X-Men: Dark Phoenix review

X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast : Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Tye Sheridan, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Ato Essandoh
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 54 mins
Opens : 5 June 2019
Rating : PG13

Dead comic book characters have a habit of coming back to life, and none more so than Jean Grey/the Phoenix. “Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors,” Professor X declared in X-Factor #70. The X-Men film series has a second go at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline in what is also the final entry in this series.

During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is exposed to an unidentified cosmic force which alters her telekinetic and telepathic superpowers, unleashing a powerful entity called the Dark Phoenix. Vuk (Jessica Chastain), the leader of the shape-shifting alien D’Bari race, arrives on earth to harness the power of the Dark Phoenix for herself. Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is angry at Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) for endangering Jean in the name of what she feels is his self-aggrandisement.

Jean’s increasing instability directly endangers her boyfriend Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), with the rest of the X-Men struggling with the onset of her destructive powers. Xavier must reluctantly join forces with his old ally-turned-enemy Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to contain the threat posed by the Dark Phoenix.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix has had a rocky path to the big screen, with its release date being postponed at least three times. With long-time writer and producer Simon Kinberg making his directorial debut, Dark Phoenix feels like a group project which everyone worked hard on, but nobody is particularly proud of – something that got submitted just in time and which everyone is happy to be done with. This is a far cry from the grand finale that a film franchise as important to the current landscape of comic book movies as the X-Men series deserves.

There were a number of external factors acting on this film, and while Kinberg has claimed that the film was always planned as the end of the franchise and that Disney’s acquisition of Fox had no impact on the making of this film, there has been speculation to the contrary. This certainly feels like a much smaller film than X-Men: Apocalypse, its immediate predecessor in the mainline series of X-Men films. There is nothing wrong with a smaller X-Men film, and Logan proved how taking a more dramatic, less spectacle-driven approach can work within the larger framework of the franchise, but Logan this is not. At every turn, it feels like the filmmakers were settling for whatever they could manage, such that Dark Phoenix never touches the awe-inspiring grandeur of some of the previous entries in the series.

In X-Men: The Last Stand, the Dark Phoenix storyline had to jostle for real estate with the Gifted plot. There is more room in this film to explore what happens to Jean Grey after the Dark Phoenix is unleashed, but nothing carries the intended emotional impact. Still, Sophie Turner does an excellent job of playing a character who manifests immense power, and it’s clear that she understands the central conflict of Jean Grey. While the movie doesn’t delve deep enough into Jean’s tortured psyche, this is far from Turner’s fault.

McAvoy and Fassbender have become as identified with Professor X and Magneto respectively as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have. While it is good to see them return to play these characters one last time, the weight of the tumultuous and far-reaching relationship between the two characters is all but absent. Xavier has become more self-absorbed after mutants have become accepted by wider sections of the populace, but this is far from the most compelling work McAvoy has done as the character.

The X-Men franchise got a hold of Jennifer Lawrence before she truly hit the big time, and her role in the Hunger Games movies seems to have caused the franchise to treat the character as a hero, when she has typically been a villain. It appears that Lawrence cannot wait to leave this role behind and is the most checked out she’s ever been in this film.

The film’s villains are almost laughably generic. The D’Bari come off like aliens from The X-Files. This is the first time extra-terrestrial beings figure into the X-Men movie franchise, but their existence is treated as no big deal. Jessica Chastain, an actor who can be a force of nature in the right role, is wasted as a character with no discernible personality to speak of.

While the script seems to strain to give everyone something to do, many of the supporting mutants are just kind of there. Characters like Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit McPhee) mainly seem to be in this movie because they were in the earlier movies. It’s a shame given that these actors are all visibly doing the best they can.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not quite the flaming train wreck that is its central action set-piece, but because it’s the last film in the series and because it’s being released about a month after Avengers: Endgame, it is a deeply underwhelming affair. X-Men Dark Phoenix is a movie that has the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming a disappointing send-off for a movie franchise that many have become attached to.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ready Player One movie review

For inSing

READY PLAYER ONE

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen
Genre : Sci-fi, action
Run Time : 2h 20m
Opens : 29 March 2018
Rating : PG13

This Easter, several faith-based films are being released, including I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ. This movie is about an Easter Egg hunt of epic proportions, with none other than Steven Spielberg as our guide.

It is 2045, and teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in ‘the Stacks’, a shantytown outside Columbus, Ohio. Like millions of other people around the world, he escapes the drudgery of life by entering a virtual reality realm known as the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), where he is known as Parzival. His best friend within the sprawling game is Aech (Lena Waithe), who runs a virtual garage.

James Donovan Halliday (Mark Rylance), who created the OASIS with his former partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), has passed away. Halliday has created an Easter Egg hunt – the Easter Egg Hunter (Gunter for short) who finds three keys will inherit Halliday’s fortune of half a trillion dollars, and full control of the OASIS. Wade teams up with Aech, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki) to complete this epic quest.

Their main opponent: the Sixers, an army of Gunters indentured to Innovative Online Industries (IOI). The company’s greedy CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has effectively enslaved players indebted to the company and wants control of the OASIS himself. It’s up to Parzival and company to beat Sorrento to the prize.

Ready Player One is based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline. This is the ultimate geek power fantasy – what if one’s knowledge of pop culture ephemera could actually be used to gain a fortune and save the world?

At its heart, this is a hero’s journey, and the mechanics of the plot are not unlike that of many Young Adult novels with ‘chosen one’ plots. What makes Ready Player One more than the sum of its innumerable references is director Spielberg. Working from a screenplay adapted by Cline and Zak Penn, Spielberg infuses the film with energy, wide-eyed imagination and sheer awe-inspiring spectacle.

Spielberg works in one of two modes: ‘fun Spielberg’ and ‘serious Spielberg’. We saw ‘serious Spielberg’ this past awards season with The Post. While many ‘serious Spielberg’ movies are masterpieces, this reviewer always prefers ‘fun Spielberg’. The self-confessed video game enthusiast gets to indulge his inner gamer, fashioning a dizzying virtual world bursting with detail and lots of existing characters for audiences to point at the screen and recognise.

Ready Player One comments on nostalgia, escapism, and the power of pop culture in shaping our world. Much of Spielberg’s filmography inspires nostalgia, trades in escapism, and he is one of the premiere forces in shaping modern pop culture. Spielberg omitted the overt references to his own oeuvre found in the book, fearing it would come off as too self-indulgent. It feels like no one else could have made this movie, and even over 40 years after inventing the modern blockbuster with Jaws, Spielberg’s still got it. There are times when Ready Player One feels like it’s pandering to its geek target audience, but that’s inherent in the source material. There’s a pleasure in knowing that a filmmaker as exalted as Spielberg demonstrably is a geek at heart.

Of special note among the surfeit of references is a sequence which draws heavily on Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. This is a delightful tribute to the late filmmaker, who was originally set to direct A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg took over after Kubrick’s death.

The staggering scope of the OASIS is effectively conveyed. It feels like a world which would demand nothing less than complete devotion, and it’s therefore easy to buy the idea that people’s lives have been ruined in the pursuit of credits in-game. The visual effects, supervised by Roger Guyett and supplied by vendors including ILM and Digital Domain, are expansive and astounding. Credit also goes to special projects supervisor Deidre Backs, whose job it was to clear licenses to the myriad properties referenced in the film.

Spielberg’s regular composer John Williams dropped out of scoring this film to work on The Post. In his stead is Alan Silvestri, who seems like the best possible replacement for Williams. Silvestri pays homage to his iconic score for Back to the Future with rousing, melodic music.

The characters are all archetypical, but because of the storytelling device of the video game, that’s more than justified. Tye Sheridan’s Wade is a sometimes-dopey geek, a nobody in the real world but a somebody in the OASIS. He’s very much a wish fulfilment figure, but Sheridan is never annoying in the role.

Cooke’s Art3mis is a typical action girl, and the attempt at portraying the vulnerabilities that lie beneath that surface are sometimes clumsy. Cooke is poised to be the next big thing and is often more interesting than Sheridan. The romance is almost absurdly underdeveloped, undercutting Art3mis’ agency in the story somewhat.

Waithe is fun as the stock best friend character, while the two Asian characters seem to be only there so they can do martial arts. The supporting characters don’t get too much development, but that’s a function of the structure, so it’s easy to forgive.

Mendelsohn has found a niche playing middle management supervillains, and Sorrento is squarely in his wheelhouse.  It’s an entertainingly smarmy performance that’s the right side of hammy.

Rylance, Spielberg’s new muse, delivers a deeply affecting performance as misunderstood genius Halliday, who displays traits of Asperger’s syndrome. There’s a Steve Jobs-Steve Wozniak-type dynamic between Halliday and Og, which the film doesn’t quite have the space to flesh out but is compelling based on the little we see of it. This reviewer would love to see a prequel just about Halliday and Og developing the OASIS.

Ready Player One might feel intimidating to those who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool pop culture connoisseurs, but even if one doesn’t get all or even half of the references, there’s plenty to enjoy in seeing a master of the blockbuster work his magic on a massive canvas.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jedd Jong

Last Days in the Desert

For F*** Magazine

LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT

Director : Rodrigo García
Cast : Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ayelet Zurer, Ciarán Hinds
Run Time : 1 hr 38 mins
Opens : 23 June 2016
Rating : M18 (Some Nudity)

There was a meme going around a while back, of a framed photograph atop an altar of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Attack of the Clones, the idea being that some old lady thought it was a picture of Jesus Christ. Here, McGregor actually plays Jesus, referred to as “Yeshua”. This film imagines an incident during Jesus’ sojourn to the desert, during which He was tempted by the Devil (also McGregor). Jesus comes across a family living in the desert, comprising an unnamed Father (Hinds), a sickly Mother (Zurer) and their son (Sheridan). The Devil poses a challenge to Jesus, wagering that the Son of God will not be able to find a solution that will please each member of the family. Jesus stays as a guest of the family, helping them out with a construction project, while wrestling with the Devil, Father God seemingly millions of miles away.



            Writer-director Rodrigo García has repeatedly clarified that this not your run of the mill Biblical epic, and is instead an intimate drama and character study. The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert is told in three of the four gospels, and Christians will be familiar with how Jesus refuted each of Satan’s challenges to Him by quoting from the scripture. This film departs from tradition, but also does not feel like it’s courting controversy for the, uh, hell of it. García explained his decision to refer to Jesus as “Yeshua”, which is the original pronunciation, in an interview with Christianity Today. “I wrote a few pages in which I called Him ‘Jesus’, but when you’re writing a screenplay and it says ‘Jesus walks, Jesus says,’ after a while, the weight of the name is paralyzing,” García said.

            There are individual elements to García’s approach that are intriguing, but as a whole, the film often comes off as aimless and meandering. If it was his intention to make the audience feel like they’re spending 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness alongside Jesus, then García has succeeded. All things considered, the 108-minute running time is not particularly long, but even then, this feels interminable at times. It seems like three or four good ideas are spaced out, with a vast void in between. The Oscar-winning Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is the cinematographer here, but it is a dull movie to look at, the desolate surroundings about as dull as one imagines the average desert to look. The film was shot on location in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the Colorado Desert of Southern California, and it might sound silly, but for this reviewer at least, the knowledge that this was filmed in the United States did rob the movie of some authenticity.

            Speaking of authenticity, this is yet another Hollywood film in which a white man is cast as Jesus. We don’t want to harp about issues of race and sure, there’s always room for poetic license, but especially with an actor who feels as contemporary as Tye Sheridan running about, it’s very hard to take this very seriously as a film set in Ancient Israel. That said, McGregor does face the myriad challenges in portraying the iconic religious figure head-on. There’s enough of a humanity to Jesus and at one point, He even laughs at a fart joke, but McGregor’s portrayal does have an undercurrent of reverence to it.



One of the smartest ideas on display is that of having McGregor play the dual roles of Jesus and His tormentor Satan. A conversation they have about the nature of God is the closest the film gets to any real theological insight. For a movie that wants so much to depart from tradition though, it seems a cliché that Satan wears jewellery as a way to differentiate him from Jesus; that the bad guy has to be coded as flamboyant. The visual effects work in duplicating McGregor is seamless and one does forget that there aren’t two Ewan McGregors after a while.

            On one level, this is a family drama, with the parents and their child working out their issues while a house guest is present. Hinds’ Father is a realist, a practical man who has his doubts about issues of faith, but does not dismiss the holy man outright. The struggles of a father in understanding his son are very relatable. Sheridan shares some genuinely affecting moments in which the son bonds with Jesus, but as alluded to earlier, he’s ultimately too American to be believable in this setting. The mother is ill for most of the film, so Zurer has less to do compared to Hinds and Sheridan, but the character’s pain still resonates.



            Last Days in the Desert feels more like a filmmaking experiment than a well-told story, but García is largely able to strike a balance between portraying Jesus’ humanity and deity without getting caught up in that, or blazing down a blasphemous path Last Temptation of the Christ-style. Alas, it is likely that this will induce thumb-twiddling rather than soul-searching.


Summary: Ewan McGregor shines in his dual role, but Last Days in the Desert’s loose structure and lack of narrative drive keep its audience at a distance.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong 

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

Director : Bryan Singer
Cast : James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Lucas Till, Josh Helman, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 25 mins
Opens : 19 May 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Brief Coarse Language)

The end is the beginning is the end for our ever-expanding cast of mutant heroes as they face their most insurmountable foe yet. The year is 1983 and after a millennia-long slumber, En-Sabah-Nur/Apocalypse (Isaac), the first and most powerful mutant in history, has awoken. Apocalypse goes about recruiting mutants to be his new Four Horsemen: the still-bitter Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Fassbender) is “War”, the telekinetic swordswoman Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Munn) is “Pestilence”, weather-controlling Ororo Munroe/Storm (Shipp) is “Famine” and the winged Warren Worthington III/Angel (Hardy) is “Death”.




In the meantime, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence) has become an icon to mutants everywhere following her actions in Washington D.C. ten years earlier. In her mission to free oppressed mutants, she rescues Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee), a circus performer with the ability to teleport. Among the new students in Professor Xavier’s (McAvoy) school are Scott Summers/Cyclops (Sheridan), Jean Grey/Phoenix (Turner) and Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Condor). These young, inexperienced X-Men must look up to mentors like Professor X and Hank McCoy/Beast (Hoult) for guidance, with speedster Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Peters) returning to the fray as well. Everyone will be caught in Apocalypse’s unrelenting thirst for absolute power, as the X-Men have to fight for their lives and their future.

 X-Men: Apocalypse is the ninth film in the X-Menseries, counting Deadpool from earlier this year. With the successes of both Days of Future Past and Deadpool, expectations for Apocalypse were understandably high. While there is a surfeit of wink-and-nod references for fans of the source material to lap up, Apocalypsedoes suffer from ‘sequelitis’ – it’s not an incurable case, but the symptoms are there. The 144-minute run time does mean this is bursting at the seams – if you thought there were too many characters in the earlier films, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The pacing, particularly in the front half, suffers, then the latter half of the movie almost drowns in frenetic, overwrought action sequences. The film’s reach tends to exceed its grasp, and there are so many complicated visual effects-heavy scenes that the large-scale destruction tends to feel synthetic and bereft of weight.


The central tempestuous and compelling relationship between Charles and Erik was the driving force of First Class. While this plot thread had to share screen time with many others in Days of Future Past, it was still given enough play. Here, it gets pushed to the sidelines, but director Bryan Singer seems eager to assure us that he hasn’t forgotten about it. As good as McAvoy and Fassbender are in their respective roles, most of the interaction between the two characters here seems like a re-tread, with Magneto’s character development going around in circles. Even more obvious here than in the previous film is the sense that Mystique has been pushed to the forefront to capitalise on Lawrence’s current stardom. There’s also an excuse written into the plot for why we see so little of Mystique in her scaly blue true form. Lawrence seems the tiniest bit checked out, as if she’s glad that she’s still part of a juggernaut franchise after the conclusion of the Hunger Games series, but would rather move on to something else.

When the first images of Apocalypse as depicted in this film were revealed, the comparisons to Ivan Ooze started flooding the internet. For this reviewer, the problem is not so much that the supervillain physically resembles a Power Rangers baddie, but that he acts like one. The original omnipotent mutant should be a force to be reckoned with, but Isaac’s hammy performance and some clunky snatches of dialogue prevent Apocalypse from actually being intimidating at all. It’s a shame that this unstoppable, ancient entity comes across as petulant and unintentionally funny.


Quicksilver stole the show with the slow-mo kitchen sequence in Days of Future Past, and there’s a generally decent attempt to recreate that here with a set-piece set to Sweet Dreams Are Made of This. It’s too bad that it can’t help but feel like a desperate attempt to bump a breakout character up the roster. The younger versions of Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler are generally fine – this reviewer particularly enjoyed McPhee’s turn as the sensitive, easily-startled and good-hearted Kurt. Fans of the X-Men: Evolution animated series will probably enjoy what is the closest we’ve come to a live-action version of that show, in the moments when the recruits are hanging out. And yes, the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cameo is a hoot.

In between all of this, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg find the time to make a particularly nasty dig at X-Men: The Last Stand, in a line of dialogue uttered by Jean as she, Scott and Jubilation are leaving the theatre after watching Return of the Jedi. Sure, The Last Stand’s flaws have been consistently acknowledged and Days of Future Past exists predominantly to wipe it off the slate, but perhaps Singer and company shouldn’t be so smug. There’s less room for the character dynamics to breathe, the action is more generic and less inventive, and at times the large ensemble comes across like the Rockettes performing a kick line at Radio City Music Hall. On top of all that, a major supervillain whose live-action debut has been highly anticipated is disappointingly realised. Here’s hoping this is a momentary stumble, because if the post-credits scene is anything to go by, there’s more to come.



Summary: X-Men: Apocalypse has its entertaining moments and there’s no shortage of things for eagle-eyed fans to catch, but these are generally drowned out by loud, generic action and an overstuffed cast.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

For F*** Magazine

SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

Director : Christopher Landon
Cast : Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joseph Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner, Halston Sage, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Cloris Leachman, Niki Koss, Blake Anderson
Genre : Comedy/Horror
Run Time : 93 mins
Opens : 12 November 2015
Rating : M18 (Nudity and Violence)

Simple guidelines for any scout to follow in case of a zombie outbreak: be prepared in body, be prepared in mind and try to keep said mind from being devoured when the undead invade. In this horror comedy, Ben (Sheridan) and his friend Carter (Miller) are tired of being scouts, earning the mockery of their peers. Scout Leader Rogers (Koechner), clearly already dead inside, is the leader of their little group. The only reason they’re still scouts is to humour their friend Augie (Morgan). During a camp out, Carter convinces Ben to ditch Augie to head for a secret party which all the cool kids, including Carter’s sister Kendall (Sage) and jock Jeff (Schwarzenegger), are attending. On their way to the party, Ben and Carter realise something is amiss, when they’re attacked by hordes of zombies following an accident at a genetics lab. Strip club waitress Denise (Dumont), handy with a shotgun, helps get Carter, Ben and Augie to safety as they fight for their lives against the savage infected.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is one of those movies where you know what you’re getting into based on the title: there’ll be wanton goofiness, lots of gooey viscera and gratuitous nudity for good measure. Director/co-writer Christopher Landon, who’s penned multiple Paranormal Activity films and directed one, turns his attention to a more gleefully exploitative brand of horror, reminiscent of the low-budget splatter flicks of the 80s. However, the fact that Scouts Guide isn’t aiming particularly high doesn’t mean it’s exempt from criticism for stooping so low. Aimed squarely at easily-amused, libidinous, and perhaps not especially bright teenagers, the movie is painfully lowbrow and often vulgar, packed with gross-out gags that are intended to be shocking but come off as awkwardly unfunny instead. Interestingly, co-writers Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuki wrote the very G-rated College Road Trip, and Scouts Guide was initially conceived as a kid-friendly PG-13 film. It’s quite possible it would have been even worse.

The way that Scouts Guide panders to its intended demographic is extremely cynical, in a flailing “hey, this is what the teenagers wanna see, right?” sort of way. We’re certainly not asking for high art, and this reviewer will admit that he was amused by a bizarre scene in which someone sings a Britney Spears ditty with a zombie, but being constantly pelted with crass silliness isn’t our idea of a good time. There is no invention, no reworking the formula, no witty commentary, just lazy regurgitation of the type of violence and sex you’d try to get a get a glimpse of behind your parents’ back. The most worthwhile element of the film is the old-fashioned, tactile and supremely gory makeup effects, devised by Tony Gardner. Gardner was nominated for an Oscar for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and his first professional gig was assisting Rick Baker on the set of the Thriller music video, so he brings some pedigree to the otherwise embarrassing enterprise.

Sheridan is earnest in as bland as possible a manner, playing the straight-arrow default leader protagonist. This suggests he’ll do just fine as Cyclops in next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Miller plays the stereotype to the hilt as the slacker best friend, coming off far more annoying than funny at every turn. Morgan, who’s supposed the put-upon loser who tags along in films of this sort, does manage to be sympathetic. Dumont’s Denise is this idealised fantasy girl, plucky, badass and smoking hot. It’s empowerment as envisioned by a 13 year old – Dumont spends the whole movie in a tight white tank top and tiny denim shorts as the camera leers. Dumont doesn’t quite have the chops to pull it off, but at least she looks like she’s having fun. Patrick Schwarzenegger, scion of Arnold, is a passable condescending jock. Koechner had more to do in Piranha 3DD and we’ve got to feel sorry for American national treasure Cloris Leachman. The 89-year-old veteran actress really didn’t have to say yes to this dreck, but at least she’s sporting.

There is a place in the cinematic firmament for dumb movies packed with blood, guts and boobs to cater to post-pubescent male audiences, but they don’t have to be quite as pointless as this. Zombieland treaded similar territory, albeit with more wit and verve. The animated film ParaNorman, with its gang of kids battling a zombie uprising, was far funnier and managed to be genuinely poignant without pandering to the basest instincts. If you’re a gore-hound, the grisly effects work will hold your interest, but you’ll have seen it done better elsewhere. If you go in for juvenile gross-out gags and excessive ribaldry, then we’re not stopping you from leaving your brain (and any sense of taste) at the door.        

Summary: This sophomoric horror comedy panders to the lowest common denominator instead of displaying any genuine affection for or clever self-awareness of the genre.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Dark Places

For F*** Magazine

DARK PLACES

Director : Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Cast : Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, Sterling Jerins, Corey Stoll, Tye Sheridan, Chloë Grace Moretz
Genre : Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 2 July 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Coarse Language and Drug Use)
Old wounds are reopened and dark corners of the past are illuminated in this gloomy mystery thriller. Libby Day (Theron as an adult, Jerins as a child) is the sole survivor of a horrific, possibly cult-related killing in the small town of Kinnakee, Kansas that claimed the lives of her mother and sister. She testifies against her brother Ben (Stoll as an adult, Sheridan as a child), who has spent the last 28 years in prison. Strapped for cash, Libby agrees to entertain the request of amateur detective Lyle Wirth (Hoult), a member of the “Kill Club”, a collective of true crime enthusiasts. Lyle believes that Ben was innocent and drawing Libby into his investigation, terrible secrets and painful memories are brought into the light.




            Dark Places is based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. Adapting the dense, plot-heavy book into a two hour film is a daunting task that writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner gamely tackles, but he ultimately lacks the finesse that David Fincher displayed with his adaptation of Gone Girl. The two works share certain similar themes, chief of which is the role that the mass media and public fascination plays in criminal cases. Libby is shown cynically living off the goodwill of charitable donations made out of pity, attempting to milk her own tragedy for personal gain not because she’s a terrible person, but just because it’s a relatively easy way to support herself. There is also some commentary on the so-called “Satanic Panic” that swept the United States in the 80s.


            The central case in the film, with its “small town with big secrets” intrigue, teenagers enacting dark rituals, the protagonist’s withdrawn older brother and his unstable much younger girlfriend ends up being not quite as interesting as it sounds. At the end of the day, even given the twists and turns and the emotional impact of it all, the plot feels like it might be something seen in a procedural television series like Cold Case or Without a Trace. The structure, which unfolds via lengthy flashbacks, is sometimes clumsily handled, especially during the tense climactic confrontation which feels like it has its momentum undercut.


            Charlize Theron brings a haunted, world-weary quality to Libby, calling upon her own personal childhood trauma to play the role. Like Libby, Theron grew up on a farm, and she witnessed her alcoholic father attack her mother, Theron’s mother shooting and killing her father in self-defence. Here, she is low-key and serious but one can’t help but feel she’s miscast. As good an actress as Theron is, she cannot fully pass for someone who grew up in the American Midwest, lacking the earthiness the character needs. Amy Adams, who was originally set to play Libby but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, seems like she would be a better choice. Christina Hendricks, who plays Libby’s mother Patty in the flashback sequences, is fine as a single mother at the end of her rope but her performance is ultimately somewhat unmemorable.


            Playing the earnest “kid detective” archetype, Nicholas Hoult is plenty likeable and Mad Max fans will get to see Furiosa and Nux reunite under some very unlikely circumstances. The younger actors are good but not great; they have to carry a considerable amount of emotional heft in the flashback sequences and the strain on them does show through. Chloë Grace Moretz, arguably the main star draw besides Theron, does have fun playing Diondra, a troubled, wayward “bad girl” who might or might not be pregnant with Ben’s child. Unfortunately, she does tend to go over the top, which is jarring even given that it’s not a subtle part.


            Dark Places is atmospheric and appropriately grim and its female protagonist is a multi-faceted character, but the end result is mostly mundane. Judging from the film posters and trailers, the main selling point here seems to be the association with Gone Girl, and while there are similarities, Dark Places is a far more straightforward affair and lacks the many gut-punching moments that made Gone Girl so spellbinding.
Summary: Dark Places is led by a capable but miscast Charlize Theron and ends up being a grim mystery thriller than doesn’t pack as many surprises as it promises to.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong