Bombshell review

For F*** Magazine

BOMBSHELL

Director: Jay Roach
Cast : Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Rob Delaney, Mark Duplass, Liv Hewson, Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Malcolm McDowell
Genre: Drama/Biographical
Run Time : 1 h 49 mins
Opens : 30 January 2020
Rating : NC16

Millions of Americans turn to Fox News for political commentary and opinion every day, and the channel is the preferred media mouthpiece of the current occupant of the White House. This film tells the story of how a pervasive pattern of sexual harassment perpetrated by CEO Roger Ailes and other high-ranking members within the organisation was brought to light.

It is 2015 and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), a popular anchor on Fox News, earns the ire of Donald Trump, Republican front-runner in the 2016 presidential election. After asking Trump a question about his history of alleged mistreatment of women at a televised debate, Kelly is targeted by Trump and receives a barrage of attacks for challenging him. In the meantime, Fox and Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is taken off the popular morning show and given her own show in a bad timeslot. Carlson constantly faces sexism and has repeated advances made on her by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). After meeting with lawyers, Carlson plans to sue Ailes for harassment.

Ailes’ latest victim is Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a newcomer with dreams of being a Fox anchor. Kayla befriends Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon), a Fox staffer with something to hide. Soon, Carlson’s lawsuit causes tension within Fox News, with pressure mounting for the anchors to defend Ailes – something Kelly refuses to do. A rift forms between Ailes and media mogul Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell), the owner of Fox News, as many more credible accusations against Ailes and other men at Fox News surface.

Bombshell has a largely excellent cast giving the material their all. Charlize Theron has netted an Oscar nomination for her turn as Megyn Kelly – subtle special effects makeup alters her features to increase the resemblance, but the truly uncanny element of her performance is the voice she affects. While it sometimes sounds like she’s struggling to sustain it, it works.

Robbie is eminently sympathetic, playing some emotional moments such that they’re especially heart-rending.

Encased in layers of prosthetic makeup to play the slovenly Ailes, John Lithgow is especially watchable playing blustery characters, and Roger Ailes is nothing if not blustery, always a second away from yelling – and worse – at his employees.

Bombshell is often energetic and is very good at conveying the crushing atmosphere of fear at Fox News that caused many of Ailes’ victims to hesitate in speaking out. The film is not especially accessible to those that do not have prior knowledge of Fox News and its key personnel, but it does an adequate job of portraying the tension between Ailes and the Murdochs, as well as highlighting how sexism manifested itself on the Fox air.

Unfortunately, it feels like Jay Roach is not the best director for this. Yes, Roach has directed the Sarah Palin-centric film Game Change, but he is best known for his comedies, including the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. Bombshell’s overall jokey tone is at odds with the graveness of the subject matter, meaning the film’s tonal shifts are often jarring. Scribe Charles Randolph, who won an Oscar for co-writing The Big Short, brings a lot of that film’s glibness to this project. There are many stylistic choices which call attention to themselves, including characters frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. This reminds audiences of the artifice of the film, and yet, there is a heavy use of handheld documentary-style camera moves, including suddenly zooming in on a character’s face as they react to something – this is perhaps more reminiscent of The Office than of most documentaries.

Not unlike 2018’s Vice, Bombshell feels like a movie that constantly gets in its own way because it is determined to present the story in a fast-paced, eye-catching manner. The movie sometimes sabotages the committed performances its actors give in the name of excitement. In trying to cover as much ground as possible, Bombshell goes for breadth over depth, with title cards popping up to introduce each new player as efficiently as possible. It does all this while keeping Megyn Kelly front and centre as the main heroine of the piece, such that it feels like the story was manipulated to give her prominence over Carlson and others. Interestingly, Kelly was wholly absent from The Loudest Voice, the 2019 TV series starring Russell Crowe as Ailes and covering much of the same ground. Kelly herself said meteorologist Janice Dean should have been featured in the film, as she became the confidant for many fellow victims of Ailes.

Many other noted Fox News personalities briefly show up in the film, including Kimberly Guilfoyle (Bree Condon), Ainsley Earhardt (Alice Eve), Abby Huntsman (Nikki Reed), Chris Wallace (Marc Evan Jackson), Sean Hannity (Spencer Garrett), Geraldo Rivera (Tony Plana), Jeanine Pirro (Alana Ubach) and Greta van Susteren (Anne Ramsay). The overall comedic tone means that some of these performances feel straight out of Saturday Night Live. Yes, this being a film about a media outlet, many of its characters are bound to be recognisable public figures, but Bombshell becomes more of a game of “how much does this actor look like their real-life counterpart?” than it needs to be.

The biggest invention in the film is Robbie’s character Pospisil. She is a composite character meant to represent the younger would-be on air talent who were subject to Ailes’ advances. Jess Carr, played by actual SNL star Kate McKinnon, is also fictional. The subplot about the unexpected bond formed between the two women rings especially false. Practically every movie based on a true story features composite characters, but because the scandal at Fox played out in the public eye, audiences can immediately tell that there wasn’t really a “Kayla Pospisil”.

Summary: Bombshell tells a compelling, important story in an off-putting jokey manner, feeling too smug and self-satisfied to properly essay its message about women fighting back against a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace. Bombshell is carried by great performances, especially from Theron, Robbie and Lithgow, but is nowhere near as effectively insightful and damning as it could’ve been.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Upside review

THE UPSIDE

Director : Neil Burger
Cast : Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman, Aja Naomi King, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Genevieve Angelson, Juliana Marguiles, Golshifteh Farahani, Tate Donovan
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 2 h 6 mins
Opens : 17 January 2019
Rating : PG13

There’s a specificity to the ‘unlikely buddy comedy-drama’ subgenre: the movies in this category like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester or Scent of a Woman aren’t typical buddy movies. They’re often required to have an element of uplift and inspiration, in addition to humour arising from mismatched leads who might not get along at first. At the end of the day, each party learns something unexpected from the other. The 2011 French film The Intouchables is one of the more memorable recent entries in this subgenre, and The Upside is the Hollywood remake of it.

Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is a wealthy venture capitalist and investment guru who became a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident. His assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) is helping him vet applicants to be his auxiliary nurse, helping him with everyday tasks. Ex-convict Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) applies for the job not because he wants it, but because he needs to show his parole officer that he has been looking for work. Against Yvonne’s wishes, Phillip takes a liking to Dell.

While Dell is unqualified for the position, he and Phillip gradually warm to each other. Phillip introduces Dell to art and opera, while Dell bounces his ideas for businesses off Phillip. Dell tries to make amends with his ex-wife Latrice (Aja Naomi King) and his young son Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo). However, it’s not all smooth sailing, as Phillip and Dell have their disagreements and must evaluate what each want out of life, finding themselves at a crossroads together despite their very different backgrounds.

The Upside has been getting a lot of flack from fans of The Intouchables, who have readily written it off as a rip-off.  The French film was inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a wealthy hotelier who became friends with his ex-convict carer Abdel Sellou. The film has already been remade: in Spanish as Inseparables and in Telugu and Tamil as Oopiri/ Thozha, with a Hindi remake in development.

Being a remake is not one of The Upside’s biggest problems. The Intouchables has received its share of criticism for its problematic handling of race, and for falling back on stereotypes – even if it was based on a true story. With this remake, there was an opportunity to recontextualise the story and explore the sensitive subjects of race, privilege, social inequality and disability within an American setting. Unfortunately, while the film hints at these themes, it is not astute or deft enough to handle them in an insightful manner. The movie wants to be a feel-good inspirational drama, but in keeping the social issues key to the story at arm’s length, it often feels shallow.

Director Neil Burger, working from a screenplay by Jon Hartmere, appears to have trouble depicting the progression of the friendship between Phillip and Dell in a way that makes sense. They have disagreements, get over them, then have more disagreements, but each seems to react disproportionately to key incidences in the story. Dell starts out confrontational and obnoxious, while Phillip is patient, until he suddenly isn’t. It’s hard to get a handle on the two main characters even though they get a lot of screen time, because there isn’t a lot of flow in the development of their relationship.

Cranston is excellent as expected, finding the quiet sadness and ironic sense of humour in a character who has everything but mobility from the neck down. While there is a debate to be had about able-bodied actors playing disabled characters, Cranston plays the role with enough care that Phillip is sympathetic even though he’s incredibly wealthy, and not just because he is a quadriplegic.

Kevin Hart is staggeringly miscast. There’s no rule that says comedians cannot try their hand at drama, and there are many comedians who have excelled in dramatic roles, but Hart’s smart-mouth persona and shrillness threaten to smother the character, even though he is trying to dial it down here. When Dell is rude and confrontational, it feels like he’s just out to get a rise of others, rather than it coming from a place of real struggle.

While it’s not a focal point of the movie, it’s also hard not to wince at a scene in which Dell baulks at changing Phillip’s catheter, freaks out over Phillip’s accidental erection and can’t even bring himself to say the word “penis”, given former future Oscar host Hart’s history of homophobic remarks.

Nicole Kidman puts in a respectable low-key performance – it’s clear she’s looking for depth in the limited material she has but figured early on that she didn’t have to do too much. The subplot about Dell’s ex-wife and son could’ve done with more development, but the film is right to place the focus on Dell and Phillip’s relationship. Juliana Marguiles shows up for one scene, that is one of the film’s better scenes because Hart isn’t in it.

The filmmakers of The Upside must’ve known they were stepping into a minefield, given that the politics of disability, race and inequality are central to the story. In aiming for a safe, crowd-pleasing feel-good drama, The Upside does not fall into outright shameful sentimentality, but still suffers from a lack of nuance and passes up the opportunity to reframe the original story against the backdrop of urban American society.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Aquaman review

AQUAMAN

Director : James Wan
Cast : Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Beach
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 143 mins
Opens : 13 December 2018
Rating : PG13

The DC Extended Universe goes full fathom five and beyond then some with Aquaman, telling the story of the man who would be king of Atlantis.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a child of two worlds: his mother is Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and his father is human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Taking on the superhero mantle of Aquaman, Arthur was instrumental in defeating Steppenwolf during the events of Justice League. Now, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the Xebel Kingdom has come calling, bringing news that Arthur’s Atlantean half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is threatening war against the surface world.

While Arthur is initially reluctant to travel to Atlantis, circumstances force him to follow Mera to the undersea kingdom. There, he confronts Orm, challenging him for the throne. Arthur is sent by Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the Atlantean vizier who has secretly trained Arthur to eventually take on Orm, on a quest to recover the Trident of King Atlan (Graham McTavish), the legendary first ruler of Atlantis. In addition to Orm, treacherous pirate David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) stands in Arthur’s way, employing cutting-edge weaponry against Arthur. Arthur must prove himself the one true king of Atlantis, embarking on an extraordinary adventure.

Let’s talk about the concept of “silliness”. Movies based on comic books sometimes exhibit a fear of coming off as silly. After all, the worst comic book movies, films like Batman and Robin and Catwoman, are often decried as silly. As a result, some comic book movies overcompensate, becoming dour and self-serious in the process. Aquaman is silly, but through sheer willpower, the movie transcends silliness and achieves awesomeness. It’s a superhuman feat, but with director James Wan steering the ship, Aquaman accomplishes this.

This is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned adventure, filled with spectacular visual effects, fluidly-choreographed fight sequences and awe-inspiring locales. The movie draws heavily on myth, and is about a man named Arthur who, in reaching his destiny as king, overcomes insurmountable odds and faces a series of tests. By its nature, there are similarities to Thor and Black Panther, but Aquaman complements its familiar story beats with sheer visual imagination.

From the get-go, this was going to be a mind-boggling logistical challenge. How does one make a movie that takes place largely underwater, and have actors float about delivering dialogue without it looking – there’s that word again – silly? Aquaman works overtime to earn audience’s suspension of disbelief, and from the production design by Bill Brzeski to the visual effects furnished by pretty much every major VFX vendor, there’s a lot to take in. The movie acknowledges that there still might be some audiences who will be unconvinced and greet certain scenes with laughter, so it’s a good thing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a giant octopus that plays the drums. There’s just the right sprinkle of self-awareness that complements the grandiosity and scale of the adventure. While on the surface, the film doesn’t quite have the emotional gravity of some other comic movies, its world-building and characters inspire investment.

While some viewers might complain about the extent of CGI used, Aquaman somehow avoids the feeling that its set-pieces have been vomited onscreen by a render farm. The design of many of the creatures is very Ray Harryhausen-esque, and even in the most synthetic sequences, Wan retains a sense of tactility and is an expert at drawing the eye.

Jason Momoa delivers a stellar turn, expanding upon the glimpses into Arthur’s character we saw in Justice League. This is a hero who can be a bit of a boorish lout, but for all his life, he’s been fighting an identity crisis, feeling like he belongs neither to the sea or the land. It’s something that children of mixed heritage can readily relate to – everyone’s calling him “half-breed” or epithets of the like, but this perceived weakness is what sets Arthur apart. The character has moments when he’s child-like and joyous, moments when he’s a mighty hero, and moments when he’s a bit of an idiot, and it comes together to form a compelling lead character.

Aquaman-Jason-Momoa-Amber-Heard-3-bigAmber Heard has the tendency to come off as stiff in some films, but as Mera, she is a lively presence. Not letting a patently obvious wig stand in her way, Heard’s defiant princess character is integral to the story. There a is a bit of a Romancing the Stone-esque vibe to the bickering romance set against an adventure movie backdrop, but the relationship develops satisfyingly. When the pair gets to stop and smell the roses in Sicily, it’s cheesy as all get-out, but also a delight.

This reviewer was afraid that two major villains would clutter the movie, but Aquaman allocates the villainy appropriately. Orm is by nature a generic tyrant king character, but Patrick Wilson has as much fun as he can with the role.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for an intense Black Manta – the character was what this reviewer was most looking forward to in this movie, and Abdul-Mateen’s portrayal doesn’t disappoint.

The romance between Atlanna and Tom Curry is cheesy, but like everything else in this movie that’s cheesy, it works. The forbidden romance is given a mythic, poetic quality, with Kidman and Morrison being the ideal casting for the characters. Lundgren and Dafoe both put in satisfying supporting turns. Dolph Lundgren sporting a red beard astride a seahorse monster is not something that should work, but it does. There’s also a vocal cameo from a distinguished English actress, as a Lovecraftian mega-monster.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave this film a negative review. The comments section for that review are filled with commenters immensely pleased with themselves that they dislike comic book movies and are therefore so very grown up. A fear of appearing childish is, in its own way, a childish thing. Aquaman’s embrace of the inherent silliness in its source material and its irrepressible sense of wonderment and adventure propel it into becoming perhaps the best comic book movie of the year, and one of this reviewer’s favourite films he’s seen all year.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Lion

For F*** Magazine

LION

Director : Garth Davis
Cast : Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Abhishek Bharate, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 120 min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : PG

lion-poster“Your heart will lead you home” – so sang Kenny Loggins in The Tigger Movie. Lion tells the true story of one man’s quest to find home, a quarter century after getting lost. It is 1986, and five-year-old Saroo (Pawar) accompanies his older brother Guddu (Bharate) to search for change on a train car. When Saroo falls asleep in the train and it leaves the station, he is separated from Guddu, his sister Shekilah and his labourer mother Kamla (Bose). The train takes Saroo 1200 km away from his home of Khandwa to Calcutta. Saroo doesn’t know his own surname or his mother’s name and can’t speak Bengali, the main language used in Calcutta. He eventually lands in a government centre for abandoned children. Saroo is adopted by John (Wenham) and Sue (Kidman) a couple from Tasmania, Australia.

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In 2007, the now-adult Saroo (Patel) leaves to study hospitality in Melbourne. There, he falls in love with his classmate Lucy (Mara). Over dinner with some of his classmates who were originally from India, Saroo tells them his story. He picks up on a suggestion to use Google Earth as a way of determining where his hometown is, so that he may search for his family. He is afraid of hurting his adoptive parents, who are struggling with their wayward adoptive son Mantosh (Ladwa), and keeps his quest a secret. Over the years, the pieces fall into place, and Saroo inches closer to a reunion with his long-lost family.

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Lion is based on Saroo Brierley’s autobiography A Long Way Home, which was optioned as a film a month before it was published in 2013. Poet, novelist and screenwriter Luke Davies adapted the film for the screen. Director Garth Davis makes his feature film debut with Lion, which must have been a daunting undertaking. Location filming in India and Australia gives the story scope, both of Saroo’s home countries juxtaposed with each other.

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Lion is a harrowing, compelling tale, one that will resonate especially with adoptive families. The film’s Dickensian first act, with Saroo getting lost and overcoming various frightening obstacles in an unfamiliar big city, is immersive and authentic in its grimness. Through restrained stylistic flourishes, Davis conveys how Saroo is haunted by memories of his childhood and is driven by a desire for closure, the possibility that he might never see his birth mother again gnawing at him. While Lion’s first half is riveting, its second half lacks dramatic urgency. As incredible a story as this may be, Saroo’s outbursts of angst as he tries to trace his hometown grow repetitive, as does his browsing of Google Earth.

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The performances in Lion are uniformly excellent. Each actor seems intent on doing Saroo’s story justice, Patel leading the charge with a heartfelt, subdued turn. There’s a profound sadness in his eyes that sells the trauma burrowing to the surface. Patel’s Australian accent is solid too. Equally deserving of praise is Pawar, who won the role over 4000 other boys. It seems that more is required of the young actor than of Patel, since a good chunk of the film focuses on five-year-old Saroo. The brotherly bond between Saroo and Guddu is endearing, making the inevitable separation all the more painful. It’s an emotionally and physically demanding role that he pulls off with considerable panache. Pawar was unable to attend the film’s U.S. premiere because he was denied a visa. Boo.

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This ranks among Nicole Kidman’s finest work in recent years. Sue is warm and compassionate, but fears that she might not be able to keep her family together. Sue and John embody the most admirable traits of adoptive parents, and it is heart-rending to see them deal with their sons’ respective struggles. Kidman was the real-life Sue’s top choice to play her. Lion reunites Kidman and Wenham, who played enemies in Australia and play a loving couple here. While Wenham has less to do than Kidman, he helps make the onscreen Brierleys a believable family unit.

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Even though Mara gets second billing, her role is not as large as that suggests. Still, the character of Lucy, based on Saroo’s real-life girlfriend Lisa Williams, is kind and supportive while having more dimensions beyond that. Saroo and Lucy fall in love in what seems like an instant; their romance receiving limited development because that’s not where the story’s emotional weight lies.

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Lion has been less charitably described as “Oscar bait”, but it is bereft of the pomposity and self-importance some films of this type possess. Despite certain structural inconsistencies, Lion held this reviewer’s attention and laudably steers clear of being melodramatic and exploitative.

Summary: An impressive cast brings a remarkable true story to life in this powerful, well-made feature film directorial debut from Garth Davis.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Family Fang

For F*** Magazine

THE FAMILY FANG

Director : Jason Bateman
Cast : Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett, Marin Ireland, Harris Yulin, Linda Emond
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 45 mins
Opens : 12 May 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)


The family that creates art together stays together. Well, maybe that’s not a hard and fast rule. Baxter Fang (Bateman) is a novelist struggling with writer’s block while his sister Annie (Kidman) is a Hollywood actress and frequent tabloid target. As children, Annie was ‘Child A’ and Baxter was ‘Child B’, accomplices in their parents’ elaborate performance art pieces. Caleb (Walken) and Camille (Plunkett) garnered attention throughout the art world, staging various stunts in public with the aid of their children. The now-grown Fang siblings are affected by their past in different ways, and have become estranged from their parents. When Caleb and Camille suddenly vanish, Baxter and Annie immediately assume it’s just another stunt, since their parents have often cried wolf in the name of art. As the mystery surrounding Caleb and Camille’s disappearance thickens, Baxter and Annie are forced to confront some painful, uncomfortable memories, making sense of their roles in their parents’ lives and art.


The Family Fang is based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Kevin Wilson, adapted for the screen by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Star Bateman also directs, marking his second outing behind the camera after Bad Words. It is extremely easy for films that are couched as being ‘quirky’ to come off as self-consciously pretentious. The Family Fang revolves around some pretty eccentric characters, but it has one foot firmly planted in a world that is grounded and relatable. In its commentary on modern art, The Family Fang expectedly tends towards the cynical, but Bateman tempers this with surprisingly heartfelt, sincere scenes.

Modern performance art has long been the subject of scoffing and scorn, and many hold the opinion that its practitioners get off on shocking the public and that there’s little value in their work otherwise. Figures like Chris Burden and Marina Abramović are some of the more obvious influences here, with the former being name-dropped in the film itself. While much of the film’s humour is derived from the outlandish nature of the pieces that Caleb and Camille create, Bateman seems careful not to mock them outright. This is a character study, with the central sibling team untangling the enigma of their parents; people who raised them but whom they’ve never quite understood.


Footage of the Fangs’ exploits is spliced in throughout the film, parcelling out the information so we see the evolution of how it all started out as something frivolous and fun, and see how the children began to feel like they were being used as pawns in service of their parents’ egos. Jack McCarthy and Kyle Donnery portray young Baxter at different ages, with Mackenzie Smith and Taylor Rose playing young Annie. Kathryn Hahn plays a younger Camille. Because Walken is so distinctive, Jason Butler Harner’s portrayal of a younger Caleb isn’t wholly convincing. These segments effectively convey two childhoods consumed by misguided passion and give us plenty of reasons why Baxter and Annie are unwilling to re-enter the world they’ve left behind.

Bateman is as reliable a straight man as they come, a master of the ‘uncertain sideways glance’. Baxter is a bit of a schlub, writing a fantasy novel about a brother and sister that draws on his own relationship with his sister. Bateman’s performance never calls attention to itself, which works great since Baxter is the one nominally normal character in a sea of peculiarity. Kidman has a reputation for being somewhat frigid, so it is wonderful to see her let her guard down and embrace the role of someone who’s flawed but full of life. The scene in which a sleazy director tries to convince Annie that she needs to go topless for a scene in his movie is a solid establishing character moment. Kidman’s natural Australian accent is more than a little distracting, but on the whole, she and Bateman sell their bond as siblings, very quickly getting the audience in their corner.



If you need someone to play eccentric, there’s no question that Walken is your guy. The actor is known for needing very little screen time to steal a movie, and he does make his presence felt in The Family Fang. Caleb is very clearly the ringleader, stringing Camille and their children along in his schemes. His wife goes along with the plans out of love and their kids have no say in it. There are some tough questions in there, chief of which being, “Can what Caleb and Camille did be strictly considered child abuse?” Caleb does not become an over-the-top caricature in Walken’s hands, and his fiery brashness is complemented by Plunkett’s maternal warmth.

Bateman’s sophomore directorial effort displays some sharp instincts for storytelling. While the central mystery is resolved a little too easily, the story is sufficiently intriguing to draw the viewer in. Any statements the film attempts to make about the art world do not overshadow the emotional journey of its sibling protagonists. It is ultimately quite a marvel that The Family Fang is bereft of the smart-alecky indulgence that tends to afflict films trading mostly on their quirk factor.

Summary: Witty yet far from obnoxious, this dark family comedy-drama is assured in tone and digs into the themes of family relationships while also voicing sound opinions on the world of performance art.

RATING: 4 out 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

Grace of Monaco

GRACE OF MONACO


Director : Olivier Dahan
Cast : Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Milo Ventimiglia, Parker Posey, Paz Vega, Frank Langella, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Derek Jacobi
Genre : Biography, Drama
Opens : 22 May 2014
Rating : PG

In his song “Grace Kelly”, Mika proclaimed “I’ve gone identity mad!” Grace of Monacoattempts to portray the crisis of identity the real Grace Kelly (Kidman) underwent. In marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Roth), Kelly left her life as a Hollywood actress behind, but she was constantly reminded that the people of Monaco would not recognise the daughter of a Philadelphia bricklayer as one of their own. As France threatens to tax and possibly annex Monaco, resulting in a heated dispute between Rainier and France’s Charles de Gaulle (André Penvern), Kelly, now a wife, mother and princess, is tempted to return to acting.  Director Alfred Hitchcock (Ashton-Griffiths) comes calling with the script for his new film Marnie and with the whole world watching (and judging), the princess must decide what role she will play in the future of the principality.


            Many biopics have been criticised for taking a “cradle to the grave” approach, attempting to condense the entire lives of their subjects into two and half hours or so. Grace of Monaco instead focuses on a short, specific period in Grace Kelly’s life, which the actual royal family of Monaco claims has been highly fictionalised and is filled with factual inaccuracies. The film’s post-production process has also been turbulent, with director Olivier Dahan and distributor Harvey Weinstein feuding over the final cut and the release date being shuffled multiple times. The film ends up being overripe and uneven, hokey and melodramatic, if still watchable and somewhat palatable.
            Grace of Monaco is a pretty film to look at, cinematographer Eric Gautier dousing the movie in soft fill light. There are elegant costumes and sets galore, but one can’t help but feel a sense of artifice – at its worst, the movie evokes a movie-of-the-week affair, a pity given the marvellous La Vie En Rose, which Dahan also directed. The central conflict with its almost-intrigue and kinda-stakes just doesn’t feel as weighty as it needs to be, the film instead generating moments of overwrought emotion that despite Nicole Kidman’s best efforts, fail to ring altogether true. There’s even a montage that feels straight out of something like The Princess Diaries in which Grace Kelly takes elocution and history lessons in order to become a better princess.

            Nicole Kidman reportedly beat out the likes of Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, Gwyneth Paltrow and January Jones amongst others for the coveted title role. She’s certainly not a terrible Grace Kelly, mustering up all of her glamour and, well, grace to play the part but there isn’t a lot of depth to the portrayal beyond “being a princess isn’t the fantasy it’s cracked up to be.” One would think that given the narrower scope of the film compared to a conventional biopic, we’d get more room for meaningful characterisation and Kidman tries, but ultimately doesn’t deliver a well-rounded depiction of Grace Kelly. We hear many frustrated exclamations, including “why must everything be so complicated?” and “Ah! So difficult!” At no point does “Nicole Kidman the actor” disappear for “Grace Kelly the person” to take her place. She does have her moments though, that climactic speech she delivers at the end is sufficiently moving. She’s also a good deal taller than her onscreen husband; something Kidman is probably used to.

Tim Roth is careful not to turn Prince Rainier into a stiff, stern caricature and while he doesn’t have much chemistry with Kidman, he is believable as the Prince pushed into a tight spot. Frank Langella is the requisite kindly father figure as Father Francis Tucker, one of Rainier III’s closest friends and most trusted advisors, warm and wise even when saddled with platitudes such as “at some point, every fairy tale must end”. Roger Ashton-Griffiths is a decent, convincing Alfred Hitchcock, playing the legendary director as a gruff but well-meaning uncle.

            Grace of Monaco is far from subtle – we get an ominous car/driving motif (of course) and some clumsy, on the nose cues in the score. It’s difficult to take the film entirely seriously, but perhaps there’s a charm in the kitsch and the silliness – it’s unlikely that it was what director Olivier Dahan intended, but for what it’s worth, Grace of Monaco is far from detestable or brazenly divisive. Sensationalised? Sure. More than a little awards-baity? You bet. But is it trash? Nah.
Summary: At one point, Princess Grace tells her husband “Rai, it’s just a movie”. Go into Grace of Monaco with that mindset and perhaps you might enjoy yourself. As a dramatic, insightful exploration of the life of the screen legend though, it mostly misses the mark.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong