Friday, April 22, 2011


As published in F*** Magazine

2011 Release

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd
Directed by: Alister Grierson

            The poster proudly trumpets “from executive producer James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic”. When your executive producer is the biggest selling point, that might not be a good sign. Filmed in 3D, this cave-diving adventure thriller was photographed with Cameron’s Fusion Camera System – but can an underwater-set film match up to The Abyss with only Cameron’s camera system and without the man himself at the helm?

            Inspired by the experiences of co-writer Andrew Wight, Sanctum tells of respected cave diver Frank (Roxburgh) and his son Josh (Wakefield), who become trapped in the Esa’ala Cave in Papua New Guinea as it begins to flood during a monsoon. With them are the wealthy expedition bank-roller Carl (Gruffudd) and his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), who quickly realize that a cave such as Esa’ala is no place for tourists – however, Carl’s hot-headed and competitive nature puts him at odds with Frank, who is himself estranged from his son.

            Sanctum is pretty much a documentary dressed up as an adventure film, so on the one hand there are awe-inspiring visuals of underwater caverns and the like, and on the other there’s the cliché-ridden story and hokey screenplay. There’s the father-and-son subplot, the arrogant rich guy and his girlfriend who are only good for getting everyone into trouble, and life-or-death situations far beneath the earth’s surface.

            While the plot and scenarios aren’t realistic per se, the individual situations are, and the film plays on the primal fear of death by drowning, and emphasizes the importance of staying calm during unpredictable crisis situations. The tension is sustained and the peril palpable and several scenes are genuinely frightening.

The transitions from the actors to their diving stunt doubles are seamless and unnoticeable and there’s a good balance between location, soundstage and CGI footage. This probably would look great in 3D (I saw the 2D version), but there’s a little too much squeezing through cramped spaces and not enough of the awe-inspiring cavern shots.

Richard Roxburgh is mostly under-appreciated in Hollywood, often cast in depthless villain roles. He’s very good here and is pretty believable as a professional cave-diver. Rhys Wakefield is proving himself as a rising young talent, but may have some trouble breaking into Hollywood, and for one, can’t deliver the F-word to save his life (he has about twenty of them).

 Unfortunately the whole thing is ruined by Ioan Gruffudd, who delivers a staggeringly bad performance that is far from (Mr) fantastic. In between the whining and the histrionics, sure he makes his character seem unlikable, but doesn’t give any reason for him to be in the movie in the first place.

Sanctum manages to hang on to some of that adventure movie spirit, and there is a thrill in exploring “caverns measureless to man” from the comfort of a movie theatre, but there’s not much to hold the film together and the spectacle doesn’t quite make up for it either.


Jedd Jong

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

2011 release

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei
Directed by: Brad Furman

            Matthew McConaughey takes a break from being the poster boy of awful romantic comedies to return to his A Time to Kill roots in The Lincoln Lawyer. He plays LA criminal defense attorney Mick Haller, never seen too far from his beloved Lincoln sedan.

            Haller has spent his whole career defending common criminals and thugs, until he scores the case of a lifetime, defending Louis Roulet (Phillippe), a young real-estate heir accused of rape and attempted murder. Everything seems a little too straightforward; until Haller is forced to reopen an old case as his professional and personal life begins to unravel.

            This is a very watchable film, filled with flashy camera angles and a jazz-and-R&B soundtrack. McConaughey is in his element, and is far less annoying than he usually is. The character starts out as your average smug snake lawyer, complete with the eponymous fancy car and the vanity plate “NTGUILTY”. However, it’s when there’s a crack in the façade and we get to know Haller a little better than McConaughey finally gets a chance to act.

            The supporting cast is generally pretty good – Ryan Phillippe makes a good spoilt rich kid who may or may not be hiding something, Marisa Tomei lends some emotional backbone as Haller’s ex-wife and the mother of his young daughter (they’re still on good terms), William H Macy is fun as the shaggy-haired investigator Frank and Mick’s good friend, and John Leguizamo rounds the cast out doing his best Steve Buscemi impression.

            Unfortunately, the film never really draws the viewer in, always staying a little too slick or artificial to actually matter. There’s a little too much emphasis on the “procedure” aspect, which dilutes the intriguing “whodunit” plot a little. Also, a reliance on CSI Miami-style flashbacks and uniformly perfect locations doesn’t help the detachment.

            The Lincoln Lawyer is equally effective as a murder mystery and as a courtroom drama, but tries way too hard to up the cool factor and as such never becomes as engaging as it should be. One can only hope McConaughey keeps his shirt on, regulates the pearly-whites flashing and continues on this track.


Jedd Jong

Sucker Punch

 As published in F*** Magazine Issue #15, Apr 2011

2011 Release

Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Directed by: Zack Snyder

            Having made only film adaptations of existing material, director Zack Snyder takes the opportunity to break out something original before making Superman: the Man of Steel – emphasis on “original”. A balls-out fantasy action adventure, Sucker Punch promises to be unlike everything we’ve ever seen, but ends up being more hit and miss than a knockout.

            Babydoll (Browning) is sent to a mental institution by her wicked stepfather, after the death of her mother and sister. Her only escape is an imaginary realm (and several more within that), in which missions against dragons, alien robots, monster Samurai and zombie WWI-era German soldiers serve as metaphorical goals as she and four other girls in the asylum fight for their freedom.

            Snyder has made his name with hyper-kinetic slow-motion camerawork and a keen eye for larger-than-life action sequences. It’s a given then that Sucker Punch is a very stylish film, and the fantasy and action are indeed kicked into high gear. The production design is eye-popping, the computer-generated animation work of high quality and the action itself pretty wham-bang.

            As such, it’s a big pity that all this is in service of what is pretty much a non-story. The Inception-styled world-within-worlds conceit, combined with the old-fashioned 50s asylum and brothel elements, make this quite a high concept that never quite takes root. The plot and characters quickly become reduced to little more than excuses to string the video game-style fantasy sequences together.

            The five girls are easy on the eye, but the characters are hardly distinguishable and with one or two exceptions they seem interchangeable for each other. Abbie Cornish is mostly flat and unlikable, Emily Browning in a constant daze. There’s something of a novelty factor in seeing High School Musical-alum Vanessa Hudgens in an action film, but not much more beyond that.

 Good thing that the supporting cast is decent – Carla Gugino hamming it up and enjoying herself as the Polish-accented Madam Gorski, Oscar Isaac sleazy and mean as asylum orderly/brothel-runner Blue and best of all Scott Glenn as the Wise Man, a character akin to Charlie in Charlie’s Angels who pops up in each of the fantasy realms to brief the girls on their mission.

Sucker Punch is more an experiment than a film, really, and “experiment-films” haven’t exactly had a sterling track record. An alien city straight out of Total Recall and a steampunk re-envisioning of the First World War are all well and good – if they do something, anything at all, for the story – which they don’t. A disparate patchwork that is in constant danger of falling apart, we wanted a cocktail with kick, but ended up with plain old fruit punch.


Jedd Jong