Transformers: Dark of the Moon (May Contain Spoilers)

After the diabolical flop of the second film, I haven’t been getting too excited about the third instalment in the Transformers series. I remember seeing the first one and being blown away by the effects of real-life transforming robots, even though the script suffered from a certain degree of the cheese factor, but the second film ended up being the black mark on the franchise. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay swore that everything they did wrong in the second one would be rectified for the third, so I made the decision to give it a chance.

After the events of Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) the Autobots are working with the US Military on covert operations to keep the world safe while the Decepticons have gone into hiding. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is out in the world looking for a job along with his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley). But a conspiracy from the US moon landing and an Autobot ship that crashed there decades ago brings Sam out of his new life and back into the world of the Autobots. After Optimus and the others find out what the US Government have been hiding from them, they recover their old leader from the wreckage of the crash on the moon – Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). But after they bring Sentinel Prime back to Earth, Megatron (Hugo Weaving) and the Decepticons make the move they’ve been waiting to make – to rebuild Cybertron on Earth.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon does manage to eradicate a lot of the memory of the second film by going deeper into the mythos of the original action figures and storylines, and manages to pull off a much more interesting plotline by mixing human and Autobot histories together with twists that really aren’t obvious, rather than subjecting people to 2 ½ hours of bad acting and confusing storylines like the second one did and did it with far less annoying characters, even though there had to be a couple to give smaller audience members something to laugh at. The fact that Leonard Nimoy does the voice of Sentinel Prime as well came as a surprise to me as I didn’t know this before I went to the film. But despite how good he is at voicing characters, apparently Michael Bay couldn’t resist having a completely shameless Star Trek Spock quote of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in there – not all that clever, but obviously too good to resist.

Then there is the much more impressive replacement to Megan Fox, Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley. Putting aside for a moment (but never forgetting) that she used to be a Victoria’s Secret model, she actually manages to act in Dark of the Moon and comes across as much less annoying than Megan Fox was. For one thing, she manages to OPEN her mouth when she speaks, despite the ridiculous amount of pouting she still manages to do throughout the film. But the fact she’s British does redeem her a little bit from some of the bits that let her down – like towards the end, when she simply stands in the middle of a war zone with destruction happening all around her and stares blankly at something while she puts the pieces together in her mind. Still, at least she’s not Megan Fox.

One addition to this film that I really liked was the idea of robotic “gore” during the fight scenes. While some might argue that it’s a little bit too close to real gore for a 12A movie, what they’ve done for this instalment is add in the idea that if a character gets punched in the face, or shot in the chest or has an arm ripped off, there is engine oil and mechanic lubricants that spray everywhere like blood effects. It’s definitely a clever idea that hasn’t been approached before, but it could spark a debate as to how close to real gore you can get in what is essentially meant to be a kids film.

Even though the storyline is a lot better in Dark of the Moon and the action scenes are shot and imaged much better than the last film, two and a half hours is still an epic amount of time for what you actually get and a lot could have been shaved off the first half of the film since some parts aren’t relevant to the overall storyline and are mostly thrown in for continuity than anything else.

But it must be said, the most unrealistic thing of the entire film (which, let us not forget, has transforming robots that beat the crap out of each other) is that someone like Shia LaBeouf would end up with an ex-Victoria’s Secret model as his girlfriend, whether he’s saved the world with his robot car or not.

Overall, the big budget effects and storyline work well in Dark of the Moon and do for the franchise what was lost in the second film, but it seems there were only a few bits worth seeing in 3D and probably wouldn’t warrant the entire 3D upgrade, but IMAX might well be a different story. Transformers: Dark of the Moon gets 7 out of 10 for redeeming itself after the second film and having a better storyline and cast, but still dragging on in parts.

Bridesmaids (May Contain Spoilers)

The typical summer chick flick comes in many forms. Recent years have seen the travesties of Sex and the City not once, but twice, and weren’t quite met with the sense of “Oh, this looks like a good way to spend an evening for both the guys and the girls” than the producers had perhaps hoped. However, producer of 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up Judd Apatow and director Paul Feig may well have gotten the mix just right with Bridesmaids.

Bridesmaids focuses on the broke and lovelorn Annie (Kristen Wiig) who is asked by her lifelong friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to be Maid of Honour at her wedding. But in the process of organising various parties, showers and a wedding as well, Annie’s life begins to unravel as she tries to keep up with Lillian’s perfect new friend Helen (Rose Byrne) and things start going from bad to worse. At the same time Annie has to deal with various love troubles including her new interest Nathan (Chris O’Dowd) and her lack of money, but is still determined to show that she can be the best Maid of Honour there is.

The script, which was partly written by Kristen Wiig herself, is very witty and even stretches towards being pretty crude in some places, but doesn’t dwell on it too much and doesn’t turn the whole film into a two hour fart gag instead. What Bridesmaids does pretty well is capture a more sinister and competitive side to wedding arrangements, but keeps a similar comedy style to Knocked Up and other similar films. The comedy mostly comes from Kristen Wiig’s character flaws and her hopeless attempts at over-compensating for her downfalls.

Rather than playing on the crude (though, it must be said, the food poisoning scene is one of the funniest of the movie) which it would have been so easy to do, Bridesmaids goes for a more female-oriented style of comedy with jokes that men will find funny but are obviously made so that women will get them first, and laugh that much harder.

Essentially, Bridesmaids plays out a lot like a version of Knocked Up that has been tailored for women more than men, but also done in a way that guys won’t be entirely put off of seeing it. Plus, seeing familiar faces of British comedy like Matt Lucas and Chris O’Dowd (from The IT Crowd) in actual roles in this made it all the more interesting to watch, and even though Matt Lucas doesn’t have much of a part Chris O’Dowd’s character does get plenty of lines and plays a very likeable character and manages to keep his Irish accent a lot as well.

Bridesmaids gets a firm 6 out of 10 for being an incredibly funny comedy with plenty of material to poke fun at (especially with Melissa McCarthy’s uncouth character chipping in with random comments, and perhaps becomes the female Zach Galifiankis from The Hangover?) without relying on too many crude jokes to get its laughs.

Green Lantern (May Contain Spoilers)

Before the first teaser trailers, I had high hopes for the first film adaptation of one of DC Comics flagship characters, and after seeing early teaser photos I was interested in the direction the producers were taking Green Lantern. Although the teaser trailers left me unimpressed, I couldn’t not go and see what could be one of the big superhero hits of the summer.

Cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is grounded after a test mission goes wrong. But in his crisis of confidence, he is chosen by dying alien Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) to be granted his mystical ring. By accepting this, Hal gets transported to the planet Oa and initiated into an intergalactic police force charged with keeping the peace across the Universe using the power of the Emerald energy of Willpower. They are the Green Lantern Corps – and Hal Jordan is the first ever human to be placed among their ranks. But as Hal begins his training with the Corps to become a Green Lantern, an entity of fear known as Parallax is freed from his prison created by Abin Sur and is headed towards Earth, already embodying Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) to spread fear on Earth. In order to defeat this intergalactic enemy, Hal must gather together more courage than flying a jet could ever take, and master the powers of the Green Lantern ring to save his colleague and love interest Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and ultimately the Earth from destruction.

The film managed to stay true to a lot of the Green Lantern mythos and original storylines of the Corps, but it felt like there were things missing from the film as a whole that could have done it a lot more justice – no pun intended!

What first made me question the look of Green Lantern was the copious amount of CGI being used. While it’s understandable that for creating the world of Oa and Corps members like Tomar-Re and Kilowog (voiced by Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke-Duncan respectively) CGI needed to be used to make them as realistic as possible, but using it for things like Hal’s Green Lantern uniform seemed a bit like overkill to me. But that being said, it was explained to me that in the comic books the Green Lantern uniform is part of the construct the ring produces, so it seems fitting that his suit was CGI too and meant it had the moving energy effect as well, so even though it seemed like a bit much it was done for a solid reason.

Also on the subject of Green Lantern’s CGI, it seemed to me that there wasn’t enough of him using his ring to create big constructs and that wasn’t very adventurous for a superhero with that kind of potential. It would have been understandable if they had, say, focussed their attention on creating more of a solid script to back the film with, but even that became predictable in places and a bit hollow overall – especially since Hal’s scientist friend got severely overlooked and even forgotten about in certain scenes! There are clearly plans for a sequel (set for release in 2013) with the clip during the credits of Sinestro (Mark Strong, who manages to not blink for the entire 40 minutes he is on screen. Fact.) putting on the Yellow ring of Fear, despite the fact that his last scene in the film was him congratulating Hal Jordan on being right and bringing out humanity in the Corps. It almost felt like there was no reason for him putting on the ring in this film other than to create talk of a sequel and because his name is Sinestro. If you let a guy with a name like Sinestro into your group, you can pretty much bet he’ll stab you in the back. The clue is in the name. Still, at least it means there is a lot of potential for the sequel compared to the lack of depth in this film.

The action scenes and one-liners that the trailer campaign for Green Lantern didn’t ruin did impress and made the film worth the ticket money, but there wasn’t much that hadn’t been revealed by the trailers by that point, and the retrofitting for 3D wouldn’t make all that much difference to the visuals to make it worth paying the extra for it.

Overall, Green Lantern came across a bit like the kind of stereotypical superhero movie you see people watching in other films, but there were still plenty of bits throughout to satisfy long term fans of the original comic books. The action scenes and CGI were impressive, but because there weren’t enough of them and the script got hollow in places, Green Lantern suffered a little from Take-Away Syndrome – you enjoy it while you’re having it, but two hours later you’ve forgotten all about it and want another. Green Lantern gets 6 out of 10 for being entertaining but lacking a lot of what people actually paid to see.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (May Contain Spoilers)

Sometimes even the harshest of film critics (which I clearly am not!) has to have a guilty pleasure. For me, its kid’s movies. Not all kid’s movies, but just those which are tailored so the adults can bear to sit through them at the same time. But when you combine something that I’ve loved since I was 14, like Martial Arts flicks, with a cuddly animal in the title, then that’s just begging to be my biggest guilty pleasure! So even though I didn’t quite see the reason behind a sequel, I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda so much I figured I would at least give number two a chance.

Kung Fu Panda 2 sees the lovable, naïve and always hungry Po (voiced by Jack Black) sent out on a mission with the Furious Five by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to stop the evil Lord Chen (Gary Oldman) from unleashing the destructive power of his new invention which could eliminate Kung Fu forever. But what Po doesn’t count on is Chen’s connection to his past, and he gradually finds out more about where he came from, who he is and more importantly, why his dad is a goose! Kung Fu Panda 2 has a much bigger and darker storyline than the first, but that can only be expected from a sequel to such a big selling film. It also means that it opens up the plot to find out more about Po’s unfortunate past and how he lost his parents, but at the same time means there’s lots of cute baby panda scenes which only the stoniest of hearts could resist. Also, in a strange way, the last shot of the film (with an entire farming colony of Pandas) leaves it open for a potential third film but with an unclear storyline – perhaps there’s a Po twin amongst the colony and there will be a Double Dragon style team-up?

The unfortunate side to Kung Fu Panda 2 is that, at its heart, it’s still a kids movie and doesn’t go as dark as it potentially could. This means an undeniable Hollywood ending similar to the first film in the way that though characters come close to dying, none of them do and therefore the threat is lost, and Po manages to master his “inner peace” in the space of the movie when other Kung Fu Masters have taken years to master it. While it’s not quite an example of the Harry Potter Resolve I’ve mentioned before, it is just because Kung Fu Panda 2 is a kid’s movie that means it has to happen in that way, and as such you end up accepting it as inevitability. Once you get past that, you end up enjoying the action scenes at the end with the heroes saving the day, which sets Po up as more of an action hero throughout the whole film. This happens to such an extent, turning Po around from a bumbling comedy character to more of a comedy action hero, that you feel more like you’re watching a real Kung Fu movie played out with animated animals than any kind of kid’s movie.

While the storyline opens up to learn more about Po and his past, it also allows the other characters to be involved more than the first film and lets the other voice talents get more of a spotlight. The amount of names involved in Kung Fu Panda 2 is certainly impressive – not just the returning voices of Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Lucy Liu as Viper and Jackie Chan as Monkey, but there’s also Seth Rogen voicing Mantis as a bigger part, and Jean-Claude Van Damme as Master Croc and Danny McBride making an appearance throughout the film and turns Kung Fu Panda 2 into something much less tacky and franchise-like than it could potentially have been.

Kung Fu Panda 2 also uses the most impressive 3D I’ve seen in a film in a long time, which makes me think that perhaps 3D should be kept exclusively to animated films and not live action ones. Kung Fu Panda 2 manages to mix less slapstick comedy and more action together into a big, bombastic sequel that retains all of the wit and charm of the first, and as such gets 6 out of 10 for being easily watchable and a sure-fire guilty pleasure for your inner child!

Frank Turner – “England Keep My Bones”

Anyone who’s familiar with Winchester’s Frank Turner and his intense touring habits knows that he is never in one place for too long, not even his own home. Frank Turner (and his backing band The Sleeping Souls) has been touring solo for a few years now and manages to create acoustic folk-punk songs that cut the crap and get to the core of life and love.

People that know his music are avid followers, and people that aren’t usually have a different outlook after hearing him. Yes, he’s just that good! Frank Turner’s incredibly popular third album Poetry of the Deed sang songs of life’s little appreciations, constantly being on the road and the lessons learned from seeing the countries of the world. England Keep My Bones is album number four and focuses almost oppositely on Frank’s resounding love for his home and England’s heritage, but at the same time manages to keep that acoustic punk-rock spark.

Album opener Eulogy triumphantly bursts out with a punk attitude after a horn intro and gets the album started on a high with its punk-style lyrics “But on the day I die I’ll say “At least I fucking tried!” and that’s the only eulogy I need.” Peggy Sang the Blues is a song about Frank’s grandmother visiting him in a dream, but also cleverly hides punk style lyrics about playing poker in heaven and giving him sound advice on life around a blues style sound, as the title suggests. The good vibes keep coming hard and fast when I Still Believe from Frank’s latest EP Rock & Roll kicks in with its tribute to different generations of musical influences and how they’ve all helped bring people together, and creates a massive sing-along anthem.

Rivers is another song about the life of a punk-rock troubadour and traces paths across England that Frank has travelled before eventually returning home, and first single I Am Disappeared harks back to his earlier material and sings about dreams of Bob Dylan and spontaneous travelling. English Curse throws a curveball to the album – it’s an entirely acapella song about how William II died in the New Forest after being shot with an arrow by Walter Tyrell in 1100. While it’s a beautifully crafted bit of sung poetry, it also shows Frank Turner indulging his heritage and the history of his home on England Keep My Bones.

If I Ever Stray lightens the tone again with its joyful country styling and makes a promise to his friends that “If I ever stray from the path I follow, take me down to the English channel, throw me in where the water is shallow and then drag me back to shore” showing that even though Frank travels, he never forgets who his friends are. Wessex Boy carries on the theme of his friends and home through Frank singing about Winchester and all his fond memories of the places he went, and even mentions the Railway Inn where he played his earlier shows and occasionally still does whenever he’s back for long enough. Wessex Boy also manages to paint a clear picture of Frank Turner’s roots and what inspired him to start making music, and it’s clear from the passion he sings this song with how important his roots are to him.

Nights Become Days’ melody breaks up the pace of the album nicely before Redemption’s piano led symphony creeps through and builds into something entirely different and heavier. Album closer Glory Hallelujah might seem anti-religious, proclaiming “There never was no God”, but looking deeper I believe the message is that people should live to appreciate everything they have while they have it before they die. It’s not so much anti-religious as it is life appreciating.

The extra three songs available on the deluxe version of England Keep My Bones include Song for Eva Mae which is a melodic acoustic song about his Goddaughter, Wanderlust which is more of a country style song and Balthazar, Impresario which reminds me of Journey of the Magi from Poetry of the Deed. Though they don’t really add to or fit in with the theme of England Keep My Bones much, which is probably why they’re extras on the deluxe version, but any fans of Frank’s solo acoustic numbers will like these little extras a lot.

While it may not have the same immediate life-affirming attitude that made Poetry of the Deed so popular, England Keep My Bones adds a lot to Frank Turner’s arsenal and reaffirms your faith in England, reminding people of the pride we should have in the history and tradition of our country. Another great album from one of the last honest musicians in the world.

Oh, the funnies…

So I got to my computer this morning and, as many people do, flicked on Facebook. Only, to my horror, everyone was raving about the first trailer for the new Twilight saga movie Breaking Dawn Part 1. I want to admit up front that, out of a morbid curiosity for the storyline (and because Vampire/Werewolf fiction is normally pretty badass, but in this case proved how wrong I could be), I have read all the books. Cover to cover. Yes, I know, you may be saying right now “Why do that? Why waste the time? Are you a girl??” No. But, its better to have read them and know what you’re talking about than just outrightly disliking them. Anyway, this is besides the point…

I went straight to IMDB and checked out the trailer after the disappointingly mundane last film to see how they’d handle the level of raunchyness of this book. SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE THAT CARES – there is a lot of Vampire sex on the honeymoon. Oh, yeah, and no Vampire contraceptives either. I’m not exactly what constitutes a Vampire contraceptive really… perhaps something made of garlic or silver?… Anyway, the result is that the shockingly empty vessel that is Bella gets up the duff. Funny? This is just the start.

The trailer, first of all, shows part of the first love-making scene. Yes, you heard, a full on love-making scene in a 12A MOVIE. WHAT?! How will they handle that? Now, forgetting the inappropriateness of it for a second, it does open up opportunity for plenty of bad jokes on the title: Breaking Dawn Part 1 – Breaking Skin? Breaking Bella Part 1 – No Time for Contraceptives and Part 2 – Attack of the Stretchmarks? Feel free to chip in any time…

Secondly, the strapline is giving me no end of giggles. Let’s think about this closely for a second and think about how many films in a series can use the word “Begins” in a strapline for EACH film. That’s right, none. Except Twilight Saga. Let’s recap, shall we?:

New Moon: The Next Chapter Begins

Eclipse: It All Begins… With a Choice.

Breaking Dawn 1 – Breaking Bella’s Virginity: Forever is just The Beginning.

By this point, it does beg the question how many things is this series of films actually trying to start? But the question on everyones mind by this point is, more rightly, when will it stop? Am I being too critical, or is it time these films manned up a little? Discuss.

X-Men: First Class (May Contain Spoilers)

When I saw the first trailer for X-Men: First Class, I was pretty reluctant to get excited about it. Being a fan of the comic books and original stories, and after enjoying the first two films so much, the look and feel of the trailer didn’t seem to sit quite right with me. There was something about the way Michael Fassbender’s Magneto helmet didn’t quite fit, the way Nick Hoult looked as Beast, and the way the trailer used a lot of shots from the first movie to sell itself. But after realising all these things were for a reason (the helmet wasn’t originally built for Magneto in the plot; Hoult only becomes Beast at the end and there is a lot that ties this in with the first X-Men), I started to warm to the idea of an “origins” movie without it actually being another X-Men Origins – frankly, one of those was enough!

In 1944, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) lead very different lives, but they are both discovering incredible powers from genetic mutations. Years later in 1963, they unite with a common goal – to find others like themselves with amazing mutant powers and bring them to a safe haven, where they can harness their powers and use them to protect people. But when Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), leader of the Hellfire Club and the man Erik has been tirelessly hunting down, is tied in to military actions in Russia and aims to create the Cuban Missile crisis, Xavier and Erik must gather their new team in order to stop his threat to the World. But in the process, a rift forms in their alliance and sides must be chosen by their new members, creating a struggle between the two former allies.

It may be the fears of an X-Men Origins repeat, but I was concerned that this would be another black mark on the X-Men legacy. However, safe in the knowledge that Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn was in control and Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men, was a producer I became more hopeful, X-Men: First Class definitely has a good, solid storyline behind it especially when compared to Origins (in fact, watching X-Men Origins felt like witnessing a movie version of Top Trumps – Wolverine VS Sabretooth = Lose; Wolverine VS Helicopter = Win; and so on), and that made it all the more grounded and realistic. Plus, there are enough cameos to satisfy audiences mostly familiar with the first few films – at one point you see a child Storm and Cyclops, when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) makes herself look older its Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and yes even Hugh Jackman appears as Wolverine albeit for three words! While the storyline only plays with bits of the X-Men mythos a little, it mostly remains loyal to the source material and you get to see all the different parts of the X-Men Universe coming together, and that definitely works in its favour.

What I liked about X-Men: First Class, aside from the storyline, is the way the continuity ties in well with the start of the first X-Men, even though for the most part it doesn’t feel like you’re watching an X-Men movie. Having it set against a backdrop of the 60’s gives the whole film an entirely different feel, and it manages to get the look and style of that era without it becoming kitsch-y. What confused me at points was the age of some of the characters, and how they can still be so young later in the film or at the start of the first ­X-Men but even those get explanations, like the way Sebastian Shaw absorbs energy and therefore stays young, and Mystique only ages half as fast as others so she’s still in her 20’s when the first X-Men rolls round.

I was also impressed at how James McAvoy played a young Charles Xavier. You get an idea that in his youth, Xavier was a bit cocky but knew what he was doing, and in X-Men: First Class you see him become a part of the action with the rest of the team for the first time.

One scene I didn’t like so much was when everyone picks their “codenames”. While I appreciate that it had to be included for the benefit of some people who might not be as familiar with the X-Universe as others, and that if this scene had to happen at all it was done in a way that felt at least semi-natural, there’s always something about a “My name will be this and your name will be this” scene that feels a little forced and uncomfortable. Still, the benefit of this is that Matthew Vaughn manages to do it in as swift a way as possible – while it may not be the “I’m Kick-Ass!” scene, it’s still done in a way that eliminates any confusion over characters.

Overall, X-Men: First Class is a worthy addition to the X-Universe, and if they’re going to make more films to tie-in with the first X-Men then doing it in this style and with this cast and crew definitely seems to be a winning combination.  X-Men: First Class gets 8 out of 10 for having all the elements and storylines of a good X-Men film with only the bare minimum of Hollywood cheese.