A rare moment showing Optimus Prime actually winning a fight against the human-made Galvatron. It doesn’t last for long…

First of all this is the worst Transformers film I have seen, and given the low standards of the other 3 films, that means it’s pretty bad. There’s no Shia LaBeouf this time, Megan Fox was of course booted out long ago after making disparaging comments about the first and second film (She had a point given the snore-fest that was Transformers 2) and finding yet another hot girlfriend (after Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in the 3rd film) for a guy who hangs around with toy robots would have probably pushed the boundaries of credibility a little too far.

This time Mark Wahlberg takes the lead role as inventor dad Cade Yeager. His daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) fill the other 2 protagonist slots. Strangely – for a family film – his 17 year old daughter’s relationship with Shane.. a 21 year old Irish rally driver is actually illegal in most states. Making you wonder what exactly the reason for its inclusion is? I suspect it’s just so they could have a ‘hot’ teen girl (the primary audience for these films are teenage boys ) and a boyfriend who can drive everyone about at high speed (you need to be 21 to drive in the US). In fact this is what is interesting about Transformers 4. Everything happens for a reason – the reason usually being found in our world. So the film is set in the US (the biggest film market in the world), but then halfway through relocates wholesale to China (conveniently the second biggest film market in the world). Chinese actors also come to the fore at this point and it’s amusing to hear such propaganda as “We must ask the CENTRAL GOVERNMENT for help” as a huge alien spaceship enters Hong Kong and then later this response from Shanghai: “The CENTRAL GOVERNMENT will not leave Hong Kong to stand alone”. Yes China – you are great!

There’s some shockingly blatant product placement, which you get the idea was done obviously on purpose to be funny. Especially since two of the products  – Bud Light and a Chinese drink are spat out by the people drinking them. By far the best product placement though is when arrogant scientist Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is showing off the newly discovered element ‘Transformium’ (the worst named element since Unobtanium in Avatar) and he transformers a chunk of it into a spiral and then into a gun and finally into a Beats Pill speaker – “..even a BEATS PILL WIRELESS SPEAKER if you want to listen to some music”.

I haven’t talked much about the story because its the dullest part of the film. It starts off ok but then after a while it’s just action sequence after action sequence. Michael Bay again forgets the rule that you need quiet meaningful bits in-between to make the exciting action parts actually seem exciting. While this may be the worst Transformers film so far, you can still get some enjoyment from watching the giant robots kick the crap out of each other. Bumblebee is still great. Optimus Prime still annoying (that voice), and still bizarrely loses almost every fight he is in.The final fight in which humans and transformers coordinate to bring Lockdown down *is* pretty good, and did I mention… I really feel like a BUD LIGHT right now… That’s right – it would be really great to drink a BUD LIGHT right now..

4 for the film  + 1 for the giant robots = 5/10

Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) get ready to repel the zombie horde.

(Obviously) I’ve seen this before but I wanted to watch it again. It’s clever because it knows that you know it’s going to be a zombie film and it teases you. Is that a zombie or just Shaun (Simon Pegg) stumbling and moaning because it’s early in the morning? Wait that is a zombie! oh.. no it’s just a supermarket worker. Definitely a crowd of zomb…  no just teenagers shuffling along with headphones on. At the same time as making you smile it’s also a clever social commentary on the detached nature of modern life.

Eventually when the zombie epidemic does begin. There’s lots of laughs, tension and action as Shaun assembles a group of survivors – which include his mum (Penelope Wilton), his friend Ed (Nick Frost), his long suffering girlfriend Lizzy (Kate Ashfield), and in Shaun’s words “failed actress” Dianne (Lucy Davies) and her “twat” boyfriend David (Dylan Moran) – and attempts to lead them to safety. Shaun’s idea of safety however is pretty much the same as his idea of a good night out – hiding out at the Winchester tavern. Where beer is freely available and bar snacks are plentiful.

Watching this for the 2nd time now I noticed that many lines of dialogue gain new meaning. For example pre-zombie epidemic, Ed says to Pete after an argument  “Next time I see you, you’re dead”, and he is of course. Pete also says to Ed: “You want to behave like an animal. Go live in the shed”. By the end of the film – Ed is living in the shed. There also movie references to spot. For example “Kill the Queen” (Aliens or Resident Evil) in reference to the zombie-attracting jukebox starting to play Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” at the same time as a horde of zombies are lurking outside the pub.

One of the best zombie films out there and funny as well. Even if you’ve seen it before you’ll enjoy it. 8/10

“Don’t move or my friend executes the bread”. De Niro and Statham do their best to seem tough.

“Life is like sucking honey from a thorn”. It’s a great quote spoken by the character of Hunter (Robert De Niro) in the film. Unfortunately there’s more spiky thorn than honey in this offering. Put simply this film really isn’t very good. It’s near dreadful for the most part and only picks up towards the end. So what’s wrong with it? Well for a start Jason Statham is the lead character. I always think of him as a B-list action hero, he can play “silent and enigmatic” very well but anything else (charismatic for example) severely stretches his abilities.

On this occasion Statham plays Danny Bryce, a contract killer. The film is set in the 80s to the soundtrack of the Clash and The Sex Pistols, there are no mobile phones and the characters drive thin-shelled (they didn’t worry about safety then) angular 80’s cars. Bryce’s friend and fellow assassin Hunter (De Niro) is taken hostage and Bryce is forced to take an assignment which involves killing 3 members of the elite British special forces – the SAS. Not an easy mission but made harder because ex-SAS Officer Spike Logan (Clive Owen) is on to him. Will Stratham complete his task or will Logan get to him first?

Robert De Niro really only plays a bit part as Hunter – Bryce’s mentor and friend – and you get the impression he’s only here for the money. The film isn’t very exciting and the first hour seems to be filled with ugly exaggerated caricatures of SAS men (the only accurate point seems to be that they have a lot of facial hair). The film improves for the last half hour but it’s still a largely dull turgid mess of a film, and appropriately, considering Statham is in it, feels like a B-movie action-flick and not one that is worth watching either. 4/10

“For the next 134 minutes let’s not say much to each other”. “Yep”

I have to be honest -while not (knowingly at least) homophobic, a film about two gay cowboys tending sheep on a mountain just didn’t appeal to me. So it was more with a sense of duty than anticipation that I started watching this. It is hard work at first – it starts slow. Yes beautiful scenery but still slow and I initially saw both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as actors pretending to be cowboys rather than real cowboys. However give it 20 minutes or so and it gets better, there’s more interaction (not just that sort) between the leads, and you begin to settle into the story. Somewhat ironically given the title, it only really gets going and becomes interesting as a film when the two come back down from Brokeback Mountain. 

Four years later and forced into ‘normal’ lives by the expectations and the always present threat of violence from society – both are now married with children. Deep down though neither is happy. Ledger tells Gyllenhaal during an rare meeting that they can never properly be together and have to keep living their sham lives – he recounts a story from childhood about 2 men who lived together on a ranch and how one was “beaten by an iron bar, and dragged around by his d*ck until it came off and left to die”. You get a real sense of the tragic hopelessness that came with a homosexual relationship for a cowboy at this time. (the film begins in the 1960s)

Despite my initial misgivings both actors are actually very good in their roles and Ledger especially shines as the more masculine and monosyllabic of the two. He manages to convey an amazing amount with just a few facial gestures and words. The film is also a hell of a lot better than many movies about straight cowboys.

Interesting and touching but should have been heartbreaking too (things falls down a bit here with a far too detached portrayal of a very dramatic event late in the story) 7/10

Two of the best things about the film: The Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba) and The Silver Surfer (Laurence Fishburn).

It’s easy to say that this film isn’t great but it’s much harder to work out exactly what’s wrong with it. It’s not terrible. I think it’s just that nothing is taken seriously enough to allow you to become fully immersed in the story and as a result you don’t feel much emotion or tension. It’s stuck between a comedy and an action film but is not funny enough to be the former or serious enough to be the latter. So you smile weakly and are only slightly invested in the action sequences.

There’s not doubt however that as in the first film, Chris Evans is great as Johnny Storm – his ego-driven, narcissistic personality here a mile away from his more subdued and honourable, but just as impressive performance as Captain America. Jessica Alba definitely acts and looks the part as The Invisible Girl. In the film she is frequently described as “The Hottest Girl on Earth” and it’s hard to argue with that description. Ioan Gruffudd is merely ok as Mister Fantastic. The role would have better been filled by an actor who has more weight and charisma. He is the FF’s leader after all. The the less said about The Thing’s cheap lumpy polystyrene-looking make-up the better – it’s just as well his girlfriend is blind.

One of the better things about the film is the Silver Surfer – an alien who er.. flies about on a surfboard scouting out planets suitable for his master Galactus to consume. He is both earnest and enigmatic. He has chosen the Earth as Galactus’s next target. In doing so had made himself an enemy of The Fantastic Four and at the same time become of great interest to their usual enemy Dr Doom (Julian McMahon).  Galactus – I have no opinion on although I know it annoyed comic fanatics that he is represented here as a galaxy eating cloud. But you know… maybe an alien on a surfboard is ridiculous enough? without adding a huge purple guy who can eat planets to the mix?

I struggle to say whether this is better or worse than the first film but it felt to me a little worse – it certainly seemed to end the franchise. There is however a reboot with new cast coming very soon.

A very average pre-Thor, pre-Avengers superhero film. 5/10

Matt (Josh Whitehouse) is pumped for soul.

It’s 70’s Britain and in the North of England a new sub-culture is being born :  Northern Soul – where teenagers dance to the latest US Soul records. The basic dance step looks a bit like Bruce Lee’s fighting-stance, where he gracefully jigs from foot to the other. Flourishes include spins, kicks and semi-breakdance moves.

This is the era before the internet and where communcation with the US is both expensive and difficult. For this reason sometimes the kids don’t even know the names of the records they are dancing to. The DJ’s all have ‘cover-ups’ – vinyl records with their label covered up, so that other DJs can’t find out what they are.

John (Elliot James Langridge ) is an introverted school boy who secretly fancies a nurse (Antonia Thomas) he sees on the bus each day. An encounter with older Northern-Soul dancing Matt (Josh Whitehouse) starts to bring him out of himself and give him more confidence. He gets into the ‘scene’ and learns the dances. John and Matt’s dream is to start their own club-night and to earn enough money to go the States to buy all the latest records.

Thankfully this isn’t  “Step Up : Northern Soul”. It’s not a dance show-off film. John and Matt are both good but not spectacular dancers. It has a decent script and a story that takes in drug-abuse, fights, deaths of friends, euphoric highs and crushing disappointments. The soundtrack is superb and is packed full of soul dance classics. It’s probably true however that outside the context of the film many of the songs just won’t sound as good.

Negatives: Although impressively edgy for a dance film, the overall story arc is a still a little formulaic. It’s also fair to say that while good, the story does come second place to the music and authentic depiction of the Northern Soul ‘scene’.

An interesting and eventful (and privately funded) film about a subculture 70% of people will never have heard of. Worth a watch. 7/10

This film is “Scalpel-Sharp and Shocking” and “The Perfect Crime Drama” apparently. Not “Slow and Slightly Dull” then…

So what moves at night? Your bowels? Long-distance haulage? Well.. the answer here is a boat full of explosives.

This is the well-made but sloooow story of Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard). Three environmental activists who want to make a statement by blowing up a hydroelectric dam. I know… what are they thinking?? It might be spoiling fish bio-diversity (or something) but this is clean electricity right? Surely a coal-fired power station would have been a more appropriate target? All that pollution belching out into the clean air…

Did I say this was slow? At the time though, you are always convinced something exciting is about to happen so you don’t mind, but nothing ever really does. They blow up the dam, there’s the predictable consequences of this and then one of the three does something that is too far out of character to be believable. Then the film just ends, leaving you to cogitate on what happened before, or if you are like me you immediately watch a more exciting film (Guardians of the Galaxy) to wake yourself up.

An interesting character study which starts off tense but soon succumbs to dullness. A great film to relax to though. 5/10

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