Assorted Thoughts of a Salted Caramel...
Drinking Buddies

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                                              Small beer

A meandering wisp of a movie, Drinking Buddies is a snapshot in the lives of Kate (a fresh faced Olivia Wilde) and Luke (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) and out on the periphery, their other halves Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Chris (Ron Livingston).

Coming in at a slender 87 minutes, with likable leads and an uncomplicated feel, I wanted to enjoy this more than I eventually did. Its length means it’s not quite a character piece and its lack of destination means it doesn’t quite tick the mainstream movie checkboxes. As a result, it’s adrift in the hinterland, dependent on Wilde and Johnson’s earthily unrequited performances. It was all going rather well until the final few minutes, which aim for provocatively inconclusive, but end up feeling like the film has prematurely ground to a halt thanks to some misguided editing. 

It’s an interesting enough showcase for writer-director Joe Swanberg, but overall, isn’t worth more than a ‘could do better’.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

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              Robots in disguise - as something really boring…

Michael Bay has returned to a rebooted (Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox-less) Transformers universe in which, betrayed by humankind, the Autobots are being hunted down in the name of human security by a rampantly out of control CIA (spot the post-9/11 metaphor anyone?). 

Critics may hate it, but audiences apparently love it. Me? I was thoroughly bored by it, an admission that pains me greatly as a long time defender of Michael Bay’s shrill, shallow but oh-so-shamefully-enjoyable guys ‘n’ guns approach to blockbuster movie making.

Sadly, whatever dark arts Bay perfected as a music video director, Transformers 4 is proof that he is now incapable of telling a story over the course 165 butt-numbing minutes, let alone a single song. It’s also a terrifying glimpse at the future of blockbusters with barely comprehensible direlogue (“My face is my warrant!”) and the kind of delirious location hopping that can only be driven by global box office aspiration rather than anything approaching a logical plot (Exhibit A: would the US really allow a top secret military project to be re-located to China? Really?). 

In some ways, it’s the perfect global blockbuster - solidly marketable lead (notwithstanding his $16m paycheck for T4, Mark Wahlberg remains a bargain basement action hero); blandly attractive teenage sidekicks, character actors doling out more ham than an Iberian pig farm as the villains and scene after scene of wordless, wanton action. 

I love summer blockbusters, and will cut them more slack than most films. I will happily admit for example that Kelsey Grammar’s psychotically patriotic CIA agent is by far the best thing about this movie, closely followed by Stanley Tucci’s barely-a-character Steve-Jobs-alike tech entrepreneur. I could even have looked beyond the unintelligble plotting, the largely slipshod voicework and the inexplicably bad Irish accent being toted by bargain basement Jesse Spencer Jack Raynor (inexplicable because he was brought up in Irelandfor crying out loud).

But T4 has positioned itself firmly beyond the pale by failing to deliver the one thing I expect - nay, demand - from such movies by utterly, utterly failing to deliver something I haven’t seen before.

For every titanic clash, there’s a sense of been there, seen that - the addition of samurai swords and dinobots fails to improve on the inspired destruction on display in T3’s Battle of Chicago. Everything looks interminably familiar, if not from a previous Transformers movie (hello again, Chicago), then plucked - sorry, ripped off - from any number of other, better movies, from Jurassic Park’s iconic T-Rex to Man of Steel's cataclysmic terraforming scenes (not to mention its soundtrack). When even the sight of Optimus Prime astride a freakin' Dinobot can barely stir the soul, it is clear that Bay has delivered the most epic of fails.

Dull, predictable, annoying, incoherent and unforgivably long - oh avid cinemagoer, look upon thy fate and tremble…

The Three Musketeers (2011)

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                                           SteamPunk’d

2011’s misbegotten re-imagining of Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale of intrigue, espionage and musketeering is (perhaps unfortunately) not quite as bad as its critical mauling would imply.

Still - it isn’t good. I’ve got no problem with yet another adaptation. I don’t even mind the slightly desperate attempt to freshen up the 17th century shenanigans as the scheming Cardinal Richlieu attempts to dethrone the King by injecting a healthy dose of steampunk. I do, however, deplore the creation of yet another a movie made by Paul WS Anderson, a man whose continued employment on anything other than the Resident Evil franchise can only be explained by the fact that he still gets mistaken for the other Paul Anderson

The fight choreography is distressingly bad (if you can’t make a battle between two airships interesting, you really should consider a different career path - actuarial science perhaps?), while the acting is merely a reflection of pitiful dialogue. Orlando Bloom at least earns his paycheck, hamming his way through every scene, but Mathew Macfadyen in particular looks at best bored, but more likely downright upset to be there. Even Mads Mikkelsen and Christoph Waltz purring malevolently through their scenes fails to inject any real gusto.

Annoyingly, there are glimpses of a stupid but fun movie in there. With a different director, a better script, a little less ham and a lot more action (yeah, ok, so almost an entirely different movie), TTM 2011 could have been brainless, but rollicking good fun. 

Sadly it wasn’t, a point underlined by the laughably optimistic, sequel-baiting final scene, which Anderson didn’t even have the nous or humility to hide mid-credits. I suppose I should just be grateful they did junk the follow-up…

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

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                                   Back to the future?

Another year, another superhero sequel. Based - very loosely - on the 1981 storyline of the same name, thanks to some misguided vigilantism on the part of a now thoroughly badass Mystique in the 70s, the future is a burnt out shell, dominated by ruthless Sentinels bent on destroying mutants and anyone who helps them. The only hope for the X-Men and humankind is some mindbending time tampering by Wolverine. 

DOFP packs the most wallop when its First Class cast are hotfooting around in the 70s - a groovily understated rendering that makes the film’s burned out future look like a generic apocalypse-by-numbers. Sadly, the sequel isn’t quite as funny as its predecessor, but there are some decent action scenes. The absolute standout - and worth the ticket price alone - is Quicksilver’s franchise debut (American Horror Story’s Peter Evans breathing cocksure life into the teenage incarnation) which peaks during a sensational jailbreak sequence.

Sadly the rest of the film never quite hits those heights again. While there’s a trainspotterish enjoyment to be had from identifying fan favourites and the actors playing them, cramming that many X-Men into a single film means that pretty much everyone is, to varying degrees, marginalised to cameos and action sequences (Colossus, Blink and Bishop are among the most significant victims of this). Even the core First Class cast struggle to make an impression outside of their key set piece scenes.

Somewhat controversially (multiverses being more of a DC thing) DOFP takes the opportunity to wipe the franchise’s movie slate clean. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out should the powers that be decide to make another stand alone present day X-Men movie.

Visually appealing and inventive in places, DOFP fails to make much of an impression outside Quiksilver’s blistering turn, eventually stumbling towards a denouement that, in part due to some unfortunate editing, fails to capitalise on the drama of events unfolding in two different timelines.

But most of all, like most time travel movies, success ultimately relies on being emotionally invested enough with one or two characters to want to see a ‘bad’ timeline undone (it’s why the Back To The Future films work so well - who doesn’t want to see Marty McFly put bully Biff Tannen back in his sad, little place?). I love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but unfortunately a bloated cast and an absence of drama mean that undoing the events of five other movies (at least two of which I like a heck of a lot more than this one) left behind an unsatisfyingly hollow feeling. 

The over-the-credits teaser hints at more time travelling shenanigans but following this year’s strangely unexceptional offering, I await 2016’s sequel with a little less enthusiasm than before. 

Chef

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                                     (Gastro) porn star

An easy going road movie, Chef is to the summer blockbuster schedule what salt is to caramel - unexpected, but all the better for it. Thanks to the devastation wrought by the World Cup (which has, like a fat kid at the buffet, left nothing but a few unsatisfactory crumbs for those of us not riveted by the prospect of Belgium vs. Algeria) to the usual parade of popcorn movies, Chef has managed to sneak quietly into a cineplex near you.  

Part travelogue, part father-son bonding session, Chef never pretends to be complex or challenging. It’s a charming, sweet movie with a luscious line in gastro porn (I now know what a darkened room full of people salivating over a grilled cheese sandwich sounds like…) whose only challenge is whether the movie’s women (Sofia Vergara and Scar-Jo amping up the va-va-voom) or food is more appealing.

The plot, with all the substance of a poached meringue, sees chef Carl Casper (writer-director Jon Favreau in the leading role) going on a road trip in a food truck to rediscover his mojo (not to be confused with his mojo) and bond with his 10 year old son (the charming Emjay Anthony) ably supported by his motor-mouthed Man Friday (John Leguizimo) following a very public face off with a powerful food critic.

What follows is an artisanal marshmallow of a movie - some will find it cloying, but most will enjoy it for the lovingly made treat that it is. If you don’t leave the cinema with a spring in your step, a song in your -heart and a deep-sated craving for a fresh cubano sandwich, then frankly, I can only conclude that you’ve recently had your joy glands removed. 

Maleficent

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        The wicked fairy godmother gets a Disney makeover…

Another twist on a fairytale, Maleficent sweeps into cinemas with very little to surprise anyone even remotely familiar with the conceit behind films like Snow White and the Huntsman, or even Wicked. 

This time, it’s Sleeping Beauty that gets the makeover treatment, and wouldn’t you know it - there’s more to the tale than we were ever told, including the (as it turns out, rather understandable) reasons for the original curse. 

Unfortunately, some initial darkness and a malicious sense of humour are soon buried under the dead weight of some sluggish storytelling and a plethora of annoying characters. Sleeping Beauty herself - Elle Fanning’s Aurora - is truly insipid (and not exactly the brightest bulb in the box to boot), while the good fairy godmothers lurch beyond comically inept to irritatingly daft. It’s almost a blessing that the ending is a messy rush to the end, in order to reduce the amount of time spent watching this misconceived jumble. 

Add to that the barely there 3D, cheap looking production values and creature design that’s resulted in what can only be described as swamp Muppets squatting in a sickly bubblegum coloured forest, and (despite its vaguely girl power message) Maleficent looks like a bust. 

Luckily, the film has two saving graces. Naturally, the first of these is Angelina Jolie - spurned and betrayed, her maliciously charismatic performance pretty much holds the entire movie together. With a devilish grin and cheekbones sharp enough to tear up the cinema screen, she’s both sympathetic and compelling enough to outweigh the movie’s many (many) other flaws.

The other redeeming feature is Lana Del Rey’s haunting rendition of Once Upon A Dream, which ultimately undoes the film. Over the trailer it promised a film of fairytale malevolence and action - playing out over the end credits it only serves to remind cinema-goers of what might have been. 

22 Jump Street

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                         Police Academy: The College Years

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as the chalk and cheese buddies in the sequel to 2012’s raucous (and surprisingly popular) reboot of the, ahem, classic 80s TV show starring Johnny Depp. 

Not only do they acknowledge the fact that it’s a sequel, they wholeheartedly embrace the fact that they’re doing exactly the same thing as before as Tatum’s luscious lunk and Hill’s awkward mandolescent go undercover at an educational establishment in order to bust a drugs ring. The only real ‘twist’ is the upending of the original’s role reversal - this time Jenko is the triumphant jock while Schmidt is the outcast. As well as making for a running joke, it means they can dispense with any pretence of originality and just concentrate on cramming as many crass, dumbass jokes, coincidences and bromantic trials and tribulations as Jenko and Schmidt can handle as they embark on their college years. 

Bar some mildly (albeit unintentionally) unfortunate references (Tracey Morgan, Maya Angelou and an oblique reference to Paul Walker - could this be the start of the Jump Street curse?), a side effect of deliberately setting the bar low is that as ludicrous and predictable as it sometimes is, 22 Jump Street is still solidly entertaining. 

It’s loud, shallow and crude, not a little stupid and occasionally freakin’ hilarious (nowhere more so than the string of sequels running over the end credits). It’s not high art, it’ll never win an Oscar, but does offer a waft of fresh air amongst the usual summer blockbusters currently traipsing humourlessly through cinemas near you. 

Muppets: Most Wanted

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                                   Muppets take Europe

Following their triumphant return, it’s a shame that Disney couldn’t (or wouldn’t) keep hold of Jason Segel, the mastermind behind 2011’s zany, felt-covered comeback.

This year’s sequel picks up in the immediate aftermath of the first film. Its central conceit revolves around a tedious case of mistaken identity between Kermit and amphibian master criminal Constantine, which sees our favourite frog carted off to a Siberian gulag while his doppelganger pulls off a series of daring heists under the cover of a shambolic Muppets European tour. 

The result, despite the presence of Tina Fey and Ty Burrell (and in spite of the presence of Ricky Gervais) is uneven and utterly lacking the heartfelt joie de vivre of 2011’s effort. It’s disappointingly apparent that Most Wanted is a labour of money rather than love, not helped in the least by the knowing wink-wink of the opening number, desperately proclaiming that ‘sequels are never as good’ in a failed attempt at irony.

It’s also telling that the bits that work best are those featuring everybody’s favourite frog, which is why despite featuring more cameos than The Antiques Roadshow, it errs towards feeling a little dull anytime he’s not on screen.

It’s jolly enough, even if vast tracts of it feel longer than they should, but it’s a worrying sign that the japes and madcappery already feel more forced than a jam and anchovy sandwich down your throat. 

The Edge Of Tomorrow

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                                     Go. Watch. Repeat.

Another year, another enjoyably adequate Tom Cruise blockbuster.

Taking its bare bones from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 novel All You Need Is Kill (an edgier title that should never have been traded in for the blandly meaningful Edge of Tomorrow) Tom Cruise is Major William Cage, who finds himself reliving the same disastrous battle over and over again as humanity falls in the face of a devastating alien invasion. His only ally is super soldier Rita Vrataski aka The Angel of Verdun aka the Full Metal Bitch (a thoroughly ripped and plausibly hardass Emily Blunt). 

EoT has a lot going for it, not least its willingness to trade on Cruise’s smug leading man persona as he goes from slick PR guy to battle hardened grunt. The Groundhog Day meets Saving Private Ryan (director Doug Liman borrows heavily from the latter for EoT’s signature beach offensive) premise also paves the way for plenty of action, no less gritty or tense for knowing that the protagonist is going to wake up good as new. It also allows for a neat role reversal that sees Blunt as much in the driving seat as Cruise. We may not get to see as much of the inner workings of her character as Cage’s, but it’s still a rare role for a woman and one in which she excels with posed, hard-bitten ease. 

Unfortunately, the film never quite makes the most of its nihilistic premise despite pushing the boundaries of its 12A certification. EoT toys with bleakness (as Cage grows weary of an eternity spent fighting a losing battle) and black comedy (often involving Vrataski’s willingness to put Cage down if he so much as breaks a nail during basic training). 

Which makes it all the more frustrating to consider the movie it could have been. Like a muzzled wolf, there’s a pacier, more brutal movie lurking beneath this one, if only the studio hadn’t opted for the lowest common denominator (note to studio execs - 15 / R-rated movies still make plenty money).

The puritanical depiction of the lead duo’s relationship also mutes the central conceit - that Cage would hold off saving the world just to see Vrataski live - while the constant, bloodless respawning occasionally creates the impression you’re watching a gamer get to grips with his (or her) latest purchase. But nowhere is the lost potential more evident than in the film’s resolution, which is both crowd pleasing and annoyingly predictable (not to mention peculiarly unchronological). 

Inevitably flawed then, but still more fun than  and earns bonus points for not being a sequel and managing to broadly deliver on its promise (albeit with a more tween friendly sugar coating). My advice? Go. Watch. Repeat.

Godzilla

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                         ”GOOOOOO-JIIIIIIIIIII-RAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Another year, another monster movie as the granddaddy of city stomping beasties returns to cinemas. Following 1997’s well-intentioned but ludicrous antics, 2014’s reboot is, like most modern action movies A Somewhat Serious Endeavour.

This means trying to portray the events depicted in the film (namely the emergence of an Everest-sized reptile hellbent on trashing any urban settlement unfortunate enough to lay in its path) with all the poe-faced concentration its various players can muster - you know as if it were really happening

Which is absolutely fine.

Except - except - that Gareth Edwards seem to have made a teeny, weeny bit of a hash of it. 

I don’t mind ‘Fatzilla’, which is really a fitting nod to the original Godzilla’s design aesthetic. Nor do I mind the by now obligatory man-with-family-in-peril storyline (at one point they even shoehorn in a surrogate son - you know, because it’s impossible for a human adult to care about anything unless there’s a child in danger) as Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bomb disposal expert jet-sets across the globe trying to save various members of his family. 

But dagnabit - I paid my £14 to see Godzilla stomping the f*** out of a major global metropolis, so anything other than some heavy duty, kaiju-inflicted barnstorming was always going to be considered a breach of the Trade Description Act.

Frustratingly then, Godzilla turns out to be almost all tickle and no proverbial slap for most of its two hour run time. It’s tricky to go into details without blurting out spoilers, but honestly - all they had to do was point the camera (or rather the CGI software) at the giant lizard and unleash hell. 

Instead, we’re treated to Edwards’ brand of monster movie-making - slowburn and people focused, as he fails to shake off the guerilla movie-making indie sensibilities that made Monsters such a breakthrough. Cue a string of emotionally flaccid scenes as everyone onscreen desperately tries to inject some feeling into the dreary dialogue, punctuated by violent clashes that, fogged in debris, lack rhythm and climax (ahem). For all the character acting, the scripting is weak, and an epic waste of a great cast (Elizabeth Olsen is particularly unlucky to stumble into what must be one of the worst female parts of the decade).

And while the movie may deliberately nod to Godzilla’s origins, the result is often less homage and more annoyingly predictable (I spent a lot of time amusing myself by predicting exactly when a monstrous limb was going to come crashing through various ceilings onto unsuspecting crowds). More annoyingly, there’s a familiar anti-military and anti-science whiff to the whole enterprise as the former prove themselves repeatedly, rankly incompetent, while the latter turn out to be possessed of fewer clues than a headless chicken. 

The science is particularly irritating, conjuring up memories of 2012’s infamous ‘neutrinos are mutating!’ brand of quackery (note to movie makers - if the science doesn’t exist, don’t make it up - if we’re willing to cough up £15 to see a monster movie, we probably aren’t desperate for an explanation).

By the end of the film, my boredom at the mawkish frootloopery of the final scenes was interrupted only by a bewilderment at the Godzilla-sized plotholes, which were more visible than the eponymous creature. Fans of the originals may find it a fascinating tribute, but I could have done with a little less contemplation, and a lot more wanton destruction.