Monday, February 29, 2016

The 88th Academy Awards: It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Year

For F*** Magazine

The 88th Academy Awards: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Year
By Jedd Jong

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
for Bridge of Spies
The culmination of the 2015-2016 awards season, the Academy Awards ceremony, took place on 28th February at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The Oscars may be often labelled “stale” and “lame”, but this year, a balls-to-the-wall, high octane, genuinely insane action movie took home the most trophies – an anomaly, to say the least. Mad Max: Fury Road bagged six little golden men, with Spotlight and The Revenant taking two each. And yes, it was sixth time lucky for Leonardo DiCaprio, whose hitherto fruitless Oscar pursuit has finally concluded with rousing victory.

The night contained two significant surprises: a Best Supporting Actor win for Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance when it was assumed that Creed’s Sylvester Stallone would emerge victorious, and Best Picture for Spotlight, with The Big Short pegged as the favourite because it won the Producer’s Guild Award. Also unexpected was Ex Machina’s victory in the Best Visual Effects category over the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ex Machina was by far the film in that category with the lowest budget. Double Negative, the main effects vendor on the film, has a facility in Singapore which was responsible for a portion of the Oscar-winning effects work.

Best Picture: Spotlight
For the first time, a ticker listing the names the winners would like to thank scrolled at the bottom of the screen. The winners who went over time with their thank you speeches were chased off by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

Host Chris Rock
The lead-up to the ceremony was fraught with controversy, as fiery discussions regarding the lack of diversity in the acting nominations swirled. Host Chris Rock, who also presided over the 77th Oscars in 2005, got his chance to address this right out the gate. The majority of his material was dedicated to this issue. After a highlight reel of 2015’s films played, Rock took the stage, opening with “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage!”

He admitted that he thought about quitting after facing considerable pressure to do so, justifying his decision to remain as host with “the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart!” Rock pointed out that there probably were no black nominees for long stretches of the 50s and 60s, saying “Black people didn’t protest the lack of nominees in the 60s because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who was going to win Best Cinematographer!”

“The ‘In Memoriam’ segment will just be black people who got shot by the cops this year,” Rock said to gasps. It was the edgiest he got before backing away from said edge. “Rocky takes place in a world where white athletes are as good as black athletes, so Rocky is a science fiction movie,” he said, dubbing CreedBlack Rocky”. Throughout the ceremony, Rock referenced convicted record producer Suge Knight, with an actor playing Knight wheeled into the hall accompanied by police officers and strapped to a Hannibal Lecter-esque gurney. In a taped segment, Whoopi Goldberg played a janitor who steals Joy Mangano’s thunder in Joy, Leslie Jones replaced the bear mauling DiCaprio in The Revenant, Tracy Morgan was a “Danish Girl” munching on pastry and Rock himself was a black astronaut whom NASA decides to just leave on Mars.

Tracy Morgan as the Danish Girl in a sketch
To say the ceremony was politically-charged would be an understatement. Another taped segment featured Rock visiting a local movie theatre in Compton, California to interview moviegoers, where the predominantly black audiences had not heard of any of the films nominated for Best Picture, but had all watched Straight Outta Compton. In a segment entitled the “Academy Awards Black History Month Minute”, Angela Bassett spoke of an “actor, producer, comedian, musician,” who starred in the likes of Enemy of the State and Shark Tale, with the implication being that the figure in question was Will Smith, who had boycotted this year’s ceremony alongside his wife Jada Pinkett. It was a bait and switch, and she was referring to Jack Black instead.

Taking a more serious tack, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the director of the Academy, said in her speech that “concrete action” was being taken to re-evaluate the membership of the organisation, giving the imperative that “Each of you is an ambassador who can help influence others in this industry. It’s not enough to listen and agree.” She did not specifically explain what said measures were.

Best Original Song nominee Lady Gaga performing Til It Happens to You

In addition to issues of race, sexual assault on college campuses received attention. Vice-President of the United States Joe Biden made an appearance to introduce Lady Gaga, who performed the song Til It Happens to You from the documentary The Hunting Ground, a song she wrote with Diane Warren. As Gaga’s stirring performance at the piano drew to a close, she was joined on stage by a number of male and female survivors of sexual assault. Each had words and phrases such as “It happened to me”, “not my fault” and “survivor” written on their arms in sharpie. The song lost to Writing’s on the Wall, the Bond theme by Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes.

Best Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu,
The Revenant
Noted conservationist DiCaprio slipped an environmental message into his acceptance speech, recounting how 2015 was the warmest year on record and that Global Warming caused the production to venture from Canada to Argentina in search of snow. “Climate change is real, it is happening right now,” DiCaprio proclaimed. “We need to work collectively right now and stop procrastinating.” He encouraged viewers to withdraw their support for big corporations known to be major polluters.

Similarly, The Big Short writer Adam McKay exhorted “if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires: Stop!” McKay and Charles Randolph shared the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; McKay was also nominated for Best Director but lost to Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The director of The Revenant took home his second Best Director Oscar in as many years.

In his acceptance speech, Iñárritu quoted a line from The Revenant: “They don’t listen to you. They see the colour of your skin.” He highlighted the opportunity to “make sure for once and forever that the colour of skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.” The last time a director took home back-to-back Oscars was when Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).

The In Memoriam segment, which featured tributes to actors Leonard Nimoy, Alan Rickman, Christopher Lee and David Bowie in addition to behind the scenes figures like cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, composer James Horner and film critic Richard Corliss, was set to Dave Grohl’s acoustic rendition of Blackbird by the Beatles.

Best Actress Brie Larson,

While last year’s ceremony feature a wacky performance of Everything is Awesome from The LEGO Movie as a light-hearted break from the heaviness of hot-button political issues, the closest this year’s ceremony came to that was the appearance of Star Wars droids C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8. “Actually, I do not look like him. He happens to look rather like me,” the worrywart Protocol Droid said in reference to the golden Oscar figure. The Minions, and Buzz and Woody from Toy Story, would later take the stage to present the Best Animated Short and Best Animated Feature awards.

BB-8, R2-D2 and C-3PO
When it came to the theme of “comedians keeping it real,” Louis C.K. stated flatly that the nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject would never go on to the fame and fortune of their counterparts nominated for other categories. “These people will never be rich for as long as they live,” he said to laughter. “This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic…it’s going to give them anxiety to keep it in a crappy apartment.” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy took home the prize for her film The Girl In the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about the victims of honour killings in Pakistan.

Best Documentary Short Subject:
The Girl In the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
DiCaprio was not the only winner who had waited a while for his moment of glory. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone, 87, had been nominated five times prior and was presented with an honorary Oscar in 2007. Morricone spoke in Italian, with a translator on-stage interpreting. He gave a special acknowledgement to fellow nominee John Williams. Morricone, who the Best Original Score Oscar for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, has written the iconic scores for films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Mission and Cinema Paradiso.

When the time came to introduce the accountants from Price Waterhouse Coopers, three young Asian children walked onto the stage. “Anyone who’s offended by that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” Rock quipped. Rock also had his daughters’ girl scout troupe going through the audience selling girl scout cookies, in an obvious riff on Ellen DeGeneres’ pizza-ordering bit two years prior.

Sacha Baron Cohen presented in character as Ali G, alongside Olivia Wilde. “how come there’s no Oscar for very ‘ardworking yellow people with tiny dongs?” he wondered aloud in the character’s signature ‘Jafaican’ accent. “You know, the minions!” Ali G also gave props to “The amazing black bloke from Star Wars – Darth Vader!” Introducing Best Picture nominee Room, he remarked “Now check out a movie about a room full of white people!"

Presenters Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali Gi and Olivia Wilde
The night’s one moment of swearing came courtesy of Mad Max: Fury Road sound editor Mark Mangini. “F*** yeah Mad Maxxers!” he cheered.

While the jokes were certainly weighted with political intent and host Rock kept an undercurrent of tension as he attempted to bring the funny, this proved to be a bearable and relatively memorable ceremony. Besides the entire film industry getting a slap on the wrist for failing to be more inclusive, the 88th Academy Awards will also be remembered as the year a post-apocalyptic action adventure drove away with six trophies and Leonardo DiCaprio clinched that coveted statuette.


Spotlight WINNER
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The RevenantWINNER
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road


Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant - WINNER
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl


Brie Larson, RoomWINNER
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn


Mark Rylance, Bridge of SpiesWINNER
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl


Alicia Vikander, The Danish GirlWINNER
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Original Screenplay:
Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy,

Spotlight, by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy - WINNER
Bridge of Spies, by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Ex Machina, by Alex Garland
Inside Out, by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley; original story by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
Straight Outta Compton, by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff


The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay – WINNER
Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
Carol, Phyllis Nagy
The Martian, Drew Goddard
Room, Emma Donoghue


 Mad Max: Fury Road,  Jenny Beavan - WINNER
 Carol,  Sandy Powell
 Cinderella,  Sandy Powell
 The Danish Girl,  Paco Delgado
 The Revenant,  Jacqueline West


Mad Max: Fury Road, production design by Colin Gibson; set decoration by Lisa Thompson - WINNER  Bridge of Spies, production design by Adam Stockhausen; set decoration by Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
The Danish Girl,  production design by Eve Stewart; set decoration by Michael Standish
The Martian,  production design by Arthur Max; set decoration by Celia Bobak
The Revenant,  production design by Jack Fisk; set decoration by Hamish Purdy


Mad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin - WINNER 
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared,  Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
The Revenant,  Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini


The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki - WINNER 
Carol, Ed Lachman
The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road, John Seale
Sicario,  Roger Deakins


Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel - WINNER
The Big Short, Hank Corwin
The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight, Tom McArdle
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey


Mad Max: Fury Road, Mark Mangini and David White - WINNER 
The Martian, Oliver Tarney
The Revenant, Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Sicario, Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Matthew Wood and David Acord


Mad Max: Fury Road, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo - WINNER 
Bridge of Spies,  Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
The Martian, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
The Revenant, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
Star Wars: The Force Awakens,  Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
Best Visual Effects: Ex Machina


Ex Machina, Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett - WINNER 
Mad Max: Fury Road,  Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
The Martian,  Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
The Revenant,  Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens,  Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould


Bear Story,  Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala - WINNER 
Prologue,  Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team,  Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
We Can’t Live without Cosmos,  Konstantin Bronzit
World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt


Inside Out,  Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera - WINNER 
Anomalisa,  Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
Boy and the World,  Alê Abreu
Shaun the Sheep Movie,  Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura


A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,  Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy - WINNER 
Body Team 12,  David Darg and Bryn Mooser
Chau, Beyond the Lines,  Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,  Adam Benzine
Last Day of Freedom,  Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman


Amy, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees - WINNER 
Cartel Land,  Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone?  Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor


Stutterer,  Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage - WINNER 
Ave Maria,  Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Day One,  Henry Hughes
Everything Will Be Okay  (Alles Wird Gut),  Patrick Vollrath
Shok,  Jamie Donoughue


Son of Saul, Hungary - WINNER 
Embrace of the Serpent,  Colombia
Mustang,  France
Theeb,  Jordan
A War, Denmark


Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre - WINNER
Music and lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey
Music and lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
Manta Ray from Racing Extinction
Music by J. Ralph and lyric by Antony Hegarty
Simple Song #3 from Youth
Music and lyric by David Lang
Til It Happens To You from  The Hunting Ground
Music and lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga


The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone – WINNER
Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
Carol, Carter Burwell
Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams

Photo credits: A.M.P.A.S.

Thanks to HBO Asia 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Gods of Egypt

For F*** Magazine


Director : Alex Proyas
Cast : Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Bryan Brown, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 126 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

If there’s one constant throughout most ancient deistic mythologies, it’s that the gods have always got to drag poor mortals into their epic struggles. The god Osiris (Brown) is about to pass the crown to his son Horus (Coster-Waldau), the god of the sky. Osiris’ jealous brother Set (Butler), the god of the desert, crashes the coronation and snatches the crown for himself, gouging out Horus’ eyes and stealing away Horus’ companion Hathor (Yung), the goddess of love. Bek (Thwaites), a streetwise mortal, is hopelessly in love with Zaya (Eaton), who is forced to be a servant to chief architect Urshu (Sewell). Zaya gives Bek the plans to Set’s secret vault, and Bek sets about breaking in to steal Horus’ eye and return it to the god. Weakened and in exile, Horus reluctantly teams up with Bek, travelling to the domain of his grandfather Ra (Rush) the sun god to request that Horus’ powers be restored. Horus and Bek must call upon the expertise of Thoth (Boseman), the god of wisdom, to answer the riddle of the Sphinx and defeat the power-mad Set.

            If you saw the trailers for Gods of Egypt and thought “gee, this looks ridiculous”, you aren’t alone and you aren’t wrong. This fantasy flick overflows with gratuitous and consistently-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. The best thing that can be said about it is, well, it’s colourful. The plot point of gods falling from grace is faintly echoed by the way director Alex Proyas’ own career has tumbled. The once-promising helmer of The Crow and Dark City eventually went from that to I, Robot, to Knowing, to now this. Clash of the Titans but with ancient Egyptian deities is a fun premise on paper, but Gods of Egypt entirely lacks the resources to pull this off, even with a $140 million budget. Screenwriting duo Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless, whose less-than-inspiring credits comprise Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, spin a story that comes off as derivative. Despite referencing specific elements of ancient Egyptian mythology, the characters lack any defining identity of their own.

            Gods of Egypt has come under fire for its whitewashed casting – this is a film drawing on African mythology that features a predominantly white cast. Both director Proyas and studio Lionsgate have issued apologies for not considering a diverse cast, while also trucking out the expected “but it’s a fantasy film” defence. Yes, this is a silly, ultimately inconsequential movie, but what it sadly demonstrates is that even in 2016, white actors who are B-listers at best are preferred over actors of other ethnicities. Boseman has said he is thankful that as someone of African descent, he gets to portray the god of wisdom Thoth, but also conceded in the same interview that “people don't make $140 million movies starring black and brown people.” Thoth is assisted by an army of duplicates of himself, so there’s a sad joke about how that evens the scales somewhere in there.

            Coster-Waldau, best-known as Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones, is a passable brooding hero. Thwaites, playing a character who’s essentially Disney’s version of Aladdin, is almost insufferably bland and frequently annoying. The stabs at buddy movie banter between Horus and Bek generally fall flat. Model/actress Eaton, who played Cheedo the Fragile in Mad Max: Fury Road, matches Thwaites in her woodenness. The relationship between Bek and Zaya is meant to be one worth charging the gates of the underworld for, but it really couldn’t be any less compelling. As the other main female character in the story, Yung fares only slightly better, Hathor serving primarily as further motivation for Horus to seek vengeance against Set.

Butler chomping the scenery as a snarling villain consumed with absolute domination is, at least, slightly more interesting than Butler playing a generic action hero, or trying his hand at romantic comedy. Rush’s appearance as Ra feels like a cut-rate version of Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the Thor movies, like a doctor-ordered dosage of prestige. It is somewhat amusing to see the Oscar-winner battle what can only be described as, forgive our crassness, a gargantuan cosmic toothed anus.

            Gods of Egypt is quite the misguided enterprise, at once extravagant and hollow. Any inventiveness its visuals might possess is undercut by the phoniness of it all. For example, while it certainly sounds cool to have all the gods stand nine feet tall, this “reverse-Hobbit” effect makes it seem like they’re never actually occupying the same space as the mortals they’re interacting with. You’re tired of reading this comparison, we’re tired of writing it and it’s a disservice to video games, but this movie looks like a video game. While Gods of Egypt feels like it’s going to be so bad it’s good and there is a fair amount of unintentional hilarity to take in, everything eventually blurs together and it’s more effort to endure than it’s worth.

Summary: Between the CGI mucilage, flat acting, uninspired story and a once-promising director just giving up, Gods of Egypt is an ungodly mess.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Ride Along 2

For F*** Magazine


Director : Tim Story
Cast : Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt, Tika Sumpter, Sherri Shepherd
Genre : Comedy/Action
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

It’s time to hop back in that Dodge Charger R/T with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, because crime officially has a new enemy: The Brothers-in-Law. It’s a week before the wedding between Ben Barber (Hart) and Angela Payton (Sumpter). When Angela’s brother James (Cube), an Atlanta police detective, travels to Miami to follow up on a lead, Ben convinces James to let him tag along, even though Ben is not up to the task. The duo team up with Miami homicide detective Maya Cruz (Munn) to track down A.J. (Jeong), a hacker who embezzled money from his former employer. Said former employer is Antonio Pope (Bratt), who appears to be a legitimate shipping tycoon and philanthropist but is secretly a treacherous, well-connected crime lord with the port commissioner in his pocket. James and Maya have to bring Antonio to justice while ensuring that Ben and A.J.’s tomfoolery doesn’t pull them down.

            While 2014’s Ride Along was generally dismissed by critics, it was a surprise box office hit and a sequel was to be expected, even if there wasn’t a particularly high demand for it. In addition to stars Cube and Hart, director Tim Story and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi are back for the follow-up. Ride Along 2 comes off as even more of a cut-rate Bad Boys than the first film. The action sequences are nominally more elaborate than before and stunt coordinator/second unit director Jack Gill of the last three Fast and Furious films stages competent if unmemorable pursuits and explosions. A scene in which Ben imagines he’s playing a Grand Theft Auto-style videogame to get through a car chase is a somewhat clever visual gag, if clumsily executed. In addition, Ben has a run-in with a downright embarrassing computer-generated alligator, which looks like it’s a second away from singing and dancing and teaching kids how to spell. The Miami setting means we get lingering shots of bikini-clad women in some attempt at PG-13-level titillation. It very much wants to be a Michael Bay film, but Ride Along 2 doesn’t have the budget for it.

            Hart may be extremely in demand as a comedic actor, but his shtick can be grating and the Ben Barber character is basically Scrappy-Doo, overeager and under-qualified. Hart is energetic and spontaneous but often obnoxious. He and Cube play off each other well enough, but it’s the tired “one’s silly, the other’s stoic” buddy cop routine without a new spin on the formula. Munn is the stock tough gal with little defining personality and since one shrill, diminutive comic apparently wasn’t enough, Jeong is on hand to shriek and squeal. Bratt’s Antonio Pope is as formulaic a villain as they come: the story’s set in Miami, so of course he’s a wealthy drug kingpin. He also possesses considerably less presence than Laurence Fishburne did as the big bad of the first Ride Along.

            If you enjoyed the first Ride Along movie, the sequel is more of the same with a touch more action. Neither Ben nor James have developed very much since the events of the first film and their dynamic remains essentially the same. It’s fitfully amusing but while this certainly isn’t the most unnecessary sequel out there, it still doesn’t justify its existence. It’s predictable, generic, feels like it was made on autopilot and is often quite irritating.

Summary: Delivering action and comedy that is equally uninspired, Ride Along 2 trundles along with a flat tire.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 


For F*** Magazine


Director : Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Cast : Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 109 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG

Cat Stevens told us “baby, baby it’s a wild world”, and the makers of this animated film have taken this to heart. In a world populated entirely by a variety of anthropomorphic mammals, Judy Hopps (Goodwin) is a principled, spirited young rabbit from Bunnyburrow. She has her heart set on becoming a police officer, even though her parents (Hunt and Lake) would prefer her to become a carrot farmer like them. Hopps gets inducted into the Zootopia Police Department, but Chief Bogo (Elba) has little faith in her abilities. While on the case of a missing otter, Judy crosses paths with Nick Wilde (Bateman), a red fox con artist. They have to overcome their natural animosity to work together in solving a spate of mysterious disappearances, as societal tensions between “prey” and “predators” bubble over.

            Zootopia’s marketing campaign seemed to indicate a film that might be too cutesy for some audiences’ tastes, appearing like it would serve up an endless parade of anthropomorphic animals performing adorable, amusing antics. To this reviewer’s surprise, Zootopia ends up far deeper than it initially appears, gamely and sensitively tackling the themes of prejudice and tolerance in the context of an animated family film. Directors Howard, Moore and Bush tread very fragile ground and ensure that Zootopia doesn’t come off as preachy or painfully on-the-nose in delivering its message to impressionable kids. At the same time, there’s plenty of wit and visual invention on display and the liveliness of the presentation helps ease the audience into the surprisingly mature allegory at the heart of the film.

            Walt Disney Animation’s entirely computer-animated films got off to a rocky start with Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, the studio still firmly stuck in Pixar’s looming shadow. With the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6, suffice it to say that things have improved. The army of animators involved in breathing life into Zootopia have done a marvellous job, with impeccable fur textures and environmental effects in every frame. The characters are expressive, with just the right blend of human and animal traits combined to sell the anthropomorphism. There is a thoroughness to the way the world has been conceived, with a distinct animism to the architecture and plenty of clever visual gags emphasizing how animals of drastically different scales and sizes co-exist in the same milieu. With the pop culture allusions that include winks at The Godfather and Breaking Bad for the parents in tow, there’s a degree of Dreamworks-ness at work here, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

            This is essentially a buddy cop movie, of the “one’s a cop and one’s not a cop” subset. It sticks very closely to established tropes: our hero is a kind-hearted but tough straight arrow, her foil is a charming rogue lacking in scruples, the police chief is unconvinced that the rookie has what it takes, colourful characters including organised crime elements show up and there’s a mystery to unravel. Even though Zootopia is comprised of familiar story components, the setting does lend it a freshness.

            Goodwin, who has a connection to Disney in the form of starring as Snow White in the TV show Once Upon a Time, gives Judy an eagerness that never crosses over into being annoying. She’s literally wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. Bateman is a dab hand at the smooth talker shtick, but there’s more to Nick than his conman façade and Bateman and Goodwin deliver some moving emotional beats. Elba’s unmistakable baritone is always a joy to listen to, and this year, we’ll also get to hear his voice work in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory.

Veteran voice actor Maurice LaMarche turns in a side-splitting Marlon Brando impression as Mr. Big, the arctic shrew mafia don. This reviewer was worried that Shakira’s presence as the pop star Gazelle would be too gimmicky, but the character is used judiciously and her main appearance is in a musical number during the end credits. Some big laughs come courtesy of Raymond S. Persi, who voices the sloth Flash. Kristen Bell has a vocal cameo as Flash’s colleague Priscilla, a fun inside joke seeing as Bell is famously, endearingly obsessed with sloths.

            There’s certainly more than meets the eye with Zootopia. While it’s perfectly enjoyable on the level of an animated adventure comedy with the jokes flying at a steady pace, it also eloquently and thoughtfully comments upon issues of race and diversity, without feeling like it’s merely hopping on some kind of social justice bandwagon. The self-aware comedy sometimes veers into Shrek territory, but pop culture references only account for a portion of the humour. While not on the same level as last year’s Inside Out, Zootopia does a commendable job of packaging challenging themes for younger audiences without being condescending or tripping up over itself.

Summary: Entertaining, funny, visually engaging and thought-provoking, Zootopia is so much more than silly talking animals.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


For F*** Magazine


Director : Jay Roach
Cast : Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Dean O’Gorman, David James Elliott, Christian Berkel
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 124 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Coarse Language)

How agonising would it be to write something so spectacular and widely-lauded, yet be forcibly denied credit? This reviewer wouldn’t know because he’s never written anything nearly that good, but Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) certainly knew that feeling.

It is the late 1940s in Hollywood and Trumbo is highly in demand as a screenwriter. He is a member of the American Communist Party, he is one of the “Hollywood ten”, a group of screenwriters subpoenaed to testify before Congress. Trumbo is ostracised as his relationship with his wife Cleo (Lane) and three children is put under immense strain. Trumbo becomes a target of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren) and his disavowed by his friend, actor Edward G. Robinson (Stuhlbarg) so Robinson can protect his own career. Trumbo is unable to find work after being blacklisted, so he lets his friend Ian McLellan Hunter (Tudyk) take credit for Roman Holiday, which eventually wins an Academy Award. Gradually, rumours begin to swirl surrounding Trumbo’s clandestine ghost-writing. As the likes of Kirk Douglas (O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Berkel) hire Trumbo to craft screenplays for them, Trumbo inches closer to finally getting the credit he is due.

            It’s no secret that Hollywood loves movies about itself, and as a biopic about a prominent Hollywood figure, set against the backdrop of Cold War political turmoil, Trumbo does come off as Oscar bait. It’s a noble story of a stridently principled and talented man who risks everything to stand by his ideals. It is the hope of the filmmakers that audiences at large will find something in this story to identify with, because Trumbo often plays a little too “inside baseball” to be readily accessible. It’s not a difficult story to understand and Dalton Trumbo does deserve to have his story told, but if one isn’t that big a cinephile, specifically of the era in Hollywood during which Trumbo and his peers were active, Trumbo can be difficult to get into. This might sound disparaging and rest assured we don’t mean it that way, but Trumbo does feel like a film made for HBO. Director Jay Roach and star Cranston will next collaborate on one such HBO film, the Lyndon B. Johnson biopic All The Way.

            John McNamara adapted the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook into this film. It seems that any writer tackling a script about a titan in the same field would be painting a target of considerable size on his own back. Adding to the risk is the fact that such revered classics as Roman Holiday, The Brave One and Spartacus are not only referred to, but are key components of the story. There is a righteous indignation that McNamara brings out in his script, but Trumbo says in a speech that there were “no heroes and villains” while the witch-hunt for “commies” was ongoing, yet several characters do feel exaggerated in the name of artistic license. Director Roach is known for helming comedies such as the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents trilogies as well as Borat and The Campaign. Perhaps the closest he’s come to directing a drama is the HBO film Game Change, about Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential bid. While there are no obvious missteps in his direction, perhaps the material could have benefitted from a defter touch.

            The ace up Trumbo’s sleeve is Trumbo himself, brilliantly portrayed by Cranston. For audiences who only knew him as bumbling dad Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston made the world collectively drop its jaws with his staggering, indelible Walter White in Breaking Bad. Cranston’s Trumbo is not a boring hero, he can be frustratingly stubborn and ornery but that twinkle in his eye and the spark of true giftedness draws us to him.

Leading the supporting cast, Lane is wonderfully convincing as a woman of the 50s. She handles the role, particularly the scenes in which Cleo confronts her husband about being swallowed up by his ghost-writing and becoming hostile towards his family, with strength and grace. Elle Fanning portrays Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola, and her relationship with her father is contentious but understandably so. Louis C.K. and Alan Tudyk, both more often associated with comedic roles, both deliver solid dramatic turns. O’Gorman and Berkel’s impressions of Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger respectively are entertaining and just broad enough. Goodman is charismatically boorish and Mirren chomps down on the role of the catty, flamboyant gossip columnist with great relish.

            Trumbo is a biographical drama set in Hollywood with a talented actor in the lead role just waiting for the kudos to roll on in. In that regard, it’s a safe albeit not especially satisfying awards season offering. For those already enamoured with the period, the 50s style and décor might be eye-catching, but director Roach doesn’t do quite enough to hook the audience in and transport them right into the thick of 50s Hollywood. There’s earnestness aplenty, but a disappointing lack of pizazz.

Summary: Star Bryan Cranston is firing on all cylinders, but because it is only moderately successful at breathing life into the history it depicts, Trumbo holds the audience at arm’s length.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

For F*** Magazine


Director : Michael Bay
Cast : John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens, Alexa Barlier, David Costabile
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 hrs 25 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

It is 2012, the year after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in the Libyan Civil War. Idealistic ambassador Chris Stevens (Letscher), who is stationed in the Libyan city of Tripoli, makes a visit to Benghazi. On the evening of September 11th, a group of Islamic militants stages an attack on the American diplomatic compound where the ambassador is staying and the CIA “Annex” building situated nearby. A team of six Global Response Staff (GRS) security contractors hired by the CIA undertakes a desperate defence of the grounds as all hell breaks loose. This team comprises Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods (Dale), Jack Silva (Krasinski), Mark “Oz” Geist (Martini), John “Tig” Tiegen (Fumusa), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Schreiber) and Glen “Bub” Doherty (Stephens). These men, veterans of the Navy SEALS, Marine Force Recon and Army Special Forces, defy the orders of their Chief (Costabile) to stand down as they repel the scores of attackers in a last-ditch attempt.

            A series of title cards begin the movie, the last one before the title itself declaring “this is a true story”. Not “based on” or “inspired by”, but a definitive “is”. Any time a film depicting an actual event is made, debates on its accuracy are bound to ensue. Given how relatively recent the Benghazi attacks were and the impact the incident still has on the American political landscape, what with this being an election year and all, the firestorm around 13 Hours is fiercer than usual, even if Hillary Clinton isn’t even mentioned in the film.

Furthermore, the man at the helm of the film is Michael Bay, who famously dismissed film critics’ opinions of him by saying “I make movies for teenage boys”. While there obviously aren’t any clanging robot testicles to be found in this film, it’s still abundantly clear that the director lacks the nuance and finesse to fashion a gripping, thought-provoking depiction of the Benghazi attack. Bay has proudly, gleefully put military hardware on display in many of his previous films, boasting that he was the first to film certain aircraft or types of weaponry for the big screen. Therefore, it seems less likely that he’s motivated by noble intentions and more likely that he’s motivated by a desire to play with big, loud, shiny toys.

            Screenwriter Chuck Hogan adapted Mitchell Zuckhoff’s book 13 Hours for the screen. Zuckhoff, who wrote the book with the surviving members of the security team, stands by their version of events and has fired back at the CIA officials who claim the movie contains multiple major inaccuracies. A key plot point, that the team was ordered to stand down by the CIA station chief in Benghazi, has been denied by the CIA. Bay has claimed that the film has no political agenda, but the marketing campaign aimed squarely at conservative audiences says otherwise. Bay made an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor and trailers were scheduled to run during the live broadcast of Republican debates. 13 Hours is couched as a celebration of courageous unsung heroes and is dedicated to the memory of the two security contractors who died fighting the attackers. This comes off as disingenuous and while this reviewer certainly cannot vouch one way or the other, it’s hard to shake the sense that a true story has been squeezed into the mould of a generic action movie.

            The film clocks in at 144 minutes, with the actual attack not happening until around the 45-minute mark. It stands to reason that all this time spent with the characters before the chaos ensues will help us get to know them better. Not quite. The men are shown having Skype conversations with their family back home and there’s a flashback set to a sappy piano score in which Jack’s wife pleads with him to quit his private military contractor job. We even get a burning family photo fluttering to the ground later on. Bay and Hogan resort to reductive shorthand: we’re supposed to cheer for the muscle-bound, gun-toting bearded dudes and jeer at the paunchy, bespectacled bureaucrat. The lesson here is that in the end, all the Yale and Harvard-educated intelligence agents in the world cannot compare to good old-fashioned action heroes blasting the bad guys to bits. Yee haw!

            The most worthwhile element of the film is Krasinski’s performance. Somewhat following in the footsteps of Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd, Krasinski is an actor known primarily for comedic roles who has completely transformed himself into an action hero. The difference between Krasinski and those two is that Jack Silva isn’t a wise-cracking rogue and some serious acting chops are called upon in addition to the running and gunning. Whatever faint glimmers of sincerity the film possesses are courtesy of Krasinski.

            There is possibly a hint of self-awareness here: earlier on in the film when the team are relaxing, they’re watching Tropic Thunder, a satirical comedy about clueless Hollywood types making a war movie and getting caught in actual danger. Typically, action movies are escapist entertainment and yes, it is certainly possible to imbue an action movie with deeper meaning, but Bay has not accomplished that here. With Bay, it’s clear who the victor in the war between flash and substance always will be.

Summary: A subject as complicated as the Benghazi attacks needs a defter directorial touch and doesn’t need to be as stuffed with action movie clichés as 13 Hours is. There are attempts at deeper meaning, but viewers who will come away most satisfied are fans of vehicles exploding and flipping over.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong