The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Tom Gormican
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Lily Sheen, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Neil Patrick Harris, Alessandra Mastronardi, Paco León, Jacob Scipio
Genre: Action/Comedy
Run Time : 107 min
Opens : 21 April 2022
Rating : NC16

In this metafictional action-comedy, Hollywood legend Nicolas Cage takes on the role he was born to play – Hollywood legend Nick Cage.

Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage) has been working steadily, but his days as a Hollywood A-lister are behind him. Cage is facing personal struggles too: he is newly divorced from his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and has a strained relationship with their teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). After failing to convince director David Gordon Green to cast him in a new project, Cage’s agent Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) convinces him to accept an invitation to appear at a billionaire superfan’s birthday party. Cage travels to Mallorca, Spain, where he is the guest of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), owner of an extensive collection of Nicolas Cage memorabilia. CIA operative Vivian (Tiffany Haddish), acting on intel that suggests Javi might be the head of an international arms smuggling ring, ropes Cage in to spy on Javi. Cage begins to live out what might as well be the plot of one of his movies.

Heavy on self-referential humour, the Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent feels pre-laden with post-modern irony and cynicism. However, it is a surprisingly sincere, affectionate and heartfelt ode to Nicolas Cage. The screenplay by Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten is tonally assured and frequently funny. Cage gives it his all, as is his wont, and is surrounded by a capable supporting cast. Pedro Pascal might be known for playing characters who are suave or quietly tough and is a revelation as a comedic force. His instinct and timing make him more than a match for Cage, and the duo is brilliant in scenes together. The Croatian filming locations, standing in for Spain, are also beautiful to behold. This is a movie that is just endlessly entertaining and joyous and could only have been made by people who truly love and appreciate the star and subject, much as he is often regarded as a joke.

The film suffers when it comes to the subplot about Cage’s personal life. The characters of Olivia and Addy are wholly fictional and not based on any of Cage’s real spouses or children. It is perfectly understandable that the movie would depart from real life in this area (it remains completely realistic otherwise). Unfortunately, it also means that the Nick Cage character is a lot less interesting because his eccentricities seem more surface-level, when part of the appeal of Cage as a real-life figure is that his eccentricity has permeated every part of his life.

The action sequences are serviceable, but nothing to shout about and they are not film’s focus.

On Reddit, the subreddit dedicated to Cage is called “one true god”. The actor’s persona makes him an ideal candidate for a film like this, a film that could only work with Cage at its centre. Over the course of his career, Cage has won a Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, been at the forefront of bombastic 90s action movies like Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air, has lately starred in a string of direct-to-video action movies and has become a favourite target of light-hearted online mockery. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent looks back at this unique career arc. One would argue that as much as people have made fun of Cage, a certain respect and admiration underpins that, and that is something The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent captures well. For as much as he is treated as a curiosity and is the subject of debate about what truly constitutes “good acting,” the consensus among film-lovers seems to be that Cage is a legitimately talented actor. A movie like this could only happen if he had enough of a sense of humour, and while Cage took some convincing, it is a wonderful thing that this movie exists.

Summary: A celebration of a unique personality who has had a wide-ranging, fascinating career, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is more than just a meme. Beyond its amusing, internet culture-friendly premise of Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself, this action comedy is surprisingly earnest and affectionate. Bereft of the mean streak and smug cynicism that underpins some metafictional humour, the movie wraps both hands around its star and subject. Cage is great and the supporting cast, especially Pedro Pascal, provides excellent support to his central performance. It’s also so funny you’ll laugh your face…off!

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Matrix Resurrections review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Lana Wachowski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Ricci
Genre: Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 148 min
Opens : 22 December 2021
Rating : PG13

In 1999, already a watershed year for Hollywood cinema, The Matrix changed the game. The film’s directors, the Wachowskis, vastly expanded the world of the Matrix with two theatrically released sequels in 2003, alongside an anthology of anime short films, a video game and various other media. While the two sequels received a far less enthusiastic reception than the first film, it was clear that the appetite for more Matrix was there. 18 years after Neo and Trinity were last seen on the big screen, we’re plugging back in.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a video game designer living in San Francisco. Coping with mental health issues, he sees a therapist known as the Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris), who prescribes him pills. At a coffee shop called Simulatte, Thomas sees a woman named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), whom he finds oddly familiar. It turns out that the world Thomas and Tiffany live in is a simulation called the Matrix, and that Thomas’ true identity is that of Neo. Bugs (Jessica Henwick), who bears a tattoo of a white rabbit, attempts to break Thomas out of the Matrix. At the end of The Matrix Revolutions, both Neo and Trinity – the true form of Tiffany – apparently died, but it seems like they are still alive. Now travelling with a new crew captained by Bugs, Neo must make sense of his reality as he seeks to rescue Trinity, as powerful forces stand in the way.

For anyone who feared The Matrix Resurrections would be a by-the-numbers retread or just a lazy nostalgia-fest (we’ve gotten several of those to varying degrees of laziness this past year), fear not: it’s weird. It’s the kind of weird which another film without the brand name association wouldn’t be able to pull off. While Lilly Wachowski opted not to co-direct this film because of personal issues and general exhaustion, Lana takes audiences back into the labyrinthian mythology of the series. It’s a joy to see Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return, and to parse why some things remain the same and why others are different. There are several entertaining action sequences, even if nothing quite matches the inventiveness of the first film, and there was obviously a lot of thought put into how the franchise would continue, even if it doesn’t come together cohesively. It is ultimately rewarding especially for audiences who re-evaluated the Matrix sequels and came around on them.

When we say it doesn’t come together cohesively, we mean it. It’s fun to rewatch the original Matrix and realise how quaint, straightforward and easy to follow the narrative is compared to in the sequels. The Matrix Resurrections is confusing in such a way that some audiences will be intrigued and invested, and others will opt to tap out. At 148 minutes long, the movie is relatively light on action. There still is action, but there’s just much more exposition and world-building than there are set-pieces. The action is also shot and edited poorly and is often difficult to follow. Most of the movie unfolds in close-ups, so there aren’t quite enough opportunities to take a step back and take everything in. The new characters, apart from the possible exception of Bugs, receive little characterisation and mostly function to ferry Neo from place to place. Both the Smith and Morpheus characters return in some fashion, but are portrayed by different actors, thus sacrificing some of what made those characters so iconic. There’s probably a version of this that makes perfect sense, but it is not the version that made it to the screen.

One thing that’s fun is that this is a movie about the nature of franchise continuations. Thomas Anderson is forced to develop a new game in a series, after he thought that he had finished telling the story he had wanted to tell. Perhaps this reflects how Lilly referred to a potential Matrix sequel as “a particularly repelling idea in these times” during a 2015 interview. The Wachowskis’ work has always been marked by a certain earnestness and dorkiness, which Resurrections still has plenty of. However, there is at least a twinge of cynicism here. One line about the game studio’s parent company elicited especially raucous laughter. There is a post-credits scene, but a completely inconsequential one that almost feels like commentary on the trend of post-credits scenes. Resurrections is the most fun when it gets meta, but audiences will differ on whether this feels like astute commentary or if it takes one out of it.

Summary: The cultural footprint of the Matrix means that there’s a lot to play with, and there are far worse ways to revisit the franchise than The Matrix Resurrections. The movie’s relationship with its predecessors is fascinating, coming from both a place of deep affection for the series and a profound frustration with the state of Hollywood franchise filmmaking. This is far from wholly satisfying, but it’s weird and wild enough to justify its existence.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Gone Girl

For F*** Magazine

GONE GIRL

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
            

A Million Ways to Die in the West

For F*** Magazine

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

Director : Seth MacFarlane
Cast : Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson
Genre : Comedy, Western
Opens : 12 June 2014
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language and Sexual References) / 116 mins
Directed by, starring and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, here’s the film that details why life in the American frontier was hard, no matter what your station. MacFarlane plays Albert, an unassuming sheep farmer in the town of Old Stump, Arizona whose girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) leaves him for Foy (Harris), a dashing, arrogant moustache tonic salesman. Anna (Theron), the wife of notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson), arrives in Old Stump, hoping to lie low while her husband continues tearing up the region. She befriends and soon falls in love with Albert, the sheep farmer unaware that his new paramour is in fact married to the most dangerous man in the land.
            The marketing for this film includes an online flash game that is a funny, entertaining spoof of the classic educational video game The Oregon Trail. Alas, nothing in the film itself quite matches the creativity of that tie-in. A fair number of the jokes in A Million Ways to Die in the West land, but the film is overly reliant on lowbrow bodily-function gags and “shocking”, cartoony violence. The movie’s biggest laughs are provided by the surprise celebrity cameos and a joke involving an offensively-themed shooting gallery gets a satisfying payoff during the end credits. However, one of the best of these was completely spoiled in a TV spot, making this yet another example of a comedy where the laughs are run into the ground by the trailers.


            The film hinges on its main character, Albert the sheep-farmer, being likeable enough that audiences will want to root for him to survive all those million possible methods of death. Seth MacFarlane is not likeable. This is not a controversial statement. A Million Ways to Die in the West would have benefitted from a different lead actor but this being the vanity project it is, that was unlikely to happen. With Ted, he was able to hide behind a computer-generated stuffed toy but here, his shortcomings as a leading man are all too apparent. One adjective often used to describe the Family Guy creator is “smug”. “Smug” is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from “hapless, sweet, unassuming and well-meaning”.


            MacFarlane has surrounded himself with an excellent supporting cast, but because he is positioned as the film’s focal point, their presence seems merely perfunctory. Charlize Theron makes for a fun, watchable Annie Oakley-type but as her on-screen husband, Liam Neeson gets the short shrift. While he has slightly more screen time than in Battleship, one can’t help but feel sorry for the actor who has redefined the term “badass” when he’s forced to bare, well, ass. Family Guy fans will be tickled by the casting, since one cutaway gag featured Liam Neeson struggling with his accent in a cowboy film (he retains his Northern Irish brogue here). Neil Patrick Harris relishes the chance to gnaw at the scenery and he certainly rocks that well-coiffed handlebar moustache, in addition to dancing to the Stephen Foster folk ditty “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache”. Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman are amusing as Albert’s best friend Edward and Edward’s prostitute girlfriend Ruth respectively, if you don’t mind hearing Sarah Silverman graphically describe sex acts.


            A comedic Western in this day and age is a fairly ambitious prospect and something of a gear change from Ted, but MacFarlane fails to mine the opportunities presented by the premise, this outing proving yet again to be too self-indulgent. At 116 minutes long, this does meander and there’s the threat of tumbleweeds, but it would be too harsh to say A Million Ways to Die in the West is completely laugh-free. Co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, who also worked on Ted and Family Guy with MacFarlane, retain a somewhat mean-spirited sense of humour (the poster has a cactus resembling a hand flipping the viewer off) but once in a while do offer inspired gags. Just not quite often enough.
Summary: Doesn’t quite set our saddles ablaze.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong