We’ve reached the point in the year where it’s safe to start legitimately putting together a rough outline for your top 10 films of the year. Your number one might be displaced come December, or a handful of others might infiltrate the rest of the list; but it’s likely that those you’ve already decided are your favourites, will still be there or thereabouts by the time we compile our End of Year Awards. Continue reading Top 5 Films of 2017 (So Far)
“Guys, It’s okay. He just wanted his machete back!”
Six months ago, Brooker challenged himself to watch 365 films in 2017. At a rate of one-a-day, it seemed like a challenge that should be do-able but almost certainly would hit a hiccup or two along the way. At the half way point of the year, he’s well on his way to completing a challenge… With a couple of months in hand, too.
(Click this link and press play now!) Dare to believe you can survive [another Michael Bay Transformers movie]. You hold the future in your hand. Dare. Dare to keep all of your dreams alive [of never having to sit through another one]. It’s time to take a stand. And you can win, if you dare [to stay home when the Bumblebee solo film comes out].
“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.
AKA Primer For Dummies.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Project Almanac is the debut feature of director Dean Israelite, although it’s presumably more well known for having a certain producer attached to it. Regardless of the fact that a producer’s role can be quite vague, particularly ‘executive producers’, whose influence is often disputed by directors and writers alike (here’s looking at you, Raymond Chow). Nevertheless, the name “Michael Bay” being anywhere near the film’s poster will either repel audiences like a fart in a lift, or draw in punters on mass, given how his features are often a license for studios to print money. If only the film’s biggest problem was simply two small words printed on the poster. Alas, it is far more severe than that.
The plot revolves around a group of clever teenagers and school chums: Sam Lerner (Quinn), Allen Evangelista (Adam), Jonny Weston (as David, the closest thing the film has to a lead actor) and Virginia Gardner (David’s sister Christina and frequent camera-person). They all work together to help David get enough money together to afford to get into MIT. Unfortunately, $40,000 isn’t easy to come by unless your widowed mother decides to sell her enormous house and downsize, or apparently if you’re the son of a super-genius and can invent something that will earn you a lot of money.
Whilst rummaging through his deceased dad’s old junk in the attic, David and Christina discover an old video camera with some footage of David’s seventh birthday party still on it. It’s this point in the film where things promise to get interesting, as the older, current teenage David is seen wandering about in the background of his younger-self’s party. Lo and behold, David’s father was working on a time-travel device before he passed away, which the group discover securely locked in a box in the basement, and begin to use it to start playing around with time.
Whilst the plot is an intriguing mash-up of genre movies like Primer, The Butterfly Effect and Looper, there’s only one way I’d describe Project Almanac and that is as an aggressively found footage time travel movie. It constantly reminds you via various gimmicky methods and invasive camera angles that it is, at all times, unequivocally a Found. Footage. Movie.
I don’t inherently hate that style of film making. To be perfectly honest for a second, I’ve repeatedly and unashamedly admitted to being a fan of the style on numerous occasions. It’s been used fantastically well in slightly bigger budget films such as Cloverfield, Chronicle and End of Watch, as well as smaller budget indie movies like The Sacrament and The Bay, never mind the glut of b-movie horrors like [REC] and Grave Encounters and classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. I’m aware just how unusual a thing that is to admit to; for a lot of people, it’s an immediate cinematic turn off. As long as it’s used in an innovative way (or even in an unoriginal way, so long as it’s done well, such as in The Borderlands), then I don’t have a problem with it. As a method of film-making, I firmly believe it has gone beyond simply being a gimmick. It is now a creative choice made by directors who want their story to be told in a particular style, to put you ‘the viewer’ in the shoes of a character (or characters) as opposed to simply being about making it stand out from the crowd and/or more marketable.
So take it from me when I say that Project Almanac is a bad example of a found footage style movie. It may not always be apparent and I’m aware of my tendency to drift off on tangents in reviews, but I usually try to remain impartial and objective as often as I can. I know what I do and don’t like, but try not to let that colour my semi-professional opinion too dramatically. For this movie, I will throw all of my self imposed rules out of the window and drift into areas of outright subjectivity.
I have never, ever felt physically unwell because of a film before. The sound of cracking ankles in Audition came close and Antichrist made me feel uncomfortable in ways I can’t explain, but Project Almanac is a first for making me feel so nauseous that for a moment, I was about 90% certain I was going to throw up. In my haste to take off my jacket, roll up the sleeves of my jumper and unbutton my shirt to try and cool myself down a bit, I kicked some bloke’s foot (accidentally, of course) next to me, causing him and his chums to giggle like a gaggle of idiots. “Hur hur he touched your foot did you see that?” I probably did look like I was dying, which I suppose is quite funny. Right? I don’t know. It’s not kicking some bloke in his elevated foot that I’ve taken exception to.
Instead, it was the bloody intolerable rotating, swaying, spinning and wobbling shaky-cam that was causing my sudden rush of queasy stomach and throbbing temples. Have you ever been on a National Express coach on a warm summers evening that is overcrowded, where all of the windows are dripping with condensation, the stench from the chemical toilet is polluting the carriageway and all of a sudden the bozo next to you decides to eat a tuna sandwich that has been in their bag all day long? Well I have. And it wasn’t pleasant. It was that same feeling that was gripping me again. It got to the point that I (and the chap sitting in the isle over from me doing exactly the same thing) had to cover my eyes with my hand (obviously he covered his eyes with his hand, not my eyes with his … never mind) so I couldn’t see the screen. I just couldn’t stand to look at it any further.
If I wasn’t watching the film so I could talk about it on this week’s Failed Critics podcast, it would’ve been the first film I’d walked out on since abandoning an outdoor screening of The Exorcist in Reading a couple of years ago due to an unusually freezing cold night, a lack of promised barbecue (seriously, that was bang out of order) and faulty headphones picking up interference from a local radio station playing an interview with ZZ Top. But that is what Project Almanac did to me. It made me so unwell that if not for dashing out of the screen to drink some tap water from a squeaky polystyrene cup, I might have just fainted there and then in the cinema. It was like torture.
Well, probably not torture. I’m sure trivialising torture as being like subjecting yourself to a poorly shot film is a bit over the top. But you know what I mean.
The thing is, even with missing about 5 minutes worth of plot at a crucial point in the film as I sorted myself out before returning to finish the rest of the movie, it did not have any effect on my overall impression. Nor did it hinder my understanding of anything that had happened. Such is the nature of Project Almanac that you are never in any doubt whatsoever about what is happening and why at any particular point during proceedings. If you didn’t get it the first time, don’t worry, they’ll be going over it again later.
As for the story itself, the beginning of the film isn’t bad. As paper thin as the characters are, they all have moments that will make you smile, if not laugh. The hijinks they get up to as they work out various means of acquiring some cash and how best to use their new found technology seems true to form for a bunch of carefree young adults. Cheating on the lottery, going to festivals, that sort of thing, although playing the stock market is swiftly dismissed in what is but one of many references to Primer.
No one individual character is especially irritating either, which already makes it one step up from of a few of its contemporaries. You know which role each character is going to fulfil from the moment we meet them and the introduction of Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie, David’s crush, is timely and adds a much needed new dynamic to the group. Simply by way of association, Jessie makes David infinitely more interesting than the bore that he had been previously too, which is handy.
As unconvincing as the leaps in logic happen to be that lead to the jump from the group building a remote control drone powered by a mobile phone, to assembling a time machine from bits of old Xbox 360 and crap from the local DIY store – as Steve once said on an old podcast, you have to forgive shit like that in 90 minute time travel movies. There’s always going to be paradoxes, inaccuracies and stupid or unrealistic decisions. It doesn’t completely excuse some of the film’s faults, however, Project Almanac doesn’t purport to be anything more than it is. It clearly isn’t desperately trying to redefine what science fiction movies are. Instead, it feels like an homage to those movies it borrows heavily from. It’s firmly in that teen-to-mid-twenties age bracket demographic and it knows it. You may have seen Primer and found that graphic online that illustrates how faultless the film’s ideas around time travel are, but the audience Project Almanac is going for are those who may not have seen it. If they have, great, they’ll spot a few references, but if not then it doesn’t really matter. And that’s perfectly reasonable. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to understand the science aspect of its fiction, but it’s not exactly Sarah Palin levels of dumbing down either.
Aside from the dizzying shooting process, the shallow (albeit occasionally amusing) characters and jumbled references, the other problem the film has is its pacing. 40 minutes had passed when I checked my watch and barely anything of any note had happened yet aside from about two montages of machine building. Whoop-de-doo. There wasn’t even a Vince DiCola soundtrack! It took a further 10 minutes for any real dilemma or tension to exist at all, which was basically solely related to how the time travel was affecting the relationship between two of the excitable young teens; how it was forcing them to break their own set of rules and the consequences of doing so. But every scene that has something remotely clever in it is milked for all its worth, which also made the whole thing drag.
The crux of it is, if you’re looking for something on TV one night a year or two from now and stumble across Channel 4 at about 11pm, or if you’ve spent half an hour looking around Netflix and nothing stands out, then there are worse films than Project Almanac to waste 90+ minutes of your time on. Particularly if you have a pack of travel-sickness tablets going out of date but aren’t planning on going anywhere soon.
Project Almanac is in cinemas right now and you can pick up motion sickness tablets from most reliable pharmacists (and probably a few unreliable ones too.) Why not listen to Owen talk about the film on our latest podcast with Steve, Matt and Paul on your way there?
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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…
Apologies for the lack of podcast last week. Due to technical errors that we won’t bore you with, we couldn’t fix some audio issues. But never mind! We’re back this week with a review of the BFI London Film Festival 2014, which Carole kindly dragged herself back from New York for. Steve and Owen also get a chance to go over old ground as they review ‘71 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
We also had a new release review of the latest David Ayer war film Fury, starring Brad Pitt, and a near unanimous opinion on Shia LaBeouf. Probably not the one you’re expecting, either!
Join us next week for a spooky Halloween special. Until then.. Cowabunga. Sorry.
Too much Megan Fox, a lot of obvious jokes, but surprisingly better than expected. And no, they aren’t aliens, that would be stupid.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Back in 2012 when this film was announced, it’s fair to say it was met mostly with dread and trepidation. “Why is Michael Bay stomping all over my childhood” was never far from my Twitter feed. The rumour that “he’s making them into aliens?!” caused many a nerd to spontaneously combust. “First Transformers, and now this! What’s next? Ghostbusters?!” Well, as a matter of fact…
I digress. The point is, a lot of people (including myself) were disappointed with how the Transformers franchise turned out. If you were also born at any point during the mid-late 1980’s you were probably raised on a diet of LSD-inspired cartoons full of vibrant colours, moral messages and cheesier-than-hell dialogue too. Whether you ran around your garden pointing 99p plastic swords in the air shouting “I HAVE THE POWER!” at the top of your voice, or sobbed uncontrollably when your latest Transformer toy inevitably broke within a week of purchasing it, at some point you will have come across four green bandanna-wearing crime-fighting mutated turtles (that are also teenagers) and their Japanese martial-arts master and mentor, a man-sized sewer-dwelling rat. Affection was fought for and won on a weekly basis as they thwarted yet another dastardly plan from the Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan.
But is it fair to accuse Michael Bay of ruining your precious childhood memories? Were the shows and films actually ever any good in the first place? It’s hard to ignore the argument that it is most likely nostalgia clouding your judgement as to just how good these shows were and that maybe, just maybe, Bay is attempting to improve on them; as opposed to purposefully opening his bowels all over your 7 year old self for no better reason than because he can.
When the reboot of TMNT was first confirmed, this question came before me and I had to check for myself. I revisited the original three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, as well as a few others (How It All Began, which I used to own on VHS, and the 2007 animated movie) and found, to my surprise, the first two films at least were surprisingly still enjoyable for what they are. The special effects were decent, particularly the costume designs, and the tone of the movie was a lot darker than I had expected it to be. The series got progressively worse as it wore on; word of warning, the cartoon series does not hold up as well as you’d hope. But then, that’s not really that surprising, is it.
As for this reboot / remake / whatever you want to call it, it’s not without its problems, but it’s unfair to disqualify it simply for being based on something that – and let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment – was never that good in the first place.
The first thing I should point out now before carrying on with this review, because a lot of people seem to be making this mistake (understandably so), is that it isn’t actually directed by Michael Bay. He only produced it. If you have a problem with the way this movie is directed, you need to lay the blame at the feet of Jonathan Liebesman, the man responsible for Darkness Falls, Battle: Loss Angeles, and the surprisingly not-as-terrible-as-the-previous-one Wrath of the Titans. Not that it actually makes a difference who directed it because for all intents and purposes, it looks almost exactly like a Michael Bay film. The only give away that it’s not is the fact that it’s only an hour and 40 minutes long rather than two hours and 40 minutes long, and it just doesn’t look as good as some of his stuff does.
The point of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they were first devised as a comic-book was to lampoon the (then) current trend for all things ninja. In the 80’s, people like Sho Kosugi and martial arts action films were everywhere you turned. Eventually, a Playmates toy line and cartoon series later, they themselves became far more popular and famous than the pop culture references they initially parodied. Today, this doesn’t really leave the series as anything culturally relevant or necessary any more, but it’s still nice to know that generation after generation can get to experience them in one way or another, albeit in the shape of the comics getting popular again, or a new cartoon series that is supposedly quite entertaining, or as it happens, more movie adaptations.
As I said earlier, this isn’t a film without its own problems. They don’t lie with the fact that the movie exists at all, as non-relevant as it may be, but with lots of other areas. To coin a 90’s phrase, the action scenes are WHACK. Not because they’re boring or bland, but because you cannot see what one steroid-enhanced muscle-bound mask-wearing Shrek-like mutant is doing with the other steroid-enhanced muscle-bound mask-wearing Shrek-like mutant. The camera appears to constantly be at waist height pointing upwards, whilst simultaneously spinning around the action that we’re meant to be interested in, and wobbling all over the place. Making out what is happening on screen during big CGI fight sequences has been a failing of Bay’s in the past. He looked to have improved on it somewhat during Transformers: Age of Extinction, but it appears Liebesman didn’t see that particular movie. Instead, it has all the trappings of the first Transformers movie.
I’d wager that most people going to see this film are doing so to spend time watching the four heroes in a half shell get up to some pizza-related hijinks, kick some foot-clan arse and have an epic showdown with Shredder. Therefore, it seems an awfully bizarre decision to spend quite so much time on the films human characters, the yellow-jacketed news-anchor April O’Neil and her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (played by Megan Fox and Will Arnett respectively). There’s simply too much time spent waiting for April to meet the avenging vigilante turtles, and then not enough time spent in their company. They should have been the focus of the film. It’s their story that we wanted to watch. You know, the guys whose name is in the title. It’s not called April O’Neil & The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It detracted from what should have been a film primarily cartoony in nature.
However, what I will say in its favour is that some of the humour, not all of it, but some of it, is quite amusing. The time we do spend with the turtles does raise the odd chuckle. A lot of the gags are crude or obvious, and pop-culture references always seem to be cheap and easy to raise laughs, but it is definitely a comedy adventure film with goofy humour and slapstick in it that’s done moderately well.
Michelangelo probably steals the show in many respects, whilst Raphael comes across as cool as he ever does. Arguments could be made for the fact that his friction with the appointed leader Leonardo seems forced and underdeveloped, but allowances can be made in these circumstances. It is aimed at kids, after all. There’s no need to expand on every single suggested character trait. Donatello is mainly left to be the “get us out of this situation with your book-smarts” character, but none of the four are offensive interpretations of the gang. Whenever they are on screen, the film zips by. None of the performances here are particularly note-worthy. Will Arnett, Megan Fox, William Fitchner, they’re not here because they’re great actors, but they all play their parts well enough for me to not complain.
So, that brings me back to my original question. Has Michael Bay’s plan to improve on the most common interpretation of the TMNT, that late eighties cartoon, ultimately been successful? Well, it’s hard to beat nostalgia. For a lot of people, the quality of the original cartoon bears little consequence in how much enjoyment you can gain from reminiscing about the good old days. Context aside, approaching this as if there had never been any other TMNT interpretations before, it’s passable. It’s short, it’s occasionally fun as often as it is frustrating, and it certainly hasn’t pissed all over this blokes inner child.
You can hear Owen, Callum and Steve chat about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the upcoming podcast due out in the next few days.
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.
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.
Ploughing on with our new format, in this week’s helping of cinematic goodness we review new releases Pain & Gain, You’re Next, and James reports from the UK Premiere of Jadoo.
Also this week, Owen dismisses Conan the Barbarian, Steve is reasonably impresses with Breaking Bad, and James reviews his first ever Bollywood film.
Next week should see the welcome return of our resident swearing cynic, as well as the cinematic returns of Richard Curtis (About Time), and sci-fi antihero Riddick (erm…Riddick).
When 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.
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.