Wonder Woman 1984 review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Lily Aspell, Amr Waked
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 151 min
Opens : 17 December 2020
Rating : PG

In 2017, the first Wonder Woman movie finally brought the iconic superheroine to the big screen. The film broke ground and was a critical and financial success, meaning everyone would watch director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot closely to see where the sequel would go.

66 years after the events of the first film, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) lives in Washington, DC and works as an archaeologist and anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute. Her new colleague Dr Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a gemologist, is meek, nerdy, and often ignored, and wishes to be like Diana. A mysterious artifact with unfathomable power that Diana has recovered begins to change the life of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a grifter who projects an image of wealth but whose multi-level marketing oil business is floundering. Things start to change for Diana too, as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed his life in the First World War, magically returns. As things begin spinning out of control, Diana must discover the source of these seemingly mystical transformations and set things right.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a corny movie, but corny in a good way. This is an earnest, sincere and ultimately hopeful film that is completely unconcerned with looking or seeming cool. As such, it will probably have its detractors, but there’s something about it that is very appealing. It almost has an Amblin movie’s soul, befitting the 80s setting. There is something Spielbergian to its earnestness, and one gets the sense that Jenkins and the other filmmakers wholeheartedly believe in what the movie is saying.

Gal Gadot continues to own the Wonder Woman role with poise, sensitivity and strength, the proportions of each component finely calibrated. She essays the quiet sadness of someone who has never gotten over losing the love of her life, while having many more facets to her than just that. There are moments when one can see the years in her eyes, and this wiser, more mature but still compassionate and good-hearted Diana is a fully fleshed-out character.

The movie also finds clever ways to reference iconic attributes of the character from the comics, some of which would be considered too cheesy to translate to live-action.

The movie feels shorter than its 151 minutes but is still too long. It certainly doesn’t feel as fresh as the first go-round, but that is par for the course with sequels. The message at the heart of the movie is straightforward to the point of being simplistic. The “be careful what you wish for” strain allows Wonder Woman 1984 to explore certain themes but can sometimes come off as shallow. The movie wants to say that everyone should be content with what they have and not fixate on wanting too much more, which is not a bad message, but that might hit differently in a year in which so much has been taken away from so many. The action set-pieces are largely unmemorable, with the best sequence being the prologue, which depicts the Themysciran Contest. A major climactic duel takes place in darkness, is shot mostly in close-ups and is choppily edited, such that it is challenging to follow.

Wonder Woman 1984 revels in its 80s setting, with production designer Aline Bonetto and costume designer Lindy Hemming creating a thoroughly convincing milieu. Diana rocks some very stylish 80s fashion (just look at those lapels!) and Barbara’s makeover from dowdy to glam is fun to watch. The movie also references geopolitical tensions at the time and comments on rampant consumerism. The 80s in America were very much about being defined by what one bought and owned – Wonder Woman is a character who is so innately good, she seems naturally at odds with greed and superficiality.

Gadot and Pine continue to share crackling chemistry, even if the reason behind Steve’s resurrection might be contrived for some. The fish-out-of-water stuff with Steve discovering life in the 80s is endearing. Diana and Steve share a beautiful moment that seems deliberately evocative of the “Can You Read My Mind” flight in the 1978 Superman movie.

Pedro Pascal is wonderfully cast as Maxwell Lord. Imagine if the fake wealth gurus who show up in unskippable YouTube ads suddenly had all the power in the world. It’s a frightening thought, and one that the film fully exploits. Pascal has said his performance was inspired by Nicolas Cage, which is evident at certain points.

Kristen Wiig is not an obvious choice to play a supervillain, which is precisely why she works in the role. Barbara’s arc is one we’ve seen in many comic book movies, with characters like the Riddler in Batman Forever and Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 bearing similar traits. However, Wiig brings a humanity and tenderness to the character, keeping her sympathetic even as she becomes increasingly vicious.

It may not have everything everyone is looking for in a comic book movie but Wonder Woman 1984 is confident about what it is.

Summary: Earnest and heartfelt, Wonder Woman 1984’s innate sweetness and optimism is hard to resist, even if its action sequences are disappointing. Stay for a crowd-pleasing stinger scene during the end credits.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World review

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

Director : Dean DeBlois
Cast : Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, F. Murray Abraham, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Justin Rupple, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Gerard Butler
Genre : Animation/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 44 mins
Opens : 31 January 2019
Rating : PG

            Audiences have followed Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon friend Toothless through thick and thin. The bond between the two has made the How to Train Your Dragon series one of the most resonant ‘a boy and his X’ tales of this generation. The journey taken by Hiccup and Toothless concludes in the final instalment in the trilogy.

It has been a year since the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup and his friends have been conducting rescue missions, freeing captured dragons and bringing them back to Berk. Berk has become a haven where humans and dragons live in harmony, just as Hiccup has always dreamed. However, Berk is becoming overcrowded. Meanwhile, Hiccup faces pressure from Gobber (Craig Ferguson) to marry Astrid (America Ferrara), becoming the fully-fledged chief Berk needs as its leader.

Toothless comes across a female Fury dragon, dubbed a ‘Light Fury’ by Astrid. He is immediately smitten with her, but she proves an elusive mate. Toothless and his prospective girlfriend are in grave danger, as the notorious dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) has made it his mission to slay every Night Fury in existence. Hiccup recalls the stories his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) told him of a mythical lost world populated entirely by dragons, dubbed ‘the Hidden World’. Hiccup and Toothless go off in search of the Hidden World, as the future of mankind’s coexistence with dragons hangs in the balance.

The How to Train Your Dragon film trilogy is a classic coming-of-age tale, and this film brings the story to a bittersweet-but-satisfying close. Audiences have grown up alongside Hiccup and Toothless – the first film was released nine years ago. Director Dean DeBlois expands the world and the mythos of the series but never loses sight of the bond between Hiccup and Toothless that is at its core.

The film is beautifully animated – the titular Hidden World is a breath-taking subterranean paradise, and the chaotic, bustling Berk bursts with inventive design elements that accommodate the coexistence of humans and dragons on the same island. The flight shared by Toothless and the Light Fury recalls the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence from the 1978 Superman film. Since the film centres on Toothless falling in love, there’s more of a giddy romanticism to the spectacle and less emphasis on action than in the previous instalments.

The returning voice cast is excellent, with Baruchel portraying a Hiccup who has further come into his own. Hiccup’s life has been shaped by trauma and tragedy, but he is also surrounded by love and support. Audiences have stood at several crossroads alongside Hiccup and seeing his character arc complete in this film is expectedly emotional.

Ferrara’s Astrid is a badass who’s also an understanding partner and responsible leader. We see how Hiccup and Astrid complement each other and witness them reach adulthood, on the brink of a life together as chief and chieftess of Berk.

The film’s portrayal of the courtship between Toothless and the Light Fury is cute and filled with awkward relatable moments. There’s a slinky mystique to the Light Fury and seeing Toothless infatuated to the point where he can’t function normally is delightful. As the film progresses, Hiccup must come to terms with the possibility that he and Toothless must part ways. The Hidden World exhibits a maturity that continues this series’ penchant for being a little deeper and a little more honest about life’s ups and downs than many other animated film series are.

While Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (Justin Rupple), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) all have their funny moments, these supporting comedic characters sometimes distract from the rest of the movie. The back-and-forth bickering dynamic among Hiccup and Astrid’s friends is the closest the film comes to feeling like some other Dreamworks Animation movies that use comic relief characters and smart aleck quips as a crutch.

F. Murray Abraham sounds like he’s having a fun time conjuring up a little bit of Salieri from Amadeus as the villainous Grimmel. However, it’s clear that the villain isn’t the focus of the film, and as such he come off feeling like a middling Marvel Cinematic Universe villain. Like the second film’s villain Drago, Grimmel is a dragon hunter, because the human villain in a How to Train Your Dragon film is unlikely to be a Lex Luthor-esque CEO.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World does reuse certain story and visual elements from earlier in the series, but it also gives us rich character development and a Toothless who falls in love. There will be tears and the film’s final scene is a perfectly-calibrated blend of closure and a sense of longing for more. It’s a great note to leave the series; one can only hope any potential spinoffs don’t tamper with how The Hidden World wraps things up.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Downsizing movie review

For inSing

DOWNSIZING

Director : Alexander Payne
Cast : Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgård
Genre : Comedy/Sci-fi
Run Time : 2h 15 min
Opens : 11 January 2018
Rating : NC16

In this sci-fi comedy-drama, Matt Damon discovers that it’s a small world after all. And as the song goes, it is indeed a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hopes, and a world of fears.

Damon plays occupational therapist Paul Safranek. It is the near-future, and Norwegian scientist Dr. Jørgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) has devised a revolutionary procedure known as ‘downsizing’. In a bid to solve the world’s overpopulation crisis, those who sign up for the irreversible procedure are shrunken down to a height of five inches. While downsizing is controversial, it is also touted as helping to save the planet. One’s personal net worth and apparently, quality of life also increases exponentially.

Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) sign up to be downsized, after Paul is convinced by his high school classmate Dave (Jason Sudeikis) who, along with his wife Carol (Maribeth Monroe) has become small. Paul and Audrey are set to move into the luxurious small community Leisureland. However, Audrey gets cold feet, and doesn’t go through with the procedure at the last minute, stranding a now-small Paul in Leisureland.

Paul gradually gets accustomed to his new life, and befriends his party animal upstairs neighbour, Serbian businessman Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz). Paul also meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a housecleaner hired by Dusan. Lan Tran is a Vietnamese dissident who was downsized against her will. As Paul gets to know her better and visits the run-down dormitory tower populated by immigrant workers where Lan Tran stays, his eyes are opened to a world beyond his own. Eventually, considering an earth-shattering development, Paul must make the biggest choice of his life.

Director Alexander Payne, who also cowrote the film with Jim Taylor, is known for comedy-dramas that are slightly quirky but otherwise down-to-earth – films like Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska and About Schmidt. Downsizing is his most outlandish effort yet, a sci-fi social satire with a wild premise that promises to tackle big ideas.

The setup works well: the world-building is amusing and well thought-out, and the film makes the concept of downsizing seem plausible within its reality. Textural elements like the Leisureland sales pitch, featuring cameos by Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern, work as a riff on American consumerism. There are many delightful visual gags – typically involving everyday objects rendered absurdly large next to the now-tiny characters.

The production design by Stefania Cella is clever and subtly eye-catching. Rolfe Kent’s score is a joy to listen to, and highlights the inherent absurdity of the premise. The societal implications of downsizing and its implementation seem key to the plot at first, but gradually get pushed aside.

The film veers in a direction that seems like the wrong one, squandering its intriguing set-up. Yes, this centres around the Ngoc Lan Tran character, who has become controversial in her own right. While Hong Chau’s performance has been praised, and she was recently nominated for a Golden Globe, it seems that many poor decisions were made in the writing of the character.

Just like elsewhere in the film, the Lan Tran character has great potential – she’s a Vietnamese refugee who was forcibly downsized in prison, then escapes to America as a stowaway. Chau draws on her own past as the child of Vietnamese ‘boat people’ refugees in portraying the character. However, it’s soon clear that Lan Tran is a caricature. She speaks in heavily-accented broken English, and this is treated as inherently funny. Her speech and mannerisms overshadow any complexity the character has.

The dynamic that develops between her and Paul ends up in a disappointing place. As this bond progresses, Lan Tran also takes on the role of ‘ethnic person spirit guide’ to Paul, showing him that there’s a world outside his relatively privileged bubble, and opening his mind. It’s no fault of Chau’s, who has defended the character as multi-faceted and well-written. However, as much as Payne and Taylor get right in the writing of Lan Tran, they make several more missteps.

Paul is hardly compelling, and ends up as little more than another guy in a movie going through a midlife crisis. He’s an ordinary guy placed in an extraordinary circumstance, but the character’s folksy “golly gee, gosh darn” earnestness rings false. While Damon may have been relatable, his recent public reactions to Hollywood scandals have eroded that somewhat. The original casting of Paul Giamatti might have worked better.

Waltz hams it up and is visibly enjoying himself as the aging playboy whose main goal in life is to enjoy himself. The pairing of Waltz and Udo Kier, a fellow European actor often typecast as scary villains, is effective and entertaining. Alas, despite being billed on the poster, Wiig is barely in the film at all.

Downsizing’s reach exceeds its grasp, and while it plants seeds early on that could grow into something fascinating, it seems to bolt in the opposite direction, becoming a story centred around a boring guy and his mundane epiphanies. This reviewer enjoys science fiction in the context of social commentary, but it’s tricky to pull off well. Downsizing makes a few miniscule steps in the right direction, but stumbles before our eyes.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Despicable Me 3

For F*** Magazine

DESPICABLE ME 3

Directors : Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda, Eric Guillon
Cast : Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : PG

Supervillain-turned-doting-dad Gru (Carell) is back, with his wife Lucy (Wiig), adopted daughters Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel), and yes, the Minions (Coffin) in tow. In this instalment, Gru and Lucy face off against Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a dastardly, bitter former child star with an 80s pop culture and fashion gimmick. Gru faces upheaval when Valerie Da Vinci (Slate), the new chief of the Anti-Villain League, unceremoniously fires both Gru and Lucy. The Minions, longing for the glory days of being on the wrong side of the law, revolt and leave Gru’s employ. During all this, Gru discovers a secret that his mother Marlena (Andrews) has been keeping from him for his entire life: Gru has a twin brother. Gru finally meets Dru (also Carell), who is eager to join his brother on his exploits and attempts to convince Gru to carry on the proud family legacy of villainy. Gru and Dru embark on a quest to steal back a priceless diamond from Balthazar, as Balthazar plots his revenge on the town that scorned him: Hollywood.

We’ll be upfront about it: Despicable Me 3 wasn’t exactly high on our list of summer movies we were looking forward to. One is likely to find more people who are annoyed by the Minions than who find them adorable, but it’s not just that. The first Despicable Me film was weird, inventive, subversive and full of heart. At that point, Illumination Entertainment was still an underdog. Now, with a string of box office successes under its belt, not to mention tons of Minions merchandise and even theme park rides, it all seems to have gone to the heads of producer Chris Meledandri and the other Illumination bigwigs. The studio appears to be heading down the Dreamworks path, and Meledandri has been instated as Universal’s equivalent to Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. Early in Despicable Me 3, we get a particularly mean-spirited swipe at Finding Nemo. This can’t help but recall the sly, slightly bitter digs at Disney that were snuck into the Shrek movies.

Kids in general are unlikely to care about animation studios jostling for supremacy, and kids in general are likely to enjoy Despicable Me 3. The animation is energetic, the gizmos and gadgets on display are over-the-top and imaginative, and there is so much slapstick. The main issue here is that the film isn’t character-driven at all. In the first film, the blossoming relationship between Gru and his young charges served as the film’s emotional core. Then, the Minions became the toyetic marketing sensation they are, and that got pushed to the background. One can sense directors Coffin (who also voices all the Minions), Balda and Guillon struggling with the question “how much of the Minions is too much?” For most of this film, the Minions are separated from Gru, accidentally entering a singing competition and then getting tossed into prison, where they spoof Jailhouse Rock. It’s all gag-driven, and there are several genuinely funny jokes here, but it ends up being scattershot.

“Long-lost twin brother” is a plot device screenwriters truck out when they’re all out of ideas. In this case, there’s an attempt to wink and nod at how it’s a bit of a cheat, but there’s still not enough to justify going this route. Carell gets to try a slightly different, higher-pitched voice as the irrepressibly cheerful Dru, and for all of five seconds, it’s funny that Dru has lustrous blonde locks, while Gru is bald. Despicable Me 3 tries for an emotional arc with Lucy struggling in her position as the girls’ adoptive mother, clashing with Margo in particular. While it’s an attempt to add depth to the story, it doesn’t become much more than just an attempt, and the conflict is resolved too easily.

Parker, along with South Park co-creator Matt Stone, has long been the gatekeeper of offending everyone for the sake of comedy. Parker and Stone have been especially savage towards what they view as the Hollywood elites, who will stop at nothing for a quick buck. As such, it seems like a sell-out move for Parker to take a role in the Despicable Me franchise, but the character is amusing. A delusional former child actor who obsessively grasps at the remains of his glory days is a familiar archetype, but the 80s gimmick is enjoyably silly. There are perhaps one too many snippets of songs from the era, including Take on Me, Bad, Sussudio and Physical, though.

There exist more desperate examples of attempts to keep floundering franchises afloat, and there’s still enough wit on display in Despicable Me 3. However, parents are likely to get increasingly impatient with these movies as more and more get made, when there are other animated films out there that older viewers will get more out of.

Summary: if Minions make you miserable, you don’t need us to tell you to give Despicable Me 3 a wide berth. There’s more emphasis on sustaining a lucrative franchise, less heart, and more animated zaniness to amuse the kids and annoy the adults.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Masterminds

For F*** Magazine

MASTERMINDS

Director : Jared Hess
Cast : Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Ken Marino
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 35min
Opens : 3 November 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

masterminds-posterMost movies and TV shows would have you believe that criminals need meticulous, elaborate planning to get away with grand larceny. It turns out that some real-life criminals who weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer made out with a whole lot of cash. This is their story (with additions in the name of comedic license that we trust are minor in nature).

It is 1997, and David Ghantt (Galifianakis) is an armoured car driver working for cash handling company Loomis Fargo. He is engaged to Jandice (McKinnon), but his true affections lie with his colleague Kelly Campbell (Wiig). When Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Wilson) hatches a plot to rob the Loomis Fargo vault, they rope David in to do the actual dirty work of making away with the cash. The robbery is a success and David escapes to Mexico, leaving the bulk of the cash with Steve. However, Steve intends to double-cross David, and hires a hitman named Mike McKinney (Sudeikis) to take care of David. Meanwhile, FBI special agent Scanlon (Jones) is hot on the trail of the thieves. With their extravagant spending, Steve and his wife Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) aren’t exactly lying low.

Masterminds is, incredibly enough, based on a true story. The perpetrators stole a staggering $17.3 million, approximately $2 million of which is still unaccounted for. The direction taken by director Jared Hess, best known for cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite, is full-tilt silliness. While said silliness does yield some laughs, it also detracts from the ‘this really happened’ quotient, leaving the realm of strange-but-true and entering the land of over-the-top slapstick hijinks. With jokes that seem like they were written in a hurry, set pieces that are big but not overly complicated and an assortment of wigs and goofy facial hair, Masterminds is wont to remind audiences of Saturday Night Live. Most of the cast members are SNL alums, and SNL creator Lorne Michaels is a producer. Like SNL these days, Masterminds is a hit and miss affair.

masterminds-kristen-wiig-and-zach-galifianakis

Hess has wrangled a talented, funny cast. This might not be a highlight of any of their résumés, but because the actors seem to be having a fair amount of fun, the audience does too. David is a standard-issue Galifianakis character: the well-intentioned doofus. There’s more bodily function humour than there needs to be and we get a nigh-inordinate amount of Galifianakis bumping into or dropping things, but Galifianakis is charming enough. Maybe “charming” isn’t the right word, but you catch our drift.

masterminds-owen-wilson-and-kristen-wiig

Kelly Chambers seems like a role Jennifer Aniston would be great at playing, which is not a knock on Wiig. Wiig is often cast as awkward, endearing women, and in this film she’s entertainingly brazen and confident. Wilson plays a character with a sinister bent, which is slightly outside his wheelhouse, but not too much is asked of him.

masterminds-jason-sudeikis-and-zach-galifianakis

Sudeikis’ inept hitman is a scene-stealer, but one can’t help but think that the filmmakers missed an opportunity here. If it were an actor not known for his comedic chops, perhaps one closely identified with the action/thriller genres, it would be more novel and surprising. McKinnon’s role is relatively small, but she does provide a healthy number of laughs, playing a somewhat creepy, unbalanced woman. The presence of Jones as a no-nonsense Fed means that three out of four of the reboot Ghostbusters are present and accounted for. Bit of a shame that all three don’t share a scene together, or that Melissa McCarthy doesn’t get a cameo. Ken Marino is at the centre of the film’s most inspired visual gag.

masterminds-kate-mckinnon-and-zach-galifianakis

The film was pushed back a year because of Relativity Pictures’ financial woes. Masterminds doesn’t seem like something everyone was clamouring for, but it ends up being inconsequential rather than egregiously bad. This story of working class folk from North Carolina robbing a bank and getting away with it would make for great satire, but Masterminds settles for the most obvious low-hanging fruit at every turn. That’s not to say it’s completely unfunny, but it is unsatisfying. It’s hard to shake the feeling of “is that it?” as the film concludes.masterminds-leslie-jones

Summary: Even with its funny cast, Masterminds is middling rather than brilliant, passing up incisive social commentary for lazy humour. We will admit to laughing more than a few times, though.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ghostbusters

For F*** Magazine

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Director : Paul Feig
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy García, Charles Dance
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 56 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

Ghostbusters posterA new gang dons the jumpsuits and the proton packs in this reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a particle physics professor at Columbia University who had a falling out with Abby Yates (McCarthy), a paranormal researcher who co-authored a book with Erin. Abby is now working with nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), and an unexplained occurrence at New York’s historical Aldridge Mansion forces Erin and Abby to make amends. After witnessing a ghost on the train tracks, Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker Patty Tolan (Jones) volunteers to join the trio, rendering in-depth knowledge of New York’s history and geography. The dim-witted but handsome Kevin Beckman (Hemsworth) is hired as the crew’s receptionist, and they come to be known as the ‘Ghostbusters’. The team traces the recent spate of paranormal activity back to Rowan (Casey), an unhinged hotel bellhop bent on unleashing hell on earth. The Ghostbusters take on both malevolent spectres and repeated attempts to discredit them as the city is brought to its knees by the ghastly apparitions.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones

It’s impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without bringing up the spectre of negativity that has clung to it from the moment the idea was mooted. Across the internet, there were innumerable cries of childhoods being ruined, and dismay that the four members of the classic team had been replaced by women. Vitriol including death threats was spewed at all involved. The cast and filmmakers hit back, with McCarthy opining that all opposed to the Ghostbusters remake were man-children living in their mothers’ basements. It just kept getting uglier, on all sides. The original cast endorsed the reboot and several of them have cameos, but leaked emails revealed that Sony was threatening “aggressive litigation” against Bill Murray if he didn’t promote the film. Murray was famously reticent to appear in 1989’s Ghostbusters II and his refusal to co-operate with Dan Aykroyd was what put the nail in the coffin of a third film in the original series.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy

Sure, some of the arguments against the Ghostbusters reboot have merit, and this is yet another demonstration of how heavily Hollywood banks on recognisable, marketable franchises. It’s not so much that there are no new ideas, but that studio executives largely refuse to put faith in said ideas because they aren’t proven. There’s a lot to strip away, but when one gets down to it, this can’t help but feel like a storm in a teacup – or an ectoplasmic vortex in a ghost trap, if you will. Stop the presses: Ghostbusters ’16 is nowhere near as disastrous as its detractors have been hoping it would be.

Ghostbusters Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon suited up

Director Feig and his cast have a proven track record of bringing the funny, which they do in spades here. The style of humour is brash and in-your-face compared to the more sardonic jokes in the original Ghostbusters films, but a good amount of jokes land. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them. Abby, Erin, Jillian and Patty are not merely gender-swapped versions of Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston. An adequate balance has been struck between respectful tips of the hat to Ghostbusters movies past and comedic stylings that are unmistakably Feig’s, with Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s affection for the source material readily apparent. As such, it is a bit of an ironic shame that so many die-hard fans have long decided to boycott this reboot when more than a few morsels of fan-service are tossed their way. The cameos are generally pretty fun and had this reviewer wanting to see more, but they’re brief enough so as not to be wholly gratuitous.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on the train tracks

This reviewer thinks McCarthy is funnier when she’s more understated, so it’s great to see her ably take on the position of team leader. This is a cast that absolutely clicks, and we never thought we’d say it, but their camaraderie does rival that of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson in places. Jones’ Patty is plenty loud and sassy and might come off as a racist stereotype, but her character actually feels more like she’s a part of the team than Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore did. And hey, a regular everywoman who’s not a scientist is a Ghostbuster; that’s absolutely fine. It is McKinnon who handily steals the show, getting some of the best lines as the team’s resident wacky wild card. McKinnon’s spot-on impressions of Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber amongst others on Saturday Night Live have garnered her considerable attention, but Ghostbusters just might be what rockets her up the comedy actor A-list, where she belongs.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth

Hemsworth is game and entertaining as the receptionist who’s practically too dumb to function, slightly reminiscent of Jason Statham’s sendup of his action hero persona in Feig’s previous film Spy. The characterisation does seem like it comes from some place of resentment though, seeing as Annie Potts’ memorable Janine from the original films wasn’t an airhead at all. The film’s villain is obviously not where the focus lies, but while Casey’s Rowan is creepy, he doesn’t cross over into being legitimately threatening and amounts to a regrettably forgettable foe. It’s also less than ideal that the film’s climax is pretty much a bog-standard big ole CGI-infused melee in Times Square, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. It doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man rampage of the first film, or even the Statue of Liberty marching through New York in the second.

Ghostbusters climactic battle

Is the Ghostbusters reboot the best idea to come out of Hollywood? No. But thanks to the efforts of Feig and his talented, watchable cast, it succeeds where many reboots haven’t, as just enough of its own thing. Feig, Dippold and the other filmmakers have been given enough free rein such that this doesn’t come off as just a studio-mandated cash grab. There’s also no indication that there was any desire to supplant the original films or deny their legacy exists. Stick around for extra clips interspersed through the end credits, plus a post-credits stinger to cap it all off.

Summary: It’s not too hot to handle nor is it too cold to hold, but Ghostbusters is largely funny and well-made. Despite being stuck in the shadow of the towering original, it’s pretty enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Zoolander 2

For F*** Magazine

ZOOLANDER 2

Director : Ben Stiller
Cast : Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Cyrus Arnold, Sting, Christine Taylor, Olivia Munn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billy Zane
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual References)

It’s been 15 years since we last saw Derek Zoolander (Stiller) strut his male supermodel stuff. Does that Blue Steel still offer the same structural support? Personal tragedy has driven Zoolander into hiding. A terrible accident that claimed the life of Zoolander’s wife Matilda (Taylor) also damaged the face of Zoolander’s friend and fellow model Hansel McDonald (Wilson), additionally damaging the pair’s friendship. Interpol Fashion agent Valencia Valentina (Cruz) is investigating a string of assassinations in which the pop star victims snap pre-death selfies that match Zoolander’s trademark “Blue Steel” expression. In Rome, she ropes in Derek and Hansel to assist her. The duo is in Italy as the guests of avant garde designer Alexanya Atoz (Wiig) and are hoping to make a comeback on the runway. Zoolander discovers that his estranged son Derek Jr. (Arnold), residing at an orphanage in Rome, is the target of an ancient conspiracy and that Zoolander’s long-time nemesis Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell), now locked away in maximum security fashion prison, has a hand in this evil plot.


            2001’s Zoolanderhas attained semi-cult status in that it’s too widely known among mainstream filmgoers to be an actual cult movie, but is still sufficiently oddball in its sensibilities. People still quote the catchphrases and attempt the Blue Steel pout. There has been demand for a sequel, but not “tear down the studio gates” levels of demand. As unlikely a comparison it may be, Zoolander 2 reminds this reviewer of 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. To put things in perspective, the DVD of Zoolander has Stiller in character narrating how an interactive DVD menu works. With Zoolander 2, it’s more of the same, but ends up being too little too late. Most involved seem to be committed to the silliness, but the vibe that Stiller has switched on “autopilot” mode is hard to shake. It turns out that the flashy production values and a veritable conga line of celebrities making guest appearances serve to distract from the lack of any real invention or comic energy, which is a little sad to realise.

            We have nothing against stupidity in general and if a comedy wants to go all-out, full-tilt dumb in the name of entertainment, we’re all for it. However, it’s been repeatedly proven that one gets more mileage with wit, rather than witlessness, as fuel in the comedy gas tank. Zoolander 2 is not completely unfunny and there are attempts, however half-hearted, at satire – a “completely biodegradable” boutique hotel boasting “farm to table wi-fi” pokes fun at hipster sensibilities. Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo as the androgynous, unclassifiable modelling sensation known as “All” dares to step on a few toes and laugh in the face of political correctness, but it lacks the same impact that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface had in Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder had something to say about Hollywood’s excesses while being outrageous and funny. With Zoolander 2, it seems like “when unable to write joke, default to cameo” was the mandate carved on the production office wall.

            Director/star/co-writer/co-producer Stiller has repeatedly made us wonder “is it still a vanity project if the person whose vanity it serves repeatedly makes a fool of himself?” Short answer: yes. Those who were charmed by Zoolander’s profound lack of intelligence the first go-round will likely be fine with Stiller’s reprisal of the role, seeing how he snaps back into it with such ease. Wilson’s performance lacks energy, but perhaps that can be explained away as Hansel’s more laid-back demeanour. The Oscar-winning Cruz is not exactly known for her slapstick comedy chops, but she gamely tackles the part of the eye candy cop on a mission, displaying sexy confidence in spades as she embraces the silliness. Ferrell has to share scenery-chewing duties with Wiig, who devises an unintelligible, non-specifically European accent for her character.

            If you’re up for a game of “name the cameo” with a group of pals, Zoolander 2 will be a rewarding experience. Otherwise, it’s close enough to the original but too engineered and lacking in spontaneity to reach any heights of humour. When the jokes (zoo)land, they land, but when they don’t, they flop out of the screen with a deafening, awkward thud. This time, the Magnum’s chamber is half empty, and a couple of the remaining rounds are blanks. Still, when it comes to comedies running on unadulterated stupidity, we’ll take this over those painful Friedberg and Seltzer ‘parody’ movies (Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie et al) any day of the week.




Summary: If it’s wanton shenanigans and famous faces you’re after, Zoolander 2 has got you covered. But when it comes to actually inspired humour, this sequel comes up disappointingly short.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong
           

The Martian

For F*** Magazine

THE MARTIAN

Director : Ridley Scott
Cast : Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong
Genre : Sci-Fi/Adventure
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 1 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Disturbing Scenes)

Someone alert David Bowie – there is life on Mars after all. It comes in the form of astronaut Mark Watney (Damon), who is stranded on the planet after being presumed dead when a sandstorm strikes his crew. The rest of the Ares III astronauts, Lewis (Chastain), Martinez (Peña), Johanssen (Mara), Beck (Stan) and Vogel (Hennie) are bound for home, unaware that Watney is still alive. Watney is left to fend for himself, drawing on every ounce of resourcefulness as he makes the most out of extremely limited supplies, eking out an existence on Mars. Back on earth, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Daniels), Mars missions director Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), public relations manager Annie Montrose (Wiig), Jet Propulsion Lab director Bruce Ng (Wong) and others labour over devising a rescue plan once they discover Watney did not die as they had believed. In the face of sheer adversity, the “Martian” must survive and work towards finally coming home. 
The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name, which was lauded for being thoroughly researched. There exists a scale, albeit a subjective one, of science fiction “hardness”, with something like Guardians of the Galaxy on the “soft” side and 2001: A Space Odyssey on the “hard” side. The Martian is a rare big-budget Hollywood hard sci-fi film and it emerges triumphant. Director Ridley Scott hasn’t had a spotless track record, coming off last year’s below-average Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. His previous sci-fi film, 2012’s Prometheus, proved hugely divisive. With most of the key crew from Prometheus including director of photography Dariusz Wolski, editor Pietro Scalia, production designer Arthur Max and costume designer Janty Yates returning, Scott has managed to more than redeem himself. 
The Martian boasts a sweeping, epic majesty juxtaposed with the intimate tale of one man’s survival. Jordan’s Wadi Rum seems to have made a steady career doubling for the fourth planet from the sun in films like Mission to Mars, Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars and this one. While everything does look a little too slick and Hollywood-ised, there’s still a sense of authenticity, the harsh environs and the sheer remoteness of the Martian landscape driving home how slim Watney’s chances of making it out alive are. Real-life NASA staffers must be drooling at seeing manned Mars missions depicted so gloriously on the big screen, given how bureaucracy, a lack of funds and myriad other obstacles stand in the way of this actually being realized. The 3D effects are superb, most noticeably when we get to see astronauts floating through the long hallways of their spacecraft and in the exterior shots of the detailed and realistic Hermes ship drifting through space. 
Screenwriter Drew Goddard adapted Weir’s novel for the screen, and on paper, The Martian certainly sounds like it could be boring, with too many finicky technical details potentially holding the viewer at arm’s length. A good portion of the story unfolds in voice-overs that are packed with scientific exposition, but there is just as much showing as there is telling and the script is light enough on its feet, not getting weighed down by the “boring stuff”. This is a film that celebrates and champions science, all of its characters being the best and brightest. It’s also an extremely human survival story that almost defiantly refuses to spiral into mawkish sentimentality, while still hitting many emotional beats. Perhaps most surprisingly, The Martian is extremely funny. There are stakes and dire straits, but the tone is pleasantly upbeat and optimistic throughout. Sean Bean even gets to make a Lord of the Rings reference, sending many audience members in this reviewer’s screening howling with laughter. 
The Martian has been described as Apollo 13 meets Cast Away, and both films happen to star Tom Hanks. Here, Damon exudes an irresistible likeability that gives even Hanks a run for his money. Watney’s indomitable spirit and how he keeps his sense of humour intact throughout his ordeal keep us keen in seeing him alive. We cheer each instance in which his MacGyvering succeeds and wince whenever he’s hit by another setback. “Mars will come to fear my botany powers,” Watney jokingly proclaims as he sets about growing potatoes. Naturally, there are moments of introspection in which Watney considers the magnitude of his plight, and Damon is able to play those moments earnestly and compellingly. 
While the film is squarely Damon’s to carry, Scott has assembled a robust supporting cast to back him up. Cheesy as it sounds, there is something inspiring about seeing so many people put their heads together in working towards a common goal. Chastain proudly carries on the tradition of capable female characters in Ridley Scott movies, her Commander Melissa Lewis steely yet calm, a natural leader with an amusing penchant for 70s disco music. As NASA director Teddy Sanders, Daniels is the hard-nosed, pragmatic bureaucrat, but in his hands, the character does not become the stereotypical authority figure who’s standing in everyone’s way. Ejiofor does his share of hand-wringing, but it makes sense given the immense pressure on his character. Wiig is fine in a role that is not overtly comedic, though her presence at Mission Control might be distracting to those familiar with her prolific comedic exploits. 
There are places where the film falls back on formulaic genre trappings: the pilot Martinez tells engineer Johanssen to explain something “in English”; there are many scenes where characters take objects like pens and salt shakers and use them as stand-ins for spacecraft and planets in demonstrating manoeuvres and Donald Glover shows up as a hyperactive genius prone to Eureka moments. That said, it is remarkable just how refreshing The Martian is. In this day and age, it seems everything has been done before, especially in big sci-fi blockbusters. That The Martian manages to be so unique and engaging is certainly commendable. In telling the story of the efforts to bring Mark Watney home, Scott has hit a home run. 
Summary: A thrilling, surprisingly funny survival film with a grounding in actual science, The Martian features one of Matt Damon’s most charming performances to date and is a joyous ode to the merits of ingenuity and perseverance. 
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

How To Train Your Dragon 2

As published in Issue #53 of F*** Magazine

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 

Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation,
Run Time: 103 mins
Rating: PG
Opens: 12 June 2014

From the Mother of Dragons to Smaug the Terrible, those mythical winged reptiles we know, love and sometimes fear have re-entered pop culture in a big way. 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, inspired by Cressida Cowell’s book series, had a part to play in it as well. Five years have passed since the events of that film, humans now living peacefully alongside dragons in the Nordic island village of Berk. Hiccup (Baruchel), poised to inherit the role of chieftain from his father Stoick (Butler), has grown inseparable from his beloved Night Fury dragon, Toothless. Hiccup and Toothless stumble across a remote ice cavern, a secret dragon haven and home to Valka (Blanchett), a mysterious, feral dragon master. They also come into conflict with the fearsome dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Hounsou), with whom Stoick had a treacherous encounter in the past.  


            The first How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best “A boy and his X” tales ever put on screen, right up there with the likes of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrialand Iron Giant. It was also a breath-taking visual feast and in that regard, the sequel ups the ante. The flying sequences are as exhilarating as ever and the 3D effects are stunning, particularly when large ice structures break apart and fall towards the camera. The action sequences are fluid and dynamic and the character animation is lively and detailed. If you were struck by how adorable Toothless was in the first film (and really, who wasn’t) prepare to go “d’aww” and giggle more times than you can care to count. The animators optimise every inch of the cuddly Night Fury to convey his emotions: he’s swift and nimble one minute and friendly and silly the next. Oh, how we’ve missed Toothless on the big screen. This film also boasts a career best musical score from composer John Powell, who snagged his first Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon.

            It pains us a little to say this, but when it comes to the story, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a mild case of sequilitis. How to Train Your Dragon ended with such an equilibrium, the relationships between Hiccup and his father, between Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid (Ferrera) and between Hiccup and Toothless all arriving at a satisfying place. We’re sure DreamWorks fully intended for it to spawn a franchise, but it concluded so neatly that there didn’t seem to be too many places to go in a sequel. The interactions between the characters are still fun to watch and there are still genuine emotional moments, but this just lacks the warmth and drive of its predecessor. We’ve also got a villain who’s simply kind of there, Drago’s design strongly reminiscent of Shan Yu from Disney’s Mulan. An attempt is made to connect him with Stoick’s past and Djimon Hounsou sounds sufficiently gruff and menacing, but Drago ends up being little more than a generic physically imposing bad guy, complete with scars and dreadlocks. His flame-retardant dragon skin cape is pretty cool, though.

            This reviewer’s theory as to why How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best movies in the DreamWorks Animation oeuvre is that it feels the most Pixar-like. This may sound like a back-handed compliment, but DreamWorks’ trademark all-star voice cast and hip, pop culture referencing humour did wear on many moviegoers’ nerves. How to Train Your Dragon didn’t have a gaggle of marquee name A-listers in the recording booth and was all the better for it. All of the major cast members from the first one, including Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera and Craig Ferguson, return here. Baruchel doesn’t have a typically heroic voice, and it works for Hiccup. Here, we get a Hiccup who has matured, Baruchel adjusting his performance accordingly. Cate Blanchett is an excellent addition to the cast, her delivery at once ethereal and earthy. Apparently, DreamWorks didn’t want a spoiler regarding her character Valka to be revealed, but marketing pushed its inclusion in the trailers anyway. It really does work better if you go into the film blind, hence our beating around the bush in this review. 

            Fans of the first film are unlikely to find anything to hate with the continuing adventures of Hiccup and Toothless. However, given how heartfelt How to Train Your Dragon was and how riveting the story of Hiccup and Toothless’ mutual bond was, one can’t help but feel let down by the sequel. There’s also a fair bit of mood whiplash going on, we get lots of pleasant humour but the transition to the rather heavy and dramatic climax is a tad sudden. Still, there are worse cinematic locales to return to than the island of Berk, and we have to admit we derived some glee from seeing those poor frightened sheep in jeopardy during the Quidditch-like dragon race at the beginning of the film.


Summary: How to Train Your Dragon 2 has sweeping visuals, great music and more of Toothless being cute, but also suffers from a weaker story, treading water in places.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong