Reminiscence review

Director: Lisa Joy
Cast : Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Daniel Wu, Marina de Tavira, Brett Cullen, Mojean Aria, Angela Sarafyan, Natalie Martinez
Genre: Sci-fi/Thriller
Run Time : 116 min
Opens : 18 August
Rating : NC16

Writer-director Lisa Joy goes from Westworld to Waterworld with this sci-fi noir set in a partially submerged city. Joy, who co-created the HBO series with her husband Jonathan Nolan, makes her feature directorial debut here.

It is the near future and most of Miami is underwater. Military veteran Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) runs a business offering “reminiscences” – clients undergo a procedure that helps them relive memories of their choice. Nick operates the business with fellow veteran Watts (Thandiwe Newton) and is sometimes called upon by the District Attorney’s office to use the reminiscence device for depositions. The technology was originally developed as an interrogation implement, but now, people use it to find solace in the happiness of their past. A mysterious nightclub singer named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) visits Nick and Watts, ostensibly wanting to find her missing keys. This upends Nick’s existence, sparking an obsession with Mae that finds him embroiled in a far-reaching conspiracy involving such unsavoury characters as crime lord Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), Joe’s hired muscle Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis) and land baron Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen).

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Reminiscence marries its noir influences with a sci-fi aesthetic and central plot device to create a moody, atmospheric film. While it is hampered by certain elements, which we will get to in a bit, it’s often interesting to look at and is generally cast very well. The Greatest Showman co-stars Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are called upon to play noir archetypes – he the trench coat-clad haunted private detective, she the sultry femme fatale chanteuse. Both actors fit these types perfectly, and convincingly inhabit the world that Joy has created. Joy brings many key crew members from Westworld along, including cinematographer Paul Cameron, production designer Howard Cummings and composer Ramin Djawadi. The world that Reminiscence takes place in feels expansive and well-realised. The result of climate disasters and rife with inequality and unrest, it is not as dramatic as other sci-fi dystopias, but feels quite plausible.  

Also from Westworld are actors Thandiwe Newton and Angela Sarafyan. Newton provides an excellent foil to Jackman, playing a survivor who is sardonic as a defence mechanism. Cliff Curtis turns in a supremely scuzzy performance, playing a crooked cop-turned mob enforcer.

A big problem with many neo-noir films is that they are too self-conscious about their influences, which is eminently evident here. You may have heard the phrase “this movie has watched a lot of movies” – Reminiscence is one of those. A lot of the dialogue is arch and unnatural, with the actors trying their best to make lines like “memories are like perfume. They work best in small doses.”

In trying to evoke the noir genre, Reminiscence can sometimes hold the audience at arm’s length. Joy is very conscientious about the world-building, but that means it’s not just the flooded Miami streets but also exposition that the characters must wade through. The first half of the film is sometimes slow, such that when there are two action sequences later, they almost feel as if they belong in a different film.  

The performance that sticks out as being particularly bad is Daniel Wu’s. His character is meant to be a dangerous, sexy crime boss, but his swagger feels affected and the character’s code-switching between English and Mandarin Chinese is sometimes stilted.

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The central device of accessing one’s memories via technology isn’t a new thing in sci-fi, but the way it is realised in Reminiscence is visually compelling. Subjects are partially submerged before the process can begin, further reinforcing the film’s water motif – perhaps a metaphor for how remembering past events is like looking at something through water. The memories are then projected onto a circular platform, like theatre in the round, which creates 3D holographic images via crystalline strings of bulbs. The resulting image feels slightly intangible – it’s right in front of the characters, but they can’t quite touch it. It’s the most elegant visual in the film.

Summary: Drawing on the expertise she gained as the co-showrunner of Westworld, Lisa Joy makes her feature film directorial debut with a movie that is ambitious if rough around the edges. Reminiscence is sometimes murky and, like its futuristic setting, can feel waterlogged. However, Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson’s bona fide movie star performances make the film more convincing than it would be otherwise. The sci-fi trappings are visually captivating and the world that the movie takes place in is well constructed.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Greatest Showman movie review

For inSing

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Director : Michael Gracey
Cast : Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Paul Sparks
Genre : Musical/Drama
Run Time : 1h 45m
Opens : 28 December 2017
Rating : PG

For years, Hugh Jackman has been saying “let’s put on a show” – specifically, a movie musical based on the life of showbiz pioneer P.T. Barnum. The project was announced in 2009, and with The Greatest Showman, Jackman’s dream has come true – but just how much was this endeavour worth the actor’s blood, sweat and tears?

Phineas Taylor ‘P.T.’ Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is an enterprising showman who, after being fired from his job as a shipping company clerk, takes the biggest risk of his life: he sinks whatever money he has left into a museum of oddities. Barnum came from nothing, but married far above his station to Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams), his childhood sweetheart. The couple have two daughters: Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely).

When wax figures and stuffed animals alone fail to draw crowds, Barnum puts out the call for human oddities and persons with unique acts to join his museum, which soon gets rebranded as a ‘circus’. These include bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), dwarf Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey) who takes on the stage name ‘General Tom Thumb’, sibling trapeze artists Anne (Zendaya) and W.D. (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) Wheeler, conjoined twins Chang (Yusaku Komori) and Eng (Danial Son) Bunker, and Prince Constantine (Shannon Holtzappfel), whose whole body is covered in tattoos.

Barnum ropes in playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to be his partner. The aristocratic young man is initially hesitant to throw in with Barnum, but eventually does. Carlyle falls in love with Anne, but because of racial prejudices, both fear they will be ostracised if they enter a relationship. James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks), theatre critic for the New York Herald, decries Barnum’s show as vile and debasing, while angry hordes protest the show because they do not want the ‘freaks’ to be seen out in public.

As Barnum’s success grows despite ever-increasing odds, so does his hubris. Barnum becomes besotted with opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), dubbed the ‘Swedish Nightingale’. He forsakes his crew of circus oddities and his own family to advance Jenny’s career in the United States. As Barnum chases fame and fortune, he must re-evaluate his priorities and decide how much is enough.

The Greatest Showman very much wants to be a great time for the whole family: uplifting, joyous, inspirational and bursting with dazzling visual spectacle. This is a movie that works better if you know nothing about P.T. Barnum. This movie dearly hopes you know nothing about P.T. Barnum. This won’t be the first review to state that perhaps the historical figure is not the best match for a tolerance-driven story about embracing one’s differences. There’s a site called History vs. Hollywood that handily compares fact-based movies with actual events, and the page for The Greatest Showman might as well just say “yeah, no”.

This is a man who got his big break exhibiting a slave woman named Joice Heth, billing her as being 161-years-old and having been George Washington’s nursemaid. After Heth died, Barnum held a live autopsy in a Broadway theatre, attended by 1500 paying audience members. And that’s just the beginning of his career in showbusiness.

Looking past that – which is a lot to look past – there is plenty in The Greatest Showman to appreciate. This is an adoring tribute to the glory days of the movie musical. Movie musicals must often hide that they are musicals, since a big section of filmgoers dislike the genre. In The Greatest Showman, there are eleven original songs, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul – the duo who won an Oscar for La La Land and a Tony for Dear Evan Hansen. This film was in development before Pasek and Paul made it big.

The film’s songs all have a radio-friendly Top 40 sound – Jackman has said that he wanted the music to be something his youngest daughter would want to listen to. This is a bit of a double-edged sword – the anachronistic-sounding songs make it feel like the movie is so close to a full-on throwback, but took one crucial step back. Some of the pop instrumentation is distracting, and the movie’s low point is when the opera singer performs what is decidedly not opera.

The big signature number “This Is Me”, an ecstatic celebration of being different that is performed with gusto and sincerity by Settle, is anthemic and has a wonderful message. “Rewrite the Stars” is meant to be a sweeping romantic duet, but is instead entirely cheesy. “You know I want you/ It’s not a secret I try to hide/ But I can’t have you” are actual lyrics in the song.

The film’s group numbers are uniformly excellent. There is such dynamism to the staging, and the choreography by Ashley Wallen is a technical achievement, given the synchronisation involved, not to mention groups of dancers navigating various obstacles and special effects going off. “The Other Side”, a duet between Barnum and Carlyle in which the former talks the latter into joining him, features a fiendishly clever bit in which shot glasses are moved across a bar counter to the beat of the music.

Jackman gives this his all, and it is invigorating to see a performer who is so in his element. He’s a song and dance man as much as he is a claw-baring action hero, and he’s right at home in this movie.

Williams puts in a quietly moving performance, and her solo number, the wistful “Tightrope”, is this reviewer’s favourite song of the film. Efron is slick and charming – he’s kind of floundered about choosing many bad projects, but The Greatest Showman fits his skill set to a tee.

Zendaya is captivating, effortlessly poised and glamorous, yet also evincing the sadness beneath Anne’s surface. The forbidden romance between Anne and Phillip is clumsily executed, but has its moments. Both characters are fictional.

Unfortunately, the circus oddities do not get sufficient development. Tom Thumb and Lettie read as individuals, but the group is often relegated to providing background texture. It seems like there’s so much to each character, each of their struggles growing up different from everyone else, that doesn’t get explored.

Then there’s the strawman critic played by Sparks, who feels like a built-in defence against the film’s would-be negative reviews – but The Greatest Showman is hardly the first movie to use this device.

If you long for the heyday of big-budget, glitzy movie musicals, The Greatest Showman is as close as Hollywood has come in a while. The ambition behind the movie, especially since this is director Michael Gracey’s feature film debut, is commendable. However, it is, at the very least, troubling that a figure as monstrous as P.T. Barnum has been fashioned into a vehicle for the film’s very worthwhile positive messaging.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Logan

LOGAN

Director : James Mangold
Cast : Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook
Genre : Action/Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 17min
Opens : 2 March 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)

The conclusion to the Wolverine trilogy sees our rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem not to be born, but to face his reckoning. It is 2029, and most of mutantkind has died out. Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) lays low as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas, now almost 200-years-old. The adamantium with which his bones were laced is poisoning him from the inside out, and his powers are waning. Logan makes medicine runs for Charles Xavier/Professor X (Stewart), a now-senile nonagenarian who is cared for by the albino tracker Caliban (Merchant). Logan finds himself in danger upon encountering Laura Kinney/X-23 (Keen), a young girl who was cloned from him and bred as a super-soldier by the evil scientist Zander Rice (Grant). Rice sends the Reavers, a cybernetic mercenary army led by Donald Pierce (Holbrook), after Logan, Charles and Laura. The makeshift family unit must traverse the United States to make it to Eden, a fabled oasis for mutants in Canada.

Hugh Jackman has portrayed Wolverine for 17 years – and to think it all began when the initially-cast Dougray Scott had to drop out of X-Men due to a scheduling conflict with Mission: Impossible II. Loosely inspired by the Old Man Logan story arc in the comics written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven, Jackman bids farewell to his signature role in grim, heart-rending fashion. Audiences feel fatigued from comic book movies in part because of how every franchise craves longevity, how every film must now set up the next few instalments in the series. The X-Men movies will not end with Logan, but there is a finality to this film that sinks its claws into the viewer, at once satisfying and sad. Logan does not busy itself with dropping breadcrumbs for fans to speculate about how this story will continue, nor is there some shadowy, ultimate villain who makes a cameo before manifesting in a later film.

Executive meddling is often bemoaned by fans – we’ve all heard too many stories of a director’s specific vision being cramped by the suits fretting over the bottom line. Seeing how expensive most superhero blockbusters are, it’s justifiable to a certain extent. After the explosive success of Deadpool, a movie which Fox repeatedly tried to prevent from coming to fruition, it seems the higher-ups at the studio have learnt their lesson. Director James Mangold seems completely free to make the movie he wanted to. A neo-western with a post-apocalyptic tinge, the Wolverine character suits the scenario which Mangold has placed him in to a tee. Mangold’s influences, from Mad Max to Johnny Cash to the 1953 Western Shane, create a rich tapestry, imbuing a linear, simply plotted film with genuine depth and resonance.

Much has been made of Logan’s R rating. At first, it was cynically rationalised as only being a direct result of the R-rated Deadpool being a hit. However, one would argue that if any superhero deserved an R-rated movie of his own, it would be one with metal claws extending from his knuckles, and who frequently flies into a ‘berserker rage’. Make no bones about it: Logan is brutal. Dismemberments, impalements and arterial spray abound. However, rather than relishing in the violence, Mangold uses it to make a point, to emphasise that all bets are off and that the consequences are realer than ever. Because it largely eschews elaborately-designed set-pieces in favour of visceral bloodshed, the spectacle in Logan might not be as memorable as in some of the earlier X-Men films, but it works.

Many tentpole genre films have claimed to be “character-driven”, and Logan is one of the few that deserves that label. Jackman’s swansong packs quite the punch. He essays a tenderness which the nigh-invulnerable Wolverine rarely exhibits, and it does ache to see the ravages of time finally catch up with the character. His worn visage partially hidden behind a scraggly beard, this is some of the finest acting Jackman has done in his career.

Stewart’s Xavier provides some of the film’s most gut-wrenching moments. Just as it is painful to see the powerful Wolverine reduced to a shambling ghost of his former self, it stings to see Professor X’s formidable mind rendered to mush. The kindness, wisdom and glimmers of mischief that have been visible throughout Stewart’s portrayal of Xavier remain, but we see it flickering and desperately want to capture it before it’s altogether extinguished. Giving beloved characters such fragility after so many years makes viewers cherish them, and is key to why it’s so easy to engage with Logan.

Keen’s Laura rounds out this dysfunctional but sympathetic and compelling family. The X-23 character, who debuted in the animated series X-Men: Evolution and who has now taken on the mantle of Wolverine in the comics, has great cinematic potential. The idea of a child grown in a lab who is mal-adjusted to the outside world and who forms a bond with a parental figure is not new, but Keen’s quietly stirring presence and X-23’s own formidable abilities make it feel like this is something we haven’t seen before. The distastefulness of imperilling a child for dramatic tension is mitigated by the fact that X-23’s own abilities are equal and perhaps outstrip those of Logan himself.

Previous X-Men films have suffered from trying to parcel out attention between way too many characters, and Logan benefits from keeping the circle small. English stand-up comic Merchant, known for his lanky proportions and awkward demeanour, delivers a surprisingly dramatic turn as Caliban. Holbrook’s Donald Pierce is little more than a hired gun, but it serves the story and his snarling manner is just the right pitch of evil. Similarly, Grant refrains from chewing the scenery as a stock mad scientist, his inhuman coldness towards his victims quite unnerving. There is a quiet interlude in which small-town farmer Will (Eriq Lasalle) invites Logan and company into his home, and they share a meal with Will and his family, a good example of letting the story breathe.

While Logan’s individual components might not break much new ground, they add up to something astounding, something powerful. If one has felt any kind of attachment to the Wolverine character as played by Jackman over the last 17 years, this heartfelt, visceral journey will tear you to shreds.

Summary: As thoughtful as it is brutal and as fresh as it is familiar, we can’t think of a better way for Wolverine to ride off into the sunset.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Eddie The Eagle

For F*** Magazine 

EDDIE THE EAGLE 

Director : Dexter Fletcher
Cast : Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Christopher Walken, Tim McInnerny, Jim Broadbent
Genre : Biography/Sports
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 31 March 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Egerton) always dreamed of being an Olympian. Since childhood, he’s been repeatedly told by many, including his father Terry (Allen), that he’s just not cut out for sports. And it all went downhill from there, so to speak. Against the wishes of his father but with the support of his mother Janette (Hartley), Eddie sets out to a ski jumping camp in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany to train. He is mocked by the other more experienced jumpers at the facility, but catches the eye of drunken snowplough driver Bronson Peary (Jackman). Bronson was once a member of the U.S. ski jumping Olympics team under the renowned coach Warren Sharp (Walken), but was later seen as a disgrace to the sport and became an alcoholic. Eddie convinces Bronson to coach him so Eddie can qualify for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Dubbed “Eddie the Eagle” by the media, Eddie has to prove to the world that he’s a serious contender and not merely the silly underdog.

            If the term “feel-good movie” makes you roll your eyes, you’d be better off giving this a wide berth. Eddie the Eagle is a film that revels in its cornball sensibilities and adheres to all the sports movie clichés in existence. The jaded might scoff at it, but there’s definitely something very appealing here, you’ll just have to wade through the schmaltz to get to it. Most of us know what it’s like to be rejected or told we’re not good enough at some point or another, and Eddie’s irresistible combination of perseverance, chutzpah and endearing goofiness make him exceedingly easy to root for.

This is based on a true story, but the real-life Eddie Edwards has publicly stated that the film is only “about 5%” accurate. We completely understand the concept of dramatic license, but the liberties taken with the facts do make Eddie the Eagle feel inauthentic. There are many moments when the film comes off as cartoony, particularly in how all of Eddie’s fellow skiers, even those on the British Olympic team, are depicted as exceedingly stereotypical bullies. There’s no doubt that the real Eddie faced considerable obstacles in pursuit of his dream, but the underdog-ness is dialled up to the point where he might as well have to fend off an actual dragon on the way to the 70 metre jump.

The biggest fabrication is Jackman’s Bronson Peary, a character created from whole cloth by screenwriters Simon Kelton and Sean Macaulay. Edwards was actually coached by Americans John Viscome and Chuck Berghorn at Lake Placid; turns out they weren’t quite colourful enough for the filmmakers’ tastes. The swaggering Bronson’s glory days are behind him and he has the chance to make up for his fall from grace by taking on a protégé – yet more familiar tropes. That said, Jackman is extremely watchable in the role. He simply radiates charisma and reminds audiences yet again why he’s a bona fide movie star. He also excels at the several moments of physical comedy the character is given.



Egerton is poised to hit the big time after starring in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service; that film’s director Matthew Vaughn is a producer on this project. He piles on the “aw shucks” factor as Eddie and looks to be having fun playing the earnest, dorky, very unlikely national hero. Unfortunately, Egerton is prone to over-acting, though this can probably be pinned on director Dexter Fletcher too. There is so much squinting and lopsided grinning going on to emphasise the character’s awkwardness that it often feels like Egerton is merely mugging to the camera. This is yet another movie about a wide-eyed dreamer in which the mum is supportive and the dad completely isn’t, but we suppose that’s how it is in real life a lot of the time too. Walken’s barely in this; like Bronson, his character Warren Sharp is fictional too.



Famed second unit director Vic Armstrong stages some spectacular stunts, with professional ski jumpers re-creating some heart-stopping leaps off the ramp. The 80s atmosphere is suitably evocative, amplified by Matthew Margeson’s synth-heavy score. Eddie the Eagle is spirited, entertaining and even genuinely thrilling in parts, but it’s hard to shake the niggling sense that everything’s been packaged a little too neatly and tweaked for maximum crowd pleasing effect.

Summary: Eddie the Eagle will be too treacly for some and the staggering liberties it takes with the true story undermine it somewhat, but stars Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman ensure it makes that landing.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong  

Pan

From F*** Magazine

PAN

Director : Joe Wright
Cast : Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried, Leni Zieglmeier, Adeel Akhtar, Cara Delevingne, Jack Charles, Na Tae Joo, Nonso Anozie, Kathy Burke, Kurt Egyiawan, Lewis MacDougall
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 8 October 2015
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes and Violence)

The boy who would never grow old is also apparently the well that would never run dry, as here we are with yet another return to Neverland, this time to see how Peter Pan began. Peter (Miller) is an orphan in World War II-era England, who alongside his best friend Nibs (Lewis McDougall) bedevils the strict nuns who run the orphanage, holding out hope that his mother will one day return for him. One night, Peter gets spirited away via flying pirate ship to the magical realm of Neverland, where he is forced to work in the mines run by the flamboyant, tyrannical Blackbeard (Jackman). Peter befriends fellow miner James Hook (Hedlund) and along with Smee (Akhtar), they escape the mines. They run into Tiger Lily (Mara), princess of the Piccaninny tribe, who helps Peter discover his destiny and unveils the mysterious truth about Peter’s mother. With Blackbeard closing in, Peter must overcome his doubts and embrace his place as Neverland’s saviour.

Since Peter Pan’s creation by author J.M. Barrie in 1902, the character and the mythos has been adapted and reinterpreted innumerable times for the stage and screen. Pan hops aboard the “revisionist fairy-tale” bandwagon, recounting Peter’s secret origins. “This isn’t the story you’ve heard before,” the opening voiceover by Peter’s mother Mary (Seyfried) proudly proclaims. The thing is, the embellishments add very little to the story as we know it, with allusions to events that will unfold later on coming off less as knowing winks and more as on-the-nose insertions. Peter Pan’s early days as an orphan give the story a Dickensian spin and the visual of a flying pirate ship taking on RAF and Luftwaffe fighter planes during the Blitz is fun, but ultimately relatively pointless. That’s a good way to sum up Pan – “fun, but ultimately relatively pointless.”

Director Joe Wright set out to craft a family-friendly live-action fantasy adventure, and it turns out there aren’t that many of those in theatres these days. It is a positive sign that Pan avoids being dark and grim and embraces the joy that has become associated with Peter Pan. Visually, it is pretty to look at, production designer Aline Bonetto crafting some dazzling mini-worlds. However, it isn’t anything radically inventive, the look of Neverland’s various environs owing a lot to previous versions of the story and other fantasy films. Complaining about computer-generated imagery has become tiresome in and of itself, but the synthetic feel of the settings and creatures undercuts the whimsy and wonder the film is aiming for. There is a frustrating lack of soul behind the visuals, and this reviewer found himself switching off at times because there wasn’t anything to, pardon the pun, hook on to. The most egregious offenders are the skeletal Neverbirds, which look like rejects from The Nightmare Before Christmas and are straight-up cartoony in appearance, never seeming like they convincingly inhabit the landscape.

There are things about the film that work, chief of which is the title character. Australian child actor Miller is a revelation as Peter, fearlessly holding his own opposite Jackman and the other adult cast-members. There’s a fine blend of confidence, impishness and vulnerability in his performance which made this reviewer never question that he was the right choice to play Peter Pan. Miller also has enough personality such that he doesn’t come across as a too-cutesy production line Disney Channel moppet. There’s a messiah element to this interpretation of Peter – his mother is even named “Mary” – but that symbolism isn’t very meaningfully explored. Wait, Mary Darling was the mother of Wendy, John and Michael…it can’t be the same Mary, can it? This is confusing.

Jackman appears to have been paid in scenery, which he wolfs down with gusto, going the full Tim Curry as Blackbeard. He’s clearly having the time of his life, rocking the over-the-top Jacqueline Durran-designed costumes. He even gets to lead a chorus of miners in singing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – a delightfully bizarre anachronism that effectively highlights the “outside of time” nature of Neverland. There was never any question as to whether or not he would be entertaining and Jackman’s sinister glee papers over some of the cracks in the well-worn story.

Captain Hook is reimagined as a charming rogue very firmly in the Han Solo mould, with Hedlund drawling and smirking his way through the part. Hedlund is pretty bland, lacking the dangerous charisma that should hint at Hook’s destiny as Peter’s arch-nemesis. The “friend-turned-enemies” plot device is kind of tired and is yet another example of an attempt to put a spin on things that is only semi-successful at best.

Mara is also quite stiff as Tiger Lily, the Princess Leia to Hook’s Han, even though she does get to partake in the action. There was a degree of controversy surrounding the casting of a, well, lily-white actress in the part, seeing as the Piccaninny Tribe are analogous to Native Americans. In the film, the tribe is composed of various ethnicities and we even get Korean actor Na Tae-joo as martial arts fighter Kwahu, who seems awfully reminiscent of Hook’s iconic Rufio. It’s a shame that the role was whitewashed, since there really is no justification for Tiger Lily not being played by a person of colour, especially given the dearth of roles in Hollywood for actors of Native American origin. On the other hand, the typically-white Mr. Smee is played by Adeel Akhtar, a British actor of Pakistani origin. Akhtar displays solid comedic chops, his Smee doing a fair amount of the expected bumbling about.

Under the guise of reinventing the story of Peter Pan, Pan walks a well-trodden path, presenting a bog-standard hero’s journey/chosen one plot that just happens to be set in a fantastical location. There are entertaining sequences, a few genuinely creative sparks and good performances, but the CGI-heavy visuals are insufficiently enchanting and screenwriter Jason Fuchs doesn’t make many worthwhile additions to the mythology. “To live will be an awfully big adventure,” Barrie famously wrote. We guess a medium-sized adventure will have to suffice.


Summary: A middling fantasy adventure that never quite takes flight, Pan is another revisionist fairy-tale that doesn’t fully justify its existence, but should be fun enough for the tykes in the audience.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Chappie

For F*** Magazine

CHAPPIE

Director : Neill Blomkamp
Cast : Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Yolandi Visser, Ninja, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Genre : Sci-Fi/Action
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 5 March 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Sentient robots, from the terrifying (the Terminator) to the adorable (WALL-E), have long been a mainstay of science fiction films. Director Neill Blomkamp hopes Chappie can join those ranks. It is the very near future and South Africa has become the first nation in the world to utilise a police force comprised entirely of androids. These robots, called “Scouts”, are designed by engineer Deon Wilson (Patel) for the Tetravaal Corporation, run by Michelle Bradley (Weaver). Deon’s professional rival at Tetravaal, ex-military man Vincent Moore (Jackman), wants his own creation, the heavily-armed Moose robot, to be deployed instead of the Scouts. Deon is working on his pet project, a fully sentient artificial consciousness, when he is kidnapped by gangsters Ninja (Ninja), Yolandi (Visser) and America (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They force Deon to create a robot that they can train and control, resulting in the birth of Chappie (Copley). Ninja, Yolandi and America try to mould the childlike Chappie in their image as the robot comes to grips with having a consciousness of its own.

            Chappie is an expansion of director Blomkamp’s 2004 short film, Tetra Vaal. Unfortunately, in making the leap from 1 minute and 20 seconds to 120 minutes, Blomkamp has exposed his shortcomings as a filmmaker. The dialogue is cringe-worthy and the characters are disappointingly two-dimensional, a shame considering Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell were nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for District 9. That film was praised for its original take on the alien invasion subgenre, a unique allegory for Apartheid. Here, it’s plainly visible where all the ideas have been cobbled together from. With its experimental military robot who gains consciousness, this is strongly reminiscent of Short Circuit. The Moose looks pretty much exactly like ED-209 from RoboCop, Chappie’s “ears” are cribbed from Appleseed’s Briaeros, the list goes on.


            The visual effects work, supervised by Chris Harvey and supplied by effects houses including Weta, Image Engine and Ollin VFX, is top-notch. Blomkamp has proven that he knows the right way to use CGI and the digital robots in this film all have a realistic weight and texture to them. The character animation on Chappie himself is good, with those ears being particularly expressive. Despite the best efforts of the animators and Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie via performance capture, this reviewer was unable to truly connect with the character. Blomkamp is striving to make the title character an endearing, plucky creation and there are moments when the audience might go “aww”, but there’s a spark missing. Just this past November, moviegoers embraced Baymax from Big Hero 6 and TARS from Interstellar, androids with loveable, well-defined personalities. Chappie certainly falls short of those two.


            In addition to being derivative, Chappie comes off as indulgent. Very indulgent. We have Watkin Tudor Jones and Anri du Toit, better known as Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er respectively, playing essentially fictionalised versions of themselves. Blomkamp has cast rap-rave group Die Antwoord in his movie, not in a cameo somewhere in the background, but in major supporting roles. Their shtick gets really grating really fast and while the unique South African thug culture does lend the movie a personality of its own, it quickly becomes just another flavour of annoying. The film also awkwardly bounces between the tough and the twee, with much of the comedy being derived from Chappie being taught gangster affectations by Ninja with Yolandi playing a more nurturing role, actually tucking the robot into bed and reading it a bedtime story in one scene.

            Dev Patel’s Deon is as stereotypical a computer geek as they come. The character stays up all night working on programming his fully sentient AI, fuelled by Red Bull and logging his progress via webcam recordings where he speaks in frenzied tones. Hugh Jackman is as charismatic as he usually is, rocking a glorious mullet and khaki shorts as the villainous Vincent. He really should take up bad guy roles more often; we’ll get to see Jackman as Blackbeard in Pan a little later on this year. Unfortunately, instead of a climactic confrontation, we get Hugh Jackman in a virtual reality visor remotely controlling the actions of his giant killer robot in a sequence that is anticlimactic in spite of all the explosions because Jackman isn’t in the middle of the action. Sigourney Weaver doesn’t do much as the stock boss lady and it’s a somewhat sad realisation to think her character in this film could have been played by anyone.

            Chappie is what happens when a promising director is given too much free rein. Yes, big studios can often stifle a director’s artistic voice, but sometimes, they need to be told “no” for their own good, lest one end up with a Michael Bay. For all the effort taken in making the world of Chappie seem realistic and lived-in, it is impossible to swallow some of the far-fetched sci-fi plot developments, particularly since the events of the film are meant to take place a year or so from now. Here’s hoping that with the Alien film Blomkamp is doing next, the rules of that particular universe make for a set playing field so he doesn’t get so carried away.

Summary:It looks like a relatively cool product and all the specs check out, but a crippling software error brings Chappiedown.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Director : Bryan Singer
Cast : Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Evan Peters, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit
Genre : Action, Adventure
Opens: : 22 May 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence & Brief Coarse Language)

            The “biggest X-Men film yet” has almost everybody from both the X-Men trilogy and 2011’s X-Men: First Class in attendance as part of this decades-spanning odyssey. In a post-apocalyptic future, mutants are at war with formidable, super-advanced Sentinel robots. Professor Xavier (Stewart) and Magneto (McKellen) hatch a plan to have Shadowcat (Page) project the consciousness of Wolverine (Jackman) into the body of his younger self; a sort of metaphysical time-travel. “Arriving” in 1973, Wolverine has to wrangle Xavier and Magneto’s younger selves (McAvoy and Fassbender respectively) in order to stop the war before it begins. A threat to mutants emerges in the form of Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage), the inventor of the Sentinels. Mystique (Lawrence) is on a mission to hunt and kill Trask, but it is this action that will set the world on its dark path. The various mutants, too many to list in this paragraph, must band together to avert their horrific destiny.

            To say the X-Men film franchise has had its ups and downs is very much an understatement. As such, fans were understandably wary of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which takes its name and premise, if not every last detail, from the landmark 1981 comics story arc. The “everyone and their mother” cast (well, Mystique’s here but alas, Nightcrawler isn’t) led many to fear that this would be a bloated affair. We’re happy to report that director Bryan Singer has somehow managed to keep all the plates spinning. Because one metaphor isn’t enough to describe how masterful the balancing act here is, Days of Future Past is a football field-sized sheet of paper which has been folded into an intricate origami crane. X-Men: First Class is quite different in tone and style from the X-Men trilogy proper, so to marry those two into a cohesive universe is quite the achievement.

            Naturally, the plot is a complex one and neophytes might feel left out in the cold. For those who have stuck with the mutants’ cinematic outings through thick and thin however, X-Men: Days of Future Past will be rewarding and exhilarating. There’s character development aplenty and the interactions we’ve become familiar with, particularly the pivotal, rocky relationship between Xavier and Magneto, get a good deal of play. A section of the film is set against the real-life Paris Peace Accords (with Mark Camacho as a pretty darn good Nixon), lending the film historical context. In addition to all this, spectacle is not in short supply. We’re treated to a variety of combat scenes and action sequences in which the characters’ myriad abilities are showcased in full. There’s also just enough levity amidst the drama; Evan Peters’ kleptomaniac speedster Quicksilver in particular gets to steal the show with what might just be the single greatest slow-motion sequence ever put on film, set to Jim Croce’s ballad “Time in a Bottle”.

            Comic book fans have often joked of “Wolverine publicity”, that Marvel shamelessly coasts on the popularity of the clawed Canuck. In the comics, it was Shadowcat who did the time-travelling but here, everything rides on Logan. Jackman is as good in the role as always; ripped to shreds, baring his butt and playing mediator and guide, a role that’s unfamiliar for the short-tempered Wolverine. McAvoy’s turn is riveting, his lost, broken and argumentative Xavier in stark contrast to the signature tranquillity and wisdom of Patrick Stewart’s portrayal. Thankfully, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has preserved the in-flux relationship between Xavier and Magneto that Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman presumably wrote into their draft of the script. Fassbender is majestic, commanding, unwaveringly intense yet undeniably sexy, further proving that casting him as young Magneto was a stroke of genius.  

            Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is almost as big as Wolverine is on the poster and she does play a key role; her pursuit of Trask driving the 1973-set portion of the film alongside Wolverine’s quest. Lawrence and her stunt doubles break out some impressive acrobatic fight moves and Mystique’s shape-shifting power is used cleverly and surprisingly several times. The very sympathetic Mystique in X-Men: First Class differs greatly from the cold-blooded lackey in the X-Mentrilogy and Lawrence strives to make the character’s transition believable. Dinklage delivers a captivating performance, confident, focused and just menacing enough. Trask is the designated antagonist but he’s certainly not made out to be a cackling, one-dimensional villain. Dinklage’s casting carries a hint of comic book psychology, that perhaps the invention of oversized giant robots is Trask’s way of compensating for his slight physical stature.

            If there’s something about the film that doesn’t completely succeed, perhaps it’s the aesthetics. For every dazzling visual effects flourish, there is a questionable design choice or a casting of a supporting character that doesn’t quite work. Twilight teen idol Booboo Stewart is far from convincingly tough as Warpath. Quicksilver does come off looking quite silly, but Evan Peters’ joyous portrayal overcomes that. Mystique’s makeup consists mostly of a skin-tight bodysuit here, which no doubt saves application time but also means the scales can look glued-on. The Future Sentinels’ resemblance to the Destroyers in Thoris sometimes distracting; especially the way their faces open up to unleash a burst of flame. Josh Helman also looks way too much like Seann William Scott to be taken seriously as Young Stryker, the character having previously been played by character actors Brian Cox and Danny Huston.

            That said, it’s hard to be bothered by perceived surface-level imperfections when everything else blends and melds so seamlessly. Sequels can have a difficult time justifying their existence, not least when they’re the seventh entry in a long-running franchise. Days of Future Past does more than justify its existence, it becomes a stunning, involving epic that matches awe-inspiring visuals (plus some good 3D effects) with ever-evolving character dynamics. Stick around past the end credits for an appetite-whetting taste of where the story’s headed next.


Summary: The biggest, most ambitious X-Men film yet is also the greatest.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Singapore Press Conference Photo Highlights

Singapore was among the seven cities chosen for the global premieres of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Stars Hugh Jackman, Peter Dinklage and Fan Bingbing graced the blue carpet on 14th May and held a press conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on the 15th. Here are some photo highlights from the press conference that day.

True gentlemen. 

Hot 91.3 deejay Joshua Simon asked to speak to Wolverine himself and wanted to know if Logan eats his steak with cutlery, or just stabs at the ribeye with his claws. Wolverine didn’t take too kindly to the question and the matter was taken outside. I think it was a pretty clear fight. 

Note Peter Dinklage’s Batman and Robin shirt. We have a DC sympathizer in our midst (yay!)