Gringo movie review

For inSing

GRINGO

Director : Nash Edgerton
Cast : David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried
Genre : Comedy, Action
Run Time : 1h 50m
Opens : 15 March 2018
Rating : M18 (Violence, Coarse Language And Sexual Content)

Based on the poster alone, Gringo looks the wildest 2018 film you’ve never heard of. Mexican-inspired imagery including Day of the Dead skulls are arranged between marijuana leaves and guns. Stars like Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried are visible, and in the centre of it all is a hapless-looking David Oyelowo. It’s enough to make one wonder aloud, “what’s going on here?”

This dark action comedy revolves around Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a mild-mannered business representative who works for the pharmaceutical corporation Promethium. Unbeknownst to Harold, his boss Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Rusk’s associate/mistress Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) are up to no good.

On what Harold thinks is a routine business trip to Mexico, he inadvertently gets kidnapped, becoming entangled with a drug kingpin known as ‘the Black Panther’ (Carlos Corona). Harold also crosses paths with Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), whose boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway) has been paid to smuggle drugs across the border. Richard calls his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a former mercenary-turned aid worker, to rescue Harold.

Gringo is directed by Nash Edgerton, brother and oft-collaborator of Joel. This is a film that’s hard to place: it wants to be a dark comedy and a madcap action caper at the same time but doesn’t gather enough momentum to work as either. There are individual lines which are funny and some of the performances are mildly entertaining, but Gringo seems to be mostly spinning its wheels. There are moments when it feels like a disposable direct-to-DVD flick, but then Charlize Theron shows up.

For a movie in which a pharmaceutical company gets embroiled with Mexican drug cartels, attracting the attention of the DEA, the stakes never seem especially high. Gringo is neither intense enough to work on a visceral level nor heightened and silly enough to whisk audiences along for the ride.

A major contributing factor to Gringo’s problems is how its characters are written. The protagonist Harold is a buttoned-down good guy, while his bosses are callous and amoral in an over-the-top manner.

While Oyelowo does a fine job of playing an unassuming man who gets caught in over his head, it seems like a waste of his talents. In the name of avoiding confrontations, Harold has spent most of his life as a pushover, and it’s taken a crisis for him to assert himself. This is something we’ve seen done before and done better.

Theron is not exactly known for her comedic chops, but we can see why she wanted to have a go at this. Theron is also a producer, through her Denver and Delilah production company. Elaine is an unapologetically awful person, who says things like “fat people are so funny”. This feels like a role that a more comedic actor, say someone like Kristen Wiig, would play brilliantly.

Weirdly enough, Joel Edgerton also feels miscast. Richard Rusk is a smooth-talking CEO, but Edgerton never quite comes off as gleefully slimy. Thandie Newton is wasted in a throwaway role as Harold’s wife Bonnie, while Amanda Seyfried doesn’t get much to do either.

Copley is great fun, as he usually is. His character is probably the most distinctive in the film, but he’s still underutilised. Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael, makes her feature film debut here, but it amounts to not much more than a cameo.

Gringo is a highly uneven curiosity that doesn’t have the bite, the devil-may-care energy or manic inventiveness that a dark comedy caper should. It plays into the stereotypical depiction of Mexico as lawless and overrun with drug cartels, without giving audiences anything they haven’t seen before. The talented cast is left stranded by material that’s only fitfully funny and doesn’t quite hang together.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Red Sparrow movie review

For inSing

RED SPARROW

Director : Francis Lawrence
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Thekla Reuten, Joely Richardson, Sakina Jaffrey
Genre : Action, Crime, Drama
Run Time : 2h 20m
Opens : 1 March 2018
Rating : M18 (Violence and nudity)

The bird motif has followed Jennifer Lawrence in some of her biggest roles. As Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series, she became the symbolic ‘Mockingjay’. In the X-Men films, Lawrence plays Mystique, whose given name is ‘Raven’. In this spy thriller, she becomes a ‘sparrow’.

Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a promising ballerina with the Bolshoi ballet. After a career-ending injury, Dominika is unable to provide for her ailing mother Nina (Joely Richardson). Dominika’s uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her a way out – he is the Deputy Director of the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, and sees spy potential in Dominika.

Dominika is eventually forced to enrol in ‘sparrow school’, where the unyielding Matron (Charlotte Rampling) trains her students in the art of seduction and psychological manipulation. Dominika’s first mission is to ingratiate herself with CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), to learn the identity of Nash’s asset, a mole within the FSB. Diving head first into geopolitical power games, Dominika must stay one step ahead of everyone else, as she decides how far she will go to serve her country.

Red Sparrow is based on the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, a former CIA agent. This film re-teams Jennifer Lawrence with director Francis Lawrence (no relation), who helmed the second to fourth Hunger Games films.

Thanks to location filming in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and the U.K., as well as Jo Willems’ gorgeous cinematography, Red Sparrow is a stylish picture. This is a film that wants to be classy yet visceral, and there is plenty of graphic nudity and violence. While Red Sparrow is often engaging, dramatic and thrilling, there are times when it’s stuck in a no-man’s-land between all-out spy movie hijinks and sober realism.

Red Sparrow feels like a spy movie, and while its heightened style is part of what draws the viewer in, it also makes the viewer conscious they are watching a spy movie. There are times when it feels like the sex and violence exist to shock the audience, such that they’re distracted from the more formulaic elements of the film. We know there are going to be double-crosses and that characters will play others against each other. While Red Sparrow has a few surprises up its sleeve, it doesn’t reinvent the genre.

Because it is based on a book written by a former CIA agent, Red Sparrow purports to shed light on the techniques that modern-day Russian spies are trained in. The Russian characters tend to have an air of cartoony menace to them, and as such Red Sparrow loses a bit of credibility. Sebastian Hülk’s deadly, sadistic Matorin seems like he’s stepped straight out of a Bond film. There’s also a goofiness to some of the dialogue – addressing her class for the first time, the Matron gravely declares, “The Cold War did not end. It shattered into a thousand dangerous pieces”.

That said, Red Sparrow often works, and star Lawrence is a big part of why. There’s a lot to the character for her to play with. While Lawrence isn’t exactly convincing as a Russian woman (lots of not-great Russian accents in this movie), she gives the role her all, and marshals an intensity quite unlike what we’ve seen from her before.

Dominika is a character who is backed into a corner but masterfully turns power against those who would try to wield it over her. It is fascinating to watch Dominika exercise this jiu-jitsu-like ability, gradually taking back control after it has been completely wrested from her. Dominika’s arc is compelling and is resolved in an exciting, satisfying manner

Schoenaerts is suitably slimy as Dominika’s shifty uncle. While Edgerton is unremarkable as the heroic but flawed American agent, it seems that’s how the character was intended to come off. The dynamic between Dominika and Nate doesn’t go quite how one would expect it to, but standard spy movie tropes are mostly adhered to when all’s said and done.

Charlotte Rampling delivers a deliciously icy performance as the matron. The scenes set in the spy school, in which students are forced to strip and perform other demeaning tasks as commanded, are some of the film’s most uncomfortable and consequently, most interesting. Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons stand around and provide gravitas, which they have no problems with. Mary Louise-Parker’s appearance as the secretary of state to a US senator seems to be a poorly-judged attempt at adding humour to the mix; her scene comes off as awkward and silly.

While Red Sparrow is not as complex and layered as it would like to be and doesn’t offer too much that fans of the spy movie genre haven’t seen before, Lawrence’s performance anchors it. It’s a little too long, but the injections of sex and violence will jolt audiences out of any lulls.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Midnight Special

For F*** Magazine

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL 

Director : Jeff Nichols
Cast : Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Jaeden Lieberher
Genre : Sci-Fi/Drama
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

As kids, many of our parents would’ve told us were special. We either believed it but stopped as we got older, or never believed it in the first place. Well, Alton (Lieberher) is a genuinely special kid, gifted with superhuman abilities and revered by a religious cult in Texas led by preacher Calvin Meyer (Shepard). Alton’s father Roy Tomlin (Shannon), alongside Roy’s childhood friend Lucas (Edgerton), escapes from the cult and Roy is accused of kidnapping Alton. Alton’s mother Sarah (Dunst) has been expelled from the cult and has not seen her son in two years. The family are reunited but far from safe as government agents and enforcers from the cult alike pursue Alton. In the meantime, NSA analyst Paul Sevier (Driver) discovers that Alton possesses classified government knowledge that would ordinarily be impossible to acquire, and attempts to determine where Alton derives his powers from. 

Midnight Special is a sci-fi drama that has been described as being redolent of Amblin Entertainment films of yore, movies like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While the plot elements superficially come off as X-Files-esque – a creepy cult, an unearthly child, government agents on the kid’s tail – writer-director Jeff Nichols is aiming for anything but a conventional thriller. Midnight Special is very much a slow burn and what initially starts off as an intriguingly ominous mystery drops off into a generally uninteresting road trip before building back up to a mind-bending conclusion. The film’s juxtaposition of the fantastical and the mundane, set mostly in rural American locales, reminded this reviewer of Looper, which also featured a child with incredible powers. There are also shades of many a superhero tale, and Alton is seen reading issues of Superman and Teen Titans.

Nichols wrote the film as a meditation on becoming a father. When he was coming up with the story for Midnight Special, Nichols’ then-8-month-old son had a febrile seizure; this was a sobering moment that struck Nichols and his wife. Indeed, the bond between parent and child is Midnight Special’s driving emotional force; Nichols taking great care in avoiding full-on schmaltziness. There’s a detachedness to Midnight Special that works both for and against it; in steering clear of the cheesiness of its influences, the film also sacrifices a degree of warmth. The moments of spectacle are judicious and the special and visual effects serve the story well (apart from a few shots of phony-looking helicopters). There’s an intimacy but also a tacit sense of scale surrounding the story, with the National Guard scurrying about as afore-mentioned helicopters buzz overhead.

This is Shannon’s fourth collaboration with Nichols, and the director clearly brings out something in him we don’t see very often. Shannon is one of those actors who generally projects menace even when he’s not playing a villainous role, so to see him as a steadfast, protective Papa Wolf and to see him excel at it is one of the best things Midnight Specialhas going for it. Dunst brings a shattered, haunted quality to Sarah – physically, she is free from the control of the cult, but its tendrils are still wrapped around her mind as she makes up for the two years she should’ve spent with her son that were taken from her. Edgerton’s Lucas is the muscle; his connection to Roy and Sarah not made readily apparent. The character’s primary function in the plot is to argue with Roy over the proper way to guard over Alton.

Lieberher may not be one of those child actors whose performance is so transcendent as to leave everyone gushing over it, but he tackles the challenge of making Alton seem strange without going full-tilt creepy. It can be seen as a metaphor for caring for a child who is on the Autism spectrum or who has other developmental disorders – these children often feel they do not belong in the world, and their parents must construct a bespoke world for them. Driver is exceedingly likeable as the stock nerdy character amongst all the G-men and military types who sees something nobody else does. He apparently received the news that he was cast in Star Wars during his first day on the set of Midnight Special.

One man’s fascinating is another’s frustrating – this is very true of Midnight Special. Nichols draws the viewer in with what promises to be one corker of a mystery, only to lose us in the middle, before pulling us back in for a spectacular finale which, while not a cop-out per se, still leaves a great many questions unanswered. Ambiguity can be used either with intent or as a cheat and the ending is far from satisfactory. Midnight Special will be the starting point for many a post-movie family conversation; it’s far from light and fluffy but is ostensibly a family film at the end of the day. It might result in more head-scratching than self-reflective pondering, though.

Summary: Midnight Special’s pacing issues and difficulties in delivering a satisfying conclusion do not entirely nullify its introspective approach to the sci-fi drama genre, with Michael Shannon in particular delivering a heart-rending performance.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Jane Got a Gun

For F*** Magazine

JANE GOT A GUN

Director : Gavin O’Connor
Cast : Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook, Alex Manette, Todd Stashwick, James Burnett, Sam Quinn
Genre : Action/Drama/Western
Run Time : 98 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

In Marvel’s ongoing Thor comics series, Jane Foster is the current wielder of Mjolnir. In this western, Jane Hammond (Portman) wields more conventional weapons. It is 1871 in New Mexico territory and Jane lives with her husband Bill “Ham” Hammond (Emmerich) and their daughter Kate. When Ham rides home seriously wounded after a gun battle with the Bishop Boys gang, Jane has no choice but to turn to her ex-fiancée Dan Frost (Edgerton) for protection. John Bishop (McGregor), a notorious outlaw from Jane’s past, has returned to torment her. Dan is still broken after losing Jane to another man, but he resolves to help Jane protect her family and her home as the Bishop Boys come a-knocking.



            Jane Got a Gun was plagued by numerous production problems, and it will be remembered more for its behind-the-scenes tumult than on its own merit as a film. The original screenplay by Brian Duffield was a hot property, landing on the Black List of best-liked screenplays in Hollywood back in 2011. Natalie Portman was attached to star and produce, with Lynne Ramsay of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame directing. Severe disagreements led to Ramsay dropping out on the first day of principal photography, with a bitter legal battle ensuing. Warrior director Gavin O’Connor was roped in to replace her, but the film’s troubles were just beginning. Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper were all attached at different points and Edgerton ended up switching roles from the villain John Bishop to the ex-fiancée Dan Frost. The release date was shifted back multiple times, with distributor Relativity Media dropping the film and The Weinstein Company later acquiring it.

            For all the drama involved in getting the film made, one would expect it to, at the very least, be bad in an interesting way. No such luck. Jane Got a Gun is soporific and dreary, sorely lacking in a key element of any revenge story: passion. It looks, feels and sounds like a western, but there’s so little energy and momentum behind it. The title suggests a fun genre piece with a feminist twist, perhaps something akin to Kill Bill in the American frontier. Some of the expected ingredients are there, including a tragic back-story and a score to settle with an old enemy, but it’s so plodding and self-serious that getting invested in Jane’s tale is quite the task. It’s sometimes a pretty movie to look at, but most of the time it’s visually dull: the picture is sepia-tinted, then the flashbacks appear to have another layer of sepia tinting on top of that and this stylistic touch ends up creating even more distance between the audience and the story.

            Portman may be playing the titular protagonist and has championed the film through the myriad obstacles it faced in getting made, but Jane Hammond will not go down as one of the great ass-kicking female characters in cinema history. There’s some emotional impact to Jane’s tortured past, but her supposed transformation into a gun-toting damsel no longer in distress is underwhelming. The love triangle between Jane, Ham and Dan bogs the movie down in melodramatics instead of creating any fireworks and nothing unconventional comes of the dynamics between the three characters. The villain in a revenge western should get to chew a good deal of scenery, but McGregor has too little screen time and too little material to work with, unable to create a particularly intimidating or striking villain. With Padmé, Obi-Wan and Owen Lars in the same movie, it’s a mini Attack of the Clones reunion.



            Jane Got a Gun has a round or two in the chamber: the climactic standoff brims with tension and the sombre atmosphere is sometimes effective. It is morbidly fascinating to read about how a straight-forward western got mired in so many production troubles and it is admirable that last-minute replacement director O’Connor was able to salvage it all. However, in the aftermath of this hullabaloo, all Jane Got a Gun has to show for it is mediocrity.

Summary: Dour and slow, Jane Got a Gun fails to make good on its promise of a fun genre piece starring a dynamic female lead.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Life

For F*** Magazine

LIFE

Director : Anton Corbijn
Cast : Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton, Alessandra Mastronardi
Run Time : 1 hr 52 mins
Opens : 31 December 2015
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene and Some Nudity)

It can be said that a photo of someone is a sliver of a life frozen in time. It is 1955 and photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) of the Magnum Photos Agency is out to create art, tired of the same old set visit and red carpet assignments he has been given by his boss at the agency John G. Morris (Edgerton). At a Hollywood party thrown by director Nicholas Ray (Peter J. Lucas), Stock meets young actor James Dean (DeHaan). Stock quickly identifies Dean as a fascinating potential subject and pitches a photo essay for LifeMagazine to Morris. Stock eventually convinces Dean to let him tag along, taking candid un-staged photos around L.A., New York and the farm in Indiana where Dean was raised. Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner (Kingsley) is intent on pushing Dean as the next big thing, but Dean rejects the pageantry involved with presenting himself as a new matinee idol. Stock and Dean gradually go from being photographer and subject to true friends, all while Dean’s status as an icon for the ages is being moulded.

            It seems that garden variety “cradle to the grave” biopics just won’t cut it anymore, and a movie about a real person has to have some kind of hook to stand out from the crowd. Steve Jobs takes place behind the scenes of three key Apple/NeXT product launches, and Life focuses on the relationship between James Dean and Dennis Stock, the photographer who took some of the most iconic photos of the star. Screenwriter Luke Davies had originally intended to pen a traditional biopic about James Dean, but was struck by the photos that Stock took of Dean walking in Times Square and looked into the background of said photos. Director Anton Corbijn is himself a photographer, famed for being U2’s official photographer and the director of many of the band’s music videos. As such, it is easy to see why he was drawn to material, perhaps feeling an affinity with Stock.

            Life proves incredibly frustrating because for a film about a figure who lived fast and died (very) young, it ambles along at the most leisurely of paces. In order to capture the rising star in his most unguarded moments, Stock hung out with Dean and this movie could be titled “Hanging Out with James Dean”. When we hang out with friends, noteworthy occurrences are usually infrequent. In the film, Dean attends an acting class conducted by legendary teacher Lee Strasberg (Nicholas Rice), then goes for drinks with a few classmates and dances. It just so happens that he’s dancing with Eartha Kitt (Kelly McCreary). We glimpse a who’s who of 50s Hollywood luminaries including Elia Kazan (Michael Thierrault), Raymond Massey (John Blackwood) and Natalie Wood (Lauren Gallagher), but all the glitz and glamour is intended to be secondary to the central friendship of Stock and Dean. It’s akin to a kid at Disney World being dragged past Star Tours by his parents and forced to sit through the Hall of Presidents.


            James Dean is hailed as something of a mythic figure idolised by many and casting someone to play a personality whose look and attitude has been influential far after his death must have been an immense challenge. DeHaan might only resemble Dean on a foggy night from 30 feet away but he does make a conscious effort to convey Dean’s brooding intensity. There are moments when the performance comes across as whiny and others when it feels like someone playing dress-up, but one can tell DeHaan’s done his homework. Fellow Harry Osborn James Franco has also played Dean, in a 2001 made-for-TV biopic.

Pattinson has spent most of his post-Twilightcareer trying to distance himself from the vampire romance franchise and while he’s not a terrible actor, he’s not great either – at least not yet. Pattinson does develop a chemistry with DeHaan and the relationship progresses believably. The film depicts the dissolution of Dean’s romance with Italian starlet Pier Angeli (Mastronardi), though it seems like the film is eager to get her out of the way so the bromance may commence. Kingsley shows up to do some very delicious scene-chewing as Warner, less head honcho and more terrifying overlord of tinsel town.


Lifeviews James Dean through a photographer’s lens, pushing the glitz and glamour out of frame as much as possible. Perhaps through observing Dean, Stock changed and impacted the actor in some way as well. The approach is hit and miss – sometimes, Life’s quiet approach distinguishes it from melodramatic broad strokes biopics but at others, this feels like a boring movie about a fascinating subject, never digging quite deep enough.



Summary:While thoughtfully crafted, there are considerable stretches where Life seems to come to a standstill, the low-key approach working both for and against it.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Black Mass

For F*** Magazine

BLACK MASS

Director : Scott Cooper
Cast : Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Saarsgard, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 122 mins
Opens : 17 September 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language And Violence)

A “Black Mass” is a type of Satanic ritual, a dark inversion of the Catholic Mass. This true crime drama recounts the profane partnership between the FBI and one of the most notorious gangsters in United States history. James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is the head of the Irish-American Winter Hill gang in South Boston. His brother Billy (Cumberbatch) is a United States senator. Their childhood friend John Connolly (Edgerton), now an FBI agent, approaches Whitey with the offer of becoming an informant in order to take down the rival Angiulo crime family. As Whitey’s clout increases, he begins to be more brazen in his criminal activities, with his fingers in everything from drug trafficking to a Jai alai betting racket to funding the Irish Republican Army, almost casually killing anyone who crosses him. Whitey and his partners Stephen Flemmi (Cochrane), Kevin Weeks (Plemons) and Johnny Matorano (W. Earl Brown) continue their criminal reign of South Boston unchecked, benefitting from a deal with the Feds that seems too good to be true. 
Black Mass is based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The “unholy alliance” between two childhood friends which would end up having untold ramifications is one of the most morbidly intriguing organized crime stories in recent memory. “Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doing it for real in the streets,” Kevin Weeks says in the police interview framing device. Working from a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk, director Scott Cooper has crafted a crime drama in the mould of Scorsese’s genre-defining mob movies. Black Mass is bleak but never boring to look at, thanks to Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography which is slick but not flashy. Cooper stages several moments that are bubbling over with almost unbearable intensity. It is often downright terrifying and it boggles the mind to think how long Whitey’s criminal activities were allowed to go on for. 
Post-Jack Sparrow, it has been difficult to take Johnny Depp very seriously, even with his three Oscar nods. You know it, we know it and Depp himself knows it too. Suffice it to say that this is a far cry from Mortdecai and is the best Depp has been in years. Great acting is about disappearing into the part, and with the help of special effects makeup designed by Depp’s oft-collaborator Joel Harlow, he does indeed. Cooper hired some of Whitey’s former associates as consultants and they looked at footage of Depp as Whitey, simply commenting “that’s Whitey.” Much of Depp’s later work has been characterized by traipsing about with wild abandon, so the subtle, understated quality he brings to bear with this performance is welcome. He convincingly essays a master manipulator, a savvy criminal with an unpredictable streak and delivers searing, disturbing turn as Whitey in what is definitely a high point in his career. 
While the film is primarily Depp’s to carry, there is a vast number of supporting players. Edgerton balances out Connolly’s self-confident air with his inner conflict between loyalty to a boyhood pal and duty to upholding the law, as his turning a blind eye to Whitey’s criminal exploits eventually snowballs. Edgerton does have a tendency to play the role a little broad, but he does bring a good deal of heart to the role. Replacing the initially-cast Guy Pearce, Benedict Cumberbatch gets precious little to do as Whitey’s brother Billy, and how Whitey could get away with so much when his brother was a senator is a plot point that is never explored to a satisfying extent. He makes a valiant attempt at a Boston accent but struggles to nail it. Kevin Bacon kind of floats in and out of the film as Connolly’s boss, spending most of his screentime haranguing the agent under his charge. As is the case with many mob movies, we don’t spend a lot of time with the female characters, but perhaps that’s just a reflection of the true story. Both Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson get to share excellent scenes with Depp though, one of which is skin crawlingly creepy. 
With its framing device of Whitey’s associates being interviewed by the police years after the fact, the film can come off as episodic rather than sweeping and involving, but it is riveting nonetheless. Director Cooper is clearly a student of the mob movie subgenre and while Black Mass owes a great deal to the work of Scorsese and his ilk, it doesn’t come off as mere mimicry, the violent consequences of his “unholy alliance” laid bare. 
Summary: A true crime biopic that gets under one’s skin, Black Mass may not reach the loftiest heights of the mob movie subgenre but it boasts a stellar, terrifying turn from Johnny Depp. 
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Exodus: Gods and Kings

For F*** Magazine

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

Director : Ridley Scott
Cast : Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Tuturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, María Valverde
Genre : Adventure/Action
Run Time : 150 mins
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
It could be said that Old Hollywood’s Biblical epics were the big-budget superhero blockbusters of their day, with their casts of thousands and lavish sets. Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments is the codifier of that genre and now director Ridley Scott offers up his retelling of the story of Moses.
            It is 1300 B.C. and Moses (Bale) is a general in the Egyptian army who has been raised alongside Prince Ramesses (Edgerton) by the Pharaoh Seti I (Tuturro). While on a routine survey at a work site, Moses is struck by how badly the Hebrew slaves are being treated. Nun (Kingsley) tells Moses the truth of his origins, that he was born a slave and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses is eventually exiled by Ramesses. He wanders the desert, becoming a shepherd and falling in love with the Midianite Zipporah (Valverde). After a dramatic spiritual encounter, Moses takes up the task of returning to Egypt to fight for the freedom of the Hebrew slaves. In the face of Ramesses’ stubbornness, God strikes Egypt with ten frightening plagues. Only after the most horrific of these calamities does Ramesses relent, but for Moses and the children of Israel, their journey has only just begun.

            The story of Moses is a familiar one, the best-known films inspired by it being the afore-mentioned The Ten Commandmentsand the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt. Director Ridley Scott, who as the promotional materials are quick to remind us helmed Gladiator, delivers a not-quite epic. While the departures from the Biblical source material are not as outrageous as in Noah, it seems that Scott’s approach was to make more of a gritty swords-and-sandals flick than a grand, majestic Old Hollywood-style extravaganza. Perhaps this is meant to appeal to more cynical moviegoers but this reviewer was particularly disappointed that after being promised large-scale 3D spectacle, in this version, the Red Sea does not so much part as recede – off-screen. In trying to differentiate itself from earlier takes on the Exodus story, Exodus: Gods and Kings ditches one of the most iconic images in favour of a more “plausible” underwater earthquake.

            Sure, this is a $140 million movie and there still is spectacle to be had. The film was mostly shot in the historic Spanish city of Almería and the Egpytian palace sets do look suitably imposing and sprawling. The highlight of the film is the sequence of the ten plagues, in which we get swarms of buzzing locusts in 3D. The first plague in Exodus: Gods and Kings, the rivers of blood, is brought about by a violent clash of a bask of monstrous crocodiles. There are also lots of flyovers of ancient Egypt and while the CGI does mostly look good and certainly took large amounts of effort to complete, it’s always clear that what we’re looking at is computer-generated, resulting in the nagging sense of a lack of authenticity.

            Much has been made of the “whitewashed” cast – suffice it to say that you wouldn’t find anyone who looked a lot like Christian Bale or Joel Edgerton in Ancient Egypt. Scott has defended this by saying the big-budget film would not get made without A-list stars in the leading roles. Fair enough, but for this reviewer at least, this further affects the authenticity of the film and pulls one out of it somewhat – not to the extent of the film adaptations of Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender, but still in that unfortunate vein.

            Christian Bale is now the second former Batman to play Moses, after Batman Forever’s Val Kilmer voiced the titular Prince of Egypt. More emphasis is placed on Moses as a warrior, the film opening with a battle sequence in which the Egyptian army storms a Hittite encampment. Through most of the film, Moses comes off as weary and confused, with the heavy implication that his encounters with God might merely be delusional episodes. However, he’s still plenty heroic and steadfast and there’s enough of an old-school leader in this interpretation despite the modern “flawed hero” approach. Joel Edgerton seems visibly unsure of how over the top to go with his portrayal of Ramesses, conflicted as to how much scenery he is allowed to chew without going all-out ridiculous. In the end, this pales in comparison to the clash of titans between Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. The “brothers-turned-enemies” relationship was also drawn more compellingly in The Prince of Egypt.

            The supporting cast barely registers, with Sigourney Weaver getting a total of around five minutes of screen time. Ben Mendelsohn’s campy turn as Hegep is entertaining but seems slightly out of place, even given the flamboyance associated with Ancient Egyptian royalty. As with most of Ridley Scott’s films, there will probably be an extended director’s cut released and perhaps we will get more characterisation in that version. At 154 minutes, this theatrical cut is still something of a drag. The “event film” of the holiday season has its awe-inspiring moments but alas, they are few and far between.

Summary: “Underwhelming epic” sounds like an oxymoron, but that is the best way to describe Exodus: Gods and Kings.  
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong