For inSing


Director : Dean Devlin
Cast : Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Amr Waked, Eugenio Derbez, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia
Genre : Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 12 October 2017
Rating : PG13

There was a period in the 90s when disaster movies were huge: think TwisterDante’s PeakVolcanoArmageddonDeep Impact, movies like that. Roland Emmerich attempted to revive that subgenre in 2000s with films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Now, Emmerich’s long-time co-writer and co-producer Dean Devlin has made Geostorm, which is like one of those movies on steroids.

            In the near future, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is a scientist and astronaut who supervised the creation of a network of satellites that regulates the earth’s climate, nicknamed ‘Dutch Boy’. Jake’s younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who works at the U.S. State Department, calls on Jake when Dutch Boy starts malfunctioning, causing freak weather incidents around the world. Jake travels to the International Space Station, working with an international crew of astronauts led by Commander Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara) from Germany.

            Back on the ground, Cheng Long (Daniel Wu), who supervises the Dutch Boy satellite positioned over Hong Kong, informs Max of a possible conspiracy to sabotage the satellite. At the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, Max convinces his girlfriend Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), a Secret Service agent, to help him kidnap President Andrew Palma (Andy García). The President is the only man with the kill codes to shut down the satellite before more damage is caused. It’s a race against time to stop the ultimate calamity: a Geostorm.

            In many ways, movies like Geostorm are why this writer wanted to become a film critic. It’s definitely not a good movie, but is ludicrously entertaining and might just be the best comedy of the year.

The movie underwent a troubled production, and disastrous test screenings led to Warner Bros. ordering reshoots which reportedly cost $15 million. Because Devlin was unavailable, Danny Cannon was brought in to conduct the reshoots, with Laeta Kalogridis rewriting the screenplay, cutting characters from the film and adding new ones. Presumably, the reshoots added more jokes, giving the movie a semblance of self-awareness. As it stands, Geostorm is halfway between a straight-ahead disaster thriller and a full-on comedy. It ends up hitting the sweet spot, in that it is maximally entertaining, never unwatchable and funnier than it would’ve been had it been an intentionally bad movie akin to Sharknado.

One of the punchlines bandied about when the trailers for Geostorm first came out were that it looked like a SyFy Channel original movie with a $150 million budget. It is glorious that so many resources were spent on something this stupid. It’s a little like the Transformers movies, but Geostorm is never as smug, never as insulting, never as unbearable or self-indulgent as those films can be. The visual effects look great, and the spectacle is grand, especially in IMAX 3D. There’s an action sequence in which two astronauts are on a spacewalk and one of their spacesuits begins malfunctioning. It’s genuinely thrilling and staged quite well.

Naturally, the timing isn’t ideal. 2017 has seen several devastating hurricanes in quick succession, making it harder to accept large-scale global destruction as popcorn escapism. This is mitigated somewhat by the sci-fi context and inherent goofiness of the whole enterprise, but it is a touch tasteless that the film opens with what appears to be actual news footage of natural disasters and the dead left in their aftermath.

The movie is crammed full of stock characters, none of whom even remotely feel like they could be real people. Butler’s filmography is filled with awful movies, and Geostorm feels like the ideal use of his talents. Jake is the  totally reckless but ultimately noble hero, a man of action who’s also a super-genius, and Butler is plenty of fun in the role.

Playing opposite Butler as the brother with whom Jake doesn’t quite get along, Sturgess summons likeable earnestness and tries to take the material as seriously as possible. Cornish gets to do a little more than your average ‘designated girlfriend’ in a film of this genre does, taking the wheel and shooting at pursuers during a car chase. Unlike your average Michael Bay film, Geostorm isn’t misogynistic, and Alexandra Maria Lara’s space station commander character Ute is capable and an equal to Jake Lawson.

For his part, García plays a credible president, getting to yell the line “I am the god***n President of the United States of America!” Zazie Beetz, who is playing Domino in Deadpool 2, makes for a fun comic relief hacker character.

Geostorm is the rare mega-budget movie that’s genuinely so bad it’s good. This reviewer burst into fits of laughter any time a character says the word ‘Geostorm’ out loud, or when the word appears on a screen above a countdown timer. Sure, it’s bad, but it moves briskly and is absurdly enjoyable. If you can somehow get discounted tickets to see this in IMAX 3D, maybe as part of a cinema loyalty card program, do so.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kidnapping Freddy Heineken (a.k.a. Kidnapping Mr. Heineken)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Daniel Alfredson
Cast : Anthony Hopkins, Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, Jemima West
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 19 March 2015
Rating : NC16 – Coarse Language

            It’s human nature to be drawn to the glittery promise of get-rich-quick schemes. Even though we know deep down that all those sidebar ads on any given website have nary a grain of truth to them, we can’t help but entertain the thought that it just might be possible to make all that money so easily. In the 80s, those ads on the internet didn’t exist yet, so a group of Dutch friends, having fallen on hard times, devise a novel way to make a quick buck – kidnapping. Their target is none other than Freddy Heineken (Hopkins), chairman and CEO of Heineken International breweries. Willem Holleeder (Worthington), Cor van Hout (Sturgess), Jan Boellard (Kwanten), Frans Meijer (Mark van Eeuwen) and Martin Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel) demand a staggering ransom of 35 million Dutch guilders for the safe return of Heineken. The case captures Europe’s attention, the public at large unaware that these “master criminals” are really just a few regular guys.
            Kidnapping Freddy Heineken is based on investigative journalist Peter R. de Vries’ account of true events. There was a 2011 Dutch film called De Heineken Ontvoering, but it was made without de Vries’ involvement and is considered to be a largely fictionalised version of the incident. With its closely-knit band of friends pulling off an ambitious caper, the theme of “honour among thieves” and an old-school filmmaking approach behind it all, Kidnapping Freddy Heinekenreminded this reviewer of Ben Affleck’s crime drama The Town. Just like in that film, our gang of protagonists needs to hit that sweet spot of being “just likeable enough”, such that we can root for them even as they engage in morally reprehensible activities, having understood their motivation. Director Daniel Alfredson only partially achieves that here. While there are several moments of nail-biting intensity, the film never really takes hold. What should be a fast-paced caper instead feels plodding and by-the-numbers, the film coming off as much longer than it actually is.

            Sam Worthington, Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten, Mark van Eeuwen and Thomas Cocquerel all project a degree of working class appeal, crucial to making the audience shout “down with the rich dudes, power to the plucky little guys!” However, they never seem like a cohesive team, and this is due in no small part to the fact that their accents are all over the place. They’re playing real people – real Dutch people. Worthington, Kwanten and Cocquerel are Australian, Sturgess is English and only van Eeuwen is actually Dutch. It really pulls one out of it, especially since it’s clear that director Alfredson is striving for a believable street-level grittiness. There’s also the old plot device of the pregnant wife back home, played by Jemima West, worrying about what her husband is up to. Even if this did really happen, the film’s treatment of it is a mostly unsuccessful attempt at generating pathos.

            The ace up Kidnapping Freddy Heineken’s sleeve is Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is a still as towering a presence as ever and completely commands the screen whenever he’s on it. Throughout his ordeal, Hopkins’ take on the beer baron seems more amused than anything else, displaying an unfazed façade to his kidnappers and refusing to be intimidated by them. The scene in which he calmly requests a bathrobe, slippers, a shaving kit, other amenities and even a change in the music being played is Hopkins at his coolest. This is by no means a big movie and Hopkins could’ve easily phoned it in, but he relishes the chance to play the wily Heineken, toying with his captors instead of cowering in fear from them.
            As a lo-fi true crime thriller, Kidnapping Freddy Heineken is halfway decent, but it suffers from a flagging pace and crucial lack of urgency as well as feeling somewhat miscast. One thing the film definitely gets right is Anthony Hopkins, and it is he who keeps the film watchable.
Summary:Swap out your “nice Chianti” for a bottle of Heineken – Anthony Hopkins enlivens this mostly sturdy but dull true crime thriller.
RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong