Wednesday, 9 July 2014
By Brian Hannan
ALIENS never learn. Every year, round about this time, they invade Planet Earth.
Sometimes, they rise up from within, having buried themselves deep within the earth millions of years ago, waiting for an alarm clock to ring from outer space.
They used to focus on the United States, but now, clearly conscious of how important the overseas market has become to Hollywood, they have an air of interplanetary tourists, and might decide that instead of blowing up the White House, they should take in the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben or (as inTransformers: Age of Extinction) the Great Wall of China.
In this film, aliens have gone decidedly upmarket and in the middle of one battle the camera freezes so that we can register skyscraper-high posters advertising Vogue magazine or Tom Ford clothing. A Victoria’s Secret bus is inexplicably caught up in the carnage.
In the past, aliens could be seen off by giving them a dose of the cold or its modern equivalent, a computer virus, or by an ordinary bloke who is just too clever for them. But, these days, we are more likely to enlist the help of other aliens, such as here, headed by Optimus Prime and his gang of Dirty Dozen sound-alikes.
Curiously, at the start of this Transformers movie, the good aliens, as a result of shenanigans so ridiculous I won’t waste space explaining them, are actually bad aliens.
Mark Wahlberg is the said ordinary bloke, though, after years of deceptively convincing acting, he has reverted to his previous shouty persona. There’s a sultry teenager (Nicola Peltz), her make-up done by a girl of ten, and, shades of Armageddon, a boyfriend Wahlberg intensely dislikes but has to work with.
And there’s a ship. There’s always a big ship in this kind of blockbuster, often dragged along the ground like a Neanderthal knuckle as a weapon by the warring combatants.
In movies like this, Hollywood generally gets away with the “bigger is better” argument, but I think we have to draw the line at “longer is better.”
This is an epic two-and-three-quarter hours (the same running time as The Dark Knight Rises) but with all the gravity of a meringue.
I have a sneaky feeling that in the past Hollywood used to employ the Logic Police. But when franchises get this long past their sell-by date, it is clear there is no point employing any logic.
Screenwriter Ehren Kruger was educated at the Jefferson High School for Science and Technology where, presumably, he was taught to baffle people with science.
The plot, such as it is, involves Stanley Tucci. He’s paid double for looking both stern and smug, (never mind that, Kelsey Grammar, another bad guy, thinks acting is growing a beard and not twitching) as a billionaire bad guy who sees the error of his ways and is then forced to drag around a “seed” that is the equivalent to an atomic bomb (work that one out).
Without logic to get in the way, our ordinary bloke is able to penetrate a top-secret, most highly-guarded factory and also to loiter uninterrupted on the enemy spacecraft.
Mostly, people run, or shout, or in the case of the Peltz, look doll-faced. Aliens run and shout, but luckily, so far, we have not been treated to any female aliens. Maybe next time. Perhaps Victoria’s Secret was the hint.
Thursday, 3 July 2014
By Brian Hannan
DYING divorced middle-aged guy (Kevin Costner) returns to Paris to attempt a reconciliation with his estranged teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfield).
He has been away for so long his flat is occupied by squatters, whom the law says he cannot eject till Easter.
He buys his daughter a purple bike only to discover that was her favourite colour when she was little. To overcome her resistance he enlists the help of the owner of a taxi firm, who has two teenage daughters.
The ice is broken when, shades of The Bodyguard, he rescues her from being molested at a club. He teaches her to ride the bike. An Italian associate obliges said daughter with a pasta recipe.
One of the squatters is pregnant and Costner attends the birth, aware he was absent at his daughter’s birth. Best of all, he finds a drug that prevents the spread of his cancer and reconciles with his ex-wife (Connie Neilson). Having been told he would never see Xmas, the movie ends with him under the Xmas tree.
The trailer for Three Days to Kill was a bit remiss in explaining the family complications. Costner is also a CIA assassin. His boss (Amber Heard) looks like she’s auditioning for Sin City, all sleek lipstick and bustling cleavage, with a part-time job managing a strip club.
She has diverted him from full-on daughter reconciliation by promising him an experimental drug to stop the onset of his cancer, but every now and then, usually (and inconveniently) when he is about to shoot the enemy, he collapses.
She is whip-smart. ‘You’re not my type,” says Costner. She replies: ‘I’m everybody’s type.’ Why she needs him is anybody’s guess because she’s pretty good with a gun. His daughter’s boyfriend’s dad turns out to be a big bad guy.
The main villain is called The Wolf and his henchman The Albino, even though he is bald and otherwise lacks that condition’s physical prerequisites.
The taxi owner is a semi-bad guy, whom Costner kidnaps when he wants help with his daughter. The recipe-spouting Italian is another kidnappee. A bottle of vodka is required to combat the side-effects of the drug. The plot, should your brain still be in one piece after absorbing the above, concerns Costner tracking down The Wolf who sells dirty bombs.
There is enough gunfire and explosions – an opening shootout in Sofia, a set-piece in the middle of the Paris traffic and a finale in a deluxe rooftop apartment – to just about qualify for an action picture.
But the movie just cannot make up its mind what it wants to be. The reconciliation is touching enough and Costner steers his lost soul with some conviction.
Steinfield, memorable in the remake of True Grit (2010) is a cliché away from every movie teenager. There are enough oddball characters - the taxi owner and the head squatter - to give it some flavour, although the Paris backdrop is too upfront - the Eiffel Tower, bateaux mouches on the Seine, and bike-riding sequence taking place at Sacre Coeur.
But the two movies just don’t mesh. Costner has long since lost the box office cachet that made the Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves (1990), Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991), JFK (1991) and The Bodyguard (1992) such big hits.
Too many flops (Wyatt Earp) and odd choices (The Postman) damaged his status. His last starring role was in 2008. You probably last saw him in supporting roles in Man of Steel (2013), playing Clark Kent’s dad, or Shadow Recruit (2014), the miserable attempt at rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise.
He even turned to television – Hatfield and the McCoys. Hollywood has a poor record in looking after its senior citizens (50 is old these days for a male star - unless your name is Clint Eastwood - and Costner is 49). There are so many washed-up old stars you could name a tsunami after them.
But if you’re looking for reinvention, France is the place to go. Luc Besson’s company Europa was behind Taken, the action movie that turned Liam Neeson into an international action star.
Besson is an accomplished director in his own right – The Big Blue (1988) was a huge success in France and a cult hit in the States, ditto Leon (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997), which starred Bruce Willis. So it’s not hard to guess that Costner thought he could follow suit, only the film would have to be tweaked a bit to provide more of an emotional core.
Besson is most famous in France as the writer-producer of the three record-breaking Taxi films featuring quirky characters and car chases. He wrote and produced the two Transporter films that specialised in car chases and shootouts.
Taken, you might remember, is also based on daughter-reconciliation. The big difference between Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner in the action stakes is that you would not want to cross the former.
Costner’s movie persona is a cross between Gary Cooper and James Stewart, the decent guy who won’t give up. Neeson always possessed a dangerous air, so the transition to out-and-out tough guy was no stretch but Costner is less believable.
Next up for Costner, though, are two sports-based movies and with memories of Bull Durham(1988), Field of Dreams (1989) and Tin Cup (1996) – three of my favourite movies – he might just get back to winning ways.
On the other hand, I spent more time in the last decade being disappointed by Kevin Costner films than any other actor. I loved Taken (and have a fondness for Unknown) but Three Days to Kill, far from being a hole-in-one, is more like long shank into the bushes.