A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood Review

Over here in jolly ‘fish n chips and tea’ UK, the name Mr Rogers is usually met with confused looks and blank stares; meanwhile in the ‘cheeseburgers and shopping malls’ US of A, Mr Rogers is a beloved household name, credited with building many a childhood with his sage advice on life.

He is a very uniquely American figure, even if his message may seem universal, his celebrity is not, while I am personally familiar with his name, mostly through consumption of America media, I couldn’t tell you a single memorable moment from his long and storied career.

My first real introduction to Mr Rogers was the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour, a film whose title I have frequently got confused with this one, given their close proximity to one another literally, and their similar promotional art.

I found the documentary to be an engrossing tale about a refreshingly decent man; someone who valued people above all, and generally seemed a class above anyone else on TV at that time, a feeling that was reaffirmed in this film.

Rather than being a biopic of Fred Rogers, this film instead focuses on his friendship with journalist Lloyd Vogel (based on the real-life journalist Tom Junod). It isn’t so much a story of Rogers’ life, but the impact he has on Vogel’s. A man who makes his name with damning exposés, tasked with profiling a man who seems almost saintly.

It frames Lloyd’s situation as a topic Mr Rogers covers on his show, in the style he would present it to a young audience; taking a difficult topic and having enough respect for the viewer to understand what you’re telling them. A unique gift in children’s television that seems almost impossible to master.

It goes one further with this premise though by presenting certain areas of the film as if it were an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, starting the film with Rogers’ usual show opening routine, and presenting the locations as places in his model town. This is a great use of the films source material, and feels almost comparable to what we see of his show, it doesn’t come across as patronising, if anything it’s just a further show of Rogers’ personality and unique charm.

In between these sections inspired by the shows structure is the usual dramatic retelling set up. Lloyd is a jaded journalist with parental issues, his reaction to Rogers and his increasing interest is at first hostile and distant; he doesn’t feel like this is the television icons true personality, rather it is just an extension of his on-screen character.

The building of their bond has a charm about it that is predictable, yet still engaging. You want to find that Mr Rogers is just like who he says he is, in the back of your mind, you know that will be the case anyway, so it isn’t a negative predictability greeted with a weary sigh and roll of the eyes, but a welcome one, greeted with a hearty chuckle and beaming smile.

Everything else beside the central relationship does tend to fall by the wayside admittedly. For all the characterisation Lloyd gets, his wife and extended family are left disappointingly bland, and not much is done with Lloyd’s infant son story-wise either, it feels like that could have been a way to tie even more into Rogers’ life-view, but it is left as a mostly side-distraction than key plot point.

I’d say the films main victories lie with its innate charm and performances. Its infrequent returns to referencing the show that inspired it is an interesting quirk, one that I don’t think I’ve really seen before, it feels like we’re diving into the very fabric of the show, as well as its star.

It is a film completely stolen by a single performance however, that of Tom Hanks as the eponymous character. He is without doubt one of cinemas greatest actors, and he is perfectly suited to this part. Rogers unique gentleness is captured perfectly in an understated, softly spoken Hanks portrayal, that will make you want to reach through the screen and give him a big hug. He’s not just simply a generous man, he has his problems, but it’s how he confronts them that sets him apart. A moment of dialogue where he opens up about his difficulties with fame and family life bring this brilliantly into the fold, it’s a focused, intelligent portrayal that has rightly been lauded by critics, and nominated for an Oscar.

In a world as uneasy as ours, it feels like we all need a little bit of what Fred Rogers taught. Love and compassion are captured perfectly here by a creator with a vision to capture this unique man, a film that perfectly encapsulates its subject matter, it leaves you with a warm feeling, a feeling of gladness that someone like Fred existed, the film leaves you feeling happy with its positive message, delivered in such a way that doesn’t feel too forced or preachy, much like the man himself.

Even though it may struggle with balancing some supporting characters, this is a film with joy in its heart, a rare example of a real-life tale being perfectly weighted to its subject material, it truly warmed my heart and left me with a smile. A film that was made with love, and should be cherished.

A Look Back at January

To be fair to the New Year, it’s started off pretty strong. Well, apart from my first review of the New Year (I do think I actually watched that in the dying days of 2019 though, so we won’t count it).

I was playing catch up for a while, especially catching up on a few Netflix releases (Dolemite is My Name is next on my radar) and the way the British release schedule works means that some of the films new over here are practically retro reviews Stateside.

These little write-ups at the end of the month won’t be too detailed, they’re just a look back at the month, just as a way to end the month; also to break up the barrage of reviews I send flying through the screen and into your faces.

What I will do though, is name a ‘Film of the Month’ each month, giving myself something else to worry about, because I still have some hair left, and apparently I don’t do enough writing for this site yet.

Film of the Month: Marriage Story – Directed by Noah Baumbach

Yes I know it came out last month, but no I don’t particularly care. It was a strong month and 1917 can feel a bit unlucky to not be my top pick, but to put it frankly, no film engrossed me as much as Marriage Story this month, and had I been quicker on the draw, it’d have made my Top 10 of last year, it’ll have to settle for this though, as I aren’t pushing my luck enough to include it in this year’s consideration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading January’s reviews; there shouldn’t be too long to wait until I get started on a new month; with a fresh slate of releases hitting U.K. cinemas today, that should keep me busy for a week or so, there’s also the release of Indy darling The Lighthouse to cover this month, and foreign powerhouse Parasite, so I hope I’ve whetted you’re appetite enough to stick around.

The Nightingale Review

Horror fans of the last few years might recognise the name Jennifer Kent. Her previous film, The Babadook, was a success both critically and commercially (comparatively anyway) and instantly put her on the radar of fans and critics alike, and made her next film one to watch.

That next film materialised as this, The Nightingale, while not strictly speaking a horror film, there certainly are elements of Kent’s horror stylings to its narrative and structure.

Set in early 1800s colonial Tasmania, it tells the story of Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) who sets out for violent revenge against her master, after a violent attack on her family. It’s certainly not one to share with the kids, it is unforgiving in its depiction of colonial-era violence and racism. I practically had to watch some scenes through gaps in my fingers.

That might put off several viewers, and the feeling of discomfort was palpable in the screening I was in, a few assorted gasps of horror and disbelief, which tells me straight out of the gate that the film is doing its job. Its confrontational style in its depiction of sexual and general violence will understandably scare away certain cinema-goers, but when you’re trying to tell a story such as this, to tell anything other than the brutal truth would be a disservice.

Yes, this is a film showing a section of history that many may be in a hurry to forget, specifically the British at large, this film is a harsh reminder of the colonial-era, and all that comes with it; the extermination of the aboriginal natives, the cruel treatment of convicts, and specifically the persecution of women convicts, they’re all on full display here, and in many ways, it is a more horrifying than any monster that can be put on screen: the horror of human cruelty.

Kent, also the writer of this film, has a keen eye for characters and how we connect to them, if this film is anything to go for. While it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Clare after what she goes through in the films opening act, she also undergoes a learning arc as the film progresses, realising that she may have more in common with the natives than she realises, and seeing the one-note ‘woman out for revenge’ character gain a few wrinkles is a nice touch.

Conversely, she also has a keen talent for making her antagonists infinitely hate-able. Whereas Clare undergoes an arc of learning and warmth, the diametric opposite happens to Hawkins (Sam Clafin) her former master and soldier, who descends deeper into madness and cruelty as the film goes on. You are led to believe at the start that as a person he couldn’t get worse, and you’d be wrong, very wrong.

It isn’t just these two characters who get interesting character arcs and development, mind, there’s also room for a few supporting characters to gain depth as well. Firstly, there’s Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) an aboriginal tracker tasked with helping Clare find her way through the wilderness, with whom she forms a bond, from a place of hostility and deep mistrust. Then there’s Eddie (Charlie Shotwell) a child convict who is used by Hawkins, who’s emotional journey is neatly crafted and well-told, and coincidentally, extremely heartbreaking.

As well-rounded and written as some of these characters are, there are some inconsistencies with the way they’re mapped out and their stories told, there’s another soldier character, a sergeant who also feels the wrath of Hawkins, the way his arc plays out we’re lead to believe he may be headed down a different path to his superior, but we’d be wrong; maybe this is the result of trying to spin too many plates as it were, and this side-plot was put on the back burner in favour of the main narrative.

There’s also a bit of an odd dynamic between Billy and Clare towards the films conclusion, one which is meant to show us how similar these two people actually are, and which does its job in that respect, but starts to seemingly pull down the path of emotionally connecting these two characters, which throws the dynamic off somewhat. The story of them growing to admire each other is done well, and I’m glad it didn’t go any further than just admiration, as it seemed like it might be.

There’s a lot about The Nightingale to unpack, in truth, and I think in some ways I’m still piecing it all together. The wilderness setting lends the film its dark, surreal feeling that borders on horror, especially during a few scattered nightmare sequences, which really show off Kent’s horror muscles, as they were genuinely unnerving, and achieved just the right level of uncomfortable for my liking, and that limit was tested to breaking point in this film.

I also really liked its use of framing to give the viewer subtle hints as to the characters similarities, there’s a few points in the film where Billy and Clare get symmetrical close-up shots, which is a really neat way of conveying the story visually, showing us their inner torment, using the medium to its fullest intent, rather than telling us flat out.

With its extremely well-written characters, and stunning, if at times unnerving, cinematography, The Nightingale breathes new life into the age-old narrative of the woman scorned, and her quest for revenge. It also serves as a reminder of humanity at its worst, and it left me genuinely speechless for a long time afterwards, even now, I’m struggling to adequately find the right words to put it into context. It’s brutal, undeniably so, and as a result makes it a very tough watch, which will leave you feeling like you’ve survived an ordeal yourself by the end, it plays you brilliantly, leaving you feeling exhausted.

A film that is as brilliant at telling its story as it will be hard to sell. The Nightingale made me feel a wide range of emotions from its first shot to its end credits, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, and I’m not in a rush to find anything else like it either. It succeeds in a vacuum, using the unreal levels of violence to help tell its story, rather than as a vehicle to just portray violence. It’s powerful, it’s unsettling and it’s bloody brilliant.

The Personal History of David Copperfield Review

Of all the writers’ works to adapt to film, there are few more prolific than Charles Dickens, maybe William Shakespeare beats him to the crown, but it’s a close run thing. Just think of how many adaptations of A Christmas Carol exist alone, there’s enough of those knocking about to keep a cinema running for years, but that’s not his only work adapted.

Oliver Twist has been adapted multiple times for screens both big and small, there was a trend for television adaptations back in the 90’s that saw tales like Nicholas Nickleby,  and Great Expectations both making the journey into our living rooms.

In fact, scant months ago I happened upon a TV adaptation for the tale which this film gets its inspiration: David Copperfield. Far from being a tale about an American illusionist, it is a tale of rags-to-riches (then back to rags) that occupies a lot of Victorian-era stories.

To just label it a ‘rags-to-riches’ piece is doing it somewhat of a disservice however, as the structure of the plot is a lot more complicated; originally being published as a serial story, printed in newspapers, it has a few twists and turns that would have lead readers at the time waiting with baited breath for the next installment; but which can seem in the future somewhat disjointed.

This adaptation of the story comes to us from Armando Iannucci, the man responsible for the political satire The Thick of It, and this can be seen in his screenplay, which tries to balance a slightly surreal humour with its period setting, something with which it sometimes struggles.

I can attribute this to a gulf in the two writing styles; as the film tries to have its cake and eat it at times, trying to mix the more Victorian-era language with Iannucci’s signature humour, sometimes the surrealism of the juxtaposition is funny enough in itself to carry the concept, but at other times they go together about as well as a KKK member and a Motown concert.

This method of writing also leaves gulfs in the story that tend to sag a little bit in the middle, leaving yawning chasms in the narrative where nothing seems to be happening and the films sense of whimsy abandons it.

This is a shame because there are some things done in this film that I like quite a lot. For example how it is structured as David telling the story through narrative while being present in the events as they happen, specifically when discussing his childhood, hearkening back to the sections in A Christmas Carol with the ghosts, he wanders about his past, retelling his story, and this narrative structure is expanded upon with some very imaginative scene transitions.

The characters are also an aspect of the film I enjoyed. Particularly where effort is made to make them more whimsical. A good example of this is Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) and Mr Dick (Hugh Laurie) a pair of genuinely eccentric characters who lend the film the main bulk of its comedic surrealism.

Not all of the characters are as well-realised I grant you. In particular Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw) and James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard) who resemble such broad stereotypes and are given little reason to be as awful as they are, but do so anyway. They aren’t developed enough to give them reason, they’re just there, and I feel more could be done with them.

The acting all around is impressive though, and I don’t blame the performers for their under-cooked characters. The choice of colourblind casting in an historical setting is a brave one, but a decision that I think works well. It helps set it apart from the usual adaptations, and what’s more all those cast here fit their role greatly.

I’ve liked Dev Patel for quite a while, so it’s nice to see him get a leading role in a sizeable production such as this, and he does an admirable job making material that we are all familiar with seem fresh and exciting again. Peter Capaldi (another personal favourite of mine) also crops up with an eccentric character, who brings more levity to proceedings, but does tend to get lost in the mix.

As for film-making techniques, there was some interesting things done with the structure of the story as I say, the narration, the scene changes, there’s also some instances wherein a piece of the background is used to project a scene happening elsewhere in the story, an intriguing use of blank space that really helps bridge the narrative and make it seem more than the usual paint-by-number adaptation of a classic.

As a whole, this film can be a complete mess at times, with tone and writing bouncing wildly between free-spirited and whimsical to stiff and familiar. But there’s enough life in the characters and the occasional glimpses of Iannucci’s usual rapier-sharp dialogue.

It does fall into some traps that a lot of its fellow re-tellings do; it seems afriad to push the envelope too much and can, as a consequence, feel very ‘safe’. Potential was there to rewrite and re-fashion a classic story into something new and fresh, and while evidence of that is here, it can be lost beneath the waves of the familiar period tropes.

In conclusion then, it very much depends on what you’re looking for as to whether you’ll enjoy A Personal History of David Copperfield (incidentally, I really dislike the title, it feels like I’m trying to prise it through my teeth). If you’re an old Dickens fan, you’ll likely be put off by the flights of fancy the film goes on, for an Iannucci regular you’ll find it old-hat and lacking the teeth his work usually exhibits; but if you find yourself somewhere in the middle, like me, you’ll at least find SOME things to enjoy, even if the film is a bit flabby around the edges.

 

The Two Popes Review

Religion has always been, and will always be, a divisive topic. As far as religion goes, there is no bigger figurehead than the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, whose full title is bafflingly long (seriously Google it) and is supposedly the representation of God on Earth.

Whatever your views on religion, and the papacy, it’s almost guaranteed that you know about him, and chances are good that you’d remember watching the events depicted in this film as they happened.

Here’s a quick cliff notes version. In 2013 Pope Benedict XVI resigned, this was quite unexpected as no Pope had resigned for roughly 700 years. Popey B was a hardline conservative kind of Catholic, staunchly opposed to any reforms, seen by many as long overdue, by contrast, his successor Pope Francis (Popey F) was very much at the forefront of the reform movement.

So it’s within these event that we find this film based, a relationship between two holy men who see issues in very different ways, but are bonded together by their core beliefs; while also exploring what led to this almost unheard of event.

It is very much Popey F’s show here though, the narrative is strongly focused on his journey through the priesthood and eventual succession to the Papacy, while exploring the differing history of Argentina (his home country) as a whole.

This is best exemplified by a protracted sequence shot in black and white set in 1956 Buenos Aires which depicts the future Pope before he started in his path of celibacy, enjoying a dance and courting, gradually unfolding to show us his path to a holier calling. This is probably my favourite sequence in the film, it does a lot for the character to show the journey to where he ends up, one we don’t necessarily get with his predecessor, it also helps that its shot so beautifully.

Actually, the whole film has a wonderful, luxurious feel to it, especially in the long sections set in the Vatican, on painstakingly recreated sets whose grandeur matches the originals; it’s brightness perfectly translating to film and making for some excellent visual choices, whether their using the whole of the room for a shot, or just a section, the settings and cinematography never stops feeling grand and inspired.

No matter what your feelings towards the people portrayed in this film in real life, you can’t help but warm to them because of how they are written and acted. Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) gives off a weary, tired air, like a man who can’t carry the weight he’s expected to carry any longer, and his opposite number Francis (Jonathan Pryce) is frustrated and maybe even a little disillusioned with how the church runs, their stances putting them ostensibly at loggerheads, but the longer they spend together, the more their fondness for each other visibly grows.

The pair of performances of the titular Two Popes are measured and subtle, each man approaching their own characters differently, they both feel like they have weights on their shoulders that they allow themselves to release over the course of the narrative, and the pedigree of the actors chosen means that they fall naturally into place.

Anthony Hopkins in particular is on top form here, after a few questionable decisions in past years, with this and TV’s Westworld, it feels like he’s finding a refreshing energy again, and when he’s on top form he can still be one of the best screen actors in the world.

Both men are entrusted to carry this movie pretty much on their own, the framework never really changes, bar a few establishing scenes and flashbacks, the interactions between the two Pontiffs are the spine of the film, and for a film with such a dry sounding premise the fact that it more than pulls it off is remarkable in itself.

Yes, I suppose that’s my main criticism really, is that it can feel like a bit of a dry film, like it’s going out of its way to not upset the Catholic Church. It could have been more confrontational with its material, but I think it’s all the better for having a contemplative tone, and focusing on the two men as characters, it made the m very easy to warm to, even if it could have been more.

I enjoyed The Two Popes, but I doubt its a film I’ll be in a rush to revisit. Its performances and grand aesthetic carry a rather pedestrian and dry premise, and while it may prove to be memorable, amidst the waves of choices for viewers eyeballs, I wouldn’t blame anyone for skimming over this, but once you’ve seen it and been charmed by it, I doubt you’ll watch it and feel the same way.

I didn’t really know what to expect going in, whether it be a scathing indictment of the church and its followers or propaganda for it, and in truth, I think it’s neither. A passive portrayal of what may broadly be the truth that makes no great statements and challenges no ideals; and that’s fine, not every film has to start a revolution. I even managed to enjoy it quite a lot, but as I say, it’s not likely to be one that will stick with me.

Marriage Story Review

Last year, in my Klaus review, I said that I intended to pay closer attention to Netflix originals in the future. Such is the way films are going that a big chunk of the nominated films this year were exclusive to the streaming platform, and it has in the past represented a gaping hole in my review spectrum.

But, as I spend so much time focused on cinematic releases, I often find myself behind on streaming releases, so I decided to remedy that by finally getting around to the first of a few Netflix films I plan on watching, Marriage Story.

Directed by Noah Baumbach (the same creator responsible for previously well-received Netflix exclusive The Meyorowitz Stories) Marriage Story is a brutally honest portrayal of divorce and it’s effects in ways rarely seen on the big screen. In many ways it has all the hallmarks of a classic love story, but with the angle of portraying what can be a very difficult, emotional time.

Baumbach’s approach to this film was supposedly inspired by his own experiences with divorce, and it shows. The film has a natural feel that can only be achieved by someone who truly knows the subject they’re documenting.

This is helped by the style in which the film is shot, making use of long takes, with two-shots and close-ups to lend the film a personal feel that is very hard to achieve as naturally as it does. There are moments of monologue and emotional turmoil captured so perfectly to emphasis each characters feelings at that time, across a wide range of emotions. A character can go from regretful and full of sorrow, to fury and righteous anger, never feeling incongruous in doing so thanks to its almost flawless script and simple, yet effective cinematography.

Speaking of dialogue, this is where the film really comes into its own. Making a film script sound like familiar people having believable conversations is extremely tricky, even if you can capture it, it may not translate well onto film as real conversation doesn’t really flow that well, Marriage Story takes cinematic dialogue and realistic dialogue and marries them (no pun intended) seamlessly.

The monologues are pitch-perfect, resisting the urge to be self-indulgent, the dialogue allows the film to flow extremely well. Making characters converse the best way to move the story forward, it doesn’t rush its characters or its narrative. In many ways the whole ‘film’ aspect takes a back seat, sometimes settling on one camera angle and allowing us to watch and engage with the characters and their interactions, which really helps endear them to us, it makes us care because we recognise these characters from somewhere, we may have even had these conversations, and that’s a rare sweet spot to find.

The biggest positive to come out of Marriage Story both critically and in terms of award nominations is the acting, which is phenomenal. Fronted by a pair of powerhouse performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, this tale of two people entangled in a potentially messy divorce could have all fallen apart had the leads not absolutely knocked it out of the park, which they did, and then some.

Both performances are excellent, but if pushed I’d probably single out Driver as the best performance, maybe even challenging Joaquin Phoenix in terms of the push towards Best Actor at this year’s Oscars. His character develops before our eyes, we see him in positive moments, and we see him at his worst. While this is the case for both lead characters, it’s much more apparent in his, as we see him go from a highly emotionally blocked character to one brimming with anger and despair, it’s a juxtaposition pulled off so delicately that he can make you angry and sympathetic, all within the space of a few lines, it is a truly masterful performance.

ScarJo is also up for Best Leading Actress for this film (and Best Supporting for Jojo Rabbit) and she is also outstanding, her character might not have the same growth and developed arc as her leading mans, but her character is just as complex and layered, like her performance. I was impressed by her in Jojo Rabbit and utterly spellbound in this film.

In case you haven’t inferred from the last few paragraphs, I adored Wedding Story. It took a subject that is incredibly difficult to handle, and made it into an engaging character drama, concerning characters who resemble flawed, realistic human beings. I don’t think it’s perfect, a few of the characters felt like overkill to me, and a few of the supporting players could have done with a bit more to do, but in streamlining its narrative, it keeps a tight focus on those around whom the story revolves. It may not be perfection, but it’s damn close.

Bad Boys For Life Review

After the last few years, and after some truly terrible choices, I can only hope that Will Smith has fired his agent. Starting with 2015’s Suicide Squad, maybe even earlier, he hasn’t made a single good choice in the roles he accepts. He’s really been through the doldrums in the last few years, there was the atrocious Bright, then just last year there was the one-two punch of Aladdin and Gemini Man, unnecessary and dull respectively.

I can’t say I have the same nostalgia as some people towards the Bad Boys films. They’re Michael Bay films, and you all know how I feel about him, and their the kind of action films that make my eyes glaze over, loud and dumb with no substance. So I can’t say I was brimming with confidence leading into this new installment, but I was also willing to give it a fair crack.

We rejoin detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Barnett (Will Smith and Martin Laurence, respectively) a few decades older, but no wiser – in Mike’s case anyway – but just when Marcus is planning his retirement, following the birth of his first grandchild, an attempt on Mike’s life leads them on one last case.

On the surface, the plot seems very cookie cutter, the structure of an old cop nearing retirement is pretty much a cliche, and I was pretty much ready to write off Bad Boys For Life after the first overexposed, colour-enhanced car chase, something out of left field happened that sucked me right in like a thousand dollar escort.

Now, talking about this is going to be difficult, as it’s a pretty major plot point, and my usual rule of thumb is to not give away any plot points that aren’t revealed in the trailers, I figure anything that is known about the film pre-release is fair game, so this huge plot point in which the whole narrative hinges on is very much off the table for me.

It was a bold move nonetheless, one that immediately raises the stakes of the film, as well as making us invest in these characters all within the first act, along with other brave plot decisions raises its profile above the first two films in a heartbeat.

There’s an interesting background dynamic also with some younger characters, a group of new cops, very much of the new school, very high tech and tactically minded that is constantly at loggerheads with Mike Lowrey and his ‘bad boy’ image, there’s some interesting tension between Mike and some of the more fresh-faced agents, one of which he has romantic history with, another one he is in an alpha-male contest with, it adds some interesting narrative creases that shows how much the procedure has changed in the past twenty years.

Another thing about BBFL that surprised me was just how much it made me laugh. Martin Laurence has incredible timing with his one-liners and sarcasm, and while I do think it may have leaned on the ‘stereotypical black guy’ speak, it’s at least in line with previous instalments, and the two leads pull it off so well with their effortless charm.

Nobody was more surprised at how funny this film was than me I assure you, and I was even more shocked that it manages to mix this with a compelling narrative, with actual feasible stakes, even if the strength of the threat is at times fantastical. It pulls off the action buddy-cop thing better than most I’ve seen attempt it, enhancing its profile with some genuinely unpredictable twists throughout the second and third acts.

With this film and Bumblebee last year, I’m starting to notice a pattern. Maybe franchises attached to Michael Bay could actually be good, providing they’re wrenched from his ghoulish hands and given to someone half-competent (he does show up here, in a cameo that tested my patience, but he was gone soon after) and Bay Boys For Life isn’t just competent, it’s good, it might even be really good. It manages to rise above its status as a ‘loud, dumb action movie’ by combining an engaging narrative with likeable characters. Who knew that was all it takes to make good entertainment?