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

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Yep, the questionably necessary fourth Indiana Jones instalment is on the List. And if anyone has any problem with that (like me, for example) then the only place to point the finger of blame is at the public, as the List it appears on is the one voted for by Empire readers. Granted, the film came out in 2008, the year the poll was taken, so many readers who may have only ever seen 10 films would have been forced to put it in their top 10. This also explains the inclusion of Transformers and Juno on the same list, and it’s pretty much assured that if the poll were taken again, these films would be unlikely to retain their positions. But the important thing is that the film is on there, and I had to watch it.

When I first saw the film in the cinema, on the weekend it was released, I didn’t actually think it was that terrible. Hell, if anything I enjoyed it, and left the theatre happy and fulfilled. Granted, it was certainly no Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even The Last Crusade, but it was a damn sight more fun than The Temple of Doom. I was somewhat shocked to discover that these feelings were not necessarily shared by the rest of the world, but now, after a couple more viewings, I have realised my mistake.
For me, the film has four main problems, all of which I’m sure have been covered many times before, but not by me. Firstly, the movie seems to be completely devoid of a strong narrative path. It’s more like a bunch of scenes that the writers thought would look cool, all strung together without really flowing into one another. On their own, or within a more cohesive plot, some of them would work fine. Case in point: the opening, in which Indy (Harrison Ford) and his ally Mac (Ray Winstone) are taken to the warehouse at the end of Raiders in search of a sporadically magnetic alien skull, is in itself a pretty entertaining scene, and a great way to start off the film. The use of Indiana’s instantly recognisable profile (when he’s wearing the hat, anyway) is well implemented, and the eventual chase through the warehouse is frenetic and action-packed, even if Ford no longer looks like he’s quite as capable of offing army thugs as he used to be. After this scene, we go straight into the now infamous fridge-nuke catastrophe, a scene which has no place in any film, let alone directly after a really fun, if a little silly, opening action sequence. This problem occurs again later, when some pages from a low-budget 80s B-movie are accidentally stapled in, when out hero finds himself in quicksand, a genre staple that I’m fairly sure has been made illegal.

The second problem, and this is a big one, is Shia LaBoeuf. The man is a scourge to cinema. Every film he touches becomes a travesty. Seriously, look down the guy’s resume and you’ll find some of the worst reviewed films of the past few years: the Transformers sequels, Charlie’s Angels 2, Dumb and Dumberer. If he’s the sidekick or plays only a small part in the film, he’s the worst character or in the worst part (I, Robot, Constantine, Bobby) and yet, he still makes movies. In fact, he’s soon to appear in Lawless, in which I can only imagine Tom Hardy will overshadow him in every way possible as the two play brothers. Honestly, the film is going to put LaBeouf up against Gary Oldman! Though I sincerely hope that Shia’s performance in Lawless blows me away, insomuch as he wins an academy award for it, I highly doubt this will be the case, and it may even ruin that film, that I’m otherwise looking forward to, for me. In Crystal Skull, LaBeouf plays Mutt Williams. If you’re a fan of the Indy franchise, it should come as no surprise that (SPOILER) Mutt is Indy’s son, mainly because Indiana is famously named after his own father’s dog, and Mutt is of course another term for a canine. From his costume, it’s clear LaBeouf is foolishly attempting to emulate Marlon Brando from The Wild One, which he pulls off to absolutely no effect, and if anything it’s a reminder of just how terrible LaBeouf is. The fact that there were rumours suggesting this film would see the handing over of the reigns from Ford to LaBeouf to continue the saga still give me nightmares to this day. I’m almost tempted to announce Mutt as being more annoying than Short Round. Almost.

The Mutt/Indy connection brings me on to my third issue. Crystal Skull tries far too hard to be a member of the Indiana Jones family. I’ve got nothing against a sequel making subtle references to it’s predecessors, offering knowing nods and winks to fans, but here there is far too much time spent to this effect. Whilst Karen Allen, returning as Raiders’ love interest Marion Ravenwood, Mutt’s mother, is a nice touch and offers a believable romance with Indy that you are willing to at times root for, there were all too many moments and scenes that felt like the film-makers were just trying too hard to make it an Indy film. Unfortunately, they only succeeded in making it seem more like the parodies of the Indiana films that filled the gap during it’s 21-year hiatus. This felt far more like National Treasure 3 or The Mummy 4 than an Indy film.
Finally, there’s just too many characters and subplots fighting for screen time. Jim Broadbent filled in for the sadly departed Denholm Elliot as Indy’s fellow university staff member, and John Hurt was a nice inclusion as a crazy old former colleague, but both felt very sidelined, as did Ray Winstone, who should have been pretty integral to the plot. Sadly, they, and Cate Blanchett’s questionably accented Ukrainian skull-hunter were at times almost forgotten in favour of Jones’ relationships with Marion and Mutt.
There were ways that the film could have been fixed. Raiders and Crusade proved that Indy doesn’t need a sidekick, and Temple proved that he shouldn’t have one, so nixing Mutt is pretty much a given. At least 2 scenes should have been cut, as the film feels like it runs at half an hour longer than it’s two hour runtime. I’d suggest the fridge and the diner scene with Mutt. Keep Marion, but make her be in love with John Hurt’s Oxley or Winstone’s Mac, to give Indy a bit of rivalry, and change that goddamn ending. About five minutes before the end of the film, when I first saw it in cinemas I burst out with raucous laughter at how ridiculous the climax was, and this time around it felt even more ludicrous.All that being said, it’s not exactly a horrible film, there are some entertaining sequences – I really enjoyed the jungle-set car chase, up until Mutt starts swinging with the CGI monkeys for no reason whatsoever – and it’s always thrilling to see Harrison Ford wearing a fedora, even if its not the only thing looking a bit dusty these days. I always used to defend the film for being good, just not when compared to the rest of the franchise, but I now know that even if you take it on it’s own, it still really isn’t worth it.

Choose life 5/10