Angel Has Fallen review

For inSing

ANGEL HAS FALLEN

Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast : Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Michael Landes, Tim Blake Nelson, Nick Nolte, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 1 mins
Opens : 22 August 2019
Rating : NC16

He saved the White House, he saved London, and now, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) must save himself.

An assassination attempt on President Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) leaves his entire Secret Service detail dead – except Banning. Banning is framed for the attack and goes on the run, leaving his wife Leah (Piper Perabo) and their baby daughter in danger. Pursued by Secret Service director David Gentry (Lance Reddick) and FBI Special Agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), Banning turns to an unlikely source for help: his estranged father Clay (Nick Nolte). Banning must clear his name and uncover the conspiracy, before the attacker can finish what they’ve started.

Part of the charm of the Fallen film series is its throwback nature. These are resolutely 90s action movies of the ‘seen it all before’ variety, but perhaps offer a change of pace from the typical mega-blockbuster. Angel Has Fallen is more serious and subdued than the bloated, preposterous and jingoistic London Has Fallen, but that’s not to say it’s anywhere in the realm of plausibility. There are still far-fetched elements to the plot and bombastic action sequences, but there’s a bit more character stuff stuck in between this time. Early information about the film’s plot suggested it would be about a terrorist attack on Air Force One, which was the plot of, uh, Air Force One. Thankfully, while Angel Has Fallen is far from original, it isn’t a rip-off of Air Force One.

True to form as a 90s throwback, Angel Has Fallen is reminiscent of The Fugitive and its spinoff U.S. Marshals. It’s easy to imagine Harrison Ford in the Mike Banning role at some point. Under the direction of former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, Angel Has Fallen is unsophisticated but muscular. There are lots of old-fashioned action set-pieces, including a jack-knifing semi-truck that flips over. There are also countless explosions that toss hapless henchmen in the air. The action is largely tactile, and Angel Has Fallen largely avoids the clumsy and obvious CGI of its predecessors.

Gerard Butler was certainly overselling the movie when he compared it to Logan in an interview, but to a certain extent, the comparison makes sense. In this film, we see Banning struggle with the physical trauma he has weathered being in the line of fire, having developed an addiction to painkillers. This by no means compromises his ability to be a nigh-superhuman badass in combat, but it’s good to see the film acknowledging its protagonist’s pain.

Morgan Freeman gets more to do than in the previous two movies, during which he was largely confined to the situation room. Here, he is largely confined to a hospital room, but brings the authority and warmth expected of him. 21 years after Deep Impact, he’s presidential as ever.

This is one of those movies in which it’s incredibly obvious who the bad guys are the moment they first appear onscreen. It seems obvious to the point where one would think they must be red herrings, but no, those characters you suspected are indeed the villains.

Nick Nolte adds a great deal of personality as Mike’s dad, giving this movie shades of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Nolte can play crusty and cantankerous in his sleep, but also mines some tragedy from the character and provides the movie with its few authentic beats.

The Leah Banning character gets little to do, but then again, she’s always gotten little to do, to the point where one would be forgiven for not noticing that Radha Mitchell has been replaced by Piper Perabo.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s FBI Agent character is unremarkable, and she seems to over-act to compensate for how purely functional the character is in the plot.

Angel Has Fallen is not an especially smart film, but it offers modest thrills in a relatively entertaining package. Butler gets the job done even though he looks tired and out of it, and the story offers a reason for why he looks tired and out of it. There’s still a place for movies like Angel Has Fallen, with its gunfights, explosions and easily solved plots against the president.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Going in Style

For F*** Magazine

GOING IN STYLE 

Director : Zach Braff
Cast : Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Joey King, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, John Ortiz, Matt Dillon Peter Serafinowicz
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 20 April 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Drug Use)

Here in Singapore, senior citizens have been urged to use their SkillsFuture credits to take courses in I.T., languages, cooking and crafts. There is yet to be a SkillsFuture course on bank robbery. In this comedy, lifelong friends Willie (Freeman), Joe (Caine) and Albert (Arkin) find their pensions funds dissolved after the steel mill they work for undergoes a restructuring. Joe, who found himself caught in a bank robbery, proposes that the trio steal what is rightfully theirs from the bank. While Willie seems open to the idea, Albert is adamant that the plan will fail. Through his ne’er-do-well former son-in-law Murphy (Serafinowicz), Joe contacts Jesus (Ortiz), who is a part-time pet store proprietor and part-time thief. Jesus trains Willie, Joe and Albert in the art of the heist, so they can pull off the audacious robbery and retrieve their hard-earned pension.

Going in Style is a remake of the 1979 film of the same name, directed by Martin Brest and starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. Adapted by Theodore Melfi of Hidden Figures fame and directed by Zach Braff, this remake is amiable if rather toothless. This is obviously aimed at moviegoers of a certain vintage, with the filmmakers taking care not to make things too depressing even as in the film touches on how the elderly get gradually forgotten by society and are taken advantage of by financial institutions. Even though its characters are shown smoking weed and one is depicted post-coitus, it’s far from an edgy enterprise and is likely to be a hit with the retirement home set.

This is nothing short of a top-shelf cast, the film’s three leads having all won Oscars. The characters’ personas are generally in line with how we perceive each actor: Caine plays the steadfast team leader, Freeman is warm and has a twinkle in his eye, and Arkin is the curmudgeon who’s grumpy and caustic but ultimately well-meaning. These actors have no problems garnering sympathy from the audience, and while nobody will be nominated for Oscars for this one, their camaraderie is fun to watch.

There are recognisable names in the supporting cast too. Ann-Margret, the Oscar-nominated triple threat pinup of the 60s, is entertaining as a grocery store employee who makes romantic advances towards Albert.

Matt Dillon plays it straight as a dogged FBI agent on the bank robbery case, while Christopher Lloyd is hilarious as the guys’ senile friend Milton. Milton is a one-joke character, the joke being “he’s crazy because he’s just so old”, which isn’t exactly tasteful but is in line with most of the characters Lloyd has played in his recent career.

Caine shares some sweet moments with his onscreen granddaughter Joey King, and it’s additionally amusing because Alfred is Talia al Ghul’s grandpa (The Dark Knight Rises is five years old, we can spoil it all we want). The Jesus character could’ve easily been a bad case of racial stereotyping, but Ortiz fleshes him out well, and the character is depicted as being competent and ultimately good-hearted, even given his criminal actions.

Going in Style is light-hearted if a touch too sentimental at times, and because of its powerhouse cast, can’t help but feel slightly underwhelming. Because so much time is spent with the characters just hanging out before the heist is even proposed, the intricacies of the planning, execution and aftermath of the heist seem rushed through. However, thanks to the overall likeability of its cast and glimmers of wit, Going in Style is easy to go along with.

Summary: You’ll be forgiven for expecting more from a cast of this calibre, but Going in Style’s reliable, talented leads make this a fairly enjoyable old time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Ben-Hur (2016)

For F*** Magazine

Director : Timur Bekmambetov
Cast : Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Sofia Black D’Elia, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbæk
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 5 mins
Opens : 18 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Ben-Hur posterThe epic tale of Ben-Hur is told yet again in this, the fifth film adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel. Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) is a Jewish prince residing in Roman-occupied Jerusalem during the 1st Century A.D. Judah’s adoptive brother Messala (Kebbell) becomes an officer in the Roman army, and after Judah is falsely accused of an assassination attempt, the brothers become enemies. All that Judah holds dear, including his mother Naomi (Zurer), sister Tirzah (D’Elia) and Esther (Boniadi), a servant with whom he has fallen in love, is taken from him. After being arrested by the Romans, Judah encounters Jesus (Santoro), a carpenter who preaches compassion and love. Judah becomes a slave in the galley of a Roman vessel, and years later, has his chance for revenge against Messala. Judah trains under the wealthy Sheik Ilderim (Freeman) to become a charioteer, facing off against Messala in the arena.

Ben-Hur Jack Huston chariot race 1

The 1959 Ben-Hur film, directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston, is widely venerated as a classic of American cinema, and remaking it seems to be a fool’s errand. Sequels and remakes have proven profitable, and nothing’s off-limits, so here we are with another big-screen version of Ben-Hur. Director Timur Bekmambetov is known for favouring style over substance, coming into prominence with the Russian horror fantasy blockbusters Night Watch and Day Watch, and following that up with Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. There are still plenty of dramatic scenes, but they tend to carry little emotional weight, one getting the impression that Bekmambetov is spinning his wheels until the next big set-piece.

Ben-Hur Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston chariot racing

The action sequences in Ben-Hur are meant to be its selling point, with Bekmambetov reining in (pun intended) the indulgences he’s displayed in his other films. Alas, it seems chariot races in cinema have forever been ruined by The Phantom Menace, and this reviewer couldn’t help but be reminded of that infamous sequence, which was itself inspired by the 1959 Ben-Hur. Go-Pro camera shots, reminiscent of those that show up in modern car racing movies, detract from the sequence’s authenticity rather than enhancing it. Bekmambetov insists that he tried to shoot as much in-camera as possible, but there’s no denying the phoniness of the computer-generated effects. This is evident in the ship battles even more than in the chariot race. Despite its $100 million budget and location shooting in the historical Italian city of Matera, Ben-Hur often looks cheap.

Ben-Hur Jack Huston training

There’s definitely an attempt made at fleshing out the title character. Judah’s arc, which begins with him as an entitled nobleman ambivalent to the struggles of his countrymen, sees him put through the wringer as a slave, and concludes with him questioning his drive for vengeance at the foot of Jesus’ cross, does have its impactful moments. Huston gives it his best shot, but there’s just something about the actor which makes it difficult to buy him as a truly heroic character – it’s as if his face is always a moment or two away from scrunching up into a snarl. It makes sense that Huston was originally considered for the role of Messala. The heart-warming plot point of Judah saving and eventually being adopted by Roman warship commander Quintus Arrius is excised here.

Ben-Hur Toby Kebbell chariot racing

Thankfully, Messala is not characterised as a moustache-twirling villain, with the possibility for reconciliation between him and Judah never entirely out of the question. The film strains too hard in trying to convince audiences that the two really started out as best buds, with a friendly chariot race between the two early on that’s pretty much ripped from The Prince of Egypt. Santoro is fine as Jesus, who is given a slightly larger role here than in the 1959 film. Alas, it seems Jesus had more impact when there was an air of mystery to Him – the famous scene in which Jesus offers a parched Judah some water had considerably more impact in the 1959 version, when we only saw Jesus from behind and He didn’t say a word. In this film, Jesus’ mini-sermons seem tacked on.

Ben-Hur Rodrigo Santoro and Jack Huston

The emphasis is placed on the bond and eventual rift between Judah and Messala, leaving the rest of Judah’s relationships somewhat under-developed. There isn’t enough to the women in Judah’s life for us to care about him, with Huston and Boniadi in particular sharing little chemistry. The film’s inability to convey the passage of time is also a factor. Chyrons reading “3 years later” or “5 years later” pop up, but even when Judah sports a scraggly beard and scars from repeated flogging, it doesn’t seem like more than a few months have elapsed. As such, it’s hard to buy the desperate longing Judah has for his beloved Esther.

Ben-Hur Morgan Freeman

Freeman can always be counted on to lend some gravitas, but those dreadlocks do undercut his screen presence. While we don’t miss the brownface sported by Hugh Griffiths to play Ilderim in the 1959 version, we do miss the effusive warmth and light-heartedness he brought to the part, which is entirely absent from Freeman’s stern, serious Ilderim.

Ben-Hur Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston chariot racing 2

Ben-Hur isn’t a travesty, but it’s every bit as unnecessary as anyone thought the moment this remake was announced. This reviewer feared that any and all character development would be jettisoned for stylistically overblown action, and while the story of Judah Ben-Hur is abridged, it’s mostly intact. The film is pervaded by the feeling of going through the motions, and it’s not long before the wheels come off this chariot.

Summary: This remake is occasionally sincere but generally uninspired, its dramatic moments cheesy rather than potent and its spectacle underwhelming rather than awe-inspiring.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Now You See Me 2

For F*** Magazine

NOW YOU SEE ME 2

Director : Jon M. Chu
Cast : Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Jay Chou, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Sanaa Lathan
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 10 mins
Opens : 16 June 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

The Four Horsemen ride again with new tricks up their respective sleeves in the sequel to Now You See Me. It’s been a year since the events of the first film, and Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco) have been lying low, awaiting instructions from The Eye, the secret society into which they were inducted. FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) attempts to keep up the charade of pursuing the Horsemen while secretly leading them. Replacing Henley Reeves, who grew tired of waiting, is the enthusiastic Lula (Caplan). The Horsemen’s new mission is to expose the unethical practices of smartphone manufacturer Octa, but a spanner is thrown in the works by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), Octa’s reclusive co-founder. The Horsemen find themselves in Macau, and must seek the help of magic shop proprietor Li (Chou) as Mabry forces them to pull off a nigh-impossible heist. In the meantime, both former benefactor Arthur Tressler (Caine) and magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) seek their vengeance on the Horsemen.



            Jon M. Chu replaces Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair for the second instalment of what studio Lionsgate is hoping shapes up to be their next big franchise. If the first film offered up flashy spectacle and a plot comprised of puzzle pieces that did not quite fit together in hindsight, Now You See Me 2 gives audiences more of the same. The screenplay by Ed Solomon ties itself into knots that do not untangle despite giving the appearance of doing so. This might seem like a film that imagines itself to be far smarter than it really is, but the more likely scenario is that the filmmakers are well aware that these movies will not hold up to scrutiny and that audiences will be content with revelling in the moment. Chu brings slickness and swagger to the proceedings that ever so slightly papers over the gaping plot holes. The director’s dance movie expertise is evident in several sequences that are elaborately choreographed, but ultimately more dizzying than dazzling.

            The first film’s greatest asset was its cast, comprising actors whose charisma and charm could almost rival that of Danny Ocean and his 11, if only the Four Horsemen weren’t outnumbered. Isla Fisher was unable to reprise the role of Henley Reeves due to her pregnancy, so Henley was written out and Lizzy Caplan steps in as new character Lula. The danger with these characters is that being showmen, they’re all egotistical and obnoxious to different degrees. Harrelson seems to be having twice as much fun as before, but comes across as irritating rather than actually funny. Atlas’ haughty, twitchy nature is something Eisenberg has no problems conveying, but Atlas has had to eat some humble pie since the events of the last film, and Eisenberg convincingly portrays that character development too. Caplan is a likeable performer, but her “over-eager new girl” shtick does also wear on the nerves after a while.

Rhodes’ charade is up and the audience knows that he is not only on the Horsemen’s side, but actively leading them. Ruffalo gives the role far more effort than it deserves, and his presence does elevate the material. Quite amusingly, Ruffalo becomes the latest Hollywood actor who has to pretend to be adept at speaking Mandarin Chinese. As the primary antagonist, Radcliffe isn’t exactly easy to buy as someone who would be able to run rings around the Horsemen. The actor has explored his darker side in other film and stage projects, but there’s supposed to be menace behind Walter’s smile, menace that Radcliffe is unable to muster.



It’s abundantly clear that Chou’s inclusion and the Macau setting merely serves to pander to Chinese audiences. Veteran actress Tsai Chin (not to be confused with the Taiwanese singer of the same name), who plays Li’s grandmother Bu Bu, is a far livelier screen presence than Chou. The film calls upon Caine and Freeman to provide gravitas while not doing very much at all, something the iconic actors do without breaking a sweat.

            Now You See Me 2 alternates between being supremely entertaining and frustrating. There’s glitz, glamour and eye candy effects work galore, but twist after twist after twist does not a truly engrossing thriller make. That’s the paradox: it does not hold up to close examination, yet invites audiences to do so. Ultimately, your enjoyment of Now You See Me 2 is contingent on just how willing you are to be taken on a ride. You’ll get bamboozled, but you just might have fun in the process.



Summary: Now You See Me 2 doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the first movie convinced general audiences that making sense isn’t the goal here. The goal is to entertain while misdirecting, and this has entertainment and misdirection in spades.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

London Has Fallen

For F*** Magazine

LONDON HAS FALLEN

Director : Babak Najafi
Cast : Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Charlotte Riley, Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence And Some Coarse Language)

The city of London: between being decimated by a tungsten rod fired from orbit in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and having Dubai’s Burj Khalifa plonked down on it by aliens in the upcoming Independence Day: Resurgence, it seems Hollywood’s been saying “screw Britannia!” Another round of U.K. landmark destruction is preceded by the untimely death of the British Prime Minister. World leaders, including U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart), arrive for the state funeral. In the lead-up to the funeral, a brutal, intricately-planned terrorist attack cripples London, and Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is the only thing keeping Asher alive. Back in Washington D.C., Vice President Alan Trumbull (Freeman) receives a video message from terrorist mastermind Aamir Barkawi (Aboutboul), claiming responsibility for the attacks. Asher and Banning have to rendezvous with MI6 agent Jacquelin Marshal (Riley) as the chaos escalates and terrorists overrun London.

            London Has Fallenis the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, a film that was generally regarded as taking itself way too seriously, hilariously jingoistic, containing slipshod visual effects work but boasting a decent amount of brutal action. London Has Fallen contains all those traits and kicks them up to 11. There’s an increased sense of scale and the location shooting in London itself means the production values here are an improvement on those of its predecessor. However, in scenes including the destruction of Chelsea Bridge and a sequence in which the presidential helicopters Marines One, Two and Three are evading terrorists’ rockets, the visual effects work is nigh laughable.  
The over-the-top bombast is supposed to be thrilling, but there will be many audiences who will have a difficult time deriving entertainment from seeing terrorists blow up a city, particularly given the tragic frequency with which such incidents occur in real life. Paris, Beirut, Tunis, Istanbul, San Bernadino and Jakarta amongst others were all recently attacked and furthermore, the trailer for London Has Fallen was released during the week of the tenth anniversary of the 2005 7/7 London bombings. We don’t mean to get all self-righteous and this reviewer is a big action movie junkie, but the way London Has Fallen presents itself as topical while revelling in dated action movie tropes, with a one-man army stabbing bad guys and dispensing one-liners, is a little uncomfortable.

It’s pretty funny that this flag-waving, chest-thumping celebration of American jingoism is directed by a Swedish director of Iranian descent and stars an actor who is completely incapable of disguising his unmistakably Scottish brogue. As far as London Has Fallenis concerned, all world leaders are entirely expendable – ersatz versions of Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and François Hollande bite the dust in quick succession – all except for the American president, of course. The primary villain, a Middle-Eastern arms dealer, seems like a C-grade reject from the TV series Homeland. And yes, drone strikes are a plot point, because total predictability is the name of the game here. At the very least, the villainous scheme is an order of magnitude more plausible than that of the North Korean baddies in Olympus Has Fallen, though that’s still not saying much.
Butler and Eckhart lead a good number of actors who reprise their roles from Olympus Has Fallen. Sure, Butler is completely unbelievable as an American, but he and Eckhart develop a watchable buddy chemistry and Butler’s rough-around-the-edges quality makes him easier to buy as an old-school action hero than other actors out there. Many attempts at badass quips simply come off as silly, but the guy looks like he knows what he’s doing when he’s firing a gun. Bassett isn’t in much of the film and Freeman, Forster and Leo simply sit around the Situation Room back at the White House; their scenes looking like they were all filmed in one day. Jackie Earle Haley as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff is puzzling casting, since the actor isn’t allowed to display any of the quirky energy he’s known for. Riley’s MI6 agent could’ve been a scene stealing character, but God forbid anyone other than Butler kick a significant amount of ass.

Is London Has Fallen enjoyable at all? Yes. It’s fun to guffaw at the clunky lines of dialogue, to appreciate some of the action sequences for being well-executed and others for looking hilariously phony and to pretend that it’s still the 80s-90s, cheering on the clench-jawed hero who charges in guns a-blazing. The clichés are so on-the-nose – for example, Banning’s wife Leah (Mitchell) is pregnant with their first child, pining for the safe return of her husband – it’s impossible to assume the filmmakers didn’t go into this with at least the slightest modicum of self-awareness. Most of all, it’s enjoyable in its thunderous stupidity and those 99 minutes go by fairly quickly.


Summary: This action thriller is often breathtakingly dumb and the “terrorist attacks in the name of entertainment” angle is problematic in this day and age, but the sheer lack of subtlety is enjoyable in its own right. U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Dolphin Tale 2

For F*** Magazine

DOLPHIN TALE 2

Director : Charles Martin Smith
Cast : Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman
Genre: Family/Comedy/Drama
Opens : 2 October 2014
Rating : PG 
Run time: 107 mins
The true story of Winter, the rescued dolphin with the prosthetic tail, was dramatized in 2011’s Dolphin Tale, this sequel following up on Winter and some of her new companions at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Dr. Clay Haskett (Connick Jr.), his daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff) and teams of volunteers cope with the crowds of visitors who flock to the aquarium to see the now-famous Winter. Sawyer (Gamble), with whom Winter shares the closest bond, notices that Winter has become erratic and aggressive. Panama, the dolphin who lives alongside Winter, dies of old age. U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation states that a dolphin in captivity must be accompanied by another of the same sex and cannot live in isolation. The companionship of rescued dolphins Mandy and Hope might be just what Winter needs. While Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Freeman) works on a new prosthetic tail for Winter, Sawyer and his mother Lorraine (Judd) must decide if he will accept a prestigious scholarship, which means spending three whole months away from Winter.

            A good live-action family film seems to be an increasingly rarer beast at movie theatres these days. It’s difficult to strike a balance in order to create a film that appeals to kids but also won’t elicit protests from adults. 2011’s Dolphin Tale was mostly successful in this endeavour, an involving “a Boy and his X” tale that wasn’t overly schmaltzy. It doesn’t seem like the natural candidate for a sequel, but it turns out that Winter’s story didn’t end there. Thankfully, all the principal cast members and director Charles Martin Smith have returned, ensuring that Dolphin Tale 2 shares many of the attributes that made the first film palatable. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that just as it was for the first go-round, the human characters share few similarities with their real-life counterparts and “Sawyer Nelson” was created from whole cloth for the purpose of a “Boy and his X” narrative.

            This isn’t one of those children’s movies where everyone gets along and everything is hunky-dory. There is a good deal of drama and conflict in the plot, partially owing to the main kid characters coming into adolescence. Hazel is at loggerheads with her dad and Sawyer is conflicted as to whether or not he should take an extended period of time away from Winter to go on a university research trip. Dr. Haskett has to fend off the threat of Winter being taken away from Clearwater Marine Aquarium by the USDA and has to explain to the board of directors why Winter can’t make public appearances. While it’s good that character development is made central to the story and that the film doesn’t resort to a cartoony villain, the film is undeniably at its best when we spend time with the dolphins and not with the human characters alone. At times, it can feel like Winter, Mandy and Hope are not receiving sufficient screen time even when the focus is always ostensibly on the dolphins.

            The returning cast helps maintain a sense of continuity and allow viewers to get back into Winter’s story with ease. “You kids take us by surprise, you grow up so stinking fast!” Judd’s character says at one point. She’s right – both Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff have grown into fine young adults, capably handling the dramatic moments and the interaction with the animals just as they did as younger children. There must’ve been the temptation to shoehorn some kind of romance in but thankfully, Smith resists doing so. Both Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman’s roles are smaller than in the last film, but their kind, authoritative presence is still welcome. “Soul Surfer” and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton cameos as herself. Winter and Hope the dolphins, who play themselves, deserve credit as well.

The KNB Effects Group, headed by Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, returns to furnish the animatronic animal effects and the results are largely seamless. That’s right, the guys responsible for the dolphin, pelican and turtle puppets in these two movies also help create the zombies for The Walking Dead. The underwater photography is also as beautiful as in the first one. In spite of some stilted dialogue and overly-engineered plot mechanics, Dolphin Tale 2 emerges as an above-average piece of family entertainment and to its credit, does not feel like a cash-grab sequel, as it well could have. Older audience members might roll their eyes at the continuing antics of Rufus the Pelican, but the goings-on at Clearwater Marine Aquarium are depicted in a fairly engaging manner.

Summary: Just like its predecessor, Dolphin Tale 2 is a decent family film with an educational quotient but just as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium has expanded and gotten busier, this film loses some of the intimacy and warmth of the first.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Lucy

For F*** Magazine

LUCY

Director : Luc Besson
Cast : Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Analeigh Tipton, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 21 August 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Some Drug References and Violence)
Running time: 90 mins

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson kicks a lot of ass as Black Widow but doesn’t have any actual superpowers to speak of. As the eponymous Lucy, she has all the superpowers. Just your average girl abroad, Lucy gets mixed up with the wrong crowd in Taipei and is made an unwilling drug mule for Korean crime lord Mr. Jang (Choi). Inserted into her abdomen is a packet of blue crystals known as CPH4. When the drugs enter her system following an encounter with some thugs, Lucy begins to tap into the unmined potential of her brain. She contacts Professor Samuel Norman (Freeman), the leading expert in this area. According to Prof Norman, humans use only 10% of their cerebral capacity. As the drug’s effects strengthen, Lucy inches towards optimizing 100% of her mind, giving her the power over her own body, the bodies of others and matter itself. As she heads towards omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, what’s next?

            From The Messenger: the Story of Joan of Arc to La Femme Nikita to The Fifth Element and to a different extent The Lady, writer-director Luc Besson’s forte is making extraordinarily skilled, powerful women look awesome. He’s at it again in Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson stepping in the shoes once filled by a young Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovich.  We’ll give Lucy this: it’s ambitious and it’s different. Besson could’ve been content with churning out a run-of-the-mill actioner and apparently, he isn’t. This strange beast of a sci-fi action fantasy flick has been only semi-facetiously compared to Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Mixed in with the requisite gunplay and car chases through Paris are scenes of an Australopithecus drinking from a prehistoric lake. This touch also imbues the name “Lucy” with extra significance.

            Unfortunately, it is very often evident that Besson has bitten off more than he can chew. “Humans are concerned more with having than being,” Professor Norman says during an expository lecture. This sort of faux-portentous philosophising is served with a side of heavy-handed symbolism: Lucy being recruited for the delivery job in the beginning of the film is intercut with footage of a mouse approaching a mousetrap and of a cheetah hunting gazelles. Cue the eye-rolling. Sometimes, it’s hard to discern if Besson truly thinks this is a deep, contemplative masterpiece or if he is aware that Lucy is simply a gleefully silly romp. The answer to “life, the universe and everything” makes even less sense than “42”, the answer famously put forth in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And let’s not forget that the “10% of the brain” myth is discredited, misleading pseudo-science.

            Johansson zones in as the superhuman Lucy and plays the transition from scared, naïve girl in over her head to single most powerful being in the world with entertaining élan. Lucy engages in more than a few morally dubious acts, but Johansson makes us cheer the character along regardless. Morgan Freeman once again does that thing he’s been doing lately: showing up in a movie to lend authority without doing any real acting. But hey, when you’ve got Morgan Freeman spouting all that techno-babble, it probably subconsciously lends it some credence. Choi Min-sik, Oldboy himself, is a suitably commanding presence as a downright scary career criminal who, after slaughtering a room full of innocent hotel guests, washes his hands with a bottle of Evian. Amr Waked is good as Captain Del Rio, the hapless cop dragged through Paris by Lucy as a “reminder” of her humanity. Fans of British TV will also get a kick out of Julian Rhind-Tutt hamming it up as he forces the drug mules’ mission upon them.

            While a lot of it can be seen as wrongheaded and embarrassing, Lucy is very entertaining once the CPH4 is in her system and the plot gets into gear. There’s also lots of trippy imagery (strands of light over Paris! Shapeshifting arms! Nebulae in deep space!), created by Industrial Light & Magic, Rodeo FX and other visual effects houses. A scene set in an airplane is quite intense. Luc Besson’s regular cinematographer Theirry Arbogast and composer Eric Serra make the film a rather sumptuous sensory feast, in a way different from the biggest, most explosive blockbusters out there.


Summary: It’s high-falutin’ and quite silly, but dazzling visuals, fun action and a commanding lead performance by Scarlett Johansson make Lucy a halfway-decent diversion.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong