“It’s like you said, bitch. We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy”
A fast-paced, kinetic, hilarious and incredible space romp that introduces us to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a team of misfits who form an uneasy alliance to take on Ronan the Accuser, a Kree radical who targets the Guardians after they interfere with his plans.
I was lucky enough to attend the UK regional premiere of Guardians, seeing a week ahead of release. I’m very thankful for it. Moving at a swift 2 hour running time, director James Gunn delivers a hugely satisfying adventure that has no meat on the bones and only serves to make you enjoy yourself. How it all fits into the grander scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is yet to be seen as the premiere screenings did not include the post-credits sequence (of which Gunn has since admitted has only just wrapped filming).
On first viewing, on sheer fun alone, it eclipses every film that has come before it. It’s refreshing to see a new bunch of characters, especially characters that are so charming and funny. Special mentions are reserved for Rocket Raccoon, voiced exceptionally by Bradley Cooper and his sentient tree companion, Groot voiced and motion-captured by Vin Diesel. Both are hilarious and fantastic in their own right.
As it stands, the Avengers remains the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It will be tough to beat Whedon’s mammoth team-up but Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly up there with The Winter Soldier as the best that Marvel has to offer. May Marvel live on because with the close of Phase Two and Age of Ultron just round the corner, it shows no signs of stopping.
A victim of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Strike, Moonlight was cancelled just four episodes after the enforced hiatus, giving it sixteen episodes in total. Audience figures had been decent enough, but it wasn’t so popular with the critics. It follows the exploits of private detective Mick St John (Alex O’Loughlin, now an action hero in Hawaii Five-0) and his relationship with journalist Beth Turner (the ever amazing Sophia Myles). The twist is that Mick is a vampire and uses his heightened sense to protect his secret as well as helping people via his detecting business. He also wants to stay as human as possible and longs for a way out of the vampire lifestyle.
So far, so Angel. It’s not the only connection to Joss Whedon’s Tall, Dark and Forehead either. Moonlight shares some of the writing staff such as David Greenwalt (initially onboard to produce but stepped down due to health reasons) and a fair few of the same references, jokes and thematic developments. For starters, Mick falls in love with Beth, who is a blonde human he lets into his world (not a Slayer, granted). His quest for some sort of human redemption through helping the people of Los Angeles (Connection #4).
Not only that, but he also drives a classic convertible car, wears a long black coat and does that thing where he disappears when people are speaking to him (check one off for Batman too). Finally, Mick goes through an episode as a human after finding a cure for vampirism only to realise that he cannot do his job without his powers as he is too weak. The episode isn’t bad, but I Will Remember You is one of Angel’s best and most heartbreaking. You just can’t compete with it.
The noirish elements also play into the Angel connection, but instead of exploring that darkness a little more fully, Moonlight opts for a considerably more soapy and romantic approach. This is the kind of programme that ends each episode with an emotional scene, scored by a cute indie pop song which happens to have lyrics describing the exact events of the scene. So a bit like The OC, but with fangs.
The central conflict of the series revolves around Mick and Beth’s relationship, notably on whether he will give in to himself and actually allow himself to date her. There’s also the undercurrent that he might turn her into a vampire, something which I imagine would have been explored further had the series continued. And suddenly Twilight enters the mix. In fact, the show was originally called Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer’s novel had been released two years previously and was already hitting phenomenon status.
And therein lies Moonlight’s problem; it’s too much the sum of its influences without being able to carve out its own identity. Vampires were, and still are, ubiquitous post-Buffy and any new vampire story has to be able to add something new, be it sparkly skin or vampires existing alongside humans in Louisiana. Not that Moonlight doesn’t try of course. The pilot opens with a great sequence that immediately sets out the rules of this vampiric iteration (silver is poison, stakes paralyse but don’t kill) swiftly through an imagined interview with its protagonist. However, there’s just too many nods and references to other, more unique things. Twilight may not have been better, but it’s certainly an individual take.
Moonlight does have a big saving grace in its cast, however. Alex O’Loughlin proves himself to be leading man material with Mick, crafting a character tormented with self-loathing, but with enough goofy humour to balance it out. He’s charismatic and likeable and it’s not easy to see why he has been successful with another show. He also has a great chemistry with Sophia Myles without which the entire show would fall apart. As their relationship develops, the pair invest enough emotionally in it to make the inevitable ‘will they, won’t they’ work. In fact, their relationship is pretty much the only hook to keep you going through the show.
Myles also takes what could have turned into an adoring heroine gazing at her man into someone far more interesting; Beth is resourceful, witty and despite an inner strength, still suffers from the trauma of being kidnapped when she was younger. Alas, this is also where a pretty creepy element to her relationship with Mick creeps in and it’s one that they never quite escape from. She is kidnapped by Mick’s vampire ex-wife, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon) and subsequently rescued by Mick, who then follows her around as she grows up. Then falls in love with her. It’s a little icky.
Around this central relationship, icky or otherwise, there are several other characters who interact with our heroes on various levels. The most memorable is Jason Dohring as 400+ year old vampire, Josef, Mick’s best friend and extremely successful businessman, using his immortality to amass a great fortune. Josef’s the confident vampire in contrast to Mick’s vulnerable one and offers much insight into the history of their kind. Dohring’s performance is a lot of fun, swiftly stealing any scene he’s in and he’s capable of feeling both young and very old at the same time.
The other characters fare less well like Beth’s boyfriend Josh (fangs) who pretty much functions as a relationship block whilst also occasionally throwing a case Mick’s way. Coraline too promises much but delivers little; Sossamon plays her too straight as the devious femme fatale and her human guise as Morgan fares even worse. The lack of a good back-up cast, Dohring aside, really doesn’t help Moonlight at all because they can’t rise above the sense that you’ve seen this all done before, but better.
The lack of originality may be the writing’s chief sin, but there are a lot of missteps on the way. Without an exposition-spouting character like a Giles or a Wesley, Moonlight often resorts to Mick’s voiceover to relay a lot of information swiftly. This is fine at first as you get used to this particular set of supernatural rules, but it soon becomes repetitive. I’d lost count of the amount of times Mick mentions he can do something special because he’s a vampire by the seventh episode.
It also attempts to adopt a Raymond Chandler-esque tone in places, presumably to keep up the noir angle, but it’s just not very good. The dialogue is often clunky and lapses into cliche far more often than it needs to. The slide into tortured romanticism towards the last few episodes just borders on silly. That being said, it’s still a better love story than Twilight. If you’re in the mood to watch something a little romantic and you can tolerate the often hackneyed approach to the material, Moonlight is worth seeing. The central partnership save it. But otherwise, it’s likely not for you and if you’re an Angel fan, you’re probably just going to relish just how much better that series is.
Transformers 4 sees Michael Bay return to kinda reboot the franchise with an all new cast and ready to destroy another city. Our opinions may surprise and maybe appal you as we go easy on Mr Bay and turn the spot light on why he makes so much money.
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DIR: Richard Linklater CAST: Ellar Cotrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater CERTIFICATION: 15 UK RELEASE DATE: 11th July 2014
Winner of the ‘Golden Bear’ at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, Richard Linklater’s 18th film marks a groundbreaking achievement for the director. The idea and execution of using the same actors – only shooting for three three days a year over the course of a 12 year period – may have seemed too grandiose, yet it must be applauded for the audaciousness and ingenuity, as it something of a miracle that he has pulled it off.
Linklater has always been a filmmaker intrigued with time, with ‘Dazed and Confused’, the semi-autobiographical coming of age comedy, is set within a 24 hour period. Then there’s the ‘Before’ trilogy, with each film set 9 years apart, Linklater returns to the same characters, played by the same actors, to see what effect time has had on them. In Boyhood, the passage of time is more obvious as we can without any doubt, see the changes on screen. Not only to Ellar Coltrane, but also with Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater. We can see the change in them physically, the greying of hair, the seeping of voices, etcetera. This style of filmmaking, almost treated like a memory of Mason’s, resonates like a memory of mine. Showcasing what we all go through as part of our evolution to becoming an adult.
The film isn’t as solely contained to its main protagonist as the title suggests, each of the above characters also experience growing pains, wether it be moving house, new husbands/wives or jobs, yet, what is paramount in Mason’s story, is the way everything that is said to him, or that effects him, effects us. We have all endured the “I only want what’s best for you” parental anecdotes, and we have all ignored the “You need to be more responsible” ones. Yet, these are the moments that allow the feelings of Mason to come to fruition, and how they affect him going forward. What is so refreshing here, is the way Linklater is seemingly letting the camera be where it needs to, allowing the actors to be relaxed, showcasing their performances in manner that never feels contrived, but natural and honest. A meticulous approach to a simple coming-of-age story.
Ultimately, ‘Boyhood’ isn’t really so much about time, it’s about consciousness, it’s about choices, and it’s about the beauty of naivety. Linklater has pushed the boundaries of filmmaking without losing artistic integrity, with a stellar cast, and beautiful performance from Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood may just be the film of 2014.
There are good actors, and there are bad actors. There are good actors who, given the right role, can give perfect, faultless performances. And there are also good actors who, when miscast, can be absolutely diabolical.
Here’s my list of eight actors who have given brilliant performances in one or more films, and terrible ones in another.
The Good: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Wes Anderson is the king of creating quirky film characters, and Gustave H from his latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the best to date. The sexually ambiguous, old lady seducing concierge is a somewhat different kind of character to Fiennes’ usual, but he plays him with perfection. Camp, charming and most importantly very very fun, I don’t think an actor has slotted into the world of Wes with this much ease since Bill Murray.
The Bad: The Harry Potter Series.
Lord Voldermort is one of pop culture’s supreme baddies, so it’s a shame that in the film adaptation Fiennes puts in such a limp performance. It’s rare to feel indifferent to a character so evil, yet his portrayal is neither sinister nor particularly scary. It probably doesn’t help that they allowed his to maintain that bizarre whisper voice throughout. He’s completely outshone in the Hogwarts villain league by Imelda Staunton’s excellent Professor Umbridge.
The Good: Mean Girls.
I’m no longer a teenager, but I think even when I’m eighty years old and hobbling round on a zimmer frame I’ll still be quoting Mean Girls. In the teen film genre, Regina George is something of an icon, and Mcadams plays her faultlessly. We’re used to the beautiful, blonde bitch in this sort of high school film, but there’s a bit more edge and a bit more depth to this character, and she’s enjoyable to watch throughout.
The Bad: The Vow.
I don’t know if it’s because I hold Regina George in such high regard as one of my favourite film characters of all time, but for some reason I always think Mcadams seems a bit miscast if she’s put in the role of a ‘nice’ person. I can just about stand her in About Time, but I find watching her almost unbearable when she plays romantic roles. The worst is probably The Vow, where she does little more than simper at Channing Tatum (a career low from him also) in a stupid girlie voice for the duration…… Irritating.
The Good: Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role as troubled prostitute Fantine in musical Les Miserables, and it was one of the most deserving wins of that year. She must have been on screen for less than twenty minutes in all, yet she managed to shatter the hearts of many viewers in that small time, especially with her powerful snot-covered performance of I Dreamed A Dream where you could almost see her break. It was exceptional.
The Bad: One Day.
However, in One Day, she is one of the greatest miscasts I have ever, ever seen. And I’ve watched a lot of poor adaptations. One Day is easily up there in my favourite ever books, and the character of Emma is a brilliant one. The Leeds lass is sparky, funny and lovely and it was absolute awful watching Hathaway butcher her with hardly any likability and a frankly appalling Yorkshire accent. The film would have been so much better if they just went a little smaller.
The Good: Fight Club.
We all enjoy Brad Pitt in Fight Club (and not just because of his penchant for taking his top off, though it does help) and this character perfectly brings to the front the sex appeal that helped make him the star he is today, as well as showing that he can actually act.
The Bad: Troy.
Whereas with Troy, he pretty much doesn’t act at all. Instead, we seem to spend hours watching him little more than stand on cliffs and stare moodily into the distance. Pouting. Actually pouting. I don’t know who Okayed this but it should not have been allowed to happen.
The Good: Black Swan.
Natalie Portman is my favourite actress on earth and I love her almost as much as life itself. There are so many brilliant performances of here: Leon, Garden State, V For Vendetta and Closer to name a few, but I’ve chosen her Oscar winning turn as unhinged ballerina Nina in Black Swan as the film that shows of her skills best. She was a dead cert for the win that year, and it’s easy to see why; she’s completely enthralling in the role and you could watch her for hours, days, without getting bored.
The Bad: No Strings Attached.
Which is why it pains me to bring this up, but I can’t deny the, well, crap-ness that was No Strings Attached. I don’t like Romcom’s at the best of times, and I particularly don’t enjoy ones featuring Ashton Kutcher, but my love of Portman led to watching this film. An error. I do however think that it proves as a good example that comedy actors are a bit overrated; she sort of proves that no matter how good you are dramatically, comedy timing is something that’s seemingly as difficult to get right. I still love her though.
The Good: The Departed.
The Departed is a film brimming with brilliant performances (we can all just forget about Ray Winstone and that accent) and Mark Wahlberg’s supporting turn as a grouchy, sweary detective is one of the best. Some of his lines are gold, and he sinks his teeth into every single one, delivering them with venom.
The Bad: The Happening.
I don’t know why or how this film even happened, all I know is that it was a mistake for everyone involved. The twist is trees killing people. Murderous trees. For real. Not only does it manage to be completely ludicrous yet ridiculously boring at the same time, but it also manages to take perfectly capable actors and turn them into cardboard. Central couple Zooey Deschanel and Wahlberg are both brilliant in other roles, yet here every line seems stilted and forced, and there is absolutely no chemistry or connection between the pair.
The Good: Dallas Buyers Club.
A couple of years ago, if you’d told me Matthew McConaughey was going to win an Oscar I’d have probably (a little snobbishly, perhaps) laughed in your face. And if you told me I’d have been hoping to hard for him to win that Oscar, I’d never have believed you. But his performance in Dallas Buyers Club is absolutely brilliant, full of energy and character and I honestly don’t think any of us thought he had it in him. Hurray for the Mcconaissance.
The Bad: How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days.
How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days, or anything South of Dallas Buyers Club in his IMDB list, if we’re honest. After starring in one naff romcom after another for years, it was nice that he finally found a worthy screen partner in Jared Leto to show us that he’s capable of being more than an oily, tanned torso and a few slimy lines in a Southern accent. Much, much more.
The Good: Blue Valentine.
I am one of the many thousands of girls who is mentally in a long and happy relationship with Mr Gosling, however I do think that he’s much more than an extraordinarily pretty face. He’s been in some underrated but excellent films where he’s delivered some fine performances, whether he’s playing a lonely but loveable oddball in Lars and the Real Girl or a drug addicted teacher in Half Nelson (for which he received an Oscar nomination). My favourite though, is his role in Blue Valentine, where he and costar Michelle Williams must both play two roles: young, optimistic, dreamy lovers at the beginning of their relationship and a bitter, toxic couple who can barely stand to be around each other. This film is so good.
The Bad: Murder by Numbers.
Murder by Numbers should be so much more famous than it is. Starring a young Gos, Michael Pitt and Sandra Bullock, it’s a crime thriller that is unintentionally hilarious. And Gosling, as much as I love him, is just so bad in this. Everything about it screams cult film, from the horrible red leather and satin clothes he was to the scene where Sandra Bullock gets attacked by an actual monkey, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t been seen by more people. Though for Goslings sake, that’s probably a good thing.
This is the first in an ongoing feature that will look at mini-series and series that were cancelled within their first season. They may be good, they may be bad, they may be Firefly, but any and all could get a look in (any recommendations welcome!). May I also extend a hearty thanks to@AndyLonsdale21for the feature title and to all those who suggested alternatives. To kick us off, I check out Stephen King’s The Stand.
Adaptations of beloved works like The Stand are always a tricksy business because the personal experiences of reading novels is exactly that, very personal. For me, The Stand is a book that means a huge amount to me. It was the first Big Book I read back when I was thirteen, that curious age when Enid Blyton doesn’t quite cut it anymore and Tom Clancy’s just a bit too daunting. My mum was a huge Stephen King fan and we had a lot of his books visible on our bookcases, shiny letters and intimidating front covers that suggested scares straight away. When I was looking for something to get my teeth into, my mum handed me The Stand with the rather glowing recommendation that it was one of her favourite novels. I finished it within three weeks and have since read it a further four times.
As a result, I’ve been a little wary of the mini-series; to see a work that you love so much can be a thrilling experience if it largely, in your eyes, gets it right. It can also be very disappointing if it gets it wrong. I’d heard various things about the mini-series from all sorts of people, some who loved it, some who didn’t. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to this either with recommendations and condemnation coming from both book-readers and those who had just caught the live action version. And so, with a little trepidation and a fair bit of excitement, I sat down to take in the adaptation.
When considering the mini-series, it feels near impossible to discuss it without reference to the book so I’ll be making reference to the book whilst also trying to consider the adaptation in its own right. I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum because if you haven’t it yet, there’s no way I will spoil that experience for you.
For those not in the know, The Stand tells the story of a viral outbreak known as Captain Trips, bred in a military research centre and unwittingly unleashed on the world. It kills the majority of the population swiftly with flu-like systems whilst leaving a select few unharmed. These people start having dreams; some of a mysterious dark man, Randall Flagg, who is calling people into Las Vegas, the other of a kindly old woman known as Mother Abigail who leads everyone to Boulder. Breaking down into a battle between good and evil before long, it is left up to the survivors to decide which road to take.
Considering how long the book is, King is to be commended for managing to condense his work down into a mini-series of just six episodes, when it could have easily been something much longer (the new adaptation is rumoured to be a three hour film – oh how I would love for someone like HBO to produce a ten episode season as originally planned). It also rattles along at a fair pace, building itself around the four main events of the narrative; the outbreak, the journey, setting up in Boulder and the explosive events of the climax. However, that produces something which is the very definition of a mixed bag, an uneven story that never captures the giddy heights of the novel.
Much of that can be attributed to the confines of the mini-series’ runtime. Because there is a lot of ground to cover, the outbreak of the plague rushes past without building the sense of foreboding that would elevate the rest of the narrative. Shortcuts are taken and whilst some scenes manage to capture that panicky, chaotic edge (Stu’s time in the research centre), others don’t quite manage it. Nick’s storyline in particular suffers from this as his disabilities (he is unable to hear or speak) prevent us from getting to know him through the dialogue, but the shortcuts taken through his story ensure we don’t understand him quite as much as we perhaps should moving forward.
As with the narrative, the characters and performances also vary wildly from actor to actor. The longer book allows for us to get to know these characters on a greater level; we understand their flaws and their strengths and they feel all the more familiar as a result. The series never takes the easy route either. Some characters may feel a little thinly drawn, but they’re certainly not archetypes. Aside from Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg at the opposite ends of the light-dark spectrum, each character adopts a fairly grey moral position, often being called upon to make questionable decisions from either side of the good vs. evil fence.
Thanks to a great performance from Gary Sinise, Stu Redman, the story’s ostensible hero, is brilliantly realised, a wry Texan who goes from a quiet, unassuming sort of fellow to one of the key leaders in the Boulder Free Zone. His relationship with Frannie doesn’t feel quite so organic though, but that seems more to do with the reduced timeline and the changes that take place with her character from page to screen. It also doesn’t help that Molly Ringwald is one of the cast’s weaker links. Likewise, Adam Storke’s Larry, who undergoes something of a redemptive arc over the course of the novel, is given little to do here and almost seems superfluous to the ongoing narrative. And the less said about the rubbery faced and be-mulleted Randall Flagg, the better.
This haphazard nature isn’t just applied to the performances either; there is a weird mixture of attention when it comes to details. There are little touches that are pretty neat, like the crows that follow the characters around, different forms of Flagg himself. And then there are other moments that don’t quite match up. Understandably, given that television programmes couldn’t quite get away with what they can now, but there simply aren’t enough corpses lying around from nearly the entire world dying.
The men travel for weeks but are completely clean-shaven apart from the final pilgrimage. Molly Ringwald manages to maintain a perfect bob for months whilst travelling. They may seem silly things to pick up on, but it’s crucial to the post-apocalyptic horror of the story. Would The Walking Dead have the same impact if it didn’t look like the cast had been through the wringer? The Stand’s characters should look dishevelled after months on the road, not as if they wandered out of an outdoor activities catalogue with a bit of designer stubble.
However, when it’s good, it’s very good. It masterfully weaves in some of the smaller narrative details from the book that I feared would be lost such as the military reaction to the chaos. They attempt to shut down the press, but use increasingly heavy-handed methods to do so. In one standout scene, taken directly from the book but here weaved into Fran’s story as she listens to the radio, is a chat show. Played by a superb Kathy Bates, host Ray Flowers decides to take questions from the audience and talk openly and honestly about the plague. She’s gunned down live on air. It’s one of the most viscerally horrific moments that the series produces, precisely because it conveys that fear of a society at the brink of complete collapse.
The dream sequences, so key to the plot, are also particularly well done, given the kind of mystical edge that relishes in the absurdity of this aspect of the story. The Mother Abigail sequences are especially good, the red and purple colour scheme at once both threatening and welcoming. It’s a classic American homespun image of the farm and the nice old lady in a rocking chair on the porch is all kinds of friendly. But beyond the corn, the dark man lurks. In those brief sequences, The Stand manages to capture the real horror of the narrative, the safety of the home threatened by the darkness from outside.
The final battle between good and evil is, like the book, one of faith, those who have it and those who don’t, rather than one featuring all kinds of fighting. The effects used to show this might be a little cheesy (one character returning in blazing light and smoke for example) but it never loses sight of the human story at the centre. It’s one of survival and finding the will to live amidst a whole lot of death. And in that respect, the mini-series succeeds admirably. There’s a triumphant, hopeful note to end on (despite a slightly incongruous appearance of a floating head), one that simply says life must go on instead of anything too grandiose.
Like everyone who offered me their opinions on The Stand before I settled down to watch it, my own reactions to the mini-series are wildly varied. There’s a huge range of quality between the positives and the negatives, but fortunately they make up for an enjoyable whole. The book may remain the real masterpiece, but this mini-series has a decent stab at recreating it.
The other week, I was waiting for a bus on a muggy summer day when another double-decker passed me travelling in the opposite direction. On the side of the bus was an advert for Seth McFarlane’s latest comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s a film I was keen to see being a fan of McFarlane’s work. I like Family Guy a lot and am always up for a laugh. That’s the transaction promised with a comedy, right? Every time I would see a poster, trailer, or billboard for A Million Ways in the run up to its release date here in the UK, I was up for it, feeling that sense of intrigue and excitement for this as yet unseen film.
But as I watched the poster on the side of this eastbound bus slowly draw away from view some two weeks after A Million Ways was released, something had changed. I no longer felt the pang of excitement for an unseen film I did before. Somehow this attraction had lost its sheen. So what had changed? Namely this: The critical consensus was not good, and my own enthusiasm to see this film was fading fast. Shame. This life-cycle of a film’s theatrical release is a fascinating thing. A film is born on its release date. Before that it is innocent, an unknown quantity, and once it is released, is might sink or swim. I often look at often out-of-date bus posters for films and get a strange sense of nostalgia for this magical time before a film was out; when it had lots of potential, to entertain, scare, engross, enlighten. And so a part of me feels a little sad when I see a film long since released fade from view. By this tie, a film’s noble struggle will have already generated it’s own narrative, the kind that keeps sites like Box Office Mojo in business. Perhaps it was a smash and is still going strong. Perhaps it disappeared without trace. Maybe it just did okay and had a good run in cinemas until the end, as it looks like A Million Ways will.
And yet, despite the critical drubbing A Million Ways to Die in the West has since received, I admire and respect Seth McFarlane’s work ethic, and willingness to push the boundaries of comedy. Perhaps more than anything, I admire McFarlane’s willingness to try and fail. I hope he continues to make many more films in future as I think he has a few comedy classics in him, if only all the elements can come together into the mix. Making a film is hard. Making a successful film is even harder. And that is why I love this medium. I love getting excited by a film in its unreleased, unknown phase of life. Hell I even remember getting excited by the trailer for Paul Blart: Mall Cop. That film was a disappointment for me, but for a few glorious, naïve weeks, I was excited about it, and you don’t want to know how many times I watched and laughed at the trailer. I hope that as time wears on, I never lose that feeling of getting excited about a film before it is unleashed to the cinema-going public to fend for itself in the big wide world. And so to Hollywood I say this to you: Keep sending those bus posters my way, because (*insert title here) that looks like it might be quite good. Also, if my bus is attached to that poster, that would be cool too, I have places to be…
So says Kelsey Grammer’s villainous Harold Attinger near the beginning of the 4th film in this seemingly unstoppable franchise. But judging from a $300+ worldwide opening weekend, I’d say he’s probably wrong.
I’m an apologist for these films (the 1st and 3rd at any rate, no amount of sorry can make up for the cinematic disaster that was Revenge of The Fallen), I think there is nothing wrong with a ‘switch your brain off and enjoy the many, many, many things that go bang and boom’ style of blockbuster. Sometimes, that is really all you want. I thought Dark of The Moon did this perfectly, it was a film I very much enjoyed because it was loud, brash and stupid. Everything we expect from a Michael Bay picture. It was pure spectacle and destruction on a massive level but it worked.
Age of Extinction kicks off several years later. Transformers are despised by humanity, made out to be villains for the Battle of Chicago that left thousands dead and changed the world as everyone knew it. It’s an interesting way to start the film, which is a sequel but almost feels like an attempt at a soft reboot at times, and the first 90 minutes are entertaining, thrilling and with a few jokes that actually land. We meet inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is down on his luck and utterly broke, his home is about to be repossessed. And then he finds a Transformer.
And not just any Transformer. Inexplicably, inside an abandoned theatre, is a giant truck, who just happens to be the leader of the friendly Autobots, none other than Optimus Prime himself. Cade, being a decent guy, helps repair Optimus, who has been hiding while Attinger and his menacing minions who are helped by the evil Lockdown have been hunting down any and all Transformers remaining on Earth.
Soon men with guns show up and threaten Cade and his family, and then the explosions begin. Cade, along with his daughter and her ‘racer’ boyfriend must go on the run, hunted by an elite military unit that have ties to the government. Eventually we learn that a company called KSI have been melting down the captured Transformers to their raw metal state, known as Transformium. Back to the plot in a second, lets just take that in. TRANSFORMIUM!!! That is a word they made actors, good actors, say! It’s just ridiculous and makes Avatar’s Unobtanium seem perfectly reasonable.
At some point, meandering along as the plot does and even with Wahlberg doing his best to keep things lively, we meet Joshua Joyce, the founder of KSI, played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci, who actually seems to know what kind of film he is in and plays up to it. Joyce has been using the Transformium to make human controlled Transformers, namely a retooled version of Megatron known as Galvatron. Now, if you know Transformers at all, from the G1 tv show to the excellent IDW comic collections, Galvatron is a big deal. Obviously not to Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who waste what could have been an interesting villain in such a way that it will leave fans decidedly angry.
What happens next is sequence after sequence of things blowing up. You get the sense even Bay is getting bored at this point, because he is the master of explosions (a far cooler title than he deserves) and it all just seems very perfunctory and by the numbers. We lurch from set piece to set piece, each more boring than the last. And it’s here that we reach Age of Extinction’s biggest failing; it’s boring. And in a film where everything, and I really mean everything, explodes, at no point should you be bored. But at a stonking 165 minutes, you will have had enough long before the credits roll and the 5th film is set up.
There is another great sin committed here. And for me this one was unforgivable. If you sat as a kid, fumbling with your Transformers, and some of those were dinosaurs, then Age of Extinction is likely to leave you upset, annoyed or angry. Possibly all three. The marketing, from trailers to posters, made a big fuss about the inclusion of fan favourites the Dinobots. If that’s the big selling point for you, then I would say don’t bother. They appear for maybe 15 minutes towards the end and add absolutely nothing to the film, massive letdown. Absolute waste of something that should have been a lot of fun.
Acting wise, this is a real mixed bag. Wahlberg is genuinely good in the role, the guy is charming in almost every film, and he seems to have enthusiasm for what he’s doing here and it comes across, especially in the first half. You won’t miss Shia LaBeouf. At all. His daughter played by the terrifically pretty Nicola Peltz is the real weak link here. She makes Rosie Huntington Whiteley look like an Oscar worthy actress and will make you actively wish Megan Fox was back. Jack Reynor as Shane Dyson fairs a little better as Peltz’s love interest but there’s little personality to the character.
But there is stuff to enjoy here. Grammer as the human villain is superb, and Tucci is the standout for me. He knows he’s in a bad film and just goes for it, he’s a far better actor than this film deserves and is clearly having a lot of fun. I’d be a lot happier if he came back for the sequel instead of anyone else.
The Transformers juggernaut will continue to roll. The immense box office haul will see to that but the whole effort feels tired, there’s an attempt to reinvigorate it with new human characters and that works to a degree, but this time we get a dull roster of robots, a run time that would make Peter Jackson fans weep and too many explosions to count, none of which are as exciting as Dark of The Moon.
I hope Michael Bay is finished with this series, because he seems bored and I think most peoplein the audience will be too. If you enjoyed the other three, then maybe there’s some fun to be had here, but not enough. The runtime kills it dead, the rest of the plot is utter nonsense and difficult to follow towards the end. It all feels half baked to me, Wahlberg is game but you can tell Bay’s heart is no longer in it. This feels like a weak ‘Greatest Hits’ of all that he’s done before, a copy of a copy, its tired and it shows.
A cold October afternoon, dressed in a sequined dress, with three hours to kill before a red carpet event, I decided to shelter from the rain in the Odeon Covent Garden. The film choices were two: Midnight in Paris or Drive. Woody Allen’s latest was attracting quite a crowd of ‘Silver Screeners’ and so, as I was feeling foolish in my evening attire, I plumped for the entirely empty screening Drive.
On handing me my ticket the box office girl spoke perhaps the truest words ever uttered to me: ‘You might think you haven’t enjoyed it when it’s over, give it time, I guarantee it will stick with you’.
The opening bars of Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s Nightcall kicked in, played over stunning panoramic night shots of L.A. in all its neon glory and my expectation levels reached the roof. What followed was indeed a slick, pulpy thriller with a killer soundtrack – but little else. Yes, my interest had been held throughout, but following all the recent hype in the press I’d wanted to be utterly gobsmacked.
On meeting my husband afterwards & being asked the obligatory ‘Well…?’ my response had been ‘Errr……..the soundtrack was pretty amazing…..it looked good too’. However, making my way home in the small hours all I could think was how much I needed to see Drive again, as soon as humanly possible.
My initial ambivalence was about to take a dramatic kick to the teeth. This subsequent viewing was an atmospheric, dreamlike experience. My frustrations concerning lack of substance melted away as I was lost in Winding Refn’s hyper-stylised, neo-noir fairytale.
Gosling as The Driver has become an iconic figure, the character intrinsically defined by what he does, he drives. His speech and actions are as cool and measured as the expertly calculated manoeuvres he makes, both by day as a stunt driver and by night in his more salubrious career as a getaway driver for hire. The fact that he remains unnamed throughout further emphasising this. He speaks so little then when he does we hang on his every word.
Despite oozing coolness and machismo we see a softer side to The Driver in his surprisingly chaste relationship with neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio. The relationship with Irene, seemingly out of character for a man apparently with no ties in life, is played out as a series of wanting looks and knowing smiles, however, the intimate bond developing between them is almost palpable.
Like all good movie romances their relationship is hampered by complications, mainly stemming from Irene’s newly paroled husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) and a sticky situation he has gotten himself into during his recent prison stint. Unlike typical Hollywood stories where the husband, an obstacle in the way of love, would be portrayed as a savage menace, Standard is an affable family man who has taken a few wrong turns is life. The Driver, being Irene’s White Knight can do nothing but help when her safety is threatened. The Driver, who we have only seen as a quiet, reserved man switches to an uber-violent protector, clouded by an almost psychotic rage when called for.
However, before I get carried away, my passion for this film isn’t based around the plot or the cast and their acting ability; indeed, I can understand why many would be turned off. Every viewing still holds me rapt and I believe this is largely due to the stunning aesthetics (shallow me?). Drive switches effortlessly between sundrenched, oversaturated ethereal shots to harsh, bold, neon-lit scenes. The framing, lighting and colour in every single shot is always impeccable, elevating it from standard heist thriller into arthouse masterpiece – Winding Refn holds a huge debt of gratitude to Newton Thomas Sigel who is responsible for the astounding cinematography and also to Cliff Martinez for the incomparable score and use of diegetic sound to such sublime effect. To this day I still get a frisson of excitement listening to the soundtrack in my car and the imagery within the film has become a huge part of popular culture (I’m only ever 6 gins away from a scorpion tattoo).
I could waffle all day, but I hope this has gone a little way in explaining (or apologising) for the place Drive holds in my heart and in my Blu-Ray collection. Want a toothpick?