Bumblebee and Aquaman Thoughts

I recently had the chance to see 2 big blockbuster films that are trying to boost failing franchises: Bumblebee and Aquaman. One I liked. One I did not like. As opposed to doing separate reviews I thought it would be fun to compare the two and explain why one worked and one didn’t.

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The Transformers series has always been discouraging because the lore and characters has so much potential for an engaging blockbuster. Unfortunately the franchise was saddled with Michael Bay for five movies and the only thing he could produce is exhausting films that tried to be funny and exciting in the most cringe-worthy ways.

Finally Paramount has come to their senses and replaced Michael Bay with Laika’s Travis Knight to create a Bumblebee spinoff film. In what feels like a reboot Knight takes the character of Bumblebee and crafts an immensely satisfying, heartfelt film that the entire family will enjoy.

You could make the case that Bumblebee is derivative of films like E.T. and The Iron Giant and you would be correct; however, I have no problem with films that pull from earlier projects, even heavily so, if it is done well and this is. It’s a simple story of Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie, a lonely teenager missing her father, who finds an old VW bug who it turns out just happens to be Bumblebee!

The decepticons are looking for Bumblebee and they trick the government into believing he is the enemy not them. Then Charlie must find a way to save Bumblebee from the government and all the while feel love again from their new friendship.

It’s very simple but completely charming. I loved all the interactions between Charlie and Bumblebee and was rooting for them during the entire film. The decepticons, Shatter and Dropkick can be a little annoying but compared to the Bay films they are a joy to behold!

Bumblebee represents the best kind of blockbuster film. It has fun action, sweet moments, beautiful special effects and characters I care about. Go see it!

Smile Worthy

aquaman

Now let’s talk about Aquaman. In many ways Aquaman is a frustrating film because it has so many positive elements. I feel like it should work much more than it does. Like Knight, director James Wan, clearly put his all into creating a beautiful and epic film. Unfortunately where Bumblebee told a simple and sweet story, Aquaman’s script is plodding and lacking the emotional weight or character development it needs to draw the viewer in.

The strengths of Aquaman is the casting of the leads. Jason Mamoa is a serviceable actor that definitely looks the part of the hunky rebel from the sea. He has nice chemistry with Amber Heard’s Mera and together they were able to elevate some very clunky scenes. I liked the witty banter between them and in particular when they are searching for a magic trident in the desert it was engaging.

I also liked Nicole Kidman as Aquaman’s mother Atlanna. Her story had heart and it worked as a comic book fairytale. In fact I wish the movie had just been about her life and relationship with the lighthouse keeper.

Where Aquaman loses me is the endless exposition. The script is loaded with scenes of various Atlantean leaders talking about the government and who is going to rule. Didn’t James Wan learn anything from The Phantom Menace? These types of discussions are not interesting. I really don’t care if Patrick Wilson’s Orm or Dolph Lundgren’s Nereus rules the underwater world. The base question of which brother, Orm or Aquaman, should rule could have been interesting but we need some kind of human connection: Some idea of the cost the people, or the rulers will face if they chose different rulers and I did not get that at all here. Instead it was seemingly unending dialogue about Atlantean policies, customs and lore. What a snooze.

If you want to see a good example of this type of conflict done well watch this year’s Black Panther. In that film, we see the backstory of Kilmonger and we understand what he wants for Wakanda in comparison with what T’Challa wants. The stakes are clear. The political discourse is concise and the emotional pull behind the different choices draws you in. The only part of Black Panther where I was bored was when T’Challa is off screen and that’s because the screenplay does such a good job with his character motivations.

In contrast, the screenplay in Aquaman does everything it can to bore the viewer. Even the action is repetitive and dull. It’s just fight, crash into a building and then repeat. At least Black Panther had some variety to the type of fighting and the fighters involved to keep it interesting.

As for Aquaman other people may enjoy the fantasy world building and the charismatic lead performances enough to get them through the exposition but that wasn’t enough to carry me through Phantom Menace and it’s not enough here either. But if you want a 143 minute trip into Atlantean politics with bland action it is the movie for you…

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Go see Bumblebee. It’s the by far superior action blockbuster out this weekend.

Transformers: the Last Knight Review

So I got to see the latest Transformers film today, Transformers: the Last Knight. You can watch my youtube review above but let me give a quick synopsis of my thoughts. Basically if you are a fan of this franchise then I see no reason why you won’t enjoy Transformers: the Last Knight. It was a chance to change things up a bit with the recent writers room and some of the more zany elements but unfortunately that potential was not met. It’s not the worst of the franchise but it wasn’t a strong film.

Transformers: the Last Knight is directed by Michael Bay and it bears all the hallmarks of a Bay film. The action and explosions are there. The macho dialogue and fist bumping is there. The dippy women and horrible comedy is there. So if you like that kind of thing, then you will like it. The trailer makes you think the King Arthur/WW2 stuff will be a big aspect and that intrigued me but it is very minor- especially the WW2 stuff. Most of it is seen through long stretches of exposition, which isn’t as fun as it could have been.

The action can be fun in a Bay film and there is some here that is enjoyable. The problem is there are so many characters and plotlines it is exhausting. Like there is Optimus turning evil, a Transformers queen riding Unicron that wants to take over the world, the 9th Legion guarding a secret from time of Merlin led by Anthony Hopkins, King Arthur stuff, sexy anthropologist woman, Mark Wahlberg hiding from authorities, a little girl and her robot sidekick, Josh Duhamel hunting down Wahlberg, Tony Hale and scientists following Unicron, Megatron and evil Transformers that are introduced like the Suicide Squad. I could go on…

All of these characters have plotlines and they just keep adding up until it becomes really confusing and exhausting. There’s a long scene in a submarine and I had no idea what that was all about and a staff from Merlin and Mark Wahlberg is the chosen one and Stonehenge is a portal to something. I was lost!

One of the disappointing aspects is visually it seemed a little lazy, which usually that’s at least something Bay gets right. I felt a little nauseated because the aspect ratio on the screen kept changing A LOT and the way it was edited left my stomach upset. There was a car chase in particular that turned my stomach a bit. The transformers look good and there wasn’t any that were annoying like in 2 or 4 but you don’t really spend enough time with any of them (or any other character) to be pleased or annoyed.

The humor also doesn’t really work. I particularly didn’t like a group of ladies who exist solely to make fun of the lead girl’s dating life. I’m not sure why that is funny? Like literally they sit around her apartment just to comment on how lame her love life is. What?  There is also a robot butler that wasn’t very funny.  They even try to go all meta with him and the music in one scene but it was more annoying than funny. They make a lot of UK jokes but it didn’t make me laugh much.

All that said, if you like this franchise then you will like this movie. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t then you probably won’t. I feel like it could have done something crazy and fun with transformers fighting Nazis and King Arthur but sadly it was not to be. Oh well.

Overall Grade- D+

Transformers: The Movie (1986) Review

Hey guys!  I just wanted to quickly share with you my latest Obscure Animation review.  This is a monthly series I do over on my youtube channel profiling an animated film that is less well known and why you should see it.  This month’s pick, Transformers: The Movie, is loved by many but I still feel like it counts as it isn’t as well known as say a Disney or Pixar film.

People might be surprised to see me praise a Transformers movie as I am not a fan of any of the recent live action versions by schlockmeister Michael Bay.  It’s frustrating because this film is actually a good scifi movie with emotion and heart which none of the Bay films have and I feel it is maligned by association when it shouldn’t be.

There are a lot of things Transformers: The Movie does right, which the live action films don’t do.  First of all, it gets us right into the action.  There is no origin story or lame humans finding the transformers.  This is a movie about transformers!

Spoiler alert! (It’s 30 years old guys. See it!)

It starts out with the Decepticons and Autobots fighting and Optimus Prime is battling Megatron to protect Autobot City. They battle and it is awesome but Optimus Prime is wounded in the fighting.  And then in an emotional scene Optimus Prime hands over the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Mangus and then dies.

It was a bold move to kill off your lead character but it is handled so well and creates an emotional tie to all the action throughout the rest of the movie.  It’s interesting because they had cynical motives of wanting to sell new toys so they killed off a bunch of characters to introduce new characters, but it works.  It creates real stakes behind the story and isn’t just mindless dopey action like Bay films.

So Megatron and the Decepticons end up getting gathered by a giant planet transformer named Unicron who makes a deal with Megatron.  He turns Megatron into Galvatron and in return he must get Unicron the Matrix of Leadership.

This starts our story (great start right!) and we get a ton of cool characters like Hot Rod, Kup, Ultra Mangus, Arcee, Springer, Perceptor.  There are only 2 humans in the film Daniel and his father Spike but they are treated just like any other characters and used sparingly.  It really is a scifi story and the story is taken seriously by all involved.

Director Nelson Shin does a wonderful job with the animation which is bright and colorful and the story by Ron Friedman is smart, keeps you guessing and has moments to breath combined with the great action. It’s a movie you can watch multiple times and get new things out of it on each viewing.

The voice cast is iconic with Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, Orson Wells as Unicron, Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, and Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime.  And the music by Vince DiCola is intense and entertaining.

I feel like many reading will discount this movie as silly nonsense but I would encourage you to watch it with an open mind as it is a very good film. It has a good story with action, emotion, and fun. The animation is well done, and it has a nice message about leadership and finding your calling.  It dares to take kids seriously and challenge them with themes of death, loss, sacrifice and even war, but it still entertains them at the same time.

Give it a shot.  I think you just might like it

Overall Grade- A

(and if you feel so inclined I would love if you watched my video review and left a comment/thumbs up.  Thanks.  Also, if you have any suggestions for Obscure Animation let me know! Obscure animation doesn’t have to be unheard of but just less celebrated than the Disney or Pixar classics).

Best and Worst of 2014

Overall 2014 has been a great year for movies.  I haven’t seen every movie by a long shot but I have seen my fair share.  I am still planning on seeing Annie, Into the Woods and Interstellar but I figured I’d go ahead with this post anyway.  I will do posts on those movies and add an addendum to this post in the notes.

Remember this is just my opinion.  If you liked movies I didn’t than that is awesome.  I want people to enjoy their time at the movies, so if you saw value in something that I didn’t I think that is great. If I liked something you didn’t I hope you can respect my opinion.

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Live Action

10.  Noah

9. God’s Not Dead

8. Chef

7.  100 Foot Journey

6. Captain America: Winter Soldier

5.  Xmen Days of Future Past

4. Edge of Tomorrow

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

1.  Boyhood.

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Animation

10. Planes: Fire and Rescue

9. Rio 2

8. Book of Life

7. Mr Peabody and Sherman

6. Penguins of Madegascar

5. How to Train Your Dragon 2

4. Boxtrolls

3. Tale of Princess Kaguya

2. Big Hero 6

1. Lego Movie

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And now for the worst of the year.  I try to not see bad movies but I did slog through a couple this year just to know if they were really that bad.

10. Ride Along

9. Tammy

8. Muppets Most Wanted

7. Godzilla

6. Amazing Spiderman 2

5. The Other Woman

4. Transformers: Age of Extinction

3. Nut Job

2. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

1. Maleficent

Best documentary Life Itself (also the only documentary I watched this year so need to catch up on some!)

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