Pain and Gain: A group of dim bodybuilders kidnap and extort some rich folks. This basically takes a bizarre true-crime story and gives it the Michael Bay treatment (boob job, botox, facelift etc). If there ever was a director with an unsympathetically “In-Yer-Face!” style, it would be Mr Bay. Every female in this is a big-titted supermodel, there’s scenes in strip-clubs where the camera just stares at topless strippers (I felt bad for not tipping), there’s a raft of un-PC/racist jokes, there’s midgets, supercar fascination, drugs, pumped up bodies, dildos / sex toys, dick and homo jokes, and generally everything is over-styalised, and turned up way past 11. In fact; Rebel Wilson’s token crude material is probably the least offensive thing in this. The direction is equally aggressive; resembling high-end music-videos with vibrant colours, rapid cuts, loud music, a superficial glaze, and plenty on-screen stamps/graphics reminding you of what you should be thinking. And having this much character narration is just plain-old sloppy for a director that’s been around as long as Bay. Despite all of the unlikable elements coming from behind the lens, at least he chose some of the most sympathetic and charismatic actors to front the movie: Wahlberg, The Rock, Anthony Mackie… however, these guys are playing cold-blooded, pre-emptive killers, who are picking on hard-working, self-made targets – hard to empathise with. On the upside, there a lot of laughs to be had in this, although they’re mostly at the expense of someone. There’s a fascinating story buried somewhere in this film, but you have to look so far behind all of the bullshit surface that it’s almost impossible to pick out – would have been much better as a less sensational, properly-handled movie.
Real Steel: in the near future professional boxers have been replaced by robots; this film follows the highs and lows of a struggling ex-boxer in this new era, and relationship with his estranged son. I’ll put it out there straight away – I loved Real Steel. Something else to note up front is that Virgin, HP, Ray Ban, Dr Pepper, Bing, X-Box 720, Wired, Sprint, Budweiser, Beats By Dre & ESPN logos (to name but a few) are shamelessly crowbarred into centre frame at every opportunity. Back to the film, there’s an equally shameless cheese-rammed story of sporting underdogs, and runaway dads, that’s quite predictable but surprisingly well-played. The action is absolutely fantastic – jaw-droppingly impressive CGI helps – especially for the fights, which are amazing to watch. More generally, the film is brilliantly shot and photographed. Jackman’s on good form, and the kid’s not too annoying – all other characters are tertiary stereotypes, like the Russian billionaire and advanced Japanese tech nerds, but they make for great baddies and push a subtle all-American vibe that’s rarely seen at the moment. It’d be easy to dismiss this as ‘Rocky with Robots’, but Real Steel landed every single punch on me; it’s such a boys film, with a classic comeback story, training montages, cool gadgets, big action, robots hitting each other, manliness, and plenty (albeit mostly unintentional) laughs. This is what big-budget movies are all about for me – story, spectacle and entertainment. It’s the most fun I’ve had in the cinema all year, can’t wait for the sequel.
Score: 8.5 /10
The Adjustment Bureau: an aspiring politician accidentally sees behind the curtain of ‘fate’, and how he’s not fully in control of his own destiny, so he tries to re-write the books. This is the first romantic, heavily religious sci-fi thriller I’ve seen in a while… and juggling all those things hurts the film – but that’s only one of the minor problems. The ‘adjustors’ – who are never fully explained – are cringe-inducing. They wear old style clothing (ok), and their special powers are hats that allow them to walk through doors (ookaaaayyyy…..), and their Achilles heel is water (oh.)… Seriously – semi omniscient beings whose kryptonite is the most abundant compound on the planet! As for the other characters, there’s almost no attempt to develop anyone. It also feels like it’s been put together by the NYC tourist board, with no fewer than 10 photogenic locations. As the film went on some of the reveals and explanations were so stupid I was chuckling for minutes at a time. Emily Blunt’s totally watchable, but did I really just see Matt Damon in a big-budget b-movie?? Seriously, what’s he doing here? The final product is a totally ludicrous and non-sensical film; but you get the feeling that everyone involved knew that. It’s ultimately harmless, but totally stupid.
The Hurt Locker: (Blu Ray) Disappointing. First off, despite being 130 minutes long no characters develop beyond superficial stock figures: ‘badass old-timer’, ‘young suicidal kid’ and the ‘hot-shot maverick that will get everyone killed’ – it’s also hard to feel anything, let alone sympathy, for someone so reckless and that goes AWOL as often as Will James. The plot’s essentially 5 near-identical bomb situations separated by limp character-building that never really covers new ground. On the other hand, it is well-shot throughout and the tension of each action / bomb-scare does come through in parts; the sniper battle was done well, definitely the highlight of the film. The acting’s also pretty good given how flat the characters were, but it was definitely amplified by the documentary feel. The picture’s alright, but the sound is phenomenal, creating a war-like chaos with the constant background noises – brilliant when coupled with the visual style – worth the upgrade. Overall it was too melodramatic and full of pro-American and pro-army tones for me to begin enjoying it: rock ‘n’ roll loving party-hard soldier turns his back on his family to keep saving the day in Iraq… really? It’s clearly a bit edgy (intimate & gruesome bomb scenes), contemporary (Iraq) and overcomes adversity (female director), hence it’s scooping awards, but for me, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Look out for Guy Pearce and Ralph Feinnes before they get blown to bits. Is it the ‘best war film in years’? Probably, but with competition like jarhead and The Kingdom it that really saying something?