Thursday, May 14, 2015

Maggie

For F*** Magazine

MAGGIE

Director : Henry Hobson
Cast : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 8 May 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Disturbing Scenes)



            Arnold Schwarzenegger has played the protective father casting a watchful eye over his daughter in many an action flick. In this horror drama, he plays Wade Vogel, a Papa Wolf of a different stripe. Wade’s daughter Maggie (Breslin) is among the victims of an epidemic, infected by a virus that slowly turns its host into cannibalistic zombies. Maggie, her father and her stepmother Caroline (Richardson) live in fear of “the turn”, the point in the disease’s incubation period from which there is no coming back. As Maggie struggles with the illness and the impact her condition has on those she holds dear, Wade stands steadfast by his daughter’s side.



            Coming off like an alternate universe collaboration between Jodi Picoult and George A. Romero, Maggie takes a zombie outbreak and spins this horror trope into a terminal illness drama. John Scott 3’s screenplay landed on the 2011 Black List of most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood and it’s easy to see the appeal in the premise. However, Maggie often gets caught up in said premise, unable to transcend the concept itself to be truly affecting. Director Henry Hobson takes great pains to establish the situation and portray the epidemic as a credible threat, but seeing how ingrained a particular interpretation of zombies are in popular culture, it will be difficult for audiences to break free of the perception of zombies as mindless, shambling monsters and even harder for them to reconcile that with tender family drama.


            Those whose lives have been affected by terminal illness directly or otherwise will certainly be able to relate to many of the heart-rending scenarios presented in Maggie. We applaud the allegorical approach and this isn’t the first story to put a spin on the zombie formula – World War Z (the book far more so than the film) was a socio-political satire set against a global zombie outbreak. Maggie takes the premise very seriously, devoid of self-reflexive winks at the audience, and is earnest to a fault. There is always the danger that the inherent absurdity of a weepy zombie flick will negate the emotional beats, Maggie occasionally painting itself into this corner. The film is also very much a slow burn, drifting from scene to scene in an episodic fashion. Even though there are disturbing moments of tension and there’s a ticking clock element in place, Maggie often lacks a crucial urgency.


            The cast does give it their all and this does have the vibe of an indie picture that’s managed to snag a couple of big names because they were drawn to the challenge. This has been touted as a revelatory performance from Schwarzenegger, and while he is more convincingly vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him, it is difficult to completely buy the Austrian Oak as an average Midwestern dad for obvious reasons. That trademark accent is an integral part of the Schwarzenegger brand and his larger-than-life persona works against him in this film, as opposed to dovetailing into the onscreen role. The most justification this is given is the surname “Vogel”. Rather than completely becoming the character, as is the goal for any actor, Schwarzenegger’s presence calls attention to itself in spite of his best efforts. That said, it is a smart move on his part to tackle a “serious acting” role that happens to be in a genre movie.

     
       Abigail Breslin delivers a raw, moving performance, assisted by unsettling makeup effects devised by Michael Broom, Karri Farris and other talented artists. The Oscar nominee takes it as seriously as something like My Sister’s Keeper, and the turmoil within Maggie as the zombie virus tightens its grip on her is sufficiently moving. She persists in trying to live as regular a life as possible, one of the film’s best scenes set during a campfire as Maggie hangs out with her friends, clinging to whatever normalcy remains in her existence. Joely Richardson’s turn as Maggie’s stepmother Caroline is realistic, never overplaying the implication that her attitude towards Maggie’s condition differs from Wade’s because Maggie isn’t her biological daughter. That all three are believable as a family unit is testament to the level of acting skill everyone brings to the table.


            Maggie is a bold little experiment and its mashup of genres sometimes yields results, but it is ultimately less absorbing than it could’ve been. This reviewer spent much of the running time wondering “is this a horror movie that’s trying to be a drama or is this a drama with elements of horror stirred in?” This indicates that the seams are still visible. However, we’d still recommend this for horror aficionados looking for a change of pace from the usual frenzied jump scare festivals and perhaps as a gateway for audiences who aren’t big horror buffs and prefer more substantial fare.


Summary: A zombie flick that cries “heart” rather than “BRAINS!”, Maggie has its shortcomings but is worth noticing for its uniqueness.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

For F*** Magazine

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD


Director : George Miller
Cast : Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 14 May 2015
Rating : NC16 (Violence)

It’s been 30 long years, but with the fourth instalment of the Mad Max franchise finally seeing the light of day, it’s time for road warriors to do battle again. Taking over from Mel Gibson in the iconic titular role is Tom Hardy. Max Rockatansky is captured and tortured by scavengers and in the midst of escaping, teams up with “war boy” Nux (Hoult). Their paths cross with that of the Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a warrior woman who drives the “war rig” oil tanker truck. Furiosa plans to liberate the “breeders”, five young women enslaved by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) for the sole purpose of bearing his children. As Max and Furiosa begin to rely on each other’s skills as they cross the inhospitable desert, their various pursuers get ever closer.



            Director George Miller, who helmed the first three Mad Max movies and whose bizarrely diverse filmography also includes Babe and Happy Feet, is back in the driver’s seat for Fury Road. This is a “soft reboot” that stands fine on its own if one hasn’t seen the other movies. The film spent a tumultuous 25 years in development hell, with Gibson initially attached but dropping out and Miller turning his attention to an animated Mad Max movie instead. For long-time hard-core fans, Fury Road is worth the wait. Unlike, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this belated fourth movie is still very much in the spirit of the originals. A noticeable change – an improvement really – is that the pace is a lot quicker here. The original Mad Max trilogy did have its lulls, but things keep moving in this one. It’s also increased in scope and scale, but not to a bloated extent. The editing is also a lot faster too, but thankfully stops short of being whiplash inducing.  


            It’s telling that co-writer Brendan McCarthy was also the lead storyboard artist and concept designer on the film. It’s very much style over substance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The unique “post-apo-car-lyptic” aesthetic developed by Miller for the first movie has often been imitated and it’s great to see that style on the big screen again in such grand fashion. If we could list every single crew member involved in the creation of the vehicles, we would, because each one is a modern masterpiece of twisted metal. Cinematographer John Seale delivers gorgeous vistas of desolation; one wouldn’t expect scenes in a crazy post-apocalyptic action movie to be described as “poetic”, but many of the shots really are. Seeing as the setting is all desert, there’s the challenge in making sure it doesn’t look dull, a challenge Seale overcomes.


            While some fans are still unable to get over the recasting of Max Rockatansky, Hardy is the ideal replacement for Gibson, Miller citing a similar animalistic quality in the two actors as one of the reasons for this casting. Though he has been sometimes disparagingly classified as a “pretty boy”, Hardy is convincingly tough and does look like he’s been an inhabitant of this wasteland all his life. There’s also that haunted quality to his eyes, bringing life to the precious little back-story we get to glimpse. This is definitely not a subtle movie – the opening voiceover might as well go “hey, I’m the antihero. I have emotional baggage. Let’s go crash into stuff” but Hardy does bring some subtlety to bear. As his sidekick of sorts, Nicholas Hoult plays against type as a wild-eyed crazy kid whom Max grows to see as a kindred spirit. It’s a transformative performance that is entertaining when it could’ve been just plain annoying. Fans will also be pleased to see Hugh Keays-Byrne a.k.a. the Toecutter from the first film return as new villain Immortan Joe.


            Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa definitely has the potential to become an iconic heroine. Sporting a shorn head and a bionic arm, Theron goes the full Sigourney. It makes one realise that even though we’ve got the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Black Widow these days, we do badly need more old-school kickass women in movies. With all its pulpy 80s-ness, Fury Road could have very easily become blithely exploitative, but instead there is an admirable plot thread in which the young women cruelly forced to bear children for the villain fight for their freedom and Max eventually joins their cause. Sure, there are times when some of the women (played by models/actors Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton) seem to blend together and they’re all clad in wispy bandages, but their rousing refusal to be victimised is as invigorating as the big action beats. There are also “badass grandmas” in the form of actresses Jennifer Hagan, Melissa Jaffer, Gillian Jones and Antoinette Kellerman.


            Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely an acquired taste. There will be audiences who, upon seeing the exaggerated vehicle designs, over the top costumes and scary makeup, will dismiss this outright and we see where they’re coming from. This being as heightened as it is, it might be difficult to find an emotional foothold and since this is essentially one big long chase, fatigue might set in. However, for those who grew up with the series, this will be a particularly awesome dose of nostalgia. Action movie junkies who are tired of blockbusters that lean too heavily on CGI effects will get a kick out of the authentic metal-on-metal tactility seen here.


Summary: While it might be difficult for those without a personal connection to the series to get into gear, Fury Road offers long-time Mad Max fanatics a heaping serving of exhilarating vehicular carnage and an excellent replacement for Mel Gibson in the form of Tom Hardy.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars


Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Big Game

For F*** Magazine

BIG GAME

Director : Jalmari Helander
Cast : Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Jim Broadbent, Ted Levine, Ray Stevenson, Mehmet Kurtulus
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 91 mins
Opens : 7 May 2015
Rating : PG13 - Some Violence & Brief Coarse Language

You know what they say: “go big or go home”. In this Finnish action adventure film, 13-year-old Oskari (Tommila) feels the pressure of having to “go big”, seeing as his father Tapio (Jorma Tommila) is the best hunter in the village. While on a coming-of-age hunting mission, Oskari comes across an unexpected quarry: President of the United States William Moore (Jackson). It turns out that Air Force One has been shot down over the Finnish forest and the President’s escape pod has landed in Oskari’s neck of the woods. The President is being pursued by traitorous Secret Service agent Morris (Stevenson), who has partnered up with wealthy psychopath Hazar (Kurtulus) to hunt him down. President Moore must rely on Oskari for guidance and protection in the wilderness, while the Vice President (Garber), CIA Director (Huffman) and counter-terror consultant Herbert (Broadbent) figure out how to deal with the situation back at the Pentagon.


            Big Game is written and directed by Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander, famous for his Christmas horror-comedy flick Rare Exports. This feels every bit like it was made by a foreigner who grew up loving Hollywood action flicks and this element infuses Big Game with an irresistible charm. It homages 80s action movies and has an authentic “boy’s own adventure” vibe to it. This reviewer has a soft spot for adventure flicks in which kids are the heroes, films like E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial, The Goonies, Monster Squad and more recently Super 8. Big Game takes that and mashes it up with Die Hard or Air Force One and the end result is thoroughly grin-inducing.


            With its €8.5 million budget, Big Game is the most expensive Finnish film ever made and it certainly looks it. There is an overabundance of sweeping establishing shots of the Alps, standing in for the Finnish Lapland, and the big visual effects sequences, mostly furnished by Scanline VFX, are very well done. The CGI exterior shots of Air Force One look as good as in any major blockbuster and it’s clear that Helander intends for this movie to be his calling card when he inevitably breaks into Hollywood. While the film has its tongue very firmly planted in its cheek and is peppered with really funny moments, it doesn’t feel like obnoxious self-parody and its acknowledgement of action movie tropes is earnest and affectionate.



            Samuel L. Jackson may have top billing, but it’s Onni Tommila who is the true star of the show. He makes full use of the incredible opportunity to play opposite a prolific Hollywood actor and is excellent as the underdog hunter kid Oskari. Tommila’s real-life father Jorma plays his dad here; Helander previously directed the father-son pair in Rare Exports. There is a great little scene in which Oskari imagines killing and cutting the heart out of a bear. It’s a goofy moment that’s played so wonderfully by Tommila and that very effectively conveys to the audience what this character’s hopes and dreams are. It’s also telling that instead of leaping into an opening action scene, Helander spends a fair bit of time setting up the coming-of-age hunting mission and the relationship between Oskari, his father and the other villagers, as well as the significance of this hunt and what it would mean for the boy if he were to fail.


            Samuel L. Jackson seems to be in pretty much everything and it is a bit of a wonder that he hasn’t played the President of the United States until now. He does have fun with the role and doesn’t phone it in, and it is really amusing to see the guy famous for his portrayal of assorted badasses play a rather wimpy character who has to depend on a kid to get him through a survival situation. He shares good chemistry with Tommila and the scenes in which this odd couple gets to bond are genuinely sweet.


The scenes set in the Pentagon with Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman and Jim Broadbent huddled in the world’s tiniest situation room do have a slight silliness to them but that actors of this calibre are playing supporting roles in a silly action movie is something of a casting coup. There’s the added bonus of them not having to embarrass themselves as “serious actors” have in movies like the Transformers series. As the villains of the piece, Ray Stevenson and Mehmet Kurtulus chomp away at the scenery and bring enough of that crucial “love to hate factor” that the most memorable genre villains have. There’s also the added novelty of seeing Volstagg/The Punisher go after Nick Fury.


             Big Game has its plot holes and contrivances, but the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously while brimming with heart and delivering the goods in the action and comedy departments does make us more than willing to cut it some slack. There is a major plot twist late in the movie that rather frustratingly does not get followed up on, but the rest of the film is satisfying enough to make up for it and we would be all for a sequel.



Summary: With its entertaining homages to old-school action flicks, a terrific lead performance by child actor Onni Tommila and an earnestness evident throughout, Big Game is big on action, big on adventure and big on humour.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars


Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Helios (赤道)

For F*** Magazine

HELIOS (赤道)

Director : Longman Leung, Sunny Lok
Cast : Jacky Cheung, Nick Cheung, Shawn Yue, Janice Man, Ji Jin-Hee, Choi Siwon, Wang Xueqi, Chang Chen
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16

The best and brightest counter-terror experts from Hong Kong and South Korea have to join forces in order to foil a nuclear catastrophe in this action thriller. Wanted terrorist Helios (Chang) has stolen the compact nuclear device “Davy Crockett 8” and 16 uranium spheres from a facility in South Korea. The authorities believe Helios’ right-hand woman “the Messenger” (Man) is responsible for downing an airliner in Liaoning. Chinese envoy Song An (Wang), Inspector Lee Yin-ming (Nick Cheung) of the Hong Kong Counter-Terror Response Unit, South Korean weapons expert Choi Min Ho (Ji) and NIS agent Park Woo Chul (Choi) converge in Hong Kong to recover the weapon. Physics professor Siu Chi-yan (Jacky Cheung) joins the team as a consultant. As they race against the clock to prevent a sale of the DC-8 device from going down, a far-reaching conspiracy begins to unravel.


            Helios is written and directed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk, the pair behind 2012’s crime thriller Cold War. Things look promising enough: it’s handsomely shot, the production values are solid, the action sequences pack a punch, the visual effects are better than most Hong Kong productions – but it’s not long before Helios falls apart. The film’s style comes off as very self-conscious, but the harder Leung and Luk try to get the audiences to take the film seriously, the more unintentionally funny it becomes. Just like gritting one’s teeth too hard can make one look silly, Helios often ends up embarrassing itself in its attempts at being tough and cool. The writing-directing duo also try to make the plot too convoluted for its own good; running in circles with what should be a straightforward thriller storyline, the film coming off as generic in spite of itself as a result.


            With its attempt to insert geopolitics and ideology clashes into a “stop the nuke from going off” story, Helios often feels like a below-average season of 24, with Nick Cheung in place of Kiefer Sutherland. Nick Cheung’s character is so hard-core, he waterboards a suspect with their shirt – this is silly rather than threatening. Jacky Cheung plays the stereotypical professor, complete with beard, glasses, bow tie and sweater vests. 


Chang Chen is not quite scary enough as the titular big bad, but model/actress Janice Man is surprisingly convincing as an ice-cold assassin. Ji Jin-Hee as a nuclear physicist – at least it’s more believable than Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough. Choi Siwon’s legions of fans will probably be thrilled to see him toting a shotgun and kicking ass as the agent in charge of protecting Ji’s character.


            Helios wants to be smarter than your average shoot ‘em up flick but it falls on its face one too many times. One of the elements that really took this reviewer out of the whole thing is the magic translator earpieces that allow the characters from Hong Kong and Korea to communicate seamlessly. This device, reminiscent of the Babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, instantly kills any realism or grit the movie is aiming for. One can’t help but wonder what the consequences of a mistranslation resulting from a glitch in the software at such a high level would be. Peter Kam’s musical score is also incredibly unsubtle, blaring and almost pouncing at the audience. It’s meant to create tension, but is so obtrusive it detracts from the atmosphere. The final nail in the coffin is the movie’s ending: there’s a huge plot twist really late in the game, only for the movie to end on an infuriating and frankly quite shameless sequel bait note. By the time said sequel rolls around, we probably would have all but forgotten this one.


Summary: Solid production values and a watchable cast can’t salvage this generic, sometimes unintentionally funny thriller that thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

            

Unfriended

For F*** Magazine

UNFRIENDED

Director : Levan Gabriadze
Cast : Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halverson, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Heather Sossaman
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 83 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

A leaked personal photo or a dropped Skype call is far from the most terrifying thing that can happen to you online in the horror flick Unfriended. It is a year after high school student Laura Barns (Sossaman) commits suicide after an embarrassing video of her passing out a party is posted on YouTube. Six of her classmates, Blaire (Hennig), Mitch (Storm), Jess (Olstead), Val (Halverson), Ken (Wysocki) and Adam (Peltz) are having a routine Skype call when a mysterious seventh caller enters the conversation. The six friends initially believe that this is some kind of cyber prank, but as eerie happenings unfold both within and beyond the online realm, it appears that Laura may be back from the dead and out for revenge, meaning that they’re up against a high-tech haunting.



            There are many major motion pictures that just don’t feel right when watched on a laptop or smart phone screen. A small screen does undercut the grandeur of something like Interstellar or Skyfall. Here’s a film that is likely at its most effective when viewed on a laptop or smart phone screen. The gimmick here is that the entire movie unfolds on the monitor of protagonist Blaire’s MacBook. The story progresses through interactions on various websites and social media platforms, the likes of Skype, Facebook, iMessage, YouTube, Spotify and even Chatroulette figuring into the plot. One element that makes horror movies particularly scary is the “this could happen to you” factor, Unfriended playing on the ubiquity of a life lived online. “Connection Lost”, a recent episode of Modern Family that plays out entirely on Claire Dunphy’s laptop, uses the format to elicit laughs instead of shrieks.


            Unfriended is directed by Georgian-Russian filmmaker Levan Gabriadze and comes from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions. While Blum is an Oscar nominee for producing Whiplash, his primary stock in trade is low-budget, franchise-ready horror flicks – after all, he has made a killing from the Paranormal Activity series, with The Purge and Insidious poised to spawn several more films. As a Blair Witch Project-type movie for the new media generation, Unfriended has a novelty to it. However, this gets old really fast, and just as how found footage horror movies are now regarded as a nuisance, a whole string of “computer scream” movies could easily become unbearable. Naturally, sequels are already being planned. Still, the effort put into creating a convincing online milieu is praiseworthy. Plotting out the desktop ecosystem and online interaction history of a fictional character isn’t as easy as it sounds and the attention to detail and continuity here is on point.


            While Unfriended’s presentation sets itself apart from the teen-aimed horror movie pack, it still succumbs to one of the most common shortcomings of this subgenre: unlikeable characters.  Strip away the bells and whistles of its format and you’re left with a pretty typical “teenagers get picked off one by one” horror flick plot structure. To begin with, our characters are complicit in cyber-bullying that brings about a girl’s suicide, so they aren’t exactly the nicest kids in town. Still, they are adequately relatable and low-budget horror movies can get away with a cast of relative unknowns – only Renee Olstead is a somewhat recognisable name. There’s the teen high school drama and the skeletons in the closet each friend is hiding from the next but none of this is particularly original or compelling. There are individual moments brimming with tension and a cool ticking clock device, but when you step back and look at Unfriended from a macro viewpoint, there isn’t a lot of overarching suspense. The main “mystery” is perhaps if Blaire and her friends are being targeted by a hacker troll or a literal ghost in the machine, but that question is answered pretty quickly.


            With its cyberbullying theme, Unfriended is topical if more than a touch exploitative of a sensitive subject. The title also walks the line between “moderately clever” and “goofy”, and works marginally better than the rather 90s original title, “Cybernatural”. The specificities of the film’s style means that it will soon become dated and in as little as ten-odd years, will become an amusing time capsule of how we live our lives online circa 2014-15. It is inventive and refreshing, but given a couple of sequels, we have a feeling those heaping praise onto Unfriended now might feel a twinge of regret then.


Summary:Those Meddling Millenials: The Horror Movie” achieves an admirable level of verisimilitude with its portrayal of online interactions, but whatever originality there is in its presentation cannot offset the teen horror clichés that serve as the movie’s backbone.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

           
            


Cymbeline

For F*** Magazine

CYMBELINE 

Director : Michael Almereyda
Cast : Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, Dakota Johnson, Penn Badgley, Anton Yelchin, Ed Harris, John Leguizamo, Delroy Lindo, Bill Pullman
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 30 April 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Violence)

Shakespeare is the gift that keeps on giving, artists of all kinds continuing to find inspiration in the Bard’s work centuries after his death. The play Cymbeline provides the basis for this crime drama, which updates the setting of Ancient Britain to the present day. Instead of being the King of Britain, Cymbeline (Harris) is the leader of the Briton biker gang. His daughter Imogen (Johnson) is in love with the lowly Posthumus (Badgley), whom Cymbeline has taken on as a protégé, and has married him in secret. An enraged Cymbeline exiles Posthumus. Iachimo (Hawke) bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and bring him proof. In the meantime, Cymbeline’s wife the Queen (Jovovich) hatches a plot to murder Cymbeline and have Cloten (Yelchin), her son from an earlier marriage, marry Imogen so he can usurp Cymbeline’s place as head of the gang. Also under threat is the fragile truce between Cymbeline and corrupt policeman Caius Lucius (Vondie Curtis-Hall), the King’s empire slipping through his fingers.


            Cymbeline is adapted and directed by Michael Almereyda, known for his 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet. Almereyda’s Hamlet, which starred Ethan Hawke in the title role, was also a setting update – Hawke delivers the “To be or not to be” soliloquy while wandering the aisles of a video rental store. With Cymbeline, Almereyda was clearly inspired by Kurt Sutter’s TV series Sons of Anarchy, which revolves around a biker gang and takes inspiration from Hamlet. Cymbeline was even titled “Anarchy” at one point. Alas, it’s very clear that Almereyda is struggling to jam a square peg into a round hole, but not for lack of trying. The film strains to make its re-contextualisation a successful one, ultimately failing. Cymbeline is generally not regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greater plays and it has been noted that it recycles elements from the Bard’s earlier works, including Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet.


            Second-rate Shakespeare is still high art, and this adaptation retains most of the original dialogue. Hearing the signature iambic pentameter outside of its intended context can be jarring if handled clumsily, and this take on Cymbeline has butter fingers. The original text has been abridged but not streamlined, the dense, labyrinth plot still pretty confusing. While Ethan Hawke looks like he knows what he’s doing, Penn Badgley and Spencer Treat Clark often deliver their lines as if they were reading the ingredients off the back of a shampoo bottle. Anton Yelchin bites into the Cloten role with glee, but his whiny performance gets annoying pretty fast. Regardless of how good an actor one is, it’s impossible to make the line “On her left breast/A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops/I' th' bottom of a cowslip” sound naturalistic in a contemporary context, and perhaps it was never meant to be that way.


            Ed Harris as the tough leader of a biker gang? Sure, we’ll buy that. Ed Harris as the tough leader of a biker gang trying to make the line “Thou took'st a beggar; wouldst have made my throne a seat for baseness" sound like something the tough leader of a biker gang would actually say? That’s a harder sell. Both Milla Jovovich and Dakota Johnson are very stiff throughout the film, Johnson playing Imogen with an “ugh, whatever” air. Jovovich does get to perform an appropriately moody cover of Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes”, one of several atmospheric touches that are limited in their effectiveness thanks to everything else.


            We know we sound like a broken record, going on about how awkward and stilted the film comes off in its presentation, but that’s because Cymbeline could have been saved. It could have worked as a dramatic romance set against a war between a biker gang and corrupt cops, had Almereyda not been so precious about retaining the original text. There’s an attempt at verisimilitude, with characters scrolling through photo galleries on their iPads and looking up locations on Google Maps, but it still rings false. Re-contextualisations can work, if they’re handled deftly enough or if they revel in the silliness of the premise and spin a colourful alternate world around the story. Cymbeline is neither and falls flat because of it.


Summary: Some excellent actors and several mediocre ones are all left high and dry by this unwieldy adaptation that most audiences will find alienating and odd.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 


Friday, April 24, 2015

Danny Collins

For F*** Magazine

DANNY COLLINS

Director : Dan Fogelman
Cast : Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Katarina Čas
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 23 April 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug Use and Nudity)

“Rock and roll dreams come through” – so sang Meat Loaf all those years ago. What comes after that? Danny Collins (Pacino) is an aging rock star, a fading shadow of his former self. With a trophy fiancé (Čas) on his arm, a touring show mostly attended by senior citizens and a third Greatest Hits album on the way, Danny is feeling unfulfilled. Danny’s manager Frank Grubman (Plummer) gives him a life-changing birthday present – a handwritten letter from John Lennon that Danny was meant to receive 40 years ago. This gives Danny a second wind as he cancels his tour, checks into a hotel near a New Jersey suburb and tries writing music again. Danny tries to mend bridges with his adult son Tom (Cannavale), attempting to win over Tom’s wife (Samantha) and young daughter Hope (Giselle Eisenberg) and do right by the family he’s only now getting to know. In the meantime, he strikes up a possible romance with Mary Sinclair (Bening), the manager at the hotel.

            The film beings with the text “the following is kind of based on a true story a little bit”, a winking, honest admission. The true story in question is that of Steve Tilston, a folk singer from Bristol who discovered that after reading an interview Tilston did with a music magazine, John Lennon had written him a letter that Tilston only received 34 years after the fact. Writer-director Dan Fogelman takes that starting point and spins into a rock star redemption story, its protagonist part-Rod Stewart, part-Tom Jones, with a dash of Barry Manilow for good measure. With its message of “staying true to yourself”, Danny Collins is mostly predictable and it’s clear that Fogelman is valiantly straining to temper the sentimentality with some edginess in the form of swearing, drugs and nudity. The material is still mawkish, most noticeably when Danny bonds with his granddaughter, a stock hyperactive, precocious moppet. At times, the film reminded this reviewer of the Hannah Montana movie, of all things. Annette Bening’s Mary keeps encouraging Danny to write that one song that means something to him, just as Travis did with Miley, the result in that film being “The Climb”.  


            Al Pacino isn’t an actor one would expect to deliver a nuanced performance – this is Mr. “HOO-AH!” we’re talking about, after all. As a rock star desperately trying to recapture his glory days, Pacino does get to be a little flamboyant but thankfully reins it in for the most part. Danny’s pre-show ritual consists of snorting cocaine, downing whiskey and dabbing his face with self-tanner. The casting seems apt, since Pacino himself is past his prime, and it’s actually okay that his singing voice is terrible, since it adds to the washed-up quotient. He probably is miscast, but Pacino makes the most of it. It’s not quite a glorious comeback for the actor, but it’s definitely better than slumming it in something like Jack and Jill.


            Pacino is backed up by an accomplished supporting cast. Annette Bening channels Diane Keaton adequately, it’s the stock type of the no-nonsense boss lady set on resisting the charms of our protagonist but Bening is nonetheless endearing and strikes up good chemistry with Pacino. Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner make for a convincing upper-middle class couple at the end of their rope and trying not to let it show for the sake of their kids. The conflict between father and son, however fierce, still lacks bite because we know how it’ll all end up. It is Christopher Plummer who steals the show as Danny’s blunt, level-headed and reliable manager/best friend. Plummer has gone on record saying that though it’s the thing everyone remembers him from, The Sound of Music was too saccharine for his tastes. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Captain Von Trapp drop more than a few F-bombs and utter the words “sore-tittied African ladies”, this is the movie for you.  

  
          The biggest coup here is that Fogelman was able to secure Yoko Ono’s permission to insert nine John Lennon songs into the film’s soundtrack, a rarity in the music licensing world. Unfortunately, the use of some of these tracks is heavy handed – “Beautiful Boy” plays just after Danny first meets his son, because of course. The theme of artistic integrity vs. commercial appeal was addressed with more panache in Birdman – come to think of it, the handwritten letter from John Lennon here could be compared to the handwritten note from Raymond Carver in that movie. Still, it counts for something that Fogelman demonstrates an awareness that jaded audience members are not that easy to win over, instead of diving head-first into the schmaltz.



Summary: Acknowledging his status as a washed-up star, Al Pacino is on fine form here and is backed up by a great supporting cast, but the rock star redemption story is still too formulaic to soar.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong