Color Out of Space review

For F*** Magazine

COLOR OUT OF SPACE

Director: Richard Stanley
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong
Genre: Horror/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 51 mins
Opens : 20 February 2020
Rating : NC16

Two years ago, fans of cult horror films received the gift of Mandy, starring King of Weird Nicolas Cage. Cage reunites with Mandy’s producers for another outing into the land of the bizarre and unsettling, bringing writer-director Richard Stanley with him.

Cage plays Nathan Gardner, a man who lives on his family farm in rural Massachusetts with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), witchcraft-practicing daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and sons Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). A meteorite crashes outside the Gardners’ home, unleashing an alien force known as the Colour that begins to mutate the living things in its proximity, warping reality itself. The Gardner family is soon consumed by madness as they are trapped by the Colour.

Richard Stanley has not made a narrative feature film since he was infamously let go from 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau; the tumultuous behind-the-scenes process is detailed in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s good to have Stanley back, and it’s clear that his eccentricities as a filmmaker make him a good candidate to adapt the work of the influential sci-fi/fantasy-horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. Stanley demonstrates a love for and understanding of the source material, delivering both the mounting, paranoid dread and the gooey Cronenbergian body horror that an adaptation of The Colour Out of Space should possess. The practical creature work by 13 Finger FX is appropriately gross and stomach-turning. This is not a movie for the squeamish: horrible things happen to animals and children and there is a graphic scene depicting self-harm.

While Stanley demonstrates a good command of mood and creates some entrancing visuals, the film’s dialogue is often unconvincing. One of the main things that makes Color Out of Space fall short of greatness is that none of the characters seem like real people, even though we spend a considerable amount of time with them. Joely Richardson puts in a serious, respectable performance, but it’s much harder to buy the Gardners as a family unit than it was to buy, say, the Abbotts in A Quiet Place as a family unit.

Nicolas Cage is at once the film’s greatest asset and its biggest liability. Stephen King disapproved of the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in the film adaptation of The Shining because the story was about a normal man’s descent into madness, and Nicholson already seemed crazed to start with. This problem is eminently present in Color Out of Space.

Stanley’s favourite film starring Cage is Vampire’s Kiss, in which Cage plays a literary agent who unravels after being convinced that he has been bitten by a vampire. This is the movie from which the “You Don’t Say?” meme is derived. Stanley asks Cage to do too much – few can freak out or melt down on screen the way Cage can, but this undercuts the terror that Stanley has carefully constructed, and the silliness of Cage’s performance sometimes prevents us from relating to the Gardners.

A subplot involving the haughty Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kilcher) doesn’t quite seem to go anywhere. Elliot Knight is a good straight man as Ward Phillips, a hydrologist surveying the area for a dam project, but like his equivalent in Lovecraft’s short story, the character functions as a narrator and doesn’t have much presence in the story.

It’s also hard not to compare this movie to the other adaptations of the story, or even unrelated films that were clearly inspired by The Colour Out of Space. Annihilation is the most obvious recent example – what was called “the Shimmer” is basically the Colour. That film did almost everything this one does, just a little bit better.

Stanley has wanted to make this film for a long time, announcing the project in 2013 and releasing a proof-of-concept trailer online that year. There are many little bits of world-building in this film that Lovecraft fans will notice – Ward wears a “Miskatonic University” t-shirt, referencing the fictional university that first appeared in Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator. Stanley intends to make a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations, with The Dunwich Horror to follow Color out of Space. Considering how Lovecraft’s work is interconnected and taking the richness of the Mythos into account, there’s a lot to be mined here.

Recommended? Only if you’re a hardcore Lovecraft fan or really love small, weird genre movies. Even then, this asks more patience of its viewers than the average gory body horror movie.

Summary: Color Out of Space marks a welcome return for long-absent cult filmmaker Richard Stanley, but the silliness of star Nicolas Cage’s lead performance undoes the truly unsettling, disturbing elements of the film.

RATING: 3 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

Fallen

For F*** Magazine

FALLEN 

Director : Scott Hicks
Cast : Addison Timlin, Jeremy Irvine, Harrison Gilbertson, Joely Richardson, Lola Kirke, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Daisy Head, Hermione Corfield, Malachi Kirby
Genre : Drama/Fantasy
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 10 November 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

fallen-posterBefore sexy vampires were as a big a thing as they became, sexy angels were all the rage. The likes of City of Angels, Meet Joe Black and A Life Less Ordinary played into the fascination with someone who could quite literally sweep a girl off her feet. Sexy angels haven’t completely flown away – look at Supernatural’s Castiel. And of course, there are romantic fantasy novels in which the protagonists have the hots for the heavenly host. The Young Adult book Fallen, by Lauren Kate, is one such novel.

Lucinda “Luce” Price (Timlin) is enrolled in the Sword and Cross academy, a boarding school for troubled teenagers. Luce has been seeing disturbing, unexplainable visions, and is trying to escape a traumatic event in her recent past. While she’s treated with hostility by schoolmate Molly (Smit-McPhee), Luce befriends Pennyweather “Penn” Van-Syckle Lockwood (Kirke). Two of the boys in the school immediately catch Luce’s attention: there’s Daniel Grigori (Irvine), who keeps to himself and seems oddly familiar; and there’s Cameron “Cam” Briel (Gilbertson), the rebel without a cause. Sophia Bliss (Richardson), one of the teachers at Sword and Cross, seem to know more than she’s letting on. It’s not long before Luce discovers she’s entangled in an eons-old struggle between three otherworldly factions: the angels who sided with God, those who followed Lucifer into hell, and the undecided angels cursed to walk the earth, dubbed “the Fallen”.

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When it’s not being quite dull, Fallen is delightfully hilarious. This is a film that is one clever editing job and a character who makes metafictional jokes away from being a full-tilt parody of YA fantasy romance. It’s quite baffling that director Scott Hicks didn’t realise how unintentionally funny this all is – or maybe he did, and is hoping the teenage girl demographic just won’t notice. The love triangle in a prep school setting is cheesy enough, but on top of that, we have pseudo-theological gobbledygook slathered on thick. Not only does the film begin with a voiceover prologue explaining the three factions of angels, there’s an expository lecture that covers the same ground.

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The production values aren’t too shabby, with the 19th Century Schossberger Castle in Tura, Hungary playing the part of the Sword and Cross academy. Hungary provides not only the tax breaks, but also the old-world European sensibilities that make Fallen seem grander than it has any right to be. Alar Kivilo’s cinematography is often quite beautiful, though Fallen is guilty of believing that “blurry equals romantic”. Angels must have wings, and the CGI used to create said appendages is quite terrible. While the design team is obviously aiming for a different aesthetic than the traditional tactile, birdlike feathers, it just ends up looking like the production didn’t have the budget for proper wings.

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The acting in Fallen isn’t terrible, it’s just that the movie seems to be littered with clearly labelled boxes, with each character climbing into their allotted box and just never leaving it. The archetypes and the purpose they serve in the plot are so obvious that the turning gears of the narrative are made very noticeable. We have our chosen one protagonist who has a dark and troubled past ™, the slightly boring handsome guy, the dangerous bad boy, the garrulous, chipper geeky best friend, the edgy girl with the torn nylon stockings and dyed bob, and the shifty authority figure who’s hiding something. All present and accounted for. And yes, all the actors playing high school-aged kids look a smidgen too old, but that’s something we’re already used to.

We’ve gone this far without making this comparison, so here goes: Fallen is sub-Twilight, which is saying something. Luce is pretty much Bella Swan, but Timlin is considerably less annoying than Kristen Stewart was in the Twilight films. We’ve got two guys fighting over who’s better suited to protect the girl and stalker-ish tendencies from all three parties. Kirke is pretty tolerable as the designated muggle, and while most YA movies have at least three somewhat respectable actors as the adult supporting characters, we have to make do with one Joely Richardson. One can’t help but think of Richardson’s role in Vampire Academy, which for its tonal issues, had its tongue planted firmly in cheek.

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By the time the Hawkman and Hawkgirl-style millennia-spanning romance is laid out in full, it’s clear that Fallen’s reach exceeds its grasp, in the most laughable way possible. The on-the-nose symbolism – why yes, “Luce” is derived from “Lucifer” – is the cherry on top. This is deeply silly stuff that’s clearly well past its sell-by date. An adaptation of Torment (yes, it’s actually called that), the second book in the series, is apparently in development, which seems awfully optimistic.

Summary: If you roll your eyes when you hear the term “YA paranormal romance”, this is the very thing you’re thinking of.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Maggie

For F*** Magazine

MAGGIE

Director : Henry Hobson
Cast : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 8 May 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)

            Arnold Schwarzenegger has played the protective father casting a watchful eye over his daughter in many an action flick. In this horror drama, he plays Wade Vogel, a Papa Wolf of a different stripe. Wade’s daughter Maggie (Breslin) is among the victims of an epidemic, infected by a virus that slowly turns its host into cannibalistic zombies. Maggie, her father and her stepmother Caroline (Richardson) live in fear of “the turn”, the point in the disease’s incubation period from which there is no coming back. As Maggie struggles with the illness and the impact her condition has on those she holds dear, Wade stands steadfast by his daughter’s side.

            Coming off like an alternate universe collaboration between Jodi Picoult and George A. Romero, Maggie takes a zombie outbreak and spins this horror trope into a terminal illness drama. John Scott 3’s screenplay landed on the 2011 Black List of most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood and it’s easy to see the appeal in the premise. However, Maggie often gets caught up in said premise, unable to transcend the concept itself to be truly affecting. Director Henry Hobson takes great pains to establish the situation and portray the epidemic as a credible threat, but seeing how ingrained a particular interpretation of zombies are in popular culture, it will be difficult for audiences to break free of the perception of zombies as mindless, shambling monsters and even harder for them to reconcile that with tender family drama.

            Those whose lives have been affected by terminal illness directly or otherwise will certainly be able to relate to many of the heart-rending scenarios presented in Maggie. We applaud the allegorical approach and this isn’t the first story to put a spin on the zombie formula – World War Z (the book far more so than the film) was a socio-political satire set against a global zombie outbreak. Maggie takes the premise very seriously, devoid of self-reflexive winks at the audience, and is earnest to a fault. There is always the danger that the inherent absurdity of a weepy zombie flick will negate the emotional beats, Maggieoccasionally painting itself into this corner. The film is also very much a slow burn, drifting from scene to scene in an episodic fashion. Even though there are disturbing moments of tension and there’s a ticking clock element in place, Maggie often lacks a crucial urgency.

            The cast does give it their all and this does have the vibe of an indie picture that’s managed to snag a couple of big names because they were drawn to the challenge. This has been touted as a revelatory performance from Schwarzenegger, and while he is more convincingly vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him, it is difficult to completely buy the Austrian Oak as an average Midwestern dad for obvious reasons. That trademark accent is an integral part of the Schwarzenegger brand and his larger-than-life persona works against him in this film, as opposed to dovetailing into the onscreen role. The most justification this is given is the surname “Vogel”. Rather than completely becoming the character, as is the goal for any actor, Schwarzenegger’s presence calls attention to itself in spite of his best efforts. That said, it is a smart move on his part to tackle a “serious acting” role that happens to be in a genre movie.
     
       Abigail Breslin delivers a raw, moving performance, assisted by unsettling makeup effects devised by Michael Broom, Karri Farris and other talented artists. The Oscar nominee takes it as seriously as something like My Sister’s Keeper, and the turmoil within Maggie as the zombie virus tightens its grip on her is sufficiently moving. She persists in trying to live as regular a life as possible, one of the film’s best scenes set during a campfire as Maggie hangs out with her friends, clinging to whatever normalcy remains in her existence. Joely Richardson’s turn as Maggie’s stepmother Caroline is realistic, never overplaying the implication that her attitude towards Maggie’s condition differs from Wade’s because Maggie isn’t her biological daughter. That all three are believable as a family unit is testament to the level of acting skill everyone brings to the table.

            Maggie is a bold little experiment and its mashup of genres sometimes yields results, but it is ultimately less absorbing than it could’ve been. This reviewer spent much of the running time wondering “is this a horror movie that’s trying to be a drama or is this a drama with elements of horror stirred in?” This indicates that the seams are still visible. However, we’d still recommend this for horror aficionados looking for a change of pace from the usual frenzied jump scare festivals and perhaps as a gateway for audiences who aren’t big horror buffs and prefer more substantial fare.

Summary: A zombie flick that cries “heart” rather than “BRAINS!”, Maggie has its shortcomings but is worth noticing for its uniqueness.
RATING: 3 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong