Archive for the ‘Transformers’ Category

329 – Transformers

July 8, 2007

The good news is that this formulaic, high-octane action movie from Michael Bay is pretty entertaining stuff; the bad news is that it feels like it was directed by a semi-retarded spider monkey on crack. Jarring visuals, incomprehensible fight scenes, and overblown special effects are at least somewhat mitigated by appealing performances and, of course, state-of-the-art CGI.

In this remake of the 1985 film that was spawned by the cheesy cartoon series, evil robots have arrived on Earth to reunite with their leader, Megatron, who came to the planet a couple of millennia ago in search of the Allspark, a box of something or other that will enable Megatron and the other Decepticons to rule the universe! Only Megatron crashed into the Arctic and froze. Well, as much as a robot can freeze; he was merely paralyzed. Meanwhile, the good-guy robots from the same planet, the Autobots, have tracked Megatron to Earth, also in search of the Allspark.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is an awkward teen who’s trying to earn money to buy his first car. Of course, since he’s awkward and somewhat smart, we know he’s the hero. And we know who his enemies are, too, because they’re the ones who laugh at him. They’ll all be sorry! They’re not too sorry when Sam’s first car turns out to be a beat-up yellow Camaro, although they might be a little bedeviled when they find out the car’s really an Autobot.

It’s up to Sam, his new galpal Mikaela (Megan Fox), the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight), and the U.S. Army to somehow defeat the Decepticons, who will stop at nothing to find the Allspark, even if it means exterminating all the ant-sized humans. Luckily, Sam and company also have the Autobots on their side, and a showdown of giant robot versus giant robot is ON, brother.

One puzzling problem with the movie is that the Autobots don’t show up until a good half hour into the film. I guess this was to establish the all-important Sam-Mikaela relationship, which naturally will eventually blossom into something bigger. Because, of course, the dorky guy always gets the hot chick, even if he has to defeat giant robots to do it. But it’s true, presenting the backstory of the characters before showing us the Autobots does add a more human aspect to the film; otherwise it would be just a big, violent robot-versus-robot extended fight sequence. Wait, it was that anyway.

Michael Bay movies are not immune to cliches; they revel in them, exploiting them to complement the loud pyrotechnics. Or maybe the loud pyrotechnics are there to distract us from the inane characterizations and dopey plot. In any event, how many movies have we in which an intern/trainee/cadet is the only one, out of literally thousands of experts, to solve the problem? How many have we seen in which someone working for the forces of Good manages to sneak something secret out of an otherwise-secure facility? On the other hand, this was one movie in which the military is actually competent; where the guys with guns know what they’re doing and aren’t the shoot-first, ask-questions-later types? That was surprising, and amusing.

And I realize this will confirm me as a cranky old man, no matter my chronological age, but what was UP with all of the loud music? Every scene was shot as if it were a crappy heavy-metal video, circa 1986. Grating guitars turned up to eleven on the volume control drowned out some dialog and a lot of sound effects, such as robots doing robotic things. Add that to the hyperactive zooming, panning, and scanning, and this is certainly not a movie that an epileptic should ever watch.

Nor is it a movie that young kids should watch, in all honesty. Transformers is rated PG-13, but it’s pretty violent; the only thing that’s lacking is actual blood. People get blown up, smashed, crushed, and shot by robots, and it’s pretty intense stuff. So be careful when bringing little Timmy to this one, unless you want to put up with a week of nightmares and nocturnal enuresis. This ain’t the Transformers you grew up with.

**1/2

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I play a toy that eats other toys!

July 7, 2007

This may surprise some of you younger readers out there, but there’s already been a Transformers movie. No, really! Back in the eighties, after the cartoon series had had its run, a full-length animated feature was produced.

It was kind of unusual back then, getting a theatrical movie out of a cheesy Saturday-morning cartoon. Did the Smurfs get a movie? Did the Care Bears? Rude Dog and the Dweebs? Heck no! It was a big deal. And you probably remember how bland and unnuanced Saturday-morning cartoons were – you had your bad guys, you had your good guys, and they fought each other each week, and at the end the good guys won and we all learned a Valuable Lesson.

The 1985 cartoon didn’t quite play by the rules. Some of the good guys died, as did some of the bad guys! WTF? How can that be? Today, the producers would be afraid of screwing up some kid’s psyche for life by killing of his hero cartoon character. Even if he is a robot.

But the wildest thing about the ‘toon movie was that it was the final performance by the legendary Orson Welles. Orson Welles! The man who, at age 25, gave us perhaps the greatest American movie ever, Citizen Kane. The man who fought back against movie studios, moguls, politicians to get his visions across. The man who ballooned in weight in his latter years and was relegated to stating he’d never sell wine before its time. That man, creative genius, provided the voice of a planet.. that ate other planets. That was his final role ever. Welles died just five days after completing his work on the film. When asked of his role in the movie, Welles is said to have replied: “I play a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys.”

Summer Movie Preview, Part II

May 21, 2007

Okay, are we all rested and ready for Part 2? The summer can go by fast, and before you know it these films will be out. And some of them will be gone just as quickly, judging from the previews and such…

Transformers (July 6): I never got into the changing robot craze of the 80s; it was a little after my time. But lots of kids have, and it’s easy to see why – the toys were very well marketed. You could take pretty much any kind of machine and have it transform into a robot of some sort. Who doesn’t love robots? Anyway, unlike myriad fanboys I wasn’t gleefully anticipating this particular Movie Event of the Summer, especially since it’s directed by Michael Bay, which means it’ll be loud, confusing, and chaotic. But then I saw the preview, prior to watching Shrek the Third, and it is So Good. I mean, it might well be loud and obnoxious, but it might still be very entertaining. The plot concerns two races of robots (races of robots??) that crash land on Earth and must fight over some power source. Apparently, if I understood the trailer correctly, they don’t speak Earth. (You know, English.) But somehow they explain their dilemma to a young man, played by Shia LeBeouf. I saw clips of robots turning into trucks and such, and it looked good, plus the iconic “transforming” sound effect is there.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (July 13): Now this is more my cup of butterbeer, if you will, the fifth Harry Potter movie. As the movies (and books) have progressed, the tone has darkened quite a bit. People die in these things, and it’s not always the bad guy. This time, Harry’s discovered (at the end of the fourth movie) that the evil Voldemort is back, but naturally no one, save his headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and his friends Hermione and Ron, believes him; they even blame him for the death of a student. Now there’s a lot of speculation in the wizarding world about whether You Know Who is back, if Harry is balmy, if dementors are coming to kill everyone when they sleep, and so on; the atmosphere is quite a bit like that in the United States following September 11, 2001. Soon Hogwarts must do battle with a new sadistic teacher, played by Imelda Staunton, and Harry and his fellow students find they must rely more on each other than on adults than they have in the past. If you’ve not seen any of the first four films, you’ll be a bit lost. My suggestion: Read the books. No, seriously, right now. I’ll wait until you come back. Or watch the first four movies, which kick greater amounts of ass as they progress.

The Simpsons Movie (July 27): Finally, the yellow people (ahem, they ARE) get a movie. This probably would have made more sense ten years ago, but still – more Homer! Woohoo! The plot isn’t really know, but the trailer I saw with Shrek 3 looked very funny indeed. Everyone’s in it, of course, thus spotlighting a huge problem with big casts on TV shows. (Not enough face time for ’em all.) As with other franchise-type movies, I hope this one doesn’t suck. I mean, what’ll they do if it does? Oh, right, nothing, because the show will continue in perpetuity. Woohoo! Other than it not sucking, the one thing to hope for is some kind of envelope pushing; the movie’s not on TV (a-duh), so maybe there’s something we’ll see that’s too strong for TV but not strong enough for an R rating.

Underdog (August 3): I never watched the cartoon series. I probably won’t watch this one, either; it’s not even a cartoon, just a CGI movie. It looks awful. Underdog, voiced by Jason Lee, is a superhero who loves Polly Purebred (Amy Adams of Junebug) and must fight the evil Simon Barsinister. I can’t imagine this movie being any good – it’s a CGI movie based on a comic book that most haven’t read. Even if the special effects are wonderful, it still will lose a lot of money. Wake me when the Jabberjaw movie comes out.

Whew. Only three movies and I’m pooped. More to come.