Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Revenant

For F*** Magazine

THE REVENANT 

Director : Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast : Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 2 hrs 36 mins
Opens : 4 February 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene and Violence)

The untamed wilderness has never been wilder and more untamed than in this survival epic. It is 1823 in the uncharted Louisiana Purchase and a party of fur trappers led by Andrew Henry (Gleeson) is hunting for pelts. The group is ambushed by the Arikara Native Americans and many of their number are killed. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a hunter familiar with the terrain of the area, recommends a path through the forest for the survivors to take. John Fitzgerald (Hardy) is antagonistic towards Glass and his half-Pawnee Native American son Hawk (Goodluck). Angry about having to abandon the valuable pelts, Fitzgerald betrays Glass and leaves him for dead after Glass is severely mauled by a bear. Fitzgerald tricks the young trapper Jim Bridger (Poulter), who has volunteered to stay behind and tend to Glass, into going along with his plan. Glass claws his way out of a shallow grave, navigating the harsh landscape in search of shelter and vengeance against Fitzgerald.


            The Revenant is based on Michael Punke’s 2002 historical novel of the same name, which in turn drew on the true story of Hugh Glass. The Revenant will go down in film history has having one of the most arduous shoots ever, with the crew deeming the production process a “living hell”. They had to contend with below-freezing temperatures, director Iñárritu’s preference for shooting the film in chronological order and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s insistence on only using natural light, be it from the sun or a campfire. In addition, the lack of snow in the Canadian locations resulted in the whole crew picking up sticks and relocating to Argentina. The shoot went over schedule and Hardy had to drop out of Suicide Squad because of it. Defending his decisions and saying he “has nothing to hide,” Iñárritu told the Hollywood Reporter “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s***.”


            So, was all of that worth it? Short answer: yes. The Revenant is not a story with particularly inventive twists and turns, but even though most audiences would have a general idea of how the story will progress even without prior knowledge of Hugh Glass, it’s very easy to get invested in this yarn. Iñárritu reels the audience in and doesn’t let go, one can almost feel the film’s grip tighten. Wide panoramas of mountain ridges and roaring rivers are contrasted with extreme tight close-ups of bloodied and bruised characters gritting their teeth. Lubezki serves ups beauty without a hint of artificial polish, uncompromising, raw and majestic. Much has been made of the brutal scenarios depicted in the film, but Iñárritu uses the violence such that the audience doesn’t get too comfortable in their plush multiplex seats, and he never gleefully revels in the gore the way Tarantino does. The wince-inducing moments are numerous, as impactful as they are bracing.


            DiCaprio has yet to win an Oscar. That’s the meme that has been run deep into the ground. With all that he’s put himself through to play Glass, The Revenant might finally be his shot at that coveted golden statuette. He calls it the “hardest performance of his career”, and it’s easy to see why: the vegetarian actor had to devour a slab of raw bison liver, learn to fire a musket and build a fire and study the Native American languages of Pawnee and Arikara. We’ve seen heroes who cling to bitter determination against all odds before, but DiCaprio does hammer home the extent of Glass’ ordeal.


Hardy is just as good, even stealing the show from DiCaprio on occasion, as Fitzgerald. This reviewer is of the opinion that Hardy is at his best when playing aggressive, villainous characters and his portrayal of the avaricious Fitzgerald is thoroughly authentic. Gleeson is just the right pitch of noble and Poulter looks appropriately out of his element as the greenhorn Bridger. Goodluck and DiCaprio share just enough of a father-son bond, though the relationship isn’t as believable as it should be. Arthur RedCloud delivers a truly moving performance as a good Samaritan Pawnee man named Hikuc who aids Glass.


            In order to compete with the ready availability of films to watch in various formats at home, movie theatres truck out gimmicks such as 3D, IMAX, Dolby Atmos sound and D-Box motion seats, promising “immersion”. While this reviewer is often a sucker for such gimmicks, few cinematic experiences come close to offering the immersion that The Revenant does. The film certainly has its shortcomings: at 156 minutes, it is too long, though not egregiously so. It is also ultimately more gruelling than rewarding to sit through and doesn’t say anything particularly poignant about the dynamic between Native Americans and the frontiersman who came to mine North America for its natural resources. Taken as a harrowing survival odyssey, The Revenant is quite the achievement.



Summary: A primal, riveting tale of nigh-superhuman perseverance, you’ll be rooting for Leonardo DiCaprio and against Tom Hardy while taking in the splendour of the untamed wilderness and wincing at the effectively gory moments.


RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Monkey King 2 (西游记之孙悟空三打白骨精)

For F*** Magazine

THE MONKEY KING 2  (西游记之孙悟空三打白骨精)


Director : Soi Cheang Pou-soi
Cast : Aaron Kwok, Gong Li, Feng Shaofeng, Xiao Shenyang, Him Law, Kelly Chen, Kris Phillips
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 5 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Nudity)

Sun Wukong broke Chinese New Year box office records two years ago in 2014’s The Monkey King, but in-universe, 500 years have elapsed since he wreaked havoc in the heavens. The deity Guan Yin (Chen) charges Wukong (Kwok) with protecting the monk Tang Sanzang (Feng) on his voyage to retrieve ancient scriptures from a faraway monastery. Wukong is initially reluctant, and finds that he is duty-bound to guard Sanzang, “shackled” by a tiara that grips his head. Along the way, Wukong and Sanzang are joined by Zhu Bajie (Xiaoshenyang), a pig-man with a weakness for beautiful women, and Sha Wujing (Law), a strong, blue-skinned warrior. Sanzang is being pursued by Baiguzing (Gong), a demon who believes that consuming Sanzang’s flesh will grant her immortality. Our band of travellers must defeat deception, supernatural threats and overcome their own in-fighting if they’re to reach their goal.


            Wu Cheng’en’s 16th Century classic Journey to the West is comprised of 100 chapters. The first seven chapters were the basis for the 2014 film and the titular “journey” begins proper in this sequel. The Monkey King 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in that while it lacks coherence and trades in overblown bombast, it’s nowhere near as cringe-worthy as the 2014 movie. For one thing, the visual effects work has improved and the opening sequence in which Wukong blasts his way out of his mountain prison while fighting a white tiger kicks the film off on the right footing. Because more of the story takes place on an earthly plane than the “Havoc in the Heavens” of the first one, the environments are altogether less phony, with a portion of the film shot on location in New Zealand. Some of the computer-generated creatures and effects are passable if not great, but the horde of reanimated skeletons that Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing must fend off looks like they stepped out of a PlayStation 2 cutscene. It pales in comparison to the similar sequence in Jason and the Argonauts, released some 53 years ago.


            Kwok played the villainous Bull Demon King in the first film and takes over as Sun Wukong from Donnie Yen. It’s slightly odd, like if the new series of Sherlock suddenly starred Andrew Scott as Sherlock Holmes. Kwok does a fine job and even though he doesn’t have the same martial arts background as Yen, Wukong engages in a whole bunch more fighting in this one. Sammo Hung serves as the action director and for the most part, the wire-fu is neatly executed. Kwok’s take on the character is more bearable, mostly because Wukong does less wanton harassment at this point in the story.


            Gong has played many a femme fatale in her time and calls on those wiles as Baigujing. It’s not an inspired performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it works. This version gives Baigujing three sexy minions, a bat lady, a snake lady and a hyena lady. They all hang out in a lair which has the same interior designer as Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Similarly, the characterisations of Tang Sanzang, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing are pretty much how they’ve been portrayed in decades of film and TV shows. Sanzang is idealistic, well-meaning and naïve to the point of stupidity, Zhu Bajie is the comic relief and Sha Wujing is the dumb muscle. Sha Wujing is typically portrayed as just a burly dude, but is given more of an other-worldly appearance, with blue skin and bulging muscles.


            The Monkey King 2 has its entertaining moments and it doesn’t stray too far from the source material, but there’s a noticeable lull in the middle and several action sequences go on for too long without sufficiently advancing the plot. The visual effects are surprisingly competent in spots, but a significant lack of polish on the whole is still evident. An emotional sequence at the film’s conclusion is melodramatic and there’s the sense that this would-be tearful moment is not earned. It’s better than the 2014 movie, but then again, most things are.

Summary: The Monkey King 2 is an improvement on its predecessor and packs in a healthy amount of action, but the quality of the visual effects work is a very mixed bag and it’s still quite the mess overall.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Dirty Grandpa

For F*** Magazine

DIRTY GRANDPA

Director : Dan Mazer
Cast : Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Adam Pally, Jason Mantzoukas
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 28 January 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Sexual References)

You mess with the bull, you get the horns, and Robert De Niro’s a pretty darn horny (r)aging bull in this comedy. De Niro plays Dick Kelly, a retired army veteran who’s ready to let loose after his wife of 40 years passes away. Dick cons his grandson Jason (Efron), a strait-laced corporate lawyer at his dad David’s (Mulroney) firm, to drive Dick down to Daytona Beach for Spring Break. Jason is getting married next weekend and his fiancé Meredith (Hough) is constantly haranguing him about the wedding planning details. While dragged on a drunken, drug-fuelled rampage through Daytona Beach by his grandpa, Jason finds himself drawn to former classmate Shadia (Deutch). Dick has lascivious designs on Shadia’s friend Lenore (Plaza), designs that Lenore is more than happy to oblige. Over the course of their misadventures, which include running afoul of the police and a local gang, some unlikely grandfather-grandson bonding unfolds.



            It’s pretty much all there in the title Dirty Grandpa – this is a comedy built on the premise of a septuagenarian behaving badly. It’s hardly the first movie mining comedy from a dirty old man partying down; it’s practically impossible not to think of 2013’s Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa on hearing the title ‘Dirty Grandpa’. The jokes pretty much write themselves, and because of its predictability and heavy reliance on one-dimensional stock characters, Dirty Grandpa comes off as lazy and limp rather than raucously shocking. The moment certain characters show up; it feels like we’re supposed to be filling out a bingo card. “There’s the fiancé with arms akimbo, there’s the friendly local merchant who’s really a drug dealer and there’s the old army buddy who’s wasting away in a nursing home. Bingo!”


            It’s somewhat funny that De Niro and Efron are playing grandfather and grandson here, since Efron’s character in Bad Neighbours threw a De Niro-themed costumed party, dressing up as Travis Bickle. Neither De Niro nor Efron are terrible in the leading roles, mostly because there just isn’t any nuance and they don’t have to stretch themselves at all. Beating out Michael Douglas and Jeff Bridges to the title role, De Niro does seem believably crass and grizzled, but it’s difficult to laugh along and cheer the character on when he’s as sociopathic as he is. We’re meant to root for Jason to loosen up and be less of a square, but what his grandpa seems intent on doing is essentially unravelling his whole life. It’s the day after his wife has died, and Dick exclaims “I want to f*** f*** f*** f***!” while air-thrusting. That’s not a character who’s “endearingly debauched” or deserving of the audience’s sympathy. Also, show us a guy that stereotypically uptight and that fond of sweater vests who has Zac Efron’s physique.


            The moment Hough’s Meredith shows up bugging Jason about the colour of his tie for the wedding rehearsal bunch and similar minutiae, it’s obvious that we’re meant to root for the couple to break up before the end of the film. Sure enough, a rival for Jason’s affections arrives in the form of Deutch’s Shadia, a conservationist who hangs out with hippies. Deutch’s ethereal beauty suits the role and an awkward/romantic karaoke duet will bring on the High School Musical flashbacks big-time. While Plaza is better known for her droll, sardonic humour, she’s still pretty funny as the overtly libidinous, promiscuous Lenore, whom it seems will stop at nothing to sleep with Dick. The thought of Aubrey Plaza and Robert De Niro getting it on is supposed to be so knee-slappingly hilarious that a disproportionate number of jokes are derived from it. It’s not “gross, ha ha!” It’s just “gross”.



             Dirty Grandpa lives up to its title in that seeing Robert De Niro drool over college-aged girls for two hours might well make you want to take a long shower. Even then, it doesn’t push the boundaries of R-rated comedy, there’s nothing inventively out there or that hasn’t been done by similar movies before. By the time the sappy acoustic guitar music plays as Dick and his grandson have a heartfelt chat about Dick’s mortality, Dirty Grandpa certainly hasn’t earned the right to try pulling on any heartstrings.

Summary: Crass, tired and always going for the most obvious joke, Dirty Grandpa is an old dog desperately in need of learning some new tricks.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

            

The Boy

For F*** Magazine

THE BOY 


Director : William Brent Bell
Cast : Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 98 mins
Opens : 28 January 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Creepy kids and creepy dolls have both been horror movie mainstays, so why not combine the two? In this thriller, Greta Evans (Cohan) is hired by the wealthy, elderly Heelshires (Norton and Hardcastle) to be a nanny to their son, Brahms. Greta arrives at the Gothic Heelshire estate in a remote English village, where she discovers that the child she will be looking after is in fact a life-sized porcelain doll. Malcolm (Evans), the grocery delivery man, explains that the Heelshires treat the doll as if it were actually alive as a way of coping with the death of their son over 20 years ago. Greta finds it odd of course, but the gig pays well enough. As several eerie occurrences transpire, Greta begins to fear that the doll is haunted by the spirit of the real Brahms.




            The Boy is basically an unspooling of a laundry list of well-worn horror tropes. There’s a creepy old house, creepy old people, a creepy doll, a protagonist escaping a dark past of some description and more than a few jump scares. Director William Brent Bell’s 2012 film The Devil Inside is infamous for its infuriating cop-out of an ending. While The Boy isn’t quite as frustrating, its straight-faced re-treading of territory that should be very familiar to any horror movie fan borders on self-parody. Bell strains so hard to establish a foreboding atmosphere, with shots that linger on stone angels and taxidermy animal heads, as Bear McCreary’s ominous musical score looms and lunges. The Boy never passes up a single opportunity to remind the audience that they’re watching a horror movie, coming across as self-conscious instead of authentically unnerving.


            Cohan is a watchable actress, but she seems more suited to tough, ass-kicker-type roles, particularly since she’s best known as Maggie on The Walking Dead. Greta is a very old-fashioned horror movie leading lady, right down to walking down a dark corridor, holding a candle, clad in wispy nightgown. The way the character is presented is another aspect of the film that makes it seem like it might be a parody, as if we’ll be hit with a radical, Cabin in the Woods-type deconstruction at any moment. Alas, this doesn’t happen. There are multiple moments when Greta should realise she’s in a predicament straight out a horror movie and hightail it out of there; the explanations as to why she doesn’t aren’t quite convincing. Evans is the charming if bland guy who provides the only semblance of normalcy in Greta’s new existence, while Hardcastle plays up the frigid, well-to-do old lady archetype to an almost laughable extent.



            There is a degree of intrigue to the question of whether something supernatural is at work or it’s all in Greta’s head, though the final reveal is markedly underwhelming. Special effects makeup artist Todd Masters created a very unsettling doll for the film, which should be half the battle won. We get a couple of decent scares, but those are offset by how formulaic it is on the whole. There is an archness to the proceedings and we can see what Bell is aiming for, which is at least sufficiently different from the cheap found footage horror movies that are currently all the rage. That the film seems to be frantically waving its arms, yelling “this is scary, isn’t it?” during every other scene makes it less effective than it could’ve been.

Summary: The Boy relies too much on genre shorthand to be genuinely scary, in addition to giving leading lady Lauren Cohan nothing too interesting to do.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars


Jedd Jong 

The Dressmaker

For F*** Magazine

THE DRESSMAKER

Director : Jocelyn Moorhouse
Cast : Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Sacha Horler
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 28 January 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Some Sexual References)

Revenge never goes out style in this dark comedy-drama. It is 1951 and after a long absence, Mrytle “Tilly” Dunnage returns to her hometown of Dungatar in the Australian outback to care for her ailing mother Molly (Davis). Tilly was accused of murder at the age of 10 and was exiled from the town. In the intervening years, she has become an expert designer and seamstress, having worked in Europe for high fashion houses such as Balenciaga. Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth), a childhood friend, goes about romancing Tilly, though all the other residents of Dungatar regard her with suspicion. After Tilly helps general store clerk Gertrude Pratt (Snook) undergo a dramatic makeover, the women of the town become infatuated with Tilly’s couture creations. With the help of flamboyant police Sergeant Horatio Farrat (Weaving), Tilly uncovers the truth behind what happened all those years ago and enacts her vengeance on the townsfolk.

            The Dressmaker is adapted from Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel of the same name. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse co-wrote the script with her husband P.J. Hogan; a film version seeing the light of day after an earlier attempt in the mid-2000s fell through. A cursory glance at the title or poster might mislead one to believe that this is a run of the mill chick flick. For better or worse (mostly worse), The Dressmaker isn’t. Beneath the surface of immaculately-tailored dresses, an unsettling nastiness is bubbling over and The Dressmaker has quite the caustic edge. It’s a twisted tale of small town revenge that feels more like an askew Western than it does a period countryside romance. Moorhouse herself describes it as “Unforgiven with a sewing machine”.


            The Dressmaker is refreshing in how different it is, but it is also vexingly difficult to place. There are wild tonal inconsistencies: this is a film where a woman trips over a poofy skirt as she tries to keep her fiancé from seeing her in an embarrassing get-up, a policeman drapes himself in pink fabric and traipses about to the Flower Duet from Lakmé and someone’s anterior tibial artery gets severed. Moorhouse’s fearlessness in going full-tilt weird is alternately novel and off-putting. The odd combination of broad slapstick and some shockingly dark moments makes it difficult to get involved in the story, the overall effect vaguely alienating.

            Winslet as Tilly is inspired casting and her performance anchors the sometimes-shaky film that surrounds her. Her turn as an old-school femme fatale with revenge on the brain is pitch-perfect and she has poise to spare as she struts about in an array of striking ensembles created by costume designer Margot Wilson. It is heightened and exaggerated, as the rest of the movie is, but Winslet manages to find some nuance here. Davis is captivating as Tilly’s dementia-addled mother, who seems at first to be little more than a crotchety old lady who’s not altogether there, but eventually emerges as a complex, sympathetic figure. Davis imbues the movie with genuine pathos – there are raw emotional moments which feel out of place given the absurdity of it all, but Davis makes them work.


            Hemsworth fares considerably worse as Teddy, the rugged, dashing farmboy. While he does provide a good amount of eye candy, he’s completely mismatched with Winslet, the burgeoning relationship unconvincing as a result. Teddy is also supposed to be around the same age as Tilly. Hemsworth is 25 and Winslet is 40; it just doesn’t work onscreen. Weaving is quite delightful in a colourful supporting role, his cross-dressing Sergeant Farrat possibly having an even greater penchant for quality women’s wear than Anthony “Tick” Belrose did in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. A number of Australian actresses including Sarah Snook, Sacha Horler, Alison Whyte and Julia Blake help populate Dungatar with the peculiar people who call the town home.



            The Dressmaker is an odd bird, a costume comedy-drama dipped in acid. Its third act is especially bleak, and that’s when everything comes unstitched. Director Moorhouse brings a great deal of style to the proceedings and this is a distinct approach to the source material, but The Dressmaker is too inconsistent and tonally confused to work.

Summary: While Kate Winslet shines in the title role, The Dressmaker’s peculiar, unpalatable sensibilities make it a poor fit.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Steve Jobs


STEVE JOBS 


Director : Danny Boyle
Cast : Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss
Genre : Drama
Run time: 122 minutes
Singapore theatrical release currently unscheduled

Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin take us on a journey to the core of the Apple in this biopic. The film dives into the frantic lead-up to three key product launches during the career of tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs (Fassbender). In 1984, Jobs and marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Winslet) labour over the demonstration of the Apple Macintosh. In the meantime, Jobs brushes off his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Waterston), denying that he fathered Chrisann’s daughter Lisa (Moss, Sobo and Haney-Jardine at different ages). In 1988, Jobs attempts to get the NeXT computer off the ground after being ousted from Apple by CEO John Sculley (Daniels). The final act of the film skips ahead ten years to the unveiling of the iMac in 1998. Across the three segments, we also see Jobs’ interactions with his close collaborator Steve Wozniak (Rogen), member of the original Mac team Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) and GQ journalist Joel Pforzheimer (John Ortiz).


            When Aaron Sorkin writes a movie, it’s immediately known as an “Aaron Sorkin movie”, regardless of however prolific the director is. Steve Jobs sees Danny Boyle take on Sorkin’s screenplay, imbuing what could very well be a stage play with considerable vim and verve. Boyle has never shied away from experimenting with style and Steve Jobs’ visual dynamism complements the wit of the script. Boyle and cinematographer Alwin Küchler shot each act in different film formats: 16mm for 1984, 35mm for 1988, and digital for 1998, with the look of each segment reflecting the gradual evolution of Jobs’ own style. Likewise, Daniel Pemberton’s score employs analog synthesisers for the 1984 segment, an orchestra for the 1988 segment and digitally-produced tracks made on an iMac for the 1998 act. There are conscious stylistic choices running through the film which enhance and reinforce the firecracker dialogue to string the three distinct acts into a holistic piece.


Sorkin’s hook is that instead of giving an overview of Jobs’ whole life, the film offers snapshots of it. The clear-cut three act structure (or a symphony in three movements, if one prefers) is a gambit that pays off. While it might be frustrating that only these specific events are given focus and that the film concludes a fair bit before the iPod or iPhone happened, the interpersonal drama is constructed with admirable intricacy. Naturally, Boyle and Sorkin take a considerable amount of artistic license and many of the incidents depicted in the film have been invented out of whole cloth. Sorkin said of the lines he wrote, “If any of them are real, it’s a remarkable coincidence.” However, because of how trippingly on the tongue all that Sorkinese is delivered, there is nary a moment for the audience to sit back and pick apart the inaccuracies.


Fassbender has been garnering deserved Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Jobs. While many leading men that Hollywood has attempted to foist on us in recent years are blandly handsome and lacking in screen presence, Fassbender is the master of magnetism. His lack of physical resemblance to Jobs is compensated by a bravura intensity and confidence which draws the audience in no matter how utterly unlikeable the character gets and how many tantrums he throws. This is a markedly different character from Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Mark Zuckerberg in the earlier Sorkin-penned tech icon biopic The Social Network. Both screenplays are Sorkin pieces through and through, and it is fun to parse the similarities and differences. Despite the sheer strength of Fassbender’s portrayal, this reviewer couldn’t help but imagine what Christian Bale, who was attached to the project in its earliest stages, could have done with the part.


The film quickly establishes that it takes someone with an iron constitution to not only tolerate being around Jobs but to regularly stand up to him, and Winslet conveys exactly this with her portrayal of Joanna Hoffman. Winslet spent time with the real Hoffman to capture her mannerisms and she nails the slight Polish accent – her work with the dialect is better than Fassbender’s.  When she or any other character goes toe-to-toe with Jobs, it’s like watching a sparring match. Rogen has memorably stated that he “won’t ruin your fancy drama” and while the role of Steve Wozniak is not exactly the acting challenge playing Jobs is, Rogen is personable and the ideal counterpoint to Fassbender’s performance. Daniels’ performance as the mentor figure who eventually has a falling out with Jobs has considerable emotional impact in spite of the relatively small size of the role.


Steve Jobs is not a hagiography because its subject is not a saint. It’s not blind hero worship because its subject is not exactly a hero. If anything, several of the real-life figures portrayed in the film have come forward to say Jobs was nicer than written and portrayed in the film. The film does get it across that Jobs was driven and immensely passionate. The opening archival footage of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke standing in a room occupied by one massive computer from the late 60s as he predicts that personal computers will one day be as ubiquitous as telephones does put Jobs’ vision of a “computer for the rest of us” and Apple’s eventual realisation of said vision in perspective.


            Biographical dramas, particularly those calibrated for awards season consideration, can often be stodgy affairs. Steve Jobs practically cartwheels across the screen – it’s an exhilarating experience and it’s fun to soak in all those quotable, razor-sharp lines and momentarily feel smarter by osmosis. There are certain conflicts that feel a mite overblown and the ending is somewhat schmaltzy in spite of Sorkin’s and Boyle’s best efforts, but Steve Jobs succeeds as an insightful, unconventional character study that is enthralling throughout.

Summary: Factual inaccuracies are smoothed over with mesmerizing performances, electrifying direction and whip-smart storytelling in this unconventional and beautifully crafted biopic.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars


Jedd Jong 

Spotlight

For F*** Magazine

SPOTLIGHT 


Director : Thomas McCarthy
Cast : Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 128 mins
Opens : 21 January 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Mature Content)

It was 2001, and facing great opposition, one small band of intrepid reporters uncovered the truth behind a string of child sex abuse cases. Spotlight tells their story. The Boston Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Schreiber), arriving from Florida, reads a small column about a paedophile priest whom Boston’s Cardinal Law was aware of and yet did nothing to stop him. Baron assigns journalist Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton) and his team to go after what appears to be a much larger story. Alongside Robinson, Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeifer (McAdams), Ben Bradlee Jr. (Slattery) and Matt Carroll (James) comprise the Spotlight team, the oldest newspaper investigative unit still active in the United States. Because of the sensitive nature of the case and how strongly institutional Catholicism figures in the city of Boston, the Spotlight team faces an uphill battle in illuminating the sobering, horrifying truth of the pattern of abuse that has been perpetuated by the city’s priests.


            Directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight has emerged among the stronger contenders of the 2015-2016 awards race, premiering to “sustained applause” at the Venice Film Festival. As moviegoers, we’re used to seeing fearless, heroic reporters ducking out of the gun sights of assassins or going toe to toe with Lex Luthor, getting rescued by Superman at the last moment. Spotlight presents a portrait of real-life reporters and the good that they’re capable of doing. It’s a cinematic embodiment of journalistic integrity and a measured, objective handling of a potentially provocative topic. There’s nary a whiff of embellishment and McCarthy avoids a vulgar, sensationalistic approach to the subject matter at every turn. As the cliché goes, this is a movie about “men and women just doing their jobs”, and the realism and credibility McCarthy brings to the film is just the right way to celebrate the accomplishments of the Spotlight team.


            There’s a nobility and a worthiness to the story being told, of course, but seeing reporters standing around the bullpen comparing notes doesn’t exactly scream excitement. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who also lensed the Boston-set Black Mass, adds just the right amount of dynamism to the proceedings while restraining from distracting flashiness. There is a clarity to the progression of the story in the sequence of events without it getting too dry. At the same time, Spotlight never loses sight of the human toll of the case. A cleverly-edited sequence which intercuts Pfeifer and Rezendes interviewing two very different victims conveys how many young lives were affected by the scandal without descending into hokey sentimentality.


            Spotlight boasts a luminous ensemble cast who breathe life into unglamorous unsung heroes. Keaton doesn’t get as juicy a part as in the earlier award season darling Birdman, but is still able to bring a charisma to the role of the Spotlight team’s fearless leader. Schreiber’s Marty Baron is the outsider that is desperately needed to examine and evaluate the situation from a distance and without his impetus, the investigation probably wouldn’t have happened, or would at least have been significantly delayed. As a reporter who’s less of the plucky Lois Lane archetype she portrayed in State of Play, McAdams gets some excellent scenes where Pfeifer has to maintain her composure in difficult confrontations with victims and perpetrators alike.  Ruffalo is the stand-out as the dedicated, passionate, somewhat awkward Rezendes. He mostly plays opposite Tucci’s Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing the victims. Garabedian is prickly and suffers no fools, but is ultimately well-meaning. Michael Cyril Creighton and Neal Huff both turn in affecting performances as but two of the many victims traumatised in their youth.


            A level-headed telling of the events that’s not out to shock or function as a smear piece, Spotlight offers great insight into the way investigative reporters conduct their inquiries and the positive impact that their work can have. Sure, the quiet, even-handed approach favoured by McCarthy may sacrifice superficial excitement, but Spotlight’s lack of self-conscious prestige picture artifice is refreshing. Spotlight is more concerned with lauding the Boston Globe journalists than delivering a searing takedown of the Roman Catholic Church, which is just as well. Pragmatic without being detached, compelling without being heavy-handed, Spotlight’s unassuming nature is the ideal reflection of the work ethic displayed by the journalists it is about.

Summary: This account of the Spotlight team’s investigation into the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston is concise, fair, dignified and respectful, brought to life by a powerhouse cast.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars


Jedd Jong