Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel
Released: 22nd June 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Van Connor
One decade and four films on from the onset of the cinematic Transformers series, fifth instalment The Last Knight sports a scene early on that threatens to finally pull the rug out from under us and offer us something different. It’s a sequence evoking the tone and demographic skew of recent Netflix hit Stranger Things, and – for about two solid minutes – lulls you into the false belief that the Transformers series – a series based on children’s toys – might at last be focusing on and aiming itself towards kids.
Alas, master of incoherent disaster Michael Bay swiftly puts paid to this notion with the reintroduction of the world’s least convincing inventor – Mark Wahlberg’s hilariously named Cade Yaeger – and assures us that this fifth go around really is nothing more than that. Albeit with a faintly engaging National Treasure element and the addition of the franchise’s first fully-fleshed out female character – something, again, it’s taken five movies to get around to.
Optimus Prime, you see, has been off in space trying to track down his race’s creators, leaving fugitive Cade as the human protector of the remaining Autobots in a world that has declared them illegal and routinely hunts them to the death. Except for in Cuba, where Castro has granted them asylum and Bay presumably has a vacation home. Coming into possession of an ancient Cybertronian relic however, Cade quickly finds himself and the Autobots on the run and in search of an all-powerful weapon that not only dates back to Arthurian times, but – with the help of an English lord (Anthony Hopkins) and a history professor (Laura Haddock) – will finally answer the question of why the Transformers are so attached to Earth to begin with.
Arguably one of the series’ better instalments – provided you’re grading on an extremely charitable curve – The Last Knight flickers to life on occasion in a manner displayed by no other instalment bar the 2007 instigator. Here, the fleeting use of a historically-fuelled scavenger hunt almost threatens to make proceedings somewhat enjoyable, though any hopes of it doing so are continually shot down by its script’s falling back into its default setting with the endless reliance on what can only be described as R-rated humour for children and borderline incoherent action sequences invariably involving yet more vehicle chases and the large-scale demolition of conveniently deserted locales.
Wahlberg offers up a second (and, reportedly, final) round of shouty bewilderment, while Haddock makes for a surprisingly likeable and (for this series) refreshingly developed co-star. Haddock’s at once representative of both the best and worst attributes of the film, offering up a woman of intellect, agency and femininity, yet simultaneously showing off that Michael Bay’s idea of a female academic looks like a Victoria’s Secret model in a pencil skirt and a pair of specs. Hopkins, for what it’s worth, livens up proceedings rather nicely, his outwardly old-school British lord quickly emerging as something of a snarky delight. That he’s paired though with an Autobot butler who could easily rank in the top three most annoying characters of the entire series, does dampen enjoyment of his presence more than you’d like.
Not that enjoyment is really much of an option with The Last Knight, which feels just as narratively flat as the series has ever been. Frivalous concepts such as character arcs are dealt out and cast aide like beer mats to the endless serving of mechanical carnage, the outward and internal logic of the film are finally on the same page as regards outright ridiculousness, and the continuous flickering between aspect ratios (hey, IMAX…) becomes even more annoying when it comes by way of a director who uses as many superfluous shots as Bay does. That it has no sense of geography and ends with an eye-rolling sequel set-up, ultimately, feels almost inconsequential in the weight of the sheer awfulness of the film already pushing critical mass. Worse, The Last Knight is merely another Transformers sequel to tantalise audiences with the notion of what it could be, before simply offering up more of the same – albeit with about 5% more interesting a story by way of half-inching one of this century’s better Nicolas Cage movies.
Tellingly, the film actually begins with a static page actually listing the various Chinese companies funding it, and it’s a statement that you can’t help but feel echoing throughout your otherwise unoccupied mind for the first hour of this nuts n’ bolts mecha-smash ’em up. In fact, it genuinely begs the question of what kind of aftermarket modifications the Chinese production houses are making to the storylines and dialogue of these movies in the dub and/or subtitles that any audience so quite could willingly lap this nonsensical rubbish up. The internet churlishly refers to its overriding mentality as “Bayhem”, though – if The Last Knight proves anything – it’s that this term only exists because “the fetishisation and pornographisation of a children’s property” is at once both a mouthful and makes for a terrible acronym. It’s staggering to believe that we’ve now sat through a decade of this series, a series in which its characters (be they human and/or robot) can legitimately be regarded as spending more screen time sliding and skidding on their asses than they do actually walking upright. It’s exhausting, physically and psychologically draining to sit through, but with all the smug arrogance of a film series that really believes its better than anyone except the habitually lobotomised does.
That being said, if you’ve grown up with this (cinematic) series, odds are you’ll see nothing to complain about here – lord knows the franchise has a gargantuan global (re: Chinese) fan base. If you’re going to even try to view it as a work of cinema however, good luck – and remember to pack the Dramamine. Supposedly the start of an entire Transformers cinematic universe, The Last Knight is a tiring, headache-inducing bore of a movie that somehow – at two hours and twenty-five minutes – ranks as the second shortest of the lot. And that’s really it’s biggest saving grace – that, as bad as it is, at least it’s not as long as the last one.
Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)
Directed By: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.
Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?
Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.
Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
The Little Stranger ★★★★
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.
Released: 21st September 2018
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.
Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.
From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.
The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.
The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain. This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.
Released: 19th October 2018
Directed By: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Marcello Fonte
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.
But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.
When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.
Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.
To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.
In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.
Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.
Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.
An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.
Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.
No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.
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