Friday, July 18, 2014

Double summer review - Snowpiercer and Transformers: Age of Extinction.

I finally got around to a couple more summer releases this year, both films of which being complete opposites catering to two different audiences. One a character driven journey with brutal thematic allegories, and the other a bombastic sights and sounds extravaganza. So here are my thoughts on both of them…

If you’re feeling a bit worn out by the numerous sequels and effects heavy blockbusters this season, you could pick a much worse summer movie than Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer. Now, I use that term very loosely, because despite being headlined by Captain America’s Chris Evans, Snowpiercer is a summer film solely by its ironic release date. A very brutal film based on a French graphic novel, the film uses various holocaust allegories as an aid to its storytelling, and yet, it doesn’t do so tastelessly. The “world” of this train - practically an ecosystem of its own - is well balanced between stylish and gritty, showcasing the social divide between its various classes, and allowing us to absorb the full devastation of those in the tail section. So it is…

The cast is uniformly terrific, including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and especially Tilda Swinton, the latter of which is a riot every time she is on screen. Give credit to Joon-Ho for his superb direction and careful handling of the various, great aspects in this film, from his cast to his involving action sequences, none more harrowing than a terrific fight sequence in a pitch-black tunnel. In spite of the film featuring several plot threads that go absolutely nowhere and perhaps deliberately shaking up its own pace near the end, Snowpiercer is a challenger of a film that offers a healthy alternative to the less subtle, razzle-dazzle glut.

**** / *****

Transformers: Age of Extinction:
Speaking of razzle-dazzle glut lacking subtlety, Michael Bay has returned to unleash his fourth entry in the Transformers series, Age of Extinction, a movie so bloated that it gave me a headache. On one hand, Bay’s films are always technically excellent. The visual effects by ILM are every bit as good as they always have been, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl (fresh off their also fantastic work in Godzilla) provide some of the greatest work of their careers, Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci turn in solid performances, the robot characters are very decent, and some of the film’s action is great. However, that’s as far as my positives go.

One complaint I held against the other Transformers sequels is that they were just the same movie as the first film all over again, and while this film does change things quite a bit in structure, it still has flaws aplenty. The editing is an assault on the senses (William Goldenberg, where did you go wrong?), most of the human characters are dull and uninteresting (Nicola Peltz and her character’s boyfriend come to mind), and Ehren Kruger is just as bad as ever when it comes to screenwriting, including reducing the Dinobots to a Deus Ex Machina, and –unlike Snowpiercer – holocaust allegories that are tasteless.  Above all, though, is that the film’s pace is a slog. This movie is nearly three hours long, and feels every minute of it. This thing is loaded with so much pointless filler that you could have trimmed almost an hour and lost nothing. The film ends (stops, is more like it) leaving room for a Transformers 5, and I’m not too keen on that happening with how this series steadily declines. I tried to give this movie the benefit of the doubt, and it’s not technically as bad as Revenge of the Fallen (nothing here infuriates or annoys me like Sam Witwicky’s mother did), but if Bay wants to regain the good will he got from the first Transformers, he’d better pull himself together. But with how much cash these movies rake in, that may never happen.

*1/2 / *****

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