Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: July 2014 - Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Between this and Edge Of Tomorrow, it's been nice to have at least two summer blockbusters which deliver both the spectacle you'd expect from a big-budget picture, but also that they are of a high artistic quality. The harmony between the motion capture action (particularly Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell) and the visual effects is breathtaking, with Weta Digital outdoing their amazing work in the previous film, truly bringing these apes to life. Their interactivity with the composites departments and Michael Seresin's cinematography deserve to be duly credited, as does Michael Giacchino's score, which legitimises the epic feeling of this franchise film. Design-wise, it's beautifully realised, a film of real provocative ideas and daring directions, with Matt Reeves delivering his best film to date. Aside from the 1968 original, it's the best film of the Apes saga. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.8/10

Runner-Up: Begin Again - Even with problems, John Carney's film has empathy and understanding for human emotions, displays an ear for dialogue and boasts strong performances from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Transformers: Age Of Extinction - While there are things to admire, it's a $210 million movie with a horrible script full of cardboard cutout characters, cliches and expository nonsense which in conjunction with consistently inconsistent editing, make for a long expenditure of 165 minutes of your life.

Avoid Like The Plague: Tammy - With episodes of mish mash and balderdash, dulled underlying messages and a whole lot of other things I missed because the movie is too stupid to get it across appropriately, Tammy is not McCarthy's vehicle to set the world on fire.

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Maleficent

Directed by: Robert Stromberg

Produced by: Joe Roth

Screenplay by: Linda Woolverton

Based on: Disney's Sleeping Beauty
La Belle Au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault

Starring: Angelina Jolie
Sharlto Copley
Elle Fanning
Sam Riley
Imelda Staunton
Juno Temple
Lesley Manville

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Dean Semler

Editing by: Chris Lebenzon
Richard Pearson

Studio(s): Walt Disney Pictures
Roth Films

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Release date(s): May 28, 2014 (United Kingdom)
May 30, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 97 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $180 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $743, 781, 750

So, this will be my last film to review for the month of July. I've already given y'all enough excuses and reasons as to why everything has been belated this summer. This will be followed by a review of the July, and hopefully I'll get one, maybe two more reviews done before Thursday, because I'm on the road again for V Festival and for the next few weeks. I've already got ahead and seen Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Purge: Anarchy, and hopefully I'll see a couple of more before I head away. As ever, for all the latest and greatest about the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Maleficent, Disney's live-action re-imagining of the story of Sleeping Beauty, made previously by Walt Disney in 1959 as animated feature, only for this 2014 adaptation the story is portrayed from the perspective of the titular antagonist. Angelia Jolie, who stars as the main character and is the name on the marquee, has been attached to this project for a number of years, as Tim Burton was originally planning to direct the picture. When he opted to leave, Robert Stromberg, the production designer for Burton's Alice In Wonderland, Avatar (for which Stromberg won with Rick Carter my Dante Ferretti Award for Best Production Design) and Oz, The Great And Powerful, was drafted in to helm. While I think her work outside acting is perhaps even more commendable than her film work, I've been a fan of Angelina Jolie for some time (she won Best Female Actor in a Leading Role from me in 2008 for Changeling) and feel she's one of the most interesting female actors of the past ten-fifteen years, so I was interested enough going into this. So, story goes that Maleficent (Jolie) is a faerie living in the Moors, a magical realm bordering a human kingdom, who has over the years developed a friendship with a human peasant called Stefan (Sharlto Copley). However, his ambition to become king overshadows their mutual affection, and when the current king is defeated in battle by those of the faerie kingdom, he offers to name whoever kills Maleficent the successor to his throne. Stefan burns off Maleficent's wings, offering them as evidence of her death, and ascends to the throne. A little while later, Maleficent, the once humble and benevolent faery who has since become a cruel, wicked witch, is informed by her servant Diaval (Sam Riley) that Stefan and his queen are christening their daughter Aurora. Gate-crashing the ceremony, Maleficent takes her revenge on Stefan out on Aurora, who is cursed prick her finger on a spindle wheel on her sixteenth birthday to fall into a death-like sleep, from which she can only be awakened by true love's kiss. Fifteen years later, Aurora (Elle Fanning) becomes enamoured with faery world and develops an acquaintance of sorts with Maleficent, who she believes to be her fairy godmother, unwitting of the true scheme at work. Blah blah blah. That's just expository setup, so excuse me for the mouthfuls! Got it? Good!

Starting with the good, the film has four solid performances, nothing groundbreaking by any means, but still enough positive work to give the film some anchoring. Angelina Jolie absolutely revels in the opportunity to play the fairy tale 'good girl gone bad' Maleficent. Beginning the film as an earthy creature, after the much-discussed (and legitimately harrowing) scene in which Stefan drugs her and takes her wings (which Jolie plays brilliantly), Jolie's Maleficent transforms into every bit the pantomime Disney villain as much as Glenn Close's Cruella de Vil. It's a very theatrical part, but it's never over the top, with Jolie's vocal line delivery being deliberate and authoritative. Also, her expressive features mean that when moments of humour come along, we start to see the facade of callousness break. Jolie deserves the praise she's received for this textured performance. We also have Sharlto Copley in there as Stefan, who, though occasionally hammy, is reminiscent of Gary Oldman in that he does manage to bring credibility to the part. Same can be said for Sam Riley (the inaugural winner of my Kevin Spacey Award for Best Male Actor in a Leading Role for 2007's Control), who has strong onscreen chemistry with Jolie as Maleficent's confident Diaval. Finally, Elle Fanning, though in a less complex role than we've seen her in the past, continues her rise as one of Hollywood's most promising young talents with her charismatically likeable Princess Aurora. One of the other things to be praised about the film is the overall look of the mise-en-scene. Perhaps this is to be expected with director Robert Stromberg's history in various aspects of design, but Maleficent does have a distinctive and unique look about it. The visual effects and production design of the faerie kingdom in various stages (after Maleficent's evolution, it changes from a wondrously cute land of cute things and what have you to the proverbial "hillside desolate" Morrissey would sing about in a long forgotten song; nudge nudge, wink wink!) is simply splendid, and the goes for many of the other sets and design aspects involved. Also, the make-up/hair department and costume designers deserve credit for their collective efforts in bringing these characters to life. With the greatest of respect to Jolie's natural abilities, they've done a terrific job in making her look every bit the part, with her cheekbones elevated, jawline sunken in and red lips standing out as a contrast to the paleface make-up, and the headpiece and long black dress just adding more and more character to, well, this character. All of this is accentuated by the cinematography of Dean Semler. From the Mad Max sequels, Oscar-winning work on Dances With Wolves and the likes of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, Semler has a way of shooting unobtrusively in a way that the cinematographer and camera does not supersede but instead highlights and adds to the atmosphere made by the designers. The case is no different here; there's no gimmickry or shaky-cam buffoonery, just good old-fashioned photography. Finally, as far as directorial debuts go, Stromberg could do a lot worse than Maleficent. This is a good, enjoyable release from Disney, a welcome surprise and at just under one hundred minutes, it's a lot more immediately accessible than some of the more cumbersome releases of this blockbuster season. While Maleficent is not without issue, which I'll get to, it clearly hit home with its audience, and shows there is a market for this big-budget, Tim Burton-esque kind of picture when it's done well. Although judging by Burton's recent work, Stromberg has arguably out-Burtoned Burton, and needn't worry about having to establish himself outside of that director's looming dark shadow.

Now, as I said, Maleficent is not without issues, the issues laying in a few certain areas which, while not degrading the movie to the point that's of a bad quality, do deny it from being a great or a very good movie. The first thing at fault I found was the script. As you saw, there was a lot waffle to get through in my plot synopsis, and the same can be said for the movie, because it takes about thirty to forty minutes of screen-time to just establish the backstory. Realistically, all of the expository details there should have been done and dusted in ten to fifteen minutes, and the fact that it takes up approximately a third of the film's runtime does reveal a structural flaw. Secondly, although I was impressed with the characterisation of some of the principal's, many of the film's minor characters are simplistic tropes which just come across as filler. For instance, the three pixies are quite clearly just comic humour fodder, their existence merely serving to provide for stupid moments of levity amid the film's drama, and do not serve to do justice to Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville or Juno Temple, three female actors talented enough to hold lead roles in their own right. Also, the Prince Philip character, who like Aurora we're meant to realise is 'the one' who's going to break Maleficent's curse upon her, is so bland that I refused to buy into him in any way, shape or form. On another point of issue, though rather more minor than the script, although I like James Newton Howard, this is one of those films scores that is just phoned-in without any active participation or providing elevation of the material. Maybe it was studio-imposed impositions (this is, after all, $180 million-budgeted picture), but I just didn't have the feelings of inspiration I have got from Newton Howard's work in, say, Pretty Woman, The Fugitive, Primal Fear or The Sixth Sense. My final issue was with the editing, which I do have to say feels a bit scattershot. The film's two editors Chris Lebenzon and Richard Pearson are associated mostly with working on action movies, not that that is a problem for the film's occasional action scenes, but the same aesthetics do not apply to conversations, dialogues and some of the more serene moments involving the film's design. I feel that the editors needed to show a little more tact when it came to the bigger picture.

I will not deny Maleficent is a movie with it's flaws, most specifically in the departments involving the script, the score and the editing. I do feel that these elements hold the movie down from achieving the status of being among the great Disney fantasies that it could have been. That said, neither will I deny that even with these flaws, it still stands as a good, perfectly acceptable watch. I think that Angelina Jolie is terrific in the title role, completely relishing playing the part of playing the cold-hearted villainess, but not without an element of pathos. Also strong in the principal cast are Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning and Sam Riley. From a design standpoint, this is a well-realised picture, with director Robert Stromberg's background lending to the whole shebang. It's also shot by an atmospherically-intuned cinematographer in Dean Semler, whose work accentuates that of the designers and visual effects departments. At under one hundred minutes, this is a relatively brisk studio picture from Disney, and judging from the box-office (it has grossed over four times it's budget at $736 million worldwide), there have been some smart decisions in the archetypal boardroom meetings as regards to marketing and the film itself. Though by no means anything as special as the box-office figures would indicate, Maleficent is still a solid Disney fantasy with a terrific lead performance from Jolie and an enjoyably brisk flick.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Racked (with many things to do! V Festival coming up this weekend and still work to be done. Argh!)

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Produced by: Peter Chernin
Dylan Clark
Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver

Screenplay by: Mark Bomback
Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver

Based on: Characters created by
Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver
Suggested by Planet Of The Apes by Pierre Boulle

Starring: Andy Serkis
Jason Clarke
Gary Oldman
Keri Russell
Toby Kebbell
Kodi Smit-McPhee

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: Michael Seresin

Editing by: William Hoy
Stan Salfas

Studio(s): Chernin Entertainment
TSG Entertainment

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): July 11, 2014 (United States)
July 17, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 131 minutes

Country: United States

Language(s): English
American Sign Language

Production budget: $170 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $451, 633, 624

So, with things back in action, I'm going to keep the ball rolling on this bad boy. On an outside of topic note, currently New Japan Pro Wrestling's annual G1 Climax tournament is going on, and I'd urge anyway who's into wrestling in any shape or form to follow it, because frankly, much as I like WWE's product, I've been more interested in NJPW's output of late. With that being said, this is a movie blog, so, bringing out the usual mantra (drumroll, please!), for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the eight film in 20th Century Fox's Planet Of The Apes franchise and sequel to 2011's reboot Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Like the Transformers franchise, I have a bit of history with that of the Planet Of The Apes, albeit on far more positive notes than the former. The original film from 1968, based on Pierre Boulle's novel of the same name, is a bona-fide science-fiction classic, a startling depiction of a world turned upside down which, like George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead, released the same year, used the genre film format for allegorical means to challenge prevalent ongoing societal issues. The tone is much the same for the film's four sequels, with varying results and quality. Beneath is a very strange and bizarre film which, though decent, doesn't quite nail it the same way the original did, while Escape is a lot more satirical in form, transplanting Zira, Cornelius and Dr. Milo to present day Los Angeles. The sequels hit their darkest and highest point with Conquest, a truly nightmarishly dystopian vision of racial conflict and slavery, but finished on a bum note with Battle, the only film in the series which is truly flat and uninspired. Toys, television series, and twenty-eight years later, Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes hit the big screens, and while making no dent on the original film, is admirable in it's own way and a whole lot better than people care to remember. Ten years and a lot of technological advances in the film industry later, another film came round in the guise of Rupert Wyatt's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Now, I was the first to start groaning about motion capture and visual effects replacing the traditional make-up designs originated by John Chambers which were such a key part to the series. However, Weta Digital done a terrific job, accentuating the powerful central performance by Andy Serkis (for which he won in 2011 my Kevin Space Award for Best Male Actor in a Leading Role) in the part of Caesar. More so than The Lord Of The Rings, King Kong and Avatar (all done by Weta), Rise made me believe in the power of motion capture technology, with the central protagonist, a non-human ape, being fully understandable and emotionally engaging. Not only that, it was a thought-provoking film with the socio-political commentaries of the original series, and with it's performance at the box-office, successfully rebooted the Apes franchise. Which brings us now to Dawn, so here we go with the story: the ALZ-113 virus has caused the collapse of human civilisation. Ten years after Rise, there is a group of genetically immune humans living in San Francisco, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). One of their other leaders Malcolm (Jason Clarke) encounters a group of apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), who have created an entire community and new generation in the Muir Woods. When one of the apes is shot by Carver (Kirk Acevedo), tensions are created between the apes and man. After retreating, Malcolm leads an expedition to reconcile with the apes in order to gain access to a hydroelectric dam which would restore power to their territory. However, Koba (Toby Kebbell), a bonobo who in the past suffered torture at the hands of humans, bears a grudge after the shooting, and threatens to channel violent dissent against Caesar to lead the apes to war against the humans. Got it? Good!

Starting off with the good, I have to lavish much praise on the interaction between the motion capture acting and the visual effects. Once again, Weta have outdone themselves. With Rise they succeeded in managing to make a non-anthropomorthised character the centre of a picture and have him be completely understandable and engaging. Here, we have a whole society of non-anthropomorthised apes realised with the wondrous harmony of motion capture and visual effects. Andy Serkis is simply terrific again in the part of Caesar. This time round, Serkis does a mighty job of juggling a troubled Caesar who is on the one hand torn between the independence he wishes for his ape compatriots but also his undying love for humanity. His wide range of expressiveness is simply extraordinary, getting across all of the character's internal conflicts, pains and anxieties across with tangible poignancy. The other great performance in the film belongs to Toby Kebbell as Koba. I've made no bones in the past about my fondness for Kebbell and his wide versatility of roles, but this is a tone from his palette we haven't quite seen before. Koba is one bad ape, conspiring in all manners (including getting the ear of Blue Eyes, Caesar's son), but Kebbell is intelligent enough to not let this be simply a two-dimensional villain. Instead, Kebbell portrays Koba's venom towards humans as based on deeply-ingrained trauma. While at times Koba managed to inspire my hate for his actions, Kebbell makes us understand that there's more to this than simple 'ape-good, human-bad' logic. For my money, this is the best performance of a franchise villain since Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva in Skyfall, and for that Kebbell and the effects teams should be commended. Speaking of harmony and visual effects, it seemed to me that just about every other technical department involved with the film worked well with it. The cinematography by Michael Seresin is another strong part of the tapestry. Capturing all of the visual effects in their splendour, it takes an intelligent cinematographer to also ensure that this remains something we can buy into. It's also one of the few Apes movies since the first where the cinematographer plays an active part in telling the story. In the apes' charging of the tower, one of best action sequences I can recall seeing over the past few years, the absolute chaos and wanton destruction sees Seresin do some very interesting things with the camera, including a long-shot of Koba taking over a tank which is a truly amazing bit of work. Editing-wise too, this is a remarkable achievement. It's amazing to think of all the work hours that must have went into the digital composites to make all the images, both real and effects-created, all appear as part of one seamless frame, much less a two-hour feature film. From the story's perspective, the script takes a number of bold and rather daring moves, but in the end I think that it works out. Much of the dialogue(s) between the apes is in American Sign Language, which is made understandable to us non-acquanted viewers by way of subtitles. Knowing there is a general wariness regarding subtitles, it could have went either way. Also, although Caesar was the protagonist of Rise, there were many human characters surrounding him for an audience to sympathise with. Although there are humans here, what we are asked to do is to embrace an entire society of apes, and the screenwriter's more than rewarded me that investment. The story of the apes in Dawn is thoroughly engaging, full of twists and unexpected turns, and makes it feel like a genuine epic in and of itself, much less how it fits into the larger scheme of the franchise. Mark Kermode mentioned recently in his review for Transformers: Age Of Extinction that 'epic' is not a default status that comes with a gut-busting running time: epic denotes not only a certain level of scope, size and scale, but it only feels 'epic' if we have a strong level of emotional investment in the characters. Here, we certainly do. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe referred to Caesar's plight "Shakespearean grandeur," a not unfair comparison, as I do feel that the film parallels Shakespeare the same way The Lion King did Greek tragedy and Hamlet, using allegory and metaphor to great effect. I had a high level of emotional involvement throughout much of the film, and part of that is thanks to strong screenwriting. Another welcome addition to Dawn is series newbie Michael Giacchino, who gives us one of his better scores of recent years. Don't get me wrong, I like Giacchino, always have done, but there've been times where his scores, very much of the classical film scoring school, go too far over onto the other side and end up being The Honking Histrionics and/or Emotional Heartstring Orchestra. Like any good score, what Giacchino does here refuses to overtake the drama, instead accentuating it and elevating it towards greater heights. There are echoes of the old Jerry Goldsmith score with the use of some offbeat tribal instrumentals, which, along with a vocal chorus line, make for an eerie atmosphere of tension and mystery. Also, when the proverbial shit hits the fan, Giacchino is more than able to rack things to eleven, hammering in the carnage onscreen and when the mood is needing to be muted, he's brings it down to a state of minimalist melancholia. Another thing I'd like to praise about Dawn is the overall design of the film. Much attention has been lavished (rightly) on the incredible visual effects, but I think that other departments deserve credit. The budget for this film has been increased by $80 million over that of Rise, and they don't half spend it on creating a suitably post-apocalyptic landscape. Everything in an area approaching urbanity has an aged look about, with weeds, ivy and various flora and fauna growing all over the place, cracks in the walls, ugly tones in the paintwork. The only place that seems to flourish is 'Ape City,' which the apes have made out to be their own sort-of woodland utopia, not that we'd recognise it as utopian, but you get the picture. The overall design of the piece seems to cater towards giving it a whole primal atmosphere, in keeping almost with a Gaian template of nature fighting back against man's crimes against Mother Earth, reaping what they have sowed. Finally, I would like to praise director Matt Reeves for what he brings to the film. While I think Rupert Wyatt did a great job with Rise and certainly deserves credit for laying out the groundwork, I think Reeves has brought to Dawn a greater sense of immediacy and prescience. One does have to wonder could Wyatt have done for Apes what Nolan did for Batman, but Reeves' work on Dawn, while a collaborative effort, is the best of his career (and I'm including his terrific debut feature Cloverfield in that sweeping statement!). I was gripped and emotionally engaged throughout Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, a film whose two-hour run time flies by like the wind, and is, for my money, the best so far of this year's summer blockbusters. 

Now, as you can tell by the amount of space and words I have spent gushing over it, I loved Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and think that it is a great movie. However, it is not a masterpiece, and unfortunately I have to get down to the nitty finer points which hinder it from being so. The first of these niggles lies in the fact that once again I am more interested and invested in the story of the apes over the human story, as opposed to being equally interested in each. As such, while I think that Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman bring suitable credibility to their parts (nice to see Clarke in a major blockbuster, and Oldman has a short standout scene halfway through the film), I feel that once again this side of things is underwritten. When tensions rise and the apes have Koba leading the paranoia front, his human equivalent in Carver is a two-dimensional trope that lacks the development you'd expect, especially noticeable when there is a rich cast of memorable characters among the apes. This is just one example out of about four or five underdeveloped characters who exist merely as face within the wider scheme of things. As such, this also has implications with the way in which the film's story is told, especially in the editing suite. Towards the climax of the film, without giving anything away, the plot moves with two separate arcs being told at the same time, so the montage cuts back and forth between one arc and another. Frankly, because of the developments (or lack thereof) earlier and throughout the course of the film, I wound up getting slightly cross any time it cut away from the arc I was more interested in. It was like that situation with the boats in The Dark Knight: I just wanted to see Batman and The Joker duke it out and couldn't care less whether or not the human fodder got blown up or not!

Anyway, while I have my reservations about the film in some regards (which did require that space to explain, incidentally), such the underdeveloped human characters and a number of different issues with the montage storytelling aesthetics, I do think that Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is right now the best blockbuster of the summer. The harmony between the motion capture acting (particularly Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell) and the visual effects is breathtaking, with Weta Digital really outdoing themselves in bringing these apes to life. The visual effects also interact well with the terrific cinematography of Michael Seresin, whose work alongside the composite departments must be duly credited. It's a legitimate franchise epic, with some daring and provocative screenwriting ideas, bolstered up by Michael Giacchino's score. Design-wise, it's beautifully realised, and Matt Reeves has delivered his best directorial film to date. I don't think any film has quite reached the heights of the original 1968 Planet Of The Apes, but in my estimation this is as close as we've got so far, and I look forward to see where they go with the franchise after this fine entry into the Apes saga.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Chillin' (before I hit the grind again next week!)

P.S. The 3D skeptic in me was also challenged thoroughly by this movie. Along with Avatar and Gravity, this is one of three movies that you could use to argue for 3D as a legitimate means for storytelling. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Directed by: Michael Bay

Produced by: Don Murphy
Tom DeSanto
Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Ian Bryce

Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger

Based on: Transformers by Hasbro

Starring: Mark Wahlberg
Peter Cullen
Stanley Tucci
Kelsey Grammar
Jack Reynor
Nicola Peltz
Sophia Myles
Li Bingbing
Titus Welliver
T.J. Miller

Music by: Steve Jablonsky

Cinematography by: Amir Mokri

Editing by: Paul Rubell
Roger Barton
William Goldenberg

Studio(s): Paramount Pictures
di Bonaventura Pictures
China Movie Channel
Jiaflix Enterprises

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): June 26, 2014 (Hong Kong)
June 27, 2014 (United States
July 5, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 165 minutes

Country(s): United States

Language: English

Production budget: $210 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 005, 326, 510

Ahoy there sailors, that's me back from another one of my many excursions to be made over the course of the summer. I spent the week in Newcastle's Tipperary Woods by the side of the Mourne Mountains with my Scout troop and had a great time with the boys. Truth be told, even though there's a good bit of work that comes with the responsibility of being a leader in the Scouts, I have gotten as much back over the years, so not only is it a nice break from relative tedium, I'm always grateful for what the Scouting movement has given me in return. Nevertheless, the show must go on, and I've got reviews for this film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and Maleficent to fill out the July reviews, which will be followed by a review for the month, after which I'll dive into as many of August's releases as I can. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted. 

So, today's film up for review is Transformers: Age Of Extinction, the fourth instalment in what looks like is now going to be at the least a six film live-action film franchise spun off of the Hasbro toys. For those of you who don't know, my good self (I will excuse the self-complimentary gabber for now) and this film series have a bit of history. In 2007, my first year of film reviewing, I found the first Transformers to be a charming surprise, garnering a nom for Most Surprisingly 'Good'/Entertaining Film (losing out to the deliriously fun Die Hard 4.0). Then the second one came along in 2009 and won itself the dubious Ed Wood Award for Worst Film of the Year, an award for which it was wholly deserving in all it's two-and-a-half hour plus running time of loud and excessive boredom (I still refer to it as 'The Robot Movie,' incidentally). Dark Of The Moon was a whole lot less bad and better shot, but still a poor movie, and Michael Bay, (not to make a scapegoat) the one who is to blame for all of this nonsense, was the inaugural inductee to my coveted Hall Of Shame, for his myriad of cinematic crimes (here's looking at the torture chamber of horrors that is Platinum Dunes), a space he shares with no less than Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The crux to the Michael Bay problem is that unlike those two heathens he is a genuinely talented action director who has the tools at his disposal to do great things but insists on continuing to produce and direct diabolical rubbish. So, with this new film, Age Of Extinction, Bay has started afresh, bringing a whole new cast into the mix to play new characters in a franchise I have to say I've long been tired of. Story goes that five years after the Battle Of Chicago (Dark Of The Moon's climatic action sequences) all Transformers have been outlawed and the military has a zero-tolerance policy regarding their activity. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling inventor and single father to teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), discovers with his friend Lucas (T.J. Miller) an old truck that they buy to strip it for parts to sell, money for which will go towards sending Tessa to college. The old truck though is none other than Optimus Prime, and his arrival and alliance with the humans following a CIA unit ambush led by agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) leads our heroes, along with Tessa's boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), into another big lambasting adventure. Got it? Good!

Now, I've made no bones in the past about my dislike for this franchise, but I'm going to make it perfectly clear that I went into this (relatively) unbiased and had an open mind. Starting with the good about this film, the change in the cast and characters is a welcome injection of a fresh quality to the franchise. At the centre of the human story, you've got a game Mark Wahlberg, who nearly always seems to have his charisma buttons turned on (as opposed to charisma vacuum Shia LaBeouf), and Stanley Tucci, who lends his talents to play Joshua Joyce, the incredibly narcissistic head of the KSI corporation. Both are seasoned veteran of the acting game and the film benefits greatly from having them on board and at least giving us the impression that they care about the material. Also, as I mentioned regarding Dark Of The Moon, Amir Mokri's cinematography ensures that the movie also looks good. The second film (The Robot Movie) was horribly shot, and when Amir Mokri came in it meant that not only were things at least visible, but also that it was done well, and the case is the same here. It means that we can at least admire the whole point of the movie and that is the visual effects, stunts and production design. All of these are done rather well in this instalment, to the extent that for the first time since the first Transformers in 2007 I was for portions actively enjoying a Transformers movie. Say what you will about Michael Bay (and I will say a lot!), the guy knows how to do action sequences, so that, even if story-wise they don't add up to a lot, I can at least say I admired them as a singular pieces in this whole thing. Speaking of design, while the Transformers themselves are well done, the standout for me was the combination of production design and visual effects that went into the bounty hunter Lockdown's ship. This thing is a twisted, macabre chamber of horrors not dissimilar to something H.R. Giger would have come up with for Alien with it's dark, dank corridors and rooms full of a combination of jutting edges with a strangely symmetrical feel. It's unusual seeing something so distinctly nightmarish in what is essentially meant to be a kid's movie, but it was among a number of welcome surprises that Age Of Extinction gave me.

Yes, I had a number of good things to say about a Transformers movie, woop woop! It's a cause celebre! Well, I won't be eating my shoe yet, because even though there were things that I liked and admired about Age Of Extinction, there was a fair bit more that I didn't. First and foremost of the film's problems is, yep, you guessed it, the script, for while Age Of Extinction has it's moments, they don't all add up to much. For starters, while there is a strong enough cast at the front of this, none of the characters are given any depth or legitimacy that would make me credibly believe in their characters. They're all made up of fairly simple-minded cliches designed in a marketing package to tick all boxes; the central character is a widower, we have a token hippy/stoner/comic humour trope (an insultingly poor character), the daughter is going through a secret period of teenage rebellion, and her boyfriend's Irish so he ticks the racial box, it all seems a little convenient, doesn't it? Also, there's a lot of dialogue in the movie regarding the history of the Transformers and their related phenomena which unfortunately serves to be a lot sleep-inducing wiffle waffle designed specifically for the purposes of hypnotising the audience into thinking something profound is at work here. This is all once again disappointing work from series stalwart Ehren Kruger, who made such a promising start to his career with the wholly underrated Jeff Bridges/Tim Robbins psychological thriller Arlington Road. Also, though I think there is blame to be split here, there really is no need for this film's excessive running time of 165 minutes. Kruger really needs to cut back on the basil expository nonsense, which really sees the movie drag itself limply along for the last hour, and just get back to basics: this film could have been done in under two hours and we'd be none the less wise to everything that went on. Not helping facts is that it is a poorly edited movie with nearly every scene, never mind sequence, drawn out way past the end of the line. There are three editors credited as having worked on this film, but instead of a team who pools their collective resources to the benefit of the bigger picture, instead their work sees that the film lacks a fluidity, remaining consistently inconsistent, jumping back and forth between various paralleling action scenes, spending long times digressing with the expository hoo-ha etc etc. To me, if you're going to ask that an audience dedicates nearly three hours of their time and spend their hard-earned money to fill up multiplexes, you've got to give them something more than this. Give us something like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, The Lord Of The Rings films, Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, you've really got to go the extra mile when you spend that much money on a movie and demand the audience's attention that much, and unfortunately, Age Of Extinction just doesn't make the cut. Speaking of the extra mile, Steve Jablonsky goes about ten too many with his musical score. In between the crashes, bangs and explosions, we are subjected to the honking histrionics of Jablonsky's brass orchestra, which sounds like the aural mutant spawn of martial music and the kind of vainglorious nonsense you find in those 'Inspirational' videos that are a strange trend known only to YouTube. To think that this man is a graduate of Remote Control Productions and was mentored by the great Hans Zimmer is at times hard to comprehend. This is sonically repugnant work, and I don't get how many people think this good music, because it's about as far removed from good music as David Bowie is from Chris Brown. It's full of that 'feel music' baloney, with swells, fanfares and cascades designed to tell the audience how they should react to something; no thank you, I have a brain and I know when I'm being talked down to! Which brings me to Michael Bay. I remember growing up a cineaste and watching many of Bay's movies, such as The Rock and Bad Boys, as part of Jerry Bruckheimer's school of action movies, and thinking "this guy's got talent." In the case of Age Of Extinction, unfortunately, once again, as he has done for much of the past decade-and-a-half, Bay has squandered that talent to produce lacklustre work that is only designed for the express purpose of worshipping The Almighty Dollar. Notwithstanding the excessive amount of advertising and product placement (I counted Budweiser, Tom Ford, Gucci, Ray Bans, a whole scene involving Bud Light and no less than ten products from China, many of whom were unhappy at their prominent inclusions in the film for being not blatant enough!), there is a stinkingly corporate, capitalistic heart at the centre of this which takes away from any credibility this could have had as a serious film. While I can't get as actively angry about this as I have about other Transformers films, Age Of Extinction is still a much less than satisfactory experience.

Overall critical reception to this latest Transformers has not been pleasant to say the least. Presently, it sits at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest rating for the series to date on critical consensus. However, it has made over a billion dollars worldwide, so I doubt that Bay and company are going to lose any sleep in the comfort of their king-sized beds in their villas on Miami Beach or some place of the like. From my perspective, while I found things to admire about Age Of Extinction, namely Wahlberg and Tucci's performances, the cinematography, the production design, stunts and visual effects (I can also confidently say it's the best of the Transformers sequels), I still found this to be a poor movie. For $210 million, you expect more than a movie with a horrible script full of cardboard cutout characters, cliches and expository nonsense which, in conjunction with the consistently inconsistent editing, make this a particularly long expenditure of 165 minutes of your life. In between the overly loud sound effects, we have the overly loud honking histrionics of Steve Jablonsky and his brass orchestra, and when I was given any space to breath or think, I couldn't help but think how low Michael Bay has become since he sold his talents out to unworthy causes. 

On a side note, although I don't know how much of this can be attributed to Transformers: Age Of Extinction (wink wink!), I was violently sick when I got home, so be wary, filmgoers, be wary!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (nice to be home and chillin')