Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain and Gain (2013)

Getting big and buff down the gym is something that’s incredibly trendy right now. You go into your local health food store (assuming that my loyal Phagelings frequent such establishments) and you’re immediately bombarded by an assortment of lotions and potions to get ripped. Big and buff is in. Well, at least that’s what the practitioners believe anyway. I’m not sure all the ladies swoon over colossal, potentially roided-out arms and pecs… After all… we all know what too much of THAT does to you, don’t we gents? And no-one likes opening up their Christmas present to find it’s 4 sizes too small and doesn’t work… am-I-right ladies? Yeah… Ok, we can dispense with all this chat now and concentrate on the film… oh wait, this is actually one of the plot threads? Tiny, little…? Oh… ok then. Well… it’s all about Pain & Gain isn’t it?

Pain and Gain (2013)

Yes, Pain & Gain has finally landed in the UK after an enormous delay transferring over the Atlantic Ocean. Michael Bay finally steps away from the Transformers franchise for a moment to deliver us an almost Bad Boys-esque film about a group of guys that are big on gym work and big on getting getting rich quick. The film focuses on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) – a body builder turned personal trainer that’s tired of not getting everything that he wants. He leads a comfy life, but wants more… don’t we all? This leads him to the idea of robbing one of his clients (Tony Shalhoub) for all he’s worth. He brings in two fellow gym-bunnies in the form of Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and gets away with it… for a while…

The plot is a fairly typical “kidnap and ransom” affair, but it’s done nicely and kept me entertained for the most part. I’ve always championed Mark Wahlberg as the every man, and Pain & Gain does nothing to change my opinion of him. He puts in another solid turn here as Lugo. What did impress me more was Dwayne Johnson. FINALLY, we’re seeing him in a role that requires him to do more than look BIG. Let’s not beat around the bush here… he looks goddamn massive in this film. Dwayne is a walking advertisement for gym work if you want to get “big”. What I found refreshing was that his character called for a wealth of emotions to be displayed. It wasn’t all “mean and moody”, which is what he’s had to do time and time again, over and over again. His character goes through the most dramatic arc out of the lead three protagonists, and it was his journey that I enjoyed the most.

Pain and Gain (2013)

Credit also needs to go to the supporting cast, most notably Shalhoub as the kidnapped Victor Kershaw, who played his part with aplomb. Similarly, Rebel Wilson turns in another performance that adds to her stock of “crude and lude” characters. It’s not so much remarkable for that, but it was nice to see her humour injected here. Much has actually been made of the “dark humour” of this film… which is true, to a certain extent. The humour definitely ramps up at times, but at others… it all comes across rather dour.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the opening 30 minutes. The film is trying to align itself and bring the viewers up to pace, but it all just feels disjointed and odd. It’s as if Michael Bay was aiming for an almost Spring Breakers-esque introduction with lots of voice over narrative in an attempt to make it seem somewhat artistic and lofty. Unfortunately it just left me a little deflating and disinterested. Luckily, the film picked up somewhat once this intro segue had passed, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth to a certain extent.

Pain and Gain (2013)

I think this draws attention to the film’s biggest flaw: it’s somewhat bloated. And we’re not just talking about Johnson’s arms here. A good 20 minutes could have easily been cut from the film and it wouldn’t have suffered whatsoever. Those extra 20 minutes led me to become distracted at times and somewhat detracted from the film as a whole. Don’t get me wrong – it had a fun plot and one that kept you intrigued, but it never had you second guessing and wondering what might develop. It was all quite linear… unlike the contours of Dwayne Johnson‘s neck…

Pain & Gain is a solid film, but can’t ever be classified as anything exceptional. The film is held together by a compelling story and a strong performance from Wahlberg and an arguably stronger performance from Dwayne Johnson, but this can’t disguise the excess embedded in the film as a whole. The humour was there, but was deflated somewhat by the exposition of those trailers. Damn you trailers! You’ve struck again, you cunning sons-o’-guns!

Pain & Gain was pretty much a balance of pain and gain… but I could have done with less pain in this testosterone-fuelled sandwich if I’m honest. It didn’t make our Phagey parts shrivel and become useless, but it also didn’t make us feel on top of the world and massive. It left us like the average gym guy… kinda normal. But unlike the average gym guy, we won’t be giving up… we’ll be back… now, there’s a quote from a REAL gym guy!

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Broken City (2013)

Broken City (2013)

I love watching actors do press for their latest releases. Not just because it’s a chance to see them talking outside of their roles / hyping up a film that I may or may not give half a damn about, but because of how they “act”. It’s very telling when you see an actor looking unexcited about a project. Generally, that film isn’t going to be worth the film its burned onto. Yes, I’m looking at you Bruce Willis in your TV interviews for A Good Day To Die Hard. You looked disinterested, and boy was I disinterested in the final film. So when I saw Mark Wahlberg on British TV, getting all drunk and lairy when promoting Broken City… well, I knew I had to see the film.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the review, I want to dwell on Wahlberg‘s appearance on a show we have over here called The Graham Norton Show. His fellow guests? Sarah Silverman and Michael Fassbender. These aren’t two unknowns; especially Fassbender who’s now arguably bigger than Wahlberg both sides of the Atlantic. The video above is taken from YouTube and showcases the best bits. I really recommend watching it, as Wahlberg is hilarious / infuriating and gets more rowdy as the video progresses. I loved his drunken approach to selling a movie. Television gold. Seriously, watch the above video. It’s worth it! Even if you just skip to 11min in, it’s worth it.

So, what is Broken City? Well, I’m happy to report that Mark Wahlberg actually starts the movie “on the wagon”… so maybe he was playing this up? Or maybe he just loves the claret? Who doesn’t? The movie focuses on Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) an ex-New York cop who’s now living out his days as a private detective / snoop for anyone that’ll pay him. He’s suddenly offered business by the Mayor of New York: a Mr. Hostetler (Russell Crowe). The task? Spy on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who he suspects of cheating on him. Simple enough? Now add in the backdrop of this being during the election campaign in which Hostetler seeks to retain his role in the city. But things aren’t always as clear as they first appear. There’s a hell of a lot of dirt in this Broken City.

Broken City (2013)

Yeah, I probably should write promo spiel right? In between slurring and interrupting guests, Wahlberg pitched Broken City as an old school film focused on a character driven plot. And he’s right. The film is very much driven by its protagonists and does very well from it. Especially for the first half of the movie. Now, I thought this first half was pacey, had a clear narrative and some really involving characters. The second half? Wow… things quickly became clouded and more and more plot points got thrown into the mix. So much so that I feel it detracted somewhat from the main themes of the film.

What the film did do well was characterisation, so I’ll hand it to Wahlberg there. I thought his and Crowe‘s performances were great. They were never going to set the world alight, as neither stretched themselves to any degree. In fact, you could argue that Mark Wahlberg was once again playing Mark Wahlberg… but I’m cool with that. I can relate to the guy for some reason. He’s an every-man. And Crowe? Well, as you’ll remember from my Les MisĆ©rables review, I just like the guy.

Broken City (2013)

Having said all that, the film is “light” and the plot “twist” can be guessed within the first 10 minutes of the run time. This isn’t a great asset for a thriller. You want suspense, you want shock, you want to be guessing “what if?” But with this, you can pretty much surmise how things will turn out. It’s a shame, as I think deep down there’s a great film here. I liked the character-driven focus of the film, as opposed to a number of big, dumb set pieces where cars blow up or fly off freeways. I’m bored of that (although Michael Bay isn’t, so it would seem). If only the film had a deeper narrative then there’d really be something to rave about here.

Broken City isn’t going to set the world alight, nor is it going to be elected to the role of Mayor… if films could be elected Mayor! The film is driven admirably by Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but is let down by a predictable plot. You really can’t be doing with a weak plot when you’re dealing with a thriller. The clue’s in the word “thriller”. You need to be “thrilled”. Unfortunately, Broken City was mostly filler in the latter half, and not much thriller. Clever what I did there, right?

So it looks like Mark Wahlberg‘s appearance on British TV was incredibly representative of the film as a whole. It started off promising and had a coherent narrative that made me keep watching, but as the film / interview progressed, the plot / Mark gradually became far less discernable and increasingly distracted by what was going on around it. It just goes to show that you really can judge a book by its cover film by its press coverage.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Ted (2012)

If you’ve seen a poster, a trailer or a bus advertising Ted you’re sure to know that this film is brought to you courtesy of Seth Macfarlane: the man behind the Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show franchises. Though I think it’s best for all if we forget the last title on that list, as I’m pretty sure people with an IQ over 39 don’t think The Cleveland Show is “comedy” in any shape or form. Unless you’re a simpleton. For the uninitiated, Family Guy revolves around a Simpsons-esque family and their shenanigans. Most of these episodes are essentially random sketches tied together with some semblance of a plot. American Dad! again focuses on a family, but is much more plot-driven – like any good sitcom. The Cleveland Show… well… let’s just not go there. Why am I explaining all this? Well, everyone has a “favourite” of these three titles whilst some can’t stand Macfarlane‘s brand of humour. Consequently, your enjoyment of this film will rely heavily on which of these four shrines you worship at. See if you can guess where I fall…

It’s a Macfarlane face-off… which camp do you fall into? Moronic, sketch-driven or plot-driven comedy?

Ted follows the life of 35 year old John (Mark Wahlberg) and girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis)… and of course Ted (Seth Macfarlane), the toy that came to life when John was 8 years old. At a core level, the film deals with the dilemma of being one of the boys vs settling down. Add in a truck load of 1980’s TV references, a sprinkling of drugĀ paraphernalia and a sometimes obvious plot and you have Ted. Firstly, I want to say that in recent years I’ve become a big fan of Wahlberg, especially his contributions to HBO’s EntourageĀ both on and off-screen, and in 2010’s spectacular The Fighter. His performance in Ted is what you’ve come to expect of the guy – professional, comic and charming. Similarly Kunis, who works with Macfarlane on Family Guy, acts admirably; although her role as the “straight guy” limits her ability to flex any comedic muscles on screen. The supporting cast is also brilliantly put together, surely thanks to Macfarlane‘s rich address book accrued from the numerous cameos that Family Guy and American Dad! have had over the years. I won’t ruin any of these for you, but appearances from a 1980’s film star and a famous Hollywood A-lister who doesn’t utter a single word are simply sublime. The only negative I can draw from the cast is the fact that Macfarlane didn’t write anything comedic for Lori’s boss Rex, who is played by the awesomeĀ Joel McHale from one of my favourite ever series: Community. An opportunity missed.

This brings us to Macfarlane himself who voiced Ted and wrote the script. Ted as a character is solid and beautifully rendered by the animation team. I just feel that we’ve seen this character before if you’re familiar with Macfarlane‘s TV series. He’s a slacker, a “bro” and less than politically correct – all things which you could pin to numerous other characters. But overall, I can look past this as it’s clearly Macfarlane‘s sense of humour and that’s fine. The character worked well. What felt a bit more hackneyed was the script, which came across as a number of hit-and-miss sketches loosely woven into a plot. Ringing any bells yet?

The trailers showed off some of the big hitting comedic moments, and there are more to be found in there, but there was also a lot of humour that fell flat for me. For instance, an elongated fight scene erupts that reminded me of Pineapple Express. I didn’t like Pineapple Express. I didn’t like this either. It just wasn’t funny. Luckily these duds were outweighed for me by Macfarlane‘s pop culture references (when they sit inside the plot) and sometimes sinister sniping at other popular celebrities. He does this in his animated shows and doesn’t pull any punches on the big screen too. This, for me, is funny. It’s a shame that more of the film wasn’t as guffaw-inducing as the prologue and epilogue by Sir Patrick Stewart (who also voices characters for American Dad!).

Bart Simpson by way of South Park: not a Family Guy fan!

But then again, many people in the screening I was attending laughed at literally everything. For some their humour level was any reference to drugs. I call these “The Cleveland Show fans” (or young teenagers… or adults with the brains of young teenagers… or morons – it’s ok, they won’t get offended; often they can’t read) – replete with honking laughs that made me think I was about to be attacked by a flock of geese. Next you had the people with a humour level resulting in them laughing at jokes that were in the trailer that surely every film-goer has seen? I call these “Family Guy fans“, as the jokes are funny but you’ve seen them before – just as with many jokes on Family Guy. Then finally you have people that enjoy the humour thrown up as part of the plot: the “American Dad! fans“.

If you’re playing along at home and guessed that I am c) an American Dad! fan, then kudos to you. Go get yourself a cookie. If you guessed a) then I strongly suggest you watch The Cleveland Show – it’s probably right up your alley.

Ultimately, Ted earns the title of “funniest film of the summer”, but more by default as it’s not had strong competition. Had 21 Jump Street landed at the same time, it’d have easily lost the title. It has its great moments, but much like Macfarlane’s Family Guy it has an uneven hit-to-miss ratio in term of gags.

If you didn’t like Macfarlane before, then seeing a non-animated form of his comedy won’t change your mind. If you believe the man can do no wrong thenĀ you’reĀ delusionalĀ you’ll get a lot of kicks out of this film.Ā If you fall somewhere in between and think that his shows have their moments, then there’s fair reason to see this. Macfarlane‘s humour has made the jump to the big screen far better than Matt Groening‘s The Simpsons Movie… but nowhere near as well as Matt Stone and Trey Parker‘s South Park orĀ Team America: World Police. That’s what you get for lettingĀ manateesĀ write your comedy Seth!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star