Tag Archives: Mark Wahlberg

Transformers: The Last Knight

“It started as a legend. One of the greatest of all.”

Whilst The Last Knight might be the last of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies (if you discount the proposed Bumblebee solo spin-off), it still seemed like it was worth sending Andrew Brooker to review this unequivocally dire fifth instalment.

Continue reading Transformers: The Last Knight

Deepwater Horizon

“Hope isn’t a tactic.”

Besides an awareness that the events of Deepwater Horizon are set some time after that oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, I knew absolutely nothing about the true inspiration for Deepwater Horizon. What I did know is that Peter Berg made it – a prospect I was somewhat interested in – and that he didn’t spoil his film this time with its damn title, just like he did with Lone Survivor.

Sadly, at about 40 seconds into the movie, the spoilers come thick and fast as you realise the audio playing over the titles is of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) speaking at a hearing in the aftermath of the disaster we are about to watch.

At this point, my expectations were drastically lowered, anticipating that there would be no fear factor, no worry, not even a little “moderate threat” when it comes to the safety of our lead character. Berg virtually announced that Wahlberg is going to be A-OK.

But, there’s this moment about twenty minutes before the credits roll, where you forget all of that and you’re actually worried for Williams and his crew. You’re terrified that our hero isn’t going to make it to the end. It’s at that point that you realise that not only are you invested in this film and its characters, but that Peter Berg is actually a pretty good filmmaker when he wants to be.

Starting mere hours before an explosion that crippled and eventually destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, we see Williams and the other members of his crew – most importantly Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Ethan Suplee – board the floating oil rig while the owners of the company, and the rig, are playing fast and loose with safety guidelines to try and get the rig’s timetable back on track.

When the company force the crew to ignore warnings and get to drilling, things go really wrong, really quickly. As an explosion rocks through the drilling platform, leaving literal towers of flame in its wake. It’s every man for himself as they run for lifeboats and safety. This leaves Wahlberg and a couple of others to drag survivors out to the safety of the escape platform and hopefully save themselves too.

Forget all those worldwide Roland Emmerich disaster films we’ve been rolling our eyes at for God knows how long; Deepwater Horizon is, in my honest opinion, the best pure disaster movie we’ve seen in the last fifteen years.

We spend as much time getting to know about the team on the doomed rig as we do with the fire that destroyed it. Each of the important (and not so important) characters in this tragedy are given a fair share of time for us to know a little about them. We see their lives off the rig, their motivations and, most importantly, we get to see them being one of those makeshift families you kind of expect those groups to be in a place like that. It’s enough to get you to give slightly more than a passing shit about these guys, but not so much as to make you think this is going to be some severely underpaced melodrama instead of the action packed disaster piece we were promised.

Once we’re done meeting everyone, the tension is ramped up as we watch and wait for the inevitable to happen. The rig buckles under the strain and we feel the dread in the guys on the drilling floor before all hell breaks loose. We’re worried, but once things start to go completely tits up, we’re terrified for the guys we’ve just gotten to know.

The final act is a thing of beauty. Reportedly one of the biggest stages ever built for a film is burned and broken from every angle imaginable. As fire engulfs absolutely everything, including the sea surrounding the rig, your arse is on the edge of your seat as these men and women clamber for safety in any direction they can. The rig and the flames are the real standout of this show. It’s weirdly beautiful to watch and at the same time absolutely terrifying.

To not mention Mark Wahlberg’s performance would be a little mean. Watching the actor be an actual hero was outstanding; his usual repertoire of larger than life characters doesn’t compare to watching him play Joe Average in an anything-but-average situation and play it well. This is especially true towards the end of the film when more than one scene leaves you with a knot in your stomach and a lump in your throat. Whilst half of that is down to the situation, a lesser actor would have screwed it up completely. Needless to say, I love Wahlberg a little bit more after this one – and I’ve forgiven him Transformers 4.

Deepwater Horizon was a surprising film. Much better than I expected it to be and a much more heroic tale than I thought it was going to get when I swiped my Unlimited Card. An astonishing addition to an ever growing list of great films in 2016.

Half A Decade In Film – 2010

During October last year, we assembled a team of writers to put together five Decade In Horror articles during the build up to Halloween.  It was a short mini-series; a kind of spin-off from our regular Decade In Film series, where we each chose our favourite horror film from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.

The reason we stopped at the noughties was because, well, quite frankly, we’re still currently in the 2010’s. We can’t exactly do a retrospective on a decade that hasn’t yet ended! Or…. can we? No, we can’t. But what we can do is party like it’s 2015.

By which I mean, re-assemble the squad and take a look back at the first half of the decade so far. In the five years from 2010-14, we’ve seen the likes of Gareth Edwards, Richard Ayoade, Paddy Considine, Joe Cornish, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and more all making their directorial debuts, as well as witnessing the birth of the super-blockbuster. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of all time were released during this past half decade. From genre-revitalising micro-budget Indonesian action films made by Welsh directors, to expanded cinematic universe’s, we’ve had it all. So, let’s start right at the beginning and see what Owen, Paul, Liam, Mike and Andrew have chosen for 2010.


Blue Valentine

blue valentineListen, I didn’t wanna be somebody’s husband, okay? And I didn’t wanna be somebody’s dad. That wasn’t my… goal in life. For some guys it is – wasn’t mine. But somehow I’ve… it was what I wanted. I didn’t know that. And it’s all I wanna do. I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

A couple of years back, there was this film I saw a trailer for in the cinema called The Place Beyond The Pines. Something about the look of the film, the way it was fixed on three different people whose lives were all intertwined, I just really, desperately wanted to see it. Unlike a great many other films I want to see that never turn up at my local Cineworld, this one bizarrely made it there. Huzzah! A screening… that’s at midday… in the middle of the week. Bummer.

I took a day’s leave from work with the sole intention of seeing The Place Beyond The Pines. It ended up being one of my favourite films of the year and consequently led to me almost immediately checking out director Derek Cianfrance’s previous film, Blue Valentine, the following day.

Well, wow. If The Place Beyond The Pines was strangely uplifting and optimistic in the most pessimistic and disheartening way plausible, then Blue Valentine was as depressing and heartbreaking in as magical and romanticised way possible. Detailing both the coming together of two people in love, jumbled up amongst the collapse of their marriage, all told in a non-linear way that constructs and deconstructs relationships in one fell swoop, it just absolutely blew me away.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were incredible, both nailing all aspects of their characters; their flaws, their quirks, their love and hate for one another. There’s a wildness in both of their performances that never feels constrained or restricted, instead making the moments that they express their love for one another seem genuine, as well as hammering home just how painful it is to see their situation forcing them further and further apart.

I think I said on the podcast at the time, as a story about falling into and out of love, about duty and responsibility, about simply being a fucking human, then it’s hard for any movie top something as devastatingly inspiring as Blue Valentine.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Inception

inceptionThey say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.

Christopher Nolan is a director you don’t take for granted. He constantly innovates, he never rests on his achievements, strives to create a film that you will never forget. I’m not saying I’m a Nolan fan boy and there are a few films of his which I’m not that keen on. Yet, even in these films there are moments which leave you speechless because Nolan will push cinema to its limit, and that’s what makes him one of the most interesting and exciting directors we have today.

In 2010, Inception was a film which left a huge mark on me. This was and still is my favourite Nolan film. Yes, I even think it’s better than The Dark Knight (which is also pretty incredible). That said, from its incredible set pieces to a stunning score from Hans Zimmer (which for me is his finest cinema music to date), it just left me in awe of Nolan’s vision, his ability to ignite the imagination and create something this incredibly unique is extremely impressive. Is Inception Nolan’s homage to spy films? It is sort of, but it takes that element and just flips it on its head, because Nolan’s spies infiltrate dreams to access their victims secrets, none of this breaking into high security offices and photocopying a few documents, no that’s far too mundane for Nolan, he takes it to a whole new level. The set pieces in the film are incredible, well we are in dreams, where imaginations can run wild. Nolan shows his aptitude for action, his ability to excite and push you to the edge of your seat, the action in Inception is flawless, I do wonder what he would do if he ever directed a James Bond movie.

Yet one problem is it tends to over complicate matters and sometimes you are left scratching your head and wondering what is really going on. In fact Nolan does leave the ending open, which did bring groans from the audience and leaves you in that state of was it or wasn’t it all real. I do tend to go for the happier ending after the fade to black, but it was a hot topic of discussion.

The cast is incredible, Leonardo DiCaprio leads the stars in this film, and his work is outstanding in the film. He’s backed up by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Nolan brings out the best in his cast and they are all on top of their game.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


I Saw The Devil

i saw the devilI will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

Late 2010 and a first visit to the London Korean Film Festival. A hidden gem on the calendar, that’s well worth looking out for each year. £10 gets you entry to a West End Premier, with free hospitality. Front row seats, an absolute skinful of Korean Soju (those little green bottles you see in every Korean film) and out walks director Kim Ji-Woon to present his latest (controversial film), I Saw The Devil, in all its uncut glory to an expectant and wildly appreciative audience.

The Korean revenge genre is one of my favourites, so to see a couple of Korean heavyweights in Lee Byung-Hun (A Bittersweet Life, GI Joe) and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy !!!) team up with Kim Ji-Woon to have a crack at it, was bed wettingly excited for this.

It delivers in spades. It looks absolutely amazing, the cinematography is simply beautiful. It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Korean lark, the ridiculous tonal shifts, a shambolic police force, the eye rolling melodrama and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Throw in a completely over the top take on the genre and some of the nastiest violence ever committed to screen and we have ourselves a movie. The revenge on offer here…is different….darker….more brutal…

Kim Ji-Woon has almost killed this genre, there’s literally nowhere to go after this, he’s turned the dial up to 10, ripped it off and stamped on it. Everything he turns his hand to has been good to great so far, from a Western, to Drama, Comedy, Horror and even an Arnie action flick. He’s one of the greatest working directors of our age and this was the most fun anyone could possibly have had in a cinema in 2010.

The 10th London Korean Film Festival takes place in November 2015.

by Paul Field (@pafster)


The Sound of Noise

SoN02.jpgDirected by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Nilsson, The Sound of Noise is a genre hopping little known gem from Sweden.

The story revolves around a group of obsessive drummers planning and performing a series of gigs. The problem is that their idea of a “Gig” is far closer to what the general public would call a terrorist raid.

Hot on their heels is Detective Amadeus Warnebring, a (figuratively and literally) tone deaf police officer with a hatred of music and musicians.

Warnebring is the black sheep of an extremely accomplished musical family. He comes from a long line of singers, musicians, conductors and composers. His younger brother was feted as a Wunderkind and is now a big star in the classical music world, so poor old Amadeus is treated as a bit of a dunce by most of his family and is more tolerated than loved. Only his mother shows any kind of real affection for him, and even that takes the form of a kindly patronisation.

Although essentially a surreal comedy, the film also has significant dramatic content and features several brilliant musical scenes. The group perform extremely complicated rhythmic pieces using a huge variety of objects, none of which would normally be considered musical instruments. Who knew that you could get a decent tune out of equipment as unlikely as; heart rate monitors, operating tables, money counting machines, bulldozers and even electric pylons?

Running under the surface of all the absurd humour and musical madness is a rather warm and tender love story. Quietly and subtly handled, it never threatens to derail the fun or get overly sloppy but it does add a welcome layer of true humanity to a group of people that could quite easily be seen as somewhat mechanical in their all consuming need to live life to the beat of a metronome.

There are a few moments that do stray perilously close to that fine line between madcap, surreal humour and just plain annoying. The humorous concept of Warnebring’s selective deafness does teeter on the edge of overuse in one of the most important scenes but, thankfully, just about manages to keep its balance.

This film is an expanded follow on from the excellent 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which is well worth seeing on Youtube. It is made by and stars the same group.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


The Fighter

the fighterThis is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Nothing gets the Oscar committee’s genitals tingling quite like a good, old fashioned true sports story. But what usually makes the better ones the best of the bunch is the part where the film isn’t really about that sport. From Pride of the Yankees all the way to this year’s Foxcatcher, the lives of its characters takes centre stage over whichever sport happens to be in the backdrop.

It’s one of my favourite things about The Fighter. The true story of champion boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, isn’t really about boxing. In fact, the first hour or so is essentially Shameless with expensive actors. It’s a story about a down-trodden guy, who could be any guy, dragging his arse out of the sludge that he’s living in and trying to make things better for himself while his delinquent family are a constant weight around his ankles.

The beauty of these films is that they come packaged with outstanding performances. Both in front of and behind he camera. The Fighter revitalised David O’Russell’s career, giving him the start of a three film run filled with Oscar nominations (some more deserving than others). Most of The Fighter‘s nods were for its stars and deserving is definitely the word here. From Mark Wahlberg’s turn as struggling boxer Mickey Ward trying to make it big in a world that’s all but forgotten him. To Melissa Leo’s pathologically controlling, wannabe reality TV star matriarch. Everyone brings their best and we, the audience, are rewarded handsomely for their work.

Christian Bale’s performance as Mickey’s crack addicted, former boxing superstar brother, Dickie, is a career best and the greatest performance in the film. The insane weight cut that, while not The Machinist levels of grim, had to take a toll and that commitment shines from every frame he’s in. Galvanised when you see the short clip of the real Dicky at the credits and see just how well Bale plays him. I don’t think anyone could argue how much he deserved the Oscar he won for the role.

The Fighter is an emotional urban drama and a powerful underdog story all wrapped in a boxing film and it’s easily one of the greatest dramas ever. Not just 2010.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


And there you go. No room for critically acclaimed movies such as the best picture winning The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, 13 Assassins, Toy Story 3 or, perhaps most unbelievably of all, Piranha 3D. But that just goes to show how good a year that 2010 was. We’ll be back next week with the same crop of writers to pick the five undisputed (….) best films of 2011.

Callum Petch’s Bottom 10 of 2014: #10 – #6

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Happy New Year, everybody!  Over the last two days, I have shared with you the 10 films that stuck with me the most throughout 2014 for the right reasons.  Plaudits were thrown about, praises were slathered, and good times were had.  If you missed those articles, you can find them located here and here.  Today and tomorrow, though, I share with you the 10 films that stuck with me the most throughout 2014 for the wrong reasons.

I have never actually done a Bottom 10 list before.  As mentioned in the first of my Top 10 pieces, prior to this year I had to carefully select what films I went to see, but this year I could toss quality control out of the window and see everything.  Therefore, in the name of film criticism, I have seen a lot of total sh*t this past year.  However, this is not a list of the absolute worst made films of 2014.  Some of them are on here, but that is not what the list is about.  It’s too easy and not particularly interesting, especially since many of them are akin to shooting fish in a barrel with a blunderbuss machine gun.  I mean, are any of you at all surprised that Pudsey The Dog: The Movie turned out to be horrendous?

No, this list is a Bottom 10 and encompasses the films from 2014 that made me angry.  To get on this list, a film had to have left me with a strong negative reaction that did not go away after a short while.  These are the films that drew my anger, swallowed me in disappointment, offended my being in some way shape or form, or also represent everything that is wrong with filmmaking and the film industry today.  How much do these films deserve to be on this list?  Transcendence, Annie, Blended, and 300: Rise Of An Empire missed out on placements.

So, same rules apply here as they did for the Top 10, and same presentation style applies too – today, we count down #10 to #6.  If we’re all set, don your bile protection gear, don’t look directly into the films that are listed here, and ONWARDS, AOSHIMA!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


boyhood10] Boyhood

Dir: Richard Linklater

Star: Ellar Coltraine, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Again, this is not a list of the worst films of 2014.  I can name you at least 20 or so films that I saw that are worse than Boyhood.  No, Boyhood is on this list because, more so than any other film released in 2014, it annoyed me.  It confounded me, it irritated me, it baffled me, it enraged me, it majorly disappointed me, and these feelings have remained with me ever since I saw the film because people won’t shut the hell up about the goddamn thing and because we might as well FedEx all awards ever to its undeserving doorstep now to save time and money on postage.

Look, my seething distaste for Boyhood is very much equal parts it not being a very good film, and my own personal feelings and baggage.  Boyhood purports to be a look at the coming-of-age of a white, suburban, straight, middle-class male throughout the 2000s but does so in a way and tone that feels like it’s putting down the final word on the matter.  That this is how it was for everybody, that it’s making some giant statement about it all, especially since the film keeps throwing out philosophical sound bites and barely tolerable bullsh*t about how “the moment seizes you” and stuff.  It looks down from upon high and decrees “THIS IS WHAT BOYHOOD WAS LIKE IN THE 2000s” with absolutely no self-awareness or analysis of what it actually means to be that kind of privileged white, straight, middle-class male, which makes its declarative nature all the more insufferable.

“Oh, but Boyhood is a character piece!” I imagine many are trying to counter with right about now.  Problem with that argument is that the film fails at that, too.  Mason, Jr. is a non-entity.  I spent two hours and forty minutes in his company – watched him go through 12 years of life – and the most I learnt about him is that he possibly has a interest in photography, and that his actor grew up to resemble Ethan Hawke so much that I’m honestly not 100% certain that he’s not just a clone of Ethan Hawke.  I don’t know what makes him tick, I don’t know what his aspirations are, I don’t know how he progressed from his six year-old self to his eighteen year-old self.  He feels less like a character and more like a blank slate that either you’re supposed to project your own self onto or who is supposed to stand in for every white privileged guy ever.

“But the whole point of the movie is that your adolescence cannot be boiled down to big standout moments!  That’s why it skips Mason, Jr.’s first kiss, first job, rambunctious teenager phase, etc.!”  OK, so why does the entire first half of the film concern itself with the theme of being too young to truly understand how the world works?  Much of the film’s first half dedicates itself to the lives of Mason and Olivia, Mason, Jr. and Samantha’s parents, and the complicated nature of their various relationships, living arrangements and procession of step-parents as viewed through the eyes of children who will never truly understand why these things are happening.  That’s why there is this ridiculously cartoonishly delivered sequence where Olivia bolts with the kids away from her alcoholic and abusive new husband.  That is a major standout moment of somebody’s life, and its grand theatricality – not helped by Marco Perella swinging for the fences with his playing of that scene – goes against the low-key nature of the rest of the film.

Yet the film drops that theme at about the halfway mark and just ambles about aimlessly for its remaining runtime.  It’s maddening to see a film wilfully waste its potential and possible avenues of storytelling and thematic resonance at damn near every opportunity.  Patricia Arquette has been getting major praise for her role as Olivia and understandably so, she does great work, which makes it all the more infuriating that, despite being Mason, Jr.’s primary parent and guardian, the film repeatedly side-lines her in favour of even more screen time with Mason, Sr. in a bunch of scenes that eventually reduce themselves to just hitting the same beats over and over again.  Olivia gets an outstanding scene near the end where she breaks down as an uncaring Mason, Jr. gets the last of his stuff from her house about the passage of time, and of heavily implied regret for giving her life to him instead of living it for herself.  That scene is outstanding, which only makes it all the more infuriating that the film isn’t about her – the one character in the film with an arc, thematic resonance or f*cking something going on.

That’s ultimately what annoys me most about Boyhood, is the fact that it has nothing going on besides its “shot over 12 years” gimmick.  It is a film with no central character, no consistent thematic arc, and nothing interesting to say because it actively steers itself away from having anything interesting to say.  I get the feeling that Linklater started this project with a real passion and desire, only for that to fade away from him as the years progressed, eventually becoming more of an obligation than anything he was seriously interested in working on – the film gets lazier and lazier, just drifting through its last forty minutes with no drive except for some half-assed pseudo-philosophical rambling (very much like a teenager).  Linklater is better than this, he has consistently proven over the last 12 years that he is a better filmmaker than this, and that’s why Boyhood disappoints me so.  It’s a pointless, muddled, dreary slog of a film that also touches on something real and honest infrequently enough to make its bungling of everything even more irritating.

Also, its last scene is one of the worst and most aggravating that I have seen all year, and the film managed to make me hate Arcade Fire for a good two hours after I left the cinema.


09] Let’s Be Copslet's be cops

Dir: Luke Greenfield

Star: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr.

Let’s Be Cops is not the worst comedy of 2014 – that honour goes to Sex Tape, since that barely qualifies as a film, let alone a comedy.  It is not the most offensive comedy of 2014 – that honour goes to Blended.  It is also not the most disappointing comedy of 2014 – A Million Ways To Die In The West – or the most pointless – Horrible Bosses 2 – or the biggest pile of evidence that we should stop allowing British people to make comedies – Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie.  What Let’s Be Cops is, and why it is on this list instead of the far more deserving Sex Tape, is the most perfect encapsulation of everything that is currently wrong with the American feature-length comedy movie.

2014 has been a pretty miserable year for out-and-out comedies.  Of the many, many, many comedies released these past 12 months, only two were actually any good – Bad Neighbours (which came this close to cracking my Top 20) and 22 Jump Street (which had a very good chance of actually cracking the Top 10 if I had managed to watch it again before list-making time) – the rest were either diverting but pointless, or just plain torture to sit through.  I realise that every year has maybe two great straight comedies – a number that’s bumped up to four if you include comedy-dramas or black comedies – and a whole load of tripe surrounding them, but you’ll have to forgive me for being disappointed that an increased number of releases this year led to the same number of hits compared to misses.

The American comedy is currently stale, and Let’s Be Cops is such a grab-bag text of all of its worst impulses that I’m honestly still not sure that it wasn’t intentional – a desire to make a comedy I can point to for all aspiring comedy filmmakers and go “You see that?  Don’t do that.”  A loose rambling structure that sacrifices these things we call “set-ups” and “punchlines” in favour of dropping talented comedians with decent chemistry into scenarios and praying that they can improv up enough gold to fill out the runtime, direction and scene set-ups that are dull and interchangeable, editing that doesn’t know when to stop a scene, a needlessly stretched out runtime that gets way too close to two hours, genuinely funny material being beaten into the ground or stretched so thin that the entire enterprise feels endless, a casually tossed off sexist attitude towards women, a final third where the jokes are dropped completely because apparently only Phil Lord & Chris Miller know how to make plot funny anymore…

Let’s Be Cops also has the extra dead albatross of being released in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri which have sparked off an additional nationwide conversation about police brutality, racism and militarisation of the police force, adding an extra layer of awkward tastelessness to jokes like our two leads playfully brandishing their loaded guns at each other in a public restaurant.  But, honestly, that’s the least of its problems.  Let’s Be Cops could have used its premise to explore and ask tough questions about the current state of the police force in 21st century America, but it didn’t have to and it’s not automatically lesser for not doing so – there’s nothing wrong with a silly comedy and at no point did either of the Jump Street movies use their cop-comedy premises for social satire.  What is inexcusable, though, is the sheer laziness and half-assery of the film’s entire construction.  This is soulless, paint-by-numbers filmmaking where the only people trying are its two stars, which only serves to make them look desperate.

Again, Let’s Be Cops is not the worst comedy of the year – holy hell, is Sex Tape ever an appalling train wreck – but it is a perfect distillation of everything that is currently wrong with the comedy genre.  This trend of foisting near-laugh-free scripts on talented actors with lightning chemistry and expecting them to do all the heavy lifting with endless improv needs to stop.  I don’t care that the majority of today’s movie star comedians and comediennes come with an improv background; there is a never a better substitute for tight editing and a raucous script stuffed to the brim with proper jokes from start to finish.  Bad Neighbours got that, 22 Jump Street got that, why can’t anything else get that?


new york winters tale08] A New York Winter’s Tale

Dir: Akiva Goldsman

Star: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown-Findlay

That’s right, folks.  A film that I declared back in February to have been “one of the worst films that I have ever seen” is only #8 on my Bottom 10 of 2014.  And, honestly, it’s really only here out of some sort of obligation.  Oh, sure, A New York Winter’s Tale is pure garbage of the highest order, but it’s a film that I have warmed to since then, probably because it, unlike a lot of the tripe populating this list, at least is completely sincere in its attempts to be good.  Therefore, although I hated it at the time, I don’t hate it with the same ferocity that I once did.  Not anymore, I feel like I have moved on from it.

Again, though, that doesn’t stop A New York Winter’s Tale from being a complete and total failure on every single conceivable level of filmmaking.  The dialogue is atrocious, the plot is nonsense, it looks dreadful in both the practical sense – of set design, shot composition, costumes, hairpieces and such – and the computer-generated sense, it boasts atrocious performances from everybody involved, it is paced like a marathon populated by narcoleptics, its attempts at thematic resonance and foreshadowing are quite literally laughable…  I’m honestly not sure what’s more inadvertently hilarious, the movie or the fact that a former Oscar winner convinced Village Roadshow Pictures to give him $60 million and several talented high profile actors to give several weeks of their lives to filming this piece of guff.

The plot powering this guff – based on a novel I haven’t read but is apparently, by all accounts, nowhere near as rubbish as this – centres around Colin Farrell as a potential miracle maker who was raised and then hunted by a demon, played by Russell Crowe, legitimately named Pearly Soames (real name, not the gender-flipped version of Pearl from Spongebob Squarepants), who works for Lucifer, played by Will Smith (an incredibly sleepy and checked out Will Smith, before you get excited and, yes, it is problematic that the one major black guy in the film is playing Satan).  It turns out that Colin Farrell’s miracle is to apparently cure a young woman’s terminal tuberculosis through the power of love, whilst Pearly (real name) hunts the pair down with murderous intentions cos Lucifer don’t like any sunshine or kittens getting out into the world, thank you kindly.

See, this all sounds like the most enjoyable nonsense, a “So Bad, It’s Good” of epic proportions.  Yet, whilst I was watching the thing, I didn’t find it funny because it is so po-facedly earnestly serious about its stupid endeavour that any fun to be had at its ridiculous awfulness was lost.  This was a film with a Pegasus, a ridiculous pace-killing near-century time-skip, and a sequence in which somebody is quite literally f*cked to death, and all I could do was check my watch, yawn and question whether walking out would be preferable to continuing to submit myself to the thing – although I did laugh at the reveal of the Pegasus, mostly because it looks like what you’d get if you asked a 5 year-old to recreate the Tri-Star logo in MS Paint in the next 30 minutes.

But I no longer hate A New York Winter’s Tale.  I did, once upon a time, enough to write a long-winded and pretty funny review (if you’ll allow me one of my five annual tootings of my own horn) tearing the thing to shreds, but no more.  I have made my peace with this film’s existence.  If I were to ever see it again – preferably in the company of friends, drunk on soda of various kinds, during a Bad Movie Night – I’d probably be able to crack wise at the thing effortlessly and have myself a gay old time.  It is still one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my 20 years of existence, but as previously mentioned this is not a Worst Movies of 2014 list.  Therefore, A New York Winter’s Tale stalls out at #8.  The bile saved from this can instead be deployed on other, more deserving films, such as…


07] Transformers: Age Of Extinctiontransformers 4

Dir: Michael Bay

Star: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci

This one is just as much my own goddamn stupid fault as it is the film in question.  I stupidly – and it is stupidly, there is no other word or reasoning to make this alright – let a part of me become somewhat hopeful that this time things would be different.  The Transformers series, under the creative direction and influence of these people, gave me absolutely no reason to believe that it could produce anything great or even worth my time.  Yet, a part of me was allowed to be quietly optimistic.  After bottoming out with Revenge Of The Fallen, Dark Of The Moon took the series’ first tentative steps towards being a good movie – it wasn’t one, but it was on the path to at least being entertaining – and 2013’s underrated Pain & Gain proved to me that Michael Bay hadn’t forgotten how to make movies.  So a part of me got a little hopeful; this time, things were going to be different.

They weren’t.  They weren’t at all.  Age Of Extinction is a regression back to all of the same toxic sh*t that Transformers, Revenge Of The Fallen and to a lesser extent Dark Of The Moon had peddled beforehand, only now even more bloated and expanded and epic-ised (which isn’t even a real word but was likely a direction used for scene prep at some point during this thing’s production) to levels that make the resulting product an endurance test instead of anything that anybody could find entertaining.  Casual racism, creepy paedophilic undertones, an actively hateful bordering on misogynist view of women, product placement – including product placement for The People’s Republic of China despite current world events making that one of the most tone-deaf things one could do – abysmally directed and incomprehensible action, active wasting of interesting themes, and an utterly awful Imagine Dragons song – which is a step down from Linkin Park.

And in other news, the sun rose today, the sky is blue, and George Clooney is an incredibly sexy man.  Look, I get that we have all collectively realised that the Transformers movies are abhorrent pieces of trash and that their continued financial success will be one of life’s big mysteries.  Age Of Extinction’s appearance on this list is that barrel full of fish that I mentioned earlier, but sometimes really obvious fish need shooting for a reason and this metaphor has broken down.  Point is, Age Of Extinction is a reminder that there are people out there who have nothing but contempt for the movie going audience.  Who believe that they can push out thoughtless, stupid, toxic crap and that people will show up to buy it because the explosions are big and shiny and purdy.  There is always room for big dumb action films – the Fast & Furious franchise is beloved for a reason, after all – but those are films that do so with glee, joy and smartness, as crafting a good big dumb action film takes actual effort.

Age Of Extinction is not that film.  It is a cynical, joyless, mindless exercise whose sole reason for its existence is to line Paramount Pictures executives’ pockets with more money.  And I went into it stupidly thinking that it wouldn’t be.  People went to see this and not Edge Of Tomorrow, and, thanks specifically to China, we will be suffering through two more of these sh*tfests.  Well done, everyone.  Sterling job.


906429 - The Amazing Spider-Man 206] The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Dir: Marc Webb

Star: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx

We are in the middle of a full-on comic book boom at the cinema.  Now, admittedly, we’ve been in one since the early 2000s when Spider-Man, X-Men and Blade were ruling the box office, but we’re really in the midst of one.  Every studio has, or is attempting to cultivate, their own comic book empire out of the materials that Marvel Studios hasn’t already swallowed up, everybody is trying to serialise everything, and Marvel this year dictated the exact days in which I need to sit my ass down in a cinema for the next five years.  This boom will bust out eventually, but things are looking good for now.

They won’t look so good for very long, however, if studios keep pumping out films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  This one was a time-bomb, folks.  As you may have gathered from my original review, I strongly disliked the film but I didn’t hate it at the time – I thought I’d found a couple of redeeming factors and let the potential of the series dilute some of my venom for it.  But then it sat in head.  And sat.  And sat.  And, for at least three months afterwards, it wouldn’t leave because myself and my friends kept finding more and more wrong with it the more we let it settle.  We found new problems – like the incredibly poor pacing and structural mess that robs anything of any resonance – whilst old problems – the incredibly creepy and borderline sexist crap with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, Peter’s problem of him being a giant dick – were found to be even more systemic and problematic.

In the end, though, it all comes back to this simple fact: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a film.  It is a commercial for the next film, and also a Sinister Six film that literally nobody was ever asking for.  This is not a film that was made by a cast and crew with a vision, a story to tell, and the drive and passion to pull it off.  This was a film ham-fistedly dictated by a studio for the sole purpose of forcing a franchise and making a lot of money because, “Yo!  Those kids loves them some Spider-Man!  I spies dollar signs, boys!”  There is no narrative reason for this film to exist, there is no thematic reason for this film to exist; this is a film that exists because Sony saw that Marvel Studios have made Scrooge McDuck-money with their franchises and shared universe continuity and wanted that green without actually having to do the work necessary to earn it.

Do you know why Marvel can unveil concrete dates for a five-year plan of films and the only negative thing it does to us is make us contemplate our own fragile mortality?  It’s because they, first and foremost, tell stories.  Each film so far, despite this shared-universe thing and their franchising and sequelising and such, works as a film on its own.  They tell complete stories, have effort and craft put into them, and each of them exist because, or give a good enough illusion, somebody wanted to tell a story, first and foremost.  Are they often still safe, less groundbreaking and risky than they appear, and mandated by the producers at the studio?  Well, yes, undoubtedly, but the films are great and satisfying and fun and have real effort put in that I really don’t care.

Marvel Studios, essentially, have earned my trust, and near everyone else’s trust, in this grand experiment because they have proven first and foremost that their movies are worth the commercial avenues that they will be taken down.  Sony don’t want to wait for that trust and have forced the Spider-Man license through the most cynical, money-driven, bereft-of-ideas ringer they could get their hands on, and practically every problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can be traced back to a studio wanting their money now and not thinking through, or putting any effort whatsoever into, a single one of the film’s creative decisions.  When people disparage comic book movies and serialisation of movies, this is what they are referring to and I shiver at the possibility that I will be seeing more Amazing Spider-Man 2s in the coming future.

Sony, just torch the franchise and negotiate with Marvel.  Please?  It’s clearly been more trouble for you than it’s worth.  Just wash your hands of this game and move on.  For all of us.


Well, we’ve made it halfway through the list.  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I was being too harsh/not harsh enough on some of these?  Let me know in the comments below!  Tomorrow, we wrap up this week with the absolute bottom of the barrel.  Brace yourselves…

Callum Petch only dreams in black and white.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

4ailed C4itics 4odcast: Age of Existentialism

100 year old manWelcome back to the Failed Critics Podcast, after an unscheduled and unexpected (but we’re sure, not entirely unwelcome) break from lobbing our cinematic opinions directly into your ear holes.

There’s no James this week (hooray!) as the rest of the team review Trans4ormers: Age of Extinction (boo!), and The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared (huh?). We also hear about the sneak peak preview of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Join us next week for more film stuff. Probably.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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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)!

Pain & Gain

Pain and Gain SunbedWhen a director is as critically and artistically reviled as Michael Bay (best summed up in this classic song from Team America) it’s sometimes difficult to admit that they haven’t always been terrible at what they do. Films like The Rock, Armageddon, and Bad Boys may lack the subtlety and originality of the truly great films of our generation, but they are, on the whole, entertaining blockbusters in a style that has been sadly lacking in recent years.

This is pretty much all Michael Bay’s fault to be honest, with a decade of films that are all at once dumb, bombastic, sexist, and interminably dull despite the constant crash, bang, wallop of CGI ‘action’ scenes. Bad Boys 2 started the rot, and by the time the third Transformers film rolled into town everyone but teenage boys and the toy manufacturers were praying for his career to be taken out the back and shot as humanely as possible.

Then something strange happened. I, along with other film fans of sound mind and body, suddenly got excited about a new Michael Bay film. Based on a fascinating true life story, and starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Pain & Gain promised something we never thought possible; Michael Bay attempting his version of an indie film. And you know what, it’s actually not a bad film.

The story focuses on Wahlberg’s character Daniel Lugo, a former fraudster who is trying to live a straight life while ferociously pursuing the American Dream. He spends almost all of his time at his gym, sculpting the perfect body while training clients to realise their full physical potential. His confusion of ambition and greed leads to a bizarre scheme that involves kidnapping one of his mega rich clients, and violently persuading them to sign over everything to him. The weak link in the operation being his accomplices; a born again Christian battling addiction (Johnson), and his best friend and gym protégé (Anthony Mackie).

What follows is both highly entertaining, and morally troubling. The central performances are brilliant, with Walhberg and Johnson giving their best performances in recent years. A brilliant mix of comedy, desperation, and outright violence; along with Mackie they are the glue that holds this film together. They are ably supported by Tony Shalhoub as the kidnap victim who you never feel an ounce of sympathy for, and Ed Harris who is brilliant, but also rapidly turning into Peter Weller by the day.

The troubling aspects of this film are two-fold. Firstly, Bay’s misogynistic themes are right to the fore here with his usual slow-motion shots of women’s scantily-clad behinds, or the off-hand way almost every male character treats the women in their life. Even more questionable is the tone of the kidnap and resulting scenes of violence and torture, especially considering we are constantly reminded that this is based on a true story. I’ve read the original newspaper article the film is based upon, and the protagonists are not loveable, misunderstood oafs, but calculating psychopaths. This revisionism leaves an exceptional bad taste in the mouth as the credits role and the obligatory ‘where are they now’ title cards roll.

And yet…

It’s ultimately a very entertaining film, and at times matches Bad Boys for its gleeful style of pitting buddies against explosions and worst case scenarios. If you can leave your conscience and morals at the door (and I don’t blame you if you can’t) I dare say you’ll have a great time watching this film. The saddest thing about this whole project is that Bay appears to have treated it as a little holiday, and he’ll very shortly get back to making Transformers 4 and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot that nobody wants. Still, at least then I can go back to happily slagging him off.

Pain & Gain is released in UK cinemas on 30th August.

The Departed (2006), Infernal Affairs (2002)

There are some films that you just know you’re going to like even before they begin. The Departed was one of those for me.

How could it not be good? Directed by Martin Scorsese. Big names like Matt Damon, Leonardo Di Caprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen.

Even Mark Wahlberg was supposed to be good in it.

And so it proved. The plot can sound a lot more complicated than it really is. It’s cops, led by Sheen, versus gangsters, led by Nicholson. Each side has a mole in the other camp, Di Caprio the cop turned mobster and Damon the opposite. And each mole is trying to identify their rival mole, in order to protect their own cover.

It’s a black and white tale really. Di Caprio has spent so long on the wrong side of the law that it’s beginning to eat him up. You can see in every scene how passionately he wants to draw a line underneath his undercover days, go back to a normal life. All he has to do is deliver Nicholson. Meanwhile, Damon, for want of a better phrase, is a sneaky piece of shit. I couldn’t help taking an immediate dislike to his character.

One thing that does take a bit of getting used to is the Boston accent on show. Before this film I had no idea there was such a thing, and it can take a minute or two to tune your ear to it. But it’s almost a character in itself and really adds to the pace and the rhythm of the dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, Wahlberg’s performance is one for the ages. It’s not just the foul content of his lines, but the venom with which he spits them out (and no, that’s not a reference to his hip hop days as Marky Mark).

It’s not Scorsese’s greatest film, by any stretch, and you’ll never hear a worse Irish accent than that attempted by Ray Winstone. But it’s a fantastic way to spend two and a half hours

Or at least, that’s what I thought before this week, when I sat down to watch Infernal Affairs on Netflix.

Infernal Affairs is a Hong Kong film from 2002, and was the ‘inspiration’ for the Departed. It’s basically the same story, but in Cantonese. And it is out-of-this-world brilliant.

For starters, there’s the sheer speed at which the story rattles along. The Departed’s running time is 151 minutes. Infernal Affairs gets the job done in 101 minutes, the best part of an hour less. There’s no dawdling about, it gets on with it and sucks you in immediately. The placing of the respective moles is over within a matter of minutes, before we even see the title of the film.

I thought that Di Caprio’s performance was the very embodiment of quiet desperation, an undercover cop on the edge. I was wrong – Tony Leung is on a different planet. It’s a heart-breaking display, a guy watching, absorbing everything, in the hope that he can take down the top Triad – Sam, played by Eric Tsang – and get back to a life he knew before.

Any time his secret identity was at risk of being exposed, my heart was in my throat, pounding, even though thanks to the Departed I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen.

Tsang is another who puts his American successor in the shade. Nicholson is smarmy and charming, but I never really bought him as a ruthless gangster. Tsang on the other hand oozes charisma and quiet menace. His eyes were utterly chilling.

And what of the Triad’s man inside the police, Inspector Lau (Andy Lau)? It’s a very different performance to Matt Damon’s. Here is a man fighting himself – and his Triad leaders – to find out who he really is, whether he wants to be defined by his relationship with the Triads or move beyond it. I found him a far more sympathetic character, one who is aware that his mistakes have caused the deaths of good people and who feels genuine remorse for that.

There isn’t the clumsy love triangle that the Departed attempts, and the film is all the better for it.

According to IMDB, the Departed is the 52nd best film ever made, with an average rating of 8.5, compared to Infernal Affairs’ rating of 8, leaving it in 210th place. If everybody who rated the Departed were made to watch Infernal Affairs, I fully expect that positioning would be switched.

Great films stay with you long after the credits have ended. I enjoyed the Departed, but once it was over, I didn’t think about it (beyond the odd delayed chuckle at a Wahlberg line). In the 24 hours since I finished Infernal Affairs, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I implore you to watch it. You won’t regret it.

John Fitzsimons is the editor of personal finance website lovemoney.com and writes about things other than money to keep him sane. His wife still hasn’t forgiven him for subjecting her to Green Street simply for the chance to hear Frodo sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”.

@johnthejourno

Failed Critics Review: Ted

Welcome to a brave new world in shambolic film podcasting. This is the dawn of a new era etc etc. The first episode of Failed Critics Review – the new weekly film podcast just focussing on what we’ve watched this week, and the big release.

Don’t worry though, just because Triple Bill has got it’s own Frasier-style spin-off doesn’t mean that you’re not still getting the full Failed Critics experience. Strap in!

This week we review Ted, the feature debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. We also discuss This Means War, The Help, and Life Is Beautiful; while Steve gives us his own unique insight into the Sight & Sound Top Ten Films list.

Triple Bill is back this weekend, where to celebrate the Olympics we choose our favourite sports films.

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