The Clash Film Column: Metal Fingers In Your Body

Transformers! Mostly...

Yeah, we’re riffing on Add N To (X), whatcha gonna do about it? (That link is pretty NSFW, BTW.)

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That was the week in which...

Katniss was revealed to be one of the most popular baby names of the year.

Well, sort of. Nameberry’s most popular baby names list “gauges which names parents are most interested in for babies due to be born in coming months,” and the highest of those names that are obviously inspired by film and popular culture is Katniss, the heroine of The Hunger Games saga (pictured, as played by Jennifer Lawrence).

Despite the arguments of Freakonomics, most people would argue that naming a baby should set the tone for their future life. After all, hardly anyone wants to name their kid Bertie in 2014, because it’ll make the boy sound like some kind of Dickensian dandy. Katniss – despite sounding dangerously close to feline wonder-drug catnip – is a wonderful example to emulate. To paraphrase Ben Folds: “She’s got the looks / She’s got the brains / She’s got everything.” Not that such an argument ever held when it came to Travis Bickle, though it didn’t stop the name being used for decade after decade of American teenagers, and a succession of drummers in emo bands.

Although time will dictate whether The Hunger Games is a fad of popular culture or an enduring favourite, Katniss at least has the safety net of being adapted to a more classically inspired Kathy or Kat. Still, it gets you thinking – is naming a child after a movie character a neat idea? McFly Hopkins would doom the little chap to a life of “Think, McFly, think” type insults. Billy from Gremlins isn’t particularly inspiring, although Wanda Hopkins has an appealing retro-flamboyance to it, despite the fate of the fish sharing that name. Sometimes you have to be bold. Strike out. Set a trend. Welcome to the world, Rambo Hopkins.

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The Big Film: Transformers: The Age Of Extinction

Given the (less than brilliant) reception for the last two Transformers films, you might think that the subtitle of the fourth film in the series is a reference to the demise of a failing franchise. But, remarkably, director Michael Bay might just have reversed its fortunes with a creditable third sequel. Hitting back first with the original and highly enjoyable crime caper Pain & Gain and now this, Bay answers his critics in the best way possible, and the fourth live-action Transformers is back to somewhere near the standard of the first.

When struggling inventor and overprotective father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) gets his hands on a beaten-up old truck, he finds he’s taken on more than he bargained for as he discovers the hunk of junk is, actually, Optimus Prime, which forces him to go on the run. Caught in the middle of a war waged on the (nominally good) Autobots by the government, Cade struggles to keep his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) safe while fighting for what he believes is right – but with the authorities and beyond against him, what hope does he have?

Shaking things up with Pain & Gain’s Wahlberg in the lead works a treat, and Bay also takes care to include quippy dialogue, compelling action and watchability, and also plays his part in some great casting decisions – namely Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer. Action sequences are a cut above other blockbusters – they’re not all disorientating and rapidly cut, there’s plenty here you can actually make out. Remembering what worked in the first film in this series, Bay reapplies it effectively – there’s a hefty dose of cheese, naturally, plus fun and frivolous dialogue, great effects and innovative, big, bold stunts.

The film has a self-awareness that’s infectious. Bay makes the effort to poke fun at himself, without making excuses for bringing audiences an unashamedly over-the-top blockbuster. Words: Kim Taylor-Foster

Related: A Transformers Fan’s Trauma

Transformers: Age Of Extinction, trailer

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Also Out: Boyhood

Inquisitive minds will begin to second-guess the fate of Mason, the central character in Richard Linklater’s hugely ambitious, 12-years-in-the making Boyhood. It’s a natural reaction, albeit a wrong one, for Linklater’s narrative is about the journey rather than the destination.

Mason (and actor Ellar Coltrane) grows and flourishes before our eyes: other characters burst to prominence and then ebb away, their stories informed by over a decade of contemporary American history and set to one of the cleverest soundtracks in recent memory. It’s mostly meditative – Mason’s life landmarks roll by as the years go on – but when the drama comes, the tension is palpable.

As a story, Boyhood isn’t particularly remarkable. Yet seeing these flawed but likeable characters developing in sometimes unexpected ways, and often battling against the odds, is almost subliminally engaging. And yet ordinary people living ordinary lives is in someway absolutely remarkable, simply because of how universal an experience it is: from Mason’s changing teenage identity to the final heart-rendering speech from his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), there’s something for people of all ages to relate to. If that all sounds rather dry, Linklater scatters his famously sardonic humour throughout.

Related: our interview with director Richard Linklater

Boyhood, trailer

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Also Out: Begin Again

John Carney’s Once enamoured audiences with its naturalistic, bittersweet tale of flourishing love between two musicians. Produced on a shoestring, it became a surprise global hit and saw its two leads win an Oscar for Best Original Song.

It’s quite clear that Begin Again is intended to replicate Once’s blueprint on a much larger scale, and initially it looks as if it will work. Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a previously successful but now down on his luck A&R man who is estranged from his wife and daughter, and then ejected from the label he founded. Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Greta (Keira Knightley) – later revealed to be experiencing her own romantic travails – plays to a disinterested NYC bar.

The premise works until it’s revealed that Dan was enchanted by Greta’s performance, leading the two lost souls to join forces to make a record. Despite Ruffalo’s innate ability to capture a flawed if likeable personality, and Knightley being able to convey a vulnerable sense of defiance, it’s downhill from there. The bitterness is almost forgotten in a succession of saccharine montages, with Once’s intimate songs replaced by pleasant if bland radio-rock. Ultimately, Begin Again proves that you can’t make Once, twice.

Begin Again, trailer

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Shorts

The Weinstein Company passed on Kevin Smith’s $6 million proposal to make Clerks III. The 2006 sequel apparently turned a healthy profit on its reported $5 million budget, but diminishing returns and sequels are words that inexorably match like bread and butter. But Kev, if you want to make Clerks III on the same budget that you had for the original, I’ll put the money up for it myself.

Last weekend’s UK box office winner was Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. As Peep Show’s Super Hans argues, “You can’t trust people.”

Finally, the power of Twitter appears to have landed Riz Ahmed a cameo role in People Just Do Nothing – a mockumentary about a pirate radio station based in glamorous Brentford, which comes to BBC Three later this month after early acclaim on the iPlayer.

 

 

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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