of Steel; the most obvious instance being when Wonder Woman boards a Turkish Airlines flight – a visible jet, if you will.

Many were worried that that the film might spend too long setting up the upcoming Justice League movie, but it turns out that we get fleeting glimpses of the superhero team’s future members; said glimpses are tantalising and memorable. Just as the titular heroes grapple with each other, this film grapples with doing these iconic characters justice while serving up bombastic spectacle. It falters on several occasions, but this reviewer appreciates how the DCEU is setting itself apart from the MCU. The three-episode arc of Superman: The Animated Series in which Batman and Superman first meet does have far more of a focus than this film has, but this live-action event should not be written off lightly and we’ve got our fingers crossed for how the DCEU proceeds from here.

Summary:Packed with as much thematic pondering as super-powered fisticuffs, Batman v Superman might be a chore for some to sit through, but it’s clear the filmmakers have not taken this clash of titans lightly.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Triple 9

For F*** Magazine

TRIPLE 9

Director : John Hillcoat
Cast : Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 115 mins
Opens : 17 March 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language, Nudity and Violence)

Out on the streets, it’s never black and white – though sometimes it is red, owing to the dye packs that permanently stain stole cash. Oh, the red is also often blood. Criminals Michael Atwood (Ejiofor), Russell Welch (Reedus) and his brother Gabe (Paul), along with corrupt cops Marcus Belmont (Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Collins), have been committing armed bank robberies. The crew is working for Irina Vlaslov (Winslet), the wife of a powerful Russian Mafioso. Michael has a son with Irina’s sister Elena (Gadot), further complicating matters. To pull off another job, Marcus and Franco suggest calling in a code “999”, i.e. killing a cop to distract the rest of the police force so the crew can break into a government office and steal data concerning Irina’s husband. Their target is Chris Allen (Affleck), Marcus’ new partner who has transferred from a different district. Chris’ uncle happens to be Sgt. Det. Jeffrey Allen (Harrelson), who is tracking down the bank robbers. The stage is set for all-out war on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia.

            First off, we would like to get that “oh, this stars James Lye, Wong Li-Lin, Lim Yu Beng and Mark Richmond” joke out of the way. If you were watching Singaporean television in the 90s, you know what we’re talking about. Anyway, Triple 9’s screenplay, written by Matt Cook, landed on the 2010 Black List of most-liked scripts making the rounds in Hollywood and has finally been produced. At the helm is John Hillcoat, who directed the revisionist western The Proposition and the prohibition-era bootlegging drama Lawless. Triple 9 is a scuzzy, grimy crime thriller which liberally borrows from the likes of Training Day and Heat. The action sequences are messy and frenzied; our protagonists are mostly criminals who don’t get along; we deal with the theme of honour (or lack thereof) among thieves and there’s an abundance of street-level violence.

            There are many points where Triple 9’s plot feels like it comes straight out of a direct-to-DVD action flick starring 50 Cent and a pre-Mr. Robot Christian Slater. Hillcoat has managed to assemble an impressive cast and it’s impossible not to have high expectations looking the list, which comprises an Oscar winner, Oscar nominees and dependable character actors. Sometimes, seeing a name actor covered in tattoos and scars, all sweaty and grimacing while toting a gun, can feel like we’re just watching a pampered star play dress-up. For the most part, Triple 9does feel fairly authentic, with the city of Atlanta actually getting to play itself instead of doubling for some other locale. Nothing feels prettied up, nothing’s slick and shiny and the situations are overblown but not ludicrously so.

            As the straight-arrow rookie with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, Affleck is well cast and a scene in which Chris threatens a local Cartel bigwig without knowing what he’s getting into does demonstrate that the character is out of his element. Unfortunately, Ejiofor is harder to buy as a tough-talking thug. He has played sinister characters before, but he’s unable to fully shake off that innate nobility that has served him so well in other, very different roles. It comes with the territory of crime movies, but the members of the team are insufficiently distinct and can blur together after a while. Of the group, Collins is actually the most convincing as the unscrupulous, two-faced Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Paul and Reedus don’t bring too much to the table beyond “hey, Jesse Pinkman and Daryl Dixon are brothers!”

            Winslet chomps the drab scenery as the main villain of the piece, a stereotypical mob wife who’s been handed the reins of underworld power while her husband sits it out in a Russian prison. It’s a character even more ridiculously evil than Jeanine Matthews in Divergent and Insurgent. Gadot and Palmer are there to strut about in abbreviated outfits, providing eye candy and doing little else. Harrelson also doesn’t get a chance to work his offbeat, quirky charm in a role that could’ve been played by pretty much anyone.

            Triple 9 is a disappointingly generic crime flick that is elevated ever so slightly by its formidable cast. Not too much of a spin is put on the crime thriller formula and the would-be shocking twists and turns in the last act fail to have much impact at all. Hillcoat keeps things moving along and consciously avoids stretches of exposition, but that has the side effect of making the connections between the characters a little confusing to keep track of. At 115 minutes, it’s also a mite too long and could do with some tightening up. But if you’ve a taste for this sort of thing, you’ll probably find Triple 9 to be a competent thriller set on the mean, mean streets.



Summary:It fails to live up to the expectations generated by that cast list, but Triple 9 has enough brutal thrills and cops-and-robbers intrigue to scrape by.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

San Diego Comic-Con International 2015: The Celebrities

This year, I camped out overnight in line for Hall H. Thanks to my brother Tedd for holding a spot in line for the afternoon and earlier part of the night! I’ve gotta say, it was worth it. As Comic-Con gets bigger and bigger each year, the studios roll out more and more of –

THE CELEBRITIES

Had the opportunity to interview Zachary Levi! Seriously one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever met. Laid-back, charming, absolutely no airs about him at all. Super cool.

Thanks for obliging my request for a photo!
William Shatner and David A. Goodman, author of the James T. Kirk autobiography

Doctor Who! Moderator Chris Hardwick, stars Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez and showrunner Steven Moffat

The Doctor-Donna asking the panel some questions!

Chris Hardwick attempts to stop Jenna Coleman from hearing Peter Capaldi’s answer to a fan question about what other companions the 12th Doctor would like to travel with other than Clara.

Wil Wheaton is excited for the Con Man panel.

“I am a leaf on the chair!” Alan Tudyk in costume as Wash.

Mindy Sterling, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton and special effects artist Barry Bishop

Nathan Fillion, Michael Trucco, Seth Green, Alison Haislip and Nolan North

Wash and Mal reunited

A rambunctious bunch

Felicia Day. Swoon.

Special effects artists Barry Bishop and Billy Brooks got engaged to each other in front of the Hall H crowd!
Writer Alan Burnett, producer Bruce Timm and voice actor C. Thomas Howell of Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Casting and voice director Andrea Romano, director Sam Liu and Burnett again

Howell again with fellow voice actors Paget Brewster (Lois Lane) and Tamara Taylor (Wonder Woman)
Okay, I’ve waited in line all night, it’s time for the Warner Bros. Hall H panel on Saturday.

The men and women of U.N.C.L.E.

Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill, Ilya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo, The Lone Ranger and Superman

Director Joe Wright and titular star Levi Miller from Pan.

Garrett Hedlund (Hook) and Hugh Jackman (Blackbeard)

The Suicide Squad enters Hall H!

Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn)

Task Force X assemble – including Will Smith as Deadshot! 
Moderator Aisha Tyler and director Zack Snyder

The cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice takes their places. Holly Hunter, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck

Lex Luthor and Lois Lane

Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman)

Gal Gadot

“The red capes are coming! The red capes are coming!”

The World’s Finest

Ben Affleck

The Eleventh Doctor himself, Matt Smith

From Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: author Seth Grahame-Smith, director Burr Steers and actors Douglas Booth and Jack Huston.

Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet)

Natalie Dormer and Matt Smith of Patient Zero

Clive Standen, John Bradley-West, Natalie Dormer and Matt Smith

Moderator Chris Hardwick and Quentin Tarantino, in Hall H to present his latest film Hateful Eight – to be shown in glorious 70 mm! 

The very impressive cast of Hateful Eight assembled. 

Beatrix Kid-do asking a question of Mr. Tarantino! 

Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern

Legendary Pictures studio chief Thomas Tull

Guillermo del Toro, director of Crimson Peak

Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain

Guillermo del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain

Director Michael Dougherty with stars Toni Collette and Adam Scott of Krampus.

The cast of Duncan Jones’ Warcraft.

Paula Patton

Clancy Brown, Ruth Negga and Daniel Wu

Dominic Cooper and Rob Kazinsky

The Women Who Kick Ass panel: Moderator Sara Vilkomerson, Gwendoline Christie, Hayley Atwell, Gal Gadot, Jenna Coleman and Kathy Bates

Gwendoline Christie and Hayley Atwell

Gal Gadot

Jenna Coleman

Jenna Coleman and Kathy Bates

When Agent Carter met Wonder Woman

Joss Whedon receiving his Icon Award. “Very kind of them to scratch off JJ’s name and write mine,” he joked. 
The cast of The Maze Runner

Dylan O’Brien, Rosa Salazar, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Giancarlo Esposito

Director Paul McGuigan with stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe of Victor Frankenstein.

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe getting a little touchy-feely

And Tumblr went wild

Director Josh Trank, writer Simon Kinberg and stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell of Fantastic Four.

Our Fantastic Four

Reed and Sue

DOOM!

Ryan Reynolds

The cast and director of Deadpool

Morena Baccarin

Gina Carano

T.J. Miller and Brianna Hildebrand

Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin

Brianna Hildebrand

Director Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds

Hughverine!

Hugh Jackman and Bryan Singer

The cast of X-Men: Apocalypse takes their places

Hugh Jackman jumps in Jennifer Lawerence’s lap

Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse) and Olivia Munn (Psylocke)

Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto)

Evan Peters (Quicksilver), Lucas Till (Havok), Lana Condor (Jubilee), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) and Tye Sheridan (Cyclops)

A young Scott Summers and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner)

Surprise appearance from Stan the Man!

Attempt at the largest comic book movie selfie ever

The night’s DC TV program kicks off with an appearance from the Green Arrow, formerly known as the Arrow. 

Katie Cassidy, Willa Holland, John Barrowman and producer Wendy Mericle

Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy

Father-daughter goofiness

David Ramsey, zen as always

Olicity!

Candice Patton, Grant Gustin, Tom Cavanagh and Danielle Panabaker from The Flash.

Iris and Barry

Caitlin and Cisco (Carlos Valdez)

Legends of Tomorrow

Caity Lotz, returning as The White Canary

Ciara Renee, Victor Garber, Brandon Routh and Wentworth Miller of Legends of Tomorrow

Camren Bicondova and David Mazouz, young Catwoman and Batman from Gotham

Ben McKenzie as Gotham’s heroic Jim Gordon

Donal Logue and Robin Lord Taylor

Sean Pertwee and Camren Bicondova

Melissa Benoist, Supergirl herself

The cast and creators of Supergirl

Jeremy Jordan

Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks

Jimmy Olsen: scrawny no more!

Moderator Ian Somerhalder with Melissa Benoist

Acrobatics performance inspired by the DC TV shows

The cast and writer of Lego Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom!

Voice actors John DiMaggio and Troy Baker

Voice actor Kary Payton

Voice actor Dave B. Mitchell and writer Heath Corson from Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem

Yuri Lowenthal

Will Friedle and Yuri Lowenthal