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Transformers: Age of Extinction is mediocre, but superior to its predecessors
We already know what to expect in a film from the Transformers saga: irrelevant characters, a superficial story, and extraordinary special effects which overwhelm the senses and distract us from the various weaknesses from the screenplay. However, I must say that, despite its mediocrity, I found Transformers: Age of Extinction superior to its predecessors, because even though the devastation and explosions were reduced a bit (specially comparing it to the mega-epic Transformers: Dark of the Moon), the screenplay is unexpectedly clear and easy to follow. Sure, the 165 -minute running time means that there's excessive filler and action sequences which are so inflated that they end up tiring a little bit, but even like that, I could notice a conscious effort to tune the narrative, and accompany it with slightly substantial characters whose motivation we can occasionally discern (it's a such a frugal compliment that it looks like an insult, but I'm saying it with a good intention). That doesn't mean Transformers: Age of Extinction is a very good movie; in fact, it has occasionally has some of the same mistakes of the previous films (overlong action, forced drama, irritating humor); and even though the screenplay is more congruent, it's not very credible either. In the past, we had already seen the collaboration of normal people with the North American army, whose unlimited resources were barely enough to combat against the Decepticons. But this time, everything depends on three or four incompetent individuals who somehow manage to be always on the appropriate place, miraculously surviving the attacks of super-powerful robotic creatures, and magically knowing what to do under circumstances which would overwhelm any other human being (for example, using exotic alien weapons, getting up and down from extraterrestrial spaceships as if it was the local bus, and casually infiltrating into high security labs). The romantic aspect from this film doesn't work at all; Nicola Peltz brings an atrocious performance, and Jack Reynor, as her gallant, lacks of any credibility and personality. On the positive side, Mark Wahlberg makes a good work in his character, bringing sincerity to his vacuous dialogs; and Stanley Tucci brings a decent performance as the obligatory mad genius. So, in conclusion, Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't the most epic film from the saga, but it's the least chaotic one from the narrative point of view. It keeps making some of the same mistakes (special effects instead of drama, bombastic music instead of emotions), and it never knows when its scenes should end; however, the balance between story and visual spectacle is better, and even Michael Bay's direction feels more mature and measured. So, even though Transformes: Age of Extinction isn't a very good film, I can slightly recommend it because it managed to keep me moderately entertained in general.
La migliore offerta (2013)
La Migliore Offerta is interesting, but not completely satisfactory
I'm not a fan of director Giuseppe Tornatore's. I know that many people consider him a legend, but I haven't liked any of the films from his filmography I have seen very much (no, not even Nuovo Cinema Paradiso). However, I decided to see La Migliore Offerta, his most recent film, because the plot sounded intriguing and the cast included some excellent actors (Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess and Donald Sutherland). The screenplay from La Migliore Offerta is carefully designed in order for us to get distracted of the main theme, but nevertheless, I found it a bit predictable; however, that didn't avoid me from appreciating the detail and realism with which the characters are portrayed. The main character is a successful and distinguished man, but with an internal emptiness which he tries to fill in with his avocation to art... even though that's obviously not enough. That's why it's interesting to see him flourish when he meets the enigmatic Claire and her decrepit mansion, full of art objects but lacking of life. Rush brings an excellent performance in the leading role, and he's well complemented by the solid works from Sturgess, Sutherland and Sylvia Hoeks. However, I wasn't left completely satisfied by La Migliore Offerta; as I previously said, I found it kinda predictable, some scenes feel excessively false, and the movie is longer than it should, with an extended conclusion which tries to explain us all the things we had already deducted. Nevertheless, I think this film deserves a moderate recommendation, because despite my complaints, I found it interesting, and I think that, from the Tornatore's films I have seen, this is the one I have liked the most.
Neighbors is a pathetic "comedy"
It's been almost a decade since producer Judd Apatow revolutionized modern cinema with his vulgar and shameless style of comedy, but sustained by warm and realistic characters whose emotions had as much importance as the scatological jokes and the casual drug use. That style seemed fresh and innovative for a while, but it was copied and repeated so many times that it ended up diluting, specially when the movies stopped getting worried about the genuine humor, and focused themselves on the task of creating a collection of scenes as vulgar as possible, hoping the geniality from the actors to take care of the rest. In other words, the spell had been broken, and it wasn't so easy to make the audience laugh anymore... and the film Neighbors is the most recent example from that. Apatow didn't have anything to do with this film, but his influence is evident. The classic "neighbors in conflict" premise is used to create conflict, the youth from the university students justifies the immaturity from their exploits, and the classic routines from the actors (Seth Rogen's natured stupidity, Rose Byrne's failed dignity, Ike Barinholtz's innocent political incorrectness) can't distract us from a horrible screenplay which lacks of a concrete structure. I will refrain myself from talking about Zac Efron's "performance" in order not to antagonize his fans. They will already have pretty much difficulties seeing their idol in another vain attempt to abandon his Disney image with the help of rudeness and rubber penises (this last thing is becoming a recurring element in his recent filmography... I wonder whether that has any meaning). In conclusion, Neighbors is a pathetic "comedy" which never made me laugh and which made me feel like wasting my time and my money. Instead of this piece of junk, I can recommend some films inspired or produced by Apatow which genuinely made me laugh, such as Superbad and The Hangover. And I could also recommend Animal House, that classic comedy of university humor which seemed scandalously vulgar in its time, even though nowadays, we can almost find it at the childish TV schedule.
Oculus is a brilliant horror film
Absentia is one of my favorite horror films, and that's why I was very interested in watching Oculus, director Mike Flanagan's following movie. And even though I didn't like it as much as Absentia, Oculus is a brilliant sample of supernatural horror with an excellent screenplay, solid performances and moments of a delicious suspense. The "haunted mirror" concept isn't new in the fantastic genre, but co-screenwriters Flanagan and Jeff Howard found an interesting variant which plays with our perception and disorients us until we lose the dividing line between "reality" and fantasy. That mechanic ends up employing a few narrative traps, but it's always subject to an internal logic which avoids any ramblings. Besides, that requires very precise performances, because the reactions from the characters will be our guide to navigate the story, which alternates between past and present in order to portray a family in crisis, who might possibly be a victim of supernatural events, or of the bad decisions from a couple jaded by marriage. That duality is the indispensable emotional hook for the characters to come to life, instead of being simple puppets from the screenplay. Karen Gillan brings a competent performance as a woman whose passion for proving her parents' innocence might take her to extremes of pathological mania. As her character's brother, Brenton Thwaites also makes a solid work while having a good chemistry with Gillan. As their childish counterparts, we have Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan making an excellent work as kids who are terrified by their parents' collapse. Finally, Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff play the previously mentioned husbands with an appropriate ambiguity. Regarding the horror elements, Flanagan keeps himself away from the classic tricks of the genre, creating an atmosphere of tension and anguish which is increased as it plunges us into the mystery of the mirror. So, even though I didn't find Oculus as good as Absentia, I can enthusiastically recommend it as an excellent horror film which explores new alternatives in a genre which urgently needs them. Besides, Flanagan has proved that he's definitely not a "one-hit wonder".
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)
The Raid 2: Berandal is an excellent action film
The Raid: Redemption was a pleasant surprise because of its exciting action scenes, efficient screenplay and solid direction. As for the sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal, we all expected another dose of relentless action from the beginning to the end. However, director and screenwriter Gareth Evans decided to move from that simple formula in order to present a more complicated and complex story, which reminded of the "yakuza" cinema from the '90s, in which criminal diplomacy, negotiations and betrayals ended up being as exciting as the fights and chases. I definitely admire Evans' evolution as a filmmaker, and his ambition to develop this incipient franchise; however, the "infiltrate cop in the mafia" concept is a bit trite, and even though that fulfills with the task of enlarging the film's scale, it ends up employing some clichés: the rebel cop who disobeys the rules; the unexpected honor between mobsters; the personal revenge sub-plot. Nevertheless, that doesn't avoid The Raid 2: Berandal from being an excellent action film. Some spectators might feel impatient because of the quantity of passive scenes in which the characters discuss and conspire so much that an effort is required in order to follow the story, as well as the labyrinth of alliances, secrets and betrayals. That contributes to inflate the film's running time to two hours and a half, leaving the action scenes as sporadic accents of the drama. On the other hand, the intricate screenplay makes the fights more meaningful, because they aren't only desperate struggles for survival, but also carefully planned strategies to recruit allies, eliminate enemies or manipulate the balance of power in the organized crime from Jakarta. The rhythm of the film is accelerated during the last 45 minutes, when we have a long and magnificent action sequence which takes us from the interior of a car during a frantic chase to the most elegant bars from the city. That denouement is extraordinary not only because of the martial arts, but also because of the visual style, choreographic creativity and the violence. So, The Raid 2: Berandal is quite different to its predecessor: the screenplay is more complicated, the emotions are deeper and the violence is more shocking. In conclusion, The Raid 2: Berandal is a fascinating and unforgettable experience which I consider superior to the first film, and which I enthusiastically recommend. The problem is that, after having seen this film, it will be even more difficult to take big part of contemporary action films from Hollywood seriously.
Haunt is quite a competent horror film
Haunt is a very competent horror film because of its sinister atmosphere, competent direction and an interesting screenplay with some innovative elements. My favorite one of those elements was the electronic synthesizer of ghost voices, a kind of steampunk E.V.P. radio which allows communication with the deceased ones... or with whatever presence is rounding the haunted house. There are other ingenious elements in the screenplay, but I prefer not to reveal them in order to avoid spoilers. What I can reveal is that Liana Liberato and Harrison Gilbertson bring solid performances and have a perfect chemistry with each other as the "odd couple" with different methods and motivations to solve the mystery. I found the romantic sub-plot between their characters a bit irrelevant, but the investigation they make adequately combines the tense search of evidences with paused reflections about the origin of the supernatural events. Speaking of which, Haunt makes a good use of practical effects in order to bring the ghosts and appearances to shape, obtaining some good shocks and moments of a delicious suspense. On the negative side, some edition tricks and sonorous accents feel a bit excessive. Nevertheless, I found Haunt a very entertaining horror film with an interesting mystery, good scares and credible characters who, at the difference of many films from this genre, generate empathy on the audience. Comparing Haunt with other "haunted house" films from the last 5 years, I would place it below Insidious or The Conjuring, but above Sinister or any of the Paranormal Activity sequels.
Brick Mansions (2014)
Brick Mansions is a mediocre, but moderately entertaining, remake
Brick Mansions is a remake of the entertaining French film Banlieue 13, which was basically an exhibition of "parkour" structured around a screenplay inspired by Escape from New York. Brick Mansions moves the action to the United States, and adds Paul Walker as a co-star in order to have a famous name; and from the original film, it preserved the presence from David Belle in the role of an ex-convict with a golden heart whose incredible "abs" and acrobatic ability are indispensable for him to navigate the dangerous territory of Detroit, where the story is developed (even though, ironically, most of the film was shot in Canada). What it couldn't preserve was big part of the violence; it seems as if director Camille Delamarre didn't want to risk himself to an "R" rating, and he diluted the most extreme parts in order to obtain the more commercial "PG-13". Anyway, I found Brick Mansions mediocre, but moderately entertaining, despite the hollow characters and a tangled and improbable screenplay whose main function is finding excuses for the frequent fights, shootouts, car chases and, of course, the "parkour" scenes where Belle and his disciples can display their physical ability. Walker was given the dramatic scenes, and he made an adequate work, even though his character is quite similar to the one he developed in The Fast and the Furious saga. But anyway, since Brick Mansions is one of the last films from his filmography, there's no doubt that his character in here is consistent with the rest of his filmography, and once more, he proves the growth as an actor he achieved, from his beginnings as a bland gallant until becoming a decent actor. For the rest, Brick Mansions didn't bore me, but it's mediocre, and I found Banlieue 13 much more intense and entertaining. Besides, I didn't like the decision of dubbing Belle's dialogs. I guess his accent was considered too French. Maybe, if he had been an Austrian, they would have let him speak English despite nobody understanding a word from him...
Transcendence is a mediocre, but not boring, sci-fi film
For better or for worse, Transcendence ended up being exactly like I expected: a simplified and improbable approach to the ideas proposed by futurists such as Raymond Kurzweil and Vernon Vinge since the '70s. The ideas are good, but as it always does, Hollywood determines the fact that the most important event in the history of humanity must be subject to a generic romance in order to bring it emotional validity. Otherwise, the audience wouldn't be interested. Nix! While I was watching Transcendence, it made me angry because of all the things it copies, and on top of that, it copies them badly. But on the other hand, I found Transcendence a moderately entertaining technological fable with an important warning against out-of- control science, even though at the same time, it lacks of enough ingenuity in order to classify it as "serious" science fiction. On the positive side, the actors make a good work in their characters, which were created following Hollywood's mold: they are all good-looking. I think that the day someone reaches the "singularity" in the real world, those people are going to look more similar to the cast of the TV series Silicon Valley: "weirdos" and misfits. But instead of that, we have Johnny Depp as the archetypal rebel scientist with glasses (to reflect intelligence) and with the hair expertly disheveled (to indicate his casual greatness). Morgan Freeman plays the clichéd mentor with abundant sensibility and wisdom; and Rebecca Hall is the selfless wife who maintains endless conversations with "green-screen" settings, while she applies her considerable talent to express the surprise and the fear the screenplay isn't able to generate. Director Wally Pfister made a decent work, avoiding the film to derail under the weight from its own grandiloquence, and preserving the gravity of the situation despite the simplistic twists from the screenplay (if this movie would have been made in the 20th century, everything would have been solved with an atomic bomb; but since we are in the 21st century, the only solution can be a digital virus). The concepts of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and "technological singularity" have been handled with genuine intelligence in various novels (such as The Diamond Age, Blood Magic and William Gibson's "Bridge Trilogy"), and they were even brilliantly satirized in Futurama (in the episodes Benderama and Overclockwise). They are undoubtedly fascinating topics, and I think they will become more relevant as our unavoidable technological dependence advances. That's why I was left disappointed by the clichés and lazy narrative from Transcendence, even though I can give a slight recommendation to it, because as I previously said, it managed to keep me moderately entertained.
The Pretty One (2013)
The Pretty One isn't great, but it's a very entertaining film
The Pretty One is a pleasant indie "dramedy" cooked with the habitual ingredients from the genre: a simple screenplay, but not lacking of some deepness; funny characters who are too picturesque to exist in the real world; and a narrative sensibility which cunningly occupies the intersection between art-house cinema and the commercial one. That description might sound a bit cynical, but it doesn't darken my appreciation for the various pros of The Pretty One, which I liked pretty much despite some forced details from the screenplay and its kinda cloying manufacture. To start with, the performances from Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson are very good. I always like those actors' work, even though they tend to play the same character over and over again (Kazan, adorable "Phoebe", and Johnson, adorable loser). But, as long as they keep bringing such good works in those roles, I will keep enjoying their performances. Kazan and Johnson have a perfect chemistry with each other, something which helps to cover some weak details from the screenplay. For example, the premise feels occasionally improbable, even though it's raised with enough logic in order to accept it for the sake of entertainment. After all, The Pretty One doesn't aspire to the raw realism from Hesher or Smashed (to put a pair of indie examples), but it occupies the idealized universe from films such as In Your Eyes and Juno, where the characters are sublimations of narrative archetypes, and the dialogs are impossibly eloquent and colorful. But the artifice works because the emotions feel real, and because of that, The Pretty One survives some not very credible coincidences, forced revelations and moments of a doubtful humor. Besides, in order to season the recipe a little bit, screenwriter Jeneé LaMarque (who was also the director) makes sporadic explorations to the meaning of identity, and its narrow (and sometimes contradictory) relationship with our public perception. Is it more important to know who we are, or who the people think we are? That's an interesting concept which brings a slight philosophical basis to the film. In conclusion, I recommend The Pretty One with confidence, because despite not being something great, it kept me very entertained, it made me think a bit and, for the first time in a long while and, unexpectedly, I was genuinely interested in the romantic aspect.
Breathe In (2013)
Breathe In is a tedious drama
Breathe In is developed with measure and subtleness, until the ending comes and co-screenwriters Drake Doremus (who was also the director) and Ben York Jones realize the fact that not many things have happened. It's only then when they set the characters free to manifest the explosive emotions which were slowly cooked during the rest of the film. However, it's already too late to save this tedious film, whose good performances can't compensate the lack of energy and of an interesting screenplay. We can imagine the route the screenplay will take from practically the first scene. Keith is happy with his wife and daughter, working as a music teacher in an exclusive local academy; but at the same time, he misses his youth, when he belonged to a rock group, and wonders whether his life could have taken a different road. Then, the attractive Sophie, mature for her age, comes full of life and passion... and the rest of the screenplay practically writes itself. On the positive side, we have competent performances from Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan and Mackenzie Davis. However, as I previously said, they can't compensate the fact that the screenplay is developed exactly like we expected, and even though the ending tries to throw some curves, they don't feel like an integral part of the story, but like a desperate strategy to simulate complexity where there wasn't any. In conclusion, I found Breathe In a boring and uninteresting drama, and I can't recommend it.