Guns Akimbo review

For F*** Magazine

GUNS AKIMBO

Director: Jason Lei Howden
Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby
Genre: Action/comedy
Run Time : 1 h 37 mins
Opens : 19 March 2020
Rating : M18

Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Harry Potter career has featured several eclectic roles. From playing a man who grows horns out of his forehead in Horns to playing a corpse in Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe isn’t afraid to get a bit weird. In this movie, a very normal fate befalls his character: getting pistols bolted onto his hands.

Radcliffe plays Miles, a mild-mannered programmer working on a successful mobile game. He takes delight in “trolling the trolls”, engaging in online spats with those who get their kicks from posting deliberate offensive comments. An underground fight club called Skizm is fast gaining popularity, with alarming numbers of people watching the live deathmatches online. After Miles trolls the Skizm chat, he is targeted by Riktor, the mad mastermind behind the game. Riktor and his goons break into Miles’ house and surgically bolt guns to Miles’ hands. He is then forced to fight the reigning Skizm champion Nix (Samara Weaving), who wants to quit the game after this final match. Miles attempts to explain his predicament to his ex-girlfriend Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and unwittingly involves her in the dangerous proceedings. As the masses watch online, Miles must survive the ordeal and defeat Nix to escape with his life.

Guns Akimbo seems to follow in the tradition of Crank and other Neveldine/Taylor movies: they’re not for everyone, but the people that they are for embrace the craziness. There is something clever and just the right amount of twisted in the premise, with Radcliffe being the ideal sympathetic protagonist. The movie gets a lot of mileage of the logistic challenges of going through life with two loaded guns surgically attached to one’s hands, let alone doing so when someone else is trying to kill you. This is an ambitious action film that wears its neon-soaked, hopped-up style on its sleeve and accomplishes a lot on a limited budget.

The film’s best scene is an exchange between Miles and the vagrant Glenjamin (Rhys Darby), because its one of the few times the movie slows down enough to catch its own breath.

Unfortunately, Guns Akimbo ramps everything to eleven to the point of being altogether numbing. The action is so frenetic that after a while, it stops making an impact. The film’s hyperactivity makes it difficult to engage with, such that it crosses the threshold of being exhilarating to being exhausting. This is something that would have been great as a 15-minute-long short film.

The film’s messaging is confusing: apparently, Miles deserves to have guns bolted to his hands and to be forced into a live deathmatch because he claps back against online trolls. In writer-director Jason Lei Howden’s estimation, it is those who oppose cyberbullies who are worse than the cyberbullies themselves. While Miles’ motivations are far from pure, the movie deems his behaviour worthier of ridicule and scorn than that of online harassers.

Guns Akimbo is so enamoured of its own perceived edginess that it fails to make any insightful or incisive statements on toxic online culture. The movie wants us to root for Miles, but also take sadistic delight in his comeuppance, as if he’s gotten exactly what he deserves. There are times when this film feels like Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer, which was often gross, nihilistic and pointless. It is disheartening but unsurprising that Howden himself perpetuated an online harassment campaign, targeting film journalists and falsely accusing them of driving another film writer to suicide.

In addition to Radcliffe, the film has a strong cast. Samara Weaving is fast becoming a genre darling, especially after starring in last year’s Ready or Not and with Snake Eyes and Bill and Ted Face the Music on the way this year. As the stereotypical leather-clad badass punk girl, Weaving is plenty of fun to watch and the film manages to surprise when it reveals Nix’s back-story.

Ned Dennehy is also great fun as the villainous Riktor, a sadistic close talker who sports a face full of tattoos. Everyone in the film knows what they signed up for, and even though Natasha Liu Bordizzo’s role is pretty much the stock girlfriend, she’s still watchable in the role.

Summary: Guns Akimbo is a would-be cult movie that is too enamoured with its status as a would-be cult movie. It expends more effort loudly announcing how out-there and edgy it is while not being as entertaining as it hypes itself up to be. There are moments when it’s genuinely amusing and Radcliffe is superb in the lead role, but the movie’s manic obnoxiousness winds up working against it. There is a fair bit in Guns Akimbo that works, including its cast and the inventiveness of its premise, but this is a movie that gets in its own way too much to truly be enjoyable.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ready or Not review

For inSing

READY OR NOT

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Cast : Samara Weaving, Mark O’Brien, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, John Ralston
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 35 mins
Opens : 22 August 2019 (exclusively at Cathay cinemas)
Rating : M18

        None of us truly knows what we’re getting into when we marry into someone else’s family. Sure, the weird uncle or two or the cousin who not-so-secretly despises you is par for the course, but sometimes things are a little more complicated than that. Such is the case in this dark comedy horror thriller.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is about to marry the love of her life, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Alex is heir to the Le Domas gaming fortune – the empire began as a playing card printing business and now encompasses the ownership of four pro sports teams. Grace senses that she won’t be accepted into the family, but Alex’s mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) attempts to assuage her fears.

On the night of the wedding, tradition dictates that Grace draw a card from a magic box and play the game stated on the card: in this case, ‘Hide and Seek’. What starts out being a little strange soon becomes deadly, with Alex’s father Tony (Henry Czerny) leading the other relatives in hunting Grace down to kill her. Over the course of the night, Grace must survive this terrifying ‘tradition’ as she gets to the bottom of why her new husband’s family is convinced that they must murder her.

            Ready or Not plays like an alternate universe version of Crazy Rich Asians: a woman’s boyfriend is not being 100% upfront about the truth of his wealthy family, and when she meets them, hijinks ensue. Here, the hijinks are considerably bloodier than in Crazy Rich Asians. The movie draws viewers into its twisted premise, getting more engrossing as it progresses. It’s a tense, funny, sometimes gross horror comedy which has ‘cult classic’ written all over it.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are two-thirds of the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, who made the 10/31/98 segment of the horror anthology film V/H/S. Working from a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have crafted an enjoyable little genre movie that is just the right degree of nasty.

One of the trickiest things about horror comedies is getting the tone right. Ready or Not does a good job with its world-building, drawing audiences into the mystery surrounding the bizarre blood sport at the plot’s centre. In the meantime, the characters all seem close enough to people you might be related to, hopefully minus the murder. Ready or Not takes the Eyes Wide Shut-style conceit of rich people engaging in arcane rituals behind closed doors and puts a slasher movie spin on it.

A big part of why this works is Samara Weaving. The Australian actress is a bona fide scream queen who displays a remarkable sense of timing and delivers a spectacularly committed performance here. Weaving brings some Emma Stone-ness to bear, in that she’s likeably plucky but is also unafraid of being afraid. When she screams, it’s a hoarse, desperate, truly frightening yell that makes the audience genuinely worry if Grace will make it out alive. Weaving proves that she’s game for a whole lot as the movie throws horrible obstacle after horrible obstacle at Grace. The imagery of a woman in a pristine wedding dress who gets grimier and more covered in blood as the film goes on is not especially original, but it works for Ready or Not.

The rest of the cast consists mostly of Canadian actors. Mark O’Brien’s performance is best described as “boring on purpose”: Alex is meant to be more down-to-earth and different from his eccentric, possibly cultist family, so he’s not very interesting by comparison.

Adam Brody gets the juicier role of Alex’s drunken brother Daniel, who is conflicted about his role within the family and of the Le Domas’ attitude towards violence.

Henry Czerny is intense as patriarch, with that intensity being sporadically punctured by goofiness. Andie MacDowell is coolly unflappable as his wife, and while she isn’t the first name that comes to mind when one pictures a crossbow-wielding badass, MacDowell acquits herself well.

Kristian Bruun is deliberately annoying, while Nicky Guadagni gives the archest performance as Aunt Helene. The film gradually reveals how Aunt Helene winded up as scary as she is now.

The film’s Toronto and Ontario-area locations, including Casa Loma and Parkwood Estate, contribute to the setting of an old family property that hides many secrets. Brian Tyler’s score is reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s work in parts, and like much of the rest of the movie, is just heightened enough.

Ready or Not isn’t an especially subtle movie and it does have its share of gory violence, but directors Bettnelli-Olpin and Gillett demonstrate restraint and tonal mastery with a film that depicts unpleasantness but remains an enjoyable genre romp. Look out for more of Samara Weaving, who proves she deserves to hit the A-list after this.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review

For inSing

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Director : Martin McDonagh
Cast : Frances McDormand, Woody Harrleson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Željko Ivanek
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1 h 57 min
Opens : 18 January 2018
Rating : NC16

Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh traverses from In Bruges to Outside Ebbing, after a detour caused by Seven Psychopaths, with his third feature film.

The film revolves around Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a divorced mother grieving the death of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton). A year after Angela’s rape and murder, no arrests have been made. Mildred rents out three disused billboards (three guesses as to where they’re located), calling out Ebbing Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

The billboards draw a strong reaction from the Ebbing populace, including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) – not least because Willoughby has terminal pancreatic cancer. Both Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) and ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) take issue with the billboards, blaming Mildred for reopening that wound. Mildred still has a few people in her corner, including her co-worker Denise (Amanda Warren), and James (Peter Dinklage), who harbours feelings for Mildred. Mildred hopes the billboards will put pressure on the police to solve the case, but unexpected, violent consequences ensue.

If Seven Psychopaths was McDonagh channelling Quentin Tarantino, then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is McDonagh channelling the Coen Brothers. It’s a happy coincidence that Carter Burwell, who has scored most of the Coens’ movies, has also scored McDonagh’s previous two films. It seems less coincidental that McDormand, oft-collaborator of the Coens and the wife of Joel Coen, plays the starring role.

However, this is no mere act of mimicry. McDonagh, who is also an accomplished playwright, has brought his own lyricism to each of his films. Three Billboards is the most serious film McDonagh has made, but it isn’t without its outstanding moments of pitch-black humour.

In part because of the pulpier elements of McDonagh’s two earlier films, one might go into Three Billboards expecting all the characters to be broadly-drawn archetypes. It seems almost by design that the audience thinks they have each player in this story figured out the moment we see them. “There’s the righteous mother,” “there’s the lazy cop”, “there’s the scumbag ex-husband”, that sort of thing. The surprises along the way are organic and well thought-out.

While Three Billboards wears its references on its sleeve, it subverts expectations with masterful subtlety. The dialogue, stuffed with words we can’t print, sounds authentic as spoken by these characters – especially impressive considering the writer-director isn’t American. The fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri has a realistic bleakness to it, and does seem like the place where something awful might happen and the world at large just wouldn’t notice it.

McDormand leads an ensemble of talented actors who do the material justice and then some. When it comes to strong performances per capita, Three Billboards is at the top of the heap this awards season. All the performances are the right degree of over-the-top – colourful and exaggerated enough to grab the viewer’s attention, but not to the point of being cartoony.

McDonagh wrote the Mildred role with McDormand in mind, and the character plays to all McDormand’s strengths as an actress. Mildred is tough-as-nails, bitter and takes no guff from anyone. Beneath the unyielding exterior, she is grappling with unspeakable grief and frustration and is a deeply flawed, conflicted person. The dramatic move she makes in renting out the billboards stirs up trouble, just as she planned, but she ultimately gets more than she bargained for.

We’re conditioned to root for Mildred and against Chief Willoughby, so we’re naturally surprised when the Chief ends up being not an awful person. We won’t give away too much, but Harrelson is able to shade the character while making him a little larger than life, and the interplay between Willoughby and Mildred is intense but restrained.

Rockwell’s character goes through the most dramatic arc. Dixon is racist, lazy, belligerent and often abuses his authority – but that’s just how the character begins. Rockwell has often portrayed characters who are slimy charmers, but he digs deep here, delivering a layered, fascinating performance.

The supporting cast members all snap right into place. Hedges, who was nominated for an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, is believably conflicted as Mildred’s son. Hawkes is aggressive but not ludicrously so as Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie. Samara Weaving steals the show several times as Penelope, Charlie’s dim-witted girlfriend, showcasing delightful comic timing. Dinklage is likeable and just awkward enough as the designated ‘nice guy’ whose affections for Mildred are unlikely to be reciprocated.

Not everything here works: the film’s handling of race is clumsy and inconsistent, and as the film barrels towards its conclusion, a few noticeable plot contrivances start stacking up. As assuredly as McDonagh handles the tone, some viewers might still find it jarring when the film moves from its truly harrowing moments to its lighter-hearted ones.

Three Billboards succeeds as an indie darling-type film that is rough around the edges and is never too precious about itself. The film recently collected four Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture Drama and awards for McDormand and Rockwell. The film’s peculiar yet finely tuned mix of grimness and off-kilter humour keeps it interesting, and its performances, especially McDormand’s, are thoroughly riveting.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong