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Terminator Genisys (2015)
Moderately fun, but doesn't stand out in the 2015 blockbuster season.
Much like Jurassic World last month, judging this reboot against the classics of the franchise (both T1 and T2) is utterly redundant. But does Genisys stand out in the crowded blockbuster season of 2015? Not particularly, however it still serves as a diverting piece of cinematic escapism with a few noteworthy elements to make it recommendable. Director Alan Taylor (Thor 2) knows a thing or two about action and, due to the jumping narrative timeline, gets to unleash an array of melees (all with top notch CGI) set in the 80's, basically-present day, and the apocalyptic future. Some work better than others. The first act showdown with a T-1000 is exciting and playful, whilst the climactic battle against a new form of Terminator displays some ingenuity. On the flip side there's a helicopter chase that is entirely bland and unwarranted, and a Golden Gate Bridge set piece that's not as thrilling as it could have been. Taylor and his writing team wisely settle on a tone somewhere between the overly jokey T3 and the pretentiously serious Salvation; they land a few key gags without overdoing it. Yet in their attempt to restart the series without excluding anything that has come before, a la J.J. Abrams' Star Trek they have crafted a ludicrously convoluted story rife with internal logic issues. Arnie returns to the mix with a much better performance than what he gave in T3, whilst Emilia Clarke is solid as the badass Sarah Connor and Jason Clarke impresses as a more mysterious John Connor. Conversely, Jai Courtney's intense turn as Kyle Reese is a tad overcooked and J.K. Simmons rocks up in a superfluous minor role that wastes his immense talent. An 80's-era Arnie also gets a look in with a couple of fights in the opening act which, although not mind-blowing, demonstrate just how close we are to completely photo-realistic computer generated humans. Genisys is likely to be a disappointment to hard-core Terminator enthusiasts, but there's just enough here to please the more casual cinemagoer.
Ted 2 (2015)
Just awful. Truly, utterly, unforgivably awful.
Here I was thinking Entourage was going to be the biggest comedic disappointment of the month, and then along comes the abomination that is Ted 2 to prove me wrong. Onto his third feature film as writer-director and Seth McFarlane appears to have run out of gas already; this is somehow an even bigger dud than his sophomoric misfire A Million Ways to Die in the West. There's not a single, solitary laugh-out-loud joke to be had in the entire (dragged out) runtime, and all of the titter-worthy gags are in the trailer. A Million Ways
may not have been as humorous as expected, but at least it had energy and ambition, two elements sorely missing from a stale sequel that nobody seems interested in doing. Even Mark Whalberg an actor who is nothing if not committed merely goes through the motions and offers up a completely inoffensive performance, which, in this genre, is just plain offensive. Throw in a midday-movie-ish score, McFarlane's trademark fetish for misplaced musical numbers, and way, way too many scenes of po-faced sincerity, and you have a genuine turkey of a film. Oh, and the straw that broke the camel's back? An utterly awful Liam Neeson cameo that makes him look like an amateur. Ugh, it's that bad.
A bundle of silly fun.
By the time the end credits rolled on the first Despicable Me, the gibbering, yellow henchmen had already outgrown their malevolent master. Finally (and unsurprisingly) getting their own movie, this prequel begins with a clever montage charting the evolution of the eponymous critters as they follow one doomed boss after the other. Settling in to the 1960's for the bulk of the adventure, this whimsical comedy focuses on three brave minions who journey to Orlando for a villains-convention of course then London, in search of another boss. Not all the jokes work and chief new addition Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) lives up to her name in the worst possible sense, but the gag rate is so high there is still a healthy dose of laughs. The trademark minion chatter has evolved with an increase in recognisable words but remains just as amusing, whilst the cheeky visual gags and hidden references ensure there's humour for all ages. Where this film differentiates itself from the Despicable flicks though, is by homing in on, and adding depth to, a specific trio of minions: optimistic leader Kevin, laidback crooner Stuart and the indefatigable ball of joy Bob. Another bonus for the parents in the crowd is the ridiculously good soundtrack featuring classics from The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Turtles, The Kinks, Aerosmith and The Who, to list but a few. More of a carefree, in-the-moment joyride rather than an animated heavyweight with lasting power, Minions is a bundle of silly fun.
Jurassic World (2015)
Good, but disappointingly not great.
I'm loath to compare the latest Jurassic sequel with the 1993 Spielberg original, because, quite simply, the latter is a bona fide blockbuster classic that very few can compare with. Even taken on its own, more lenient popcorn-merits though, this CGI-laden dinosaur romp is a bag of liquorice all sorts. On one hand there are some rip-roaring set pieces that evoke a child-like joy, on the other a clutch of embarrassingly corny moments (hello, heroic velociraptor in slow-mo) that should have never made it past the drawing board. For every amusingly tongue-in-cheek line delivered by Chris Pratt's charismatic protagonist, there's an equally dumb plot hole like a ludicrously stupid creature cameo in the climax that reeks of a subpar script. The CGI is not as distracting as you might think and provides director Colin Trevorrow with the opportunity to craft a few spectacular sequences, yet there's a disappointing lack of tension and scares on display. The hit and miss output stays true for the eclectic cast. Pratt is affable, Bryce Dallas Howard is steely but likable, Jake Johnson is humorous in full-nerd mode, and Irrfan Khan and Omar Sy add gravitas in small roles; whilst Vincent D'Onofrio is depressingly one-dimensional, and child duo Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are unbearably awkward and bland. An admirable effort to rekindle the dino-magic that falls squarely into the good-but-not-great category, its spate of flaws makes it hard to recommend with confidence.
Gold is gold, but the rest is crap.
If you didn't watch the hugely popular HBO show that precedes this movie, then you can stop reading. Both the film and my review will have little of interest to you. Those who loved the TV series, prepare to be sorely disappointed, for this cinematic effort is reminiscent of the tedious and shallow final seasons rather than the energetic and exciting initial seasons. Going into cameo overdrive with a smug glee, there's a massive over-reliance on familiar faces (and naked women) to sustain the illusion you're in the throes of a superstar's life. With a threadbare plot and zero character development, Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his eponymous buddies E (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and the agonizingly unfunny Drama (Kevin Dillon) are left to meander. Somehow spending time with the gang has become a chore rather than a pleasure. Their banter feels forced and their latest "issues" are tired rehashes of more compelling crises they faced on the show. Thank the Hollywood gods, however, for Ari Gold. Easily the series' greatest asset (with three Emmys and a Golden Globe to prove it), Jeremy Piven's exuberant and hostile mega-agent is once again a whirlwind of scathing sarcasm dishing up memorable lines and laugh-out-loud insults. The only other cast member who even warrants a mention is, astoundingly, Haley Joel Osmont; the former child star amusing as a confident Texan billionaire complete with bushy facial hair, bulging gut and a bad bedside manner. When Piven is on screen there are moments of Gold, but it's not enough to save this drearily repetitive cash-in.
Wonderous for kids, tad boring for adults.
This live-action Disney effort is nothing if not ambitious. Not only because of its grand aspirations from a story and visual perspective, but due to its firm targeting of a demographic rarely catered to specifically. Aimed at children who are outgrowing animated kiddie flicks and yet to progress to (the increasingly dark) mainstream blockbusters, Tomorrowland could be your child's first foray into intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi. Big ideas wrapped up in a mystery-driven plot wrapped up in a fun chase movie, all delivered without pandering or condescending; the pre-teen audience fully respected in the process. A sense of wonder, of nervous excitement when venturing into the unknown, is captured superbly by director Brad Bird, and will no doubt allow those stuck-in-the-middle cinema-goers to connect on every level. But what about the rest of us? Unfortunately, those outside the key demographic are likely to experience a whole lot less wonder and excitement, but more eye-rolling and yawning. Narratively flawed, structurally tiresome and at least 30 minutes too long thanks to an inflated prologue and dragged out finale, it doesn't land the same punch for fully formed sci-fi enthusiasts. All, however, should delight in the numerous set pieces on display, not least a booby-trapped house sequence that is essentially Home Alone with lasers, as well as a toy store melee with a spot-the-Disney-reference bonus game. Tomorrowland will mean different things to different people, but my suggestion: see it with a family member aged between 8 and 12 (best guess, could be broader) and just watch their eyes fill up with amazement.
San Andreas (2015)
Midway through the opening sequence I knew I was going to face an uphill battle to find enjoyment in this disaster flick. Full of limp action, woeful CGI and dialogue determined to make your ears bleed, the pre-credits scene is, sadly, indicative of the entire movie. As each set piece gets bigger and louder, yet less exciting thanks to Brad Peyton's bland direction, the narrative stupidity increases to a level that's extreme even for this inherently bombastic blockbuster genre. Not helping is the complete lack of tension despite the apparent high stakes; so dull are most of the action sequences that it becomes more fun to pick out the plethora of errors, plot-centric or otherwise. It also boggles the mind, considering the film's reported $110m budget and the fact that photo-realistic CGI has been around for years, at how the computer effects can be so poor. The ridiculously charismatic Dwayne Johnson injects energy wherever possible and Carla Gugino sharing an unexpectedly good chemistry with Johnson is dependably solid, whilst Ioan Gruffudd gets shafted with a laughable, about-turn role and Alexandra Daddario fails to impress. As for why thespian legend Paul Giamatti is in this at all? Well, everybody has to pay the bills. Notwithstanding the admirable efforts of a few key cast members, there's very little to praise in this over-scored, over-edited and overblown mess. Ultimately though, the biggest fault of San Andreas is being excruciatingly boring.
It's not always funny, but when it is, it's downright hilarious.
Melissa McCarthy has one of the most impressive potty mouths in cinema. The gloriously self-deprecating comedienne fires off f-bombs that would make Samuel L. Jackson jealous. McCarthy's acerbic dialogue, coupled with her innate knack for physical comedy, ensures this espionage spoof is nothing short of enjoyable, if not memorable. The carefree plot is irrelevant and lacks the biting commentary on spy flicks that the superior Kingsman provided, yet it capably achieves its aim of propelling McCarthy from one gag to the next. Paul Feig yet again delivers a bloated runtime (see Bridesmaids and The Heat), although generates enough laugh-out-loud humour in his script to largely make up for it. But this film really belongs to the on-song cast, with the rib-tickling McCarthy receiving excellent support. Rose Byrne nails it as the condescendingly caustic villain, Jude Law admirably takes the mickey out of himself, and Jason Statham who snares the movie's best moment with an uproariously macho monologue is downright hilarious as an obnoxious agent. Spy has its share of filmic flaws and jokes that fall flat, but when it's funny it's really funny; which, thanks to its marvellous cast, is more often than not.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A grungy masterpiece
It has been nearly 24 hours since I saw Fury Road, and I'm still trying to recover. It is the sort of film you forget to breathe through, much like Gravity or Captain Phillips, but for an altogether different reason. Unrelenting from beginning to end, this post-apocalyptic saga is virtually one, long, explosive chase sequence, albeit one which seemingly has new ideas on tap. The action (i.e. the whole film) is utterly bonkers, conceptually and in execution. That writer-director George Miller and his team concocted such ferocious set pieces is impressive enough, but being able to pull it off with extraordinarily daring stunt work augmented by gritty CGI is simply awe-inspiring.
Visually it is vivid and spectacular; the searing desert landscape offering a dirt-filled grime so tangible your throat will dry up within seconds, whilst the vehicles are creative and wonderfully preposterous. The heart-pounding score by Junkie XL, in which he blends orchestral and heavy metal music, accompanies Miller's on screen splendour to create a visceral experience for both the eyes and the ears. The vehicular carnage may be the drawcard, but the committed cast elevate the overall product. Tom Hardy is savage as Max, Charlize Theron is compelling as Imperator Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult is gonzo as Nux, whilst a plethora of recognisable Aussies show up in deranged cameos.
There's an intensity here you just don't find in majority of the big-budgeted blockbusters; an inventiveness in all elements that drives this movie from great to mesmerizing. Miller hasn't played in the Mad Max world since the dreadful Beyond Thunderdome back in 1985, but by God he has redeemed himself, and then some. Fury Road is a rollicking ride that carves out a piece of cinematic history all for itself. In short: it is a grungy masterpiece.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Not as good as the first, but still hugely entertaining.
Expectations couldn't have been higher for this mega-sequel. The first Avengers was absolutely amazing and the steady line of Marvel flicks up to this point, culminating in the glorious Guardians of the Galaxy, has been rock-solid. With so little wiggle room in its margin of error, it's not surprising that Age of Ultron doesn't quite reach the popcorn perfection it aims for. Without the near-unachievable comparisons weighing it down, however, this has everything you could ask for in a two-hour plus blockbuster (take note Transformers).
Packed to the rafters with action, director Joss Whedon and his team concoct a wide array of thrilling and inventive set pieces that are the undeniable drawcard for the movie. The enormous budget gives Whedon the licence to go crazy with his imagination and, with flawless CGI and judicious 3D effects, he leaves nothing in the tank. Opening with a Bond-esque, pre-title snowy assault that boasts a long, uncut shot featuring each Avenger getting their kickass on, Whedon rarely lets the pace slip for the remainder of the movie. Wisely though, he changes the focal characters of each skirmish, meaning we get increased Hawkeye and Black Widow action in addition to newbies Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver.
Speaking of fresh faces because by now you know exactly what you get from the established players the new kids on the blocks are a mixed bag. As tormented siblings Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver, Elisabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are excellent, adding a dark and arrogant spark to their havoc reeking. The titular psycho-robot Ultron is conceptually brilliant and voiced with demented glee by James Spader, but is relatively one-note and can't fill the Loki-sized hole in the villainous department. Then there's a character (name withheld to avoid spoiling) introduced in the final act who is so silly and visually ill conceived it is mind-boggling he made the cut at all.
Narratively there are a few stumbling blocks as well, with Whedon's script feeling flimsy and like it's solely in service of propelling the Avengers to their next battle. Although he has absolutely nailed the irreverent humour yet again, sharing the comedy around with all and sundry. Stark is his normal, lovable arsehole (Quicksilver also edging into that domain), and Cap and Thor are the centre of some amusing out-of-time and out-of-place gags, yet the wise-cracking Hawkeye and the ultra-condescending Ultron are unexpected recipients of Whedon's most hilarious dialogue.
It might sit a few places down the Marvel Cinematic Universe totem pole thanks to a subpar plot and a truly awful new character, but Age of Ultron fires on all action and comedy cylinders required to make it a hugely entertaining superhero flick.