Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rise of the Legend (黄飞鸿之英雄有梦)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Roy Chow Hin Yeung
Cast : Eddie Peng, Sammo Hung, Wang Luodan, Jing Boran, Wong Cho Lam, Max Zhang Jin, Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Angelababy, 
Genre : Martial Arts

Over the last several years, we’ve had no shortage of films revolving around martial artist Ip Man. Now, it’s time for Wong Fei-hung, the martial artist who was born almost 50 years before Ip, to reclaim the spotlight. This origin story tracks Wong Fei-hung’s (Peng) beginnings as a recruit of the Black Tiger gang in 1868, during the late Qing Dynasty. The Black Tiger gang is locked in a power struggle with the Northern Sea gang for control of the Huangpu Port. The feared leader of the Black Tigers, Master Lei Gong (Hung), recognises young Fei-hung’s talent and takes him under his wing. A new rival gang called the Orphans, led by Fei-hung’s childhood best friend Fiery (Jing), emerges to challenge the Black Tigers. As Fei-hung realises the frightening extent of his new master’s ruthlessness, he resolves to help Fiery and free the town from Lei Gong’s tyranny.

            A martial artist, physician and revolutionary, Wong Fei-hung is among the best-known folk heroes in Chinese culture, depicted in scores of films and television series since 1949. In taking up the mantle of this iconic role, Eddie Peng joins the ranks of Jet Li, Vincent Zhao, Andy Lau, Jackie Chan and dozens of other actors. Rise of the Legend is a slightly unfortunate, profoundly generic title; a closer translation would be Wong Fei-hung: A Hero Has Dreams. Rise of the Legend follows firmly in the footsteps of its predecessors in the historical martial arts flick genre, with the occasional hit-and-miss sprinkling of modern elements. These include bullet time breakdowns, hokey CGI flames and an Eye of the Tiger-esque rendition of the “unofficial Wong Fei-hung theme song” On the General’s Orders, performed by Mayday.

            It’s a given that the film is at its best during the fight sequences and thankfully, there’s no shortage of those. Action director Corey Yuen has proven his mettle both in Hong Kong and in Hollywood, with credits such as Thunderbolt and the Transporter films under his belt. Fei-hung punches through concrete pillars and there’s a lot of leaping through the air. At one point during the climactic fight, Fei-hung climbs up the railing of a staircase using just his hands, as his feet kick at his opponent in front of him. We saw the film in 2D but even then, the gimmicky “stuff flying at the camera moments” are noticeable.

            There’s an old-fashioned theatricality and a slight cheesiness to the proceedings, but one has to accept it as part of a package deal with the high-flying, wham-bam stunts. Eddie Peng has showcased his athleticism in Unbeatable and Jump! Ashin and this is probably the sexiest Wong Fei-hung has ever been. There are plenty of opportunities to gaze upon Peng’s rippled torso and his dedication in learning the challenging nanquan style of martial arts does pay off. He shares palpable buddy chemistry with pop idol Jing Boran and the characters’ bond as blood brothers is convincing. Sammo Hung, known for his agility and fighting prowess in spite of his generous girth, lends gravitas and hams it up as he does best. Hearing him bellow “I will make it crystal clear who! The! Master! Is! Here!” is pretty entertaining. Hung played Wong Fei-hung himself in Around the World in 80 Days. There’s also a great cameo from Tony Leung Ka-fai as Fei-hung’s father in the flashback sequences.

            Unfortunately, as is all too often the case in this subgenre, the female characters get the short shrift. Wang Luodan plays Chun, a childhood sweetheart of both Fei-hung and Fiery, caught in a love triangle. We get to see a Qing Dynasty take on “the bro code” play out. There’s also Angelababy as Orchid the courtesan, who knows she’ll never truly win the affection of Fei-hung because a) his heart belongs with Chun and b) she’s a prostitute. These romantic subplots are unable to transcend being merely superfluous.

            There are elements of the film that will be hard to truly “get” unless one has grown up with these stories, so we’ve come up with what might be an entry point for the uninitiated: look at this as a Chinese superhero movie. Wong Fei-hung would be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound if there were any tall buildings to be found. He is taken in by a mentor-turned-villain, like Batman and Ra’s al Ghul. The film closes with a “standing on the rooftop, surveying his domain” shot. Even the title Rise of the Legend sounds like something you’d find after a colon as the name of a superhero movie. This is clearly intended as the first chapter in a new Wong Fei-hung movie series – if you grew up with the Once Upon a Time in China films, it’s unlikely that Eddie Peng will replace Jet Li as your definitive Wong Fei-hung, but if Peng becomes this generation’s Wong Fei-hung, we see no problem with that.

Summary: All the origin story tropes and expected melodrama of a period martial arts flick are here, but so are a good amount of thrilling fights and Eddie Peng giving it his all to take on the iconic role.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

For F*** Magazine


Director : Francis Lawrence
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, Willow Shields, Woody Harrelson, Evan Ross, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Robert Knepper, Gwendoline Christie, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci
Genre : Fantasy/Adventure
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence) 
Run time: 123 mins

It’s time to raise the three-finger District 12 salute and whistle that four-note motif again because another Hunger Games movie is in theatres. Following her actions in the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Lawrence) has been whisked away to the secret stronghold of District 13. Her best friend Gale (Hemsworth), sister Prim (Shields) and mother (Paula Malcomson) are among the survivors from the Capitol’s bombing of District 12 taking refuge in 13. President Alma Coin (Moore), along with Plutarch (Hoffman), is in the midst of staging a revolution, calling on Katniss to become the face of the uprising. Despite being reluctant to after the trauma she experienced in the arena, Katniss assumes the role of the symbolic “Mockingjay”. Peeta (Hutcherson), who couldn’t be rescued, is held in the Capitol and forced by President Snow (Sutherland) to make televised appearances exhorting a ceasefire. Because of this, he is branded a traitor by the revolutionaries, but it only strengthens Katniss’ desire to rescue him and the other victors even more.

            Mockingjay – Part 1 has followed in the footsteps of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises by going the “last book adapted into two movies” route. Both Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Breaking Dawn – Part 1 did a lot of treading water in padding things out. While Mockingjay – Part 1 fares far better than Breaking Dawn thanks to its denser plot, there’s still a degree of disappointment to be had from sitting through two hours of set-up, even if it is pretty good set-up. Introducing audiences to the subterranean District 13, there is the credible sense that this revolution is coming to a head. Moving past the Games themselves, we get to see more of the other districts, including the lumber-producing District 7, and power-generating District 5 with its massive hydroelectric dam. There is an increased sense of scale without it feeling like bloated and empty spectacle. There’s also more of the helicrafts in action, two of which Katniss shoots down with her bow and arrow.

            The film still is character-driven, Jennifer Lawrence returning to her star-making role with more of the drive, indignant determination and just the right amount of vulnerability she brought to the first and second films. Unlike a number of young adult novel adaptations, Mockingjay – Part 1 does a good job at establishing that there is much more to the story and the world than the protagonist’s personal struggles and heartache, without downplaying the importance of that. The premise of the franchise is televised bloodsport in which teenagers kill each other for the entertainment of the elite and to keep the masses in line. The role of media manipulation in shaping the perceptions of the public gets further explored here with the introduction of Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, a Capitol film director who defects to District 13. That the resulting propaganda films or “propos” end up looking like movie trailers is a sly, effective touch without having it go all Starship Troopers on us.

            The politics of The Hunger Games is one of the key components that gives it an edge over other film series aimed at a similar demographic. Julianne Moore retains her stern exterior (looking more than a little like Ysanne Isard from the Star Wars expanded universe) but plays a warmer, kinder authority figure than moviegoers are used to seeing her as. Both skilled actors, she and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman make for believable collaborating revolutionaries – this marks their fourth time co-starring in a movie. The film is dedicated to Hoffman’s memory and while he completed shooting all his scenes for Part 1, some of Plutarch’s scenes in Part 2 will have to be distributed to other characters.

            Much of the emotional content of the first two films was derived from the relationship between Katniss and Peeta and director Francis Lawrence uses the fact that the two characters are separated to generate a good amount of tension and anguish. Peeta being used as the Capitol’s new mouthpiece in his interviews with Ceasar Flickerman (Tucci) is contrasted and compared with how Katniss takes up the mantle of the Mockingjay for District 13. The role of Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is also expanded. It seems director Lawrence is all too aware that there are still detractors who dismiss this series as mopey teen romance, so scenes in which the love triangle is addressed appear sparingly.

            If Catching Fire was analogous to Empire Strikes Back, then Mockingjay – Part 1 is like if Return of the Jedi ended right after the escape from Jabba’s clutches. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but there’s no denying that the climactic sequence, which director Lawrence has said was inspired by Zero Dark Thirty, feels like in belongs in the middle of a movie. Still, fans of the first two films are most likely more than willing to wait a year for the series’ conclusion and there is enough that takes place here to enticingly set the stage for the finale.

Summary: Despite suffering from “Part 1-of-a-two-parter-adaptation-itis”, the politics of Mockingjay and the turning gears of the revolution make this an intelligent, absorbing entry in the series.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Big Hero 6

For F*** Magazine


Directors : Don Hall, Chris Williams
Cast : Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Génesis Rodríguez, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., T.J. Miller, Daniel Henney, Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk
Genre : Animation/Family/Action-adventure
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences) 
Run time: 108 mins

Moviegoers everywhere are still chanting “make mine Marvel!” and with the announcement of Marvel Studios’ exciting Phase 3 slate, it seems this chanting will continue. Here’s something a little different: the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel characters.

Hiro Hamada (Potter) is a 14-year-old robotics prodigy living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo with his older brother Tadashi (Henney), under the care of their aunt Cass (Rudolph). Tadashi convinces Hiro to turn away from illegal bot-fighting and to put his intellect to good use by enrolling in the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Hiro is introduced to robotics pioneer Professor Callaghan (Cromwell) and Tadashi’s friends at the institute: the tough, no-nonsense Go-Go Tomago (Chung), the bubbly and eccentric Honey Lemon (Rodríguez), the heavily-built but timid Wasabi-No-Ginger (Wayans Jr.) and laid-back comic book geek Fred (Miller). Hiro befriends Baymax (Adsit), a healthcare robot invented by Tadashi. When a masked supervillain named Yokai threatens San Fransokyo using microbot technology developed by Hiro himself, these friends must put their scientific knowledge to use, assuming the role of superheroes.

            Big Hero 6 is a loose adaptation of the source material by writing collective Man of Action and one of Marvel’s weirdest super-teams (yes, even weirder than the Guardians of the Galaxy) has been transformed into a cuddly bunch packed with plenty of kid-appeal. For example, Baymax is a shape-shifting robot/dragon in the comics and is not at all cute. Here, he is a comforting, eminently huggable, marshmallow-like medical care robot. The simple, charming character design takes inspiration from the field of “soft robotics” and his face is based on a Japanese suzu bell. Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams have created a crowd-pleasing animated film with fun action sequences, rib-tickling jokes and a good measure of emotion – plus a sprinkling of Tony Stark-style “building the tech” montages. While it is a very familiar story with plenty of plot devices and character types we’ve seen before, Big Hero 6 acknowledges and embraces this and doesn’t feel like a soulless re-tread.

            The design team goes wild with the opportunity to mesh San Francisco together with Tokyo, resulting in amusing, eye-catching touches such as the Golden Gate Bridge with Japanese torii gates in place of its usual towers. While the action is fun and a sequence of Baymax soaring in-between the skyscrapers of San Fransokyo is sweeping and beautiful, there is a lack of truly memorable action set-pieces. The titular team, despite being diverse, seems somewhat homogenised, fulfilling the requisite character types every bunch of rag-tag heroes must possess. There’s the tough chick whose catchphrase is “woman up”, the lanky, hyper nerd, the big guy who’s meek and cautious on the inside and the slacker dude. To the film’s credit, it’s able to keep the energy up enough such that we can go along with the clichés instead of having them pull us out of the experience.

            The voice cast is effective and entertaining. While these certainly aren’t unknowns, there doesn’t seem to be any blatant celebrity stunt-casting going on. Japanese-American actor and martial artist Ryan Potter gives a fluid, affecting vocal performance, managing to make Hiro sympathetic in his moments of grief without coming across as brooding and angsty. Scott Adsit is marvellous as Baymax, conveying endearing warmth and care within the confines of having to sound sufficiently robotic. T.J. Miller has been the comic relief dude bro in a number of films, and he sticks to what works for him here, the geeky Fred providing a dose of genre-savvy winking at the audience. Jamie Chung doesn’t have too many lines since Go-Go is the strong, silent type but she does convincingly sound like someone who won’t take any guff from anyone, playing somewhat against her sweet public persona. Interestingly enough, Génesis Rodríguez’s Honey Lemon is the only character who pronounces Hiro’s name accurately, with a Japanese accent, which is neat.

            While Big Hero 6 falls a little short of the emotional depth and dazzling imagination of Wreck-It Ralph and is not as clever a take on the superhero genre as The Incredibles was, it still is well-made family entertainment. It’s easy to see why Baymax is the centre of the film’s promotional material – the movie is titled Baymax in Japan. He is loveable in just that right way, without being cloying or too obviously, artificially cute. He’s a robot who is programmed to care and the bond that forms between him and Hiro does give the film a good deal of heart. Feast, the short film preceding the feature, is about a Boston terrier who experiences his owner’s romantic relationships by sharing in all their meals. It’s not quite as sublime as Paperman, which ran before Wreck-It Ralph, but dog-lovers will find it utterly irresistible. Also just as with the live-action Marvel movies, be sure to stick around for a great post-credits scene.

Summary: Not particularly cutting-edge but still entertaining, funny and sufficiently moving. This holiday season, kids will be quoting Baymax rather than singing “Let It Go”.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

4th Rendezvous with French Cinema

4th Rendezvous with French Cinema

This year brings us the 4th edition of Rendezvous with French Cinema, organized by the Institut Français, the Alliance Française and Unifrance. The film festival aims to bring a panorama of French talent in front of and behind the camera to Singaporean moviegoers. The line-up includes 16 films across genres chosen as the best of contemporary French cinema.

Serial (Bad) Weddings (Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?)
The festival will open with Serial (Bad) Weddings, the biggest French comedy of the year, seen by more than 12 million people in France. Deemed "too politically incorrect" for US and UK audiences, the film is a comic take on race and other social issues in France. Director Philippe de Chauveron and actors Emilie Caen and Medi Sadoun will grace the red carpet at the Cathay on 28 November. 

The Clouds of Sils Maria
Previous editions of the Rendezvous with French Cinema have brought French stars such as Christopher Lambert, Sophie Marceau and Carole Bouquet to our sunny shores. This year, Oscar-winning superstar actress, artist and dancer Juliette Binoche, known for films such as Chocolat and The English Patient, will be a special guest at the festival. There will be a screening of the new film in which she stars, Olvier Assayas' The Clouds of Sils Maria, co-starring Kristen Stewart and Chloe-Grace Moretz. The screening will be held in conjunction with the SGIFF Singapore International Film Festival. 

Diplomacy (Diplomatie)
The other films that will be screened include biopic and France's selection for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar Saint Laurent, inspirational sports dramas The Finishers and Jappeloup, political comedy-drama The French Minister, family film Nicholas On Holiday, dark thriller Mea Culpa, raunchy romantic comedy French Women and World War II drama Diplomacy. 

There will be several themed screenings held at the Alliance Française, including a family brunch for Nicholas on Holiday and a “ladies night” for French Women, complete with sexy male waiters and glasses of champagne placed under random seats. 

Nicholas on Holiday (Les Vacances du Petit Nicolas)
The  Alliance Française will host the "Inside Cannes" photography exhibition. Peek behind the glitz and glamour of the prestigious, celebrity-packed Cannes Film Festival via the work of Clotilde Richalet, a Cannes-accredited photographer since 2006.   

Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête)
Also, if you had the misfortune of sitting through the terrible English-dubbed version of Christophe Gans' Beauty and the Beast, you can now catch the film in the original French language! 

The full lineup of films can be viewed here

Venue and ticketing information is available here.

The 4th Rendezvous with French Cinema is on from 28 November to 7 December 2014. Screenings will be held at The Cathay, Shaw Lido and Alliance  Française. 

Kill The Messenger

For F*** Magazine


Director : Michael Cuesta
Cast : Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Andy García
Genre : Biography/Crime/Drama
Rating : NC-16 (Some Drug Use And Coarse Language) 
Run time: 112 mins

The archetype of the “intrepid reporter” has always had its allure and while we’re gripped by thrilling stories of journalists who will chase a story at any cost, it’s easy to forget that in real life, situations like this don’t often end well. It is 1996 and Gary Webb (Renner) is a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who uncovers a shocking connection between the CIA and drug-runners in Nicaragua. He writes “Dark Alliance”, a three-part exposé for the newspaper that grabs the nation’s attention. The African-American community in particular is angered by the possibility that the CIA intentionally introduced crack cocaine into their communities. Soon, the scrutiny that comes from life in the spotlight proves to be more than Webb, his wife Susan (DeWitt) and their three children can take as he feels his life is in danger.

            Kill the Messenger is adapted from Nick Schou’s book Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb as well as Webb’s own Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, an expansion of his articles. Like other conspiracy thrillers that examine the cost of uncovering the truth, Kill the Messenger is driven by a righteous indignation and has the David and Goliath aspect of a reporter from a small local newspaper going up against the CIA. Director Michael Cuesta has dealt with similar subject matter directing episodes of the TV series Homeland. There is a sense that he is striving not to over-sensationalise the actual events that took place but perhaps as result of this, the second half of the film lacks the propulsive urgency promised in the first half.

            The film places a fair amount of focus on Webb’s family life and how his pursuit of the truth behind the CIA’s alleged partnership with the Contras in Central America affected them. We see his exuberance slowly fade as he slides towards a meltdown as much of the journalism community turns against him and the big boys at the L.A. Times and the Washington Post become ravenously envious of his scoop. It feels as if a good chunk of what made the real-life case so compelling has been omitted from the film. Ideally, a thriller should pull one in deeper and deeper as it progresses, but Kill the Messenger hits a disappointing plateau midway through.


            Director Cuesta claims that in this film, Jeremy Renner delivers his best performance since The Hurt Locker and he’s pretty much right. Renner can’t quite seem to attain A-list action hero status despite appearing a number of popcorn movies over the last few years and perhaps projects in this vein are what he should be pursuing. There’s a charisma and hunger as well as a dash of idealism that Renner doesn’t overplay and it is truly crushing when we see things start to collapse before Webb’s eyes. The supporting cast is studded with semi-recognizable-to-pretty-famous faces including Oliver Platt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Sheen and Andy García. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosemarie DeWitt, as Webb’s editor and wife respectively, are especially convincing and their performances contribute to Kill the Messenger’s credibility as an account of actual events.

            Kill the Messenger brings an event and a personal story that has been largely forgotten by the public back to the forefront. Gary Webb died in 2004 from being shot twice in the head; this was ruled a suicide. There are still lessons to be learnt from Webb’s story, particularly for those interested in investigative journalism. While Kill the Messenger is admirable in how it doesn’t turn the whole thing into an overblown melodrama, it slides a little in the opposite direction, rendering its subject matter not quite as compellingly as it could have.

SUMMARY: While Jeremy Renner puts in an excellent performance, Kill the Messenger doesn’t dig deep enough into its subject matter and falls short of being a searing account of journalist Gary Webb’s ordeal.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Before I Go To Sleep

For F*** Magazine


Director : Rowan Joffé
Cast : Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jing Lusi, Rosie MacPherson
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)
Run time: 92 mins

The thought of losing one’s reliance on memory is a frightening one. What would it be like not knowing the fundamentals of one’s personal history and not knowing who to trust? In this psychological thriller, Nicole Kidman plays Christine Lucas, a woman who suffers from anterograde amnesia following an accident years ago. Christine loses all the memories she has made in a given day when she wakes up the next morning, her mind “resetting” to how it was in her early 20s. She is cared for by her husband Ben (Firth), struggling with his wife’s predicament but choosing to remain strong for her. However, Christine begins to doubt if she can trust Ben and begins secretly seeing neuropsychologist Dr. Nasch (Strong) in the hopes that he can devise a cure for her condition. However, the more Christine uncovers, the more she loses track of as she awakes the next day.

            Before I Go to Sleep is adapted from the best-selling 2011 novel of the same name by S.J. Watson. Writer-director Rowan Joffé pulls the viewer in with an efficient set-up – the premise justifies the chunks of exposition delivered at the beginning of the film. It also allows Joffé to play with the structure a little. However, it’s not long before all the conventions used in the telling of this story become evident. We’ve seen anterograde amnesia used as a plot device in films from Memento to 50 First Dates and there’s a distinct reason why memory loss has become associated with predictable soap opera-esque melodrama. There is an effort on Joffé’s part to spin something new from this shop-worn trope and the film’s first act does establish an air of plausibility and tension. However, by the time the climax rolls around, Before I Go to Sleep has leapt down the generic thriller rabbit hole, leaving head-scratching dangling plot threads in its wake.

            One major thing Before I Go to Sleep has going for it is that it’s very smartly cast, playing on audience expectations associated with each of the three stars. Nicole Kidman’s performance as a character who’s vulnerable but is not about to take what’s happening to her lying down is sufficiently compelling and, for the first two acts of the film at least, helps the audience overlook the inconsistencies in the narrative. Ideally, a film of this type should make one go “what would I do in a situation like this?” and Kidman does accomplish that. The film reunites Kidman with Colin Firth, her on-screen husband from The Railway Man. There’s a different dynamic here and Firth is able to strike a balance between sympathetic and suspicious even though the material doesn’t give him quite enough to play with. Mark Strong is known for his ability to play “sinister”, but he can just as easily play “steadfast, reassuring and concerned”, which he does here. Anne-Marie Duff rounds out the cast as Claire, a friend from Christine’s past whose appearance in the story calls events into question. Given this, she is little more than a plot device.

            As far as whodunits go, Before I Go to Sleep is far more straightforward than one would expect, the potential for truly mind-bending psychological thrills left somewhat unmined. At its weakest moments, the film strays into “Lifetime Movie of the Week” territory. During the denouement, Edward Shearmur’s score goes into full-blown cliché thriller mode, heavy on the “Psycho strings”. All this said though, the film does manage to be absorbing and chilling in the moment and it’s only upon later reflection that it begins to crumble. As much as the logic of the twists and turns matter, it comes down just as much to how entertaining it is. While the big reveal isn’t quite as ludicrous as that in the Liam Neeson-starring amnesia thriller Unknown, Before I Go to Sleep falls short of the satisfyingly explosive thrills of that film.

Summary: It’s well-acted and initially engaging, but Before I Go to Sleep is ultimately unremarkable psychological thriller fare, complete with the plot hole or two that comes with middling entries in this genre.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Monday, November 3, 2014


For F*** Magazine


Director : Christopher Nolan
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy
Genre : Sci-Fi/Adventure
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language) 
Run time: 169 mins

Following the conclusion of the Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan could only head in one direction – up. Way up. In this sci-fi adventure, we journey into the cosmic unknown with engineer Cooper (McConaughey). It is the near-future and with most of its natural resources depleted, earth is dying. NASA scientist Dr. Brand (Caine) ropes in Cooper to embark on a mission through a wormhole in search of a new planet to call home on the other side. Rounding out the crew are Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Brand’s own daughter Amelia (Hathaway). Cooper leaves behind his teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and young daughter Murph (Foy). Because of the time slippage that results from being near a black hole, Cooper stays the same age while his children back home grow older. The now-adult Murph (Chastain) holds out hope that her father will return home as the situation on earth worsens.

            The marriage of heart-tugging sentiment and awe-inspiring sci-fi spectacle in Interstellar brings the work of director Steven Spielberg to mind. Indeed, Spielberg was attached to the film in its early stages, with Jonathan Nolan hired to write the screenplay. Eventually, Jonathan’s brother Christopher came on board to rewrite the script and direct. Just as we’ve come to expect from the director, big ideas are tackled in grand fashion. Going to see a movie in the theatre isn’t quite the event it used to be and sure, big-budget blockbusters are a dime a dozen, but Nolan seems keen on delivering a true film-going experience. Shot and finished on film as per his insistence, this is quite a visual feast on the giant IMAX screen, enhanced by theatre-shaking sound effects and Hans Zimmer’s ethereal, techno-tinged score.

            Of course, just as Spielberg’s work is often decried as schmaltzy, more cynical viewers might be unmoved despite the best efforts of Nolan and his cast. There are moments when the seams are visible and the film strains under the weight of its ambition to appeal to both heart and mind. The line “love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends the dimensions of time and space” could be described as “hokey”. Nolan does make full use of the anguish inherent in the idea of time passing faster for one party than the other, having played with the concept differently in Inception. Interstellar attempts to explore the themes of how tenacity and the survival instinct in mankind might be a two-edged sword when push comes to shove.  Interstellar is inspired by the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who is the technical consultant and an executive producer on the film (and for whom one of the robots in the movie, KIPP, is presumably named). The film does feel well-researched and credible and once it inevitably enters metaphysical territory, suspension of disbelief has been well and truly earned.

            Fresh off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club and having broken free from rom-com purgatory, Matthew McConaughey makes an appealing leading man here. Cooper has his eyes towards the stars, refusing to be bound by the mundane despite what society dictates. The scenes McConaughey shares with Mackenzie Foy are sufficiently touching. Any other film would have an obligatory shoehorned-in romantic subplot between Cooper and Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand, but that’s not the case here, with Cooper’s arc driven by his desire to return home to see his children while time keeps on slipping. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the emotional core of the movie is at the expense of meaningful character development for the crew of the space mission. The grown-up Murph is still angry at her father for seemingly abandoning her but this is only because she misses him so, something Chastain conveys effectively. We never thought a comic relief robot would show up in a Christopher Nolan movie, but here we have the garrulous TARS, entertainingly voiced by comedian, clown and character actor Bill Irwin.

            Nolan has made no secret of being inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that film’s influence is very much evident here. It would be an injustice to call Interstellar a “rip-off” because of the care taken in realising the film, the photo-realistic visual effects work supervised by Paul Franklin of Double Negative particularly impressive and a shoo-in for the Oscar. As is his style, Nolan played his cards to close to his chest, keeping the production secretive and while there are a few great surprises, Interstellar feels more familiar than one might expect. Perhaps this familiarity makes the sweeping epic with its wormholes and spacecraft that much more accessible.

Summary: Interstellar is a thrilling, moving sci-fi adventure and while the end result isn’t as earth-shatteringly profound as the filmmakers probably intended, it’s still a superb movie-going experience.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Scribbler

For F*** Magazine


Director : John Suits
Cast : Katie Cassidy, Garrett Dillahunt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Michael Imperioli, Billy Campbell, Gina Gershon, Sasha Grey, Ashlynn Yennie
Genre : Thriller
Rating : R21 (Sexual Scene)
Run time: 90 mins

What could possibly be more disturbing than voices in your head? A silent voice in your head. Sounds paradoxical, but that’s what’s afflicting Suki (Cassidy), a troubled young woman diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. One of her personalities, “The Scribbler”, manifests itself in the form of strange mirror-image writing and of all the identities violently bouncing about in her head, that one seems the strongest and the most dangerous. Dr. Sinclair (Campbell) puts Suki on an experimental electro-shock treatment called “the Siamese Burn”, intended to eliminate the multiple personalities until only the dominant one remains. Suki is committed to a halfway house called Juniper Towers, where she meets a variety of colourful, unstable personalities including Goth chick Alice (Trachtenberg), vampy Cleo (Gershon), and clothing-averse Emily (Yennie). There’s also the self-proclaimed “rooster in the henhouse”, Hogan (Dillahunt). The facility has a high suicide rate, but is it just its residents snapping or is there something harder to explain at play?

            The Scribbler is directed by John Suits and written by Daniel Schaffer, adapted from his own 2006 graphic novel. The verb “scribble” brings to mind the adjective “messy”, and The Scribbler is very messy indeed. We’ve seen multiple personalities used as a plot point in some very thought-provoking, well-crafted films. Here, it seems like an excuse for the listless, aimless plot, where bursts of violence and nudity are meant to make up for the overall incoherence of the whole thing. It feels a good deal longer than its 88 minutes and this reviewer found it difficult to care about any of the trippy proceedings. Did this really happen? Is she making it up? What does it even matter? There’s nothing to drive the film, it’s not a whodunit per se and the framing device of Suki being interviewed by a good cop/bad cop pairing of criminal psychologist Silk (Dushku) and detective Moss (Imperioli) strips away a good deal of the tension.

            With its cast of attractive women, its setting of a mental institution and the heightened, stylised elements at play, The Scribbler feels like a low-rent version of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. However, Sucker Punch had exciting, beautifully-designed fantasy action sequences and a clear “quest”-type plot progression. Because the film fails to create an absorbing, compelling world, disbelief remains firmly unsuspended; this reviewer unable to get past the question “why are these at-risk individuals allowed to live unsupervised in this building in the middle of the city?” The Scribbler takes place pretty much entirely in the grimy, derelict halfway house and while it’s certainly possible for low-budget films to put style and atmosphere to good use to compensate for a lack of resources, that’s just not the case here.

            Katie Cassidy, currently playing Laurel Lance on TV’s Arrow, does give a committed (heh) lead performance and while she does fall back on some of the stock traits actors use when portraying crazed characters, she isn’t bland or laughably over the top. Garrett Dillahunt does seem to be having fun; after all, he is surrounded by all these women. Former porn star Sasha Grey subverts expectations by actually staying clothed; it’s Ashlynn Yennie of The Human Centipede infamy who provides most of the fan-service. One can’t help but feel Eliza Dushku is wasted in the part of the criminal psychologist when she could have well played an unhinged Juniper Towers resident.

            There’s the potential for some glorious, ludicrous genre hijinks, but it’s all but left unmined in The Scribbler. Here, we have a movie adapted from a graphic novel, with a protagonist who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, it’s set in a halfway house, full of unstable characters and superhuman abilities that might be real or imagined come into play – and, somehow, it’s boring. While clearly hamstrung by its limited budget, that’s only one of this movie’s many issues.

Summary: What could have been a cool, trippy underground genre flick with a fascinating protagonist is instead incoherent, unengaging and just generally annoying.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong