There’s something ingenious about the idea of Michael Bay helming a project about celebrating a shallow American dream. Who better to direct a story about a team of musclebound knucklehead criminals chasing the implausible than a guy who almost always has explosions take the lead role and lets T&A share the second billing.
The film’s Miami setting takes on a “look good, feel better” attitude as all the characters are in some way self-obsessed. Everything and everybody is strictly based on face value and everyone seems ok with that. The film has to take on an arresting approach to really capture that hollowness and lack of human emotion and you almost have to admire Bay for taking such an ambitious swing. It’s a story that’s certainly out of his element.
But, as ambitious projects can sometimes be, Pain & Gain strikes out in the most irritating of ways.
Imagine you reading the true story of which Pain & Gain is based on in a newspaper. The film Pain & Gain is like having a bad dream about the news story you read that gradually turns more nightmarish over the span of two hours.
Bay’s stab at something new is loud, overblown, and revels in violence and sexual leeriness. This may sound like usual fare you’d expect from the boombastic director – which is a deal sealer to some readers – but, this is so much worse compared to previous works from Bay because Pain & Gain has an interesting “true story” and has the ingredients to make a memorable movie. Instead, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Here’s a tip for Michael Bay and his screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely: Just because the subjects of your movie are dimwitted and idiotic doesn’t give the film – or the filmmaker or the screenwriters – permission to act as dimwitted and idiotic.
Pain & Gain’s script is a frustrating endeavour to listen to and watch unfold. Just as the story earns a smidgen of interest from the audience, it throws a sex gag or constant profanities over top of what we find so compelling. It definitely doesn’t help that Bay (who also produced) indulges in the juvenility and highlights just how hilarious it is – or is supposed to be – in glaring close-ups; sometimes utilizing showboaty camera techniques.
It also appears that Michael Bay watched Man on Fire and Domino before directing this fiasco and barged onto the set thinking he could emulate what Tony Scott displayed in those balls-to-the-wall action flicks.
That’s a style that some to this day still argue about. Scott milked the freneticness in those movies and even I – who liked those movies – thinks the director barely got away with it. To have an inadequate and overly-confident director like Bay try and copy those visuals and that insane pace while he and his screenwriting buddies cackle away with a frat boy mentality makes Pain & Gain a very, very, very difficult watch. It’ll test your patience.
Pain & Gain’s “true story” is a crazy one and it needed a steady hand to balance the shocking content as well as give the film it’s own stand alone voice and unique vision. Bay, Markus, and McFeely could’ve had that steady hand, that original vision, and quick-witted voice but it appears they’re too busy pointing at homosexuals, gawking at boobs, and relentlessly screaming “balls”.
The bass was booming with each explosion, the walls shook with every bullet fired, yet my ears weren’t ringing during my screening of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. On the other hand, my head was throbbing from trying to keep up with the sequel’s needlessly convoluted screenplay.
Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick have joined forces to make a simple enough concept as untraceable as Roadblock’s small troupe of Joe’s. Dwayne Johnson plays Roadblock while his battle cohorts Flint (played by D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (played by Adrianne Palicki) follow. They’ve been framed for stealing nuclear warheads and their camp has been blown to smithereens. Now, they’re on the hunt for justice and to avenge the death of one of their lost Joe’s. Hopefully, their next hunt involves looking for a better vehicle to showcase their talents.
Meanwhile, Cobra Commander (played by Luke Bracey) has been freed from his frozen slumber to work with two rugged baddies Storm Shadow (played by Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (played by Ray Stevenson) to work with a skilled master of disguise who has taken the role as President of the United States of America (played by Jonathan Pryce in a duel role playing different people but both roles are just as hammy).
Meanwhile, Snake Eyes (played by Ray Park) and Jinx (played by Elodie Yung) are sent by the Blind Master (played by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA who mumbles and barks out lines) to fetch Storm Shadow for answers regarding the murder of Hard Master.
Trying to piece together the film after watching it is a mission in itself. Trying to follow it as it unfolds on screen is damn near frustrating.
The story is spaced out – both structurally and logically. I wasn’t expecting a dumbed down action movie, but I was at least expecting something where I didn’t have to take myself out of the film to give myself a play-by-play every 10 minutes. Moviegoers are constantly being whisked away to different parts of the Earth with a mere subtitle setting the stage every time we switch plot points. It’s jarring, distracting, and puts a large damper on what the film is supposed to be.
It doesn’t help that each character – even though they have their own specialty – looks the same. Guys have similar scruff and fatigues while the ladies wear leather outfits that all look the same and have eyes that look alike when their faces are covered in battle.
Another odd attribute about the script is that Reece and Wernick are unaware of the line that’s supposed to exist between “dumb fun” and “plain dumb” to a point where it seriously affects the somewhat enjoyable parts of Retaliation.
Take the idea of this master of disguise, Zartan, taking over for the President of the United States of America. Even though Pryce is chewing scenery, it’s entertaining to see Zartan’s plot form, playing mind games with leaders from other nations. But, if Zartan is such a cunning master of disguise, you would think he’d keep his sense of humour under wraps a bit more and maybe save his game of Angry Birds for when he isn’t organizing a new nuclear free world order.
So, to recap (because I’ve gotten so used to it after watching this catastrophe), G.I. Joe bogs itself down in exposition, misplaced humour, and an array of bland characters that all take on the same build and descriptions making it incredibly hard to follow.
Surely the action is easy to take in, right? Not really – and that almost trumps the script for being the biggest disappointment. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is directed by Jon M. Chu, which is a move that is slightly out of the director’s element. Chu helmed Step Up 2: The Streets and the surprising Step Up 3D, showing that he’s an incredible master at directing and shooting choreography. However, after watching Chu’s effort here, I suppose filming dance choreography for a movie and filming fight choreography are “apples and oranges”.
Chu seems to think that by stationing his camera up close to the brawls, this will build intensity and make those punches more impacting. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. This method of directing doesn’t allow audiences to take in the action or the fight choreography to the fullest degree because we simply can’t make out what we’re seeing. It’s just a bunch of guns, fists, and fatigues mashing up against each other. We might as well be watching a kid act out these scenes with action figures.
And with the mention of kids, I’m sure this dopey sequel will wet their whistle – even if they won’t necessarily be able to keep up with the clumsy writing.
SIDE NOTE: I didn’t see G.I. Joe: Retaliation in 3D but I did lose my D-Box virginity to it. Although the film was crummy, it did make me a D-Box believer. With each rumble my seat made after each bullet was shot and explosion detonated and with every move my seat made after Dwayne Johnson flipped someone over, my smile grew. I just hope my next D-Box experience is spent watching a better movie.
By: Addison Wylie
The most difficult task the audience must carry out while watching The Amazing Spider-Man is trying to distance this new origin story of the web-slinging superhero from Sam Raimi’s version starring Toby Maguire.
The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield takes the role of high schooler Peter Parker; a quiet individual who tools around with mechanics and could read about scientific discoveries all day when he’s not pulling off kickflips on his skateboard.
Instead of Mary Jane Watson, in this newer version, Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, an attractive girl who may or may not have a crush on Parker, and who is the daughter of a police Captain (played terrifically by Denis Leary).
With this story playing out differently than the one we saw in Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, the changes are jarring as well as absent details such as any reference to the Daily Bugle. However, whether these changes are most faithful to the original material I can’t comment on. I haven’t read the Spider-Man comics so I rely on these movies or through avid Marvel go-getters to learn about the character. So, it is possible that these drastic changes in the script (written by Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, and James Vanderbilt with Vanderbilt also supplying the story) better the film for comic aficionados.
Maybe in order for this revamped version to have worked more blissfully without audiences being initially judgemental, the studio should’ve allowed a few more years for the franchise to settle. For many of us, we still have the bad taste of 2007′s overloaded Spider-Man 3 in our mouths.
It’s too late to wait though. The studio, as well as (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, have jumped on it and have brought us this surprising and immensely entertaining film.
The Amazing Spider-Man works in its own universe. Let me explain.
The Raimi Spidy flicks work because they are, by definition, comic book movies. Raimi was able to bring those panels to life with excitement, a fast pace, and elements of pure camp and cheese.
The Amazing Spider-Man has none of that camp or cheesiness that made Raimi’s films memorable and fun but Webb’s Spider-Man does have that same excitement. It’s also a more modernized and matured film. It works as an adaptation of a character we know and as a stand alone project.
Parker is no longer a squeaky nerd but rather an introvert who would much rather take pictures and spend time on the computer while also occasionally standing up to the school bully. The deeper backstory behind why Parker has no Mother or Father is also elaborated on which makes us care about Peter and believe him when he’s upset.
Maguire worked as that gung-ho cut-out of a geeky underdog but Garfield and the screenwriters are able to build Parker into a more dimensionalized hero.
My fear going into The Amazing Spider-Man was that the film was going to try to hit too many dark notes. After all, ever since Nolan reinvented the genre with his Batman films, filmmakers have felt the need to add too much drama and too many villains. I reach back to the aforementioned Spider-Man 3. That movie did not need that many baddies and, therefore, the focus was all over the place.
In The Amazing Spider-Man, there’s plenty of drama to counter the action, and even a couple of notable people die, but all of it feels necessary and a lot of it surprises us. This may be labeled as a remake but how the material has been handled feels very organic.
By the film’s middle, audiences will stop comparing the two properties. You’ll slink back and relax in your chair and enjoy the action, the acting, and most of all, how a group of people managed to pull off a feat like this without making it feel irrelevant.
SIDE NOTE: If we want to talk about irrelevance, let’s talk about 3D. I was fortunate enough to see this without the fancy glasses and the viewing experience was still fantastic. Watching the film, I couldn’t find anything that would be remotely more interesting in 3D and I would also dare to say that the dark hue of the glasses would put a damper those visuals. Just observations, of course.
The discovery crew in Prometheus are seeking “Engineers”, beings from an ancient culture who inhabit outer space. These “Engineers” may hold secrets about how humanity was created and that immediately peeks the interest of archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (played by Logan Marshall-Green), two people who made a discovery about these “Engineers” and were the ones who founded this mission with the financial help of the Weyland Corporation.
The crew are made up of those usual suspects you’d find in a dark, ominous movie like this one and quite often the actors, as well as the dialogue, play a little too much into the stereotypes this ensemble is playing.
That said, the performances are still gripping because of the situations and how fascinatingly concealed they are. Each actor portrays that feeling of nervousness and uncertainty so well and reels us in with each scene. Same goes for those characters with ulterior motives who drop well played clues.
These never feel like rip-offs or Ridley Scott pulling the same rabbit out of his hat. It always feels like a warm welcoming for the esteemed director who is taking the norm and putting another interesting twist on things. For instance, that use of gory special effects are so well utilized and spaced out appropriately, that it makes an audience more squeamish and shocked when these R-rated elements are at the forefront.
Prometheus is one of those films I forgot was in 3D when my ticket was purchased. Like Scorsese in Hugo, this is a first outing for the director with this new-fangled technology. The 3D effects are akin to the subtleties in the script and in Scott’s direction. While watching the film, the 3D is never highlighted until a big action set piece. Then, it takes on an immersive feel and we see that the 3D is there to establish more detail in the settings as well as to let us know the exact scale of the thundering dangers. It takes a lot of skill to convince audiences that the 3D doesn’t exist only to blow us away with it moments later and then bring us back to that first mindset so quickly.
Prometheus is that film a lot of people have been waiting for. The people who’ve been waiting for a smart and fun Summer movie, those people who wanted to see that great modern Ridley Scott movie, and the people who have been wanting to start filling out their list of “best movies of 2012″.
By: Addison Wylie
Barry Sonnenfeld’s third instalment to the popular and bizarre Men in Black series is a perfect way to cut the ribbon on the summer movie season. It also helps that this exciting slice of entertainment is a solid chapter for these characters.
After a decade of fighting the intergalactic scum of the Earth, Agent J (played by Will Smith) and Agent K (played by Tommy Lee Jones) reach a crossroad in their career. J notices K becoming gradually more crabby and shorter on words than he already is. J, who has always wanted a normal work partnership in this organization, brings up the shortage of communication to K only to be quickly silenced by his partner.
As this complication builds and builds, the one-armed Boris the Animal (a gruesome and revenge-filled creature played marvellously by Jemaine Clement) escapes from a highly secured prison located on the Moon. His plan: to travel back in time to 1969 and kill Agent K before he takes 69′s Boris’ arm and lifestyle.
Boris is unfortunately successful and takes K’s life. This means all evidence of K in present time is erased. However, J is the only person to remember his partner while everyone asks in confusion, “who’s K?”
J decides to take matters into his own hands and find the man who sent Boris back in time. J’s plan: to travel back in time and find 1969 Agent K and protect him from any danger that would come his way either from present day Boris or 1969 Boris.
The storyline may sound convoluted but screenwriter Etan Cohen has tried his darndest to make everything connect and avoid plot holes. Plot holes tend to be a common crux in time travel movies with character arcs coinciding with previous decisions that end up contradicting. While watching Men in Black III, I couldn’t find anything wrong on this first viewing. That said, I feel safe with saying that Cohen was very careful with the structuring of his script while also having fun with the source material and adding new elements.
Also, without giving anything away, Cohen does something with these familiar characters that audiences won’t expect. To even hint at what the surprise is would be an ultimate disservice to unsuspecting movie goers. Just be prepared to nod your head in approval and want to pat Cohen on the back.
One of these new attributes would be the addition of Josh Brolin as a young Tommy Lee Jones. Brolin does something with this role that is very fine crafted. He’s able to poke fun at Jones’ dry readings and K’s lack of emotion but he also takes that character and makes it more than a characachure. The character is developed in a way that shares elements with its present day counterpart but modelled in a manner that fits the late-60′s lifestyle and fashions.
Fans of the tv show Mad Men will undoubtably eat this popcorn flick up. Not only are we attracted to the flashy action sequences but the details found in the sets, the props, and the costuming are just as entrancing.
However, Cohen’s humour is not on par with everything else. The beginning exchanges between J and K feel stale; as if both actors feel like they’ve both been here and done that and wish to focus on other things. However, once J is paired up with a younger K, the energy rises and a good chunk of the punchlines out of Brolin’s mouth work. The scene where Brolin and Smith try to collect clues in The Factory by talking to an incognito MIB agent showcases the strongest comedy the film offers as well as great time period detail.
This is one of these times where we see a filmmaker find their calling with 3D technology. If you’ve seen any of Barry Sonnenfeld’s previous work, his peculiar direction towards his cinematographers is something that has a hard time gelling. The framing of each shot feels as if the displayed actor is trying to squeeze out of the screen and sit in the theatre with us.
With this new 3D technology, Sonnenfeld’s odd visuals actually end up fitting in the grand scheme of things. If you look past the moments where you can see the obvious visual effects work around Smith’s body, in these scenes where Smith is travelling through different time periods, you feel like J is going to rip through the movie screen at any moment making the action completely immersive. The same can even be said for the scenes establishing exposition. Everything is always visually gripping.
The addition of 3D has also played nicely towards the alien creations of Rick Baker and the team of make-up artists. Boris is such a slimy persona to begin with so when audiences are subjected to his hidden orifices where creepy crawlies file out, it makes us squirm in good fun.
Men in Black III is the definition of a goofy enjoyable time at the movies. It’s also a solid example of how Sonnenfeld, when he’s given the right opportunity and equipment, can produce positive results. The comedy may hit more flat notes than passing grades but you’ll be too wrapped up with the great action, the sharp visual details, but most of all, the sincerity that was applied to the project.