Tag Archives: Mark Wahlberg

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Transformers: The Last Knight is the loudest movie of the year. And it still made me fell asleep. Twice.

Yes, the fifth and latest instalment in the Transformers franchise is, as most expected, very bad. I don’t know if it’s the worst of the lot — mainly because I can’t remember any of them after the solid first one — but it sure feels the same old crap that Michael Bay keeps rolling out, the same old crap that keeps making over a billion dollars at the box office.

This one was supposed to be different, I had some hope for a different kind of Transformers movie after early reports that they gathered a clan of renowned writers to brainstorm new and innovative ideas. Optimism quickly turned to doubt when I heard they were going to go draw from the well of King Arthur, and that Nazis were also going to be involved. It just sounded like they were grasping at straws.

Indeed, neither idea worked well, though I think at least one of them was pivotal to whatever the plot was. I’m still not quite sure what it was all about. All I know is that Marky Mark Walhberg came back for another paycheck, and he dragged Sir Anthony Hopkins along with him. The storyline was simply all over the place, a mish-mash of tired ideas executed much better in other films. You have the Autobots fighting the Decepticons still, with the humans dancing on the sidelines pretending to be relevant. Optimus Prime is for some reason hypnotized by some evil robot, and there’s Sir Anthony Hopkins playing the guy who explains everything, an annoying teenage girl (Isabela Moner) who runs around war zones acting tough, an annoying blue robot who can only say one word, an annoying and obvious rip-off of C3PO, and British Megan Fox (Laura Haddock).

I don’t know why I expected something different from Michael Bay this time.

Anyway, despite all the explosions and car chases and robot-fighting action, Tranformers: The Last Knight is mind-numbingly dull. And it’s 149 minutes long. Marky Mark is a professional and does his best to pretend he’s not in utter trash, but all the other returning characters appear to have no idea why they are in the film, or care. Josh Duhamel is back as a military commander who again does almost nothing, while John Turturro spends most of his time acting like an idiot in Cuba. I don’t remember that Stanley Tucci is in the movie.

As for the newcomers, Sir Anthony Hopkins appears to have a smirk on his face throughout every scene, probably thinking about his bank account. He basically has a role similar to Ian McKellan’s in The Da Vinci Code, ie, a wealthy old man who lives in a mansion and seems to know everything the protagonists need to know, and then goes about explaining it to the audience. British Megan Fox (Haddock) is basically just that, except she plays an Oxford professor (I’m not kidding) with multiple PhDs. She also likes wearing tight outfits, which is all that matters.

The bulk of my disdain goes to this young teenage girl named Izabella (Moner), who is supposed to be this symbol of courage and likable, but turns out to be the complete opposite. She’s like nails on a chalkboard unbearable from the moment she appears on screen. The more the movie tries to make us like her the more I could not stand her. The funny thing is that after the film spends ages building her up to make her seem like the new protagonist of the franchise, she then disappears for pretty much the rest of the movie. Not like I was complaining.

Ultimately, there just isn’t much to like about Transformers: The Last Knight. Stupid premise, stale ideas. Tons of pointless exposition. Tasteless and unfunny humour. Unlikable characters. Poor performances. Cringeworthy dialogue. Way too long. It’s very messy and noisy. And despite all the crazy robot fights and excellent special effects (which, let’s face it, we’ve all seen before), it simply isn’t exciting or compelling to watch. I honestly fell asleep twice, and the second time was when the film was in the middle of its climactic final battle. I guess that says it all.

1.5 star out of 5

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I finally got around to watching Deepwater Horizon, hailed by many as one of the biggest “pleasant surprises” of 2016. I intentionally avoided the trailer and the poster looked fairly generic, so I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I had seen Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg collaborate on Lone Survivor, which was pretty decent, and I heard their next project, Patriots Day, is a real winner. Incidentally, all three movies are based on true stories.

Anyway, while I knew Deepwater Horizon was about the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I had expected the movie to be an action flick where Marky Mark springs into action to save the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I got instead was a pure disaster movie with incredible tension and spectacular visuals, while at the same time remaining respectful to those who sadly lost their lives in the tragedy. There are heroic elements, but the characters are not painted as heroes, merely victims.

The film begins as you would expect a film of this kind to begin, introducing us to the key characters and their normal lives. There is a bit of a lead-up to the beginning of the disaster itself, though it never comes across as time filler. The ominous vibe is handled really well, and even though you know what’s about to happen there is still a sense of unease and dread.

And when it finally hits — wow. I have not been so afraid of fire since watching Backdraft as a kid — which incidentally also starred Kurt Russell. In fact, Deepwater Horizon actually reminds me a lot of Backdraft, from the sense of danger to the deft explanations of the technical aspects of the science. Not that you need to know how oil rigs work to enjoy the movie, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

I’m sure Berg took a lot of liberties in the telling of the story, but it felt real, looked real, and sounded real. The visuals and sound are both very important because there are so many explosions and fires, and for the most part, the special effects are seamless. You feel the force of it all, without ever feeling like it’s just CGI.

Sure, there is not much time for character development. That said, you do get a sense of who each character is, though I’m not sure if that’s good writing/directing or just because there are so many recognisable faces. You’ve got Marky Mark and Kurt Russell, of course, as members of the rig team. Kate Hudson plays Marky Mark’s wife, while John Malkovich, as you would expect, plays a dickish BP executive. Gina Rodriguez plays a rig navigation office, and Dylan O’Brien (the lead from the Maze Runner franchise) is member of the drilling team.

In all, Deepwater Horizon is deserving of its “highly underrated” status. Accuracy aside, it’s a shame the film didn’t even make back its budget because it is definitely one of the more spectacular movies of 2016. It’s very hard to pull off a serious disaster movie that is not only gripping but has a bit of heart as well. Berg manages to do it without ever making the film feel exploitative. Definitely worth catching this one if you haven’t already.

4 stars out of 5

Daddy’s Home (2015)

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Will Ferrell’s comedy has always been an acquired taste. For me it’s a little hit and miss, even when it comes to his best stuff, like Anchorman. Which is why is surprises me to say that I laughed a lot when watching Daddy’s Home, his latest effort and second collaboration with Marky Mark Wahlberg (with the first being The Other Guys).

The premise is this: Ferrell plays Brad, a bit of a wuss who is stepdad to two kids after marrying the lovely Sarah (Linda Cardellini). As the title suggests, the biological father of the kids, cool dad Dusty, suddenly announced he is dropping by for a visit. Chaos ensues as the two grown men battle it out to one up each other in the daddy stakes.

One of the advantages I had when watching Daddy’s Home was that I didn’t see much of the trailers, which I assume spoiled some of the film’s best jokes. Having also been underwhelmed by The Other Guys, I went into this one with low expectations. And perhaps I was in the right mood for some stupidity, because I certainly laughed a lot throughout Daddy’s Home, easily obliterating the 6-laugh test for a good comedy.

If you’ve seen any Will Ferrell comedy you’ll know his style — moronic, awkward and with a touch of the random, plus some over-the-top slapstick. A lot of the gags in Daddy’s Home are indeed stupid and immature, but for the most part I think it does a good job of being crude without falling into gross-out, vulgar or gratuitous comedy.

The strength of the film still lies in the charismatic paring of Ferrell and Walhberg, who has proven many times that he has the comedic chips when called upon to display them. They already had great chemistry in The Other Guys, but that film felt like it tried too hard to create gags out of the police action premise. This time, being in a domestic setting, the ambitions are lower but as a result the jokes are also simpler and more effective. Part of it also stems from the design of their characters’ personalities, which suit the actors really well and allows them to play off each other with a lot of juvenile fun, but never in a vicious way. Maybe it’s because I’m a father too, because I can certainly appreciate the lengths grown men would go to impress their kids.

The supporting cast is also great, in particular Hannibal Buress, who is funny more because of his delivery than his actual lines, and Thomas Haden Church, who digs back into the archives of Ned and Stacey fora classic deadpan performance. I do wish Linda Cardellini could have been a little more than just the straight-face character though because she can definitely deliver laughs when given the chance.

There are of course a fair share of misses along the way, though in my opinion the jokes that don’t work are easily outweighed by the ones that do. I particularly liked the basketball set piece, which was hilarious just from the perspective of it being a playoff game between the cellar-dwelling Lakers and Pelicans and Kobe still being a dominant player!

In all, this is one of Will Ferrell’s more likable comedies in recent years. While it perhaps doesn’t take full advantage of the satirical possibilities the premise offers, it is a film that plays to Ferrell’s strengths as a comedian while minimising his annoying tendencies that tend to make watching his movies cumbersome after a while. He seems comfortable in this family setting and with the character he plays, and as a result the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It might not be a classic or even a memorable film, but as a generic, formulaic stupid comedy, Daddy’s Home is plenty of fun.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Ted 2 (2015)

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Seth MacFarlane is a talented guy with a sharp tongue and a crass sense of humour. While he can polarize audiences, his first feature film, Ted, was a smash hit that made nearly US$550 million on a US$51 million budget and earned surprisingly positive reviews from critics.

And so of course a sequel would be inevitable. Ted 2 is, like its predecessor, a mixed bag, with some big hits and a fair share of misses. I saw Ted back in 2012 when it first came out so it’s hard to remember clearly, but I don’t recall laughing as hard during that as when I watched Ted 2, which has a decent handful of explosive belly laughs. Strictly speaking, however, while it’s probably not as “good” as the original, it’s possible that Ted 2 is the funnier film, pound for pound and laugh for laugh.

For those who don’t know, the concept behind Ted is that a kid, John Bennett (who grows up to be Marky Mark Wahlberg) once made a wish that his toy bear (Ted, voiced by Seth MacFarlane) would come to life — and that wish came true. It made world headlines when it first happened, but 30 years later no one gives a shit anymore. John and Ted are still best friends, but they are also a couple of sophomoric stoners who do a lot of stupid and crazy things.

Ted 2 is more or less a continuation of that adventure, though this time it centers on Ted’s struggle to be recognised as a human being in a historic court case that is basically a thinly veiled reference to the civil rights movement and gay marriage. With Mila Kunis unable or unwilling to return for whatever reason, Ted 2 takes on a new direction with a new female lead played by the lovely Amanda Seyfried, a new lawyer with a penchant for weed and personality very much like John, presenting a stark contrast to the ex who kept trying to change him.

I was pleasantly surprised that MacFarlane actually put some effort into piecing together a fresh and coherent new storyline. He honestly could have just phoned it in and collected his cheque, so kudos to him for at least trying to create a premise that offers deeper insights than your typical stupid comedy while also providing a solid platform for more offensive and disgusting humour.

The gags come fast and furious (no pun intended) in Ted 2 and they come in all shapes and sizes (ditto). MacFarlane just keeps throwing them at the audience and eventually something will stick. It’s doesn’t necessarily make for a rounded experience but at least it’s a often a damn funny one. There were moments where I went, “You can do better than this,” but also others where I was in awe of McFarlane’s quick wit and demented mind.

The film is at its best when the jokes are less staged. It’s often the off-the-cuff remarks and actions of the characters that elicit the most laughs, whereas the more elaborate jokes MacFarlane takes time to execute tend to be less funny or fall flat by the time the punchline comes. It helps that Marky Mark and MacFarlane have fantastic chemistry and can engage in rapid-fire exchanges with ease, and that Amanda Seyfried is able to slide in between them seamlessly (again, no pun intended).

The supporting cast also deliver some great gags and lines. Tom Brady is involved in a doozy that took up more screen time than I had expected, while Patrick Warburton is fantastic just popping up randomly and being a dick. My favourite, however, still has to be Giovanni Ribisi, who returns as the psychotic Donny from the first film and is thirsty for revenge. The always welcome Morgan Freeman also has a small role — shockingly, not as God or the narrator — though he doesn’t get down and dirty as much as I would have liked.

There are aspects to Ted 2 that I didn’t like or didn’t find funny, but there are enough jokes that hit the bulls-eye for me to rate it above many smarter, more consistent comedies that don’t quite generate the full on, gut-busting laughs. I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t get offended or grossed-out too easily.

4 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VII

The Forger (2014)

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It feels like John Travolta hasn’t done anything in a while, or at least anything worth mentioning. His latest effort, The Forger, is unlikely to alter that perception.

In this moody crime drama Travolta plays a master forger of masterpieces (I know, he looks just like one, right?), who strikes a deal with nasty gangsters to get out of jail earlier. Of course, it’s because they want him for his skills so they can commit a robbery, but you could forget that watching this film because most of the time is spent on the relationship between Travolta and his son (Tye Sheridan), who sadly is dying from cancer. Christopher Plummer plays Travolta’s dad and Abigail Spencer (from Suits) plays a detective on his track.

As a crime thriller The Forger is terrible. There’s no suspense and no feeling that any of it even matters. It’s no wonder the film is universally panned for how boring it is.

As a father-son drama, on the other hand, I think there are some nice moments stemming from this wish-granting subplot Travolta gets into. Consequently, I don’t think the film is as bad as it has been made out to be.

Travolta is pretty much always the same as he’s always been, though I believe the tragic death of his teenage son a few years back may have prompted him to take on this role and given his performance an added layer of emotion. Christopher Plummer is always good, but it’s Tye Sheridan who stands out by proving once again (after Mud with Mr Alright Alright McConaughey) that he has a bright future ahead of him.

It’s obviously not great, and most critics seem to disagree, but I don’t think The Forger is a bad random DVD hire.

3 stars out of 5

The Loft (2014)

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Every now and then you get a film like The Loft — a forgettable B-grade thriller with a roster full of recognisable names and faces. In this case we’re talking Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and the Transformers blonde Aussie duo of Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Lucas.

It’s hard to give you an idea of what the film is about without a little detail. Basically, the loft is a sleaze-pad shared by five married friends (the above four actors plus Matthias Schoenaerts) to use for rendezvous with girlfriends, mistresses, one-night stands and so forth. Classy, I know.

But of course, something terrible happens and they have to figure out how to resolve the problem and solve a mystery while they’re at it. It’s actually a remake of a Dutch-language Belgian film from 2008 that must have done well enough to get Hollywood’s attention.

On paper it looks good. Respectable, good-looking cast, a locked room mystery of sorts with flashbacks and a whole load of twists and turns that will kind of keep you guessing. I can see the attraction of such a project.

However, The Loft has a fatal flaw: the characters are just so sleazy, so disgusting, so despicable and such degenerates that they are completely unworthy of sympathy and incapable of invoking any empathy. They’re more than just people with loose morals — some of them are genuinely sick.

As a result you’re just watching a bunch of dickheads get what they deserve and a couple of cardboard female characters act like a couple of cardboard female characters.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to like or care about he characters for a movie to work. Unfortunately, The Loft doesn’t have the requisite elements to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It’s just not satisfying enough, not intelligent enough, not campy enough and not so-bad-it’s-good enough.

Despite all this, the film passes as a watchable DVD or VOD experience owing to its star-studded cast and having just enough intrigue to not be boring. Just don’t expect too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Gambler

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I really wanted to give The Gambler its own individual post, but sadly it doesn’t deserve it. I was naturally partial to this film given that it is the follow-up effort of Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I desperately wanted The Gambler to be awesome.

However, while the film does have some intriguing aspects and nice moments, I can’t in good conscience proclaim it a good movie.

A remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan, The Gambler is the tale of Marky Mark Whalberg’s Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a crippling gambling addiction. He’s one of those “all or nothing” guys who never knows when to quit, and the self-destructive habit pushes him to the edge after he begins borrowing money from the wrong people (John Goodman, Michael K Williams, etc), much to the disappointment of his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange, who is excellent in her few scenes).

Wyatt infuses the film with a lot of style and a deliberate pace that results in a completely different type of experience to Apes. It’s not unentertaining and never gets dull, but there’s ultimately not enough substance to elevate it to what it could have been.

Part of the reason is that Bennett isn’t a very likable character. He’s interesting, but he’s also a complete asshole, making him hard to root for or sympathise with. Marky Mark is pretty good, so it’s not his fault.

I’m also deducting some points for the film’s depiction of a basketball game, which is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it saps much of the tension of what is supposed to be a climactic part of the film. Thankfully the gambling scenes were executed much better.

I really wanted to like The Gambler more, but unfortunately it’s just an average and somewhat forgettable remake.

2.5 stars out of 5

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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This Is Where I Leave You is a “light and nice” family drama film (ie, about a family, as opposed to for the family) bolstered by one of the best ensemble casts of 2014.

It’s based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper and is directed by Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum films, Date Night and The Internship. This one is better than all those films because of its depth and cast, but the overall feel is somewhat similar — some humour, a dash of gentle drama, and a sugary vibe that takes the heaviness off its life lessons.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, who returns to his hometown following a death in the family and amid person turmoil in his life. There he is reunited with his three siblings (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) and their liberal mother (Jane Fonda), and the film follows their lives over the next few days as they deal with their personal issues and relationships.

Rounding out the amazing cast are names like Rose Byrne, Dax Shepherd, Timothy Oliphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn and Abigail Spencer.

They laugh, they cry, they fight and they reflect on life, pondering what could have been and where they are heading. Everyone is at a different stage in life and has problems and regrets they must face.

It is, however, nothing like August: Osage County, another recent family drama with a huge cast. That was heavy stuff and full of emotionally-draining drama; this is much mellower and aims for sweet poignancy and sentimental reflection. Some moments work, very well even, while others feel like it’s trying too hard.

The result is a mixed bag. It’s not my type of film, to be honest, but the cast is so spectacular that you can’t help be drawn in. Each actor plays to their strengths when it comes to the comedy, and you can see their respective personalities shining through. The humour is light but it’s funny enough for the most part, and the drama is sufficiently engaging though ultimately fails to offer anything new. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a waste of the massive pool of talent squeezed into the film.

This Is Where I Leave You is not bad, but it’s certainly nothing special. I quite liked it despite feeling underwhelmed by its failure to come close to reaching its full potential.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Manny (2014)

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Considering what great material the filmmakers had to work with, Manny, the new documentary on eight-weight-class Filipino world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, should have been a sure-fire KO. Instead of delivering the haymakers fans would have loved to see, however, the film ended up pulling its punches all the way through, resulting in a thoroughly unsatisfying experience that barely scratches the surface of both the man and the sport.

On its face, Manny ticks all the right boxes for a sports documentary. A poor Filipino kid from the gutter is forced to box from a young age to put food on the family table, and in the process develops a talent and ferocity that would take him to the very top of the sport. Amid the career highs (such as his superstar-making pummeling of Oscar de la Hoya in 2008) and lows (his KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, for instance) there are celebrity interviews and “rare” public and behind-the-scenes footage, all with the familiar voice of Liam Neeson narrating the script.

But despite an explosive start highlighting Pacquiao’s knockout loss to Marquez, Manny soon settles into conventional documentary mode and begins to skim over the stuff that would have made the film fascinating. It touches on all the things we already know about Pacquiao’s life outside of his major fights — the humble beginnings, the rise through the weight ranks, the movies and singing that came with the stardom, the foray into politics, and the apparent “religious awakening” he would experience a few years ago — but without ever getting to the “good stuff” simmering beneath the surface.

Yes, it was cool to see highlights of his training and big fights — Barrera, Morales, De la Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Margarito, Marquez — in high definition, and it was fun to see celebrities like Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Piven and Jimmy Kimmel talk about him, but all of these things felt superficial.

I wanted to see more footage of Manny’s daily life; I wanted to hear more about the dirty business of boxing and the disputes between his promoter Top Rank and Golden Boy; I wanted to hear about all the venomous groupies that feed of his money and all the cash he literally gives away; I wanted more depth on Manny’s dark side — the gambling and the drinking and the womanizing. It would be unfair to say the film completely ignores these issues, though it barely takes more than a jab at them. The approach by directors Leon Gast (who won the Oscar for the Ali documentary When We Were Kings) and Ryan Moore was to just touch upon all the touchy things and gloss over them quickly before moving onto the more positive aspects of Manny’s existence.

The best parts of the movie are when we see people close to Manny talk about him, from adviser Michael Koncz and ex-conditioning coach Alex Ariza to his long-time coach Freddie Roach and promoter Bob Arum. The bits with the most emotion actually all involve Pacquiao’s wife Jinkee, the only person who appears to be giving it to the viewers straight. But unfortunately, these flashes of genuine insight into Pacquiao are few and far between.

Perhaps it’s because I already know too much about Pacquiao for Manny to teach me anything new. To be honest, even the 24/7 documentaries produced by HBO before each Pacquiao fight offer more about he subject than this documentary. I just think the film would have been so much more interesting had it dared to venture deeper into things such as Alex Ariza’s unceremonious dumping from Pacquiao’s team and the subsequent feud he developed with Roach and Koncz (not discussed at all), questioning how and what really caused the negotiations with Floyd Mayweather Jr to break down multiple times (nothing apart from a couple of clips anyone could have dug up on YouTube), and some sort of definitive statement about all the allegations of performance enhancing drugs (the elephant in the room).

Even the chronological depiction of Pacquiao’s career missed important chunks. Although the footage is out there, the film ignores Pacquiao’s earlier losses before Morales and his world title fights at the lighter weight class, and completely skips his less inspiring bouts against Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley. I know it’s hard to follow every bout of Pacquiao’s long career, but pretending that some important events of his life don’t even exist makes me question the filmmakers’ objectivity and decision-making.

At the end of the day, Manny is a film that’s more hagiography than documentary. It feels like it has been made by the same people who follow Pacquiao around all day telling him how great he is (they’re what netizens described as “Pactards”). Pacquiao is an interesting, charismatic sportsman who deserves a better biography than what he got here, and this was never more apparent when listening him spew out the awkward lines they wrote for him at the end of the movie.

Having said all that, Manny remains in a position to succeed because of Pacquiao’s immense popularity and fortunate timing — as the long-awaited showdown between him and Mayweather appears to be  getting somewhere at last. Maybe after they finally do fight each other someone else can make a more compelling documentary that can do Manny Pacquaio justice.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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It’s a sad world we live in that Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, is 2014’s most successful movie, not only in Taiwan but around the world.

To be honest, I actually quite like the first Transformers film — watching special-effects-made giant transforming robots battle it out on the big screen while humans ran around screaming and making cheesy jokes was kinda fun. The second film, Revenge of the Fallen, was more of the same, but made some improvements both visually and stylistically, and though I found the experience wearing me down by the end I still felt there were some positives to take out of it. By the time Dark of the Moon rolled around I was firmly entrenched in the anti-Michael Bay crusade. It was far too loud, too long, too abrasive, too obnoxious. It was just too…everything, and it made me wonder how the hell I ever enjoyed the first two.

And so I thought the fourth Transformers film would be a welcome and much-needed fresh start. They kept the machines but got rid of unbearable leading man Shia LeDouche, replacing him with the likable Marky Mark Wahlberg. Instead of unrealistic love interests in the form of Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, they got Marky Mark a daughter (Nicola Peltz), who probably never (mistakenly) thought she’d be a in worse movie than The Last Airbender. They also threw in a new hunky race-car-driving boyfriend, played by Irish actor Jack Reynor. The rest of the cast was filled out by solid veterans like Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammar, all of whom are, let’s face it, looking for a paycheck. Surely it couldn’t be worse, or so I thought.

I don’t know if Age of Extinction is worse than Dark of the Moon when judged as a standalone film, but if you’ve seen the other ones in the franchise you’ve effectively seen them all, and the accumulated damage is something that’s almost impossible to overcome.  Age of Extinction is vintage Michael Bay. It’s 165 minutes of robots blowing shit up and beating the crap out of each other, with the gaps filled in by bad acting, trite dialogue and cheesy humour.

Marky Mark is a struggling — albeit very buffed — inventor (yeah right) who finds a dormant Optimus Prime while trying to ways to pay for his daughter’s college education. Meanwhile, there are some government agents who are trying to kill all robots, good and bad (makes sense to me), a Transformer bounty hunter wreaking havoc, and a desperate need to get the film to China at all cost to appease its Chinese co-producers.

If the film was cut down to about 100-120 minutes and it was the first time I ever watched a Transformers movie, then I can see how I might have enjoyed it. Instead, I spent the entire film trying to shake the feeling that I had seen all of this before, except not as loud, not as excessive, and certainly not as long. After a while, I became totally numb to all the colourful robots causing carnage to each other and their surroundings. Ironically, all the “action” made the film less exciting. It actually wasn’t that easy to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys amid all the rolling around and explosions and shit, and frankly, I didn’t care. And every time I thought the movie was about to end, more stuff happened.

It was just too much of the same, cranked up to 11 (and that’s Michael Bay’s 11, which is like 37 for everyone else). There’s always some special, magic object that bad guys want to get their hands on. For some strange reason humans, who are basically like ants to the Transformers, always tend to be tasked with important things and are the key to saving the universe. The male leads love to act macho but are goofy and love to spew one-liners. The girls are always dressed in tight outfits, love to scream, and have no brains. And there’s always some massive battle in the end where half a city gets destroyed before the humans help the good robots claim an unlikely victory.

I do see attempts to add something fresh to the franchise, like the idea of the Transformer bounty hunter. But seriously — Tranformer dinosaurs? Transformer rabid dogs? Transformer laser guns that are perfectly human-sized for some reason? Ken Watanabe as a Samurai Transformer? And that whole “Chinese elements” crap that dominated the whole second half of the movie. I was more distracted by Li Bingbing trying to speak English and all the cameos from Hong Kong and mainland actors — and even Chinese boxing Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming — than trying to keep up with what was happening in the movie.

Fans of the over-the-top nature of the franchise — and they are clearly in abundance — will likely lap this shit up as they wait for the fifth and sixth instalments, which will probably be exactly the same as every entry except longer and louder. Personally, I can’t imagine anything worse. Transformers was never that good to begin with, but at least it was fun and flashy. What Age of Extinction proves is that the franchise is in dire need of a new direction, something I doubt Michael Bay will grant us as long as he’s raking in the big bucks.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Lone Survivor (2013)

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Lone Survivor tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, about how a team of Navy SEALS tasked to capture a Taliban leader end up fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. I was curious about the film because it features a very stellar cast headed by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film, along with Taylor Kitsch (Battleship, John Carter), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Ben Foster and Eric Bana. On the other hand, it’s directed by Peter Berg, who has had a very mixed record with previous efforts such as The Kingdom, Hancock and Battleship.

War movies based on true stories are always at risk of becoming glamorized or glorified into recruitment propaganda films, like 2012’s Act of Valor, which was a noble effort and solid from an action perspective but too Team America for my liking. Lone Survivor is better than that, though I still had a lot of problems with it.

For starters, the title of the film is incredibly stupid. I know it’s based on the nonfictionbook of the same name, but couldn’t they have come up with something that’s a bit less of a spoiler? Behind Enemy Lines is already taken, but how about something as simple as Operation Red Wings? Even worse than knowing that only one of the four SEALS survive is that you find out which of the four survives in the film’s very first scene (no prizes for guessing who it is). What it means is that you end up watching the movie expecting three of the SEALS to die, and waiting for the surviving SEAL to be rescued, and that really saps a lot of the excitement and suspense out it.

The first half an hour or so of the film sets the stage by introducing us to the SEALS, showing us how heroic and badass they are by always pushing themselves to the limit without fear. It’s supposed to be building the characters so we get to care about them when they are in mortal danger, but instead those scenes feels more like hastily constructed fillers to pad the screen time to two hours. And consequently, apart from Marky Mark, we don’t really know much about the personalities of any of the other characters apart from a bit of perfunctory and cliched fluff (such as emails and calls home, the photos on the walls, etc).

The action sequences which take up the majority of the film are, I admit, very well executed and for the most part come across as authentic and realistic. The four SEALS take on a lot of heavy fire from Taliban soldiers in difficult terrain, and show just how incredibly skilled, tough, courageous and durable they are. The bone crunching sound effects really add to the visceral thrills and tension, though some of the scenes feel a little over the top, and after a while they start to get repetitive. There’s only so many times I want to see people jump from cliffs and roll down hills while smashing into a lot of things. If I want to see that I’ll just watch this scene from Hot Rod.

By the end of the film, however, the realisation of what the SEALS just went through began to dawn on me, and the final scenes ended up being surprisingly emotional. I don’t want to give away probably the only thing the film’s title hasn’t given away already, so I’ll just leave it there.

My conclusion? Great cast and a few effective and exciting action sequences, but nothing that leaves a lasting impression. Better than Act of Valor, but Zero Dark Thirty this is not.

3.25 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part VIII

Movies reviewed: 2 Guns, Red 2, Paranoia, The Last Days on Mars

2 Guns (2013)

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It really does help improve a movie experience when you know absolutely nothing about it when you step inside the cinema. Such was the case when I saw 2 Guns, which on its face looked like just another guns-blazing crime/buddy action comedy starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, with Paula Patton as the obligatory eye candy. Maybe it’s because of this, I found 2 Guns to be surprisingly entertaining and likable, though at the end of the day my assumptions about it proved to be largely correct and I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a couple of years.

Denzel and Marky Mark play two criminals involved in the drug trade with more to them than meets the eye. It has a twisting and turning plot complete with crooked cops, backstabbing and double-crossing, but it’s executed well and in a light and humorous tone. The action itself is nothing special, and the jokes are passable, but the film stays afloat thanks to the banter between the two charismatic leads, who provide different styles that somehow mesh together rather effectively.

Paula Patton made headlines when she apparently demanded nude scenes with Denzel, but apart from that she doesn’t get to do a whole lot. She should not be confused with Bill Paxton, who plays the nasty villain with some personality but ultimately not enough to make him a memorable one.

In the end, 2 Guns is adequately good; a fun time with two bankable stars who appeared to be enjoying themselves, but no effort was made to go that extra mile to elevate itself from the other movies of this type you see every year.

3.25 stars out of 5

Red 2 (2013)

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The 2010 predecessor, Red, was a rollicking ride with cool old people. I wasn’t as high on it as some others, but it was fresh, funny, and different. As expected, the success of that film led to Red 2, which is essentially more of the same — except this time the act gets, pardon the pun, a little old.

Inspired by the comic book series of the same name, Red 2 is about a bunch of ex-CIA operatives who are “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”, and for some reason people want to kill them. The all-star cast is again headed by Bruce Willis (with Mary-Louis Parker as his girlfriend), John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox, and this time they’ve added Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins and Korean star Byung-hun Lee (from GI Joe).

Red 2 is still loud, explosive, crazy, and routinely tongue-in-cheek, but this time around it lacked the charm of the original. The idea was good, but evidently only for one film, and rehashing the same formula failed to deliver the same result. I didn’t really care much about where the plot was heading and the narrative felt like it was all over the place, and the character quirks evolved from affable and sweet to mildly irritating. The occasional amusing one-liner would pop up every now and then, but for most of its excessive 116-minute running time Red 2 was just going through the motions.

A mixed bag, I’m afraid, with probably more bad than good. And of course, a third film is already in the works.

2.5 stars out of 5

Paranoia (2013)

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Every year there is a star vehicle film that appears to have some strong elements but ends up being a real turd. This year’s leading candidate is Paranoia, which could actually end up having the opposite of the intended effect on the career of Liam Hemsworth, brother of Thor and ex of Miley Cyrus. It’s not that horrible, in all fairness, but in context, considering the director (Aussie Robert Luketic, whose credits include Legally Blonde and 21) and the cast (Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Amber Heard, Richard Dreyfuss, Embeth Davidtz, Julian McMahon and Josh Holloway — Sawyer from Lost), Paranoia is an awfully unconvincingly, bland and actually rather boring film about corporate espionage.

Hemsworth works as a low-level employee for a giant corporation run by Oldman. One day, he pisses off his boss and instead of destroying his career is given an opportunity to infiltrate the company of Oldman’s competitor and former mentor (Ford). He accepts, of course, and is seduced by the perks of being a well-paid executive, but as you guessed the rosiness doesn’t last very long. By the way, Dreyfuss is Hemsworth’s dad, Heard is the love interest, and Sawyer is an investigator.

One of the biggest problems with Paranoia is that Hemsworth, as big and hunky as he is, has very little charisma. I don’t put all the blame on him, however, as the pedestrian script probably sapped whatever charisma he had anyway. The other problem is that the plot itself offers no excitement or thrills, and you can basically see all the plot points being ticked off, one by one, as it progresses towards a painfully predictable and cliched ending where the absence of an obligatory twist would have been more of a surprise.

In other words, Paranoia is this year’s Abduction, the Taylor Lautner star vehicle from 2011. That was laughably bad as well, but at least it had some guilty pleasures as we watched Lautner run from place to place while kicking ass. Paranoia, on the other hand, was just stuck in the same place for nearly 2 hours.

1.5 stars out of 5

The Last Days on Mars (2013)

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I love me some Liev Schreiber, the man with the best narration voice in Hollywood (sorry, Morgan Freeman). And even though I couldn’t get into Ray Donovan, I can’t deny that Liev infuses the screen with his icy masculine presence whenever he is around.

All of that has little to do with The Last Days or Mars, essentially a zombie movie set on the red planet. The trailer looked pretty promising so I decided to check it out, but unfortunately, after a strong, atmospheric start, the film fizzles out in the second half and ends up wasting what was a great idea.

Liev leads a crew of astronauts who are about to leave Mars after a half-year post. Less than a day before they are scheduled to depart, one of the crew members discovers potential evidence of life and decides to check it out. Big mistake. That’s right, you guessed it. The discovery unleashes a virus that turns humans into ultra-aggressive zombies!

You can see that it’s an intriguing premise and offers a lot of potential for either fun or serious scares. Sadly, The Last Days on Mars delivers neither. Irish director Ruairí Robinson opted for the straightforward horror route, which is how I preferred it, but fails to deliver freshness or the abundance of thrills that a film like this required. There was too much seriousness and long slabs of lame dialogue, too much contemplation and not enough hardcore zombie interaction. A considered zombie film is not a bad thing, but only if all the drama can add to the effectiveness of the horror or bring out something in the characters for us to root for. In this case, all it does is slow things down. Even the likes of Liev, Romala Garai, Olivia Williams and Elias Koteas could not salvage their respective characters.

That said, I did enjoy the early moments of the film, which I found to be quite creepy. But once the zombies appeared, the film went straight for the contrived plot devices we see too often in such films, including a sudden and complete deprivation of common sense. Considering that it doesn’t ever turn farcical and that it’s running time is a suitable 98 minutes, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that The Last Days on Mars sucked, only that it’s weak and disappointing.

2 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 8

Men in Black 3 (2012)

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I still remember the hype surrounding the original Men In Black in 1997, which officially catapulted Will Smith into big screen superstardom. I also vividly remember watching Men In Black II in 2002, and falling asleep during it. So when Men In Black III, which comes 10 years after the sequel, hit our cinemas, I didn’t have much interest, though I did eventually catch it on DVD.

This time, with Tommy Lee Jones quite literally “too old for this shit,” they got Josh Brolin to play a younger version of Agent K to team up with Will Smith’s Agent J in a plot commonly seen for third movies in a franchise — time travel, in the vein of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (classic film and arcade game).

As expected, MIB III was a tired old affair trying to milk the dollars. It wasn’t horrible, and it was an undoubted upgrade over its immediate predecessor, but there just wasn’t anything that could get me excited. I love aliens as much as the next X-File fan, though in this case they weren’t enough. Josh Brolin was surprisingly good and convincing as the younger Tommy Lee, who still got top billing despite the very limited screen time, though there were just too many Will Smith-esque dry jokes for my liking.

I know some critics found the film unassuming and fun, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. And I can’t believe they have confirmed another one.

2 stars out of 5

Ted (2012)

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I keep reminding myself to watch more of Seth MacFarlane’s stuff, especially the sharp and cutting Family Guy, but for whatever reason I just haven’t found the time. I was fortunate enough to watch Ted on a long-haul flight last year, and notwithstanding the effects of my soothing in-flight Xanax, I found the film to be a cracking good time. Not perfect by any means, but different enough and funny enough to make it one of the standout comedies of the year.

Marky Mark Wahlberg plays John, a kid whose wish that his teddy bear — Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) — would come to life. Sure, they are celebrities for a while, but eventually they grow up and have the face the realities of life, including John’s girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis.

At its core, Ted is a buddy movie where one is a screw-up (in this case the teddy) who holds the other guy back from realizing his full potential, but in all honesty the film is all about the laughs and the crude jokes. The script is somewhat inconsistent, but when it comes to generating laughs, Ted delivers. There are times when MacFarlane tiptoes around the edges of good taste (and in some cases steps over the bounds), but it really depends on what your personal limits are. For me, the vast majority of it was fine, and even the ones that were dangerous elicited a guilty chuckle.

MacFarlane does a wicked Ted, with a low, alcoholic voice laced with a thick Boston accent. Marky Mark is also perfect playing his typical dropkick-with-a-heart-of-gold character, and Mila Kunis shines as his sassy girlfriend. Special mention goes out to Giovanni Ribisi, who delivers a hilarious performance as a psycho obsessed with Ted.

In all, Ted is an acquired taste that may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but as warped as it is the film is also undoubtedly funny.

4 stars out of 5

Flight (2012)

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Denzel being Denzel is pretty much how I would sum up Flight, Robert Zemeckis’s (trying saying that quickly three times) first live action film since the awesome What Lies Beneath from 2000.

Denzel plays Whip, a skilled airline pilot who dabbles in women, alcohol and drugs. But when he miraculously lands a crashing plane and saves nearly everyone on board, he is hailed a hero — until the authorities start looking into his toxicology reports. Should the pilot’s state of mind and body be relevant if it wasn’t his fault that the plane was crashing in the first place? Shouldn’t all that matter be the fact that he saved people’s lives? And just how far would you go to protect your reputation even if it isn’t real? Those are the type of questions Flight asks its viewers.

It’s a fascinating story about truth and addiction and one man’s battle against demons that threaten to consume his life. Denzel is of course brilliant as the complex Whip, which is why he got another Oscar nomination, but the one who stole the show for me was Brit Kelly Reilly (I last saw her in the 2008 horror Eden Lake with Michael Fassbender), who plays a recovering drug addict with demons of her own.

Flight is a heavy drama tackling depressing issues, so there was a sense of gloom throughout the whole film, but you know the emotional lift will come eventually after Whip hits rock bottom. In that sense I found the whole thing a little predictable, though I can’t deny the effectiveness of the dramatic sequences and the performances. It’s one of those films you can appreciate but won’t be much more than a fuzzy memory in a few years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Smiley (2012)

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I was surfing YouTube for film trailers one day at work and I kept seeing ads on the right hand column for this slasher flick called Smiley, featuring a killer with — you guessed it — a mutilated smiley face. The trailer looked generic and horrible but I watched it anyway, and it is a decision I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

In short, Smiley is one of the worst movies of the year. Pathetic and derivative plot, laughable acting and zero scares, not even visceral ones. The idea  is a mish mash rip off of Candyman and Scream — that if you type a silly phrase into a webchat three times, Smiley will show up and kill the person on the other side. Of course, some moronic girl, played by Caitlin Gerard, decides to do it, and watching Smiley kill someone traumatizes her. The bodies then start piling up, and surprise surprise, no one believes her and thinks she’s going crazy. This was about the same point I wondered whether I was going crazy because surely the film could not be this abhorrent. But it was.

Caitlin Gerard is pretty to look at but all that crying and screaming and acting scared convinced no one. Even at 95 minutes I wondered regularly if the film was ever going to end. The end.

0.5 stars out of 5