The Meg review

THE MEG

Director : Jon Turteltaub
Cast : Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Masi Oka
Genre : Action/Thriller/Sci-fi
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 9 August 2018
Rating : PG-13

In 2013, Discovery Channel aired Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives as part of its Shark Week line-up. The pseudo-documentary was presented as fact, and the number of people who were initially convinced showed that at least some of us secretly want to believe that somewhere in the depths lurks a Carcharocles megalodon.

In The Meg, Jason Statham faces off with the deadly living fossil. Statham plays former rescue diver Jonas Taylor, whose claims of witnessing a sea monster attacking a nuclear submarine went disbelieved. Five years after that incident, Jonas is called on by his friend Mac (Cliff Curtis), who works aboard the research facility Mana One.

An expedition sent by the Mana One is in danger – the three-person crew of the submersible Origin are trapped 11 000 metres below the surface, threatened by a giant ancient shark. This confirms Jonas’ story, and he reluctantly undertakes the mission. Among the trapped are his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). Suyin (Li Bingbing), daughter of Dr Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), insists she can conduct the rescue herself. Meanwhile, billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) worries that the emergence of the Megalodon could jeopardise his expensive investment. As the Meg rises from the depths to threaten swimmers at the beach resort hotspot Sanya in Hainan, China, Jonas and the Mana One crew must stop the Meg’s reign of terror.

The Meg is based on Steve Alten’s best-selling 1997 novel Meg, and a film has been in various stages of development since the book was published. There’s an unavoidable amount of stupidity inherent in the material – after all, there is no shortage of cheaply-made TV movies with similar premises. If you’re in need of a laugh, look up clips of 2002’s Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, starring a hapless John Barrowman.

The Meg is like one of those movies with an exponentially larger budget, and there is some pleasure to be derived from that. Several sequences are impressively staged, and the visual effects work is generally strong. Director Jon Turteltaub attempts to keep things largely tongue-in-cheek, while also going for genuine thrills and stakes. He is only fitfully successful – the film begins feeling like it might take things somewhat seriously, then dives headlong into the ludicrous as it reaches its conclusion.

The film has high production values and boasts behind-the-scenes talent like Lord of the Rings production designer Grant Major and Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer Tom Stern. To raise the estimated $150 million budget, the film must pander to Chinese audiences, and pander it does. It’s hard to discern how much of the silliness is intentional, and how much is a by-product of tailoring the film to the (perceived) tastes of international filmgoers.

Statham plays the lead role, an indistinct roguish action hero trying to outswim a tragic incident in his past. Turteltaub noted that this is a Jason Statham movie without the requisite gunfights and car chases, and on that level, he technically is doing something different. Statham has just enough leading man charm for audiences to kinda-sorta go along with the sheer ridiculousness, at least for the first act or so.

Statham is not particularly known for his acting chops and is regularly out-acted by the leading ladies in his films. Luckily for him, that is not the case here. Li Bingbing is uniformly stiff throughout the film, unable to carry any of the emotional moments or the action beats. While Winston Chao fares a little better as her character’s father, the would-be moving scenes between the father-daughter duo fall extremely flat.

The film’s supporting characters are all thinly-drawn stock types, as one would expect from a movie of this genre. Ruby Rose plays a cool Ruby Rose-type, Rainn Wilson plays a Rainn Wilson-type (but rich), you get the idea. Page Kennedy is meant to provide comic relief, but not many of the jokes land.

Sophia Cai plays Meiying, Suyin’s daughter. She’s a precocious moppet who cracks wise and is meant to activate everyone’s protective instincts, but the character is written and acted in a largely annoying manner. Despite the film’s best efforts, imperilling Meiying won’t draw too much of a reaction from the audience, because it’s hard to care about most of the characters here.

The Meg’s CGI shark may be technically impressive, and we appreciate that the visual effects supervisor on a movie set in the ocean is named ‘Adrian De Wet’, but when it comes down to it, the titular beast is rarely convincing. There are sequences that generate a passable level of tension, but there are only so many times the movie can riff on the “barrels dragged across the surface” gag seen in Jaws.

There’s a degree of “you know what you’re getting” with The Meg: yes, it was always going to be silly, but how effectively the film leans into that silliness is up for debate. The Meg is paced briskly enough and serves up several entertaining sequences, but compared to some of this summer’s sharper, more satisfying offerings, there’s more bark than bite.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

John Wick: Chapter 2

For F*** Magazine

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 

Director : Chad Stahelski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini, Bridget Moynahan, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 2min
Opens : 16 February 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence)

john-wick-chapter-2-posterMuch like Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, John Wick (Reeves) is a man who just can’t retire. After avenging the death of his puppy, the final gift from his late wife Helen (Moynahan), John thinks his hitman days are finally over. However, his former associate Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio) comes calling to collect on a blood oath Santino and John made years earlier. Santino tasks John with killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Gerini), so Santino can take her place on a high council of assassins. John reluctantly travels to Rome, facing off against scores of skilled hired guns. These include Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common) and Santino’s security chief Ares (Rose). Back in New York, John seeks the assistance of old allies Winston (McShane), who runs the Continental Hotel, and Charon (Reddick), the hotel’s concierge. John also reunites with the Bowery King (Fishburne), a crime lord with whom John has had a tempestuous professional relationship. With a large bounty put on his head, it’s open season on John Wick.

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2014’s John Wick is hailed as a minor masterpiece in contemporary action cinema. While it contained many familiar tropes of the hitman movie subgenre, it boasted exceedingly stylish action and established an intriguing mini-mythology. Chad Stahelski, who directed the first film with fellow stunt coordinator/second unit director David Leitch, helms this outing solo. John Wick: Chapter 2 contains everything that worked the first time around. It’s largely more of the same, but it’s good. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad expands on the heightened world, introducing more elements central to the apparently global assassin subculture. Not only are there hitmen decked out in expensive suits who hang out in plush hotels, there are homeless assassins now. Much like the first go-round, this is a tonally assured work: there are dry winks and nods at the more absurd aspects of the premise, while steering clear of all-out self-parody.

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Aided by veteran stunt coordinators Darrin Prescott and J.J. Perry, Stahelski serves up a surfeit of fluidly orchestrated violence. The body count here far exceeds the first film, and there are plenty of messy headshots along the way. All the fights, shootouts and chases hit that sweet spot of being stylised and designed while retaining visceral impact. John is a one-man army and because of his nigh-superhuman prowess, the audience never really feels that he’s in grave danger from his opponents. However, the proceedings are never boring and always eye-catching. A showdown in the ancient catacombs beneath Rome is contrasted with a game of cat-and-mouse set in a maze of mirrors. The latter is at once disorienting and mesmerizing, and is also a technical feat seeing how a set comprised entirely of mirrors would make it difficult to hide cameras and crew.
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It’s been repeatedly noted that Reeves is not an actor with staggering emotional range, but just as in the first John Wick, he makes for a compelling force of nature. Even pretending to be an expert marksman or hand-to-hand combatant is tricky, but Reeves makes it all look so effortless. Deep beneath his unyielding surface, John is a sorrowful figure. Even though John should be no less fantastical a character than any action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, Reeves gives him a vital grounding.

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Many of the supporting players from the first film, including McShane, Reddick and Leguizamo, return, giving this a strong sense of continuity. Italian actor Scamarcio exudes the sliminess one would expect of a mafia heir without turning the character into a caricature. Gerini’s Gianna has a confrontation with John that is as sexy as it ominous. The film’s detour to Rome seems a little too brief, but the location and the D’Antonio siblings do expand the story’s scope. Iconic Italian actor Franco Nero makes a cameo as the manager of The Continental Rome.

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Common gets to grapple with Reeves in an intense fight, but is ultimately little more than a generic henchman. Rose gets a slightly more interesting role as the mute Ares. She cuts an elegant figure in a suit and is entrancing as she signs her “dialogue”. It’s fun to see Reeves reunite with Fishburne, his co-star from the Matrix films. Fishburne’s Bowery King is cheery and exuberant, but we get the sense that this belies an uncompromising ruthlessness. Peter Stormare, who has long been on speed-dial for Hollywood casting directors in search of scenery-chomping European villains, shows up too.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 contains equal measures of muscularity and finesse, an action movie carved from polished obsidian. As the middle instalment in a planned trilogy, the film’s conclusion is open-ended, but its cliff-hanger is tantalising rather than howl-inducing. On top of that, the pit bull that John adopted at the end of the first film is adorably obedient.

Summary: Fans of the first film will be transfixed by John Wick: Chapter 2’s brutal, balletic action. The fascinating hitman subculture lore also gets built upon.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

For F*** Magazine

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Director : Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast : Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Shawn Roberts, Eoin Macken, Ruby Rose, William Levy, Lee Joon-gi, Rola, Ever Gabo Anderson, Fraser James
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 2 February 2017
Rating : NC-16 (Violence)

resident-evil-the-final-chapter-posterCould ‘the world’s most profitable video game movie franchise™’ really be coming to an end? If vehement claims from the cast and, well, the title are to be believed, perhaps this truly is Alice’s (Jovovich) last ride – that is, until a reboot is announced in short order.

Picking up three weeks after the conclusion of Resident Evil: Retribution, Alice has been betrayed by arch-villain Wesker (Roberts) – shocking, we know – and is on her own again. The artificial intelligence construct Red Queen (Ever Gabo Anderson), hitherto malevolent, appears to help Alice, with the promise that an antivirus lies in wait for her at the Hive, deep beneath Raccoon City. Pursued by Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Glen), the evil head of the Umbrella Corporation, Alice sets off to return to where it all began. Along the way, she reunites with ally Claire Redfield (Larter), who has joined forces with a ragtag bunch of survivors including Doc (Macken), Abigail (Rose), Christian (Levy), Cobalt (Rola) and Razor (James). As hordes of vicious zombies stand in their way, Alice and her cohorts make a desperate last stand for humanity.

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The Resident Evil films have never been critical darlings, and The Final Chapter has its problems: the post-apocalyptic aesthetic is largely generic, the supporting characters are insufficiently distinctive, and the combination of rapid-fire editing and shaky-cam renders the action sequences incomprehensible.

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Much to this reviewer’s surprise and given the abovementioned shortcomings, The Final Chapter is enjoyable – if barely so. Given five earlier films’ worth of back-story, the film’s prologue does a fine job of setting things up for the uninitiated, detailing the origins of the T-virus. Regardless of how seriously one takes director Anderson’s claims of finality, there is the sense that things have come full circle. The first film’s signature set-piece is revisited and after the visual monotony of the wastelands that fill The Final Chapter’s first half, it’s fun to head back into the sleek, futuristic Hive. Best of all, this film possesses a welcome tactility to the action – there are somewhat-unconvincing digitally-generated creatures, but the visual effects work is an improvement on the previous instalment, and it doesn’t feel like this was entirely shot against a giant green screen.

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Jovovich has the action heroine thing down pat, and is sufficiently believable holding her own against gnashing zombies and Umbrella Corp goons kitted out in tactical gear. She looks cool astride that BMW Motorrad and is taking things just seriously enough. Alice gets substantial character development and gets answers to questions she’s had since the events of the first film. Some may call it nepotism, but there is a poetry in Anderson casting his and Jovovich’s daughter Ever Gabo in the role of the Red Queen. The film reveals a connection that Alice and the Red Queen have shared all along, giving the casting a wink-and-nod aptness.

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Glen, who last appeared in Resident Evil: Extinction, reprises his role of Dr. Isaacs with entertaining aplomb. It’s the same over-the-top élan with which he portrayed the villain in another video game movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Glen plays the part with so much relish, one expects ketchup and mustard to enter from stage left. Unfortunately, Roberts’ Wesker is given comparatively little to do, and spends most of the film pacing about the Hive’s control room, glowering at monitors showing Alice’s progress.

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If there was one positive thing about Retribution, it was that key characters from the games like Leon S. Kennedy and Ada Wong showed up, with Chris Redfield returning from Afterlife. They’re completely absent here. The plucky band of survivors with whom Alice allies are largely unmemorable. xXx: Return of Xander Cage made far better use of Ruby Rose, who has three action movies out in quick succession this year – look out for her in John Wick: Chapter 2. The inclusion of Japanese media personality Rola as Cobalt and South Korean actor/singer Lee Joon-gi as Isaacs’ henchman Commander Chu is a blatant bid of international appeal.

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The Final Chapter’s frenetic pace and senseless strobe-like editing might be numbing to some viewers, but for others, this will be a satisfying conclusion (?) to an oftentimes mediocre franchise. Setting our expectations appropriately low, we were pleased that there’s a semblance of a plot, however generic, and that given the title, it’s harder for Anderson and co. to get away with the shameless cliff-hanger endings he’s employed in the past. Then again, there was a Friday the 13th film subtitled ‘The Final Chapter’, and there have been eight more movies in that franchise since then.

Summary: There’s more disregard for continuity and the action sequences are horrendously edited, but The Final Chapter has enough forward momentum and entertaining moments for it to pass muster as a diversion.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

For F*** Magazine

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

Director : D. J. Caruso
Cast : Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Tony Jaa, Michael Bisping, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

xxx-return-of-xander-cage-posterAny action star worth his salt has got to keep more than one franchise going, so get ready for more Diesel-powered action with this continuation of the xXx series. Extreme sportsman and elite secret agent Xander Cage (Diesel) has long been thought dead, but his services are needed again as a new threat emerges. Xiang (Yen) and his team of highly skilled adrenaline junkie operatives have gotten their hands on a device called Pandora’s Box, which can be used to crash any satellite in orbit. NSA handler Jane Marke (Collette) draws Xander back into the fray. Xander calls on his associates, including sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Rose), stunt driver Tennyson Torch (McCann) and deejay Nicks Zhou (Wu) to back him up. They are assisted by tech expert Becky Clearidge (Dobrev). They must face off against Xiang and his team, comprising Serena (Padukone), Talon (Jaa) and Hawk (Bisping), as Serena questions where her loyalties lie. xxx-return-of-xander-cage-kris-wu-ruby-rose-rory-mccann-and-vin-diesel

The first xXx film was pitched as a hipper, cooler competitor to the Bond franchise. In the same year, the Bond film Die Another Day tried to pull off some extreme sports action. It was not a good look. The premise of devil-may-care thrill-seekers recruited into a spy program is silly, but in the right hands, it can be the fun kind of silly. xXx: Return of Xander Cage is absolutely the fun kind of silly. From the first scene, director D.J. Caruso practically announces that this is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. What follows is a string of outlandish stunts and set pieces which, while smaller in scale, almost rival those showcased in the recent Fast and Furious flicks. Anything that was considered remotely cool in the 2000s is, by now, painfully awkward, so xXx: Return of Xander Cage boldly embraces the cheesiness and is all the more enjoyable for it.

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F. Scott Frazier’s screenplay bursts with quips and one-liners of varying quality, but at its core lies a generic spy thriller plot: one team of agents has the MacGuffin, and the other must get it back. There’s globe-trotting, car chases and shootouts, as well as shifting alliances and standard-issue plot twists. Then again, nobody’s going to watch this for the plot. There are enough bells and whistles and a spirited embrace of ludicrousness to lift this above the humdrum formula of many a disposable action flick. You will believe a man can ski through a rainforest and that motorcycles can transform into jetskis to ride ocean swells. The visual effects work is surprisingly competent, and the explosive climax doesn’t look conspicuously phony.

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Diesel’s Xander allows the star to indulge his ego as a coolly laconic, an anti-establishment rebel who lives life on the edge. This was never a particularly grounded character and Diesel seems aware of that. This time, he has an eclectic ensemble supporting him.

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Yen is on excellent form here, the film making good use of his skill set. He’s is charming and menacing as Xiang, but the character is not a moustache-twirling villain and surprisingly, there’s some nuance to him. Yen gets to perform more martial arts here than he did in Rogue One, and he plays off Diesel superbly. Jet Li was originally cast in the part, and it is speculated that he dropped out due to health concerns. We think Yen is a better fit for Xiang than Li might’ve been.

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Bollywood starlet Padukone is counting on this film to help her break into the American market. She’s a serviceable femme fatale, but is far from the most memorable actress to play the archetype.

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It’s Rose who steals the show as the smart-alecky sniper Adele. The epitome of cool, Rose seems right in her element whether she’s handling a rifle or hitting on every woman in sight. McCann, best known as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane on Game of Thrones, puts in an amusing turn as the slightly-unhinged Tennyson. Dobrev plays up the ‘adorkable’ shtick for all it’s worth, but borders on grating as the resident tech geek. Out of Xander’s sidekicks, it’s Wu who makes the least impact as Nicks, who serves no apparent purpose on the team. Each character is introduced with a title card listing their special skills, akin to the ones seen in Suicide Squad. Nicks’ just says he’s “fun to be around”.

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As the no-nonsense boss lady, Collette delivers her many dramatic declarations with gusto, and appears to be having fun being a part of a big, silly action movie, since she doesn’t do those too often. Jaa has his hair dyed blonde and styled into a faux-hawk, and his role is largely comedic. If there’s any big missed opportunity here, it’s that Jaa isn’t given more to do, and that he doesn’t have a fight scene in which he either teams up with or faces off against fellow martial arts expert Yen. Jackson’s reprisal of the Augustus Gibbons role amounts to little more than a cameo, but there are a couple more cameos sure to elicit a reaction from the audience.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage isn’t particularly original or, god forbid, smart, but it’s good at what it does. Erring on the right side of self-aware without plunging into obnoxious self-parody, this threequel announces “this is silly, and that’s perfectly okay”. If this gang is staying together, bring on xXx IV.

Summary: The rip-roaring third entry in the xXx series put a smile on this reviewer’s face. A big, dumb smile.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong