Aquaman review

AQUAMAN

Director : James Wan
Cast : Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Beach
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 143 mins
Opens : 13 December 2018
Rating : PG13

The DC Extended Universe goes full fathom five and beyond then some with Aquaman, telling the story of the man who would be king of Atlantis.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a child of two worlds: his mother is Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and his father is human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Taking on the superhero mantle of Aquaman, Arthur was instrumental in defeating Steppenwolf during the events of Justice League. Now, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the Xebel Kingdom has come calling, bringing news that Arthur’s Atlantean half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is threatening war against the surface world.

While Arthur is initially reluctant to travel to Atlantis, circumstances force him to follow Mera to the undersea kingdom. There, he confronts Orm, challenging him for the throne. Arthur is sent by Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the Atlantean vizier who has secretly trained Arthur to eventually take on Orm, on a quest to recover the Trident of King Atlan (Graham McTavish), the legendary first ruler of Atlantis. In addition to Orm, treacherous pirate David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) stands in Arthur’s way, employing cutting-edge weaponry against Arthur. Arthur must prove himself the one true king of Atlantis, embarking on an extraordinary adventure.

Let’s talk about the concept of “silliness”. Movies based on comic books sometimes exhibit a fear of coming off as silly. After all, the worst comic book movies, films like Batman and Robin and Catwoman, are often decried as silly. As a result, some comic book movies overcompensate, becoming dour and self-serious in the process. Aquaman is silly, but through sheer willpower, the movie transcends silliness and achieves awesomeness. It’s a superhuman feat, but with director James Wan steering the ship, Aquaman accomplishes this.

This is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned adventure, filled with spectacular visual effects, fluidly-choreographed fight sequences and awe-inspiring locales. The movie draws heavily on myth, and is about a man named Arthur who, in reaching his destiny as king, overcomes insurmountable odds and faces a series of tests. By its nature, there are similarities to Thor and Black Panther, but Aquaman complements its familiar story beats with sheer visual imagination.

From the get-go, this was going to be a mind-boggling logistical challenge. How does one make a movie that takes place largely underwater, and have actors float about delivering dialogue without it looking – there’s that word again – silly? Aquaman works overtime to earn audience’s suspension of disbelief, and from the production design by Bill Brzeski to the visual effects furnished by pretty much every major VFX vendor, there’s a lot to take in. The movie acknowledges that there still might be some audiences who will be unconvinced and greet certain scenes with laughter, so it’s a good thing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a giant octopus that plays the drums. There’s just the right sprinkle of self-awareness that complements the grandiosity and scale of the adventure. While on the surface, the film doesn’t quite have the emotional gravity of some other comic movies, its world-building and characters inspire investment.

While some viewers might complain about the extent of CGI used, Aquaman somehow avoids the feeling that its set-pieces have been vomited onscreen by a render farm. The design of many of the creatures is very Ray Harryhausen-esque, and even in the most synthetic sequences, Wan retains a sense of tactility and is an expert at drawing the eye.

Jason Momoa delivers a stellar turn, expanding upon the glimpses into Arthur’s character we saw in Justice League. This is a hero who can be a bit of a boorish lout, but for all his life, he’s been fighting an identity crisis, feeling like he belongs neither to the sea or the land. It’s something that children of mixed heritage can readily relate to – everyone’s calling him “half-breed” or epithets of the like, but this perceived weakness is what sets Arthur apart. The character has moments when he’s child-like and joyous, moments when he’s a mighty hero, and moments when he’s a bit of an idiot, and it comes together to form a compelling lead character.

Aquaman-Jason-Momoa-Amber-Heard-3-bigAmber Heard has the tendency to come off as stiff in some films, but as Mera, she is a lively presence. Not letting a patently obvious wig stand in her way, Heard’s defiant princess character is integral to the story. There a is a bit of a Romancing the Stone-esque vibe to the bickering romance set against an adventure movie backdrop, but the relationship develops satisfyingly. When the pair gets to stop and smell the roses in Sicily, it’s cheesy as all get-out, but also a delight.

This reviewer was afraid that two major villains would clutter the movie, but Aquaman allocates the villainy appropriately. Orm is by nature a generic tyrant king character, but Patrick Wilson has as much fun as he can with the role.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for an intense Black Manta – the character was what this reviewer was most looking forward to in this movie, and Abdul-Mateen’s portrayal doesn’t disappoint.

The romance between Atlanna and Tom Curry is cheesy, but like everything else in this movie that’s cheesy, it works. The forbidden romance is given a mythic, poetic quality, with Kidman and Morrison being the ideal casting for the characters. Lundgren and Dafoe both put in satisfying supporting turns. Dolph Lundgren sporting a red beard astride a seahorse monster is not something that should work, but it does. There’s also a vocal cameo from a distinguished English actress, as a Lovecraftian mega-monster.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave this film a negative review. The comments section for that review are filled with commenters immensely pleased with themselves that they dislike comic book movies and are therefore so very grown up. A fear of appearing childish is, in its own way, a childish thing. Aquaman’s embrace of the inherent silliness in its source material and its irrepressible sense of wonderment and adventure propel it into becoming perhaps the best comic book movie of the year, and one of this reviewer’s favourite films he’s seen all year.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Heroes United: Meet the Justice League

Heroes United: Meet the Justice League

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

By Jedd Jong

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

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

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

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

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

#1: BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN (Ben Affleck)

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

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

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

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

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

#3: CLARK KENT/SUPERMAN (Henry Cavill)

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

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

#4: BARRY ALLEN/FLASH (Ezra Miller)

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

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

#5: ARTHUR CURRY/AQUAMAN (Jason Momoa)

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

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

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

#6: VIC STONE/CYBORG (Ray Fisher)

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

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

#7: STEPPENWOLF (Ciarán Hinds)

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

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

Movie Review: Justice League

For inSing

JUSTICE LEAGUE 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Bad Batch

For F*** Magazine

THE BAD BATCH 

Director : Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast : Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Yolonda Ross, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Diego Luna, Giovanni Ribisi, Jayda Fink
Genre : Romance/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 1h 58m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : M18 (Some Disturbing Scenes and Drug Use)

There’s something about the desert that inspires madness. Whether it’s dehydration-induced hallucination, the sense of isolation in a vast open space, or just the arid heat, the desert is fine backdrop against which madness can unfold. This twisted, post-apocalyptic fairy tale is very mad indeed.

Our heroine is Arlen (Waterhouse), who wanders across the god-forsaken Texas desert. She is part of ‘the bad batch’, individuals deemed unproductive to society, and exiled to fend for themselves. Arlen is captured by cannibals, who saw off and eat her arm and leg. Arlen manages to escape, and is taken by a Hermit (Carrey) to a settlement called Comfort. The Dream (Reeves), a drug lord, rules over Comfort, keeping his followers compliant by supplying them with illicit substances during raves. Miami Man (Momoa), one of the cannibals who kidnapped Arlen, is searching for his lost daughter Honey (Fink), who has been adopted by The Dream. A relationship fraught with tension and attraction develops between Arlen and Miami Man, as they fight for survival in an unforgiving world.

The Bad Batch is written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who made her feature film debut with the “Iranian vampire spaghetti western” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Bad Batch is hard to describe, and even harder to review. It’s destined for cult status, and VICE Creative Director Eddy Moretti, who is an executive producer on this film, dubbed Amirpour “the next Tarantino”. This is a heady, trippy experience, abstract art painted on a canvas of post-apocalyptic desolation. Often graphic when it’s not moving very slowly, it’s often a challenge to watch. While vastly more expansive than Amirpour’s first film, she’s hardly ‘gone Hollywood’ with her sophomore effort, which is almost defiantly weird. There’s an audience for this, and it would probably play well at a festival like South by Southwest, but The Bad Batch is self-indulgent and meanders without a centre to anchor it.

Waterhouse, known mainly as a model and entrepreneur, comes off like a cross between Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart. The visual effects used to create the illusion that Arlen is an amputee are seamless, and the yellow shorts with a winking face printed on the back is a cool visual device. There’s every opportunity for Arlen to ascend to the pantheon of badass genre movie heroines, but it seems that isn’t exactly what Amirpour had in mind. The character floats through the story, such that when she does something that directly impacts the story, it feels less significant than it should.

Momoa plays a musclebound, tattooed antihero – while this doesn’t sound like a stretch for him, it’s probably the most acting he’s done in his career. Momoa strives to evince a depth from the Miami Man character, who is a knife-wielding cannibal but also has a soft side and is a gifted artist. The relationship that develops between Arlen and Miami Man seems purposely vague and under-developed.

Reeves’ character, The Dream, who lives in luxury surrounded by a harem who bears him children, is clearly inspired by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. It comes off more as an odd bit of stunt casting than anything else, even if Reeves is fairly fun in the role. The raves that The Dream presides over are strongly reminiscent of music festivals like Burning Man, and it turns out that Amirpour went to Burning Man and took acid, which inspired the acid trip scene in the film.

Carrey, gaunt, grimy and nigh-unrecognisable beneath a scraggly beard, seems to relish playing the Hermit. It’s the kind of character actor part he wouldn’t have done in his comedy movie A-lister heyday, and it’s the right pitch of quirky comic relief for this movie.

The Bad Batch will remind connoisseurs of the exploitation films that came out of Italy in the 70s and 80s, or of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s trippy psychedelic westerns. Amirpour has described the film as “El Topo meets Dirty Dancing”. While there’s a seductiveness to The Bad Batch’s scorched dreaminess, the film lacks the energy and momentum to sweep the viewer up in its madness.

Summary: The Bad Batch’s peculiarity will attract some audiences but alienate others. It’s an arthouse exploitation cocktail that’s been spiked with a little something extra, and it’s very much an acquired taste.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Once Upon a Time in Venice

For F*** Magazine

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE 

Director : Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen
Cast : Bruce Willis, Thomas Middleditch, Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Famke Janssen, Adam Goldberg, Stephanie Sigman, Jessica Gomes
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes And Nudity)

           In this action comedy, Bruce Willis is a dick. A private dick. Willis plays Steve Ford, a disgraced former LAPD officer who has set up shop as a detective. Steve’s domain is the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, and with the help of his beleaguered assistant John (Middleditch), Steve helps track down missing persons. The house of Steve’s sister (Janssen) is burgled, with Buddy, Steve’s beloved Parson Russell Terrier, among the stolen items. The culprit, a drug lord named Spyder (Momoa), holds Buddy hostage, demanding that Steve run several errands for him before he can have his dog back. With the help of John and surf shop proprietor Dave (Goodman), Steve must retrieve Buddy by any means possible.

Willis has been absolutely slumming it in direct-to-DVD action movies, continuing that streak with Once Upon a Time in Venice. The movie is written and directed by brothers Mark and Robb Cullen, who wrote the Willis-starring Cop Out. It’s painful to watch Once Upon a Time in Venice strain so hard to be even remotely funny. This is listless, incoherent stuff which feels like it was rejected from a network TV comedy. The best set-piece, which involves Steve skate-boarding buck naked, takes place early in the movie, with nothing approaching that level of zaniness for the rest of its duration.

The premise and the posters try to sell this as a John Wick spoof, and Once Upon a Time in Venice would have been much better had it actually been an all-out parody of John Wick. There are also shades of the far more energetic and innovative Keanu, in which a hitman’s missing cat was the linchpin of the plot. Even with swearing, nudity and violence, Once Upon a Time in Venice fails to generate even a scintilla of excitement.

The cast that the Cullen Brothers has at their disposal is not too shabby. Willis is a shadow of his former A-lister self but his declining clout notwithstanding, he still was John McClane. One would think any filmmaker would be smart enough to play up that persona in an action comedy. Silicon Valley star Middleditch can play neurotic without being unbearably annoying, but in this movie, he’s saddled with dreadfully unfunny lines. The voiceover he performs is grating.

The dependable, talented John Goodman is completely wasted, and this movie makes poor use of Jason Momoa as well. He spends most of Once Upon a Time in Venice lounging around, participating in very few action scenes. Janssen shows up for a couple of scenes, and swimsuit model Jessica Gomes is only in this movie so she can go topless. She has a sex scene with Willis, who is 30 years her senior, which is as awkward as it sounds. Adam Goldberg plays a character named “Lou the Jew”, in one of several uncomfortable moments in which mild anti-Semitism is played for laughs. Kal Penn plays a store clerk in one scene, veteran character actor Christopher Macdonald shows up in a throwaway part, and for no discernible reason, there’s a David Arquette cameo.

At once a terrible comedy and a terrible action flick, Once Upon a Time in Venice is excruciating to watch. It’s uninspired, often tasteless and awash in wasted potential. A silly, devil-may-care action comedy spoof of John Wick could have been, if nothing more, diverting entertainment. Once Upon a Time in Venice isn’t even in the same area code as entertainment.

Summary: A dismal demonstration of how low erstwhile movie star Bruce Willis has sunk, Once Upon a Time in Venice will test the tolerance of even the most hardened direct-to-DVD action movie connoisseur.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong