Mr. Right

For F*** Magazine

MR. RIGHT

Director : Paco Cabezas
Cast : Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, RZA, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Michael Eklund, Katie Nehra
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language And Violence)

From Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Gigli to Killers and Please Kill Mr. Know-It-All, ‘hitman screwball comedies’ could be a subgenre unto its own, albeit one that hasn’t exactly yielded works of outstanding quality. The latest entry in this quirky bunch is Mr. Right, starring Sam Rockwell as the title character. Mr. Right is a loopy but scarily efficient contract killer, who, abiding by a twisted morality, has decided to turn the tables on those who hire him by killing them instead of the intended targets. He runs into Martha (Kendrick), a young woman still hurting after a bad breakup with her cheating boyfriend. The duo develop a fondness for each other and Mr. Right is ready to give up his unsavoury career to be with her. Unfortunately, his mentor-turned-nemesis Hopper (Roth) is on his tail, and Mr. Right also finds himself embroiled in a gang power struggle between brothers Richie (Mount) and Von (Ransone). Martha must ask herself this: “is it a deal-breaker if people are constantly shooting at my boyfriend, and that he’s shooting back?”
            Mr. Right is directed by Paco Cabezas, from a screenplay by Max Landis. Landis has quickly become one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood, with his scripts for Chronicle, American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein getting produced in quick succession with several more high-profile projects to follow. More jaded industry watchers (i.e. most of them) will attribute Landis’ success to the fact that his father is director John Landis. The younger Landis has displayed a markedly unlikeable attitude in interviews and social media interactions, so it’s no surprise that Mr. Right is glib and smug the whole way through. The action-romantic-comedy is aiming to be edgy and subversive, but is bogged down by clichés from both the action and the rom-com genres from the get-go: we counted at least three pop songs in the opening 10 minutes. There’s a nervous energy and some of the jokes do land, but the complete lack of sincerity makes it hard to connect to.

 

            Both Rockwell and Kendrick are immensely watchable actors and on the surface, it would seem Mr. Right plays to both their respective strengths and yet, it isn’t the best use of their talents. The set-up of a relatively normal gal falling for an enigmatic, dangerous assassin doesn’t take hold because both Martha and Mr. Right come off as over-the-top caricatures. Kendrick turns the adorkable hyperactive cutie thing up to 11, which is overwhelming rather than endearing. Rockwell has the unique ability to be simultaneously slimy and charming, but at the end of the day, we’re supposed to root for the couple to be together, instead of merely cocking our heads at their off-kilter chemistry. The aim is apparently for a less abusive Joker-and-Harley-Quinn-esque relationship to blossom, and while it’s obvious that the filmmakers want to steer clear of a standard rom-com progression, Martha and Mr. Right’s romance still unfolds in a predictable general pattern.
            As the main antagonist, Roth is pretty entertaining, putting on a goofy Alabama accent when his character is in disguise as an FBI agent. There’s meant to be an extensive personal history between Hopper and Mr. Right and to the film’s credit, there isn’t a lengthy exposition scene where said history is spelled out to the audience. However, their contentious relationship over the years doesn’t get satisfactorily fleshed out; their big confrontation nowhere near as explosive as it should be. The mobsters, with their Jersey drawls, slicked-back hair and patent leather jackets, are generally too goofy to be truly threatening. The big surprise here is RZA as beleaguered hitman Steve, who finds himself stuck with a rickety old shotgun while the other guys get automatic weapons. RZA is one of those rappers who also fancies himself an actor, the results thus far ranging from dull to laughable. He actually has considerable charisma here.
            Mr. Right has its moments when the cynical humour and slick action click into place, but for the most part, it is stuck feeling firmly like the work of people who are way too pleased with themselves for their own good. Because of its undercurrent of flippancy, which often mutates into an overcurrent, there’s not very much to grab onto. The in-your-face silliness might be viewed as some to an antidote for the po-faced action thrillers that are the norm now, but Mr. Right doesn’t earn our suspension of disbelief. Those in search of a satisfying, sure-footed action-comedy won’t find their match in Mr. Right.
Summary: Despite its quirky, charming leads, Mr. Right’s indulgent, misplaced sense of nihilistic irony quickly becomes unbearable.
RATING: 2out 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  

The Hateful Eight

For F*** Magazine

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Director : Quentin Tarantino
Cast : Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum
Genre : Western/Thriller
Run Time : 167 mins
Opens : 21 January 2016
Rating : R21

Hang on to them reins, boys and girls, because Quentin Tarantino’s wrangled up his eighth motion picture and is coming at you guns a-blazin’, all shot in glorious 65mm. It is some time after the Civil War in wintry Wyoming and bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) hitches a ride on a stagecoach occupied by fellow bounty hunter John “Hangman” Ruth (Russell) and his captive, Daisy Domergue (Leigh). Ruth is delivering Domergue to the town of Red Rock, and the trio comes across Chris Mannix (Goggins), apparently the new sheriff of Red Rock. The four arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge, which is being looked after by Bob the Mexican (Bichir) in Minnie’s absence. They meet the other lodgers: English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), ranch hand Joe Gage (Madsen) and former Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Dern). Trapped in the middle of a fierce blizzard, this motley crew aren’t going to sit all quiet-like and wait for the storm to blow over, with mysteries unravelling, tensions mounting and lots of blood being spilled.

            As can be expected with any new Tarantino project, there was a great deal of pomp and circumstance surrounding the development of The Hateful Eight. The script surfaced online in January 2014, inciting Tarantino’s rage and a degree of finger-pointing as to who exactly leaked the screenplay. Tarantino briefly considered scrapping the film entirely and publishing The Hateful Eight as a novel instead. A live reading was staged before the film eventually went into production. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone came on board to score his first Western in 34 years and provide the first original score for a Tarantino film, the soundtracks of which customarily comprise existing songs. Then, the film was released in an old-fashioned roadshow presentation projected in 70 mm format, this version containing an extra 20 minutes of footage compared to the regular theatrical release.

            After all of this build-up, The Hateful Eight emerges as a film that is Tarantino’s through and through, but is not one of the director’s stronger efforts. With all the accolades he has amassed and with the impact his films have made on the pop cultural landscape, it makes sense that Tarantino would be given carte blanche to create the film he wants to. This is a spectacularly self-indulgent piece, and while Tarantino has made self-indulgence work in his favour in previous films, The Hateful Eight will test audiences who aren’t already converts to his style. Near the beginning of the film, Ruth orders Warren to put aside his pistol “molasses-like”, which is exactly the pacing of the movie. The 167-minute-long theatrical cut is already a challenge to endure, let alone the 187-minute roadshow cut. The cast is peppered with actors who have worked with Tarantino before and the director’s penchant for bombastic monologues and excessive, gory violence is in full force here. He has always planted his flag at the intersection of artfulness and vulgarity, and that flag is definitely still standing.

            At its core, this is a mystery, with Tarantino citing the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None as a reference point. It seems like it would work better as a stage play, and Tarantino does indeed have intentions of writing and directing a Broadway adaptation of the film. There are twists, turns and reveals, but this is a more straight-forward story than it is presented as, with the feeling of a tense, intimate drama being bloated to epic proportions, stuffed with over-the-top posturing and drenched in mostly unnecessary blood. Our characters arrive at a locale, are stuck there and a whodunit unfolds. The sometimes ridiculous heights that this reaches detract from the overall impact and suspense.

There are ingeniously staged moments of ratcheting tension that are immediately undercut by fountains of arterial splatter. One can imagine Tarantino rubbing his hands with glee, setting special effects makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger loose on set, armed with assorted viscera. When Tarantino was paying homage to genres like the gangster movie, Blaxploitation or the martial arts film in the past, bloody violence makes more sense than it does in association with westerns, even given revisionist works by the likes of Sam Peckinpah. The violence crosses past the point of being shocking into being pointlessly numbing.

            Watching the cast at play is fun and thankfully, there’s a great deal of that going on here. This is an ensemble piece, but Tarantino’s oft-collaborator Jackson takes the lead as Major Marquis Warren. We initially lean into rooting for Warren because, as the lone black character for the bulk of the film, Warren is the target of strong racial slurs, but his own volatility and detestable actions soon come to light, making him at once fascinating and repulsive. Russell’s more understated approach is the ideal counterpoint to Jackson’s style, and for the most part, it’s clear this is a cast who knows full well what they’re doing.

Leigh is remarkably believable as the scuzzy Domergue, bad teeth, black eye, stringy hair and all, perhaps the most authentic of the bunch in mannerisms and appearance. Jennifer Lawrence was reported under consideration to play Domergue. Dern has a quietly commanding presence and carries one of the film’s most powerful moments, a conversation between Warren and Smithers about the fate of Smithers’ son. Goggins is entertaining though often bothering on annoying as he enthusiastically bounces about the set. Madsen puts in the least effort, though perhaps there’s a charm in that stemming from the Reservoir Dogs connection. In addition to Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, a.k.a. Tim Roth, is also present.

            Tatum’s appearance, however brief, completely pulled this reviewer out of the film. The actor has stumbled awkwardly through many a dramatic role and the ruthless badass Tatum plays in The Hateful Eight doesn’t capitalise on any of his comedic strengths. Stunt performer and actress Zoë Bell, a Tarantino mainstay, also has a minor supporting role. Bell’s New Zealand accent is acknowledged, but that doesn’t make it any less out of place in the setting.

            For fans of Tarantino’s technique and style and those who have enjoyed dissecting his back-catalogue and devising theories about how the events of all his films are connected, The Hateful Eight will be a largely fulfilling experience. However, if the wanton violence and odes to specific pop culture ephemera in his previous movies were alienating, The Hateful Eight is all the more so. It is generally true that a director making a film for himself is better than a hired gun just cashing a check, but The Hateful Eight feels like it was made primarily for Tarantino’s own amusement, and that if the general audience happens to like it, it’s mostly because they’ve been conditioned by the director’s own oeuvre.



Summary: The Hateful Eight is packed with its director’s signature flair, but it often feels saturated and overwhelmingly self-indulgent, a cloud of “you’re supposed to like this because it’s Tarantino” hanging over it.

RATING: 2.5out 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