Tag: Shia LaBeouf

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indy is back. Hunting aliens. What could go wrong? Grab a fridge and let’s work it out.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Shia LeBeouf (Mutt Williams), Cate Blanchett (Colonel Irina Spalko), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Ray Winstone (George “Mac” McHale), John Hurt (Harold Oxley), Jim Broadbent (Dean Charles Stanforth)

Flying into ignominy faster than a tumbling fridge, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who lists Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as their favourite Indy film. I’ll confess I enjoyed it in an affectionate escapist way when I first saw it. But lord, doesn’t it just get worse after every viewing?

It’s the 1950s and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is still hunting for archaeological gems. Just as he’s still getting into trouble. This time with the Russians. A secret group in America, led by Colonel Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) is on the hunt for a mysterious artefact – a secret mummified alien corpse. Spalko wants to trace the aliens to find the fountain of all knowledge. Indy is suspected of being a Commie agent – not least after his old ally Mac (Ray Winstone) is revealed as a double agent – but soon finds himself roped into searching for the secret aliens and their buried crystal skulls by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a greaser and school drop-out and son of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) (wonder who the father could be?). Soon they are racing to a secret alien tomb in the Amazon.

You can spend ages scooting around what doesn’t work here. But the heart of it might be this: this is a sequel trying to pass as a young man’s film, made by two older directors who had long since fallen out of touch with the passions that filled their lives 30 years earlier. Truth be told, I suspect both Spielberg and Lucas always saw Indiana Jones as a fun diversion from other passions and never really cared about it the way generations that grew up quoting it did. Perhaps that was the biggest disappointment of all about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a film that has potential but always feels like it’s being put together by obligation (and to make money).

Still, the good stuff. Harrison Ford is, of course, still Indy and there is a great deal of pleasure in seeing him inhabit this gruff mix of brains, fists and reluctant, cynical decency. The film also does a good spin on the father-son relation of Last Crusade by casting Indy as the exasperated father who finds a bond with his wild-card son (well played by Shia LaBeouf). The two have a lovely run of banter, and some neat comedy – not least a great little moment in a bar where Mutt steals a drink from a waitress’ tray, only for Indy to smoothly put it back all the same motion.

There is an exciting chase through the streets of New Haven, with Indy and Mutt on a bike escaping the Russians, including a great sight gag of Indy being pulled into a chasing car passenger window, fighting through the car and emerging the other side back onto Mutt’s bike. The opening extended fight and chase sequence (before we hit that fridge) in an Area-51 storage site is equally well done, fast paced, witty and crammed with tonnes of Spielberg flourishes. Cate Blanchett is intriguingly off-the-wall as the villain. The film even leans into Ford’s age as Indy swings over a gap and misses (“Damn I thought that was closer”) and gives Indy much of his Dad’s grouchiness.

But too much doesn’t work. And all those beats that fall on their face eventually bury the moments that do work. For starters, the original films felt real. They are shot with a grainy realism and featured practical effects. Spielberg stressed in the build-up he wanted to keep that look. So naturally the first thing we see in the film is a CGI gopher. The film is shot with a glossy, lens-smeared shininess. After a while loads of stuff looks unreal. From the fake CGI sky in the opening scene to the hideously unreal looking jungle chase, culminating in the bizarre sight of Mutt swinging, Tarzan-like, leading an army of monkeys. Like the Star Wars prequels, it feels like Lucas and Spielberg mistook making things bigger, glitzy and more exotic for making them better. Truth is nothing in this film is as exciting as Indy climbing over a real van in Raiders or riding a real horse alongside a real tank in Last Crusade. These are real and gripping. Everything here looks like it’s been built in a computer, nothing feels real or possible, and everything is bigger and heartless.

That heartlessness carries into the plot. The earlier films had clear and emotionally engaging stakes. Indy had to save his soul (Raiders and Doom), a village of children (Doom) and his relationship with his father (Last Crusade) while chasing clearly defined artifacts. Here he’s sort of incidentally building a father-son relationship with a kid he doesn’t realise is his son until over halfway through and heading into the Amazon to return a glass skull because it told him to do it. These are not well-defined stakes. That’s before we even touch on the aliens.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but where artefacts based on the Bible or Hindu religion make perfect sense, an alien skull chase that culminates in a parallel dimensions and flying saucers feels silly. It feels as awkwardly out-of-place as midichlorians in Phantom Menace. It makes the film jar as much as those special effects filled set pieces. I know it’s supposed to mirror the 50s setting by playing with the classic 50s B-movie set-up. But it doesn’t fit with the rest of the franchise.

And you are made even more aware of this by how cynically the film has been filled with fan-bait call-backs: the opening sequence in the Grail storage warehouse, the music cues, Karen Allen, a repeat of the father-son set-up (this time flipped), a car chase through a hostile environment, horrible small animals, Commies standing in for Nazis. Killer ants standing in for snakes, horrible insects and rats. Travel and map montages. All this does is remind you of better films.

It’s not helped by how many performances fall flat. Winstone and Hurt both insisted on reading the script before they signed up. Perhaps they also read their pay offers at the same time, because that’s surely the only reason they said yes to these roles. Winstone is painfully unfunny as the ever-betraying Mac whose geezerish cries of “Jonsey!” quickly gets on your nerves. Hurt is saddled with a sort of Ben Gunnish eccentric, babbling nonsense (you won’t believe by the way he and Ford are similar ages). Karen Allen, bar the sweetness of seeing her again, is not great.

The feeling you are watching the runt of the littler is impossible to escape. Indy was a hero people loved because you could see him bleed. When he was punched it hurt. When he fell, he struggled to get back up. The Indy from Raiders would never have been hurled miles in a fridge from a nuclear blast and been absolutely fine. Christ, he was too knackered to stand up after running from that rock. That’s why the fridge moment doesn’t work: no one watching it can believe for a moment that either (a) a fridge would be hurled away like that rather than melt (b) that anyone would be utterly unharmed by it or (c) that its lead lining would save anyone from being irradiated. A mystic box that melts people’s faces when open we can buy because its “power of God” is carefully established with just enough mysterious power. Something grounded in reality like a nuclear blast can’t work. We know what that does – the fridge stretches our willingness to disbelieve too far.

But then you feel Spielberg and Lucas didn’t mind. To them these were fun home movies, a chance to indulge some childish gags. They weren’t invested in it the way we were. They had moved on and I don’t think really either of them wanted to make it. When they did, they showed they didn’t really know what people really liked about the films in the first place. They assumed it was the action. Maybe they thought they needed that with the blockbusters they were going up against. But people loved the heart and the reality. When the fridge was nuked, they knew they won’t going to get that here. That Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would have none of what made us fall in love in the first place. It was an adventure we wouldn’t want to follow Indy on ever again.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Sexist, violent, crude and deeply disgusting. Transformers continues to make you weep for your childhood memories

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Josh Duhamel (Colonel William Lennox), John Turturro (Seymour Simmons), Tyrese Gibson (Robert Epps), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly Spencer), Patrick Dempsey (Dylan Gould), John Malkovich (Bruce Brazos), Frances McDormand (Charlotte Mearing), Kevin Dunn (Ron Witwicky), Julie White (Judy Witwicky), Alan Tudyk (Dutch Gerhardt)

I’m ashamed to say when I saw it in the cinema I sort of enjoyed it. Goes to show how the excitement of a trip out can make the most ghastly, horrible, vile piece of work feel like fun. Even at the time, I recognised enjoying Transformers: Dark of the Moon was like becoming engaged with the story-telling in a porno. Doesn’t change the fact it’s a crude exercise, pandering to your baser instincts.

The plot? Autobots. Decepticons. Blah, blah, blah. Don’t worry if you’ve not seen the previous films: this merrily contradicts them. In the 60s an Autobot ship crashes on the moon, the moon landings were all about exploring the wreckage. In the present day our “hero” Sam (a never more annoying, unlikable Shia LaBeouf) can’t land a job and the Decepticons hatch a plan to destroy the planet by bringing their homeworld Cybertron here. Former Autobot Boss Sentinal Prime betrays everyone. Optimus Prime doubles down on being a psychopath. It’s very loud and makes no sense.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon exposes Michael Bay’s aesthetics as those of a porn director. Everything is crude, huge, brash, obvious, tries to do as much work for you as possible and panders to your worst instincts. Dark of the Moon is shocking in almost every possible sense: from its crude sexism and leering camera, its revoltingly heavy-handed, end-of-the-pier, terminally unfunny comic relief, its overlong, explosive battle sequences (shot with the slavering longing of a pornographic gang-bang). Dark of the Moon is a revolting film, a disgusting perversion of what was a kids cartoon.

Can you imagine letting a child watch this? Let’s deal with its disgusting sexism first. Megan Kelly had been sacked between this and Revenge of the Fallen for denouncing Michael Bay’s working basis (I’ll admit calling him Hitler went too far). Every chance in the film to disparage her character is taken (two appallingly unpleasant tiny Autobots all but call her a bitch). She’s replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, introduced walking up-stairs, the camera starting at her feet and trailing up, lingering on her bottom (she’s wearing just a slightly-too short shirt). Later two characters will discuss “the perfect curves” of a car – while the camera pans up her body. Those are only the most egregious of the deeply uncomfortable sexual objectification of this poor woman.

How about its crude humour? Several actors enter a private competition to give the loudest, least funny comic cameo. Malkovich gurns and rants as Sam’s pointless, kung-fu obsessed boss. John Turturro does whatever he wants as a Transformers obsessed former-agent. Kevin Dunn and Julie White are eat-your-fist levels of unfunny as Sam’s parents. Worst of all is Ken Jeung as a Deep Throat style informer whose every scene is crammed with homophobic jokes about anal and oral sex. Remember, once upon a time this was for kids. All this alleged humour does is add to the already bloated run-time. You’ll suffer through every single word, because you certainly won’t miss it due to laughing. Bay’s idea of funny is if the joke is delivered LOUD by a wild-eyed actor, preferably accompanied by a whip-pan. He’d probably love Roy Chubby Brown.

The film has two of the least likable heroes perhaps ever placed on film. Shia LaBeouf must have genuinely hated himself by the time he made this. Perhaps that’s why he makes no effort to make Sam even one per cent likeable. Sam is a whining, petulant man-child, alternating between bitching about his job to bragging about his trophy girlfriend (whom he spends half the film whiningly chasing). In the first of these films, LaBeouf had a goofy charm. Now the character is just a deeply arrogant little prick, with major entitlement issues. LaBeouf shouts and screams throughout, but mostly just looks really angry at himself for even being there.

Then we come to the pièce de resistance: Optimus Prime. When I was a kid, this noble warrior was like the perfect Dad. Traumatised kids wept when he died in the animated movie. Revenge of the Fallen started turning him into a violent killer. This completes the journey. Bay probably thinks Prime is a bad-ass taking names. He’s actually a violent, psychopathic killer who arrives at a battle with the inspiring words “We will kill them all”. Prime allows the whole of Chicago to be destroyed (at the cost of millions of lives) to prove a point to the stupid humans. At the film’s end he reacts to Megatron’s offer of a truce by ripping out his spine and then executes Sentinel Prime by shooting him point blank in the head while Sentinel pleads for his life. Ladies and gentlemen: our hero.

It’s customary to say the special effects are good, so: the special effects are good. The violence is pornographic, shot often in slow-mo, with explosions, fast editing and huge noise filling the screen. Transformer bodies are mauled, beheaded, eviscerated. There are several rather chilling executions. Prime rips out the equivalent of heart, lungs, eyes and brains. Bay adds a reddish oil to the transformers, which looks like blood spraying up. Just like the humour, the action goes on FOREVER. The final Chicago battle takes up fifty minutes of buildings falling, brutal slaughter and triumphalist flag-waving. After repeated viewings it’s not just boring, it starts getting offensive.

Dark of the Moon is, quite simply, only just (only, only, only just) better than Revenge of the Fallen – and it says it all that it’s because it’s not as racist. In every other sense it’s simply revolting: violent, crude, sexist and homophobic. This is a horrible, horrible film made by a soulless director. It genuinely is like a beautifully shot pornographic film that wants you to respect the craft that’s gone into it while you finish yourself off. For a brief few seconds you might get sucked in – but you’ll certainly not be boasting about it afterwards.

Fury (2014)

Brad Pitt and his boys saddle up – but sadly not on a war against cliche

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Brad Pitt (Sgt Don “Wardaddy” Collier), Logan Lerman (Norman Ellison), Shia LeBeouf (Boyd “Bible” Swan), Michael Peña (Trini “Gordo” Garcia), John Bernthal (Grady Travis), Jason Isaacs (Captain Waggoner)

The Second World War. How many times has it been placed on screen? And  how hard is it now to tell an original story about the conflict? This film proves it is, in fact, very hard indeed. Norman (Logan Lerman) is a young clerk sent to join a tank crew as a replacement machine gunner. He joins the crew of the tank Fury led by “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt), a famed veteran whose crew are a tightly loyal crew of old hands: Logan’s reluctance to fight quickly makes him a target for anger. But when they are sent on a mission to hold a crossroads, will he prove himself?

There isn’t much original in this rather dull remix of elements from other war films – most notably The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan and elements of Inglorious Basterds, with Pitt in particular essentially offering a second version of the same Nazi-hating wild guy he played in Tarantino’s film. As a result, there is almost nothing in here that you haven’t seen in several – often much better – Second World War films before. Nothing seems fresh, nothing seems original and as a result nothing is ever particularly exciting or engaging.

Added to that, this “coming of age in a time of war” drama is undermined by the fact that none of its characters are particularly sympathetic, engaging or likeable. The film wants to partly show that constant conflict and war has dehumanised its principle characters– and we see the effect it starts to have on  young Norman – but that doesn’t change the fact that the tank crew we are saddled with for the course of the movie are boorish, unpleasant, swaggering, bullying assholes. The small amount of shading added to them doesn’t change that, and it’s pretty hard to feel anything at all when they start getting killed off late in the movie.

The final confrontation scene also flies in the face of logic – one broken-down tank takes on 200 German soldiers? Why don’t the troops outflank it? More to the point, as everyone involved acknowledges the war is nearly over, why bother with the risk – what is at stake? Why the kamakazi final stand? Never are the stakes clearly explained – instead it’s just lazy “men gotta do” action rubbish. Ayer may feel that he making a point with Norman’s character about innocence shattered by conflict, but it’s a pretty murky point that’s been made many, many, many times before, and I don’t think he is swift in criticising or condemning some of the terrible things Wardaddy and his soldiers do in this film, despite their undoubted efficiency at combat. But like many films of this genre, slap the label Nazi or SS on anyone and it justifies any level of violence directed at them.

I’ll give the film a nod for some good photography and some impressive sound and visual effects. In terms of showing tank warfare, this is pretty impressive, and the deadly firepower of these weapons is brought very well to life. The characters may not be engaging, but this is decently acted – even if many of the scenes rely too heavily on grandstanding performing. Brad Pitt is good enough to even sway some interest in a 2D character he could play in his sleep: quieter scenes of reflection allow us to think that there is more to Wardaddy than a love of fighting.

But this is a dull and empty film and it builds towards things you’ve seen done better elsewhere.

Lawless (2012)

Brothers in crime. You can get a taste of the performances just from this still image.

Director: John Hillcoat

Cast: Shia LaBeouf (Jack Bondurant), Tom Hardy (Forrest Bondurant), Jason Clarke (Howard Bondurant), Guy Pearce (Marshal Charley Rakes), Jessica Chastain (Maggie Beauford), Mia Wasikowska (Bertha Minnix), Dane DeHaan (Cricket Pate), Gary Oldman (Floyd Banner)

Bootlegging, the Deep South, corrupt cops and the honourable code of criminals. It’s the sort of cocktail that’s made up dozens of films, some good, some bad, some ugly. This one definitely falls into one of the latter two camps.

It’s 1931, and the Bondurant brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) run a moonshine business out of their Virginian countryside garage. One day the cops come a-calling, led by a corrupt US Marshall (Guy Pearce). They want a piece of the action. The brothers say no. So war breaks out…

Truth be told, this is actually quite a boring film – a pointless, clumsily constructed shaggy dog story that neither makes a point about the shabbiness of a bootlegging life of crime, nor challenges romantic assumptions about the small time crook challenging the system. There are a couple of random flashy scenes thrown in to allow the film-makers to demonstrate their technical expertise, but it’s all as weightless as a braggart regaling their guests at a dinner table. Hot air masquerading as a lungful of fresh stuff.

The performances dance between underpowered, over stretched and over indulged. Shia LaBouef doesn’t make his nominal lead a fully formed character. Jason Clarke makes no real impact in an underwritten role. Tom Hardy is the best of the bunch, but barely stretches himself as a bearlike family leader. Of the other major parts, Guy Pearce gives the kind of twitchy, pyrotechnical performance that is often mistaken for brilliant acting, all highblown showing off and no depth. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are wasted playing contrasting love interests. Gary Oldman pops up for one scene as an overblown crime lord.

These performances drift along in the formless plot. There are nasty moments of violence that serve no purpose and don’t seem to tie into established characters personalities.  There are also poorly judged plot developments: at one point Jessica Chastain’s character is raped – mercifully off screen – an event never mentioned again. Characters are brutally dispatched; one has his manhood removed and posted to another character, others are strangled, shot or battered to death with spades. The violence continues on and off until the film ends with a confrontation scene between goodies and baddies. Nothing original or unique happens in this film – we’ve all seen it time and time again. There is no thrust to the story, no feeling that it is building towards a point or that a thematic point is being built. It’s just events happening for the sake of it.

Despite its flash and bravura crashes and bangs this is an empty, tedious movie that goes nowhere, says nothing and has no point. Nearly all the events of the film are predictable, from the fate of the villain to the crippled best friend (Dane DeHaan) who has victim written all over him from the first frame. Its surface sheen (it looks great, has a decent score etc.) and the look-at-me acting is enough to fool you for a moment into thinking “this must be a good film”. But it ain’t.