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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

(M) ★

Director: Michael Bay.

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Li Bingbing, Sophia Myles, Titus Welliver, T. J. Miller.

"Nobody shoot! I wanna see him turn into something."
It's becoming increasingly difficult to figure out which Transformers movie sucks the most.

It's definitely not the first one, which was bafflingly awesome, but as the series continues the first one looks more and more like a fluke and that rarest of beasts - a truly good Michael Bay film.

Now the race for the title of Worst Transformers Movie has a new contender to rival Revenge Of The Fallen (#2) and the almost-as-bad Dark Of The Moon (#3): ladies and gentlemen, presenting Age Of Extinction.

Having dispensed with Shia LaBeouf and whoever the Megan Fox replacement was in Dark Of The Moon, Bay has taken a vaguely different tack in part four, which is set four years after the "Battle Of Chicago" that climaxed the previous film.

Since then, the CIA (led by Grammer's shifty black ops leader) has been hunting down Transformers - both good (Autobots) and bad (Decepticons) - and turning them over to tech company KSI (led by Tucci's Steve Jobs-like Joshua Joyce).

In the eyes of the CIA, all Transformers are alien terrorists, and in the eyes of KSI, Transformers are the key to the future of weaponry.

But Grammer and his stooges are having trouble finding the last few Transformers, particularly their leader Optimus Prime.

Meanwhile, near-destitute Texan inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) buys a broken-down truck for $150 and, well, anyone who's seen any of the previous three movies or watched the TV show as a kid will know where this is heading.


Firstly, believing Wahlberg is a near-destitute Texan inventor is one of the toughest tasks inflicted by a casting director on an audience since John Travolta played a woman in Hairspray or Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough.

That's fine, we all like Wahlberg, and he's a great actor in the right film. Unfortunately, he's not the kind of lead who can elevate a bad film (like, for example, The Happening).

But that is the least of this film's worries.

There's a little thing called "the suspension of disbelief" which happens every time you walk into a cinema. For the duration of the film, you will believe the unbelievable, whether it be that men have cloned dinosaurs and put them in a theme park, or that there are secretly a bunch of wizards running around England, or even that a bunch of living robots have come to Earth in search of something called the Allspark. This allows you to buy into the film's world and enjoy it.

That's all well and good but it's when a film's own internal logic doesn't make sense that movies become truly unbelievable and this is what makes Age Of Extinction a ludicrous, mind-numbing waste of two and three-quarter hours.

So much of this film makes little sense, characters make infuriatingly dumb decisions, stupid coincidences pop up a lot, Bay wastes time with cut-able nonsense when the film is already way too damned long, and every time you think you can forgive him because something half-way intelligent or cool happens, he drags you kicking and screaming back to the stupidity basement with some kind of "what the?" moment.

By the time you get to the movie's supposed nerdgasm  - Optimus Prime unleashes the Dinobots - you will be long past bored, your mind vapourised in an endless wave of computer-generated carnage, pyrotechnics, pathetic attempts at characterisation, and a barrage of product placement.

There's one shining diamond in the manure here and it's Stanley Tucci. He is too good for this film, and what he does with his character is too good for this film, and the fact that his character is reasonably well rounded and actually has a proper arc is too good for this film. It makes you feel even sorrier for Wahlberg having to deliver line after line of "over-protective dad" schtick which stops being funny or necessary 10 minutes in.

It's a tough call as to whether this is worse than the terribly edited Revenge Of The Fallen. At least we can see the action taking place here, as repetitive and overly explosive as it is, but within a couple of hours of watching it you will be struggling to remember much of the film at all.

Which might be a good thing.

Friday, 20 June 2014

22 Jump Street

(MA15+) ★★★

Director: Phil Lord & Chris Miller.

Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Peter Stormare, Jillian Bell.

"Oh yeah? Well at least I don't wear long sleeves."
THE unlikely box office success of TV show reboot 21 Jump Street meant a sequel was always likely, and ordinarily a sentence with the terms "TV show reboot" and "sequel" in it would have sensible people running for the hills.

Fortunately 22 Jump Street is as funny as its across-the-road predecessor, while still being smart enough not to take the whole thing seriously.

After a quick gag parodying the start of the old TV show and an introductory action sequence, the movie launches into a "meta" set-up explaining how second time around Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) will have "twice the money to do exactly the same thing", even pointing out the obligatory problems bound to upset the relationship between the pair.

It's disarming and also kind of charming that the film immediately points out its own shortcomings and turns them into gags - yes, the plot about two mismatched undercover cops trying to bust a college drug ring (it was high school last time) is the same as before but so what, here, have a joke or two at our own expense.


However, the plot is not why you're here. You're here (or should be here) for The Hill & Tatum Show, which worked so well first time around and is just as good this time, taking the bromance to hilarious new levels with an added "jealous lover" character arc for Schmidt, and a humourous side serve of closet homoeroticism between Jenko and his new football-playing soul mate Zook (Russell).

Tatum's knack for comedy and playing dumb is dangerously good and Hill has been doing these roles since his break-out in Superbad, but Cube goes perilously close to stealing the show in places as the Captain of the Jump Street division, as does Bell as the room-mate of Hill's love interest and Rob Riggle in a returning cameo.

22 Jump Street knows the strengths of the previous film and unashamedly rolls them out again - the meta sequel gags, action movie tropes as jokes, the odd-couple pairing of its stars. The college setting means we get the usual American college movie bits, like spring break, frat parties, and initiations, but there are some more unlikely laughs to be found here as well, such as in a slam poetry session, public art, and the walk of shame after a big night.

Lord & Miller (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) aren't afraid to be a bit daring with their choices either, whether it be using on-screen graphics during a weird equipment checklist scene or a sight gag referencing Benny Hill or a crazy hallucination sequence or even a tiny 'ding' that can be heard just before Jenko finally catches up on what's going on just prior to the film's funniest sequence (which had the audience in stitches).

22 Jump Street isn't perfect or ground-breaking or even especially memorable, but it's fantastic dumb fun and actually kind of clever in its own post-modern way.

It's unlikely Lord & Miller and Hill & Tatum could sustain this three-star level for another film, but this is something they've already taken into consideration - the end credits are full of an entertaining list of sequels and spin-offs that not even they would be game enough to make.

But then again, Hollywood is not one to leave a cash cow alone for long, so who knows - 23 Jump Street, anyone?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Blended

(PG) ★★

Director: Frank Coraci.

Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Braxton Beckham, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Kyle Red Silverstein.

The screening of Grown Ups was not going well.
DREW Barrymore tends to bring out the best in Adam Sandler - so much so that their re-teaming almost saves Blended, Sandler's latest effort.

Undoubtedly, this is Sandler's best movie since 2009's Funny People, but that's not saying much because he's starred in nothing but crap since then: Grown Ups 1 & 2, Just Go With It, Jack & Jill, That's My Boy ... that's a pretty craptacular list of movies right there.

Maybe Sandler knows he's overdue for something that's, if not a hit, at least watchable. Maybe that's why he called up Barrymore, his co-star in two of his best efforts, 1998's The Wedding Singer and 2004's 50 First Dates. Surely lightning can strike the same place three times, right?

Buried somewhere in this overlong and largely unfunny film is a sweet family comedy that only clocks in at 90 minutes instead of 117 minutes.

It features Barrymore as Lauren, who is left to raise her two sons by herself after she kicks her douchebag philandering husband to the kerb, and Sandler as Jim, who is left to raise his three daughters after his wife dies.

Having shared a disastrous first date, Jim and Lauren then coincidentally end up with their families at a resort in South Africa, where everyone learns, grows, and becomes better people.


Unfortunately, this is not that potentially innocuous but amiable "sweet family comedy". Instead its an innocuous but amiable "sweet family comedy" lost amid the usual Sandler crap - dozens of joke misfires, a couple of unfunny comedic relief cameos (Shaquille O'Neal and Terry Crews), dodgy running gags, cliché after cliché, a seemingly inevitable dance sequence, trained monkeys - which merely drags out the realisation that this is not really worth your time.

It's a shame. While this is an improvement on almost everything Sandler's made since 50 First Dates, it could have been better.

There are nice heart-filled themes at the core of the film - the travails of single parenting, the struggle to find love again, kids dealing with loss/inadequacy/change - and these lead to some genuinely touching moments.

But amid the bad jokes and some clunky pacing, they become tokenistic, leaving you with the feeling its only the star wattage of Barrymore and Sandler that saved this from being a Disney Channel straight-to-TV production.

As a result, it's almost surprising when the film finds the funny bone. There are a couple of good laughs, especially early on in the film, mainly courtesy of Barrymore or the youngest kid Alyvia Alyn Lind, and Sandler is refreshingly sympathetic and unannoying for once (having his character's wife die of cancer certainly helps elicit empathy and keeps him pleasantly subdued).

But Blended never reaches its potential. It was probably always destined to be the lesser of the Barrymore-Sandler trilogy with its generic-feeling Brady Bunch Goes To Africa plot, but there was hope that the re-pairing of the stars could elevate this above the usual dross Sandler has been dishing up lately.

Friday, 6 June 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Dean DeBlois.

Cast: (voices) Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Djimon Hounsou, Craig Ferguson.

They're like dogs, but uglier. A lot uglier.
IN How To Train Your Dragon, DreamWorks Animation hit a home run, unleashing one of their finest films to date.

With its smart script, strong themes, and a delivery that was never dumbed-down, writer/director Dean DeBlois delivered the studio their best-reviewed CG film to date - better even than Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.

Following up such a success can be hard to do, but DeBlois' powers haven't diminished. In fact, he dares to go deeper, smarter and even darker, honing in on the elements that made the first film work while expanding the world it's set in.

Once again focusing on our differently abled heroes, Hiccup and his dragon Toothless (both are missing body parts), the sequel picks up five years on from the original to find the Viking villagers of Berk living in perfect harmony with their dragons.

Everything is idyllic, except Hiccup (Baruchel) is not enamoured with the idea of succeeding his father Stoick (Butler) as chief of Berk. Hiccup would rather be out exploring the world with Toothless and mapping new territories.

But a chance encounter with dragon trappers leads Hiccup to the realisation not all the world is at peace with dragons, putting him in further conflict with his father and leading him to the film's big bad, the scar-faced Drago Bloodfist (Hounsou).


DeBlois has been touting this movie in interviews as the Empire Strikes Back of his planned trilogy and for once it's not hyperbole or over-ambition - this is indeed the darker film, complete with the bittersweet end-note (Hiccup also brandishes something not unlike a lightsaber and we are introduced to a "light side" and "dark side" of dragoneering).

While its bloodless violence and dragon-on-dragon warfare still keeps things to a family-friendly level, the sequel is not afraid to push things with some moments - the emotional peak at the end of the second act is genuinely surprising and affecting. On top of that Bloodfist is probably the most terrifying CG film villain seen for a while (and sure to be the impetus for some questioning along the lines of "why is the movie's lone black character the bad guy?").

The sequel is far from perfect but, as with its predecessor, the flaws get overwhelmed by the heart and the smarts. DeBlois is happy to spend time building up certain characters and their relationships, but the editing is good enough to pick things up again when it feels like the quiet moments have dragged on too long.

There are some good laughs along the way, but this is an intriguingly serious affair (aside from the odd flying sheep) that should prove rewarding and engaging for all ages.