With each film in the Transformer saga, Michael Bay makes it clear that all he's interested in are massive metallic special effects bashing into each other and usually exploding. Because otherwise this is a vacuous thriller without any characters to speak of, no sense of plot coherence and an appallingly simplistic sense of geography. There's plenty in this franchise to enjoy (just watch the original 2007 film again), but Bay takes everything so seriously that only die-hard fans will have any fun this time.
The story picks up five years after the cataclysmic Transformers' battle in Chicago, as Texas inventor and overprotective single dad Cade (Mark Wahlberg) builds gadgets in his rural barn, oblivious to the fact that his 17-year-old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is secretly seeing 20-year-old Shane (Jack Reynor). Luckily, Shane is a race driver, so he's handy to have around when black ops agents commanded by shadowy CIA director Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) raid Cade's farm looking for an old truck that turns out to actually be Optimus Prime in hiding. This sparks a return to Chicago for more mayhem, followed by a hop to Beijing and Hong Kong, where Optimus Prime and a handful of remaining good-guy Autobots take on the villainous Lockdown. Helped of course by Cade, Tessa and Shane, plus billionaire inventor Joshua (Stanley Tucci).
The new gimmick this time is dinosaurs, building on a prologue showing the real reason they went extinct. This comes back in the climactic battle in the form of Dinobots, ancient Transformers that will have fanboys squirming in their seats with joy while everyone else yawns and looks at their watches, astounded that Bay has somehow managed to stretch this paper-thin story out over nearly three hours of metal-on-metal chaos. As in the earlier films, the action is quite literally cartoonish, purely animated mayhem that's not easy to decipher. At least the humans help keep it vaguely approachable, as they provide running commentary in their dialogue and bounce through the air like plastic action figures who never get hurt.
Continue reading: Transformers: Age Of Extinction Review
There's nothing very original in this spy thriller, but director Branagh gives the film a weighty sense of importance that at least makes it feel important. He can't make up for the flimsy plot or cliched characters, but he can coax shaded performances from the cast to grab our interest. And while the action is never as coherent as a Bourne movie, it at least has a sense of gravitas about it.
For yet another reboot of the Tom Clancy franchise, we go back earlier to follow Jack Ryan (Pine) as he is inspired by the 9/11 attacks to leave his financial studies and join the Marines. Shot down over Afghanistan, he undergoes a gruelling recovery and is recruited by CIA operative Harper (Costner) to work undercover on Wall Street, monitoring terrorist fund movements. A decade later his girlfriend Catherine (Knightley) has no idea what his real job is, so when she surprises him on a business trip to Moscow she ends up in the middle of an operation to investigate shady Russian businessman Cherevin (Branagh), who's behind some sort of imminent global attack.
The film's brisk pace focusses on Jack's motivations all the way through, so we understand his earnest desire to serve his country. Although we can't quite figure out how he developed all these he-man skills working behind a desk in a bank. Not only is he adept at firearms and hand-to-hand combat, but he can ride a motorcycle like a stuntman! Fortunately, Pine's everyman persona makes him easy to identify with and bodes well for future franchise instalments. Opposite him, Costner is marvellously lean and cool, Branagh has terrific lip-less menace and Knightley does her best in the standard underdeveloped female role.
Continue reading: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review
That A-list cast of "retired, extremely dangerous" spies is back, coasting through another amiable but uninspired action-comedy. It may be occasionally funny, but the script is so lazy that it never does anything with the characters or situations. So there's never even a hint of suspense.
In the years since the events of 2010's RED, Frank (Willis) has been trying to live quietly with Sarah (Parker). But trouble seeks them out when their pal Marvin (Malkovich) is the target of a car bomb, and Frank discovers that MI6 and the CIA have sent assassins to kill him: his ruthless former colleague Victoria (Mirren) and the fiendishly unstoppable Han (Lee), respectively. So Frank, Sarah and Marvin head to Paris to solve the mess, crossing paths with Frank's ex, the seductive Katya (Zeta-Jones). Sarah isn't happy about this, but tags along to London, where they locate a nutty scientist (Hopkins) who has the key to all the chaos: namely that they need to get to Moscow to stop a rogue nuke.
As in the first film, the plot bounces along merrily without bothering with either logic or subtext. This is just a silly story about goofy old killers, and the film's main joke is seeing Mirren in camouflage firing a machine-gun. At least the cast shows that they're still feisty, taking on each other with gusto as they try to steal every scene. Malkovich's surreal humour, Mirren's snappy punchlines, Zeta-Jones' purring sexuality and Hopkins' scatter-brained genius are pretty funny, while Willis and Parker get the most thankless roles as a couple still working out their relationship.
Continue reading: RED 2 Review
By ignoring everything that made 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra a hugely entertaining guilty pleasure, the all-new writers and director of this sequel have made one of the most abrasively annoying action movies in recent memory. And even worse, they have indulged in exactly the same over-serious idiocy that the first film was gently lampooning. Instead, this is just a bombastic, incoherent, offensive mess.
Since the US President (Pryce) has been replaced by an evil doppelganger from the villainous Cobra organisation, he now sets about destroying his enemies, the elite G.I. Joe force. Led by Duke (Tatum), they're sent to collect some rogue nukes in Pakistan, and everything goes wrong. Now it's up to three off-the-grid Joes - meatlead leader Roadblock (Johnson), shy muscle-boy Flint (Cotrona) and tough-sexy Jaye (Palicki) - to stop Cobra's nefarious plan, whatever that might be. Their key opponents are Cobra goon Firefly (Stevenson) and ninja Storm Shadow (Lee), who's more complex than he looks. And the Joes have secret allies in Asian pals Jinx (Yung) and Snake Eyes (Park), as well as the original Joe himself (Willis).
The main problem here is that producer di Bonaventura forgot that it takes a lot of skill to make a stupid movie that's actually entertaining. Instead, this film is predictable and inane, with action scenes that stretch the limits even of stupid-movie plausibility (such as a ludicrous Spidey-style aerial battle in the Himalayas). And the fist-fights are impossible to see because they are confusingly directed, jarringly edited and then converted into unnecessary 3D. When everything explodes in every single chase scene, it becomes a bit boring really. And while there are gadgets everywhere, none of them are very cool.
Continue reading: G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review
Thrillers don't get much more enjoyable than this one, which shifts cleverly from an issue-based drama to an intriguing mystery and finally into riotously camp mayhem. Over his career, Soderbergh has proven himself adept at all three approaches, and the way he and writer Burns morph from one to the other is so mercilessly entertaining that we can't help but smile. And the cast is having a great time playing along with them.
It starts as an expose of psychotropic drugs, as Emily (Mara) struggles with depression after her husband Martin (Tatum) is released following a four-year prison term for insider trading. Emily's therapist Dr Banks (Law) prescribes a series of anti-anxiety pills to help her, adjusting the medication until the side effects even out. But something still isn't right, and a fatal incident leads to a criminal trial. Meanwhile, Banks begins his own investigation into the case, consulting Emily's previous therapist (Zeta-Jones). But the fallout from all of this is threatening both his career and his marriage to Dierdre (Shaw).
Soderbergh gives the film a seductive tone that's irresistible, with his own gleaming cinematography and witty editing, plus a teasing Thomas Newman score. This allows the actors to create layered characters who can constantly surprise us along the way. Law holds our sympathies as a desperate man trying against all odds to get his life back, while Zeta-Jones is icy and dismissive until her character takes a lively turn about halfway in. But it's Mara who's the real revelation in a tricky role. As Emily's world seems to shift and collapse around her, she reveals an astonishing array of emotions and intentions.
Continue reading: Side Effects Review
Korean filmmaker Kim played with the Western genre before in his wacky 2008 pastiche The Good the Bad the Weird, and this film is just as chaotically uneven, mixing cartoon-style silliness with grisly violence. But the high-energy approach holds our interest, as does Schwarzenegger's immense screen presence in his first starring role since his political career. The film is far too jumbled to hold together, but its sardonic sense of humour makes it a decent guilty pleasure.
Arnie plays Sheriff Owens, who has a quiet routine in his sleepy Arizona-Mexico border town. So when a stranger (Stormare) appears, he sends his deputies (Alexander and Gilford) to investigate. Things get violent quickly, so he deputises a drunken veteran (Santoro) and a moronic gun-nut (Knoxville) to work alongside another deputy (Guzman). What he doesn't yet know is that the baddies are part of an elaborate plan to help a drug kingpin (Noriega) escape from a Law Vegas FBI Agent (Whitaker) and cross the border to freedom in Mexico.
The whizzy plot actually has promise as a straightforward action movie, but Kim throws so much nuttiness at the screen that we can't take anything seriously. The story zings from set-piece to set-piece without much concern for credibility or coherence. It's all very cool, especially the baddie's glimmering, super-fast prototype Corvette, which travels "faster than a chopper" on isolated country roads that are improbably smooth. And his climactic plan to get over the border is astonishingly silly, but played dead straight.
Continue reading: The Last Stand Review
Ex-cop Nick (Worthington) is only a couple of years into an excessively long prison sentence for stealing a giant diamond from a ruthless jewel magnate (Harris). But he manages to escape, positioning himself on a 21st-floor ledge above a busy Manhattan street. As the crowd gathers and cops (Banks and Burns) come to talk him down, Nick's brother Joey (Bell) and his bendy girlfriend Angie (Rodriguez) are breaking into a nearby building. Basically, it's Nick's last-ditch effort to clear his name.
Continue reading: Man On A Ledge Review
With his usual disregard for story logic, Bay plunges us into another deafening metal-against-metal smackdown. Fortunately, this film is a lot more entertaining than Part 2, because it has a more linear plot. And it looks absolutely amazing.
With everything back to normal, Sam (LaBeouf) needs a job to impress his impossibly hot new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley). Then strange things start happening around him. Again. And soon he realises that the Decepticons are back to wage war against the Autobot-human alliance. But he has to convince an arrogant government official (McDormand) to let him get involved with his old team (Duhamel, Gibson, Turturro and their Autobot buddies). All of this has something to do with a secret weapon that crashed onto the dark side of the moon in 1961, sparking the space race.
McDormand is easily the best thing about this film, even if her character has a dramatic personality shift halfway through the film. Malkovich is also terrific (as Sam's offbeat new boss), and Dempsey has his moments as well (as Carly's boss and cause of Sam's inferiority complex). Fortunately, the narrative is straightforward enough to give all of the actors the chance to make their mark, distinguishing themselves above the chaos.
Sadly, the same can't be said about the battling robots. While the first-rate animation has a staggering attention to detail, the deafening battles are still impossible to follow. They amount to an eye-catching display of whizzy effects as clanking robots bash each other senseless and destroy everything around them (Chicago gets the full destructive force for a change). Although at least they fit vaguely into the plot this time.
Meanwhile, lapses in even the most twisted logic are plentiful, including the fact that Sam seems to have metallic Transformer bones to resist injury as he's flung into walls and dropped from high places (not to mention Carly's magical white suit and heels). In other words, it's deeply preposterous and almost painfully boyish, but it's nowhere near as muddled as the last chapter. And besides keeping our eyes entertained, there are some great moments throughout the mayhem.
Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a skilled CIA operative devoted to both her husband (Diehl) and her country. Then a Russian spy (Olbrychski) tells her that she's actually a sleeper agent whose time has come. She denies this to her steely boss Ted (Schreiber) and hasty counter-intelligence agent Peabody (Ejiofor), but when things heat up she runs. Is she up to no good, or is she trying to stop the Russkies' evil plan? Sometimes it seems like even she isn't so sure.
Continue reading: Salt Review
Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Los Angeles Film Festival Monday 22nd June 2009 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival - Premiere of 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' held at Mann Village Theatre - Arrivals Los Angeles, California
Wahlberg even boasts the ideal name: Bob Lee Swagger. The surname ensures he's all attitude. The fact that he goes by three monikers means he's a bona fide presidential assassin, situated in a class above Lee Harvey Oswald.
Continue reading: Shooter Review
With each film in the Transformer saga, Michael Bay makes it clear that all he's...
There's nothing very original in this spy thriller, but director Branagh gives the film a...
That A-list cast of "retired, extremely dangerous" spies is back, coasting through another amiable but...
By ignoring everything that made 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra a hugely entertaining...
Thrillers don't get much more enjoyable than this one, which shifts cleverly from an issue-based...
Korean filmmaker Kim played with the Western genre before in his wacky 2008 pastiche The...
There's so little to this film that you've almost forgotten everything about it by the...
With his usual disregard for story logic, Bay plunges us into another deafening metal-against-metal smackdown....
Based on the graphic novel, this action-comedy has a wacky tone that's entertaining but never...
Intelligent filmmaking covers up the whopping plot holes in this action thriller. It's shot with...
Undemanding audiences may warm to the strong cast and crew of this family comedy, even...
Michael Bay makes his loudest, most bombastic movie yet (which is saying a lot) with...