Tag Archives: Fast & Furious

US Box Office Report: 3/4/15 – 5/4/15

Furious 7 makes Fast mo-HOLY MOTHER OF CRAP, THAT’S MORE THAN I’LL MAKE IN 11 LIFETIMES, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

OK, let’s see if I still know how to do this…

I think we all expected Furious 7 to do well.  It’s the sequel to a series that has slowly become genuinely beloved as time has marched on, the last one made $97 million opening weekend – no, I have no idea how, and I say that as a fan of these movies – and it’s the last appearance of Paul Walker and, let’s face it, we were all morbidly curious to see how they dealt with it in film.  Oh, yeah, and the film itself is pretty great and stuff.  So, a high debut was pretty much guaranteed.  That didn’t stop me from flinging out the shocked profanity when I saw that it made $67 million on opening day alone.  I mean, $67 million!  That’s more than the GDP of some countries in a year!  In one day!

Furious 7 would close out the weekend with $143 million, officially the ninth best opening weekend ever for a film in America (assuming that actuals don’t drop it by about $800,000).  Undoubtedly the film was kept from ridiculously stupid echelons of money by the fact that it opened on Easter weekend, making Saturday and Sunday totals come in lower than they otherwise could have… but then I remember that $143 million is still ridiculously stupid echelons of money and I go back to just being in awe of that total.  I mean, aren’t you?  And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the film also made $240 million overseas, and that’s not including China as it doesn’t open there until next week.  All that money from a film with a predominately non-white cast.  Y’know, it’s almost like Hollywood could learn something from this but I just don’t know what…

Despite that commanding performance, which we all sort of saw coming from multiple miles away, other films did attempt opening against Furious 7.  They just correctly stuck to limited release.  Best performing of the lot was Woman In Gold, the Weinsteins’ attempt to re-capture that Philomena magic kinda sorta maybe not really – the trailer gave me a lot of Philomena vibes, OK?  On 258 screens, the film managed $2 million overall and actually broke into the chart itself, which isn’t bad at all.  Chinese possibly-comedy – I can find sod all about this film on the Internet – Let’s Get Married did next best with $180,000 from 39 screens, with the Anton Yelchin romantic drama 5 To 7 bringing up the rear but technically doing the best with $19,600 from 2 screens.  Indie films!

Elsewhere, before we get into the real meat of things, despite having collapsed disappointingly in America like a man who talks a big game about his bedding prowess but can only give you a few brief moments of satisfaction, Fifty Shades of Grey is now up to $400 million overseas from people who just don’t know how to quit this terrible movie.  It Follows continues to post relatively strong numbers in its nationwide expansion despite it getting next-to-no-marketing and, unsurprisingly since these are the people who made Ouija a success, being rejected by the general public at large.  Home dropped 47% between weekends but is still making good money, thank the Maker!  And finally, The Gunman dropped out after 2 weeks and nothing of value was lost.


paul walker

This Full List lives its life a quarter-mile at a time.

Box Office Results: Friday 3rd April 2015 – Sunday 5th April 2015

1] Furious 7

$143,623,000 / NEW

My review, for those of you who are interested.  This is going to be a fun week; I have to go on two separate audio outlets and defend this movie against two separate misery guts who wouldn’t know what a fun movie was if it sla- (*remembers that Owen is the head of this site and hastily shuts up*)

2] Home

$27,400,000 / $95,621,000

Home is the first DreamWorks Animation film since Shrek Forever After to be classified as Rotten because critics are unpleasable tits.  Trust me, Home is great.  Mind you, you probably already know that as you’ve likely already seen it, thank the Maker again!  Seriously, even though it’s nothing particularly brilliant, Home being a success makes me really legitimately happy for both DreamWorks’ immediate future and for more diversity in our animated leads.  Seriously, look at this image!  LOOK AT THIS GODDAMN IMAGE!  If your heart doesn’t swell with happiness looking at that, you are basically dead.

3] Get Hard

$12,925,000 / $57,004,000

I did see this last weekend, but I just never got around to reviewing it.  Probably for the best, otherwise you would have read nearly 2,000 words of me insisting that Kevin Hart is actually a really funny guy honest!  Seriously, he is a really funny guy, it’s just that his movies are really bad which makes my opinion come off as deluded for anybody who has only seen his terrible, terrible movies.  Seriously, man.  Pick better films!  Quickly, whilst I still have a chance at convincing people of your talent!

4] Cinderella

$10,289,000 / $167,251,000

Didn’t review this one for one simple reason: I’m getting really self-conscious about the fact that I am a straight white guy writing frequently about women in film.  Even the fact that I consider myself a feminist doesn’t help assuage the guilt and fear that I might be dictating how things should be with my man ways and such, and crowding out female voices which are far more important to this conversation.  Therefore, I point you towards Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve whose thoughts basically line up with mine but are far better expressed than I ever could.

5] The Divergent Series: Insurgent

$10,000,000 / $103,385,000

I was on the Failed Critics Podcast two weeks back where I attempted to explain this stupid, stupid universe to people who either hadn’t seen the movies or couldn’t remember the movies.  It was fun, even though I’m still 80% certain that I am the drunk stepchild that everybody puts up with out of politeness whenever I show up on there.

6] It Follows

$2,465,000 / $8,541,000

I’m looking forward to finally watch this when it hits Blu-Ray.  At home.  With all of the lights on.  And the ability to pause and/or mute the film when it inevitably pushes my nerves beyond breaking point.  Have I ever mentioned that I am really bad when it comes to horror?

7] Woman In Gold

$2,004,000 / NEW

The Voices is available to watch in all good cinemas right now!

8] Kingsman: The Secret Service

$1,700,000 / $122,260,000

With Home about to cross the mark sometime this week, that will make 7 films in the space of just over 3 months that have made $100 million at the domestic box office – 8 if you want to also count American Sniper from last year.  If I hear or see any “The Domestic Box Office Is Dying!” thinkpieces at any point this year, I am going to go f*cking nuclear.  Fair warning.

9] Do You Believe?

$1,500,000 / $9,811,000

…in life after love?  After love?  After love?  After love?

10] The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

$1,000,000 / $30,059,000

Has anybody else seen the trailer for The Lady In The Van yet?  If not, go do so.  It’s not out until November, which clearly means that this is being positioned as one last Best Actress roll call for Maggie Smith, but it looks so off-beat and distinctly and truly British – in the way that films like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game could only dream of being – that I’m really intrigued by it.  There are still 7 months to go until I can actually see the thing, but I’ve already got a good feeling about it!  I’m optimistic!

Dropped Out: Run All Night, The Gunman

Callum Petch is a man, woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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Furious 7

Although it’s a step down from Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 is still a tonne of incredible fun.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

f&f7Watching the film critic community slowly come around to the Fast & Furious series has been almost as fun as watching the evolution of the Fast & Furious series or, in fact, watching these movies themselves.  See, with the obvious exception of 2 Fast 2 Furious – which failed because, as the title alone probably tips you off to, it tried force its ridiculous cheesiness in a cynical way instead of with the sincerity that the rest of the franchise has – this series has always at least been good.  The Fast and the Furious is a perfectly watchable movie, if a little self-serious, the strangely-maligned Tokyo Drift would still be the series high-watermark if it didn’t have the problem of Lucas Black being near-incapable of acting, and I like Fast & Furious shut up.

Fast Five was the moment where the rest of the critical world sat up, took notice and collectively realised that these are some damn fine movies worthy of legitimate appraisal, likely helped by the fact that it’s still one of the best action movies released this decade – a lightning-in-a-bottle moment where all of the unintentional hard work in constructing this world and these characters paid off in spectacular fashion, whilst still working as a brilliant action film in its own right.  Also it’s a heist movie and, as science can prove, good heist movies are better than pretty much anything else ever.

Fast & Furious 6 couldn’t hope to match up, although it gave it its best damn shot by once again changing genres.  In fact, there’s another reason why this series has been great.  In addition to its knowing but completely sincere silliness – I mean, this is a series whose main emotional and thematic through-line is about the unbreakable power of a surrogate family of friends with no knowing winking or under-cutting of said, after all – and its surprisingly deep and well-drawn cast of characters, the series is never afraid to simply change genres at the drop of a dime.  The Fast and the Furious was a Point Break riff, 2 Fast was a bad buddy-cop movie, Tokyo Drift was basically a coming-of-age drama, Fast & Furious was a good buddy-cop movie shut up, Fast Five was a heist movie, and Fast & Furious 6 was a gloriously ridiculous action movie.

So, following on from all of that, Furious 7 turns out to be… Fast & Furious 6 again, sorta.  In its defence, save for space or trans-dimensional hopping – which are both gold ideas, you can have those for free, Universal – there really isn’t anywhere else left to take this series, except to make the ridiculous action movie even more ridiculous.  With the change in directors, though, from Justin Lin to horror movie veteran James Wan, you’ll have to forgive me for hoping for more of a shift than “bigger and crazier”, an admittedly welcome injection of extra melodrama, and more camera tricks for certain action sequences.

That being said, though, the fact that Furious 7 is still an incredibly fun and surprisingly coherent film is a goddamn miracle considering its troubled and beleaguered production.  In fact, let’s address that room elephant right now: it’s amazing just how well the film manages to work around the death of franchise star Paul Walker and the necessary requirement to write the character of Brian O’Conner out of the series.  I even spent a lot of the runtime sat there in the cinema trying to figure out where exactly the re-writes and stand-ins had started occurring, expecting it to be really obvious relatively early, but the way they do it is so natural and so keeping in kind with what they had set up before – Brian is adjusting somewhat reluctantly to domesticated family life with Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his son Jack, missing the life-or-death adrenaline that came from working with Dom – that it gains this extra eerie undertone that adds to the subplot’s weight instead of distracting from it.

Admittedly, it goes overboard near the ending, as the film proceeds to send off Brian and Paul in the most openly manipulative, cheese-ball way, but I would be lying to you if I told you that was a bad thing and that I didn’t shed multiple tears as it happened.  Open heart-on-sleeve affectionate sincerity is how Fast & Furious operates, so the really on-the-nose way that it waves goodbye to Paul Walker is still fitting even if it is admittedly excessively manipulative.  Also helped by the fact that, with the exception of one fight scene late in the game and the last sequence, I honestly could not tell where the real Paul Walker’s scenes finished and his stand-in-CG-combo double started.

And whilst I’m not spending the rest of this review making worrying sounds that approximately translate to how much I enjoyed this movie, I must note that the film is more than a little overcrowded.  In addition to having Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) crew relentless pursued by the brother of Fast & Furious 6’s Owen Shaw, Deckard (Jason Statham), who is looking for vengeance, the crew are tasked by a possibly-government-affiliated division, headed up by a guy who calls himself Mr. Nobody (a positively-beaming Kurt Russell), to recover a super-surveillance software called “God’s Eye” for them before it falls into the hands of an evil warlord (Dijimon Hounsou) with the promise of Dom getting to use it to hunt down Deckard when all is said and done.

Consequently, Hounsou’s warlord feels… pointless, to be frank, and he doesn’t even get any memorable material to make up for that fact.  There’s a lot of relatively unnecessary flab to proceedings, characters that walk in and walk out as required without much to do.  On the positive side, Kurt Russell’s visibly joyous performance is infectious and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) makes a nice addition to the crew if she’s sticking around.  On the negative side, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is side-lined for too much of the film for my liking, although that does let the focus return to Dom and Brian which is fitting, and Rhonda Rousey shows up quite literally just so that Michelle Rodriguez has somebody to fight because, hey, why not try to recapture those brilliant Gina Carano fight scenes from number 6?  Fast Five had a similar excessive nature but did a better job at juggling everything without giving many characters the short shrift.

So, with that negativity and elephant-addressing out of the way…  HOHOHOHOHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  Oh, folks, words can’t truly express how much fun I had with this one!  The Fast & Furious series just taps into a kind of primal adolescent joy for me, where everything to do with the action runs purely on Rule of Cool and a desire to be stupidly entertaining, which makes it one of the purest expressions of childlike imaginative fun on film today.  I cackled with maniacal glee at this movie multiple, multiple goddamn times and every time I thought that they’d topped themselves, they proceeded to surpass that bar with ease.  (Whether you agree depends on how much you like your glaringly obvious CGI, although I gave it a pass as I saw it as a stylistic choice.)

On that note, Deckard Shaw.  Now, technically, he’s a victim of the film’s overstuffed nature, since he has to share screen-time with Hounsou’s uninteresting warlord and therefore suffers from alternating too often between being the primary and secondary villain.  However, I honestly like the fact that he’s not really got much of a personality outside of the opening scene of the film – which, for the record, is fingertips away from Fast Five for me in “Best Opening Sequence of This Series” stakes – and I really like the way that he just keeps turning up randomly as our heroes are about to complete their objectives to throw a spanner in the works, like a one man army of TimeSplitters.  He also gets a fantastic pair of fights with Hobbs and Dom, with the latter including a climax that is AMAZINGLY DUMB, so I’m satisfied.

Fight scenes are a lot of fun, even though James Wan and his team of editors have an unfortunate tendency to cut just a little too often.  Tony Jaa is in this and gets to fight Brian with both instances delivering very nicely, the Rousey/Letty fight might not measure up to either Carano fight but is still pretty good and I once again appreciate a Hollywood film with a female fight scene where the aim is not primarily to be intentionally arousing, and the fight scene between Hobbs and Deckard is already a strong contender for the best of the year.  Though he may cut a bit too often, Lin is also a man of style, employing 360° camera pans and a camera that keeps the person it’s shooting vertically-centred but spins the rest of the world around them as normal (I can’t describe it well but it’s self-explanatory in motion) to sparing but enjoyable effect.

You may notice that I’ve talked minimally about the film’s many gloriously deranged action sequences up to this point and, surprising no-one, this is intentional.  I went into Furious 7 knowing pretty much next to nothing about what it would end up doing in said ridiculous action scenes.  This is the optimum way to watch Furious 7.  After all, why should I tell you how a last minute rescue made me laugh maniacally, how the end to one fight scene is officially the new “Most Wonderfully Dumb Thing to Happen In This Glorious Franchise”, how the Abu Dhabi payoff manages to overcome its CGI nature to still be one of the most entertaining setpieces I will likely see all year, or even allude to how the finale goes, when you can experience these things in glorious context properly?  Why should I spoil them for you when I went got to see them near-totally fresh?

Don’t, however, assume that the character work has gotten lost in the shuffle.  It’s all still here – Letty is still struggling with her amnesia, there’s Brian’s conflict with domesticity, and Roman wants to be taken more seriously as a part of the team – but the time delegated to just them is more reduced than it was in Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6.  That said, these characters are all so strongly drawn and defined that any scene of them just bouncing off of one another is a joy to watch, and the action scenes take the time to put in multiple character beats instead of just being pure noise, the car skydive is a particularly great example.  The new additions, again with the exception of the warlord, make great strong impressions and slide neatly into the world that screenwriter Chris Morgan – who has penned this franchise since Tokyo Drift – has created.

Most importantly, that silly heart-on-sleeve sincerity never leaves the film’s side.  Not even for a minute.  This is what separates the Fast & Furious movies from your lesser dumb blockbusters like, say, Transformers.  Films like Transformers clearly hate their own existence almost as much as they hate the audience for turning up to them, so their dumbness is built on bitterness and cynicism, a desire to slap together a whole bunch of loud explosions in as lazy a fashion as possible to extract cash from an audience it reads as gullible walking wallets.  The Fast & Furious series, however, has love for itself and love for its audience.  It sincerely believes that your surrogate family is the strongest bond that one could have, that throwing cars at problems really is the best way to solve everything, and that the audience isn’t wrong for finding this all to be f*cking awesome because it correctly agrees that this is all f*cking awesome.  So it puts effort into every scene, every stupid action sequence, every ridiculous pre-fight exchange, every character’s relationship with one another.

There’s love, genuine love and it doesn’t undercut that at any point.  That’s why, when it comes time to say goodbye to Paul Walker and the character of Brian O’Conner, I proceeded to cry like nobody’s business, because it earned it.  This is a series that earns its emotional release and its heart because it puts tangible love into every single frame.  Yeah, it’s a dumb series about flinging cars at ridiculous problems until they stop being problems!  It’s more f*cking sincere and heartfelt than the majority of last year’s so-called “prestige” pictures!  And even though it doesn’t scale the heights of Fast Five and has its share of structural problems, Furious 7 is still a damn fantastic time at the cinema, another excellent instalment in the blockbuster series that all other blockbuster series should strive to reach for – not even mentioning its majorly diverse cast – and the perfect tribute to one of the series’ main stars.

Goddammit, I love this wonderful series.

Callum Petch coins phrases to trigger dollars.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Step Up 5: All In

Although not quite at the level of Step Up 3, Step Up 5: All In is a tonne of fun and a much needed course-correction for the series.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

step up 5It seems that you can measure the quality of a Step Up movie by two factors.  The first is how seriously it takes itself, the second is how much Adam Sevani’s character Moose is in the thing.  The factors even seem to be linked to one another: the less serious a film is, the more that Moose is going to be in it and the better the film itself will be.  Step Up was an overly serious romance drama, clearly written by white people (clears throat), that was dreadfully dull, abysmally paced and had very little actual dancing and what dancing it did have being uninspired and flatly filmed.  It also had no Moose, but it did have 2006-era Channing Tatum who, even when blank-faced and not particularly good, could still radiate charm and goofy likability from his wonderfully toned abdominals.  Step Up 2 The Streets jettisoned most of the self-seriousness, introduced Moose and brought director Jon M. Chu to the franchise; the result had some pacing issues but was a fair bit of fun.  Step Up 3 vented whatever seriousness the franchise had left out of an airlock, promoted Moose to second lead, added 3D, threw pretty much everything it had at the dance sequences, fixed the pacing issues and was a genuinely great and fun time at the movies.  Step Up Revolution decided it wanted to be “about something” and did so at the cost of fun, Moose and pretty much everything that makes a great Step Up movie.

So you could say that I was sceptical when wandering into Step Up 5: All In (credited as just Step Up: All In in the film itself).  Fact of the matter is that this series had so far had two great instalments and two terrible instalments with the two great instalments being directed by the same guy.  I was worried that this would turn out to be a franchise that only one director truly “got” and with everyone else trying to make it something that it’s not.  This is the thing with movies that are made to be lightweight and fun: the second you start taking the enterprise too seriously and try and turn it into something it’s not, you expose the whole thing as shallow and create a joyless atmosphere that makes proceedings drag.  Both non-Jon M. Chu directors so far seem to have been embarrassed by the fact that they’re making silly dance movies and whereas he embraced that silliness, they moved as far away from it as possible and ended up making bad films as a result.

Very fortunately, All In’s director, Trish Sie (best known for choreographing pretty much every OK Go video that ever went viral), and its scriptwriter, John Swetnam, know for a fact that they are making a silly dance movie and they make no bones about that fact.  They don’t embrace it quite as totally as Jon M. Chu did (let us not forget that this was a real thing that happened in Step Up 3), but they seem more than comfortable about it.  The result is that, after being conspicuously absent from Revolution, the fun has been brought back to Step Up.  This is a silly, lightweight, fun-as-hell film that sticks to its strengths, doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel but manages to bring the series to a very satisfying possible close.  Oh, and it does this by predominately aiming to be a comedy.

No, really.  I mean, Step Up films have always been comedies, just not completely open or self-aware ones.  The bad Step Up films are unintentional comedies, whilst the good ones get their humour from playing the absurdity of their material as straight as they possibly get whilst still having fun with it (or, to put it another way, this happens in Step Up 3 and no-one, not even the film, lampshades its existence).  All In still plays its more absurd moments as straight as fun can get away with, but it also attempts to craft actual jokes and legitimate laughs on a frequent basis.  Surprisingly, this actually works!  It’s not so much down to the material (sample scene: there’s a bit where Moose’s parents cook goat balls for our two leads and the joke is that the concept of goat balls is gross) and more the actors and actresses who, holy hell, are insanely committed to their roles, this time.  David Shreibman plays a new character named Chad who is a pimping, preening, try-too-hard salsa teacher whose every move is excessively flamboyant (he is not gay before anybody starts getting worried) and whose lines of dialogue are wonderfully hammy and well-delivered.  Adam Sevani gets to play both audience surrogate and relative straight man and he says more with a grinning background headshake or a lampshading “Does everything have to end in a dance battle?” than most actors in proper comedy films I’ve seen this year.  And then there is the character of Alexxa Brava.

In fact, brief stop here for the requisite premise dump.  We’re six months on from Revolution and The Mob are failing to make it in LA after their big Nike ad.  At a club one night, Sean (a much, much improved Ryan Guzman) gets into an altercation with new kid on the block Jasper (Steven Jones) and their respective crews have a dance-off… which results in The Mob getting thoroughly served.  Fed up with LA and Sean’s leadership, the rest of The Mob split back to Miami whilst Sean stays behind to try one last time to make it.  Opportunity arises when he stumbles across an ad for a new televised dance show called The Vortex, whose prize is a guaranteed three year booking at Las Vegas.  Sean is determined to win, so he ropes in Moose (Adam Sevani who is still effortlessly charming and likeable and WHY HAS HE NOT BEEN GIVEN THE LEAD LEAD ROLE IN ONE OF THESE FILMS YET?!) to help establish a crew to take the top prize, comprising pretty much every single good guy character from Step Ups 2 and 3 including Andie (a much, much, much, much improved Briana Evigan).  Will they end up running into The Mob whilst going through the tournament?  You bet!  Will Jasper and his crew seem to effortlessly breeze through the tournament despite never giving a performance as good as that one at the club?  Uh-huh!  Does the tournament end up less savoury and fair than it first appears?  Don’t ya just know it!

Original plotting is not, never has been, and never will be Step Up’s strong suit.  And that is always fine as long as it delivers that formulaic plotting in fun and visually splendid ways, and All In pretty much strikes gold with the dual benefits of Vegas and overblown reality TV talent shows.  The first round involves the crew having to make a demo tape proving their worthiness to the judges and it’s self-consciously overblown and silly in a way that Revolution’s concept dances never quite reached.  As for when they get to Vegas, the dance battles are held on clearly expensive stages designed to fuel the ridiculous TV narrative (one takes place in a boxing ring and has song changes punctuated by a ring girl strutting across the ring with a round number card, for the love of God) and are drenched in showmanship.  It is into this that we are presented with Alexxa Brava, played pitch perfectly by Izabella Miko.  She is the show’s host and, I swear this is true, every single thing she said sent me into giggle fits.  She’s permanently dressed like she just wandered out of Lady Gaga’s rejected wardrobe, speaks with the kind of über phony breathy voice used in pretentious perfume ads the world over, over-eggs every single line she is given to read, and dramatically pauses over the slightest thing like a constantly distracted Davina McCall.  It is an incredibly broad caricature of talent show hosts, and especially overly serious talent shows, a one-joke pony and goddammit I could not stop laughing whenever she opened her mouth.  It’s like if Mad Moxxi from Borderlands didn’t speak exclusively in double entendres and left pretty much every sentence hanging for a good five seconds before finishing it.

Alexxa is the perfect example of when the film’s more overly comical side works.  I mean, it does sometimes falls flat (once again, goat balls), but when it works, which is often when it does the stuff that it would usually do deadpan but with a bit more of a self-aware tinge to help things along, it works gangbusters.  I laughed more at this than I have done for most actual comedies so far this year.  Also surprisingly working gangbusters?  The romance stuff.  Sean and Andie are the main couple the film attempts to ship together and whilst it’s still a little forced and a little token, I mostly don’t have a problem with it because Guzman and Evigan are both much better and much more committed to their roles this time, and have very good chemistry together.  Moose and Camille’s relationship is limited to a few scenes, ends up roughly how you’d expect but still works because Moose & Camille OTP forever!  And there’s even a briefly glimpsed romance for the team’s “human robot” and the scant few moments that he and she (who is basically a gender-flipped version of him) have, wordless and solely communicated by them playing up their robot dance moves, I found sweeter and more romantic than the token romances in most action films.  Not kidding.

But how about those dance sequences, otherwise known as the main reason most of you are paying to see this thing?  Well, though they still don’t pop quite like Jon M. Chu could make ‘em, they’re all very well done.  The opening dance battle at the club pulls out a very impressive dance sequence for The Mob set to some Method Man and then immediately and noticeably tops it with Jasper’s crew (I usually find that these sequences involve the two teams being just as good as one another with the victory being arbitrary, so it’s nice to see the series can pull it off without having to make the losing side just plain suck).  All of the dances do great work with perspectives that would clearly do wonders if seen in 3D (which I did not) and often without resorting to throwing things at the screen.  Most notably, the dances have been tightened up, this time.  Revolution’s dances were often too wide-reaching, too many things going on in too many places with too many people, and that made it hard to know what I was supposed to be focussing on, leading to a constant feeling that I was missing something.  All In reigns in that scale and, whilst some may see that as a step back, I am all for that as the film always makes it clear as to who you should be focussing on when and keeping everyone in focus meant I never felt like I was missing anything due to a misplaced camera or the like.

If this review seems a little simplistic, a little childish and casual in its usage of language and descriptors and the like, it’s because All In kind of deserves that kind of analysis.  It’s not deep and it’s not revelatory but it knows that, it owns that.  This is a film with low stakes that are artificially heightened at certain points for quick, easy, predictable drama.  Character arcs are black and white simple and accomplished in precisely the amount of time you’re thinking they take (Sean is the only one in it to win, so much so that he may have lost sight of the true joy of dancing).  The final dance of the film is preluded by having a character stand on stage with a microphone and monologue the film’s moral almost directly to camera.  And all of this is OK because the film is in on it!  It knows what it is, it’s not ashamed of what it is, and it’s decided that it’s going to have some goddamn fun whilst it does what it does best!  Who cares that you’ve seen this film before, multiple times, done best the third time, when the film itself is a lot of highly entertaining fun?

I am friends with the kind of people that like to class this series as “The Fast & Furious of dance movies”.  That kind of sentiment sounds weird when first said, but going through this series, and especially during All In, I’ve discovered that they are actually bang on.  Both series had inauspicious starts that took their concepts a bit too seriously, loosened up as they went along and got better as a result, built up an armoury of strong diverse characters who, on first impression, seem rather disposable but whose every appearance as time goes on becomes a grin-inducing and (for lack of a better phrase) heart-warming occurrence, and have slowly become the major player in their respective genres.  Step Up even has its own version of Han, in the form of Moose!  I honestly can’t think of higher praise for a silly popcorn movie about dancing than that.

So, no, it’s not going to change any lives and, yes, Step Up 3 is still the pinnacle of the series, but Step Up 5: All In is a huge surprise in a Summer lacking in both surprises and genuinely great films.  It’s a film that takes proceedings in this super naively optimistic dance movie as seriously as they deserve and embraces fun with both arms wide outstretched.  Its cast is assured, comfortable and convincing in their roles and having the time of their lives, its script is the definition of formulaic but is extremely well-paced and surprisingly legitimately funny, and, though it lacks anything on the level of the “I Won’t Dance” bit from the third film (what can I say, I’m a sucker for one-take sequences and homages to classic Hollywood), the dance sequences are of the usual high standard you’ve come to expect from the series.  Step Up honestly looked unstable after the total failure of Revolution, which risked torpedoing the series by falling back on bad habits of the overly serious nature, but Trish Sie, John Swetnam and pretty much everybody involved in this series have pulled off a major course correct and created a film that I’m genuinely enjoying more the more I think about it.  I’m not sure where the series is going to go from here, the last dance actually carries a sense of finality to proceedings even though the series could keep running if it wanted to, but I know that I want in if they’re going to remain near the level of, and maybe even one day surpassing, Step Up 3!

But, hey, don’t just take my word for it.  I’m pretty sure that, during my teenager filled screening, I heard more excitable members of the audience audibly clapping at certain points.  That’s a first in my cinema-going experiences, let me tell you.

Callum Petch is just straight ill riding his motorcycle down the street.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Transformers4Dark Of The Moon hinted at a bright future; Transformers: Age Of Extinction just delivers the same toxic tripe the franchise hinted at jettisoning.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Transformers and Revenge Of The Fallen are abysmal pieces of trash.  Utterly insufferable pieces of bro-y shite with no redeeming qualities at all.  No potential is displayed in them, no competency in their construction is ever so much as hinted at, not a single moment is funny or entertaining in either film, and they both peddle the most toxic sexism and racism all in the supposedly safe environment of good, clean family fun.  I despise them and everything they stand for.  Dark Of The Moon was similarly bad, but it was both a huge leap up in quality at what it does and started demonstrating actual potential for what the series could become.  It’s still not a good film, let me make that abundantly clear, but somewhere between the constant appearances of actors and actresses that I liked and who had no right to be there, the very-well staged battle of Chicago and the general fact that Revenge Of The Fallen had pretty much broken me, I saw the potential for a genuinely good blockbuster.  Not one for the ages, or anything, but the potential for a fun diversion that could even use its space to tackle weighty themes if it wanted to.

Therefore, I went into Age Of Extinction with a tiny part of me genuinely hoping for the best.  I don’t even know why, this film series has always proven to be bad regardless of any potential in the franchise outside and inside these films, but a part of me was still hopeful.  This time was going to be different!  I emerged three hours later infuriated, realising that I had just been through Dark Of The Moon again but on a louder scale.  This is a bad film.  This is a demonstrably bad film, but it’s also a slight (slight) improvement from most of what’s come before.  Unfortunately, with the exception of the genuinely insufferable original, a Transformers film has yet to make me this upset.  Whereas Dark Of The Moon’s teases of a better film on the horizon were few and far between, Age Of Extinction’s are frequent and loud, hinting at the film it could have been if everybody involved cared enough or were brave enough to actually pull the trigger.  But they don’t and so what we’re left with is a slightly better version of the same bad film we’ve been force-fed the first two times.

Specifically, for the second time in the entire film series so far, Transformers threatens to touch upon actual themes that are intellectually deeper than “explosions and the military are KEWL!”  Its mess of a plot certainly gives it more than enough possible material.  There’s the concept of a public that both resents the Transformers for the events in the last film and is opportunistic for the money of turning them over to any government that will listen.  There are hints towards something having originally created the Transformers with that thing being very pissed and very much wanting their play-things back.  Militarisation and merchandising of the Transformers, the ability for humans to make their own Transformers, the breaking of Optimus Prime’s faith in the human race, the frequent hints that the Autobots really are just squabbling and barely united individuals without Optimus around to keep them in line, very unsubtle aliens-immigrants metaphors…  There’s a lot that any filmmaker who gives half a damn can work with, but Bay and, more importantly, the script that he’s working with, by Dark Of The Moon’s Ehren Kruger, don’t care about any of it.  Once the explosions start, it’s all disposed of, the noise almost literally drowning out any potential nuance or reason for caring.

And that mindlessness is fine in concept, sometimes you just need a dumb action film that’s not aiming for anything more than to entertain you (see: Crank 2: High Voltage).  The problem is that “loud noises” is the only setting Age Of Extinction has.  There’s no pacing, little variation, so it just draws attention to the fact that the film is a hollow spectacle actively wasting any and all potential depth it exhibits.  Dumbness is fine, but it needs proper pacing and/or characters to care about in order to not feel like time is being wasted.  For example, the Fast & Furious films are dumb.  They are really dumb, but they’re paced well, they have characters that are likeable and that we the audience care for, and they don’t keep threatening to be smarter than what they’re currently turning out.  And I think that’s what annoys me so much about Age Of Extinction.  It keeps hinting that it can be about more, it keeps hinting that it can use its premise and world to explore legitimate themes, it keeps hinting that it can be about something other than “shooty boom bang bang,” but it never goes there.  It just keeps reverting to loud, numbing noises with no depth whatsoever.

Again, the Fast & Furious movies have built their reputation on (at least appearing to) having no brains and no pretentions to being something they’re not, ditto Crank 2 and that’s my favourite action film of all-time.  But a major reason why they get away with it, and no Transformers movie has yet, is because Fast & Furious still invests its time in characters and character work.  Violence and action can be cool on its own, yes, but create a cast of characters you care about or, at the very least, like and you’ve got the audience’s attention for however long you want to go loud for.  The Witwickys are nowhere in sight this time (which means no Ma & Pa Witwicky, break out the party-poppers), but the Yeagers that replace them honestly aren’t much better.  Despite Mark Wahlberg’s natural screen charisma and likeability desperately attempting to work up a charm offensive like few I’ve ever seen, Cade is a boring man with little going on when he’s not outright being a terrible person (there’s an early scene where he, on the property he hasn’t paid rent on in six months, chases off, with a baseball bat, a realtor who is trying to do her job; yes, it is played for laughs).  There’s also an insufferable comic relief character played by a tone-deaf T.J. Miller whose exit from my film I would have cheered had that not been entirely inappropriate cinema etiquette, a daughter (Nicola Peltz, because some genius decided that Katara from The Last Airbender should get another starring role in a major-release film) who we shall come back to (believe me, we will be talking about her) and her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) who is about as consistent a character as the level of Irishness in his accent.  None of them have any real arc and none of them are in any way compelling or interesting enough to make up for the very clearly static proceedings.

The antagonists fair little better.  Although he’s personified by the always-nice-to-see Kelsey Grammer, the head of the evil black-ops task force that’s murdering Transformers, Agent Attinger, is nothing more than a one-dimensional villain; the government agent who misguidedly thinks he’s protecting his country, and Grammer plays the role too straight to make up for the fact that he’s just an archetype that’s been done better elsewhere.  Stanley Tucci, meanwhile, portrays James Joyce, the head of a revolutionary tech company that primarily researches Transformer remains for practical applications, and the character is a missed opportunity.  As played by Tucci, which is to say like a cross between Steve Jobs and Jason Schwartzman, Joyce is an egocentric blowhard with little in the way of ethics or compassion towards anything but his tech… until he suddenly grows a conscience for reasons that I think just boil down to the filmmakers wanting him to share screen-time with Wahlberg.  He is undoubtedly the best part of the film, but he’s still not someone I particularly cared about because his arc didn’t feel genuine, not to mention how his mere presence kept constantly reminding me of themes about technology and the advancement thereof that were going wasted simply by not being utilised.

Transformer-wise, this is probably the film with the most amount of Transformers in them, so far.  Many of them even get a fair bit of screen-time, and all of the main ones have designs that make each of them distinctive and less hideous, too!  Unfortunately, none of them have any depth.  Optimus Prime should have a character arc, one where he wrestles with the fact that the humans have betrayed his entire kind and may not be worth saving after all, but it’s completely bungled by the film.  His desire for vengeance, brought upon by a “shocking” discovery, is dropped almost literally as soon as it’s brought up and the attempts to get resonance out of the closure to his “we don’t kill humans” moral code fail miserably because… well… you have seen the other films, right?  The rest of them get one defining trait and that’s about it.  Bumblebee is still the same character as he was at the beginning of the first Transformers, one of them has a British voice (delivered by John DiMaggio) and a burning desire to tell the humans to get stuffed, one is an Asian stereotype (voiced by Ken Watanabe) and one has the voice of John Goodman.  There’s little reason to get attached to them because the film focusses far more on Cade and Optimus than the other Autobots.  Meanwhile, the Transformer villain, Lockdown, is here to tease future sequel revelations and little more, although his face can transform into a gun which my inner 10 year-old admitted was pretty cool.  Oh, and there’s a third villain (no prizes for guessing who it is, but it constitutes a spoiler so I’ll keep schtum) whose existence is almost literally just so they don’t have to set-up his origin in the sequel.

So, as you may have gathered, there are no characters to latch onto or find particularly interesting which means that the action scenes can only stand as endeavours of spectacle.  Except here’s the thing about spectacle, prolonged exposure to it dulls its impact.  After a certain point, loud noises and big booms are just going to be migraine-inducers instead of shock and awe-inducers and that’s more than the case from here.  Some action scenes are relatively interesting or cool: the British Autobot has a moment where he leaps off of a ship and, guns akimbo and trenchcoat flapping in the breeze, guns down a pair of alien ships in slo-mo and my inner 10 year-old self was very much impressed, there’s a section during the (endless) finale where everybody has to try and avoid the Hong Kong cityscape being flung about by what amounts to a giant magnet, and the entrance of the Dinobots is a genuinely awesome moment.  Unfortunately, the over-long run-time and one-note nature of the film dulls down any potential impact those scenes may have had.  And those are pretty much the only good scenes, by the way.  Bay is not a hack action movie director (anybody who says so clearly has not acquainted themselves with The Rock or either Bad Boys film) but he keeps directing these films like one.

Scene geography is a friggin’ mess, perhaps best exemplified by an early car chase from the Yeagers’ farm into and through a sleepy Texas town where I have absolutely no clue how everyone involved got from Point A to Point B to Point C.  Even with their more individual designs, it’s still hard to properly tell which Transformer is shooting at what and which side they’re supposed to be on.  Most frames are filled to the brim with explosions, debris and smoke with the camera almost never staying still, like it’s being controlled by a drunk epileptic having a fit.  Editing in general is too quick which makes proceedings too disorientating, plus the aforementioned failure in scene geography.  Pacing is one-note and that note simply reads “BRICK-WALL THIS MOTHER!”  If an action scene needs to happen, it’s straight to explosions and large-scale destruction; no variation and no attempts to create tension (with the one exception being so inept at its job, it’s quite frankly embarrassing).

I could keep listing problems and complaints I have with Age Of Extinction, so I will.  Product placement is shockingly prevalent here.  I’m more accepting of product placement than most people are (as long as attention isn’t drawn too much to it, I accept it as a way of making the film world closer to our own) but even I’ll admit that this film is taking the piss.  A Transformer whose pre-robot form is that of an Oreo vending machine?  A human technological invention whose first form change (the very first form change, the one that demonstrates its power) is a Beats-branded speaker system, and later on a ludicrously fake Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony toy?  A Victoria’s Secret truck destroyed in super slow-motion whilst the brand name is front and centre?  Several billboards for products like Nike and Phillips that go completely untarnished?  A Bud Light truck that gets destroyed and very soon after has Cade open one of the bottles it was carrying to take a nice, cool, refreshing sip?  A Transformer who has the Lamborghini badge displayed front and center on his non-disguise form?  Did I pay to watch a film that wants to tell me a story or a prolonged ad-break for capitalism and consumerism?

But I haven’t even mentioned the most egregious and tone-deaf piece of in-movie advertising.  That would be when Hong Kong is being destroyed in the final battle and the film cuts to China to have a Chinese government bureaucrat all but talk directly to the camera and state that “China will always help protect our Hong Kong brothers in their time of need!”  I am not making this up!  Nothing even comes of this, the battle continues as it did before that cutaway.  This would be hilariously egregious if it weren’t for the recent protests and agitation in Hong Kong over the extent of China’s control over the region.  To anyone with a stake or vested interest in the future and protection of Hong Kong, it’s downright offensive, being so tone-deaf to the situations ongoing in the real world in search for those sweet, sweet tax breaks.  To quote a friend of mine who also saw the film, this would be like if a battle sequence took place in Ukraine and everyone involved called Russia for reinforcements.  How did this get through an entire film crew with not one person raising their hand and saying “Erm, do you all realise how this looks?”

And speaking of total bewilderment at terrible things that somehow managed to get through an entire film production uncalled out by anybody at all, let’s talk about the giant sexist elephant in the room, shall we?  One of the first scenes involving Tessa, Cade’s daughter, has Cade shame her for being 17 years-old and wearing short shorts.  You have three guesses as to what the camera is focussing on when he does so and the first two don’t count.  Meanwhile, she has a boyfriend who is three years her senior and is out of high school, whilst she is under the age of consent in America and still in high school.  Cade immediately calls the pair of them out on this, only for the boyfriend to produce a text copy of the Romeo & Juliet law from his pocket to absolve them of any wrongdoing.  This is played for laughs.  I am not even going to dignify either of these things with righteous fury or a snarky toss-off, I’ll let you figure out how I feel about the way in which the film treats both of these scenes.

Those two are the most blindingly obvious examples of sexism towards Tessa, but it runs deep throughout her entire character and throughout the entire film.  Her character, her entire character, is that she keeps getting in danger and needing to be rescued.  Seriously, whenever the film needs to ratchet up the stakes for Cade, it puts Tessa in danger.  It puts her on the wrong end of a gun, it has her shot at, it kidnaps her several times, it traps her in rooms where she is being hunted.  There is one scene where she is hiding from a humanoid robot and a monster in a pod with a long and flexible tongue (kind of like a Licker from Resident Evil) wraps its tongue around her leg in a manner that rather calls to mind sexual assault.  This monster never appears again after this point, it’s solely for this one really creepy and rather disgusting moment.  It ends up going past lazy and cliché story-telling and ends up sailing dangerously close to outright misogyny seeing as she’s the only female who ends up in prolonged action in the entire movie (there are three named female characters, overall, and the only other one who gets into an action scene near-immediately gets her ass kicked and needs rescuing by a random man).  I’d give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s just shitty writing, but this is the fourth instalment in a franchise that has casual sexism running through its lifeblood.  Plus, as other critics have pointed out but was missed by me (I am willing to admit that), this is a film that has a scene where a vagina monster is blown apart by a Transformer whilst it remarks that it’s “too ugly to live”.

This is a film based on a children’s’ toy line.

Two other brief things I want on record before we wrap.  1] Yes, during the action scene in Hong Kong, there is a bit in which two characters of Asian descent bust out super martial-arts powers.  It is a Transformers film, one that has a sassy angry black woman near the beginning (she’s the realtor the baseball bat-wielding Cade chases off) and an Autobot whose entire character is an honourable Shogun stereotype, you knew this was going to happen.  2] The Imagine Dragons song is fucking awful.  It is fucking awful and it gets played during the action packed finale, in addition to the credits, so you have a song with lyrics that are being sung whilst important dialogue is supposed to be exchanged.  I’m sorry, I thought big budget movies were supposed to hire professionals?  This is a Junior School mistake.  Literally, I learned this problem with overlaying music on pre-existing film and sound in Junior School, there is no excuse.

Also, again, the Imagine Dragons song is fucking awful.

There’s an old saying, folks, I’m sure you’re familiar with it.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  I had been fooled by Transformers: Dark Of The Moon that this franchise under the control of these people had some actual potential in it, whether that potential lay in being a big, dumb action movie or an action movie that actually did want to try tackling subjects beyond loud noises and bright lights.  That was still a bad film, but it started giving me ideas.  If everyone involved could kick their bad habits (the lame gags, the abysmal way that action scenes are shot, staged and edited, the racist stereotypes, the casual sexism and the burning desire to skip all semblances of story, character arcs and just plain character work in general in favour of just getting to the explosions) then Transformers had the potential to turn out a genuinely good film.  Whether that good film fell under “big dumb fun” or “action film with brains” didn’t matter.  Pain & Gain had even convinced me that Michael Bay hadn’t forgotten how to make movies, so maybe he’d finally show up for work this time.

Never have I felt so idiotic for believing a franchise’s promises to change.  Never have I felt so idiotic for believing in a film’s potential.  Transformers: Age Of Extinction is a step back from Dark Of The Moon and a slight (slight) improvement on the excretable first two films.  But I’m not angry.  I can’t get mad because to get mad would be admitting that I still hold out hope for this franchise, that I still hold a strong and lasting emotional response to this franchise.  I have been failed by a series that has never demonstrated that it could achieve anything more than “non-irritating badness” and it stings because this time a part of me really thought that things were going to be different.  But they aren’t.  It’s the same horrible toxic shit that has been peddled beforehand and I feel like a total dumbass for letting even just that tiny little part of me think that this was going to be in any way different.

I am not angry at Transformers: Age Of Extinction.  I am just disappointed.  I have no right to be, but I am, in both it and myself.  Spare yourself the indignity and just stay away.

Callum Petch, close you send.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Fast & Furious 6

2418_FPT_00038RV3.JPGIn honour of our main review, this week’s podcast is both fast (coming it at under an hour) and furious (well, one of us is a little peeved). We not only review the 379th film released this year starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Fast & Furious 6), but James even recaps the series for all of you who have missed out so far. Apart from the really rubbish ones.

Owen and James then wax lyrical and slightly homoerotic about Ryan Gosling, and his brilliant performance in The Place Beyond the Pines. Steve is impressed by a little-heard of gem called The Man From Earth, and Gerry revisits the genius of Four Lions.

Somehow we also manage to fit in some news from the Cannes Film Festival, recommendations on what to watch this week, and probably insult another major portion of our listeners. We usually do.

Tune in next week as we induct Studio Ghibli into the Corridor of Praise.

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