Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, directed by Michael Bay (157 min.)

Here we go again.  Michael Bay lives in a world of adolescence, making movies for teenagers, but does that mean he has to make them unwatchable?  I am all for popcorn flicks with big action and CGI, they surely have a place in this world.  What I am not a fan of is overt sexism, ignorant racism, one-dimensional characters due to pure laziness, action scenes that don't know when to quit, and unnecessary excess upon excess.  Transformers: Age of Extinction is more of the same, a lot more, too much more in almost every way.  It's all the same stuff we have all seen in the first three Transformers films, only this one clocks in at over two and a half hours, the longest of the series.  Despite it being about thirty minutes too long, not that trimming this down would make things better.  It would have just made the overall experience less arduous.

At least we don't have Shia LeBeouf to deal with this time.  It is Mark Wahlberg, who plays Cade Yaeger, an amateur inventor in rural Texas whose inventions never seem to work out.  He is a single father to Tessa (Nicola Peltz), an under-dressed, oversexed teenage daughter who does nothing more than pose in skimpy outfits for Bay.  But, of course, Cade is overprotective of his sexy daughter to the point that the conversations about her not kissing boys or dating boys or looking at boys is literally the only conversations they have the entire film.  Nearly three hours of Cade making empty threats is tiresome, especially when Tessa's boyfriend, Shane, pops onto the scene to help save the day.  Luckily, Shane is a Rally Car racer with corporate sponsorship and everything.  Who isn't?  And lest we forget a stock character, T,J. Miller fills the role of wisecracking sidekick Lucas, a surfer dude who, no matter how intense the situation, has time to add snarky sarcasm.

The time is five years after the destruction of Chicago in the previous film, and all transformers are being rounded up and wiped out by shady government operatives, led by Kelsey Grammer's stereotypically wicked Harold Attinger.  Turns out, however, Attinger is working in concert with the Decepticons, the bad ones, and a bounty hunter transformer we've never seen before.  There is an entire subplot involving a big corporation in Chicago led by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) who is creating his own transformers with their technology, but it doesn't matter.

Cade stumbles upon an old truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime, and one acton scene leads to another, and another, and another, and even one more, but then one more.  Then, maybe one or two or ten more, and they're all the same.  The bad guys come after the good guys, and one precarious situation unfolds after another.  Perhaps they all make sense in the teenage mind of Michael Bay, but the plot points are brushed past at such a rapid pace in order to get to the next loud action sequence, none of it has any real consequence.  The action takes us to Chicago which is mildly destroyed now, about $400 million I suppose.  Then we go to Beijing, where a bomb is going to be detonated to do some stuff and some things.  Who cares?!  Let's get to the CGI!

Look, I completely understand what is going on here, and I know what to expect with a Michael Bay film.  But does that mean the film itself has to be complete garbage?  Remember way back six years ago when the origin Transformers came out, and was an entertaining summer action flick for the most part?  We have come a long way from there, and gone way down on the quality scale.  Make big loud action films, fine, but at least make them worth seeing.  Bay's typical sexism is on display, with every woman used merely as an object.  And the racism is in tact as well; the only black character is a big, loud, sassy black woman with attitude.  He can get away with making trash movies, but how does Bay get by with such overt sexism and racism time and time again?

Transformers 4 is an assault on the senses and sensibilities.  The film goes on and on to the point where I started thinking about other things.  The loud metal-on-metal destruction blurs into white noise, and after two hours and ten… fifteen… twenty… I was leaning forward in my seat ready to bolt.  By the time the Dinobots, dinosaur transformers, finally appeared out of seemingly nowhere, I was spent.  The actors are barely acting.  Wahlberg has done better, not in a while, but what about Tucci?  His performance is brutal and uneven as he hops from stoic and stern to what amounts to a nervous breakdown of silliness and wacky one liners.  The snark is lazy and the script is everywhere.  My message to everyone is to skip this one, and skip the next one, and maybe we will finally be finished with this Bay franchise.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Rover

THE ROVER: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, directed by David Michod (103 min.)

There is nothing cheery about The Rover, director David Michod's follow up to his searing Aussie crime drama Animal KingdomThe Rover is bleak, depressing, violent, and altogether captivating thanks to two intensely focused performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.  Australian crime thrillers like The Rover rarely come with brightness or hope, and this picture carries misery in spades.  This may not be the most glowing picture to paint for a film, as most of us go to be entertained and enjoy escapist thrills, but there is a place for the dark and dreary in cinema.  For those able to find enjoyment in morally desolate filmmaking, here is a film that captivates.

As the title card explains at the outset, The Rover takes place in Australia ten years after "the collapse."  Society has crumbled to a point of barely hanging on, at least in the Outback where things surely weren't bustling beforehand.  This may be somewhere around 2030, but it may as well be the Old West.  Eric (Pearce) is a hardened loner, a personification of the harsh landscape surrounding him.  Disheveled, bearded and dirty, Eric wants no company, has no friends, desires almost nothing.  But his car is stolen by three ne'er do wells who crash their own truck outside a dilapidated bar where he is having a drink.  The three men are fleeing the scene of a shootout, or something along those lines, none of which is fully explained.  Eric manages to get their truck up and running and pursues the men.  All he wants is his car back, but the trio refuse to return it.  They knock him out cold and leave him on the side of the road, but Eric will not stop until his car is returned and vengeance is taken.

Along his pursuit, Eric runs into Rey (Pattinson), a dim-witted American who is brothers with one of the three men and was shot and left for dead in the unexplained altercation.  Eric gets Rey to a doctor so he can have his wound cleaned and dressed, but not because he cares at all for Rey.  He simply needs Rey to take him to his brother.  The rest of the film is the journey of these two men, where horrible things unfold and very little is made in the way of forward progress regarding their relationship.  Eric is practically soulless, his eyes containing nothing more than rage and sadness, and no matter how much Rey tries to create companionship between them in his simple-minded conversations, Eric refuses to succumb. 

The plot is thin and nothing more than a device to showcase two more important aspects of the film: The World and the performances.  This universe of societal collapse is unsettling, and the people who God has left behind here seem to have let the despair get the better of them.  There is a distinct Asian influence to the population. In the search for his car, Eric also runs across a strange and disturbing house where an old woman speaks obtusely while offering up young boys to Eric.  The ruin of the world has subsequently ruined the minds and hearts of the people remaining. 

Guy Pearce's performance is spare and captivating, a work more of eyes and cold stares than words.  His single-minded determination is the dark, polar opposite to Pattinson's simplistic and warm characterization of Rey.  I have enjoyed watching Robert Pattinson continue to shed his glamour doll image form the Twilight films by tackling roles in films like this.  He is a talented actor and his role his is unlike anything I have seen from him thus far. 

The Rover is also shockingly violent at times to match the bleak nature of the landscape, but for the right audience there is plenty to enjoy here.  It isn't for everyone, but it is most certainly a captivating picture rife with performances that create tension and make for a harrowing story.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Edge Of Tomorrow

EDGE OF TOMORROW: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, directed by Doug Liman (113 min.)

Edge of Tomorrow is a furiously energetic and thrilling summer action spectacle.  From the very beginning it pushes the pedal to the floor and it never lets up.  And even though most elements of the sci-fi story are familiar at their core, this is a truly original, inventive film.  There is also quite a bit of humor and a connection with the characters that keep the story engaging, mostly due to the dedication of its leads, Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.  The mechanics of the plot may outsmart the film in the end, but by the time the climax rolled around I was too busy catching my breath to nitpick what was an enjoyable and fresh experience.

The set up for Edge of Tomorrow takes place in a media montage to open the film.  Alien organisms have invaded Europe and are quickly making work of our forces and annihilating the human race.  Eventually, military minds create metal frame contraptions to fit around soldiers and the playing field evens.  The human race's military efforts appear to be making a dent in the alien assault, and an assault on a stronghold in France is planned.  Enter William Cage, a talking head representing the military in soundbites on CNN, discussing the prowess of these new machines and also talking up the growing legend of Rita.  Played by Emily Blunt, Rita is a super soldier leading the charge against these aliens, Mimics as they are called.  Rita is the poster girl for the human effort; Cage, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with military action, hates the sight of blood, and when he is forced into frontline action by a stubborn General (Brendan Gleeson) he tries his damnedest to get out of it.  It is refreshing to see Tom Cruise eschewing his typical Cruise character who is awesome at everything.  This time around, his character starts off as a coward.

Cage is thrown into action in one of these metal suits and, in a panic, kills one of the Mimics before it eventually kills him.  And just like that, he wakes up back at the military base, starting the entire day over again, thoroughly confused. Despite his confusion and his attempts at an explanation, Cage is thrown back into the fray, is killed, and starts the day over yet again.  This pattern continues until he gets a little better each day.  Then during one of these trips into battle he meets Rita on the beach and walks her through a few daring misses.  Rita seems confused by Cage's psychic abilities, but it turns out she knows what is happening to him.

I won't say more about the why or how of Cage's condition because anything can spoil the clever twists and turns.  Cage repeats the day and the battle, employing Rita's help and the duo get a little further towards their ultimate goal each time around.  Director Doug Liman is having fun with this Groundhog Day structure, as Cage trains every day and when he breaks a bone, Rita shoots him and they start the day over.  There is some real humor from Cruise in this second act until the plot gets ramped up and the stakes get pushed higher.  The action in Edge of Tomorrow is breathtaking, and it gets better with each restarted day.  There is quite a bit of CGI necessary to make the suits and the aliens function properly, but it is seamless and never distracting.  The opening scenes, where Bill Paxton - playing an Army Sergeant - does that Bill Paxton thing and chews scenery like a champ, sets a classic, militant tone in a futuristic world.  I can't imagine invading a beach in France was a coincidence.

It is refreshing to see Cruise play basically the opposite of his typical character, and Emily Blunt has really found a niche playing headstrong and athletic women in sic-fi films.  And just when the repeated days might get redundant, Liman and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (along with a team of writers) mix up the action with some car chases and scenery switches at just the right time.  The balance of the action is key in the film functioning from start to finish.  And as I said earlier, maybe the mechanics of the plot, in the end, outsmart the finale.  I can't quite make sense of the way things ended up in those final moments, but honestly it didn't detract from my nearly euphoric enjoyment.