Deliverance

This review was originally written for French Toast Sunday as part of my USA Road Trip series.

In a few months time, the Cahulawassee River is to be flooded by a dam. Four men, only two of whom have any experience canoeing, set out to row down a stretch of the river, before it is tamed by man and gone forever. However, the river has other ideas, as do the locals who don’t think too much of these naive city folk heading down their river.
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Runaway Train

This review was first written for French Toast Sunday.

Oscar Manheim (Jon Voight) is a convicted killer and bank robber, whose multiple escape attempts and generally uncouth disposition have rewarded him with three years of solitary confinement in Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison, during which he was welded into his cell. However, a court ordered has decreed that Manheim be released back into the prison’s general population, where the man is something of a hero. Of course, once he’s out of his cell he makes another escape attempt, during which he’s joined by Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts), a loyal but simple fellow inmate whose laundry job provides a perfect means of escape. Once on the run in the freezing Alaskan wilderness, the two end up on a train that’s out of control, and they may be the only ones that can stop it.Voight Continue reading

Transformers

Part 2 in my Shia LaBoeuf: the Scourge of Cinema double-bill sees him taking on giant, transforming robot aliens as he attempts to save the world using a weird little cube, and cop off with Megan Fox. I’ve got no historical connection to the Tranformers franchise, as I neither saw the cartoon series or the animated feature from the 80s, and I’ve never played with any of the toys as a child. So unlike many people, I feel that so far my childhood has been unmolested by Michael Bay, something I was afraid I’d no longer be spared from with his intentions to paint his own brand of ridiculousness onto the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which I think now has been fortunately abandoned.I first saw the film in cinemas five years ago, when I was barely 20. At that point, I must have been just on the outside cusp of the film’s target audience, as I thought it was amazing. At that point in my life, Michael Bay was something of a favourite director of mine – I even liked Pearl Harbor – and a film that followed cars transforming into robots and beating the scrap out of each other, interspersed with eardrum-bursting explosions, comic cameos and gratuitous shots of Megan Fox bending over an engine at sunset was of course going to do nothing but good to my barely-older-than-teenage mind. Now, however, I see the film for the hollow, disorganised, puerile mess that it truly is.Granted, I’m no longer the film’s target audience, but this is my review, so I’m giving my opinions. This film is stupid. I’m on board for a story about robots from outer space that can somehow transform into cars, planes and, um, a stereo, but unfortunately most of this film is about Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, a typical the-only-character-LaBeouf-can-play annoying, dumb every-kid stereotype with embarrassing parents, mediocre grades, stupid friends, a crappy car and a complete and utter lack of charm and charisma. As always, LaBeouf plays an annoying tit rather well, as you’d expect from having had so much practise. It transpires that Sam’s great-grandfather was an Arctic explorer who discovered the allspark – the movie’s maguffin that is capable of creating new transformers – and Sam holds the key to it’s whereabouts, because somehow a map has been engraved into his ancestor”s spectacles. Ludicrous. Two warring tribes of robot aliens – the human-loving Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (voiced by series original Peter Cullen), and the world-conquering Decepticons, led by Megatron (a wasted Hugo Weaving) – somehow learn that Sam has the glasses, and trace his location using eBay. Of course. Along for the ride is Megan Fox’s Mikaela, the girl of Sam’s dreams who is clearly from such a broken home that her family is unable to replace the clothes she clearly grew out of some years ago.There’s also a couple of sub-plots involving the squad of marines – a Michael Bay trademark – who initially encounter a Decepticon attack, and attempts by the government to decode a message recorded from the bots. Each of these strands involves barely fleshed out caricatures instead of actual characters – the marine who sporadically speaks in Spanish even though no-one else understands him, the immature ‘world’s greatest hacker’ with his irritating dance-gaming friend – and does anyone else remember when Jon Voight was a respected actor, and not reduced to offering dry exposition as the Secretary of Defense? The government strand featured one of my biggest pet peeves in films. The film focuses on a group of hackers. This group is predominantly made up of guys who look like hackers – they’re overweight, scruffy, and generally appear socially awkward. And of course the one who’s better than all of them is played by Rachael Taylor, who looks like a supermodel. There is no girl in the world who looks like that and knows how to hack. I’m aware that of all the things in the film that don’t make sense, this is relatively minor, but it’s something that has always annoyed me.

This kind of films lives or dies by the CGI, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s damn impressive. There are some sequences that look absolutely bad-ass, most notably the opening Scorpiok attack, and a massive-scale battle between both sides at the end. Starscream, the Decepticon who is able to transform into a jet, has the coolest moments, especially when he transforms in mid-flight and swings on a bridge during a strike on the Hoover dam, so in those respects the film has some enjoyable moments. The problem is that in a film for which the entire draw is robots hitting each other, there’s just not enough of it. At one point, the robots are in the middle of a catastrophic fight, yet we are left watching Voight and the hackers searching for some microphones and using morse code.

There were a lot more attempts at juvenile comedy than I remembered from my earlier viewing, and very few of them were gratefully received. At one point, a diminutive robot capable of transforming into a machine attempts to walk nonchalantly passed some people looking for it, and it tries to cover it’s face whilst walking! This is not comedy, nor is it clever, it;s just stupid. There are many more scenes like this – an Autobot ‘lubricating’ (peeing) on John Turtorro’s government agent, Sam’s asinine chihuahua Mojo, everything LaBeouf does – and the only comedic scenes that really do the job are those involving Bernie Mac as a car salesman, and Kevin Dunn and Judy White as Sam’s all-too-familiar parents.

If the idea of giant metallic creatures from space beating each other up has you foaming at the mouth with excitement – and at times this is a category I’d class myself in – then you’ll probably like about half this film. If you’ve recently had a lobotomy or are a prepubescent male, then you’ll probably like the other half. If not, just leave it alone.

Choose life 5/10

Heat

Most crime films tend to pick a side early on, focusing on a ‘means to an end’ band of criminals thieving because they have to, or a team of patriotic, all-American supercops able to match their never-ending machine gun clips with a limitless supply of one liners, but Michael Mann’s Heat, a remake of his own 1989 made for TV movie L.A. Takedown, takes a different path, giving Robert De Niro’s gang of seasoned thieved and Al Pacino’s police squad equal screen time, equal motivation and similar levels of compassion, so you get to decide who you want to win. Though the two main characters; De Niro’s master thief Neil McCauley and Pacino’s dogged detective Vincent Hanna are sworn enemies, they are still two sides of the same coin, separated by their own opinions of the law, but brought together by a deep mutual respect. Neither one is the villain of the film, there are more than enough scumbags among the supporting player to take that role, yet neither is necessarily the hero, although in the end it’s Pacino who grabs the most heroic moments.
Surrounded by an incredible ensemble cast (deep breath: Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman, Xander Berkeley, Hank Azaria, Jon Voight, Jeremy Piven, Mykelti Williamson, William Fichtner, Tom Noonan, Ted Levine, Ashley Judd), some perfectly choreographed set pieces (the opening truck heist and mid film bank robbery/street shootout) and ability to show the effect their chosen lifestyles has had on these characters and their personal lives, or lack thereof, this is a tremendous film, even if it does give in to the occasional cliché, but these can be forgiven for the fact that they use weapons that actually, from time to time, need reloading.
Choose film 9/10