Tag Archives: Shia Labeouf

Movie Review: Fury (2014)

fury-poster

I was surprised to see that Fury has received generally positive reviews and performed very well at the box office — not because it’s a crap film, but because I’ve heard almost zero buzz about it since its release. Indeed, the film has been overlooked completely at the upcoming Oscars, and no one is calling it a snub.

After finally watching the film with tempered expectations, I’m calling Fury a borderline snub. It might be treading on familiar territory, and it’s certainly not be the most memorable war film out there, but the overall production — from David Ayer’s script and direction to the performances from the all-star cast — is simply too good for Fury to be called anything but an A-grade movie.

As with most coming-of-age war movies, Fury is told from the perspective of a young and naive young man not prepared for the horrors of war. In this case the protagonist is Norman (Logan Lerman, aka Percy Jackson), who is assigned to the crew of Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), chief of the fictional WWII tank Fury.

Together with a veteran crew — played by an interesting ensemble featuring Shia LaBeouf, typically comedic actor Michael Pena and Walking Dead alum John Bernthal –Norman is thrown into the deep end, where he must learn to kill or be killed.

Those who have seen Ayer’s previous films (End of Watch, Sabotage) know they’re in for a gritty, violent experience that puts an emphasis on realism and well-rounded characters. Fury is a visceral affair, with plenty of explosions, ripped limbs, bodies getting shredded by bullets and exploding heads. It heightens the sense of reality and also offers a sobering reminder of how cheap life is in times of war.

Both the Americans and Germans are depicted as humans as opposed to WWII stereotypes, with even individual members of the Fury crew showing shades of good, bad and in between. When it comes to the battlefield, however, there is a camaraderie and trust that allows them to put their differences aside, adding further depth to the narrative and the characters.

As expected, the cast delivers, with Brad Pitt’s Wardaddy standing out as a complex leader hardened by the realities of war, his ruthless exterior mixed in with moments of tenderness and kindness. And as much as he might be a douche in real life, Shia LaBeouf demonstrates once again that he’s one of the most remarkable young actors of his generation, even with that horrible moustache on his face. Logan Lerman has been the lead in coming-of-age dramas before (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), so he’s right at home as the innocent Norman. Michael Pena showed he could do drama in End of Watch, which is probably why Ayer brought him back, and we all know after The Walking Dead that Jon Bernthal can play an a-hole to perfection. It’s a superb cast, with each member of the crew having moments that belong exclusively to them.

The only real knock I have against the film is that it doesn’t tell us anything new or offer anything we haven’t seen before. It doesn’t exactly try to avoid war cliches, though I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it embraces them. It’s as though the film had ambitions to be great, but didn’t quite know what to do to get there. Having said that, I can’t deny Fury succeeds as an engaging war drama fuelled by strong performances and tense, realistic battle sequences. It might not be one of the best war movies of all-time, but it’s certainly one of the better war movies in recent years.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

transformers-age-of-extinction-poster

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: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (3D) (2011)

I’m a sucker for big blockbusters and they don’t come much bigger or louder than Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon (let’s just call it Transformers 3).  And even after telling anyone who would listen that 3D is a complete waste of money, I inexplicably forked out the extra dough for the 3D experience. (Why am I such a tool?  Is it because Transformers 3 was allegedly filmed with the same 3D cameras as Avatar, the only worthy 3D film I’ve seen?)

Anyway, I had heard some good things about the film (apparently ‘the best of the series so far’) and I knew Steven Spielberg was an executive producer, so I had reasonably high hopes.  But ultimately, while it was visually spectacular, full of star power and contained some fairly good action sequences and clever ideas, Transformers 3 was one insanely overlong, unnecessarily convoluted and uncompelling disappointment.

The Story

Transformers 3 takes off not long after Transformers 2 finished.  Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has just graduated college and is looking for a job, while his Autobot friends have all but abandoned him for top secret government missions.  Megan Fox’s Mikaela is of course gone after that very public dismissal, replaced by British lingerie model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (horrible replacement in my opinion, and it’s not just because she has a Cameron Diaz-ish face), who plays Carly, his new girlfriend.  A bunch of stuff happens and as it turns out it was all related to the original Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 (hence ‘Dark of the Moon‘).  Autobots and Decepticons fight, humans get in the way, things get blown up.

Stunning Visuals

The good thing about Transformers 3 is that visually, it is another step above the previous two films, which were already amazing.  I’m not sure if it was the 3D (I highly doubt it), but from memory the robots from the first two films were not this finely animated, to the point where you could see each scratch mark on the outer shells and every little piece of machinery moving inside.  And as I recall, the robot fight scenes in the previous films (especially the first one) were criticised for not being very clear — there are no such issues in this one.  Every move, every thrust of the sword, every blast of the gun is crystal clear in Transformers 3 (complete with crafty slow motion shots for emphasis), creating by far the best robot-on-robot battles in the series yet.

Tremendous Action

Speaking of battle scenes, there were some whoppers.  Sure they were improbable and ridiculous, but man they were fun.  Without giving away too much, there was one particular sequence inside a building that ranks as the best in the franchise.

Having said that, we’re accustomed to expecting wild, crazy action from Transformers, so to some it might not be anything special.  I guess that’s also true to some extent because, to be honest, we’ve seen most of these action sequences before (there’s only so much robots can do), just not with such great execution.

Alternate History

Another thing I liked about Transformers 3 was the clever intermeshing of real-life people and events, something I enjoyed immensely in the recent X-Men: First Class.  In this case, it was the Apollo moon landing (amongst others) but I was appalled by the atrocious ‘lookalikes’ they got for famous figures.  Even with the intentional blurring and angling it was embarrassingly unlike the real-life counterparts.

Super Cast

The Transformers films have always had star-studded ensemble casts, and this one is no different.  In addition to the regulars such as LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and Tyrese Gibson, Michael Bay brought out the big acting guns this time with John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey and Francis McDormand.  While it’s always good to see these three on screen, it was sad to see how poor their roles were.  They played important roles but terribly lean characters with horrible dialogue that was unworthy of actors of their calibre.  And I think it showed.  None of them looked like they were there for anything other than the money.

The highlight of all the additions was actually Ken Jeong, the Asian guy from The Hangover movies.  Unfortunately he didn’t have a meatier role.

As for Shia LaBeouf — I do like him, even though I think he has been over-exposed the last few years — but by now Sam Witwicky’s in-your-face personality was wearing a little thin.  LaBeouf isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, but at times he treads a fine line between being funny and being  obnoxious, and I think this third time around he fell to the obnoxious side more often than he should have.

The big replacement — Huntington-Whiteley — was better than I expected as an actress, but I still don’t think she was right for the role.  And it’s not just because I don’t like her face.  Her chemistry with LaBeouf was almost non-existent.  Not even the 3D could bring her character to life.  On the other hand, it just shows how thankless the female lead role is in the Transformers franchise.

Convoluted Plot

Now that I’ve ventured into the negatives, I might as well keep going.  I’ll admit I didn’t entirely understand what was going on with the robots and their business, and it was because I didn’t care enough to put in the effort.  I have no idea why they had to make things so convoluted but it was totally unnecessary.  Was it so they could throw in some plot twists?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that I didn’t go to see a Transformers movie for the brilliant plot, that’s for sure.

Far Too Long

Another thing I didn’t understand was why the movie had to be 155 minutes long (and it felt that long too), which was 5 minutes longer than the already overlong Transformers 2.  And like that film, it didn’t have to be.  This was at the very most a 2 hour movie.  So much of the fluff at the start of the movie could have been condensed.

The staggering length of the film was not helped by the strangely uneven tone, which made it feel like several different movies.  Transformers 3 started off as kind of a teen comedy, then morphed into a serious historical re-envisioning before becoming an all-out alien invasion action movie for the final hour or so.  It didn’t quite fit together.

Conclusion

While we’re on the subject of far too long, so is this review.  So I’m going to wrap it up.  For me, Transformers 3 was better than Transformers 2, but not as good as the original.  There were parts I found enjoyable, but despite being bigger, louder, and with better special effects and being in 3D,  it just didn’t have that freshness and spark it once had.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: Was the 3D worth it?  I can’t be conclusive as I haven’t seen the 2D version, but I can’t honestly say I noticed that much of a difference.

PPS: I heard in an interview with Patrick Dempsey that Michael Bay goes off at people who cross his line of vision.  What a nut.  Maybe Fox wasn’t exaggerating after all.

Movie Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (let’s just call it Wall Street 2) is one of those sequels that probably didn’t have to be made.  It’s well-made with good performances and all, and it takes advantage of the GFC to tell a story, but at the end of the day, it didn’t have a whole lot to offer.

The plot is relatively simple.  Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglass) is released from prison after his misdeeds from the first film.  Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a stock broker (the ‘new’ Charlie Sheen) dating Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).  Josh Brolin is some ambitious rich dude from a big bank.  Throw in the GFC and some Oliver Stone mastery, and there’s your movie.

For me, what made the first Wall Street so memorable was that trading floor intensity, that cut-throat environment, the making and breaking of fortunes in an instant — essentially, the adrenaline rush of Wall Street (the street, not the film).  I didn’t get any sense of that in Wall Street 2, even though, 23 years after the original, there were a lot more zeros at the end of all the numbers.  For the majority of the 127 minute running time, the film felt slow, flat and uninvolving.  We all knew what was going to happen.  That didn’t mean the story couldn’t be exciting, but I never really got into it.  Maybe it was because I just had no sympathy for any of the characters.

Gordon Gekko is a terrific character, and it was an interesting angle to see him rejoining a society that appeared to have moved on without him.  Michael Douglass injects that same slickness into the character he did 23 years ago, but makes him an even more sad and pathetic man this time.  That said, I still knew what was going to happen, and was not at all surprised by the turns in the film.

Shia LaBeouf felt wrong for the part.  I liked him in Disturbia and thought he was well-suited to Transformers, but I couldn’t picture him in this role.  To me, he still seemed too young, too scrawny, too juvenile.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think he is a terrific actor, but he didn’t convince me as Jacob.

As for Carey Mulligan, well, she played a pretty thankless character.  I know she’s the next big thing but I didn’t like her in this movie.  Again, solid performance, but I had no sympathy for her as Gekko’s daughter.  And she always had these retarded expressions on her face that really irritated me.

The standout had to be Josh Brolin.  The dude can flat out act and he was by far the most interesting character in the whole film.

So as I said at the start of this review, Wall Street 2 didn’t have to be made.  It was well-executed, well-acted and provided an insight into the nature of greed at one of the most tumultuous economic times in history — but for me, it didn’t add anything to the Wall Street legacy, and it wasn’t much more than average.

Oh, and I hated the ending.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: New York, I Love You (2009)

I just went to see a screening of New York, I Love You, a collection of 10 short films masquerading as a full-length feature.  Despite having one of the most amazing ensemble casts ever, it was no good.  No good at all.

New York, I Love You comes to us from the producers of the French film Paris, je t’aime (ie “Paris, I Love You”) and has basically the same concept.  All stories take place in the city of New York, and each one is about love, or the search for love (which is often confused for sex).  Apart from that, they are entirely different and standalone pieces, even though it is put together as though it is a single film.  Characters from one story might make a cameo in another every now and then — and there’s one character, a girl who walks around New York carrying a video camera, that I suppose links the pieces together — but there’s absolutely no connection between the stories.

You can’t discuss this movie without talking about the actors that make up the ensemble cast.  Just off the top of my head, there was: Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Bradley Cooper, Hayden Christensen, Anton Yelchin, Blake Lively, Orlando Bloom, Chris Cooper, Christina Ricci, Julie Christie, James Caan, Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia, Robin Wright Penn, Jacinda Barrett, Maggie Q and Shu Qi.  Brett Ratner directed one of the stories and Natalie Portman wrote and directed another.

I guess the whole point of New York, I Love You was to show off New York as a city, and to make some sort of general comment about the “moments” and “connections” people make, whether it is with a completely random stranger or with someone you’ve been with for 60 years.

Needless to say, I struggled with this movie.  Putting aside that I did not know it was really a collection of short films as opposed to a segmented narrative (eg Love Actually, Crash, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentines Day), many of the stories didn’t work for me.

That’s what happens when you combine what is essentially 10 films written and directed by different people.  There is no consistency in the style or the tone or the feel of each one (for instance, some stories used internal dialogue; another had a narrator).  More importantly, many of the situations and much of the dialogue felt contrived.  It was very uncomfortable watching something you know is trying to manipulate your emotions in a hurry because it only has 10 minutes in which to do it.  I often found myself shaking my head wondering who on the planet reacts and talks like that to random strangers!

The short films all certainly had a lot of style — with the pretty shots, arty imagery and poetic chit chat — but there was rarely enough substance to establish an emotional connection.  And besides, even if you did connect with a particular character, you may never see them again anyway.

Individually, some of the stories were pretty good, witty and insightful.  My favourite one was a short conversation between Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q.  A couple of others, the one with Anton Yelchin and the one with the old couple, were decent.  However, not all of them hit the mark.  One or two were actually quite boring or irritating.  And the worst part about this being a collection of short films is that about half of them (or more) had a twist ending.  Usually one or two in a film is fine, but when it keeps happening over and over, it can start to get a bit tedious.

I would have very much preferred it had they simply presented the movie as 10 short films written and directed by different people, and broken them up accordingly without trying to force an unnecessary link between them.  Knowing when one short story ended and another began would have helped me reset and watch the next one with a clean slate.  Instead, the “combined” collection we ended up with felt uneven, disjointed and lacking in direction.

New York, I Love You is technically sound, shows New York in a nice light, and features an amazing cast — but so what?  It wasn’t enjoyable and that’s all that mattered in the end.

1.5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

transformers_revenge_of_the_fallen

I’ll tell you a conversation I heard in the men’s room straight after the film between two young boys (that probably just hit puberty) that sums it up pretty well:

“Man, what an awesome movie!”

“Yeah!  But what I didn’t get was why they had to [spoilers].”

“I didn’t get that either.  And who was the robot that [spoilers] and the one that [spoilers] in the end?”

“I’m not sure.  I think it was [spoilers] and [spoilers].”

“Really?  I thought it was [spoilers].”

“Who cares?  Megan Fox was hot though.”

“And the cars and robot fights were really cool.”

“Yeah, what an awesome movie!”

Overview

The second film (there will inevitably be more) of Michael Bay’s Transformers series is bigger, louder, longer and dumber than the original.  So if you’ve seen the first, expect more of the same except with everything magnified.  For some, like the teenage boys described above, that’s awesome.  For most others, it’s downright unbearable.

As for me, I went into the film with sub-zero expectations because everything I’ve come across about the film shreds it to pieces.  And while the film does fail miserably in most departments, it is not a complete waste of time and money.  Some parts were exciting.  Some were a little funny.  So if you can put up with the rest of the parts that weren’t (and those were in the clear majority), then you might find it okay.

What’s it about?

Next.

The good

There were 2 things in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (let’s just call it Transformers II) that improved on the first film: (1) robot fight scenes; and (2) special effects.

One of my gripes about the original Transformers movie was that you couldn’t tell what was going on in a lot of the fight scenes between the Autobots and the Decepticons.  All you could see were some quick flashes and giant balls of metal rolling around before one of them would stand victorious.

Transformers II rectifies the problem in a big way.  The camera pans back this time and stays on the robots long enough for audiences to see and appreciate the action.  So much so that kids can probably recreate the battles with their licensed Hasbro toys afterwards.

Seriously, the robot action was a lot smoother and more fluid this time.

Less noticeably, perhaps, were the special effects, which also improved from the original.  Apart from the robots themselves, many of the fight scenes involved destroying well-known landmarks.  This was done with amazing realism.  Further, the robot transformations were even more intricate and visually impressive than last time.

The bad

Yep, there was a lot of bad.

For starters, the movie was way too long, clocking in at 2 hours and X minutes.  I wouldn’t have had a problem had the film felt shorter, but it didn’t.  It felt like a really long movie.

Secondly, the plot.  It’s hard to know where to start with it so I won’t even try.  I hadn’t expected it to be original but this was derivative to the point that you couldn’t simply ignore it.  Let’s just say they could have put a little more effort into disguising it better.

Even the jokes were bad this time.  There were some decent laughs too, but many of jokes in Transformers II fell flat.  Like bad ‘Scary Movie’ jokes flat.  Especially when it tried to be ‘cool’, it turned out to be lame.  The twin Autobots were the prime culprits.

The film took a turn for the better when John Turturro arrived.  Like the first film, he was the comic highlight, but although he had some good lines he had limited screen time and dare I say even some of his antics wore a little thin at times.

The ugly

Transformers II has some of the worst editing of any film I have seen in recent times.  It’s not bad to the extent that you don’t know what’s going on, but it provides plenty of ‘WTFs?’.  For a major blockbuster like this, there’s no excuse.  To me, it reeks of laziness.  It’s as though the makers only cared about the cars, the action and the girls, and forgot about everything else.

Case in point – you know how when lead actor Shia LaBeouf injured his hand in a motor accident in real life and Bay said that they would work that into the movie?  Not really.  They just kind of fudged it – the idea wasn’t awful, but the execution was.  If you’ve seen the film you’ll know what I mean.

The performers

The majority of the main cast from the original returned.  Shia LaBeouf is getting over exposed these days, so he may be losing his charm, but he still does a reasonable job as the hero.  There were a few scenes where he demonstrates that his head hasn’t gotten so big that he’s unwilling to be ridiculed.

Megan Fox returns to play another sexy role as his girlfriend and doesn’t do much other than trying to look and sound appealing.  She’s actually not bad, but for some reason really looks like she could use a nice long bath.

The key new addition is the new roommate, Leo Spitz, played by Ramon Rodriguez, who is the primary comic relief until John Turturro returns.  Both men provide a spark to an often sagging film, though their jokes can be uneven.

On the military side, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to their rather useless roles.  If they wanted to trim the fat off this movie then these guys should have gone first.

Final word

Michael Bay didn’t try to cater for all audiences like say JJ Abrams did with Star Trek – it’s very clear from the first few minutes that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is nothing more than a bit of brainless fun targeted at overly excited teenagers.  However, even if you accept the film for what it is, it doesn’t necessarily succeed.  It’s still far too long and disjointed, and everything other than the special effects and action sequences feel extraordinarily lazy, as though they didn’t think anyone would notice or care if they put no effort into it.  That said, if you can put all of that aside…

2.5 stars out of 5!