Hollywood Adventures (横冲直撞好莱坞)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Timothy Kendall
Cast : Zhao Wei, Huang Xiaoming, Tong Dawei, Sarah Li, Sung Kang, Rhys Coiro, Stephen Tobolowsky, Simon Helberg, Robert Patrick, Kat Dennings. Tyrese Gibson, Missi Pyle
Run Time : 115 mins
Opens : 9 July 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use)
These tourists turn tinsel town topsy-turvy. Say that three times fast. In this action comedy, Huang Xiaoming stars as Beijing car salesman Xiaoming, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Yan Yan (Li) when she up and leaves him to become a production assistant in Hollywood. Xiaoming frantically grabs the last available ticket to L.A., inadvertently joining the “Hollywood Adventures” tour group with garrulous movie buff Dawei (Tong). They arrive in the City of Angels, meeting up with tour guide Wei Wei (Zhao). In the process of his quest to win back the love of his life, Xiaoming stumbles into a smuggling operation, running afoul of various colourful characters including shady motel proprietor Manny Love (Kang), irascible movie director Wronald Wright (Tobolowsky) and diva movie star Gary Buesheimer (Coiro).

            This China-U.S. co-production is half showbiz satire, half “idiots abroad” comedy. Helmed by small-time TV director Timothy Kendall and co-written and co-produced by Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame, Hollywood Adventures is Lin’s attempt at breaking into the lucrative Chinese film market. The film plays into China’s growing consumption of and fascination with American popular culture, stuffed to the gills with references to movies and TV shows. The creative team, including Lin, Kendall and co-writers Brice Beckham and Philip W. Chung, are all American, casting three of China’s biggest stars in a bid to appeal to Chinese filmgoers. Unfortunately for Lin and company, the film raked in far less than expected upon its opening in China.

            There is the sense throughout the film that the filmmakers are eager to pander to their target audience’s larger-than-life perception of the United States in general and Hollywood in particular. Hollywood Adventures is filled with depictions of ludicrous film industry shenanigans and it portrays Americans as simpletons easily appeased by mindless violence – in-story, a reality TV show called “Punch Me” is sweeping the nation. There are also several surprise celebrity cameos – Dawei has a massive crush on Kat Dennings, whom he naturally runs into on a movie set, and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg shows up as a translator. The highlight of these is an appearance by a certain Terminator star, who leaves dignity at the door and skewers his most famous role with amusing aplomb.

While often unfocused and very, very broad in its comedic stylings, the film does have a fair number of laughs. The Dawei character is one of those guys who speaks exclusively in movie references and quotes and is the source of fourth-wall breaking meta-fictional humour – you’ll notice that all three protagonists share the names of the actors playing them. It’s often very on the nose – upon first seeing Manny, Dawei remarks that he “looks a lot like Han from the Fast and Furious movies” – both characters are played by Sung Kang. However, this type of winking self-awareness is rare in Chinese comedies and fits right in with the L.A. setting of the movie. The film trades in various well-worn formulas, but every time a familiar trope shows up, Dawei is there to remark on it. That doesn’t excuse its lack of originality but it does make it easier to go along with the romp.

The three leads are excellently cast – Huang Xiaoming plays the strait-laced straight man, Tong Dawei is the silly sidekick and Zhao Wei is the plucky, world-weary lass who has to guide the duo through the unfamiliarity of Hollywood. Tong in particular is admirably game for a variety of embarrassing/dumb scenarios – we somehow wind up witnessing him in drag astride a motorcycle during the film’s climactic action sequence. As is often the case, the de-facto main character is the least distinct, but Huang manages to make Xiaoming adequately appealing. Zhao showcases the comic timing she’s become known for and as she plays the only one of the three leads conversant in English, does most of the interacting with the other characters for the other two. On the other hand, Rhys Coiro is not even a tiny bit convincing as a big-shot movie star involved in some illegal business. We also find it puzzling that the character’s name is a play on “Gary Busey”, of all the “top movie stars” to lampoon.

Hollywood Adventures is stupid, but for the most part, it’s amiably so. As a send-up of typical Hollywood excesses, the film ends up partaking in those same excesses, taking a hard right in its third act into thriller territory. There are still gags, but these take a backseat to a kidnapping, a showdown at an exclusive shindig and lots of cars crashing into each other and flipping through the air. The three main characters also rather conveniently become expert sharpshooters, martial artists and stunt performers by the time the denouement rolls around. Even given all that, there’s a fair amount to enjoy and despite its various shortcomings, the movie has enough raucous energy for it to pass as a somewhat entertaining diversion.

Summary: This rampage through Hollywood is brash and very silly, but the strength of the three leads and a good dose of self-aware humour carry it to the finish line.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Gone Girl

For F*** Magazine


Director : David Fincher
Cast : Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, Emily Ratajkowski
Genre : Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Opens : 9 October 2014
Rating : R21 (Sexual Scenes)
Run time: 149 mins
At various points in the 90s, audiences have heard a frustrated Harrison Ford emphatically declare “I did not kill my wife!” Now, we get to hear Ben Affleck say it. Affleck plays Nick Dunne, an unhappily married former journalist who runs a bar with his twin sister Margo (Coon). It is the fifth anniversary of Nick’s marriage to Amy (Pike), the basis for her author parents’ popular children’s book character “Amazing Amy”. That morning, Amy vanishes. A media frenzy envelops Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri; cable TV host Ellen Abbott (Pyle) insinuating on her show that Nick is guilty. Leading the investigation, Detective Rhonda Boney (Dickens) begins to doubt Nick’s innocence as well. Of course, not all is as it seems, with Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi (Harris) drawn into the fray. Nick has to rely on superstar lawyer Tanner Bolt (Perry) as more and more of the public turn against him, demanding to know what exactly happened to “Amazing Amy”.

            Adapted from the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, the most superficial of glances might lead one to think Gone Girl is just another whodunit. Wife disappears, husband is the prime suspect, there’s probably a twist or two. Gone Girl is so much more than that, ending up as a wickedly subversive deconstruction of your average Lifetime Channel movie of the week while skewering mass media sensationalism. Working from a screenplay written by Flynn herself, director David Fincher is still at the top of his game, his signature technical acumen and incredible instincts as a filmmaker on full display here. The tonal balance Flynn has achieved in the story is stunning – one wouldn’t expect a murder mystery thriller to be this funny. The humour is dry and scathing and never undercuts the intensity and the suspense, both of which Gone Girl has in spades. The first half of the story alternates between the unfolding events surrounding Amy’s disappearance and flashbacks detailing Nick and Amy’s relationship, told in the form of Amy’s journal entries. Some screenwriting guru somewhere once said “never use voiceovers” – Rosamund Pike’s voiceovers framing said journal entries are pitch-perfect in how they’re written and delivered.

        When the film was in production, much was made about how the book’s ending had been altered. That infamous ending has remained unchanged. If you haven’t read the book yet, go into this movie blind, then pick up the book. The gut-punch developments in the story are, to borrow a cliché, a roller coaster ride. There’s a difference between a film making the audience feel like they’ve gone on a crazy ride and a film making an audience feel like they’ve been played like chumps – there will be viewers who think Gone Girl falls into the latter category but this reviewer was thoroughly entertained. This is the kind of movie you want to see twice in theatres, the second time to pay attention to how your fellow moviegoers react. There will be gasps; there will be howling. This is the rare thriller where the twists not only hold up upon inspection in hindsight, they actually seem even stronger than they did the first time round, events turning operatic and heightened without becoming laughable.

            Ben Affleck was nominated for “Worst Actor of the Decade” at the Razzies. He’s not the worst actor of the decade – or at least, he isn’t anymore. His Nick Dunne is in over his head, he’s not brilliant but he’s not a total idiot either. The audience has to root for Nick at some points and doubt him doubt him at others; Affleck playing those different colours well enough. He also gamely takes jokes about his chin. Rosamund Pike does completely steal the show from him though – in your run of the mill whodunit, the “missing/dead?” wife wouldn’t be playing too big of an active role in the story – but this is not your run of the mill whodunit. The contrast between the wistfully romantic flashbacks (there’s a scene in which Nick and Amy kiss in a “sugar storm” outside a bakery) and the suspenseful, dramatic investigation is effectively jarring as performed by Pike. Amy is not just another “missing white woman”; Pike creating a memorable character in a genre where “the wife” is often, well, “the wife”.

            Affleck and Pike are backed by an excellent supporting cast. The familial bond between Nick and his twin sister Margo is believable and moving thanks to Carrie Coon’s strong turn as the pillar in Nick’s life following his wife’s disappearance. Kim Dickens is the “no-nonsense tough cop” without playing up the stereotypes associated with those character types. Missi Pyle’s sneering daytime TV show host, hurling allegations which the public swallows wholesale, provides biting comic relief. Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry actually don’t play that big a part in the proceedings until around the halfway mark. It might be distracting to some, but the urge to go “hey Barney Stinson/Doogie Howser” or “hey Madea” does quickly die down. This reviewer was honestly worried about that, with Perry in particular, but Perry is sufficiently credible as the affable, astute Tanner Bolt.

            As with just about all of David Fincher’s films, the atmospherics click right into place. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver an ominous score that rears its head at just the right moments and this marks yet another visually-arresting partnership between Fincher and his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. Editor Kirk Baxter also includes some interesting flourishes, such as a scene which cuts from Nick and Amy about to kiss in a flashback to Nick getting his cheek swabbed at the police station. The ending will probably be infuriating for many viewers, but we think it’s far from the cop-out it could’ve been. After all, some of the best stories have pretty “infuriating” endings.

Summary: Gone Girlwill pull you in, spin you around and leave you completely hypnotized. With Gillian Flynn’s razor-sharp screenplay and some terrific performances, Fincher has yet another winner on his hands.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong