Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Terminator Genisys

(M) ★½

Director: Alan Taylor.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Lee Byung-hun, J. K. Simmons.

"Alas, poor T-200, I knew him well."

WHEN Arnie uttered the immortal line “I’ll be back” in T2: Judgment Day, it felt like a promise to fans – the promise of more action, more awesomeness and more groundbreaking cinema.

In hindsight it was a threat – the threat of an increasingly Frankensteined corpse of a franchise, regularly re-animated to the point that it looks less and less like the thing it started out as.

The Terminator and T2 are classics for a reason, but they kickstarted something that just won’t die (and I don't mean the T-1000).

T3: Rise Of The Machines was passable (but forgettable) and T4: Salvation was kinda cool (but equally forgettable), but now we've reached T5: Genisys - a film as bad as its spelling and easily the worst Terminator movie to date.

It’s plot itself is a warning about the dangers of time travel – mess with the space-time continuum too much and you’ll end up with a bizarre mish-mash that ruins everything ... just like this screenplay.

Initially it sets out to retell the story of the first film from the perspective of Kyle Reese (Aussie Jai Courtney inhabiting Michael Biehn’s old role) instead of Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke instead of Linda Hamilton).

Except that when Reese arrives in 1984 to protect Sarah from futuristic killer robots, he finds the first film’s Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is already a good guy and has been in the past protecting and training Sarah for about a decade.

As a result, Sarah is no longer the scared waitress needing Reese’s aid – she’s now a gun-toting war machine ready for battle, which is convenient because more Terminators are on their way to 1984 to kill Sarah and re-write the future.

From there the plot gets more convoluted and annoying, with some big questions left unanswered, but that’s just one faulty cog in this busted machine.

Emilia Clarke’s performance is terrible. You don’t need a time machine to foresee a Razzie nomination in her future. When you’re getting out-acted by Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a robot, you know you're in trouble.

It’s not entirely her fault. The lame characterisations don’t help the situation, leaving the Aussie duo of Courtney and Jason Clarke struggling to make us care about Kyle Reese and John Connor. Even a brattish teenaged Edward Furlong made us care about John Connor.

In fact, the best defined character is Arnie’s T-800. Just let that sink in for a moment – a robot with no emotions elicits the most empathy and has the best character arc. That’s how bad this movie is.

The attempts at humour regularly bomb and the action sequences are largely forgettable. The only set piece that doesn’t just wash over you comes early in the film and features a battle between two T-800s. I’d like to say that fight alone is worth the price of admission alone, but it’s not.

Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) does a decent job trying to capture the look and feel of the original Terminator in the 1984 scenes, but the rest of the movie feels toneless and interchangeable with so many contemporary CG-heavy actioners.

There are few things to recommend in this hot mess of dumb repetitive action and idiocy. You just know they’re already planning more ways to revive the franchise, but you’ll leave the cinema wishing they would turn off the life-support and walk away.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Ted 2

(MA15+) ★★½

Director: Seth MacFarlane.

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Morgan Freeman, Giovanni Ribisi.

"It says here you have to insert your penis into my vagina... yeah, this isn't gonna work."

HAS there ever been a comedy sequel that matches the original?

None come to mind, and Ted 2 certainly isn’t the exception that proves the rule.

It’s probably funnier than a lot of comedies, but its hit-miss ratio still skews to the miss side and certainly doesn’t have the high number of LOLs its predecessor had.

This sequel picks up where the last one left off, opening with the anthropomorphic teddy bear of the title (voiced by writer/director MacFarlane) getting married to his beloved white-trash girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Barth).

The wedded bliss doesn’t last long, leading Ted and Tami-Lynn to try for a baby to get their marriage back on track.

But their quest for a child raises red flags with the government regarding the legal status of a toy brought to life by a child's wish - is Ted a person or a piece of property?

The meandering plot dabbles with themes of civil rights, touching on race issues and gay marriage and adding a nice level of depth to a film that is otherwise pre-occupied with profanity, pot and porn.

It's those three Ps that provide the laughs again, and though the schtick wears thinner this time around, the CG teddy bear and his 'thunderbuddy' John (Wahlberg) are still a funny pairing.

Wahlberg's under-utilised comedic talents are again a highlight, as is newcomer Seyfried as Sam, Ted's bong-smoking lawyer and John's new love interest.

As with the original, this is strictly for fans of MacFarlane's brand of humour, which he honed with his show Family Guy.

That cartoon's success and the surprise box office domination of Ted have given MacFarlane carte blanche to do what he likes, as evidenced by his misfiring anachronistic western A Million Ways To Die In The West and the excesses on show in Ted 2.

The best examples of the latter are a Busby Berkeley-style opening credits sequence and a musical interlude of Seyfried singing Mean Ol' Moon, both of which add little to the film and nothing to the plot and seem to be there because MacFarlane wants them there. Ditto for his drawn-out pop culture references, such as riffs on Revenge Of The Nerds and Jurassic Park, and a few other gag sequences that don't work and just slow things down in an already overlong movie.

MacFarlane is a talent, no doubt, but his best may be yet to come. Ted was up there, but Ted 2 suffers from comedy sequelitis (if there is such a thing).

For the few jokes that work and the team-up of Ted, Wahlberg and Seyfried, this follow-up is worth a look but only if you loved the original.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Inside Out

(PG) ★★★★★

Director: Pete Docter.

Cast: (voices of) Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Richard Kind.

"They elected who as president?"

INSIDE Out is proof positive that when the Pixar brains trust puts its collective mind to an idea, they can do anything.

The thought of doing a film largely set within the head of an 11-year-old girl and where the principle characters are her emotions would send every other animation studio reaching for the metaphorical paracetamol before immediately turning its attention to another Madagascar/Ice Age/Shrek/Despicable Me sequel/spin off.

Not Pixar. Having already pushed the boundaries by using a grumpy elderly widower as a hero, making a largely wordless enviro-centric sci-fi flick, and celebrating the joys of food with a cast of rats, the concept at the heart of Inside Out is a bold yet natural progression for this game-changing institution.

But the fact that they pull off this hair-brained idea so brilliantly and beautifully is enough to make you want to stand up and applaud.

The 11-year-old girl in question is Riley (voiced by Dias) and the emotions in charge of the control room that is her mind are Joy (Poehler), Fear (Hader), Disgust (Kaling), Anger (Black), and Sadness (Smith). All are tested when Riley and her folks (Lane and MacLachlan) sell up their Minnesota home and relocate to San Francisco, triggering something of an emotional breakdown for the girl and her anthropomorphic feelings.

Director Docter (Up, Monsters Inc), the screenwriters, and Pixar's brain trust reportedly spent three and a half years getting the story of Inside Out exactly right, and it shows.

The script sets up Riley's internal world with an ease that belies the amount of thought, research and sweat that must have gone into it - in the charmingly simple opening, we're introduced to the emotions, their roles, and the creative way the film demonstrates such intangible concepts as making and storing memories and the things that are important to Riley in her own mind.

At its simplest it's a journey story - two of the characters are trying to get from one place to another - but that journey takes us through some fascinating locations we've never seen in a family film before. Abstract thought, the subconscious, the imagination, "the dream factory", long-term memory - these are all shown in inventive ways, as are the critters that populate these areas.

But this is so much more than just a journey. There is a level of depth, heart, reality, beauty, honesty and, of course, emotion in this film that is astounding for any type of movie, let alone something that's largely marketed to kids.

At the lowest age bracket, which is lower primary school-age children, there is enough light and movement to keep them interested, plus they're bound to have a basic enough grasp of different emotions to keep track of things.

At the "tween" level (and for early teens), the subject matter is bound to resonate, as they've just gone through these kind of pre-pubescent mental shifts or are just about to go through them. It's dealt with so simply and truthfully that it has to hit the mark.

Realistically though, this is a movie for the parents. This film is a grown-up wolf in kid's clothing, or mutton dressed as lamb, to labour the sheep analogies.

It's bright colours and cartoonish characters may make it look like its targeted at the young'uns, however the beautifully nuanced ideas such as the loss of innocence and the importance of sadness reveal this as the mature think-piece it really is. It's a movie about kids trying to understand who they are, and as a result, it's about and for parents trying to understand their kids.

Inside Out is also laugh-at-loud funny, cry-out-loud moving, and genuinely thrilling, exciting and fascinating.

Picking the greatest Pixar movie was already difficult, but the arrival of their latest effort just made it all the harder.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Jurassic World

(M) ★★★½

Director: Colin Trevorrow.

Cast: Chris Pratt, Dallas Bryce Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Irrfan Khan.

"Wait - let me explain Passengers!"

Computer-generated wizardry has become commonplace in movies these days, making it easy to forget how mind-blowing Jurassic Park was back in 1993.

The sense of wonder we felt getting that first glimpse of brachiosaurs across the field, of the T-Rex's ground-shaking entrance, of seeing velociraptors stalking through the kitchen - these were true "wow" moments unlike anything audiences had seen before and that we have rarely seen since.

In some ways Jurassic Park is comparable to Star Wars - not in terms of its pop culture influence, but rather the way it married a tight, taut script with ground-breaking special effects to create a new high watermark in blockbuster moviemaking. The diminishing returns of the not-bad sequels, plus the passage of time, means we tend to forget these things.

But there's still something impressively jaw-dropping about seeing CG dinosaurs on the big screen, making any return visit to Jurassic Park - or in this case Jurassic World - a welcome one.

Fourth time around, the park is open and running quite successfully, with tens of thousands of punters flocking to Isla Nublar every day to watch T-Rex get fed, visit the pterosaur aviary, or ride a baby triceratops.

Story-wise, it's a natural progression. Having developed the technology and cloned the dinosaurs, do you really think John Hammond's successors would let a few dino-related deaths prevent them from making billions of dollars? Of course not. It's as inevitable as the dinosaurs running amok all over again and proving that man shouldn't meddle with such things.

As a result, the plots and themes of Jurassic World are roughly the same as Jurassic Park - man makes dinosaur, dinosaur eats man - with the main difference being everything is bigger and "more", as tends to happen in sequels (and modern-day movies). The dinosaurs are bigger and there are more of them, the action sequences are bigger and there are more of them, and there are plenty more people to serve as dino-food.

"Bigger, faster, louder", as director Trevorrow has put it in interviews, is also the central theme of the film, whereby the sheer thrill of seeing a dinosaur isn't enough, leading the park's scientists to build their own (or for Trevorrow to humourously stage a pterosaur attack outside an Imax theatre screening a pterosaur attack).

So with its similar base plot and themes, Jurassic World is about taking Jurassic Park to the next level, and in one sense it works.

The fundamental thrill of seeing dinosaurs running wild is as thrilling as ever, the film's many nods to the original are also welcome, and the presence of Pratt is a sublime bonus.

Where things fall down is in a muddy subplot involving some kind of militaristic group of bad guys led by D'Onofrio, which is never fully explained or resolved.

There is also a tendency to be predictable and a bit cheesy, although thankfully Trevorrow's subversive sense of humour pulls things back from the brink of cheesiness on more than one occasion - a dramatic kiss and a monologuing villain are just two tropes the film pokes fun at to great success.

The marvel and wonder of Jurassic Park can never be matched. Those days are gone. The best we can hope for are solid sequels that ramp up the action without losing sight of the key themes at its heart, and that's what Jurassic World delivers.

Friday, 5 June 2015


(MA15+) ★★★

Director: Doug Ellin.

Cast: Adrien Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Ronda Rousey, Haley Joel Osment.

"No, hear me out - we'll do some cocaine, go to a party, and then make a movie out of it."

AFTER eight seasons and a five-year break, Vinnie, E, Turtle, Drama and Ari are back.

If this means nothing to you, it's probably because you never watched the TV show Entourage, in which case you should a) stop reading this review and b) avoid this movie like a bout of chlamydia.

Entourage the film is directly aimed at the audience of Entourage the series. No effort is made to engage new fans. In fact, there's no real effort to make this anything more than a super-long episode of the series.

The film coasts along on the same mix of easy-going charm, Hollywood voyeurism and low-stakes drama that made the show enjoyable if somewhat tiresome over its eight-year run.

If you've read this far without having seen the show, here's the set-up - Entourage was initially loosely based on the life and times (and entourage) of actor Mark Wahlberg, with Grenier's Vincent Chase standing in as a fictionalised Marky Mark.

After eight seasons of ups and downs including Hollywood blockbusters, bad press, rehab and plenty of flings, the film rejoins a newly single Chase as he prepares to make his directorial debut, with his best bud and manager E (Connolly) serving as producer.

But running over-budget puts him at odds with new studio head and Chase's former manager Ari Gold (Piven), as well as the film's Texan financiers (Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment).

Meanwhile the rest of the entourage have their own problems - E's ex is pregnant, Turtle is head over heels for mixed martial artist-turned-actress Ronda Rousey, and Johnny Drama is, well, still Johnny Drama.

All films need to be judged on their own goals and their own demographic and whether they reach both in an effective way. In the case of Entourage, it does everything it sets out to do - to provide one more outing for the fans of the show, while capturing the tone and style they've come to know and love.

There's not much more to it than that. The story is as thin and unpretentious as many of the ongoing plots in the TV series, covering the same old Hollywood ground of the movie business, problems with the ladies, and boys being boys.

As expected there are plenty of cameos crammed into every available space director/show-runner/writer/producer Ellin can find, with only Rousey getting a sizeable role as herself (and acquitting herself reasonably well). It's also good to see Osment back on the big screen, and he's in decent form as an unlikeable Texan producer wannabe.

Some have labelled this as a misogynistic, boy-ish fantasy, and maybe it is, but so much of its portrayal of Hollywood rings true given that Tinseltown has been proven time and time again to be a misogynistic place where boys try to make their fantasies come true, not that Entourage ever managed to be the biting satire it probably should have been, either as a TV show or a movie. Instead it was a celebration of enduring friendship, of rags-to-riches success, and of the highs and lows of the film industry.

This big screen version continues to be that - nothing more, nothing less.