Reviewed this week are Transfomers: Age of Extinction, Begin Aain, Boyhood, Tamm and The 100 Year Old Man.
With the ‘Transformers’ franchise, Michael Bay has delivered lucrative, critically savaged cinema based purely on toys. In this fourth instalment, he delivers 165 more minutes, a minute for every million spent on production, and more than ever it’s hard not to wonder if Bay is laughing at us.
In a vaguely post apocalyptic Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) struggles to make ends meet and to rear his jailbait daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who has a secret boyfriend from Dublin (played by Dublin actor Jack Reynor). Cade unwittingly brings on the wrath of the US government who is, under CIA chief Kelsey Grammar, in cahoots with some nefarious off-screen alien power, working to rid the world of the autobots who remain in hiding. Billionaire inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) has cracked the Transformium genome and plans to go into production. Cade, Tessa and Shane go on the run.
Reynor isn’t given much to work with (only Tucci has anything to get his teeth into, characterwise) but easily holds his own and looks great. The film’s special effects are amazing, it’s loud and overwhelming (more swearing than usual) but there are so many unnecessary scenes, so little narrative, such a weak script, so much product placement, a favouring of the Chinese government (the film got a lot of Chinese funding) that it feels almost nihilistic yet still made $100m in its opening weekend in the US.
Bay is a clever man with a very good English literature degree, should we be scared?
It was in 2006 that John Carney’s Once snuck out of small indie-film land into mainstream money-making Oscar-winning cinema land. The formula is one that Carney attempts to create with Begin Again in a bigger city with bigger stars.
Greta (Keira Knightley), above, a singer/songwriter, is dragged onstage to sing in a New York club by her friend (James Corden). Her plaintive song is unnoticed by virtually anyone except a wild-haired drunk man who tries to talk her into making a record with him. This is Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a once cool record producer whose life, on all levels, has crashed.
He’s an alcoholic, he is an unreliable father to his daughter (Hailie Steinfeld), his marriage to Miriam (Catherine Keener) has crashed, and his business partner (Mos Def) has fired him. Greta is heartbroken, her fiance (Adam Levine) has got famous and idiotic; so together Greta and Dan contrive to rebuild their lives and careers via a live album recorded in the street.
The similarities to Once are enormous, although the back stories are more present here. All round, it is more contrived and self-aware in order to make certain redemptions seem richer, but there are some clever scenes, and it is a nice, uplifting, tuneful, often funny and enjoyable film. Knightley is less annoying than usual and she has a lovely voice. Ruffalo is as appealing as always.
Opens July 11
Writer/director Richard Linklater’s seemingly effortless facility for finding the epic in the everyday is seen to good effect in his fascinating new drama, Boyhood. Having charted the course of a single relationship over a 20-year period in his memorable ‘Before’ trilogy, Linklater takes a comparable approach to a fractured American family in this impressive piece.
The notable difference with Boyhood is that this work was filmed in short concentrated periods over the course of 12 years, so that the actors age along with their characters. This effect is less eye-popping in the case of the grown-up actors like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, but the physical changes are much more pronounced in the case of the child actors Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater).
The end result is an experimental yet highly engaging work. The narrative mostly focuses on Mason, and charts the various coming-of-age milestones he experiences from the age of six through to his graduation from High School at 18. Home is consistently where the heartbreak is for Mason, as both he and his sister are passive players in their separated parents’, Mason Sr (Hawke) and Olivia (Arquette), misfiring attempts to maintain an even keel in their respective personal lives. Hawke’s character struggles with the conflicting demands of following his muse as a musician or the conformity option, and a career as an actuary. Olivia returns to college to study as a psychologist. Relocations and alcoholic step parents are just some of the hurdles to be negotiated.
Clocking in at close to three hours, Boyhood overstays its welcome a little; but strong performances, an evocative soundtrack together with the director’s flair for off-the-cuff profundity ensure that fans of quality movie-making won’t be disappointed. The conclusion is borderline anti-climactic, but as is often the case with Linklater, it’s more about the journey than the destination.
Opens July 11
Move over Thelma and Louise. Well, at least Louise. OK, so maybe neither. Any casting decision that involves Susan Sarandon sharing top billing with another female lead and a car is always going to invite comparison with that iconic Nineties road-movie. In the case of Ben Falcone’s hit-and-miss-by-a-mile comic caper, Tammy, it’s fair to say such invitations are probably best returned unopened.
The early scene-setting revolves around the bad hair life being experienced by minimum wage slave Tammy (Bridesmaids stalwart Melissa McCarthy). A calamitous chain of events that involves her losing her husband to the next-door neighbour, and her job in a fast-food outlet to her apathetic attitude, results in a moment of reckoning. She hears the call of the open road and a new life but doesn’t have the resources to answer that call.
Enter Pearl (Sarandon) as the sassy granny with the get-up-and go attitude that helps her granddaughter, well, get up and go. Unapologetic booze-hound Pearl has always wanted to see Niagara Falls, and now seems like a good time to seize the moment. Together they hit the road and faster than you can say don’t-try-this-in-your-care-home, the high-jinks are hitting the fan. One-night stands are just some of the scenarios that are milked for levity by this drunk and disorderly duo.
The good news to report about this enjoyable piece is that they do manage to raise a few laughs. McCarthy’s knockabout schtick is bound to get old at some stage, but it hasn’t happened yet, while Sarandon isn’t found wanting in the comic smarts department. Neither manage to move things beyond the mildly amusing, but given a summer that has featured such crimes against comedy as Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, mildly amusing feels like a triumph.
If you took away the mawkish US cheese of Forrest Gump and scrubbed it with Scandinavian functionality and cleanliness, The 100-Year-old Man Who Climbed Out His Window and Disappeared might be the result. As laden with charm and wit as it is with syllables in its title, Felix Herngren’s adaptation of the Jonas Jonasson novel is as self-effacing a cinema event as only the Swedish could do.
It’s hard to know where things will go as we watch oldtimer Allan Karlsson (Swedish comedy star Robert Gustafsson) vengefully blowing up a fox who killed his beloved cat, before being chucked in a nursing home. Fed up with things on his 100th birthday, he shuffles out the window and into a hot-potch adventure of vicious gangsters, new friends and tag-alongs, and a circus elephant.
Blissfully unaware of the seriousness of any situation he lands in, Allan regularly looks back on his long life and how his interest in munitions saw him at key junctures in world history, and seats at the dinner table with the likes of Oppenheimer, Franco and Stalin.
These elaborate flashbacks — a knees-up with Stalin, escaping a Gulag with Einstein’s dim-witted twin brother — supply Herngren’s film with a high belly-laugh quotient; the dotty humour and Allan’s shrugging tone prove irresistible. In the background, a soundtrack of bubbling brass and some lively cinematography keep the fires of mischief lit. Daft and delightful.