Movie Review ~ Atomic Blonde


The Facts
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Synopsis: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Attila Árpa, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson

Director: David Leitch

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Pity the fool that crosses MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton and pity any audience member that second guesses the Oscar winner that plays her.  Producer and star Charlize Theron (Prometheus) has fashioned a whopper of a role for herself and assembled a crack team of players to go along for the arse-kicking adrenaline-fueled ride.  Even if Atomic Blonde doesn’t necessarily turn the Cold War spy thriller on its head, it sure gives it a helluva decent set of stylish somersaults.

Based on The Coldest City, a 2012 graphic novel written by Anthony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde is set in November 1989 during the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  This is no history lesson, though, as is pointed out at the beginning of the pretzel-like plot in the center of the action film.  A MI6 agent stationed in Germany has been tasked with retrieving a watch with a list of double agents that could out several spies.  When he’s killed in action, his old flame/colleague (Theron) is been sent behind enemy lines to finish the job and find a double agent plaguing the agency.

Lorraine is barely out of the airport before she’s battling KGB agents aiming to take her out, sparring with a MI6 superior (James McAvoy, Split) who may be harboring rogue notions, and rendezvous-ing with a French beauty (Sofia Boutella, The Mummy) with secrets of her own.  All is not what is seems, however, as the twists start to come fast and furious during the final half of the picture.  Told in flashback by a battered and bruised Lorraine to two high-ranking officials (Toby Jones, Muppets Most Wanted and John Goodman, Patriots Day), Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay sometimes zigs when it should zag but overall it packs the requisite punch.

Speaking of punches…whoa.  Theron’s action sequences are of the intensely old-school rock ‘em and sock ‘em variety and they are downright thrilling.  Early toussels in a car winding through a tunnel, an apartment complex, and a stylishly cinematic brawl staged in a, well, a cinema are mere appetizing morsels for the extended battle royale grand feast.  Following Lorraine as she attempts to keep a key witness alive, director David Leitch (John Wick) makes the rumble in the East Berlin jungle  look like it was shot in one long take by cleverly disguising his cuts.  It’s not a showcase only for the filmmaker, though, as Theron smashingly bashes her way through a bunch of hapless goons down staircases and through abandoned rooms to a pulsing soundtrack of mid to late ‘80s classics.  Taking her licking, she keeps on ticking and gets believably shell-shocked, bloodied, and winded along the way.  Theron trained intensely for this role and it shows with every punch landed and every powerful kick to the chest she delivers, so much so that it’s hard to see when her stunt double steps in.

Were Theron not a producer of Atomic Blonde, I may have questioned some of the more risqué elements to the film as a product of some male ADHD fantasy featuring women in low cut blouses, high cut lingerie, or nothing at all.  However, it doesn’t feel wholly exploitative but likely in line with the source material and period setting…but on the other hand a little Theron on Boutella action has an sizable erotic charge in even its most chaste moments.

While we’re on the subject, poor Boutella is in her second summer film of 2017 that fails to capitalize on her engaging appeal.  After her mummy character played second banana to Tom Cruise in June she ends July without getting much to do but bed Theron and provide some necessary expository dialogue.  I kept waiting for her to pop in to help Theron out but, alas, the only one that seems to show up is McAvoy and his over-the-top shenanigans.

In films such as these where it’s essential for key plot points to be manipulated throughout so the twists, when revealed, have a greater “gotcha” vibe there never seems to be a satisfying resolution.  Thankfully, though Atomic Blonde has two endings too many the one it does close up shop on is a solid rounding off of any rough edges that remained.  A prequel graphic novel was released in 2016 so should this one detonate positively with audiences, it’s possible we’ll see Theron back in action in no time.  I’d welcome the return sooner rather than later.

Movie Review ~ Patriots Day

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Khandi Alexander, Melissa Benoist, Themo Melikidze

Director: Peter Berg

Rated: R

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I can still vividly remember watching the manhunt unfold back in 2013 for the two men suspected of orchestrating the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Glued to the late night breaking news, I watched as police and FBI surrounded a boat suspected to be the hiding place of the last living suspect and held my breath along with the rest of the country.  By now we know how things turned out but even going into Patriots Day with these facts, audiences are bound to be caught up once again in the true life tale of that fateful day in April and the men, women, and children whose lives were forever changed in an instant.

Based on several different sources and news accounts, Patriots Day is the second film released in 2016 surrounding a real-life event directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg.  It was only back in late September the director and star teamed up for the underseen Deepwater Horizon which was a strong collaboration after first finding success in 2013’s excellent Lone Survivor.  Berg (Battleship) and Wahlberg (The Gambler) have scored their highest marks yet with Patriots Day, an effective and authentic examination of the investigation surrounding the hours/days after the bombing.

Patriots’ Day, Boston’s state holiday to celebrate the first battles of the Revolutionary War, also marks the annual Boston Marathon and April 2013 started like any other day.  People took their time to get out of bed, kiss their loved ones, and become a spectator or participant in the race, all the while never suspecting they will become targets for two radicalized brothers striking back at perceived injustices in Afghanistan and Iraq at the hands of U.S. officials.

Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Mr. Holmes) jump around the city for the first part of the day, getting time with Wahlberg and his wife (Michelle Monaghan, Pixels), watching the Tsarnaev brothers (Alex Wolff, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Themo Melikidze) prepare for their crime, and finding moments to capture with other civilians and law enforcement officials who will become major players once the bombing occurs.  The lead-up to the devastation is taut but not fraught with clock watching tension and by the time it happens we’re a bit distracted and are caught off-guard much like everyone else was on that otherwise ordinary day.  After that, the movie takes off like a rocket as Wahlberg and his men secure the site and watch as the FBI comes in and makes their own rules.

Though populated with many real characters, Wahlberg’s Sgt. Tommy Saunders is an amalgamation of several different Boston police officers that were involved.  Wahlberg may be listed as the star but it’s not a “Mark Wahlberg Movie”, per se.  Rather, it’s an ensemble drama that seemed to go out of fashion with the disaster pictures of the ‘70s that introduces us to no less than a dozen players we’ll eventually cross paths with as the movie unfolds.

For nearly an hour, Wahlberg hovers on the periphery of the action while the likes of Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th), John Goodman (Love the Coopers), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia) are activated and enter the story.  I had forgotten many of the developments that happened during those desperate hours and learned a lot more about what happened behind the scenes as the bomb site was recreated to piece together the clues that led authorities to the brothers on that final fateful night.  For all you small bladder people out there, be sure to visit the restroom before the final act or plan on holding it for the duration because the final hour of Patriots Day is a breathless cat and mouse game between the brothers on the run and the officers sniffing out their trail.  There’s a well-staged shoot-out that rivals anything the OK Corral could throw at you and a real sense of the dangerously high stakes permeates every frame.

Wahlberg continues to carve out a better than decent track record with his performances and the Boston-bred actor invests himself totally in this role that obviously hits close to home.   The rest of the supporting players are strong but special mention should be made to those involved in two of the most successful scenes in Patriots Day.  As a student carjacked by the brothers, Jimmy O. Yang (The Internship) underplays his fear and visibly musters up the courage to break free from certain death.  Then there’s an interrogation scene between the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Melissa Benoist, The Longest Ride) and a FBI Agent (Khandi Alexander) that’s alone worth the price of admission. I don’t think I blinked during this brief but highly effective sequence.

Ending with a somber but gracious visit with the real people featured in the movie, Berg and company hit all the right notes with Patriots Day.  Like the previous two pictures they’ve made together, Berg and Wahlberg have shown a vested interest in bringing important tales of bravery/heroism to the screen with a reverential but not overly sentimental voice.

The Silver Bullet ~ Kong: Skull Island

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Synopsis: A diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific—as beautiful as it is treacherous—unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

Release Date: March 10, 2017

Thoughts: Since 1933, we’ve been kinda ape over King Kong. Though his franchise isn’t a huge one, each time he’s appeared on screen it’s been a cultural touchstone of the moviemaking era.  The original film became instantly iconic while the overstuffed 1976 remake boasted impressive effects and a newcomer by the name of Jessica Lange.  Peter Jackson’s thrill heavy 2005 reboot didn’t kick things off like it should have but it kept the larger than life monkey in relevant terms.  With the success of 2014’s Godzilla and expertly timed with Universal Studios in Orlando’s new King Kong ride, Kong: Skull Island feels like it’s arriving at the right time.  Starring Brie Larson (The Gambler), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight), Tom Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), and John C. Reilly (Guardians of the Galaxy), the new’70s set Kong is clearly going for that old school home territory feeling without the bright lights of the big city to muck it all up.  This first full trailer is a tad jokey for my tastes but the kid in me is counting down the days until Kong is again unleashed.

Movie Review ~ 10 Cloverfield Lane

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter by two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Boosted by a bold teaser trailer that left audiences riddled with questions, 2008’s Cloverfield was a fairly genius example of how the right marketing could create all the buzz that was needed to guarantee a healthy debut at the box office.  I mean, they didn’t even give the title of the film away…which drove audiences to fire up their Dell laptops and do some old fashioned sleuthin’ to find out more about the found footage flick. Was it a disaster movie? Was it a monster movie? No one really knew until the film was released…and was a bit of a dud in my book.  Undone by its hype, the hand-held filmmaking churned my stomach and lackluster plot developments frustrated way more than it frightened.

Fast forward to January of 2016 when Paramount revealed the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane…a mystery film that somehow managed to fly so far under the radar that even the most tapped in film fans were thrown for a loop.  In this day and age of spoiler heavy early reviews, I’d classify that as a not-so-minor miracle…so my first reaction was respect more than anything else.  Then I remembered how I felt going into Cloverfield and instantly started to lower my expectations so the buzz bar wouldn’t be raised too high.

So…before we go on…it’s next to impossible to talk about 10 Cloverfield Lane without going into certain details that may be considered minor spoilers. I’m going to do my best to keep it vague, but for those sensitive souls out there (you know who you are) tread carefully.

Ok?

Ready?

The first question you’ll want an answer to is wondering if this is indeed a sequel to Cloverfield.  Yes…and no.  I’d call it a sequel adjacent, related to events from the previous film but very much with its own story to tell.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing because the script was rewritten to fit into the same universe and it feels like it…especially in the third act when it becomes almost an entirely different film.  I’m getting ahead of myself though…

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Spectacular Now) is running away…from what we’re not sure.  It could be her heard but not seen boyfriend (listen closely and see if you can pick out his Oscar nominated voice) or it could be life in general…we don’t know and it ultimately doesn’t matter.  After being involved in a violent automobile accident, she wakes to find herself chained to a wall in an underground bunker presided over by Howard, a twitchy survivalist (John Goodman, Argo, Flight) that makes sure she knows he’s her savior.  There’s a wicked whiff of Misery at play in these early scenes as Michelle comes to terms with her good Samaritan (or captor?) and the rules he has for life under the ground.

Why are they holed up there you may ask?  Well if you believe Howard there’s been an attack that’s left the world above ground in a desolate state of fallout that will take years to bounce back from. Do you trust Howard, though?  That’s the question Michelle and another shelter mate Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr) are troubled by the more time they spend in confinement and the more discrepancies they find in Howard’s version of events.  And with that, I think we’re at a good place to stop and let you find out for yourself the truth behind it all.

Made for a fifth of the budget of Cloverfield, the $5-million-dollar movie is a handsomely produced bit of entertainment that has its fair share of genuine shocks and out of left field developments. My jaw dropped more than once at what transpires, creating a giddy sense of old school movie-going fun that few films seem interested in tapping into.  If there are a few hokey moments, there’s enough good will generated to forgive some sloppy storytelling and iffy effects (though none as dreadful as the ones you’ll find in London Has Fallen) that don’t mar much of the overall experience.

With only eight actors listed in the credits, the film simply wouldn’t have worked as well without its cast, namely Goodman, creepy-as-all-get-out without doing much more than giving Winstead a once-over with his eyes.  Winstead, nicely plucky as a heroine that isn’t perfectly formed into a cookie-cutter robot is interesting to watch and a viable actress to root for even if we can tell she has some hidden backstory that may make us like her less if the situation was different.

First time director Dan Trachtenberg keeps the film racing along (the first time I checked my watch was 95 minutes in) in a most agreeable way, aided by Bear McCreary’s (Europa Report) pounding score.  The first 15 or so minutes of the film are dialogue-free, leaving McCreary’s music to tell the story and ratchet up the suspense for the remainder of the running time.  The score is almost a character in and of itself.

My best advice for you would be to go into 10 Cloverfield Lane with as little information as possible…you’ve come to the end of this review so you’re already clued in a bit but trust that I’ve saved the twists and turns of the movie for you to enjoy on your own.  A far superior effort than Cloverfield (though, to be fair, they are two totally different pictures), 10 Cloverfield Lane is worth a stroll.

Movie Review ~ Trumbo

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen Mirren

Director: Jay Roach

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though it’s not a great movie, Trumbo has been enthusiastically received by the lords and ladies of Tinseletown and I think I know why.  There’s nothing Hollywood loves so much as a good redemption story…especially one that it’s involved with.  Any chance they have to pat themselves on the back is taken with glee, even if it’s involving a dark stain on its history that never should have happened in the first place.

Playing like a made for TV movie that could have aired on HBO (where director Jay Roach has seen several of his political projects find great acclaim over the last decade), Trumbo is a hammy take on the years when numerous Hollywood players were put on the blacklist thanks to the McCarthy hearings.  Thought to be Communists in a time of great fear of the unknown, friends turned on friends and the mere mention of affiliation with the Communist parties saw careers, not to mention lives, destroyed.

Already explored in countless films/documentaries over the years (including a fictionalized take like 1991’s also mediocre Guilty by Suspicion), the way that Trumbo could have set itself apart was not playing like a standard biopic of one man’s downfall.  Yet it falls prey to every convention, every plot trap, every pothole that you can think of.  It may be a mildly diverting piece of entertainment, but it doesn’t go beyond the surface.

What elevates the film is the presence of several star players.  Helen Mirren and John Goodman have some solid screen time and make the most of it.  Mirren (Hitchcock) is Hedda Hopper, the notorious Hollywood gossip columnist with a poison pen for anyone that crosses her.  Mirren’s demeanor changes on a dime when challenged and the actress balances that sweet/sour persona with ease.  Goodman (Flight) is also notable as the hot-headed small-time studio exec that isn’t one to be pushed around.  And before Diane Lane (Man of Steel) fades into the background as her role becomes mere wallpaper, she’s a strong matriarch in a family that’s struggling.

These three performances can’t save the picture, though, mostly because they aren’t the leading player.  I’ve long struggled with Bryan Cranston (Godzilla, Rock of Ages) onscreen, feeling that he’s never as good as people think he is and certainly lacking the charisma that made his Breaking Bad character such a legend.  He’s off the mark here for most of the picture, cartoonishly impersonating Dalton Trumbo’s voice and mannerisms that suggest he’s older than he really is.  It’s only when the character actually ages that the performance matches up.

Worst of the bunch is Louis C.K., completely out of his league as a disgraced writer dealt even more devastating blows as he falls from favor.  The comedian seems uncomfortable in front of the camera and with his dialogue, never convincing us that he’s to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.  It’s a woefully poor performance, and put up against the roster of other strong cast members it just can’t be considered on the same level.

As a biopic, I guess Trumbo earns marks for its draft of events.  It’s workmanlike in its execution and the production design is pleasing.  Still, I kept waiting for the film to be better, to say something extraordinary…instead of just playing by the rules.  Aside from Mirren, Goodman, and Lane…it’s a fairly insignificant telling of a painful part of history.

Movie Review ~ Love the Coopers

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When four generations of the Cooper clan come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday

Stars: Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Jake Lacy, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde

Director: Jessie Nelson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Hold on a sec, allow me to get into full Ebenezer Scrooge mode because have I got a whopper of a turkey for you. Normally, I truly feel like the last two months of the year are, as the song says, the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time to reunite with family, practice being ok with giving instead of receiving, and hauling out classic holiday films made more enjoyable on snowy days and chilly nights. Arriving like a lump of coal in a moldy old fruitcake, Love the Coopers is not only the worst holiday film in recent memory but one of the worst offerings of 2015. Yes, I’m counting the endless TV movies featuring a department store Santa Claus helping an exasperated female executive find love with a burly man we all know is perfect for her.

Picture a movie where every single character is miserable. They don’t like their family, they can’t stand their friends, they basically hate their lives. Now imagine its set during Christmas and filled with every lame joke in the holiday handbook, from family secrets spilling out during a disastrous dinner table scene to irascible old fogies that turn wise when the movie needs a moral.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers (who, after viewing his credits on IMDb, seems to specialize in saccharine nonsensical dramedies) sketches the film as an ensemble affair with multiple storylines playing out (more like wearing out) during one jam packed day.

There’s Eleanor (Olivia Wilde, The Lazarus Effect), who’d rather hang out at the airport bar than head home, befriending a military man (Jake Lacy, Carol, the only bright spot in the movie) before convincing him to come home with her and pretend to be her boyfriend. Ruby (Amanda Seyfried, Lovelace), a diner waitress that feels a kinship with the cantankerous old coot (Alan Arkin, Indian Summer) that frequents her section. Hank (Ed Helms, Vacation) is trying to find a way to tell his estranged wife (Alex Borstein, A Million Ways to Die in the West) that he’s lost his job and can’t afford to buy presents for their kids. Emma (Marisa Tomei, Trainwreck) is a kleptomaniac taken on the longest drive in the history of ever by a policeman with a Big Secret (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain).

Then we have Diane Keaton (And So It Goes) and John Goodman (Argo) as the heads of the family who can’t seem to get out of the rut they’ve been wallowing in for years. Keaton seems resigned to live in the shadow of a career that’s left her in the dust and Goodman must have needed the money to buy clothes in light of his recent weight loss. Oh…and I can’t leave out June Squibb (Nebraska, in a role I’m sure Betty White turned down) as a forgetful aunt that’s just a set-up for various sight gags and fart jokes. There’s also a narrator to the film, a device employed not only as an opportunity for a famous comedian to provide a voice for but to be a part of a twist reveal that most awake audience members will figure out early on.

The last film director Jessie Nelson released was I Am Sam in 2001 and it’s painfully obvious the dormant decade between the two films wasn’t spent in a graduate film school seeing that the film is an awkward mix of false emotional peaks and ill-conceived bits of comedy that makes the running length feel neverending. The tipping point for me was a dreadful family sing-a-long with Helms and Arkin strumming away at their guitars without the vaguest hint of knowing irony. Another particularly painful passage was the aforementioned police car ride where Tomei tries to psychoanalyze stoic cop Mackie, leading to a left-field admission that’s not only offensive but downright tacky.

Love the Coopers seems destined to be that awful holiday entertainment that that one good friend of yours (hopefully not a loved one) claims to be their ‘favorite’ film and forces you to watch with them. Take my advice and resist the urge to bask in the glow of doing something kind for others and think only of yourself…and stay far away from this stinker.

Movie Review ~ The Gambler (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Jim Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster and offers his own life as collateral.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: If you must remake a movie, you should at least aim higher than the film you’re giving a new shine to.  That’s sage words of advice for any filmmaker but a message those behind The Gambler didn’t pay much attention to.  The original 1974 film was no classic but it’s leagues better than this sluggish rethinking that never antes up to the table though it has several aces up its sleeve.

Considering the script from Oscar winning screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) was based on James Toback’s original I was surprised how very different the two movies are.  In fact, it may be wrong to call the movie a remake at all because although the structure follows the original in a very rough sense, many other changes have been made that don’t do any favors for anyone involved.

I’m a person that rarely goes to a casino and if I do, if I find myself even $10 up I’m ready to cash out and head home.  So it’s particularly frustrating me to watch films like The Gambler where characters can’t resist making that one last bet that obliterates their winnings.  It’s a scenario that happens over and over again here and it makes for exhausting viewing.

Mark Wahlberg (Transformers: Age of Extinction) is a floppy haired spoiled rich kid cum failed writer that teaches at a local college and has a nasty gambling habit.  Losing a nice chunk of change and borrowing from a gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams, RoboCop) to cover his losses, it isn’t long before he finds himself caught in the middle of the people he owes and having to figure out how to pay them back while keeping all of his appendages intact.

In Monahan’s script, all the women in Wahlberg’s life are either ice queens (Jessica Lange, Cape Fear, drastically underused and over Botox-ed as his chilly mother), moon-faced admirers (Brie Larson, The Spectacular Now), or strippers/prostitutes with little redeeming value.  At least in Toback’s original script the women represented some quality he was lacking.  Here they have virtually no purpose but to be roadblocks or doormats.

Especially troubling is the storyline that puts a star pupil (Larson) in position to be a love interest for Wahlberg.  Possessing no chemistry, the actors go through the embarrassing motions of courtship that culminates in an out of nowhere kiss that had one audience member at my screening exclaim “Are you KIDDING me?”

Between long soliloquies in the classroom setting that show how well Wahlberg can recite dialogue that makes him appear as if he could be a lit scholar and too many visits with a just this side of deadly loan shark (John Goodman, Argo) the film is less than two hours but feels 40 minutes longer than that.  Capping off with an eye-roll of a coda, this Gambler doesn’t even deserve a place at your cinematic table.  Skip it.

Movie Review ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, T.J. Miller, Han Geng, Titus Welliver, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, Robert Foxworth, Reno Wilson

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 165 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Check out my interview with stars Jack Reynor & Nicola Peltz here

Review: In the days that have passed since taking in Transformers: Age of Extinction I’ve been slightly amused by all the critics flapping their gums about how big, dumb, loud, and long director Michael Bay’s fourth film in the Transformers franchise is. My response to that is: What else were you expecting? I mean, if the series had shifted to the hands of a new director as was originally rumored, I could see some validity in the outcry that the series truly was just fodder for deafening explosions and nonsensical action sequences.

This is Michael Bay we’re talking about here and he’s delivered exactly what he was hired to do. Now, I’m not saying that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the kind of movie you should get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars for because it only barely passes the litmus test of summer blockbuster. I’m just asking that you consider the franchise in question as well as considering the director behind the camera.

If I tell you that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the best of the series so far I’d imagine you’d take that with a grain of salt because the first three were so tremendously dumb that they’d make instructional videos on sealing an envelope look like NASA training material. Featuring the increasingly unlikable Shia LeBeouf and a parade of actors culled from the covers of GQ and Maxim magazines, the original trilogy were all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This fourth film seeks to reboot the franchise…or at least take it in a new direction. Major points are given off the bat for jettisoning LeBeouf and the walking mannequins in favor of, well, similar looking actors that always appear to be fresh from the gym and tanning beds. That they are all a notable improvement over any of the previous cast members should say something significant about the casting department over at Paramount.

Though you may scoff at Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor) playing a goofy Texas inventor that obviously spends an equal amount of time lifting weights as submitting patents, the actor acquits himself nicely by rising above Ehren Kruger’s willy-nilly script and applying the appropriate amount of muscle in tandem with a surprising pep in his step. This may be Wahlberg’s most big budget, high-profile film to date and even if he winds up being another chess piece in Michael Bay’s endgame, he comes out mostly unscathed.

Though they aren’t technically replacing anyone, Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) and Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) are obviously filling in for the archetypes vacated by LeBeouf and Megan Fox. It’s nice to report that both are engaging presences and that spunky Peltz is given way more to do than Reynor’s rally car driver whose character seems to only be good at shifting gears at the right moment. Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer) pops up with another character in his canon that’s more about the outer appearance than anything going on under the skin. Too much time is spent with Tucci, just another way the film manages to waste quite a lot of the early momentum it builds.

Pacing has never really been of much concern to Bay (nor is his ongoing rampant misogyny) but here he really needed to let go of at least 45 minutes of material. The film has so many endings culminating in one of the longest finales I’ve ever witnessed outside of when I still watched American Idol. Compounded with the deafening sound design and above average use of 3D effects audiences will most likely be seen exiting the theater nearly comatose from overstimulation.

While most critics are giving Bay crap about the film, I’d like to publicly state that I found his previous film (Pain & Gain) to be even more of a punishing experience…and that film didn’t even have Dinobots! Look, Transformers has always been and will always be a series made up of a lot of hollow parts. Transformers: Age of Extinction doesn’t add any meat to the bones of the franchise but it’s a helluva lot better than its predecessors and delivers true bang for your buck.

Just please…don’t ask it to be something it’s not.

The Silver Bullet ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots and Decepticons – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Release Date:  June 27, 2014

Thoughts: Since the filmmakers behind the Transformers series seem to have hit the soft reset button, I figure I can do the same on wiping out the memory of the previous three films that have been box office hits but were  hollow as the cheap chocolate bunny I always get at Easter.  With a new star on board (Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor,  Contraband) and no sign of stinkers Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, I’m hoping that the fourth entry about those shape shifting alien robots will be more than just a big budget excuse for director Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) to level cities and showboat with his camera.  

MN FANS!

Nicola Peltz & Jack Reynor, stars of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, will be at Mall of America on Sunday, June 8th at 2pm!  Nicola & Jack will show clips from the film, sign autographs, & answer questions from fans!  Visit mallofamerica.com for more information.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved.  As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history…while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs.  With help from a new cast of humans (led by Mark Wahlberg), Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet.  In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world.  TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION in theaters June 27.

Website:  www.TransformersMovie.com

Movie Review ~ The Monuments Men

monuments_men
The Facts
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Synopsis: An unlikely World War II platoon are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, Dimitri Leonidas

Director: George Clooney

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though I was engaged for much of the two hour running time of The Monuments Men, while George Clooney and company were romping over Europe tracking down stolen art from the Nazis I couldn’t help but find my mind wandering to a movie playing in the theater next door.  While many a critic went goo-goo-ga-ga over the 70’s set heist drama American Hustle I remain an unmoved viewer. Moreover, The Monuments Men represents the film that American Hustle should have been…capitalizing not only on its cast but an interesting plot to keep audiences busy.

That’s not to say The Monuments Men is a model of perfection because its flaws are evident to the naked eye…but they’re somehow easier for me to forgive.  This is thanks in no small part to star/screenwriter/director Clooney (Gravity, The Descendants) and his great fortune in assembling a cast of talented character actors, and the resulting movie is a mostly satisfying experience.

Based on the true story of a special task platoon appointed by President Roosevelt in the middle of World War II, the museum curators and art historians that make up The Monuments Men set out to locate and protect famous works of art from falling into the hands of the Nazis.  While this set-up makes it sound like the movie could have been titled Raiders of the Lost Art, Clooney adapts the novel by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter into less of a National Treasure-esque globe hopping adventure and more of a wartime drama laced with Clooney’s trademark caustic comedy.

Trouble is, for a film that’s linear in shape it’s curiously disjointed in execution with large lapses of time happening in the blink of an eye.  If you’re someone that can’t sit through a two hour movie without popping out to use the restroom beware…you may return to a film that’s jumped ahead a significant amount of time.  Even though I was following the film closely these leaps threw me for a loop and it became increasingly difficult to track where we were.

Perhaps the star wattage (and schedules) of the cast wound up demanding this but it’s also strange that so many of the A-listers spend such precious little screen time with each other.  Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov send The Monuments Men off in pairs which may provide actors like Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), Bob Balaban (Altered States), and John Goodman (Argo, Flight, Stella) the breathing room to find their rhythm but it robs the audience of the nifty sparks that fly the few times the gang is all together.

Timelines and screentime aside, Clooney continues to demonstrate that he’s a movie star for the ages and a snazzy director to boot.  By working with 2013 Oscar-nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska) and composer Alexandre Desplat (also Oscar-nominated this year for Philomena) he’s able to create a fine period production that looks great and is scored in tune with the film’s narrative turns.

Some viewers may be put off by how episodic the film is and in truth this is one of the rare times I left a screening wishing it were significantly longer.  This would have allowed more time for affable Matt Damon (Elysium) and tightly-wound Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) to flesh out their characters more…as it is they feel uncomfortably shoe-horned into the proceedings.  I find that the best kinds of ensemble films with overlapping storylines are the ones where you’re pleasantly surprised when one arc leads to another…with The Monuments Men you find yourself saying “Oh, I forgot about them”…not good.

Clooney’s a good sport as both actor and director — even casting Jean Dujardin (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Artist), the man he lost the Best Actor Oscar to back in 2012.  Though the film visits the well of Schmaltzy Big Speech one too many times, I can’t fault the film for being more pleasing than informative, more goofy than learned, and less memorable than monumental.   It’s worth seeing, but do know its overall impact is fleeting.