Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Transformers: Age of Extinction - Michael Bay - 2014

Three years after the sporadically entertaining Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay returned with a fourth instalment of the robot action franchise that nobody cared about anymore. Abandoning for the first time all the human stars of the original trilogy (inevitable after Shia LeBeouf’s very public meltdown), Age of Extinction teams the Autobots up with Texan mechanic Chuck Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) for more long and repetitive action sequences linked together by a predictably convoluted plot that, four films in, no longer sustains audience interest. Wahlberg is a solid presence in the lead but his characterisation is perfunctory to say the least and after half an hour of tedious bickering between Chuck and his teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz in the obligatory ‘sexy legs’ role) he has little to do for the remaining two hours other than sulk about his daughter’s boyfriend and race to keep up with Optimus Prime as he dashes round the world trying to save the day. Again. Titus Welliver has some hilariously ridiculous lines as a government assassin tasked with hunting down Optimus and Stanley Tucci has fun playing megalomaniacal defence contractor Joshua Joyce – a close-up of Tucci using a straw is probably the funniest moment in the film – but other than them the human cast are instantly forgettable. These issues inevitably leave the emotional heavy-lifting to be done once again by the robotic characters but an early Autobot death has none of the shock factor of Ironhide’s demise in Dark of the Moon and as Optimus Prime gears up to once more rally his surviving troops for yet another last-ditch battle to save the world even he struggles to raise enthusiasm for a fight that we have all seen before. Megatron is also side-lined for a mid-film plot twist leaving villain duties to bounty hunting Transformer Lockdown, whose origins and purpose remain frustratingly unclear for anyone attempting to make sense of the plot, leaving him little to do but lurk menacingly in a giant black spaceship wherever our heroes head next. Come the final battle Bay does introduce fan favourites the dinobots (Transformers that turn into dinosaurs, because plot) giving us the undeniably thrilling sight of Optimus Prime riding a giant fire-breathing robot dinosaur waving a giant sword, but sadly the director fails to make any real use of them in the fighting and so the excitement rapidly wears off. Age of Extinction is not as offensively bad as some blockbusters and it certainly puts every penny of its vast budget on the screen but it is so relentlessly derivative and unimaginative in terms of story and action that it’s hard to see the appeal for anyone other than diehard fans. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A Bunch of Amateurs - Andy Cadiff - 2008

A charming and gently amusing little British film, A Bunch of Amateurs pitches an aging Hollywood action star (Burt Reynolds) into an English country village for a classic fish-out-of-water story with would-be hilarious consequences. Television director Andy Cadiff has a lot of fun mining the culture clash for wry humour – moments when Reynolds is faced with a full English breakfast rather than his normal American fads, or gets frustrated because he can walk the entire village in three minutes will bring smiles of recognition to anyone who has ever ventured into the English countryside – but the film lacks in many laugh-out-loud moments. Faced with the challenge of playing King Lear, one of the greatest characters ever written, with no previous stage experience, Jefferson’s ignorance is cringe worthy rather than funny and will likely leave audiences as awkward as his British co-stars. The principal problem is Reynolds; although he is largely very good as frustrated star Jefferson Steel, he often underplays intense scenes that many American actors would showboat their way through, he cannot escape the fact that Jefferson is a jackass and thus his bewilderment when Hollywood luxuries are suddenly not available is hardly going to induce any sympathy. In a rather obvious parallel with the play, the indignities inflicted on Jefferson drive him to a fairly ridiculous heath scene with a broken down library van before he errs towards redemption but his journey is never as moving as Cadiff would clearly like. Amongst the predictably eccentric Bunch of Amateurs Imelda Staunton gallantly chews through the scenery as an overly enthusiastic landlady and Derek Jacobi is on good form as a theatrical snob who cannot stand the sound of an American mangling the Bard’s words, but the most enjoyable performance comes from Samantha Bond. Given an all too rare leading role, Bond steals the film from everyone including Reynolds with a tireless warmth and humour that successfully keeps the audience from turning off when Jefferson gets too boorish and goes a long way towards redeeming the world of British amateur theatrics that the film so desperately wants to celebrate. It might not be the comedy gem that it could have been but as a small celebration of British pluck, embodied by this endearing Bunch of Amateurs, the film is still worth seeing.