Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg
Release date: August 8th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: The mountainside action sequence.
Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.
In 2004’s comedy gold-mine Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy, Steve Carell’s character Brick Tamland screams: “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!”. He hurriedly follows it up with: “Loud noises!”. This moment of slapstick genius, raised by Tambland’s borderline-mentally-challenged persona, sums up almost every modern blockbuster. For every Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a turgid mess like Transformers: Age of Extinction escapes from hell soon after. So, how much worse could it get? Well…
Further damaging hack director/producer Michael Bay’s critical reputation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the latest big-budget extravaganza to shoot through theatres diarrhoea style. Causing more suffering than Ebola, ISIS, and Manchester United combined, this reboot/remake/prequel experiment delivers significantly more foibles than fun moments. A kitchen-sink-like basin for clinical blockbuster tropes, the latest TMNT instalment is as bland, banal, and boring as…this franchise’s other instalments. Destroying the original live-action trilogy’s good will, this cinematic hiccup/burp/fart concoction elevates the preceding entry(2007’s misjudged animated effort)’s status. The story, such as it is, is as damaging, slick, and sleep-inducing as a tranquilizer dart. Thanks to a clever opening animated sequence, the movie immediately delves into our favourite heroes in a half-shell(spoiled for choice, really)’s origin story. Four turtles and one rat, having escaped a life-threatening situation, fall into New York City’s sewers, become exposed to radiation, and mutate into bizarre human/animal hybrids. Looked after by Master Splinter (Motion-captured by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), our evergreen team – Leonardo (mo-capped by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – places itself in harm’s way to protect Manhattan’s citizens from crime and corruption.
Megan Fox & Will Arnett.
Scouring the city as ruthless vigilantes, our team searches for infamous terrorist group The Foot Clan. TMNT, born from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s black-and-white comic book series, has inspired TV iterations, toy lines, celluloid-driven fumbles, and pop-rock bands. Despite the immense success, there’s one thing everyone’s forgotten: the original concept was satirical. Warped by marketing strategies and contrasting generations, this franchise is commercialism’s unholy nadir. Despite the stellar 2D animation, the aforementioned opening sequence sums up everything wrong about this reboot. Recycling obvious, well-known information, the movie drops its guard and surrenders to creativity’s biggest villain: The Man. Bafflingly so, the movie focuses primarily on several uninteresting and annoying human characters. Inexplicably, we follow eager TV reporter April O’Neil(Megan Fox)’s journey to find our reptilian renegades and discover the truth about her past. Pulling plucky sidekick Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) and suspicious plutocrat Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) into this lazy adventure, the narrative is a laboured collection of superhero origin tropes, franchise reboot cliches, and set pieces stolen from similar popcorn-chompers. In addition, the story’s coincidence-driven mythology is as believable as, well, weapon-wielding terrapins fighting robot samurais. Bringing April’s dad into the mix, the movie’s comparisons to the Amazing Spider-Man series rest in plain sight. Despite replacing ninjutsu with shootouts, this action flick starts kissing the asian film market’s behind before you can say: “cowabunga!”.
Never delving beyond its slime-covered surface, the story pushes its titular team into the background. Restricted to a fleeting sub-plot, defined by overworked comic-relief tropes, the turtles’ battle with arch-villain shredder is picked up and dropped sporadically. This entire project reeks of studio desperation and a lack of enthusiasm. Delivering another nostalgia-drenched franchise kicker, this – like many before it – is ruined by a shoddy director. Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) shell-shocks blockbuster fans and TMNT aficionados. Turning a lucrative idea into disposable dross, the South African filmmaker’s hack-and-slash style doesn’t deliver satisfying or even disarming entertainment. Unaware of the core demographic, Liebesman’s adaptation lurches from laugh-less jokes to punishing violence to overt sexual references to dreary warrior speeches about honour, fate, and destiny. Made strictly for financial gain, its ingredients allude to other, more successful, studio efforts including Transformers and G. I. Joe. Causing a Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper-esque debacle, Bay lays his overbearing style on thick throughout. Lathered with product placement, lens flares, useless slo-mo, and non-stop camera movement, his style resembles a teenager on Red Bull and uppers. The action, despite the heavy CGI and occasional impressive moment, is wildly hit and miss. The mountainside set-piece, reminiscent of the Morocco sequence from The Adventures of Tintin, provides a slight reprieve from surrounding dross.
Labeling this a ‘product’ would be playing into Bay and his production company(Platinum Dunes)’s desires. TMNT, thanks to its cringe-worthy narrative and personality-free style, might mark the high point of blockbuster fatigue. Stripping the franchise of wit, charm, or life, this entry turns this series into a shell of its former self. Driven by lacklustre performances, exhaustive direction, and a derivative story, this isn’t worth anyone’s free time. Save your movie and pizza money for something less…shell-fish.
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz
Release Date: June 27th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 165 minutes
Best part: The CGI-fuelled slo-mo shots.
Worst part: The egregious run-time.
Throughout Hollywood’s latest bowel movement, Transformers: Age of Extinction, we are subjected to idiotic characters who know more about pop-culture and filmmaking than anyone involved with the production itself. At one point, a senile retiree complains about Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels and remakes. At another point, the comic relief pokes fun at this franchise’s infamous foibles. Afterwards, another character defines a ‘flaw’ as a “serious failure”.
Obviously, this would mean something if this series had been placed in the right hands. Unfortunately, all we can do now is sit back and watch the collapse of blockbuster cinema under the terrifying reign of multi-billionaire hack Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbour). Marking itself as the defining point of ‘big-budget schlock fatigue’, Transformers: Age of Extinction relies on shrieking families and hormonal teenagers. Beating his audiences to a pulp, Bay knows that a single person conveys significantly more intelligence than a large group of people. Rushing into the cinema, said crowds have made this instalment the year’s most profitable movie. I used to defend this franchise for being “fun” and “exhilarating”. Nowadays, I look back on my younger self and laugh at his overwhelming stupidity. Of course, for my loyal readers, I should at least make an effort to describe this instalment’s underwritten and overcooked story. I know, words like ‘narrative’ and ‘subtext’ don’t belong anywhere near this series. However, to launch into my searing hatred of Bay’s latest cinematic slip-up, I should point out just how dumb everything is about it. First off, I’ll delve into the ‘human’ aspects of this horrific mess. On the modest side of this disastrous flop, we have farmer/roboticist/man-child Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Living by his stupid name, his immature antics threaten he and his daughter Tessa(Nicola Peltz)’s livelihoods. With eviction and embarrassment looming over them, Yeager’s aspirations clash with major obstacles.
In a better world, this story-thread would’ve fit perfectly into this monstrous action flick. Sadly, with Bay at the helm, this sequel’s narrative sluggishly transitions from bad to worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love blockbusters of all shapes and sizes. I regularly review Summer tentpoles to gain an informed perspective on pop-culture and modern entertainment. However, I can’t possibly defend anything as hackneyed, pointless, and dumbfounding as Transformers: Age of Extinction. In fact, with my laundry list of criticisms in tow, it’s difficult pinpointing anything even remotely worthwhile here! From the opening frame, Ehren Kruger’s wafer-thin script becomes lost in a barrage of questionable concepts, trite character arcs, and hokey emotional beats. Within the first third, the familial drama turns this gargantuan extravaganza into a cheesy and stupefying miscalculation. In addition, along with the Marky Mark’s family woes, the movie throws several more plot-lines into this bloated and inconsistent concoction. An elite task force called Cemetery Wind – headed up by alien bounty hunter Lockdown, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), and spec-ops ‘badass’ James Savoy (Titus Welliver) – has been assigned to kill the remaining Autobots and Decepticons. In addition, egomaniacal tech-head Joshua Joynes(Stanley Tucci)’s has developed a new element labelled, you guessed it, Transformium. Like the preceding Transformers sequels, these narrative threads are cumbersomely and nonsensically thrown together.
“I think we just found a Transformer!” (Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers: Age of Extinction).
Optimus Prime doin’ his thing!
Used specifically to jump from one action sequence to another, this instalment’s bloated plot delivers more plot-holes and irritating moments than two M. Night Shyamalan disasters and Prometheus combined. Why are Tessa and her boyfriend bound by Romeo & Juliet laws? Why do Yeager and co. tag along with the Autobots? Why are US Government forces killing some robots whilst creating more powerful ones? Seriously, this review could just consist entirely of these questions! However, pathetically, people turn out see gigantic CG-driven creations smash into one another for interminable periods. At a whopping 165 minutes, the question must be asked – does a Transformers flick really need that much time to gestate? No, of course it doesn’t! Protecting our annoying lead characters, the Transformers themselves are given short shift. Pushed literally and figuratively into the background, our Autobot buddies are defined by phoney speeches, heavy-duty weapons, and dated stereotypes. Along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee (both poorly represented here), the movie throws in a cigar-chomping truck (John Goodman), a Samurai/helicopter (Ken Watanabe), and a trench-coat/wing-donning Aussie-bot. Beyond the glaring flaws, including the hit-and-miss CGI, Bay still delivers a few inspired shots and set-pieces. Infatuated with explosions and product placement, the coked-up buffoon is let off the leash in the final third. The China set-piece, set up specifically to attract an asian demographic, provides some relief for this otherwise damaging experience. Bafflingly so, however, the marketing-drenched Dinobots show up late to the party – given only 15-20 minutes of screen-time.
Can you believe $210 million went into this irritating and exhaustive schlock?! Nope? Well, neither do I. Sadly, beyond our control, the studios are throwing, and will continue to throw, money at Bay and his ongoing ‘vision’. Bay, with all his bigger-is-better gusto, has delivered the ultimate example of overcompensation. Destroying his already damaged reputation, Bay’s latest effort proves his worth as little more than an Independence Day fireworks show technician.
Verdict: Bay’s catastrophic descent into director hell.
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Pete Collins (articles)
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
Release date: August 8th, 2013
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 129 minutes
Best part: Dwayne Johnson.
Worst part: The Michael Bay-isms.
Remember the 1990s? It was a far more peaceful time – back when boy bands ruled the airwaves, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air skyrocketed to mega-popularity, and Internet Explorer was still relevant. As a 90s kid, I look fondly back on this time and continually find more glaring similarities and differences between then and now. In the 90s, Miami, Florida was home to one of the most shocking crimes in US history. Action-comedy Pain & Gain is the ‘Michael Bay-directed’ account of this tragic event.
Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson& Anthony Mackie.
I used quotation marks in the previous sentence to make a specific point about this movie. Bay (Armageddon, the Transformers trilogy) is one of the most controversial directors in tinsel-town history. Many blame him for the death of modern cinema (Pearl Harbour was undoubtedly a huge misstep!) and continually criticise his ear-and-eyeball-shatteringly-brash style. However, his bombastic popcorn flicks have supported many careers and studios (dammed with faint praise). Since his filmography is a mixed bag (to say the least), Pain & Gain may just be his magnum opus. This hauntingly vile yet exciting and visceral action-comedy repeatedly states that it’s ‘based on a true story’. In the first three minutes, we see body-builder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) impressively performing sit ups shortly before running from a barrage of policemen. The movie then steps back a few months, and Lugo is working for the man. Lugo, an over-worked yet optimistic personal trainer at Miami’s Sun Gym, is forced to work with high-paying client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Inspired by self-help guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo asks work-mate Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him kidnap Kershaw and steal all his worldly possessions. However, their incompetent plan is met with hostility from Kershaw, former detective Ed Du Bois III (Ed Harris) and Miami’s steamy criminal underbelly.
What follows is a tale of violence, tyranny, anguish, emotional turmoil, and dream chasing. Yes, this movie is a stew filled with chases, enviable settings, disturbing violence, and A-list actors (you know, the ‘typical’ Hollywood movie ingredients). However, Pain & Gain startlingly deviates from what a standard run-of-the-mill action-comedy would do. Turning this horrific yet though-provoking true story into a relentless farce is a bizarre premise in itself. Here, Bay throws preconceptions of all kinds out the window. His idea of the ‘American Dream’ is clichéd and shallow, but it makes for a topical, discomforting, and enthralling movie-going experience. Pain & Gain clearly suggests that life is not worth living unless you have reasonable goals, a can-do attitude…and enviable possessions. In keeping with these pessimistic messages (such as they are), Bay’s superficial world (seen in all of his movies) is depicted here as a lugubrious, slimy, and morally weak black hole. Bay’s mean-spirited and chauvinistic creation knowingly points out the dangers that come of economic turmoil and unadulterated obsession. Thankfully, the familiar yet refreshing crime-thriller aspects keep this controversial movie in check. Throughout Pain & Gain, Bay alerts us to that split second when the lead characters go from laughably bumbling morons to villainous, delusional, and selfish delinquents. Despite the aforementioned abrupt tonal shifts, Bay makes sure the audience can ably laugh at, but never with, the three anti-heroes.
Ultimately, Bay proves with Pain & Gain that he has the potential to create gleefully satirical, dark, and multi-layered action flicks (and who on Earth saw that coming?!) Despite Pain & Gain’s glowing positives, Bay’s sexist, racist, homophobic, manic, and atmospheric directorial ticks are on display once again. His crass/frat-boy-like filmmaking style/sense of humour overshadows everything he touches. Bay’s repetitive and abrasive approach may test well with audiences, but he needs to branch out if he wants to be treated like an adult. If Hollywood were a high school, The Coen Brothers would be the popular, talented kids whilst Bay would be the nerdy youngster with a creepy yet obvious crush. In fact, Pain & Gain, conceptually and narratively, draws major comparisons to Burn After Reading and Fargo. However, whereas those crime-dramas are consistent, intelligent, and punchy, this movie fails to come up a clever, original or subtle stylistic choice. Bay delivers yet another blood, sweat, and expletive-filled universe. The 90s, by this movie’s standards, glistens with jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodies, bright lights, bold colours, and stereotypical comic reliefs. For some reason, many shots zoom through bullet holes and around characters. I’ve also never understood his obsession with low angles, explosions, and gratuitous slo-mo. Unequivocally, It’s the Bay-isms that distract from what the movie is trying to say about wealth, masculinity, power, and friendship.
“Jesus Christ Himself has blessed me with many gifts! One of them is knocking someone the f*uck out!” (Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Pain & Gain).
The Sun Gym gang.
If you find True Romance/Out of Sight-esque crime-capers annoying and pretentious, you should probably check out Now You See Me instead. Like Now You See Me, the A-list cast elevates the mediocre material. Unlike that movie, however, Pain & Gain isn’t entirely brainless. Aided by the enjoyably silly yet unique narration, this movie highlights the aesthetic and magnetic qualities of its performers. Wahlberg’s enigmatic and captivating screen presence elevates his strange yet fascinating role. Used to playing hard-nosed cops and criminals, Wahlberg could’ve done this in his sleep. However, his wacky character is a steroid-filled shot to this movie’s heart. Emulating such masculine figures as Tony Montana, Rocky Balboa and Michael Corleone (“I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing!”), Lugo believes his muscle-fuelled lifestyle will bolster his ridiculous and disgusting get-rich-quick scheme. Despite his dim-wittedness, Lugo’s blissful ignorance and persistence are, at points, hilariously charming traits (similarly to his Boogie Nights character). The Stand out performer here is Johnson. Coming off G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast and Furious 6, Johnson has established himself in 2013 as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone-type action hero. Able to inject charisma, physicality, and grit into any role, Johnson in Pain & Gain balances wit, magnetism, and an inhumanly muscular frame to turn in a nuanced performance. His hysterically zany character, obsessed with Jesus and Cocaine (what a combination!), is a truly affecting and disturbing creation. I hope we see more of Mackie after his enjoyable performance here. Shalhoub, Jeong, and Harris deliver charismatic turns in small roles. On the other end of the spectrum, a little of Rebel Wilson’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way!
Turning this impactful true story into a pulsating action-comedy would’ve been an ambitious and incomprehensible task. However, Bay has done a remarkable job with allowing us to laugh at these absurdly dumb characters. Pain & Gain is an outlandish, insane, and lurid movie about the American Dream.
Verdict: A relentless, punchy yet bizarre action-comedy.