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Entries in age of extinction (2)

Friday
Mar132015

Run All Night

Liam Neeson shooting people. If that sounds like a familiar premise for a film, it’s for good reason. Over the last seven years, ever since Neeson surprised everyone with his transition into action territory with “Taken,” it seems to be the only type of movie the once respected actor has made. A man who was once nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Schindler’s List” has since built a generic filmography that makes him more or less a walking joke. Seemingly every film, from “Taken” to last year’s “Non-Stop” follows the same at-this-point worn-down formula, with each film becoming more of a slog than the last. “Run All Night” could be the worst one yet, as it simply goes through the motions without doing much of anything particularly interesting.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a mobster who finds himself in a precarious situation with his boss after, through some of the most contrived circumstances I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, he ends up shooting his son. Once friends, that boss, played by Ed Harris, is now an enemy and plans on making him feel the same hurt by taking his own son, Mike, played by Joel Kinnaman, away from him. Naturally, Jimmy will do anything to prevent that from happening, which leads to one long night of shootouts and chases.

And I mean loooong night. Not since last year’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has a movie been so unnecessarily long in relation to the complexity, or lack thereof, of its story. Thankfully, “Run All Night” isn’t quite as long as that movie, as it clocks in at roughly two hours, but it feels about the same. Characterization and emotion is minimal, though the film tries to create some of both with amateur screenplay tactics—Mike is estranged from Jimmy, meaning he has never met his own grandkids, all the while he’s freezing in his home because the poor guy can’t afford to fix his heater, etc.—so there’s very little grab onto here. In fact, it’s one of those rare films where I was actually rooting for the supposed “good guy” to lose.

You see, despite attempts to make Jimmy a likable character, his introduction shows him as the boorish pig he is, as he dresses up as Santa, gets drunk, treats the kids around him poorly and then proceeds to speak to an attractive woman in what can only be described as sexually abusive language. The introduction to this character is so bad that it leaves a lasting impression that later acts of goodwill fail to reverse, though even if it did, a late film reveal shows the true cowardice and selfishness of his personality.

Meanwhile, his boss, Shawn, shows empathy and even a tinge of regret. When he turns down a business deal with a local drug dealer trying to peddle heroine, he explains it’s because when he did something similar in his younger, more naïve days, it led to too much hardship, as those he loved became hooked on it and he lost them all. He’s still a bad guy, of course, and has most certainly done or ordered people to do worse things than Jimmy, but the film, perhaps unintentionally, paints him in a better light than the supposed hero.

Simply put, “Run All Night” has everything backwards and its tepid action does little to hide that fact. Its action is accompanied by few truly heart racing moments and lots of far-too-dark cinematography, occasionally aggressive close-ups and shaky cam and shot reverse shot shootouts. It feels very much like action filmmaking 101, like what an amateur filmmaker without the experience to truly know what he or she is doing would produce if given millions of dollars to toy with.

Run All Night receives 1/5

Friday
Jun272014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

As I walked into my screening for the latest Michael Bay explosion-fest, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” a giant standup poster greeted me, touting my upcoming experience as the first film shot with the IMAX 3D Digital Camera, which means that sequences shot with it are presented in an IMAX aspect ratio that gives around 26% more image than the standard aspect ratio you would get in a normal movie theater. This is such a big selling point that even the actual film itself was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes look of shooting with the camera. It’s an interesting nugget of information for film enthusiasts and provides some exciting possibilities for future filmmakers, but it must be said: more than a new camera is needed to fix the “Transformers” franchise. A lot more.

The “Transformers” movies have always relished on the absurd. They typically take a small amount of time to set up what some might consider a story (thin though they may be) to give what follows some context, and if you’ve seen one, you know what follows is action, action and more action. The movies feel like something a 10 year old would dream up if given a camera and $200 million to play with. Appropriately, a poster with a quote from Albert Einstein on it appears early on in “Age of Extinction.” “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” it says. This quote is a fitting description of Bay’s talent: he has plenty of imagination, but, aside from an uncanny ability to film destruction, no filmmaking knowledge.

Evidence of this comes in the way he directs his actors. This time, Bay replaces Shia LaBeouf with Mark Wahlberg, a recent Oscar nominee, but the result is the same. His performance, along with the majority of the rest of the cast, is wooden. Only Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammar put forth a modicum of effort, likely because their talent and veteran statuses require less input from a director to be effective, but the former is given horrendous dialogue and a narrative arc that makes zero sense while the latter plays the most cliché government villain character you can imagine. The two are in cahoots, naturally, with Tucci’s character being the business mogul responsible for engineering a man-made Transformer (and if the movies have taught us anything, it’s that playing God is a bad idea) and Grammar’s CIA Black Ops character finding and killing all Autobots to give Tucci the transformium elements he needs (which is only a slightly better element name than the unobtainable unobtainium from “Avatar”). Their plan that creates the central story has something to do with building a Transformer army to protect US citizens, but let’s be honest, what does it matter?

Frankly, the story itself hardly even exists, as it comes off more like a dialogue dump than anything else. I haven’t seen a film with so much expositional dialogue in a movie with such a meaningless story in a long time. It’s one of those films where characters will ask a question about what’s going on, only for another character to go on a five minute monologue explaining every plot element up to that point. In a very real sense, “Age of Extinction” feels like it’s written by a first time screenwriter, someone who has no idea how to craft believable situations or dialogue. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given that it was written by Ehren Kruger, the man responsible for the worst “Scream” entry and the messes that are “The Brothers Grimm,” “The Skeleton Key” and the previous two “Transformers” movies. His writing combines with Bay’s underwhelming direction to create a film that has no flow and is thematically and narratively empty.

The best example comes with Wahlberg’s character’s poorly developed relationship with his daughter, Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz. Primarily, this is due to the fact that she, despite being only 17 in the movie, exists solely as eye candy and as a means to be abducted and saved like the helpless woman she was written to be, the Princess Peach to Wahlberg’s Mario. The movie forces in some single father shtick, like when he complains that her shorts are too short, but it never comes off as authentic (and he certainly doesn’t make her change those shorts, as that would ruin the upcoming close-up butt shot the young actress was cast in the movie for). The other characters don’t fare so well either, with the minor ones being too underdeveloped or too annoying to be interesting (“Thank God” a fellow critic whispered in my ear after one of the more grating characters bit the dust).

If there’s one thing Michael Bay knows (and if his past filmography is any indication, it is indeed only one thing), it’s action, but even that is a bit of a letdown here. After three previous movies, each one more bombastic than the last, with the third installment upping the stakes as the end of the trilogy, this feels light in comparison and is sporting a very evident “been there, done that” feel. Only the Dinobots offer up any excitement, but they show up so late in the film’s exhausting two hour and 45 minute runtime that they still fail to make much of an impression, no doubt due to the fact that you will likely be so worn down by the endless slog that came before. Characterization here is the thinnest this franchise has ever seen, believe it or not, so the vapid action is inconsequential, as there’s approximately zero reasons to care if any of these characters succumb to the destruction around them.

If that isn’t enough, “Age of Extinction” has some of the most shameless product placement in a movie since “Talladega Nights,” but at least the product placement fit into the context of that movie. Here, you’ll get nice, clean close-ups of Oreos, Beats by Dre speakers, Gucci sunglasses, Bud Light cans (one of which Wahlberg violently cracks open and chugs after slamming into and destroying one of its transportation vehicles) and even a plug for Victoria’s Secret, which is featured prominently on a bus that is completely destroyed, except for the front where the logo is, of course. I wonder if Bay thought us dumb enough to not notice these things. More likely, the incompetency with which this train wreck was put together was simply creating to its own level; “Texas, USA” flashes onscreen at one point to set the location, as if the country designator was necessary.

At 90 minutes, Bay’s brand of mindless, plotless action may be tolerable, but “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is nearly double that length, an absurd 165 minutes, the longest entry in a franchise already known for being a bloated, meandering mess. This is the second worst of the films, rising only slightly above 2009’s “Revenge of the Fallen” if only due to the fact that at least this one (arguably) isn’t racist. That’s faint praise, to be sure, but I must admit, when watching a “Transformers” movie, it’s not easy finding the high points.

Transformers: Age of Extinction receives 0.5/5