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Film Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t perfect, and its conclusion rather abrupt, but as a send-off for this franchise (for now?), you couldn’t possibly ask for a bigger, more ridiculously explosive final chapter.

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Few directors know how to throw a farewell party the way Michael Bay does. With this, the supposed final installment of the globe conquering Transformers series, he proves once again that there are few that truly understand the movie-going public as well as he does. Dark of the Moon is leaps and bounds above Revenge of the Fallen, narrowing the scope of the film while taking advantage of 3D and amplifying its excess and sonic poundage. Rarely will a film ever be this loud and unforgiving on the human senses, an audio/visual hammer with the subtlety of a brick to the skull. But that is what makes this film so ridiculously brilliant; it is what we, as a global movie-going audience, wants. If you don’t believe a word of the previous sentence, feel free to check the box office in a few days time.

Dark of the Moon reaches far deeper into the Transformers mythology bringing the world of Cybertron closer to Earth than ever before. It back tracks to the human space race of the 1960s to set the tone of the film, giving Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s (who makes a cameo appearance) moon landing a more sinister undertone. Humanity is once again at peril as it stands between the Autobots and Decepticons’ never ending galactic battle for supremacy. Yet in Dark of the Moon, we find that there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to the role of humans in the historical context of this great fight. It almost circumvents the plot of Revenge of the Fallen, but this progression of the Transformers history seems much better (or maybe Revenge just sucked so much that they hoped to simply sweep it under the rug) as soon as you throw out any sense of plausibility (but what’s plausible about Transformers anyway?)

Shia LaBeouf continues to do a lot of running and yelling and kicking as Sam, struggling for a job after the events of the first two movies, stumbles into employment thanks to his new squeeze, the rather well shot (God bless Michael Bay and the way he shoots lingerie models) Rosie Huntington-Whitely. And for all the hullabaloo, she is genuinely better than Megan Fox, a far less irritating caricature and a better actress. We are given some genuinely funny moments as his struggles for employment crosses paths with the likes of a slightly underused John Malkovich, an as-expected Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk. The cast in general (which includes Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey) is far more rounded, having jettisoned the annoying Ramon Rodriguez and keeping the role of Sam’s parents to a minimum, which gives the film a solid human presence amongst the sentient destruction. Most of them do the best they can with the lines they’re fed, that while isn’t quite Aaron Sorkin, is better than “I’ll drive, you shoot”.

Writer Ehren Kruger does the film its biggest service by limiting the film’s landscape to but a few destinations. While we traveled to the far reaches of the Earth in Revenge of the Fallen, we are most restricted to only a few (setting the film’s final set piece within the city confines of Chicago), avoiding the travel fatigue we got in the second.

With these parts in place, Michael Bay gives the film its much-needed finality. It is unlikely that another film in our lifetime will showcase the kind of visual magnificence displayed in Dark of the Moon (unless Bay signs on for Transformers 4). A highway chase scene featuring Decepticons gunning after the Autobots is particularly mesmerizing; turning the frenzied blur we’ve seen in the previous two films into a refined, almost beautiful piece of futuristic roller derby. And there are nuances and subtleties that lacked before- the perfectly timed musical accompaniment to a scene for instance (when Sam is driving into Chicago)- that adds a rare moment of tranquility. For fans of the history, Leonard Nimoy returns to voice Sentinel Prime (the first time Nimoy returns to this universe since he voiced Galvatron in the original animated film), while the likes of Shockwave, with his newly added aura of destruction, will surely please diehards.

Critics enjoy savaging Michael Bay because he doesn’t bring the same kind of sensibilities to the art of filmmaking a Godard, a Fellini or an Orson Welles does. Yet they all had their trademarks that earned them their distinction; Godard with his Nouvelle Vague jump cuts, Fellini with his elegant imagery and Welles with his all-around innovation. And Bay, like them, has his cannon for generation now: explosive, A.D.D. ridden, sex-infused, glossy storytelling of excess proportions. You cannot compare Dark of the Moon to À bout de soufflé, but you can compare their connection to the cultural and global landscape of their time. As much as critics will pound and holler about the merits of Terrence Malick’s latest film and how we should go see that instead of Rosie Huntington-Whitely in her underwear, their gracious calls for cinematic justice will fall on deaf ears. Why? Because Michael Bay and Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the way we are now (and really, what the hell do you want from a movie about giant robots? Optimus Prime wandering the streets of Paris smoking cigarettes?) The collective applause by the audience through the film (and at its conclusion) will attest to that.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t perfect, and its conclusion rather abrupt, but as a send-off for this franchise (for now?), you couldn’t possibly ask for a bigger, more ridiculously explosive final chapter.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Josh Duhammel, Tyrese Gibson, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey
Runtime: 157 mins

Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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