Tagged: john cena

Review: Bumblebee

Review: Bumblebee

When I first saw the trailer for Bumblebee last June, I liked a lot of what I saw. The fact that the hero is a Volkswagen Beetle instead of a Camaro. The more faithful robot designs. I also liked the idea of the focus on a single character, since it suggested a stripped-down type of story, which after the cacophony of twisted metal that was the Michael Bay film series, was a welcome prospect. I had wanted to see this film earlier, but with all the holiday goings-on and other films to watch, it kinda got lost in the shuffle until now.

It was pretty good. Aside from the kid next to me that wouldn’t shut up because his typically discourteous parent wouldn’t do the right thing by instructing his child that you’re not supposed to talk during a movie (which are often found in theaters I frequent today), it was an enjoyable experience. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it was what the first Transformers movie should’ve been.

Storywise, the plot is a fairly straightforward prequel set in 1987, using the classic troubled-child-meets-alien framework, which evokes films of the era like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Reagan era pop culture references abound, and it’s clear that 1987 was chosen not just to establish the Transformers on Earth before they met Shia LaBeouf, but to call back to the era that saw that first wave of the Transformers franchise, when the first comics filled my back issue bins (actually an old white bureau that I still own), the action figures populated the shelves of a healthy company called Toys R Us, and Orson Welles was literally a planet. Songs from the 1980s fill the soundtrack, providing not just a sense of time, but some in-jokes for Transformers fans, and for that matter, current Internet culture. I imagine that the choice of time setting may also have made it easier to write some of the film’s scenes. Without the ubiquity of cell phones, a nighttime prank carried out by characters can plausibly be pulled off without it being filmed. And without the Web to instantly learn everything about Earth history and culture, the titular hero has to learn it through his interactions with his primary contact on Earth, a talented but troubled teen tomboy (say that three times really fast) named Charlie Watson, who is given a beat-up old 1967 Volkswagen Beetle on her 18th birthday. As a prequel, the film does a good job of establishing how the Cybertronians came to Earth and why Bumblebee doesn’t talk, and answers a number of other continuity-related questions.

Hailee Steinfeld does a good job of portraying Charlie’s angst, her conflict with family and peers, and her wide-eyed astonishment at her new friend. She’s a dedicated mechanic, but sullen and withdrawn, owing to unresolved bereavement, until meeting the eponymous robot whose damaged memory and voice synthesizer helps her to confront her demons. John Cena also goes a good job as Lt. Jack Burns, a U.S. Army Ranger who comes into conflict with the Cybertronians. While I surmised from the trailer and Cena’s interviews that his character was a typical one-dimensional hardass authority figure, Cena and screenwriter Christina Hodson dial down the jingoism that might normally be on display in one of the earlier films. Burns’ actions are understandable, given the circumstances, and he is at times overzealous, but is not the cartoonishly obtuse horror movie sheriff-type that often populate films like this. There are moments when he is depicted to be as skeptical of the Decepticons as he is of Autobots, and even genuinely sympathetic. Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux voice Shatter and Dropkick, the two main villains in the film, Decepticon triple-changers who follow Bumblebee to Earth, and who easily earn the label “evil” from their surprisingly grotesque treatment of humans, including innocent bystanders.

I mentioned my hopes for the Transformer designs from the trailer, and the film doesn’t disappoint. If you were a fan of the Transformers when you were a kid like me, then you’ll appreciate that right from the opening war scene on Cybertron, you can tell which character is which. Ratchet. Arcee. Brawn. Optimus Prime. Soundwave. Shockwave. And it’s not like they copied the animated series designs slavishly. The designers struck a nice balance between the simple designs of the animated Transformers, and the greater detail needed for a modern HD theater screens. If a character had a completely red arm in the comics or animation, for example, in this film their arm might consist of a red panel on top and maybe on the sides, and then an underside of detailed mechanics. The result is a gorgeous realization of what the Transformers should look like, a welcome change from the ugly mess of Erector Sets coughed up by a wood chipper that characterized the look of the Michael Bay Transformers. This isn’t just a question of aesthetics, mind you; these designs also exhibit a greater clarity, with the greater amount of color panels making it not only easier to identify characters at a glance, but to discern what’s happening during fight scenes. Instead of an incomprehensible tangle of twisted metal that typified robot-on-robot fights in the Bay films. I also especially liked the human-looking fight moves that Bumblebee displayed in one scene, which left me to wonder if there was a scene left on the cutting room floor of him watching martial arts movies and professional wrestling on Charlie’s television that had been intended to set this up.


I will say on the issue of clarity, however, that the film’s opening scene could’ve benefited from a more lucid layout of the geography of the battle. We open on an aerial shot of Cybertron, where tracer fire is blasting in half a dozen different directions from as many sources, making it difficult to discern any particular “front” between opposing forces. This wouldn’t be a big issue if it were the intention of director Travis Knight to convey a disorganized and decentralized collection of factions scattered across the Cybertroninan landscape (cyberscape?). But after we are introduced to the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons, Autobot leader Optimus Prime tells his forces to “fall back,” which is a bit confusing, since it wasn’t clearly established what was “forward” for them to begin with. Still, it’s a relatively minor point, since the story immediately moves to focus on Bumblebee, who is sent to Earth, where he’s the sole protector of humans against the two Decepticons who seek to use the planet’s satellite system to summon the entire Decepticon army to Earth. This provides a more intimate conflict, with greater breathing room for character work for both Charlie and Bumblebee, or simply Bee, as she comes to call him. The motivations are simple to understand, and action flows naturally from the conflict.

If you’ve been turned off by the last several Transformers films, and prefer a more accessible and likable story, try to catch this one before it’s gone completely from theaters.

Box Office Democracy: The Wall

I’m not sure what it would take for me to get solidly behind a war movie these days.  There’s certainly a fatigue component from the unending wars we seem to be fighting in real life, full of drama and heartbreak in their own kind.  It’s also very hard to get anything new out of the genre right now.  Perhaps because so many fantastic directors have made big important war movies, or maybe just because we seem to get three to five every year.  I would need either a fantastic take on the themes I’ve seen a thousand times (and I think you’re about to fall well short of that with Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan) or some fantastic new way of telling a story in the backdrop.  The Wall is an attempt at doing the latter; this is a horror/thriller movie set in the Iraqi desert, but it isn’t a good enough movie to get over my general distaste for the genre.

The Wall is not a complicated movie.  Two soldiers are in the Iraqi desert to investigate an attack and are ambushed by a sniper.  Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (John Cena) is hit first and is incapacitated, and Sergeant Allen Isaac is shot in the leg and is trapped behind the eponymous wall.  The rest of the movie is mostly Sergeant Isaac talking to his assailant (Laith Nakli) over short-range radio while he devises numerous plans to stay alive, identify and locate his attacker, and try to escape.  It’s not the strongest plot in the world, but it’s only an 81 minute movie and it’s more than enough to make that time feel full.  It hits the necessary action beats, it has some unsatisfying twists which I’ll come back to, and it does what it can to find catharsis.

What the movie is missing is a coherent thesis statement.  For a short film it does an awful lot of bouncing around.  There’s a fair amount of assuring the audience that war is hell, but there’s not a person alive that hasn’t heard that a thousand times by now.  There’s a lot of dialogue about who is really the terrorist, the insurgent fighter or the invading army, but they undercut it pretty dramatically with the way in which the Iraqi sniper threatens to gouge out Isaac’s eyes or staple his tongue to his chest.  Ideology aside, I’m not looking to even entertain the idea of rooting for someone that wants to do that so there’s no incentive to look at both sides.  There’s a desperate last minute attempt on the part of the movie to perhaps assert that this was a movie about the way people deal with guilt and grief.  I could entertain that idea if it weren’t introduced in the last ten minutes of the film, that’s a little late to be telling me what the movie is actually about and seems more like a last ditch effort to seem important.

This isn’t a story that needed to be set in the Iraq War.  You could have set this in a city with only a couple changes.  It could be in the distant future or an awful lot of the earth’s past.  I kind of want to know why they decided to make it a movie about a modern war.  One of the twists late in the movie (and this is a spoiler and this is your spoiler warning and I hope you’ve stopped reading by now if this bothers you) is that the Iraqi sniper is using the information he gets from talking to Isaac to fake a distress call to command and he plans to ambush the rescue team, and he probably did the same to get Isaac and Matthews out here to begin with.  It turns the sniper from a troubled person who claims to feel forced by the circumstance of the war into a cold blooded serial killer in a snap.  It bucks the trend of the last 40 or so years of war movies, and instead of showing the adversaries as people fighting for country this man is undeniably evil and is killing for sport or pleasure.  If the whole movie were set up like this it would be one thing, but as a last minute reveal it works to dehumanize the enemy in a war we aren’t even fighting anymore.  It left me cold, I didn’t like it.

That said, I don’t think I was supposed to like it.  I’m not entirely confident who The Wall is made for but it isn’t me.  It’s violent and graphic in ways I’m not interested in seeing.  It’s a gritty war movie and I don’t need any more gritty war movies;  it’s not interested in deep or meaningful characters as it is in manipulative drama and shock moments.  It isn’t a movie for me, but it’s probably a movie for some.  There were two teenagers sitting behind me who seemed really into it.  They’ve probably seen a lot fewer war movies than I have.  Ironically, this movie about people who use fantastically precise weapons is a dull, blunt, instrument.

Tweeks: Best Memes of 2015

In our last episode of 2015, we transform into the Meme Queens and bring you our ten favorite memes of the past year.  Which was our favorite?  John Cena? Pepe? Bread sticks? Poot? Waluigi? or Left Shark?  Watch to find out & maybe learn something so you won’t be left behind with all the moms on Facebook.

The Point Radio: LEPRECHAUN Creepy DOLPHIN Cutsey

We take a look at two new films from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. LEPRECHAUN:ORIGINS reboots the franchise with a terrifying lead character that offers neither luck or charm. DOLPHIN TALE 2 brings back all the original cast including Harry Connick Junior who talks about how honestly thrilled he was to revisit the role and how much fun he had on AMERICAN IDOL.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.