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

The Bling Ring (2013)

The Bling RingRelease Date: June 21, 2013Director: Sofia CoppolaStars: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma WatsonRuntime: 90 min.

“The Bling Ring” completes the trio of 2013 social commentaries on the stupidity of the human race. The first is “Spring Breakers”, Harmony Kormine’s reality check for today’s youth, and the way that their decisions on their spraaaang breaaaak vacation will have consequences. The second is Michael Bay’s true-crime movie, “Pain & Gain” that expressed how far people are willing to go to achieve the American dream. I love both of those movies, because they’re entertaining and well-written. The same can be said about Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring”, even if it is my least favourite of the three.

Inspired by actual events (occuring between 2008 and 2009), a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

“The Bling Ring” highlights the stupidity of some younger people and their obsession with fame, and their want to experience the celebrity lifestyle. This movie is fascinating. It shows the stupidity of people because the characters who do the robbing fail to wear gloves, so they’re just smothering their fingertips all over the house. Smart thinking, right? They also use all the slang of today’s youth – grimy (meaning dirty), lates (instead of later), and totes (instead of totally) – which isn’t exactly an ode to the intelligence of my generation, but I guess it is how we talk. (I, for one, try my hardest to keep my language formal – even if I am guilty of dropping the occasional ‘Just chillin’.) But that’s just the point of these characters: They’re dumb.

One shows enough remorse, but they’re dumb for stealing merchandise, and not knowing how to keep their mouths shout about it. I guess they’re clever enough to steal merchandise the celebrities wouldn’t notice is missing, for awhile. That also just indicates how off the wall consumer society today is, and how much we own that we don’t actually use. It’s also insane how everything is on the internet now, and it’s surprising how easy one could find a celebrities’ home by just searching for it on Google. The kids aren’t the only stupid ones; as it’s truly hard to believe how many celebrities leave their doors unlocked, and don’t bother to use an alarm when they’re out of town.

Even though most of these characters are stupid, they are intriguing. Rebecca (Katie Chang) is the sociopathic ring leader of the group. Mark (Israel Broussard) is the best written of the group, because he’s one of the only almost appealing characters of the gang of criminals. He’s a trendy guy who knows the difference between Muumuu and Prada. (What the f*ck is a Muumuu?!). He’s only ever found one true best friend. He’s unfortunate enough that the one person is Rebecca, and that is his motivation for going along with the crimes.

The real scene-stealer here is Emma Watson, who is hilarious as Nicki. Her performance is truly impressive, and you cannot hear a trace of a British accent in her prissy, stuck-up, L.A. dialect.  The director, Sofia Coppola, really knows how to get laughs out of the audience. One scene has Watson saying “I wanna rob”, and it immediately cuts to a scene of her saying “I just went along with it” (or something like that). It’s such a simple, but effectively genuine way to get a big laugh out of the audience. It’s also funny Nicki is being interviewed, and has to constantly tell her Mom (Leslie Mann) to shut up because it’s her interview. (Her Mom seems to just love fame as much as her daughter, because included in her home-schooling curriculum is a class called ‘Celebrity Role Models’.)

The casting is truly spot-on, because the primary cast is mostly made up of great, but generally unknown, actors (Katie Chang; Claire Julien; Israel Broussard in his first leading role). The casting is clever because well-known celebrities playing fame-obsessed characters seems far-fetched. Leslie Mann is a well-known actress, but she isn’t part of the group. Your eyes might go to Taissa Farmiga, because she’s a great performer who steals a few scenes, and she is a spitting image of her much older sister, Vera Farmiga. (Was anyone else reminded of “Spring Breakers” when she had that gun in her hands?) Emma Watson is inarguably the best known of the primary gang, but her character is supposed to be played by a celebrity, as some of the character’s lines are delivered like a true celebrity. Plus, she’s only a supporting character and she’s freaking hysterical. (If her a character like hers really did “rule a country one day”, I’d be so done with the human race.) Your eyes will probably keep going to Emma Watson because she’s as great as ever, and her character is well-written. Even though she is stuck up (that’s the point of her), she’s very amusing. She believes in Karma and believes this is a learning experience for her, and she seems destined for celebrity life.

Ms. Sofia Coppola really knows how to handle this screenplay. Her style, the cinematography, the movie’s sense of realism, and the energy makes the movie more appealing than it might be in any other director’s hands. I dig her style, and this is my first experience with the director. Although, I’m not sure how entertaining I’d call one specific scene with Mark trying on lipstick and dancing in front of a camera for a minute or two. If it were Emma Watson doing that instead, I would not be thinking that the young man would grow up to be Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs”. (Seriously, you’ll be waiting for him to put on a robe, turn around and say, “I’d so f*ck me.”) This film is a fascinating true-crime tale, and its analysis of obsession with celebrity life and fame is endlessly intriguing. The memorable performances and the film’s energy makes me want to watch it again in the future. It’s well-written, often compelling, and a great adaptation of the article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”. (What the hell are Louboutins?!)

Score80/100

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100