IT Chapter Two review

IT CHAPTER TWO

Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast : James McAvoy, Jaeden Martell, Jessica Chastain, Sophia Lillis, Jay Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, James Ransone, Jack Dylan Grazer, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 2 h 49 mins
Opens : 5 September 2019
Rating : M18

            In 2017, It received critical acclaim and became the highest grossing horror movie of all time. Anticipation was high for Chapter Two, which concludes the story of the Losers Club’s battle against Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).

At the end of the first film, the members of the Losers Club vowed that if Pennywise were to re-emerge, they would return to Derry, Maine to face him. 27 years later, the clown rears his grotesque grinning head. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa as an adult, Chosen Jacobs as a child), who has stayed in Derry and become the town librarian, summons his friends, who have all moved away, back home.

Bill (James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell) is now an author and screenwriter, married to actress Audra (Jess Weixler). Beverly (Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis) is a fashion designer in an abusive marriage. Richie (Bill Hader/Finn Wolfhard) is a stand-up comedian. Ben (Jay Ryan/Jeremy Ray Taylor) has become a successful architect. Eddie (James Ransone/Jack Dylan Grazer) is a risk analyst. Stanley (Andy Bean/Wyatt Oleff) is an accountant. Each has moved on with their lives, but the spectre of Pennywise, of It, hangs over them. As the bonds of their childhood friendship are re-forged, the Losers Club battles Pennywise in his myriad terrifying forms again.

Stephen King’s novel It had a structure that alternated between following the Losers Club as adults and as kids. This two-part film adaptation has changed that by focusing the first movie on the Losers Club as kids, then the second on the characters as adults. The movie is 169 minutes long compared to the first film’s 135. Director Andy Muschietti seems to have been emboldened by the success of Chapter One, taking more risks with Chapter Two. However, those risks do not always pay off.

This reviewer loved the first film, which engendered sincere sympathy and affection from the audience for its characters in a way very few horror films have before. It Chapter Two continues to be character-driven, and part of the reason why its runtime is so long is that we need to spend enough time with each character to see their arcs through. However, there is also a greater emphasis on set-pieces and spectacle. Instead of concentrating the terror, as the scare sequences in the first movie did so well, the set-pieces here seem to diffuse the terror.

There’s a lot in this movie which sounds scary on paper, and several of It’s manifestations are unsettling on a conceptual level. However, they end up being mostly CGI. Even when the visual effects work is very good, on a base level, audiences know that whatever is menacing the actors isn’t really occupying the same space as them. The film evokes practical creature effects classics like The Thing and The Fly, but minus most of the tactility. Even when Spanish actor/contortionist Javier Botet portrays one of It’s forms, the creature has an obviously computer-generated face. The problem with the more outlandish It-erations in this movie is that they tend to take away from Bill Skarsgård’s performance, which is scary enough as is.

While there are several outstanding performers in the cast portraying the grown-up Losers Club, the child versions of the characters are just a lot more compelling. The casting in the film is generally good. Physically, James Ransone is a very close match for Jack Dylan Grazer, doing a lot with his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth to match Grazer’s performance.

Jessica Chastain has made a career playing women who are fiercer and have a harder edge to them than Beverly. Sophia Lillis was the standout in the first film, but Beverly seems a smidge less interesting in this one.

James McAvoy’s Bill is the team’s de-facto leader. While McAvoy is sympathetic and watchable as ever, he sometimes seems to be doing a bit too much. The character is an avatar for Stephen King, meaning we get some meta jokes that are amusing but possibly cross over into being a touch obnoxious.

Bill Hader is the designated scene-stealer. As expected, he’s hilarious, but the film also gives the character several more layers behind his trash-talking exterior. We see that Richie’s sense of humour is a defence mechanism to disguise his true self. Despite the strength of Hader’s performance, the character feels in danger of becoming just the comic relief character.

Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike is sensitive and conscientious, having dedicated the past two decades to studying It’s history. He delivers some clunky exposition, and it’s when the movie explains It’s origins that things get somewhat tedious.

Ben has undergone the most obvious physical transformation. While this reviewer was invested in the love triangle between Ben, Beverly and Bill, Jay Ryan is handsome but not terribly interesting in the role.

It Chapter Two attempts to explore how trauma affects us and the burden that childhood pain can have on us as adults. The ensemble cast gets to shine, but the story is less focused in this outing, meaning it’s less scary. There are authentically unnerving moments, but there are far more scenes in which the characters are pursued by various things made of CGI. The film’s ambition is admirable, but it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed given the sublime quality of its predecessor.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Losers Stick Together: facing fear in IT: Chapter 2

The cast and filmmakers discuss making the horror sequel

By Jedd Jong

In Stephen King’s novel It, the titular entity of pure evil that is most often seen in the guise of a clown menaces a group of characters who form ‘the Losers Club’. The novel alternates between following the characters as adults and as children. The 2017 film adaptation focused on the younger versions of the Losers Club, with audiences being introduced to their grown-up iterations in this sequel, which is set 27 years later when It/Pennywise re-emerges.

The first It film was always intended to be part of a duology. “The big picture, the second chapter, was always in the back of my mind,” director Andy Muschietti said.
“We were always excited about the second part, because it’s really the second half of the story.”

It was praised for how compelling the characters were and how easy it was to be emotionally invested in them, a relative rarity in the world of horror. For Muschietti, breaking up the two timelines was part of creating that emotional investment for audiences.

“I had agreed to make the first movie only about the children, because it would be emotionally more interesting, more compelling without breaking it with time jumps,” Muschietti explained.

With its focus on the adult characters but with flashbacks featuring the young cast also a part of the story, the second movie depicts the “dialogue between the timelines” that echoes the structure of the book. “It’s about the characters’ relationships with the past, looking at events that happened 27 years ago and finding themselves,” Muschietti added.

From left: Ben Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer, James Ransone, Sophia Lillis, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff

In casting the film, the filmmakers had to find actors who were believable as adult versions of characters whom audiences had grown to love over the course of the first film. “For us, of course, the first thing we wanted was great acting, then physical resemblance to the kids,” producer (and Andy’s sister) Barbara Muschietti said. “We just think we got the perfect cast of grownup Losers,” she enthused, adding that the filmmakers “never had Plan Bs” and went with their first choices for each role.

The ensemble cast is led by James McAvoy as Bill Denborough. Bill has always been haunted by the death of his brother Georgie, the first onscreen victim of Pennywise we saw in the first film. Speaking about how Jaeden Martell’s performance as the younger Bill inspired him, McAvoy said “I suppose I stole Jaeden Martell’s emotional vulnerability and his openness. As a kid, I think Bill is a strange mix of suppression and complete vulnerability, and Jaeden nailed that.”

Bill has become a successful novelist and screenwriter and is in many ways patterned after Stephen King himself. McAvoy pointed out that while the members of the Losers Club have generally moved on, there is a curse that still follows them. “The Losers that leave [Derry] all become arguable winners, but they all have this tainted side to their success—none of them seem to be able to have children, for one,” McAvoy remarked, adding that each character deals with “emotional issues that darken all of their, what seem like, perfect lives.”

Jessica Chastain portrays Beverly, the one female member of the Losers Club. Beverly hasn’t quite been able to outrun the spectre of her abusive father, seeing as she is now stuck in an abusive marriage. “For Beverly, she’s still living with her ideas of what love is,” Chastain explained. “The first person she really loved is her father, so this idea—that love means someone you love can hurt you at the same time—has lasting impact on her.”

One of It Chapter Two’s most memorable scenes places Beverly in the middle of a literal bloodbath. The scene required over 17 000 litres of fake blood, something Chastain was game for. “I love horror films, I love Carrie, and I said, ‘Let’s make Carrie on steroids,’” Chastain recalled, referencing another film adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

Chastain called Lillis’ performance as the younger Beverly “beautiful,” and emulated one specific aspect of Lillis’ physicality. “I hadn’t told Andy [Muschietti] I was doing this, but I was holding my hands the way she did,” Chastain revealed. “When he saw me, he said, ‘You’re walking with her hands.’”

Bill Hader plays the trash-talking Richie Tozier, and his performance has been called the standout of the film. Hader said he “worked within the character lines” that had been drawn by Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played Richie in the first film.

“Like a lot of comedy people, you deal with stuff by joking about it,” the former Saturday Night Live star said about Richie, who in this film has become a stand-up comedian. “He’s the first guy, when they realize what’s happening, to say, ‘Oh, I’m outta here. F*** this.’ He has deep, deep repression.”

The most dramatic physical transformation is that of the character Ben, played by New Zealand actor Jay Ryan. “Ben, once he leaves town, he starts running, physically and emotionally, for 27 years,” Ryan said. “He learns how to say no, to stand up to bullies, and he becomes a leader in his profession.” Ben, who has become an architect, still holds a torch for Beverly, whom he had a crush on as a kid. “It seems to the outside world that here’s a man who has everything, but he doesn’t really have any real human connections,” Ryan elaborated, saying that Ben is “ready to go back to Derry and really reveal his true self.”

James Ransone plays Eddie, who was portrayed by Shazam! star Jack Dylan Grazer as a kid. “I thought, ‘That kid talked really fast. If I can keep up with him, everything’s gonna be fine,’” Ransone joked.

“He’s probably spent a lot of his time pretending to not think about his childhood by focusing on his wife,” Ransone said of Eddie. Eddie winds up marrying a woman who is reminiscent of his constantly nagging mother. “You get in those type of relationships, where it’s a constant project that needs fixing. You focus on that so that you don’t have to think about yourself,” Ransone mused.

Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike, the one character who has stayed behind in Derry. Mike has spent the last 27 years researching It and coming up with a plan to defeat the monstrous creature. It is Mike who summons his friends back home and reconvenes the Losers Club. “I believe he felt a responsibility to stay in Derry, to be the custodian of this energy that they cultivated as a group,” Mustafa said. “So, once that evil returned, he could call his friends and say, ‘Let’s do this thing again.’”

Andy Bean plays Stanley, who was played by Wyatt Oleff as a kid. Bean described the character as having a good marriage and leading “quite a beautiful, content, comfortable life.” The horrible childhood memories he has been repressing come bubbling back to the surface when Mike calls. “I think he had buried his memories so deep that he didn’t really remember anything until he heard Mike’s voice—it’s his voice,” Bean said.

Just as the Losers have grown and evolved, so has Pennywise, played once again by Bill Skarsgård. “He wants them back, in a way,” Barbara Muschietti said of Pennywise, adding that he’s “also angry, because they defeated him before, and in coming back, they are showing brave behaviour…which he can’t stand.” To fight the Losers, Pennywise must “become a more evil, bigger monster,” manifesting in startling and dramatic new forms.

Speaking about how Pennywise is different in this film, Andy Muschietti said “He’s changed in the sense that the fears are more about things that frighten us as adults.” While said fears are rooted in traumatic events from the Losers’ childhoods, they take a shape that is more threatening to them 27 years after their initial encounter with Pennywise.

“This is a journey that the Losers need to take back to their childhood, to access the power of belief,” the director said. The mission for the Losers is to take that horrifying entity of their past, “to be able to confront it, understand it and ultimately, overcome it.”

One of the film’s central themes is that of facing one’s fears, and how there is an unspoken power to the bonds of friendship. The Losers “return to face their past—it’s a brave and powerful thing to do,” Barbara Muschietti opined. “Your fears go with you until you really face them, and that’s when you grow.”

Interview transcripts courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

X-Men: Dark Phoenix review

X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast : Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Tye Sheridan, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Ato Essandoh
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 54 mins
Opens : 5 June 2019
Rating : PG13

Dead comic book characters have a habit of coming back to life, and none more so than Jean Grey/the Phoenix. “Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors,” Professor X declared in X-Factor #70. The X-Men film series has a second go at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline in what is also the final entry in this series.

During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is exposed to an unidentified cosmic force which alters her telekinetic and telepathic superpowers, unleashing a powerful entity called the Dark Phoenix. Vuk (Jessica Chastain), the leader of the shape-shifting alien D’Bari race, arrives on earth to harness the power of the Dark Phoenix for herself. Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is angry at Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) for endangering Jean in the name of what she feels is his self-aggrandisement.

Jean’s increasing instability directly endangers her boyfriend Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), with the rest of the X-Men struggling with the onset of her destructive powers. Xavier must reluctantly join forces with his old ally-turned-enemy Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to contain the threat posed by the Dark Phoenix.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix has had a rocky path to the big screen, with its release date being postponed at least three times. With long-time writer and producer Simon Kinberg making his directorial debut, Dark Phoenix feels like a group project which everyone worked hard on, but nobody is particularly proud of – something that got submitted just in time and which everyone is happy to be done with. This is a far cry from the grand finale that a film franchise as important to the current landscape of comic book movies as the X-Men series deserves.

There were a number of external factors acting on this film, and while Kinberg has claimed that the film was always planned as the end of the franchise and that Disney’s acquisition of Fox had no impact on the making of this film, there has been speculation to the contrary. This certainly feels like a much smaller film than X-Men: Apocalypse, its immediate predecessor in the mainline series of X-Men films. There is nothing wrong with a smaller X-Men film, and Logan proved how taking a more dramatic, less spectacle-driven approach can work within the larger framework of the franchise, but Logan this is not. At every turn, it feels like the filmmakers were settling for whatever they could manage, such that Dark Phoenix never touches the awe-inspiring grandeur of some of the previous entries in the series.

In X-Men: The Last Stand, the Dark Phoenix storyline had to jostle for real estate with the Gifted plot. There is more room in this film to explore what happens to Jean Grey after the Dark Phoenix is unleashed, but nothing carries the intended emotional impact. Still, Sophie Turner does an excellent job of playing a character who manifests immense power, and it’s clear that she understands the central conflict of Jean Grey. While the movie doesn’t delve deep enough into Jean’s tortured psyche, this is far from Turner’s fault.

McAvoy and Fassbender have become as identified with Professor X and Magneto respectively as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have. While it is good to see them return to play these characters one last time, the weight of the tumultuous and far-reaching relationship between the two characters is all but absent. Xavier has become more self-absorbed after mutants have become accepted by wider sections of the populace, but this is far from the most compelling work McAvoy has done as the character.

The X-Men franchise got a hold of Jennifer Lawrence before she truly hit the big time, and her role in the Hunger Games movies seems to have caused the franchise to treat the character as a hero, when she has typically been a villain. It appears that Lawrence cannot wait to leave this role behind and is the most checked out she’s ever been in this film.

The film’s villains are almost laughably generic. The D’Bari come off like aliens from The X-Files. This is the first time extra-terrestrial beings figure into the X-Men movie franchise, but their existence is treated as no big deal. Jessica Chastain, an actor who can be a force of nature in the right role, is wasted as a character with no discernible personality to speak of.

While the script seems to strain to give everyone something to do, many of the supporting mutants are just kind of there. Characters like Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit McPhee) mainly seem to be in this movie because they were in the earlier movies. It’s a shame given that these actors are all visibly doing the best they can.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not quite the flaming train wreck that is its central action set-piece, but because it’s the last film in the series and because it’s being released about a month after Avengers: Endgame, it is a deeply underwhelming affair. X-Men Dark Phoenix is a movie that has the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming a disappointing send-off for a movie franchise that many have become attached to.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Glass review

GLASS

Director : M. Night Shyamalan
Cast : James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard
Genre : Thriller/ horror
Run Time : 2 h 9 mins
Opens : 17 January 2019
Rating : PG13

Every studio wants a cinematic universe. M. Night Shyamalan sprung a surprise on viewers, as is his wont, with the reveal at the end of 2017’s Split that the film took place in the same shared universe as 2000’s Unbreakable. The ‘Eastrail #177 trilogy’ culminates with Glass.

Kevin Crumb/The Horde (James McAvoy), a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder who harbours 24 distinct personalities including the animalistic Beast, is still at large after the events of Split. When the vigilante David Dunn/The Overseer (Bruce Willis) attempts to capture Kevin, both are inadvertently caught and placed in Raven Hill Memorial Hospital. At the hospital, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), believing Kevin and David to have delusions of grandeur, attempts to rehabilitate them. She has a third patient: Elijah Price/Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a self-styled supervillain and former comic book gallery owner with brittle bone disease.

Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a girl who was captured by Kevin but let go; David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and Elijah’s mother Mrs Price (Charlayne Woodard) band together to discover the truth behind what afflicts the three characters. Dr Staple is convinced that there are rational, non-fantastical explanations for the ‘powers’ manifested by Kevin, David and Elijah, despite appearances to the contrary. Elijah, who has been feigning catatonia the whole time, hatches a plan of escape, a plan that involves both Kevin and David. The stage for a showdown between two supervillains and a superhero is set.

At the time of Unbreakable’s release, the comic book movie boom was still around a decade away. General audiences were not yet as well-versed in the tropes of comic book storytelling as they are today, so now seems like a good time to release a follow-up to Unbreakable. Unfortunately, Glass squanders this opportunity, winding up as a colossal disappointment that seems to get in its own way at every conceivable turn.

It’s a shame because Glass isn’t a mess from the outset: we see the glimmers of potential, then watch as they are dulled, until the film seems like a big smear. The movie sets up a dynamic clash between three fascinating characters, but they feel like shadows of the people we met in earlier films. McAvoy is more annoying than unsettling as Kevin, Willis’ David is straight-up boring, and Jackson’s portrayal of a conniving mastermind is serviceable but nothing captivating.

Shyamalan gets a few pleasingly tense moments in but is unable to sustain the viewers’ attention. The film feels hemmed in by its mental hospital setting, promising a set-piece finale that winds up severely underwhelming. This undercuts the promise of a grand, explosive conclusion to the trilogy. The dialogue is unbearably clunky in spots, with Shyamalan struggling to weave in references to story arcs and devices commonly found in comic books. His trademark cameo is also entirely awkward.

Split deservedly drew flack for its use of mental illness to signal life-threatening villainy. This reviewer’s friend compared it to a Universal Monsters film, except Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy aren’t real and Dissociative Identity Disorder is a real thing. While McAvoy sinks his teeth into the challenging role, the hints of hammy over-acting in Split have all come to the surface. As a result, Kevin is never truly scary and is sometimes unintentionally funny, and it just blends into a mass of silly voices.

While it is nice to see Willis back as David Dunn and there’s also strong continuity in seeing Spencer Treat Clark reprise his role as David’s son Joseph, the character just isn’t that interesting. Perhaps it’s a side effect of how Willis has spent much of his recent career sleep-walking through many direct-to-DVD action movies. The sense of inner turmoil and the compelling nature of an ordinary man coming to terms with extraordinary gifts drew audiences to David in Unbreakable, but here, Willis just shuffles along.

Samuel L. Jackson was by no means an unknown in 2000, but now he’s just ubiquitous, and perhaps that takes away some of Elijah Price’s mystique. The character’s gimmick, that he was a self-styled supervillain, seemed novel when Unbreakable was released, but Glass does surprisingly little with it. While there’s an attempt to flesh out the relationship between Elijah and his mother, with Charlayne Woodard delivering a heartfelt performance, it seems rote rather than adding to the mythos.

Sarah Paulson is typically reliable, but seems unnatural and stiff, hamstrung by sub-par material. Anya Taylor-Joy puts her very emotive eyes to great use as Casey, but the character’s bond to Kevin feels forced, even coming off Split.

There was every opportunity for Glass to be an original, unorthodox, engaging exploration of what it means to be a hero or a villain, and of the implications of superpowers being real. Just when he seemed on the verge of a credible comeback, Shyamalan blows it with an excruciatingly clumsy movie that breaks every promise of a thrilling threequel hinted at before.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Atomic Blonde

For F*** Magazine

ATOMIC BLONDE 

Director : David Leitch
Cast : Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : R21 (Some Homosexual Content)

Charlize Theron goes from traversing the arid, scorching desert of Mad Max: Fury Road to sauntering into the coldest city in this action thriller. It is 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and MI6 agent James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB operative in West Berlin. Gascoine’s colleague and former lover Lorraine Broughton (Theron), one of MI6’s deadliest operatives, is sent behind the Iron Curtain to recover sensitive information stolen from Gascoine. Lorraine must work alongside MI6’s Berlin station chief David Percival (McAvoy), who is often drunk and unreliable. Lorraine’s mission is to track down a mark known only as ‘Spyglass’ (Marsan). She gets entangled with French spy Delphine Lasalle (Boutella), and Lorraine’s actions frustrate her superiors Eric Gray (Jones) of MI6 and Emmet Kurzfeld (Goodman) of CIA. Caught in a geopolitical firestorm and pitted against the most treacherous of enemies, Lorraine must retrieve the documents at all costs.

Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. Directing the film is David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski and who is also helming the upcoming Deadpool 2. Leitch employs a great deal of stylisation, crafting a brutal, sexy ‘neon-noir’. However, unlike John Wick, Atomic Blonde doesn’t lean into its heightened absurdity as much, and takes itself a little too seriously.

As with any espionage thriller, the plot is a web of double-crosses, shifting alliances and twisty reveals. Atomic Blonde hints at the fraught geopolitical climate of the time, but is far from substantive. While Atomic Blonde succeeds as a mood piece, it is too coolly detached for audiences to get involved in the story. With its title cards rendered as spray-painted graffiti text and its action set to songs by Queen, David Bowie, Depeche Mode and Kanye West, Atomic Blonde is sometimes too enamoured with its coolness for its own good.

Coming from a stunt performer/coordinator background and having co-founded the stunt collective 87Eleven Action Design, Leitch knows a thing or two about action sequences. Atomic Blonde showcases several elaborate, wince-inducing combat sequences, and doesn’t skimp on the blood splatter when people get shot in the head. It is inevitable that this gets compared to John Wick – we’ve already done that earlier in this review. As masterfully as the stunts are executed, the balletic gunfights in John Wick were more dazzling, and that film’s juxtaposition of elegance and brutality more beguiling, than the action on show in Atomic Blonde.

Theron is an outspoken feminist, and Atomic Blonde has been characterised as a feminist action movie. The screenplay is written by Kurt Johnstad, who has penned such “manly men” flicks as 300 and Act of Valour, and the film’s female characters are very much sexualised. However, Theron owns the character’s sexuality, and while it can be argued that moments like a lesbian sex scene are exploitative, she displays such conviction that it doesn’t feel sleazy. This is a role that’s right in Theron’s wheelhouse – Lorraine is slinky, lethal and unafraid to get her hands very dirty. We get very little in the way of back-story or meaningful character motivations, but Lorraine is intended to be an enigma and Theron relishes the cloak and dagger machinations her character enacts.

As is expected of McAvoy when he gets to play characters a little on the wild side, he puts in an entertaining turn. David plays second fiddle to Lorraine, and McAvoy has no qualms letting Theron take the spotlight. The openly hostile dynamic between the two ostensible allies contains glimmers of fun, but McAvoy and Theron don’t get to play off each other as much as this reviewer hoped.

Boutella’s Delphine is very much the traditional Bond girl: she’s in her over depth, and is seduced and taken advantage of by the hero(ine). It can be argued that the much buzzed-about lesbian sex scene between Lorraine and Delphine is gratuitous, but Theron has argued that it’s an example of women owning their sexuality in a mainstream film, something we don’t see a lot of. In the meantime, Goodman and Jones show up mostly to facilitate the framing device of Lorraine being debriefed/interrogated in the aftermath of her Berlin mission. Unlike Theron and Boutella, they do not have a sex scene together.

As a platform for Charlize Theron to strut her action heroine stuff, Atomic Blonde works well. However, its convoluted spy vs. spy narrative is at odds with its stylishness and devil-may-care vibe. Atomic Blonde gets bogged down with considerable amounts of plot to get through in between the action while not possessing much depth, but Theron’s virtuosic badassery make it worthwhile.

Summary: While not as compulsively entertaining as it could’ve been, Atomic Blonde packs in plenty of style and showcases Charlize Theron in full action heroine mode.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Split

For F*** Magazine

SPLIT 

Director : M. Night Shyamalam
Cast : James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, Brad William Henke, Neal Huff
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 56min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Mature Content And Violence)

split-posterThe X-Mansion is crowded enough as it is, what with all those gifted youngsters, but imagine if there were 24 Professor X-es running about the place. In this psychological thriller, James McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Kevin has 23 distinct personalities or ‘alters’, including a young boy named Hedwig, a flamboyant fashion designer named Barry, schoolmistress-type Miss Patricia and the severe, obsessive Dennis. Kevin kidnaps Casey (Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Sula) and Claire (Richardson) in broad daylight as they are leaving Claire’s birthday party. Casey, a social outcast at school, attempts to decipher Kevin’s behaviour and plot an escape for the three girls. In the meantime, Kevin’s therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Buckley) suspects that something is amiss with her patient, but is unaware of his criminal activities. The various alters ominously warn that a 24th personality, named ‘the Beast’, is about to emerge.

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has busied himself with paving a path towards redemption. With a string of high-profile missteps, the once-lauded auteur who was heralded as the next Hitchcock or Spielberg quickly became a laughing-stock. With 2015’s The Visit, Shyamalan returned to lo-fi suspense horror, and he re-teams with producer Jason Blum for Split. While nowhere near as embarrassing or inept as The Happening and Lady in the Water, Split is problematic.

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First, the good: the film is often tense and creepy and with McAvoy firing on all cylinders, is largely engaging. The bad: Split takes advantage of how controversial and misunderstood Dissociative Identity Disorder is, playing up many misconceptions and potentially demonising the mentally ill. Sure, this is fiction and many viewers won’t take offence because it isn’t intended to reflect reality, but it reminds us of horror movies in which physical deformity is used to signify that someone is evil. Nobody is going to walk into Split searching for clinical accuracy, but it seems lazy of Shyamalan to use mental illness as a plot device in this way.

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Joaquin Phoenix was originally cast in the role and Split would’ve reunited Phoenix with his Signs director. McAvoy is fully committed to the challenging part, but have a feeling that Phoenix would’ve been significantly more menacing in the role. McAvoy is creepy enough, but is also goofy. This performance can be viewed as little more than a string of funny voices and exaggerated mannerisms. It’s a valiant effort and however tasteless the premise, we will admit that the concept of a movie villain who unpredictably manifests multiple personalities is unsettling and potentially compelling.

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Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of The Witch, is haunting and mesmerising as Casey. A misfit with a dark past, Casey gets character development by way of flashbacks which show her hunting with her father and uncle. When it’s ultimately revealed, her back-story turns out to be clichéd and emotionally manipulative. The most interesting bits of the film are Casey’s attempts to get into Kevin’s head and to play his alters against each other. Alas, there’s not nearly enough of that. Despite Shyamalan’s effort to give Casey an air of mystery, she ends up embodying many recognisable horror movie heroine tropes, right down to being pursued through a basement by, for all intents and purposes, a slasher film villain.

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To throw Casey into sharper relief, both Marcia and Claire are given very little character development and fade into the background. We also have to endure stretches of dialogue, with which Shyamalan demonstrates how he thinks teenage girls talk. Buckley’s psychiatrist character, a well-meaning elderly woman who finds herself in over her head, seems intended to give the film’s portrayal of mental illness a modicum of credibility. However, Dr. Fletcher amounts to little more than yet another plot device. At least it’s more dignified than her role as the creepy lady in The Happening who demanded to know why Mark Wahlberg was eyeing her lemon drink.

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Many critics are praising Split as a return to form for Shyamalan, but we’re not so convinced. For all its atmospherics and McAvoy’s wild lead performance, Split is about someone who kidnaps (maybe kills?) young women because he has a mental illness, extrapolating this premise into B-movie horror hijinks. It’s not the first movie to demonstrate a misunderstanding of mental illness, nor will it be the last. If that’s something you can overlook, Split has its thrilling and entertaining moments. In lieu of a big Shyamalan signature twist, Split serves up a surprise connection to an earlier film in his oeuvre (hint: it’s not The Last Airbender).

Summary: Split gives James McAvoy a meaty, showy role, but that doesn’t diminish how tasteless it is to play mental illness for scares. Still, Shyamalan should continue down this path of smaller-scale, performance-driven thrillers.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

Director : Bryan Singer
Cast : James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 25 mins
Opens : 19 May 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Brief Coarse Language)

The end is the beginning is the end for our ever-expanding cast of mutant heroes as they face their most insurmountable foe yet. The year is 1983 and after a millennia-long slumber, En-Sabah-Nur/Apocalypse (Isaac), the first and most powerful mutant in history, has awoken. Apocalypse goes about recruiting mutants to be his new Four Horsemen: the still-bitter Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Fassbender) is “War”, the telekinetic swordswoman Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Munn) is “Pestilence”, weather-controlling Ororo Munroe/Storm (Shipp) is “Famine” and the winged Warren Worthington III/Angel (Hardy) is “Death”.




In the meantime, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence) has become an icon to mutants everywhere following her actions in Washington D.C. ten years earlier. In her mission to free oppressed mutants, she rescues Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee), a circus performer with the ability to teleport. Among the new students in Professor Xavier’s (McAvoy) school are Scott Summers/Cyclops (Sheridan), Jean Grey/Phoenix (Turner) and Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Condor). These young, inexperienced X-Men must look up to mentors like Professor X and Hank McCoy/Beast (Hoult) for guidance, with speedster Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Peters) returning to the fray as well. Everyone will be caught in Apocalypse’s unrelenting thirst for absolute power, as the X-Men have to fight for their lives and their future.

 X-Men: Apocalypse is the ninth film in the X-Menseries, counting Deadpool from earlier this year. With the successes of both Days of Future Past and Deadpool, expectations for Apocalypse were understandably high. While there is a surfeit of wink-and-nod references for fans of the source material to lap up, Apocalypsedoes suffer from ‘sequelitis’ – it’s not an incurable case, but the symptoms are there. The 144-minute run time does mean this is bursting at the seams – if you thought there were too many characters in the earlier films, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The pacing, particularly in the front half, suffers, then the latter half of the movie almost drowns in frenetic, overwrought action sequences. The film’s reach tends to exceed its grasp, and there are so many complicated visual effects-heavy scenes that the large-scale destruction tends to feel synthetic and bereft of weight.


The central tempestuous and compelling relationship between Charles and Erik was the driving force of First Class. While this plot thread had to share screen time with many others in Days of Future Past, it was still given enough play. Here, it gets pushed to the sidelines, but director Bryan Singer seems eager to assure us that he hasn’t forgotten about it. As good as McAvoy and Fassbender are in their respective roles, most of the interaction between the two characters here seems like a re-tread, with Magneto’s character development going around in circles. Even more obvious here than in the previous film is the sense that Mystique has been pushed to the forefront to capitalise on Lawrence’s current stardom. There’s also an excuse written into the plot for why we see so little of Mystique in her scaly blue true form. Lawrence seems the tiniest bit checked out, as if she’s glad that she’s still part of a juggernaut franchise after the conclusion of the Hunger Games series, but would rather move on to something else.

When the first images of Apocalypse as depicted in this film were revealed, the comparisons to Ivan Ooze started flooding the internet. For this reviewer, the problem is not so much that the supervillain physically resembles a Power Rangers baddie, but that he acts like one. The original omnipotent mutant should be a force to be reckoned with, but Isaac’s hammy performance and some clunky snatches of dialogue prevent Apocalypse from actually being intimidating at all. It’s a shame that this unstoppable, ancient entity comes across as petulant and unintentionally funny.


Quicksilver stole the show with the slow-mo kitchen sequence in Days of Future Past, and there’s a generally decent attempt to recreate that here with a set-piece set to Sweet Dreams Are Made of This. It’s too bad that it can’t help but feel like a desperate attempt to bump a breakout character up the roster. The younger versions of Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler are generally fine – this reviewer particularly enjoyed McPhee’s turn as the sensitive, easily-startled and good-hearted Kurt. Fans of the X-Men: Evolution animated series will probably enjoy what is the closest we’ve come to a live-action version of that show, in the moments when the recruits are hanging out. And yes, the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cameo is a hoot.

In between all of this, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg find the time to make a particularly nasty dig at X-Men: The Last Stand, in a line of dialogue uttered by Jean as she, Scott and Jubilation are leaving the theatre after watching Return of the Jedi. Sure, The Last Stand’s flaws have been consistently acknowledged and Days of Future Past exists predominantly to wipe it off the slate, but perhaps Singer and company shouldn’t be so smug. There’s less room for the character dynamics to breathe, the action is more generic and less inventive, and at times the large ensemble comes across like the Rockettes performing a kick line at Radio City Music Hall. On top of all that, a major supervillain whose live-action debut has been highly anticipated is disappointingly realised. Here’s hoping this is a momentary stumble, because if the post-credits scene is anything to go by, there’s more to come.



Summary: X-Men: Apocalypse has its entertaining moments and there’s no shortage of things for eagle-eyed fans to catch, but these are generally drowned out by loud, generic action and an overstuffed cast.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Victor Frankenstein

For F*** Magazine

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN

Director : Paul McGuigan
Cast : James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Charles Dance
Genre : Drama/Thriller/Horror
Run Time : 110 mins
Opens : 26 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Disturbing Scenes)

A classic tale is struck with a new spark in this adaptation of the landmark Mary Shelley novel. A nameless hunchback circus freak (Radcliffe) with a penchant for anatomical science has his life changed when he is rescued from the circus and taken in by Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy). Frankenstein is a medical student who is embarking on radical, controversial experiments to bring living beings back from the dead. The hunchback assumes the identity of “Igor Strausman”, Frankenstein’s former flatmate. Inspector Turpin (Scott) of the Scotland Yard is convinced that there is something fishy about Frankenstein and his new associate, the nature of their experiments offending Turpin’s religious sensibilities. In the meantime, Igor pursues a relationship with circus aerialist Lorelei (Findlay), whom he has long harboured affections for. As Frankenstein becomes increasingly obsessed with his experiments, Igor finds himself caught in a web of monsters and madness. 


           Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, is a massively influential work that has been adapted countless times across multiple mediums. This version is told from Igor’s point of view and is kind of “The Social Network in the 19th Century”, with two friends collaborating on a project that will have untold ramifications. There are significant departures from the source material – after all, Igor wasn’t even in the original novel. However, Victor Frankenstein does get a lot right in not straining to be a drastic reinvention or to turn everything on its ear. This is still a science fiction horror story and the heady themes so crucial to the longevity of the tale are very much intact and expounded upon.



Adapted by Max Landis of Chronicle fame, there are knowing winks and nods in the dialogue and there is explicit acknowledgement of the misconception that “Frankenstein” is the name of the monster instead of the scientist. There’s even a line about a “Presentation in Hall H,” a reference to the San Diego Convention Centre hall that hosts Comic-Con’s largest movie panels each year. It is sometimes smart-alecky, but never overwhelmingly so. The tone is consistent, moody and grave with just the right concessions to campiness. The gloomy, gothic Victorian London setting is heightened without being goofy, Eve Stewart’s production design and Jany Temime’s costume design lending the project considerable period piece cred. Director Paul McGuigan employs some neat stylistic flourishes, most notably superimposing annotated anatomical diagrams onto the image, which is a fun visual device. 


The film’s two leads are invaluable assets and in their hands, the “mad scientist bromance” comes off as a viable and compelling angle from which to approach the story. Radcliffe is eminently vulnerable and sympathetic as Igor, a character who is given multiple dimensions and is satisfyingly developed past the shambling, subservient hunchback he is commonly depicted as. McAvoy tackles the Frankenstein role with brio, this is clearly a man possessed but his motivations do come from an honest place. McAvoy partakes in histrionics and ravenous scenery-chewing, but he always seems in control of the theatricality and doesn’t let the over-the-top elements of the role run away from him. McAvoy and Radcliffe have marvellous chemistry and the film revels in its homoerotic subtext. Their relationship is genuinely affecting and the duo bring out the sincerity in a story that can be very cynical.

Because so much of the film is focused on Frankenstein and Igor’s partnership, the supporting characters do get the short shrift. Both Lorelei and Turpin are somewhat under-written roles that can’t help but feel like the designated love interest and antagonist respectively. Since Radcliffe shares so much more chemistry with McAvoy than with Findlay, the romance between Igor and Lorelei feels entirely peripheral to the relationship between Igor and Frankenstein; this was likely intentional. Scott, best-known for his portrayal of Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, delivers a terse performance that is ultimately not very arresting. Turpin’s personal beliefs are a way of depicting the conflict of science and religion, which is heavy-handed in parts. Charles Dance makes an all-too-brief brief appearance as Frankenstein’s haughty, disapproving father.

When a studio rolls out yet another iteration of a beloved tale, with the producers promising a take “like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” one can’t help but roll one’s eyes. Victor Frankenstein introduces new elements to the story that do not seem awkwardly out of place. The relationship on which the story hinges is fleshed out and there’s a vibrancy to the storytelling as opposed to a self-important stuffiness. Instead of coming off as an unnecessary re-tread, Victor Frankenstein feels like a retelling that is clever enough to justify its existence. There is also just the right amount of gore – it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers are pulling any punches, which is rare for a PG-13 horror movie. The explosive sexual tension between the leads certainly doesn’t hurt either. 



Summary: Assured in tone and boasting electrifying lead performances, Victor Frankenstein is a dynamic, entertaining retelling of the sci-fi/horror classic.

RATING: 4 out 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