Shazam! review

SHAZAM!

Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast : Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Jovan Armand, Ian Chen
Genre : Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 h 12 mins
Opens : 4 April 2019
Rating : PG

Created in 1939 by Artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, Captain Marvel, later known as Shazam, was the first superhero to make it to the big screen with 1941’s Republic Serial named Adventures of Captain Marvel. The character returns to cinemas 78 years later in Shazam!

            Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old orphan whom the ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) endows with his powers. Billy now can transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) when he shouts the magic word “Shazam!”. Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a superhero aficionado who helps Billy gain mastery over his powers and develop his superhero identity.

In the meantime, physicist Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) hunts down Shazam, wielding the power of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sivana believes he was the wizard’s rightful champion. Billy must adjust to both his existence as Shazam and life in the group home alongside Freddy and his other foster siblings, Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Darla (Faithe Herman).

Let’s get the naming thing out of the way: Captain Marvel was originally published by Fawcett Comics and was a top-selling superhero comic, even outselling Superman. DC Comics sued Fawcett for copyright infringement, alleging the character was a copy of Superman. Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel comics in 1953, then in 1972, DC licensed Captain Marvel and related characters from Fawcett, fully integrating the characters into the DC universe by 1991. The named “Captain Marvel” had been copyrighted by Marvel Comics, who introduced their version of Captain Marvel in 1967. When DC relaunched with the New 52 in 2011, the character was renamed Shazam. Long story short, the rivalry between the Captain Marvel movie and the Shazam! movie is completely pointless and doesn’t need to exist.

A Shazam! movie has been in development since the early 2000s, with the production of other DC Comics movies throwing various spanners in the works. In this final form, directed by David F. Sandberg from a screenplay by Henry Gayden, Shazam! is a movie that remembers superheroes were originally created for children. This doesn’t mean that the film is an overly cuddly, toothless affair, and there still are scenes that might frighten younger viewers, but Shazam! takes the concept that its titular hero is a kid in an adult superhero’s body and runs with it.

It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe had stumbled multiple times, and Shazam! marks the franchise’s firmest rejection of the tone it exhibited in its earlier entries. This reviewer still enjoys Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad to varying degrees despite the overall criticism those films received, but it became clear that what general audiences perceived as an enforced grimness had become an albatross around the franchise’s neck. Justice League adopted the Avengers formula but came off as hastily reassembled and half-baked. Shazam! is light-hearted, affably goofy and zany without coming off as manic. It’s not exactly a superhero epic and is often more amiable than awe-inspiring, but the approach works well for the character.

Shazam is a character who’s been nicknamed “the Big Red Cheese”, and Zachary Levi embodies a kid’s sense of wonderment and being overwhelmed, having an enormous amount of fun in the role. Levi is a champion of geek culture, having created the Nerd Machine lifestyle brand and starred in the TV series Chuck. He also played Fandral in two Thor films, though it’s easy to forget that. As Shazam, Levi has eagerness to spare and lights up the screen whenever he’s on it.

Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer share plenty of chemistry as bickering foster brothers. As Billy Batson, there’s a sadness that Angel carries around, a sadness Billy sheds when he transforms into Shazam. Grazer plays a fanboy, and in an age when fanboys can be annoying and often actively toxic, such that ‘fanboy’ is often a pejorative, it’s nice to see an endearing fanboy portrayed in a superhero movie.

Mark Strong’s Sinestro was one of the best parts of 2011’s Green Lantern movie, and he plays another DC villain here. He plays it completely straight – Sivana is ruthless and powerful and commands the terrifying and grotesque demons who personify the Seven Deadly Sins. The character is strictly one-dimensional even when given bits of back-story, but an archetypical superhero needs an archetypical supervillain and Strong is the best man for the job.

Shazam! is very much a movie about family, and there’s a warmth to the scenes of a foster family that carries on DC’s lineage of superheroes being adopted as children. This element of the story is taken straight from the New 52 Shazam! run. The movie’s feel-good moments might come off as a bit too pat, but there’s enough sincerity to paper over that. Grace Fulton and Faithe Herman are the standouts as the big sister of the bunch and the slightly hyper little sister respectively.

Shazam! is much more modest in scale than Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the two DCEU films generally considered good (the former more so than the latter), are. It is pretty much Big as a superhero movie – there’s even an homage to the classic floor piano scene. Shazam! fully embraces the outre elements of the comics, going all in on the magic and never straining to make things ‘grounded’ or ‘realistic’. It remains to be seen just how cohesive the DCEU will be or even needs to be going forward, but it’s good to know that while the darker stories have their place, there’s room for movies like Shazam! too.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Brothers Grimsby

For F*** Magazine

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Director : Louis Letterier
Cast : Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Scott Adkins, Annabelle Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 82 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : R21 (Sexual Humour)

Sacha Baron Cohen asks the question: “what if James Bond had an idiot brother who kept getting in his way?” Baron Cohen plays Norman “Nobby” Butcher, a ne’er-do-well football hooligan from the English town of Grimsby with a wife (Wilson) and 11 children. Nobby has spent 28 years searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Strong); they were separated as children when Sebastian was adopted by a wealthy family. Sebastian is now an elite secret agent with the Tiger’s Tail, an offshoot of MI6. The brothers finally reunite, but it’s under less-than-ideal circumstances as Nobby bungles Sebastian’s latest mission. When Sebastian is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and branded a rogue agent, he can only count on analyst Jodie (Fisher) and is forced to trust his irresponsible, dim-witted brother Nobby. The crime syndicate Maelstrom is out to assassinate philanthropist Rhonda George (Cruz) and it’s up to the super-spy and his not-so-super brother to foil the plot.

            The film is released in the U.S. as The Brothers Grimsby but is originally titled Grimsby. There’s a cultural specificity to a lot of the humour and there are broad stereotypes of working-class English folk aplenty. Baron Cohen, never known for playing it safe, also revels in exceptionally crass gross-out humour, several comedic set-pieces boasting jaw-dropping levels of wince-inducing crudeness. Baron Cohen’s subversive brand of comedy can often come off as mean, and the “gotcha!” humour of Borat or Brüno often comes at the expense of well-meaning bystanders.

Weirdly enough, The Brothers Grimsby doesn’t feel as mean-spirited as other Baron Cohen works. It’s an assault on good taste in general, more than any demographic in particular. That said, the residents of the real-life Grimsby have understandably taken umbrage with the film’s portrayal of their town as violent and litter-strewn. The jokes about sexual assault, AIDS and gun violence might be uncomfortable to more sensitive viewers, but it’s a Sacha Baron Cohen enterprise after all and he’s all about dancing on toes. The sentimental through-line of a brotherly bond is meant to be sappy on purpose, but it works as a fine counterpoint to the over-the-top jokes and a tiny bit of genuine sweetness does come through.

 Louis Letterier, a graduate of Luc Besson’s stable of directors, has mostly helmed also-rans action flicks such as The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans (2010). He brings a Hollywood slickness to The Brothers Grimsby and there’s even some globe-trotting involved, with our heroes travelling to South Africa and Chile. Letterier employs the gimmick of having the action scenes be viewed from a first person perspective, by way of footage captured by Agent Sebastian Graives’ high-tech contact lens. Unfortunately, a lot of the fight sequences are choppy, with an excessive use of shaky-cam and quick cutting.
Baron Cohen might be front and centre, and he’s believable as a dumb, uncouth football hooligan who really has a heart of gold, but the casting coup here is Strong. With his intimidating stature, intimidating voice, intimidating face, intimidating everything really, Strong is not typically known for his comedic chops. He very gamely throws himself into the role, which allows him to kick ass but also frequently requires that he doff all dignity and just let the humiliation wash over him. The main issue with the casting is that Sebastian is supposed to be Nobby’s younger brother – Strong is 52 and Baron Cohen is 44.

            This already looks like a vanity project, so it’s a good move on Baron Cohen’s part to not have his real-life wife Fisher portray his onscreen wife; Fisher instead plays the helpful MI6 analyst who updates Sebastian over his earpiece. Wilson audibly struggles with the accent, but then again Baron Cohen isn’t even aiming for the right accent, putting on a Yorkshire dialect instead of a North East Lincolnshire one. Cruz contributes a dash of class and Adkins busts a martial arts move or two as the lead henchman.



            The Brothers Grimsby goes for all-out shock value, but it trades in tropes seen in numerous comedies in which unlikely, under-qualified regular guys are suddenly thrust into duty as secret agents. It’s not as charming or even as funny as last year’s Spy, and it’s certainly a whole lot more self-indulgent. There are multiple times when the film disappears up its own ass, so to speak, getting too carried away with the filthy jokes. However, it clocks in at a very brisk 83 minutes and zips along with an irreverent energy that this reviewer found difficult to resist. If “Johnny English, but absolutely not for kids. At all” is what you’re after, The Brothers Grimsby does fit the bill.

Summary: Gloriously, unabashedly crass and gross, The Brothers Grimsby is sufficiently fast-paced and funny, with Mark Strong delivering one of his best performances yet.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

For F*** Magazine

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Mark Strong, Michael Caine
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 129 mins
Opens : 12 February 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)
The gentleman spy – judging from Hollywood’s preoccupation with rough-and-tumble gritty action thrillers, it might seem like an archetype that has gone out of style. Kingsman: The Secret Serviceendeavours to bring it back. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, codename “Galahad”, a member of the elite independent clandestine organisation Kingsman. When it comes time to recruit a new Kingsman, Harry sets his sights on Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton), a ne’er do well from the wrong side of the tracks. Eggsy is put through his paces, subjected to the rigorous Kingsman training and selection process, picked on by most of the other recruits but finding a friend in the form of Roxy (Cookson). In the meantime, a global threat surfaces in the form of megalomaniacal tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson), hell-bent on unleashing a catastrophe only Kingsman can foil.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Director Matthew Vaughn previously collaborated with Millar on Kick-Ass, to smashing results. Just like the bespoke tailored suits showcased in the film, Vaughn is a perfect fit for the source material. Between this and X-Men First Class, he more than proves he’s worthy of directing an actual Bond movie. While Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have changed a fair bit from the comics, there are still nods fans of the book will enjoy, such as Mark Hamill playing a supporting role – Hamill was one of the kidnapped celebrities featured in the comic. Kingsman: The Secret Service is filled with playful homages to classic spy-fi staples, such as The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart (listen out for the line about the shoe phone) and of course the early Bond films. There are even shout-outs to Dr. Strangelove and The Shining. In the midst of making all those references, Vaughn manages to imbue the movie with an identity all its own, tossing several surprises into what seems like a very familiar spy yarn.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is a throwback to the above-mentioned shows and movies and in a Tarantino-esque way, spy movies pop up as a subject of discussion in the film itself. Of course, Vaughn was never going to play it straight and that wicked, subversive streak he displayed in Kick-Assis in full force here. Vaughn takes palpable delight in juxtaposing the cultured high-society world of countryside mansions, 19th Century brandy and Saville Row tailors with lots of swearing and graphic brutality. Brace yourself for impalements, severed limbs, exploding heads and even someone getting bifurcated by way of bladed prosthetic leg. Most likely on the strength of Kick-Ass, Vaughn has managed to convince the studio bigwigs to let him go the full, gleefully R-rated hog instead of having to pull his punches and deliver a softer, friendlier product.

            The single sentence “Colin Firth kicking ass” is really all the promotion and marketing this movie needs. Expertly playing on his public persona as an evergreen Mr. Darcy, it is an absolute thrill to see the Oscar-winning thesp take out a bar full of street toughs with calculated efficiency. The physical training that the actor underwent pays off, and it really doesn’t feel as if Firth sat out the action sequences for a stunt double to take his place. One jaw-dropping, blood-soaked scene has been compared to the martial arts in The Raid, the camera-work kinetic and jittery yet stopping short of incoherent and nausea-inducing. Firth is able to bring a lot more to the role past that casting gimmick, admirably lending genuine pathos when it is required.

            This reviewer was worried about how Taron Egerton would come off in this film, as the role of the “unrefined mentee” who is taken in and shown the ropes is usually played one of two ways: insufferably annoying or just really bland. Egerton manages to be neither and does make for a convincing street kid, possessing just enough bad boy swagger without it being ridiculous. As Roxy, Sophie Cookson is appealingly spirited and cool; it’s to Vaughn and Goldman’s credit that they don’t force a predictable romance between Eggsy and Roxy into the movie, their relationship actually more satisfying for it.

            Samuel L. Jackson has the time of his life here – for an actor who’s in everything from direct-to-DVD dreck to the biggest blockbusters, he isn’t given to sleepwalking through roles. His lisping, charismatic supervillain is a hoot – it’s to Jackson’s credit that he’s able to balance the menacing and funny sides of Valentine. It also helps that Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella), giving new meaning to the term “blade runner”, is distinctive, graceful and terrifying. Mark Strong lends a gruff authority and trustworthiness to the role of Merlin, Kingsman quartermaster and the supervisor of the recruits’ training. It’s also fun to see Michael Caine in this – this reviewer assumed that he would merely show up as the Kingsman head and not have much to do beyond that, but there are a few more layers to “Arthur”.

            If there’s one major element that lets Kingsman: The Secret Service down, it would be the film’s reliance on sometimes-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. Sure, it’s heightened and has no aspirations to realism, but cheap-looking CGI can still pull an audience out of it. This is most noticeable during a scene set at the edge of space involving a satellite that has to be shot down. Still, the intricately-choreographed stunt work, including Firth’s martial arts mayhem and one of the most exciting skydiving scenes in recent memory, do make up for it. In Kingsman, genre aficionados will find a spy flick that’s as fresh as it is nostalgic and will come away thoroughly entertained.

Summary: An edgy, entertaining, genre-savvy spy movie filled with winks, nods, carnage and Colin Firth kicking ass.
RATING: 4 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong

The Imitation Game

For F*** Magazine

THE IMITATION GAME

Director : Morten Tyldum
Cast : Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Vanessa Kirby, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard
Genre : Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 22 January 2015
Rating : NC16 
Alan Turing: mathematician, cryptanalyst, often considered the father of modern computing and a unique war hero who was persecuted later in his life. The man is as fascinating and compelling a biopic subject as they come. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, the story shifting between three pivotal periods of Turing’s life: his school days, his secret wartime code-breaking work at Bletchley Park and his post-war conviction of gross indecency. Much more at home with puzzles and ciphers than in social settings, Turing’s co-workers at Bletchley Park’s Hut 8, particularly chess champion Hugh Alexander (Goode), find him insufferable. As the Second World War rages on, Commander Alastair Denniston (Dance) breathes down Turing’s neck for results. Turing goes about developing a machine with the goal of deciphering German messages encoded with the Enigma Machine – a task deemed impossible.

            The Imitation Game is based on Alan Hodges’ biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. Graham Moore’s screenplay landed at the top of the Black List, an annual survey of the most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood, in 2011. The title The Imitation Game refers to the Turing test, which determines how well a machine can imitate the thought processes of a human being. At face value, this looks entirely like an Oscar-bait biopic carefully engineered for maximum Academy voter appeal. Despite its Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and American screenwriter Moore, it does seem very British indeed, and if there’s anything the Academy loves, it’s British-y biopics built around an attention-grabbing tour de force performance – see The King’s Speech’s triumph over The Social Network at the 83rd Academy Awards. We reckon it is possible to go into the film harbouring all these cynical pre-conceived notions and to walk out of the theatre afterwards unmoved, but one would have to be a special brand of jaded to do so.

            The standard biopic tropes we’ve come to expect of awards-contender “based on a true story” prestige pictures are all there, but The Imitation Gamehandily transcends them, never letting up in just how absorbing it is. Naturally, this is due in no small part to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing. Cumberbatch has captured the world’s imagination and is that rare combination of a superstar, a “serious actor”, a geek icon and, as he is probably tired of being described as, an unlikely sex symbol. We’ve become accustomed to “eccentric geniuses” in various media, the smartest people in the room who don’t suffer fools and have unorthodox but highly effective methods of solving problems – Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes could definitely be classified as such. There have also been various explorations of the “dark side” of genius, the inner demons that misunderstood prodigies grapple with. As Alan Turing, Cumberbatch is able to paint a highly sympathetic portrait of a man who, if he were “normal”, would not have accomplished what he had. When audiences question the veracity of a biopic, it is often brought about as much by the shortcomings of the actor as by the script’s fictionalisation of real events. This reviewer did not detect that here. To dismiss Cumberbatch’s Turing as “just another troubled wunderkind who can’t make personal connections” would be a great disservice.

            While the film was in production, there was the worry that Turing’s homosexuality would not be mentioned. Thankfully, it is addressed, and as such Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke is far from the superfluous love interest she could have been depicted as if such liberties were taken with the source material. Joan has to battle the deep-seated misogyny of the time, never mind that she has repeatedly proven herself as an expert code-breaker. The character’s introductory scene when she is almost turned away from an entrance test because it is automatically assumed she is up for a clerical position is dynamite. Knightley and Cumberbatch play off each other in a manner that steers clear of being cloying or saccharine and the relationship between Turing and Joan is a well-developed one.

            A surprising element of The Imitation Game, given its often heavy subject matter and wartime setting, is its humour. There are plenty of well-judged moments of levity, most derived from Turing’s interactions with others without feeling like they are at the man’s expense. As Hugh Alexander, Turing’s fellow code-breaker whose frustration is often justifiable, Matthew Goode is appealing and comes off more likeably caddish than smarmy. Charles Dance is also funny as the irascible Commander Denniston and Mark Strong is believable and coolly charming as spymaster Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies.

            If there’s any particular weakness, it would be the quality of the computer-generated imagery used to depict the WWII battles in brief cutaways. However, this deficiency barely registers because of how expertly the film is put together on the whole, the story flowing naturally through those three time periods in Alan Turing’s life. It seems there’s the danger of the film being written off by some, ironically enough, for its pedigree and awards potential. Ignore those voices; see this, tell everyone you know to see it. It’s a cliché, but this is a story that needs to be told and to be heard.

Summary:Moving, entertaining, thrilling, thought-provoking, even funny, The Imitation Game is a powerful, well-made biopic anchored by a brilliant leading performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.
RATING: 4.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Before I Go To Sleep

For F*** Magazine

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP 

Director : Rowan Joffé
Cast : Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jing Lusi, Rosie MacPherson
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)
Run time: 92 mins
The thought of losing one’s reliance on memory is a frightening one. What would it be like not knowing the fundamentals of one’s personal history and not knowing who to trust? In this psychological thriller, Nicole Kidman plays Christine Lucas, a woman who suffers from anterograde amnesia following an accident years ago. Christine loses all the memories she has made in a given day when she wakes up the next morning, her mind “resetting” to how it was in her early 20s. She is cared for by her husband Ben (Firth), struggling with his wife’s predicament but choosing to remain strong for her. However, Christine begins to doubt if she can trust Ben and begins secretly seeing neuropsychologist Dr. Nasch (Strong) in the hopes that he can devise a cure for her condition. However, the more Christine uncovers, the more she loses track of as she awakes the next day.
            Before I Go to Sleep is adapted from the best-selling 2011 novel of the same name by S.J. Watson. Writer-director Rowan Joffé pulls the viewer in with an efficient set-up – the premise justifies the chunks of exposition delivered at the beginning of the film. It also allows Joffé to play with the structure a little. However, it’s not long before all the conventions used in the telling of this story become evident. We’ve seen anterograde amnesia used as a plot device in films from Memento to 50 First Datesand there’s a distinct reason why memory loss has become associated with predictable soap opera-esque melodrama. There is an effort on Joffé’s part to spin something new from this shop-worn trope and the film’s first act does establish an air of plausibility and tension. However, by the time the climax rolls around, Before I Go to Sleep has leapt down the generic thriller rabbit hole, leaving head-scratching dangling plot threads in its wake.


            One major thing Before I Go to Sleep has going for it is that it’s very smartly cast, playing on audience expectations associated with each of the three stars. Nicole Kidman’s performance as a character who’s vulnerable but is not about to take what’s happening to her lying down is sufficiently compelling and, for the first two acts of the film at least, helps the audience overlook the inconsistencies in the narrative. Ideally, a film of this type should make one go “what would I do in a situation like this?” and Kidman does accomplish that. The film reunites Kidman with Colin Firth, her on-screen husband from The Railway Man. There’s a different dynamic here and Firth is able to strike a balance between sympathetic and suspicious even though the material doesn’t give him quite enough to play with. Mark Strong is known for his ability to play “sinister”, but he can just as easily play “steadfast, reassuring and concerned”, which he does here. Anne-Marie Duff rounds out the cast as Claire, a friend from Christine’s past whose appearance in the story calls events into question. Given this, she is little more than a plot device.

            As far as whodunits go, Before I Go to Sleepis far more straightforward than one would expect, the potential for truly mind-bending psychological thrills left somewhat unmined. At its weakest moments, the film strays into “Lifetime Movie of the Week” territory. During the denouement, Edward Shearmur’s score goes into full-blown cliché thriller mode, heavy on the “Psycho strings”. All this said though, the film does manage to be absorbing and chilling in the moment and it’s only upon later reflection that it begins to crumble. As much as the logic of the twists and turns matter, it comes down just as much to how entertaining it is. While the big reveal isn’t quite as ludicrous as that in the Liam Neeson-starring amnesia thriller Unknown, Before I Go to Sleep falls short of the satisfyingly explosive thrills of that film.

Summary: It’s well-acted and initially engaging, but Before I Go to Sleep is ultimately unremarkable psychological thriller fare, complete with the plot hole or two that comes with middling entries in this genre.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Mindscape

For F*** Magazine

MINDSCAPE

Director : Jorge Dorado
Cast : Mark Strong, Taissa Farmiga, Brian Cox, Indira Varma, Noah Taylor, Clare Calbraith
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens: : 8 May 2014

“Journey into the body” movies like Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace can be fun, but it’s often “journey into the mind” films that are truly intriguing and trippy. In this psychological thriller, Mark Strong plays John Washington, a “memory detective” working for the agency Mindscape. He has the ability to take subjects back into their memories and has used this skill to solve several crimes. Reeling from the loss of his wife, he takes a job from Mindscape boss Sebastian (Cox) to help 16-year-old Anna Greene (Farmiga) break her hunger strike. What appears to be a simple job soon becomes unpredictable and dangerous, as John tries to figure out if the girl is a helpless victim or a sociopathic mastermind herself, all while memories of his late wife intrude into his mind.

Mindscape is the feature film debut of director Jorge Dorado and is produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, director of Orphan, Unknown and Non-Stop. Collet-Serra co-founded studio Ombra Films as a platform for promising Spanish directors to make English-language movies, akin to what Luc Besson did for France with his studio EuropaCorp. Also known as Anna, Mindscape aims for a Hitchcockian flavour but comes off feeling more like a 90s erotic/psychological thriller, a tamer Basic Instinct meets The Sixth Sense. If we’re talking more recent films, there’s a tinge of Red Lights and Trance here too. Dorado creates a good deal of atmosphere, but he relies on tried and tested suspense movie tricks such as disorienting editing, recurring visual motifs (clocks, staircases, roses), slow focus pulling, and a score featuring what sounds like the string section of an orchestra having a collective seizure.

Sibling team Guy and Martha Holmes’ screenplay is filled with awkward, clumsy chunks of exposition and some unnatural dialogue, but the set-up does pull one in and the mystery is initially engrossing. As can be expected of this genre, there are several twists and turns and while there isn’t an outright preposterous cop-out, it’s still far from truly satisfying. Still, there is a valiant attempt made at characterisation and like with a good page-turner, this reviewer wanted to keep watching to find out how it all plays out. Films featuring a Lolita figure can end up feeling trashy and exploitative, and Mindscape doesn’t feel too cheap and schlocky in that way.

Mark Strong is one of those actors who gets typecast as villains in Hollywood films (hence his inclusion in Jaguar’s “Good to be Bad” advertising campaign) but his intensity and presence give him more range than a string of baddie parts suggests. As the “memory detective” plunged into the skeletons-in-closets-filled world of a wealthy and powerful family, Strong’s mix of wariness and vulnerability is quite convincing. The interplay between him and Taissa Farmiga is quite fun to watch. Farmiga bites into her meaty role in an entertaining fashion, her portrayal of the disturbed Anna Greene reminiscent of many a Saoirse Ronan performance. Anna is part Cole Sear, part Catherine Tramell (or is she?) and Farmiga gamely unravels the Gordian knot that is the character before the audience and is mesmerising at it. Brian Cox doesn’t really do much in his supporting role.

This neo-noir mystery film falls back on many conventions of the genre, substituting “psychologist playing head games with a mysterious female client” with “memory detective playing head games with a mysterious female client”. Strong and Farmiga work well with each other but ultimately, Mindscape is more convoluted than complex and while its game of “who’s manipulating who?” is intriguing in some places, it’s tiresome in others. It’s a twisty whodunit that busies itself with old stylistic tricks and lacks a sensational pay-off.

Summary: Taissa Farmiga is captivating and Mark Strong plays against her well, but Mindscape feels too much like any number of psychological thrillers even with its sci-fi-tinged setup.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong