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Movie Review: Transformers - Age of Extinction

WHAM! BAM! Thank you Michael Bay. Love or hate him, the Transformers director has continued to smash the box office with larger-than-life movies about Hasbro's popular line of toys from the '80s. His latest sequel, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is a case of too much "more of the same" with Mark Wahlberg replacing long-running front man, Shia LaBeouf.

The story takes place some time after the Chicago mayhem from Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. The Autobots have gone underground, the Decepticons are wanted for scrap metal, times are tough and the authorities want the public to alert them to any alien activity. Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), a DIY mechanic turned inventor, picks up an old truck for next to nothing. After some testing, he and his daughter soon become wanted by the Autobots and a paranoid government official.

Besides the effects-driven action, the cast is probably the most impressive thing about the latestTransformers movie. While Shia LaBeouf was charming and likable in his own way, Mark Wahlberg just seems better equipped to lead the charge and serves as a refresh on the save the world heroics. He goes head-to-head with Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce, a Steve Jobs archetype, and Kelsey Grammer as a steely-eyed former intelligence bigwig.

This triumvirate helps establish the human element in Transformers: Age of Extinction, anchoring and punctuating the high-flying alien robot action. Mark Wahlberg is charismatic and convincing, Stanley Tucci is the imperfect perfectionist and Kelsey Grammer delivers a cold-hearted performance that allows him to straddle both the X-Men and Transformers franchises.

They're supported by Transformers girl, Nicola Peltz, who is good at playing teen eye candy for Michael Bay. Jack Reynor is like the Irish long lost brother to Chris and Liam Hemsworth, who gets a Colin McCrae style understudy gig to Wahlberg. T.J. Miller's goofy surfer dude character helps inject some comedy into the first hour, while Thomas Lennon is up to his quirky business as usual. Then theTransformers have a couple of familiar voice actors in Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, Frank Welker as Galvetron, John Goodman as Hound and Ken Watanabe as Drift.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Movie Review

"Hey kids, in today's Transformers movie... blah, blah, blah don't do drugs."

Make no mistake, Transformers: Age of Extinction is not all that different from the previousTransformers films. The film still revolves around the Autobots trying to save humanity from the bad guys... who just have more human ties and there's a more literal bull in a China shop showdown. The emphasis is on the high octane, explosive symphony of robot metal with the humans doing their best to stay out of the way of the carnage.

If you've watched all the Transformers movies up to this point, you'll probably watch Michael Bay's latest re-imagination. The technical audio-visual aspects of the film make it epic, impressive and visceral to a fault. Thankfully the film-makers haven't gone Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on the action, allowing us time to marvel at the CGI, instead of trying to induce a seizure.

It's loud, flashy, slick and over-the-top action that drives the film... and at just under 3 hours, you will definitely get your money's worth if you like that sort of thing. It's no secret, Michael Bay's takenTransformers to the extreme, making it difficult to imagine anyone attempting a Transformers movie marathon without a written note from their doctor. To his credit, the relentless splurge is so beautifully crafted, it's difficult not to see it through to the air punch glory of the last climactic battle.

Mark Wahlberg helps reign in Bay's ridiculously good-looking action set pieces with a near-invincible and grounded performance. The selection of sleek vehicles and ominous spaceships ramp up the eye candy. The Dinobots make a Dino-Riders adaptation seem more than just a possibility, while the heady plot involving corporate weapon manufacturers and corrupt CIA officials, give the Autobots a license to kill humans.

It's a pity Bay tried to cram so much into this sequel. While exhilarating at first, the continual barrage of big action set pieces does become a case of diminishing returns. The re-entry story tries to relive the promise of the first Transformers movie and they probably could have spent a bit more time developing the characters instead of fast-forwarding to the humdrum of Transformers on-the-run, heist and urban chaos.

We get a taste of what a "Transformers in Space" movie would be like and perhaps they should have taken this idea a step further instead of resorting to the usual smash-and-grab. All in all, Transformers: Age of Extinction is largely entertaining and will appeal to fans of the series and action junkies who want to see eye-popping audio-visuals in the form of fast cars, big stunts and explosive heavy metal alien robot choreography. It's really really good for something that isn't all that good.

The bottom line: Flashy

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon had a strange title, but managed to be a funny, moving and wonderfully entertaining animated adventure about a boy, his pet dragon and his father. Several years on... the sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2, has swooped in to bring us more of the same thrilling entertainment with a slightly darker, more mature edge.

The sequel is also much more Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch), who is credited as writer-director, taking a stronger controlling influence over the story. He worked on How to Train Your Dragon and adapts Cressida Cowell's book series without the team from the first one. This makes the film slightly edgier and turns it into an emotional roller-coaster as Hiccup discovers a mysterious dragon lair and encounters the Dragon Rider.

Now that Hiccup and Toothless have grown older, the buddy movie no longer has the novelty of them discovering their friendship and abilities. The warriors and dragons are living in harmony, tossing sheep in dragon races, instead of all the fear-mongering destruction. However, not everyone understands dragons the way Hiccup and his tribe do, which is where the sequel finds itself.

In a similar structure to Ice Age 4, the film combines the same group of lovable characters and sends them on an icy land-to-sea adventure, which sees them outwitting pirates and confronting the legendary Drago. The film's influences don't stop there, taking aspects from AvatarBraveheart, Game of Thrones and even Godzilla to deliver big action, vivid storytelling and emotionally resonant entertainment.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

"...and you see Toothless, this here is Mordor."

Avatar is echoed in the flying animal riders, the mystical lair and the tribal instincts of the characters in their once idyllic existence. Braveheart chimes in with the Scottish culture, the spirited banter, the chest-thumping determinism and the acts of bravery. There's more in the way of medieval politics, kingdoms, warring and dragons, playing into pop culture's current fascination with Game of Thrones. While Godzilla has its claws in the scale of the battle sequences and the epic dragon action.

DeBlois knows how to charm audiences and has a great balance of cheerful comedy, heartwarming drama and some beautiful tear-jerking moments too. We're enchanted by the quirky animation, the fairy tale ambition, the lofty aerial action and the fun-loving characters, who could have been inspired by Asterix.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 features the same voice cast from the original. Jay Baruchel returns to bring life to the unassuming Hiccup. Gerard Butler brings his sonic boom and clout to his father, Stoick. Comedy actors Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig reprise their roles as the ragtag team of young warriors. Then, Djimon Hounsou and Cate Blanchett lend their hefty vocal performances to the characters, Drago and Valka.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is all-round entertainment. There is a point at which it felt like the film was gearing up to a "To be continued..." title screen, before unleashing yet another climax to draw the adventure to a close. While it lingers at this point, it's back to business in no time. While it appeals to all ages, you get the impression, the franchise is trying to grow with its original audience - delivering some heavier themes in the process.

If you enjoyed Brave or the original How to Train Your Dragon, you'll find this new adventure to be exhilarating, entertaining and wholeheartedly enjoyable. While you may feel sorry for the sheep, the film's pacing, well-balanced tone, emotional resonance and great sense of humour will more than make up for any hesitations going in.

The bottom line: Thrilling

Movie Review: Locke

When we reach a fork in the road of life, the path we choose often leads to a known set of consequences. Once we've knowingly taken the wrong path, getting back on the right path can be tough going as Ivan Locke discovers in the tense drama, Locke.

The devoted family man and successful construction manager decides to go against the grain on the eve of a critical building development. By trying to be everything his father wasn't, he fights his way into the night on a long freeway journey to fix a mistake. As his looming job, worried family and bold choice catch up with him, he's forced to risk everything he's worked so hard to establish.

Locke writer-director, Steven Knight, has written some strong screenplays in his time including:Amazing GraceEastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things. He even tried to reinvent our generation's quintessential action hero, Jason Statham, in Redemption. His second directorial effort sees him scaling back to deliver a punchier, nuanced character portrait drama that takes place in the confines of a motor vehicle.

The onus is on Tom Hardy, who carries the film with a strong performance - featuring in almost every shot. Hardy is calculated about this claustrophobic role, conveying a well-to-do gentleman nursing some deep-seated resentment with a sense of moral fortitude. Hardy is on point as a seemingly rational strategist, taking a self-destructive risk and knowing that come what may, he will be able to glue his life back together again.

Locke Movie Review

"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"

As he races through the night, he receives calls on his hands-free car phone from his stressed out second-in-command, his wife, his kids and the person behind his troubles. The modern family man seems to have everything together, but as we journey with him we start to realise his darker side. He remains noble, yet his sacrifice is complicated and we sift through the moral dilemma as he tries to smooth things over from one phone call to the next.

Locke functions much like PhoneboothBuried and Brake. The film hinges on one performance, comes from a fixed position and relies on tense mostly over-the-phone drama to generate spark. WhilePhonebooth actually had a cast, Locke is essentially a one man show. Instead of operating from a coffin in Buried or a boot in Brake, the car and freeway in Locke offers more in terms of street lighting and car interiors.

While the low budget scenario may feel too constrained for viewers used to Tom Hardy in action movies, the claustrophobic tension created by Locke's circumstances make for compelling entertainment. We're entranced by Hardy's disturbingly calm performance as he pushes the complications around like a mosaic. Then, Knight's smart screenplay provides a very real situation, escalated by the timing of his decision and weighted by tight direction and a solid voice cast.

Locke is not what you would expect from Tom Hardy, but just like Buried did for Ryan Reynolds, it serves as a wonderful showcase of his tremendous dramatic ability. As a drama-turned-thriller, we're completely immersed in Ivan Locke's private world like a fly on the rear-view mirror.

Steven Knight takes the minimalist route to the point that Locke could have been just as edgy as a radio drama. While a bold move, adding such tight limits makes it easier for him to get everything just right. Locke does come up a bit short at just over 80 minutes, but when you feel like you've been locked in the car with Hardy all that time, it's a good time to get some fresh air.

The bottom line: Gripping

Top Ten Movies with... Sean Cameron Michael

Sean Cameron Michael is a talented, versatile and respected South African actor with over 30 years of acting experience. Having performed in over 80 local and international television series, shorts and feature films, he's emblazoned a solid reputation for himself in the industry. His latest feature, a western called The Salvation, sees Sean in a supporting role opposite Mads Mikkelsen, Jonathan Pryce and Eva Green. Last year, Sean starred opposite William Hurt in Challenger Disaster, before becoming Black Sails regular, Richard Guthrie, on the popular Michael Bay-produced pirate adventure series.

His international breakthrough came in 1997 when he landed the role of Young Timur in Adventures of Sinbad. A series of cameo roles in CI5: The New Professionals, Ernest in the Army, Home Alone 4 and Charlie Jade later, he landed the support lead role in the sci-fi mini-series The Triangle. He went on to join the cast of Crusoe, played a villain in 24: Redemption, featured opposite Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman in Clint Eastwood's Invictus, as well as Natalee Holloway, Albert Schweitzer and Outcasts. Sean Cameron Michael has also appeared in Lost Boys: The Thirst, America: The Story of Us, Mermaids: The Body Found, Death Race: Inferno, The Girl, Strike Back and Safe House.

Having worked on so many award-winning local and international productions, it may come as quite a surprise that South African born Sean Cameron Michael isn't a household name already. His fervent passion and commitment to the art is really starting to pay off and Sean Cameron Michael seems to rising to the challenge of bigger and better international roles with each passing year. He's starred opposite the who's who of Hollywood and been directed by some of the best. We were lucky enough to catch up with Sean to get his Top Ten Movies...

"I think every actor I know has a screenplay
in their back pocket for a passion project..."

I can't watch movies without...

- A good sound system, some snacks on the side and maybe a scotch or three.

Which famous people share your birthday?

- Ryan Seacrest (American Idol), Ricky Martin, Michael Raymond-James (who I had the incredible honor of acting opposite on The Salvation recently), Howard Hughes and Mary Higgins Clark (author) – Yes, I had to Google some of those.

What is the first film you remember watching?

- When I was twelve years old I landed my first professional theatre production as Anna’s son, Louis in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The King & I. My folks took me to the Three Arts Theatre in Plumstead to watch the film musical with the late Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. It was a wonderful experience - and great research.

When I was a little older, I think the 1988 movie Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close and John Malkovich made the strongest impression on me as a teenager and as an aspiring actor. Their performances were totally over-the-top, mind-bogglingly masterful and seriously inspiring.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

- That really is a difficult one - it's always so subjective and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I genuinely can't believe that anyone purposefully goes out to make a bad movie and I always find some sort of merit or enjoyment in every single film I watch. That said, if I had to choose, it would probably be one of the 'mockbuster' classics like Sharknado, Snakes on a Train and Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus. These movies are usually made on very minimal (or non-existent) budgets, shot within a week or so, put into post-prod for a few days and then hit the shelves. And to be honest, I’m sure if you went through my credit list from a couple of years back, you'd find some pretty bad flicks there that have made some critics cringe. (laughs)

Which movies have made you tearful?

- E.T., The Notebook, Magnolia... certainly Tom Cruise’s strongest dramatic performance to date, The Boy with the Striped Pajamas…and the list goes on and on. It's not necessarily the soppy tearjerkers that get me - I'm easily touched and deeply moved by brilliant dramatic performances by actors that I respect.

Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?

- I've been so fortunate to work opposite some legends in the industry, including: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, William Hurt, Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Matt Damon, Mads Mikkelsen, Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington.

What's your favourite movie line?

- “You don’t understand. I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender, I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am” from On the Waterfront and also “All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up” from Sunset Blvd.

Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?

- James Franco to play a younger me and William Hurt to play an older me.

If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?

- I think every actor I know has a screenplay (or two) in their back pocket for a passion project they'd love to produce one day if they won the Lotto. The first one I've been working on is a semi-autobiographical family drama about divorce and the long-term effects it can have on children, all set in the sixties and seventies in South Africa, with a strong focus on the music and dance styles of that era.

The second is a very heavy, dark Afrikaans period art house drama about a small family living on a farm in the middle of nowhere and focuses on physical and psychological abuse within the constraints of old-fashioned, irrelevant traditional family values imposed by a misguided society. So yes, all very light-hearted, comical and amusing themes(!)

Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...

- Dangerous Liasons ...overall brilliant cast, John Malkovich and Glenn Close excel, giving everything they've got, with a wonderfully written screenplay and a storyline that sends your emotions on a rollercoaster ride.

- Magnolia ...genius acting all around with show stopping performances by Mr. Cruise, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy and Julianne Moore. The epic making-of DVD / behind-the-scenes is even more brilliant and essential for any filmmaker.

- The Matrix ...was revolutionary and mind-boggling for it's time. I’d never seen anything like it before and probably one of the only movies that Keanu Reeves was excellent in besides maybe My Own Private Idaho. The Wachowski Brothers are simply genius.

- Withnail & I ...a Richard E. Grant classic that every actor on the planet can relate to.

- As Good As It Gets ...the masterful Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, with a hysterically, brilliant screenplay.

- Being John Malkovich ...over-the-top performances within a crazy and clever storyline.

- Requiem for a Dream ...I cannot rave enough about Jared Leto and Ellen Burstyn's performances that break my heart every time I watch it. Of course Jennifer Connelly is very hot in this too.

- Schindler's List ...yes, it's on everyone's Top 10 list and deservedly so. If you're not emotionally wrecked after watching it, then you're made of stone.

- American Beauty ...again, superb performances by all the cast, especially Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, who make incredible acting choices in their performances. Here too is an extensive making-of DVD with special features, including in-depth script/on-screen analysis.

- American Psycho ...A really wacky and darkly funny movie with Christian Bale in a tour-de-force performance of a lifetime.

Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.

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