Gringo movie review

For inSing

GRINGO

Director : Nash Edgerton
Cast : David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried
Genre : Comedy, Action
Run Time : 1h 50m
Opens : 15 March 2018
Rating : M18 (Violence, Coarse Language And Sexual Content)

Based on the poster alone, Gringo looks the wildest 2018 film you’ve never heard of. Mexican-inspired imagery including Day of the Dead skulls are arranged between marijuana leaves and guns. Stars like Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried are visible, and in the centre of it all is a hapless-looking David Oyelowo. It’s enough to make one wonder aloud, “what’s going on here?”

This dark action comedy revolves around Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), a mild-mannered business representative who works for the pharmaceutical corporation Promethium. Unbeknownst to Harold, his boss Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Rusk’s associate/mistress Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) are up to no good.

On what Harold thinks is a routine business trip to Mexico, he inadvertently gets kidnapped, becoming entangled with a drug kingpin known as ‘the Black Panther’ (Carlos Corona). Harold also crosses paths with Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), whose boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway) has been paid to smuggle drugs across the border. Richard calls his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a former mercenary-turned aid worker, to rescue Harold.

Gringo is directed by Nash Edgerton, brother and oft-collaborator of Joel. This is a film that’s hard to place: it wants to be a dark comedy and a madcap action caper at the same time but doesn’t gather enough momentum to work as either. There are individual lines which are funny and some of the performances are mildly entertaining, but Gringo seems to be mostly spinning its wheels. There are moments when it feels like a disposable direct-to-DVD flick, but then Charlize Theron shows up.

For a movie in which a pharmaceutical company gets embroiled with Mexican drug cartels, attracting the attention of the DEA, the stakes never seem especially high. Gringo is neither intense enough to work on a visceral level nor heightened and silly enough to whisk audiences along for the ride.

A major contributing factor to Gringo’s problems is how its characters are written. The protagonist Harold is a buttoned-down good guy, while his bosses are callous and amoral in an over-the-top manner.

While Oyelowo does a fine job of playing an unassuming man who gets caught in over his head, it seems like a waste of his talents. In the name of avoiding confrontations, Harold has spent most of his life as a pushover, and it’s taken a crisis for him to assert himself. This is something we’ve seen done before and done better.

Theron is not exactly known for her comedic chops, but we can see why she wanted to have a go at this. Theron is also a producer, through her Denver and Delilah production company. Elaine is an unapologetically awful person, who says things like “fat people are so funny”. This feels like a role that a more comedic actor, say someone like Kristen Wiig, would play brilliantly.

Weirdly enough, Joel Edgerton also feels miscast. Richard Rusk is a smooth-talking CEO, but Edgerton never quite comes off as gleefully slimy. Thandie Newton is wasted in a throwaway role as Harold’s wife Bonnie, while Amanda Seyfried doesn’t get much to do either.

Copley is great fun, as he usually is. His character is probably the most distinctive in the film, but he’s still underutilised. Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael, makes her feature film debut here, but it amounts to not much more than a cameo.

Gringo is a highly uneven curiosity that doesn’t have the bite, the devil-may-care energy or manic inventiveness that a dark comedy caper should. It plays into the stereotypical depiction of Mexico as lawless and overrun with drug cartels, without giving audiences anything they haven’t seen before. The talented cast is left stranded by material that’s only fitfully funny and doesn’t quite hang together.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Hollars

For F*** Magazine

THE HOLLARS

Director : John Krasinski
Cast : Sharlto Copley, John Krasinski, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day, Randall Park, Ashley Dyke, Josh Groban, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Run Time : 105 mins
Opens : 22 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

the-hollars-posterThere are many wonderful things that can unite a family – then there are brain tumours. When struggling artist John Hollar (Krasinski) learns that his mother Sally (Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumour, he hurries home from New York to the small middle American town in which he grew up. Dr. Fong (Park) informs the family that the tumour has been growing for 10-15 years, but John’s father Don (Jenkins) has been dismissing and misattributing the symptoms. John’s brother Ron (Copley) and their dad aren’t getting along especially well, with Ron still reeling from his divorce with Stacey (Dyke). Stacey has moved on and is married to youth pastor Dan (Groban), much to the ire of Ron. Jason (Day), the nurse tending to Sally, panics on seeing John return, since John and Jason’s wife Gwen (Winstead) were high school sweethearts. Sensing that the family’s trials are wearing on him, John’s pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Kendrick) arrives in town to keep him company. Will the Hollars sort out their issues and more importantly, will Sally pull through?

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The Hollars is Krasinski’s second time in the director’s chair, following 2009’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Krasinski directs from a screenplay by James Strouse, who wrote 2005’s Lonesome Jim, also about a struggling New York creative type temporarily moving back into his parents’ house. The Hollars seems tailor-made for Sundance and film festivals of its ilk, right down to the guitar-led score by singer-songwriter Josh Ritter. While there is a warmth and sincerity to it, The Hollars contains too many sitcom-style jokes that are often cringe-worthy in their obviousness. This is a cast that is studded with interesting, talented performers, but they’re often over-acting. The soap opera melodrama that runs through the plot is too mundane to be dramatic, yet too engineered to feel organic. Standard ‘family drama’ ingredients (terminal illness! Divorce! Pregnancy! Financial troubles!) are tossed into the pot, which is given just a quick stir when it needs to simmer.

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This is an ensemble cast that one can’t help but feel bad for, not because the material is embarrassing per se, but because their respective abilities just don’t get the chance to shine through. Copley is more closely identified with the action and sci-fi genres, and while it’s fun to see him stretching outside his wheelhouse, Ron is too much of a caricature to actually connect to. The character is brittle and confrontational, a tragicomic figure whom the audience is meant to laugh at but also sympathise with. It just doesn’t work, but it’s fitfully amusing to listen to Copley wrestle his South African accent to the ground.

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Jenkins is a fine actor capable of understated turns, but his hysterical performance here makes him seem like a pretty bad actor. Yes, it’s perfectly alright for someone to be emotional when their wife of several decades is at death’s door, but a subtler, more measured portrayal would have made Don’s struggles easier to identify with. As Don’s wife Sally, Martindale is eminently loveable, a gentle, sweet matriarch who’s trying desperately to hold the family together even as she’s fighting for her life. The trouble is, because of all the subplots unspooling simultaneously, one occasionally forgets that Sally is in the hospital with a brain tumour awaiting surgery. Losing sight of the story’s primary dramatic impetus isn’t usually a good sign.

As the harried, down-on-his-luck nice guy, Krasinski certainly isn’t playing against type, and he’s able to display a fair amount of the aww shucks charm he’s known for. Kendrick never fails to light up the screen, even though there’s not very much more to Rebecca than “pregnant significant other”. Park is a decent straight man, but it goes without saying that he’s more fun to watch when he’s given more room to be funny.

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Day is one of those actors who can very easily hop over that line between ‘funny’ and ‘annoying’, staying firmly in the latter camp as the shrill Jason. Winstead is entertaining in her brief appearance – alas, she doesn’t get to spend any screen time with fellow Scott Pilgrim alum Kendrick. Groban is quietly amiable as Rev. Dan, but his range as an actor is demonstrably limited and while he’s displayed a surprising knack for comedy in skits for Jimmy Kimmel Live, he’s stuck playing a straight man here.

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The family dysfunction depicted in The Hollars can be quite relatable, but the need to fall back on hackneyed humour (the opening scene features a character urinating into a pitcher in the kitchen) undercuts its potential to be genuinely moving. While several of the performances are enjoyable, others are evidence of miscalculated choices on the part of the actors and director. Above all, it’s covering well-trodden indie comedy-drama territory, and not covering it particularly well.

Summary: Watching The Hollars is like attending a family reunion with well-meaning but awkward and sometimes irritating relatives – but the cooking’s nice, so you grin and bear it.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Hardcore Henry

For F*** Magazine

HARDCORE HENRY 

Director : Ilya Naishuller
Cast : Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 96 mins
Opens : 14 April 2016
Rating : R21 (Violence and Gore)

“Henry” is a bit of an odd name for an action hero. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a fine name, but perhaps a quaint one – characters like Professors Henry Higgins and Henry Jones Sr. come to mind. The contraction “Hank” just seems much more suited as a moniker for a kicker of ass. Anyway, Henry awakes in a top-secret lab, having been brought back from the dead with cutting-edge robotics technology with no recollection of his former life, and without the ability to speak. Henry’s wife Estelle (Bennett) is there to greet him when he awakens, but Henry soon finds himself pursued by the mercenary army of Akan (Kozlovsky), a dangerous megalomaniac with telekinetic powers. Only Jimmy (Copley), a scientist with knowledge of Akan’s schemes, can help Henry make sense of it all, as Henry finds himself caught in one high-octane skirmish after another.

            Hardcore Henryis built on a nifty gimmick: it’s the first feature-length action film shot entirely from a first-person perspective. Writer-director Ilya Naishuller is the frontman of Russian indie rock band Biting Elbows, and he gained fame by creating music videos that were mini-action extravaganzas all shot from a first-person point of view. In this film, the titular role is played by around 10 cinematographers and stunt performers, including Naishuller himself, wearing a specialized GoPro camera rig. Hardcore Henry is definitely for a niche audience, specifically viewers who find themselves bored with pedestrian action flicks showcasing competently choreographed fights and chases, but nothing too special. Naishuller delivers a product that is (eye)balls to the wall in every sense, the whole thing coming off like a fever dream. Perhaps it’s easiest to compare it to the Jason Statham-starring Crank and Crank 2, Naishuller’s anarchic style of shooting action reminiscent of Neveldine/Taylor’s devil-may-care approach.

            Hardcore Henryis a mess, but not an irredeemable one and, in fact, quite an interesting mess. If the trailer alone made you nauseous, you’ve probably decided not to watch the whole thing. It’s abundantly obvious that those prone to motion sickness should stay away, but the shaky-cam didn’t affect this reviewer as much as he thought it would. On the one hand, it’s challenging to make out most of what’s going on, but on the other hand, it lends the film a visceral vibe and simulates a drug-induced buzz. There are myriad logistical challenges in capturing all the action with just one camera, and if one stunt performer (there are dozens in several scenes) makes one wrong move, it means a retake; you can’t cut to a different angle. Also, the actors have to augment their performances because they’re not interacting with a fellow actor, they’re acting directly to camera – and actors are trained to try to ignore the camera as far as possible.

            Copley is outstanding in this. There’s a puzzling mystery to his character that only gets solved towards the end of the second act, but even though we can’t make complete sense of Jimmy at the outset, Copley’s charisma ensures we keep watching. We won’t give away why, but he gets to play with multiple accents and even performs a full-on dance number. Russian heartthrob Kozlovsky undergoes a complete transformation, sporting a white wig and bleached eyebrows. His Akan is an expectedly over-the-top supervillain and the extent of the character’s power is put on frightening display. Bennett, of Music and Lyrics fame, seems out of place in the film’s setting – but then again it serves the character who’s mostly a damsel in distress, though there’s a smidgen more to Estelle than meets the eye.

            The sheer amount of gleeful violence packed into Hardcore Henry is designed to make the audience wince and laugh simultaneously. It’s graphic, but almost in a cartoony way, akin to the bloodshed on display in the satirical sci-fi action film RoboCop. There’s also gratuitous nudity, with an extended scene set in a brothel. Hardcore Henry doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and there are moments such as when Henry tries to ride a horse with a snippet of the Magnificent Seven theme playing in the background that are genuinely funny. The snarky comment “nobody likes to watch someone else play a videogame” has been used as a criticism against the film and we can see the point there, but there’s just so much energy, conviction and sheer mayhem on display that it’s hard to deny Hardcore Henry entirely.

Summary:It’s messy and incoherent in parts, but Hardcore Henry’s good use of its gimmick, impressive stunt work and how irrepressibly unhinged it is will make this worth checking out for genre aficionados.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars 

Jedd Jong  

Chappie

For F*** Magazine

CHAPPIE

Director : Neill Blomkamp
Cast : Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Yolandi Visser, Ninja, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Genre : Sci-Fi/Action
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 5 March 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Sentient robots, from the terrifying (the Terminator) to the adorable (WALL-E), have long been a mainstay of science fiction films. Director Neill Blomkamp hopes Chappie can join those ranks. It is the very near future and South Africa has become the first nation in the world to utilise a police force comprised entirely of androids. These robots, called “Scouts”, are designed by engineer Deon Wilson (Patel) for the Tetravaal Corporation, run by Michelle Bradley (Weaver). Deon’s professional rival at Tetravaal, ex-military man Vincent Moore (Jackman), wants his own creation, the heavily-armed Moose robot, to be deployed instead of the Scouts. Deon is working on his pet project, a fully sentient artificial consciousness, when he is kidnapped by gangsters Ninja (Ninja), Yolandi (Visser) and America (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They force Deon to create a robot that they can train and control, resulting in the birth of Chappie (Copley). Ninja, Yolandi and America try to mould the childlike Chappie in their image as the robot comes to grips with having a consciousness of its own.

            Chappie is an expansion of director Blomkamp’s 2004 short film, Tetra Vaal. Unfortunately, in making the leap from 1 minute and 20 seconds to 120 minutes, Blomkamp has exposed his shortcomings as a filmmaker. The dialogue is cringe-worthy and the characters are disappointingly two-dimensional, a shame considering Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell were nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for District 9. That film was praised for its original take on the alien invasion subgenre, a unique allegory for Apartheid. Here, it’s plainly visible where all the ideas have been cobbled together from. With its experimental military robot who gains consciousness, this is strongly reminiscent of Short Circuit. The Moose looks pretty much exactly like ED-209 from RoboCop, Chappie’s “ears” are cribbed from Appleseed’s Briaeros, the list goes on.


            The visual effects work, supervised by Chris Harvey and supplied by effects houses including Weta, Image Engine and Ollin VFX, is top-notch. Blomkamp has proven that he knows the right way to use CGI and the digital robots in this film all have a realistic weight and texture to them. The character animation on Chappie himself is good, with those ears being particularly expressive. Despite the best efforts of the animators and Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie via performance capture, this reviewer was unable to truly connect with the character. Blomkamp is striving to make the title character an endearing, plucky creation and there are moments when the audience might go “aww”, but there’s a spark missing. Just this past November, moviegoers embraced Baymax from Big Hero 6 and TARS from Interstellar, androids with loveable, well-defined personalities. Chappie certainly falls short of those two.


            In addition to being derivative, Chappie comes off as indulgent. Very indulgent. We have Watkin Tudor Jones and Anri du Toit, better known as Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er respectively, playing essentially fictionalised versions of themselves. Blomkamp has cast rap-rave group Die Antwoord in his movie, not in a cameo somewhere in the background, but in major supporting roles. Their shtick gets really grating really fast and while the unique South African thug culture does lend the movie a personality of its own, it quickly becomes just another flavour of annoying. The film also awkwardly bounces between the tough and the twee, with much of the comedy being derived from Chappie being taught gangster affectations by Ninja with Yolandi playing a more nurturing role, actually tucking the robot into bed and reading it a bedtime story in one scene.

            Dev Patel’s Deon is as stereotypical a computer geek as they come. The character stays up all night working on programming his fully sentient AI, fuelled by Red Bull and logging his progress via webcam recordings where he speaks in frenzied tones. Hugh Jackman is as charismatic as he usually is, rocking a glorious mullet and khaki shorts as the villainous Vincent. He really should take up bad guy roles more often; we’ll get to see Jackman as Blackbeard in Pan a little later on this year. Unfortunately, instead of a climactic confrontation, we get Hugh Jackman in a virtual reality visor remotely controlling the actions of his giant killer robot in a sequence that is anticlimactic in spite of all the explosions because Jackman isn’t in the middle of the action. Sigourney Weaver doesn’t do much as the stock boss lady and it’s a somewhat sad realisation to think her character in this film could have been played by anyone.

            Chappie is what happens when a promising director is given too much free rein. Yes, big studios can often stifle a director’s artistic voice, but sometimes, they need to be told “no” for their own good, lest one end up with a Michael Bay. For all the effort taken in making the world of Chappie seem realistic and lived-in, it is impossible to swallow some of the far-fetched sci-fi plot developments, particularly since the events of the film are meant to take place a year or so from now. Here’s hoping that with the Alien film Blomkamp is doing next, the rules of that particular universe make for a set playing field so he doesn’t get so carried away.

Summary:It looks like a relatively cool product and all the specs check out, but a crippling software error brings Chappiedown.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Maleficent

For F*** Magazine

MALEFICENT 

Director : Robert Stromberg
Cast : Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Genre : Fantasy, Adventure
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

So much happened before Aurora dropped in. In Maleficent, we learn the untold story of the title character, hitherto thought of as just the dastardly villain from Sleeping Beauty. In her youth, Maleficent (Jolie) befriended and later fell in love with Stefan (Copley). But the gulf between Maleficent’s home, the enchanted forest kingdom of the Moors, and Stefan’s, the human kingdom, proves to be too wide. Stefan eventually becomes the king and betrays Maleficent. When King Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Fanning) is born, a scorned and heartbroken Maleficent casts a spell on her: if Aurora pricks her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel before her 16thbirthday, she will fall into a deep sleep and only true love’s kiss can wake her. As three fairies (Staunton, Temple, Manville) watch over Aurora, so does Maleficent – from a distance, and with the aid of her loyal raven Diaval (Riley). Slowly, Maleficent’s hate towards the child softens, just as King Stefan declares war.

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            After one John Carter/Lone Ranger too many, one hopes that Disney will realise that this is the direction in which their live-action blockbusters should proceed. In telling a villain’s back-story, there’s always the danger of the mystique and menace of said villain being stripped away – just look at Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. It’s handled far better here and Maleficent makes the ideal candidate for a “perspective flip” retelling because Aurora is just about the most boring Disney princess of them all, and it was always Maleficent who was more fascinating. The screenplay by Linda Woolverton and an uncredited Paul Dini has an appealing fairy-tale logic to it; imps, fairies and enchanted forests existing in the same story as a protagonist who cannot be squarely categorised as either “hero” or “villain”. We live in a post-Loki world, and as a sympathetic character whose path towards the dark side makes sense, Maleficent is very much like Loki – right down to the trickster streak and those horns.

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            Robert Stromberg, production designer on Avatar, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful makes his feature directorial debut with Maleficent. Many design touches from those three films are evident here and while the aesthetic may not be unique, it is undeniably beautiful. Yes, the film is heavily reliant on computer-generated imagery, but there’s still life and soul to the CGI (especially the character animation on Diaval the shape-shifting raven) and the backdrops do not dissolve into generic digital mucilage. Anna B. Sheppard’s costume design work is impeccable; the translation of Maleficent’s animated look into a live-action context particularly effective. It’s at once immediately recognisable and also inventive; how she has different coverings for her horns depending on the seasons is a nice touch. And of course, Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker’s work completes Angelina Jolie’s transformation into the character, horns, severe cheekbones and all.

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            We don’t throw the word “perfect” around here too often, so believe us when we say Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast. She’s proven that she’s great at vamping it up, that she has the dramatic chops and that she can command the screen, all skills she calls upon for Maleficent. From the way she intones lines such as “a grand celebration, for a baby. How wonderful” to her calm, steely gaze to the way she tilts her head back at just the right angle, it proves to be quite the casting coup. The way the character is made sympathetic might not sit well with those who love Maleficent for being “the Mistress of All Evil” but this reviewer likes the layers Jolie brings to the part, in addition to how much she is enjoying herself as Maleficent. Elle Fanning doesn’t have to do much as Aurora because this really isn’t her story, but her wide-eyed naïveté is believable. Angelina Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne plays Young Aurora; the scene in which Maleficent interacts with her disdainfully is even cuter once you realise that’s just a toddler playing with her mother.

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            South African actor Sharlto Copley is deservedly climbing the A-list, and he’s good here as well, playing a king who gradually descends into madness and who is consumed by an obsession with the menacing winged creature he once loved. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville provide the comic relief as the three bickering guardian fairies – they’re amusing if not slightly grating and the CGI versions of them do teeter over the uncanny valley. Brenton Thwaite’s Prince Phillip is pretty much an afterthought but hey, he’s handsome. Sam Riley handily steals the show as mighty morphin’ bird Diaval (known as Diablo in the 1959 film). He may not look it, but Diaval is easily the most adorable an “evil minion” can get without being a yellow, overalls-clad, goggles-wearing capsule.

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            Hardcore Disney animation fans will be pleased to know that the late Marc Davis, one of the revered “nine old men” and the supervising animator for Maleficent, Aurora, Diablo and other characters in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, is thanked in the credits. Darker, “Grimmified” takes on fairy tales have become something of an eye roll-inducing Hollywood trend, but Maleficent manages to soar above the pack thanks to a compelling turn from its wonderfully-cast lead. Sweeping classical imagery that includes Maleficent breaking through the clouds to bask in the sun’s glow and Diaval in horse mode rearing up on his hind legs as the sun sets behind the castle enriches the experience too. In many ways, the film is much like Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” that plays over the end credits: an effective reinvention of something familiar but one that lovers of the old-fashioned approach might not necessarily enjoy completely.

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Summary: Those tired of blockbuster re-imaginings of time-worn fairy tales might not be won over by Maleficent, but Angelina Jolie’s stunning performance, in addition to some lush, awe-inspiring visuals, make this one worthwhile.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong