Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Transformers 3Released: June 27, 2014. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor. Runtime: 165 min.

In an attempt to freshen up the Transformers franchise, director Michael Bay brings in a brand new cast and characters. The first mistake was trying to re-invent the franchise, when it should have just ended. Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) and his family are thrown into the Autobots’ war when Cade finds a trashed up truck (Optimus Prime from all of his battle wounds from something called the Battle of Chicago) on one of his rides looking for things to fix and sell. He’s a mechanic fixing stuff for friends, and doing what he can do to make ends meet.

It isn’t exactly enough to put his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) through college. So when the truck reveals himself as Optimus Prime – the leader of the Autobots – Cade thinks about turning him in to get money to be a successful inventor, and put his daughter through college. When he has a change of heart of turning him in, it doesn’t really matter, because his assistant Lucas (an only mildly funny T.J. Miller) only sees dollar signs, which gets the government, and a lackluster bounty hunter from another world, on their tail. 

He’s a lackluster follow-up to Megatron, who got old after being the main villain after three films. His name’s not even worthy enough to remember. The main human villain (including a forgettable Kelsey Grammer) of the film is mainly the government, as there’s a company trying to wipe out the Autobots for whatever reason. It’s all in the aspiration of America to make everything better than it is already. Since this is mostly just a narrative sparked by human ignorance, it’s not compelling in the slightest, and it all lacks logic. Sure, it would be clever if this film was meta in the way that human ignorance might be the cause of humans’ eventual extinction, but this never feels to be the case.

Most of the characters are fine, if a bit boring to a fault. The most amusing characters are Bumble Bee (he and Optimus are the only returning characters) and Stanley Tucci as his character Josh Joyce. Joyce is an owner of a robotics company, and he gets more to do as the film moves along. I like Mark Wahlberg as the new main character, even though the character himself isn’t great. He’s over-protective of his daughter to a point of annoyance. He’s like a big kid so the daughter, Tessa, has to take care of him a bit. Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) is pretty good as Tessa. 

It’s refreshing that she gets more to do than Megan Fox as Mikayla in the first two films, and she’s in the action more, even though she doesn’t do much to get herself out of stupid situations, just like Fox. Tessa adds some appeal to female audiences because she’s more of a character that’s easy for girls with overprotective fathers to relate to, than the sex appeal Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whitely were in their films. The father-daughter relationship gives the film some bland heart. Also in the Yeager group is Tessa’s extremely boring racer boyfriend Shane. He’s portrayed by Irishman Jack Reynor, who doesn’t seem boring in his own right.

Two of the new Autobots are memorable. One is named Drift, voiced by Ken Watanabe, and he’s a samurai Autobot – and it’s definitely a character to complement the portion of the film taking place in China. John Goodman is also enjoyable as an autobot named Hound, who mostly seems like a replacement for the quick-to-violence Ironhyde. This film is just forgettable, with only a few noteworthy action sequences and some awesome dino-bots. Their presence gets no explanation at all, so they’re random, but they’re no less fun in an otherwise exhausting experience. Everyone going in knows this won’t be a smart blockbuster, so why does it have to be the length of an LOTR movie? The story never finds much coherence in the first place, and when a new artifact gets introduced, Bay goes back to the “Find the artifact before the Decepticons” roots of the franchise. Skip this one, because it still feels familiar. 

Score: 40/100

 

 

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers 3Released: June 29, 2011. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Tyrese Gibson. Runtime: 154 min. 

A fault for me for the Transformers films is the fact that they can work as stand-alone films because Optimus Prime gives a little narration at the beginning of each film, which also introduces a new artifact where the Autobots will have to find this thing before the Decepticons do. Essentially, these films are exactly the same. But some of them are kind-of fun. This one improves on the first sequel by giving a stronger narrative, but its length is still exhausting. The Autobots, this time around, have to find the pillars that was on a spacecraft piloted by Centennial Prime that crash-landed on the moon (a creative spin for the reason the members of Apollo 11 went to the moon) in the war of Cybotron. The Autobots have to get there before the Decepticons to save the world. They harbour a powerful enough energy to cause that Chernobyl mishap, which is a kind-of creative reason to describe it, too. I like those blockbuster twists on past events to add alternative causes. 

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who gets a bit of an annoying characterization since he wants to matter again, and he flaunts his Hero’s Medal to anyone he meets. It’s a a funny difference from his reluctance to initially help in the previous film. He really wants recognition and it gets to the point of being whiny. The only one who hasn’t been too impressed by the medal was Megan Fox’s Mikayla, because now Sam has a new hottie named Carly (a meh Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a super model turned actress), who is a personal assistant to a billionaire, Dylan, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey. (He must be some sort-of entrepreneur because he collects a lot of cars.) The chemistry shared between LaBeouf and Huntington-Whitely is nothing special. Ms. H-Whitely doesn’t do much, except just look dirty and somehow manages to survive during action sequences. The ending of the finale is a bit lazy, and if it were any other movie I’d be mad at its laziness, but since it drags on so long it was welcome. Villains who still opt to help the Decepticons when they don’t really have to anymore is uninspired and it just prolongs the flick. 

In terms of ambition, some action sequences are pretty spectacular, but too long, and they’re reminiscent of several other sequences we’ve seen so far in the franchise. There a few characters who make this something fun. Tom Kenny is still very funny as Wheely, a Decepticon turned Autobot. John Malkovich shows up as Witwicky’s boss in a funny role. John Turturro is also good, but he gets outshone this time around by his sidekick Dutch, who is portrayed by a very funny Alan Tudyk. They are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise stupid film where there’s a Decepticon that reminded me of the huge worm from Men in Black 3, and where a character quotes Spock as a reason for attempting to take over the world.

Score: 50/100

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers 2Released: June 24, 2009. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 150 min.

The Autobots’ relationship with the humans has strengthened. They’re even helping them wipe out the remaining decepticons who may have stuck around after the first film, after Jon Voight thought everyone would believe nothing happened if they wiped out all the evidence and placed Megatron at the bottom of the ocean. After a seriously weird opening sequence taking place in 17, 000 BC where a Davy Jones-looking Decepticon fights off against humans. The Davy Jones looking-guy is called the Fallen, who wants to regain power on Earth – even though he just sits on a weird satellite throne and doesn’t do anything for most of the film. (But you can tell he’s a villain when he addresses the nation in one of them “I’m a terrorist” videos). Shit, I didn’t even realize his name was Fallen, because what type of name is that?

The film gets its footing back after a stupid opening sequence, but what is getting stupider is the humans’ reasoning to cancel relations with the Autobots after something just happens to go wrong. Also worse than the first one: The chemistry between stars Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Mikayla (Fox) really wants Sam to tell her that he loves her, and this weird opening dialogue shared between the two of “I’m breaking up with you, Sam” as a joke is weird because it seems like they’re having issues. It just adds too much excessive filler to the film in an already exhausting effort. 

And Bay’s preference to round and round shots during kissing scenes doesn’t add much depth to anything. Their chemistry gets a bit boring at times. Adding to their complications in their relationship is a woman at Sam’s college named Alice (Isabel Lucas) who has a thing for Sam and nice cars. This allows Bumble Bee to show his personality with his funny song choices. Also interfering with Sam’s mental processes is the fact that he’s seeing futuristic algorithms in his head which lead to a few mental breakdowns that might or might not be purposefully comedic, but it’s believable if the objective is to look like he suffers from premature ejaculation. Just sayin’. 

It’s the same story as the first one, where the Autobots have to find some newly introduced artifact before the Decepticons. The problem with these films is a finale that feels like it goes on forever, no help from the extraneous slow motion sequence. Technically speaking, the film’s special effects are pretty good, even though the quick edits of dizzying action sequences don’t let us see them well enough. This film largely arrives on comic relief characters to make the film go a bit quicker. Two Autobots that remind me of the twins from Fast Five are present, and they get a few laughs. The voice of Spongebob Squarepants, Tom Kenny, goes a lot PG-13 as a shit-disturbing Decepticon called Wheely, whose car version of himself is one of those remote-control cars. He’s easily the film’s biggest source of enjoyment for me. 

There’s one character named Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), a theorist on all things Transformers, who is funny at first and only advances the story as a mutual contact for Sam and Mikayla. Thereafter, and even at times before that, he becomes something of an utter annoyance. It feels like he does more than Megan Fox gets to do as Mikayla in this movie, but even Sam’s Mom is more memorable than her presence this time around. The only fundamental difference between this film and the first is a weaker chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf, and a change of scenery for the finale – from the city to an Egyptian desert. Although, since there was some time spent in Qatar in the first one, even the scenery of the finale feels too “been there, done that.” 

Score: 50/100

 

 

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Transformers (2007)

TranssformersReleased: July 2, 2007. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 144 min. 

Michael Bay (who utilizes many low-to-the-ground looking up camera angles and a lot of slow-motion) takes on the Hasbro toys: the Transformers. They are an intelligent mechanical race from the planet Cybotron, where the main battle is between the Autobots, the good guys led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving). They come to Earth in search for a cube called the All Spark, which, if put in the hands of the Decepticons, could endanger the human race by perfecting human technology to do so. 

I think Michael Bay is the director for a film like this because it’s loud and often dumb, but it also has a nice sense of humour. Bay is able to add some depth to the action sequences with the dynamic camera angles. The film also has a lot of nice cars, so those and Megan Fox will please the guys. There’s not much for the women here besides Shia LaBeouf, who brings some good comic delivery to the feature. (There is also humour found elsewhere in the screenplay.) 

He plays an average guy character, Sam Witwicky, placed in a crazy, larger-than-life situation. He’s relatable in this way, and he believes in some sacrifice to achieve victory. The reason he gets embroiled in this is because he is a great great grandson of one of the first explorers to set foot in the Arctic Circle, and who discovered Megatron in the ground way back when. Also, his new car is an autobot called Bumble Bee – a Ford Camaro with the colour scheme of a Bumble Bee, and he easily has the most personality of the Autobots. He communicates with his car radio because of a vocal chord injury in battle. He also is very good at picking songs for various situations. There’s also some amusing fish-out-of-water humour when the Autobots are hanging around at Sam’s house. Ratchet (the medical autobot) and Jazz seem to be the most generic autobots in this feature. 

The battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons is pretty awesome. For anyone who don’t know cars so well, sometimes it’s difficult to see who the bad guys and the good guys are because of a sometimes too generic robot design for both sides. That fault seems to lie with both the Hasbro character designs, and the filmmaker’s choices to feature which action figures. Sure, it’s easy to see which ones are good and bad as to whoever loses the battle, and it’s easier to see when they’re in huge robot killer form – but most of the decepticons are black, and two of the protagonists are black (Ironhyde and Ratchet, and maybe Jazz too, I believe) so it’s hard to tell who’s who at some points. I think the story is a pretty effective and simplistic story, featuring some fine chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf. I also like Tyrese Gibson on an army team that doesn’t really feel like they actually belong to the story as something other than just an army until the third act. The decepticons that attack them in Qatar throughout the film feels random at times and interrupts the flow of the film; it worked as an opening action sequence after the opening background info sequence that is sometimes necessary for a new franchise. Also on the army squad (of about seven, as they’re survivors of an attack at the beginning of the film, where decepticons were trying to extract information) is Josh Duhamel, whose character is boring. 

These attacks do give the film some dynamic scenery and enable Bay to direct some nifty action sequences. At times the cinematography is dizzying, and the edits a bit too quick, but the special effects are consistently good, which seems like the most important aspect in a film like this. Because really and truly, these films are just visually pleasing and just a decent way to pass a few hours.

Score: 70/100

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The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our StarsReleased: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Josh Boone. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff. Runtime: 125 min.

Even if you aren’t the target audience of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll be able to enjoy it for its stunning realism, which warrants its occasional corniness. Josh Boone directs John Green’s novel with finesse, and stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort to an extraordinary chemistry. The story follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a girl who has had a form of leukaemia since the age of 13. She’s trying hard to cope with her sickness, even though she has depression. Her mother (Laura Dern) wants her to make new friends, and she thinks a cancer support group will be good for her. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man who lost his leg because of cancer, but he survived. He also shares her love for the unconventional. He also wants to put his mark on this world before his time is up.

The film raises themes of cherishing every moment, and making a star-crossed love infinite. One never knows how long they have on this world, but you just have to make the best of it. It raises these ideas beautifully with its main characters. Ansel Elgort is good as Augustus, someone who’s a bit strange at first as he just stares at Hazel for their first encounter. What blossoms from there is a stunning romance. I like a metaphor he uses: Putting a cigarette in his teeth, but he never lights it so death doesn’t have the power to kill him.

It’s sweet how he always wants to make Hazel happy, even when she’s trying her hardest to push him away – because she describes herself as a grenade, and when she sets off she could destroy and hurt everyone in her wake. She doesn’t want to add any casualties to the mix. Her vulnerability as a character is sweet. She likes the simple, unconventional things in life – and it brings some great humour to the film. I really cared about the character, and Woodley’s performance as her makes it even better. She’s hard of breathing, and I felt terror for her in even the most simple of moments like climbing a steep set of stairs. It makes it even more effective.

Hazel has a great adopted philosophy from her favourite novel, and much of the plot revolves around her wanting to know what happens to the main characters’ loved ones after she dies. The authour, portrayed by an effective Willem Dafoe, is someone you’ll sympathize with only maybe for a second. Josh Boone isn’t able to direct the character to anything that stands out. Laura Dern is good as Hazel’s mother, even if she’s sidelined for much of the film, as she is often called to panic whenever Hazel calls her name. Hazel’s Dad (True Blood’s Sam Trammel) is sidelined a lot more. Nat Wolff brings a lot of humour to his role as Isaac, Gus’s best friend. His character’s girlfriend is representative of a person who cannot take the death of a loved one.

Anyway, anyone who’s seen this film or read the novel (which I’ll surely seek out because of John Green’s evidently realistic writing style) will tell you it’s a sad story. You’ve just found the new “I haven’t cried this hard since…” film of the decade thus far. This is The Notebook for a new generation. It’s effectively heartbreaking and it’ll leave quite an impression on its viewers, and it’ll make you now think of Anne Frank’s attic as a romantic area. I loved every minute of this film, and just got swept in its realistic look at life and romance.

Score: 88/100

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

 

X-Men Days of Future PastReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender. Runtime: 133 min.

X-Men of the old age and the new age team up in the franchise’s most outstanding and most ambitious film to date. I am ecstatic to report that this film doesn’t disappoint. Simon Kinberg writes the characters into such a sound and absorbing atmosphere that is honestly impossible to resist. He writes the screenplay so well with some phenomenal pacing that never let’s your attention span waver. The story follows Wolverine (Hugh Jackman in a strong outing) as he goes back in time to prevent an occurrence that will create a weapon that could wipe out mutants and humans alike. 

What is perhaps most impressive about Kinberg’s screenplay that he is able to pace the film so well, that it never let’s your attention waver. He is also able to make up for past mistakes. For a time travel film, the plot is easy to follow – and mildly simplistic. That is not to say that it’s nothing short of brilliant, however. This is a true treat for comic book fans and the casual movie-goer because it balances vibrant and intelligent entertainment with great storytelling. It’s fascinating to see James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart give different takes on the character of Charles Xavier in the same film.

It’s such a treat to see Charles Xavier at a time where he didn’t quite know where he was a person. It’s great to see Logan and future Charles guide him, in scenes that are so well-written. The humour hits on every mark, even in dazzling action sequences. There’s a scene-stealer found in Evan Peters’ Quiksilver, who I think might be worth the price of admission alone. Back to James McAvoy: He gives such an interesting and vulnerable performance as Charles Xavier. It reminds us that, as a character, even the most intelligent people can lose their way. I think it adds such a great layer to the character of Charles. It’s also interesting that Charles chooses his legs over his powers. Nicholas Hoult portrays Hank McCoy/Beast, and I thought the creature design for him is stronger than in First Class

Also great is Michael Fassbender as Magneto as a young man. Even when Charles and Magneto are on the same side, Erik is like the mischievous Loki of the X-Men universe. Fassbender is still charming as the character. Jennifer Lawrence brings it as the younger Mystique. She is confident as a character who has also lost their way after parting from Charles, a person in her life who has always tried to guide her. That aspect also gives Charles an appealing layer. Mystique is so interesting this time around, and I am so glad to see the character in the spotlight in these youngster X-Men movies. I always thought her characterization was mildly weak in the original trilogy, and I just feel honoured getting to see her grow as a phenomenal villain that feels extremely easy to relate with. She also looks so much better with shorter hair. The diverse Lawrence is the right actress to tackle the role.

It’s fantastic to see the X-Men franchise back in its right form. Bryan Singer is the man to do that because of his touch in the original franchise. He brings his style to the original characters, and with the help of Matthew Vaughn’s wit, Singer is able to keep the great style that made X-Men: First Class so damn great. It’s also really fun seeing these superhero flicks drop the F-bomb each time. I don’t think this feels completely like a super hero film. It feels like a great action film boasting on-point storytelling that audiences everywhere can enjoy. It’s a great feeling. One reason why the X-Men universe is my favourite amongst comic book movies, is because of its compelling character work.

There’s not one boring character. The villain in this film is mastermind is Doctor Boliver Trask, a mastermind trying to get a weapon project called Centinnels to protect against mutants. He is portrayed by Peter Dinklage, a small man with a booming presence. He plays a smart and effective villain. There’s also never a boring action sequence. By the way, this film features some of the most memorable action sequences put onto screen this year. The opening scene is just crazy good. It’s delightful seeing all of these original characters take the screen again, too. It follows that with a bunch of nifty action sequences that boast phenomenal direction by Singer. 

I cannot wait to see this near-perfect film again. It might leave you with a few questions, but I can’t take any marks off for that. It’s a time-travel film, and sometimes that gets confusing, but I think it handles its concepts with brilliance. The third act only gives you the most questions, but I think they’ll be answered in later films. There’s just one thing that I had to question during the third act: Was there a major league baseball stadium in Washington in 1973? (I learn the team moved to Texas in 1971, so the stadium wasn’t being used for baseball.)

I guess the facts aren’t important, because how the stadium plays into the story is just outstanding. My questioning of that factual error is just me being a logic monster. I was also disappointed by the fact we don’t get to see any more action from Banshee or Azazel from First Class. At least it makes up for it with a lot of great new mutants. The film is visually dazzling and just all-around enjoyable. See it, and see it often. This is the film that demands the most views out of the franchise thus far, for its entertainment value, emotional connectivity, and sheer brilliance. 

Score: 95/100

 

 

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The Wolverine (2013)

The wolverineReleased: July 26, 2013. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto. Runtime: 126 min.

The Wolverine has a stronger story than Wolverine’s first solo outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still not a fully compelling one. It just doesn’t seem like a fun film can be made for the most popular character of the X-Men. A problem of this film is that it really doesn’t feel like an X-Men film until it really gets into the story – the story and the Japan location gives it such a different atmosphere than the other films. It opens with Logan having a dream of saving a man from the World War II bombing in Nagasaki. Then, he’s sort-of just a woodsman living his life out in a cave in Canada. He’s still really shaken up about what he had to do Jean in X-Men: The Last Stand. The person whose life Logan saved all those years ago, a man named Yashida, requests Logan’s company to thank him for saving his life and he also wants to give him a gift. Once there, he is embroiled in a conflict involving Japanese mafia, and must confront his own demons. 

Logan is given an extra layer of vulnerability, which is a sometimes nice aspect for other characters – but for such a badass character, he’s just boring with this layer. I think this is a more realistic and grittier attempt than the first Wolverine. At times this feels more like a swordfighting/kung-fu movie with mutants than a true X-Men film. It surely keeps the X-Men franchise on a decent path to keep the general narrative going for the franchise, but sometimes there’s so little going on that this just gets boring. A solid finale and a dazzling bullet train sequence caught my attention, but that was about it. An archer brings some fun to the film, as Mangold directs some nifty set pieces with (and without) the archer. The villain of the film, a woman whose poisonous power of a viper snake reminded me of Poison Ivy. Overall, this is an okay film with prominent themes of greed and it features a strong score. The action’s just a bit too spaced out to be anything truly compelling.

The performances are all pretty okay. I liked Janssen’s brief performance as Jean. Yukio (a well-cast Rila Fukoshima) is a cool character, as she has the power to see how people will die. I think it’s a poignant characterization, since she’ll see how all of her loved ones will die. I liked Jackman’s chemistry with Tao Okamoto as Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter. The films have some decent aspects, as this surely has stronger visuals than the first Wolverine. 

Score: 60/100

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