Tagged: Justin Theroux

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.

Mindy Newell: Kiss 2% Of The World’s Asses Good-Bye

The LeftoversThus, we must realize that October 21, 2011 will be the final day of this earth’s existence.” – Harold Camping, July 19, 1921 – December 15, 2013. American Christian Radio, Author, and Broadcaster.

Wow. That was dark and nihilistic. Right up my alley.

I’m talking about The Leftovers, which premiered last Sunday. Based on the 2011 book by Tom Perotta, who co-created the television series with Damon Lindelof, The Leftovers is a spin on the evangelical Christian belief in the Rapture, an event in which all those who are true believers in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Messiah will be taken from Earth to be with Him in Heaven and which will signal the beginning of the final battle between Jesus Christ and Satan, i.e. the Anti-Christ, in the climatic Apocalypse, after which the victorious Jesus will rule over an Eden-esque Earth for a millennium. (Let me know if this nice Jewish girl got it wrong, okay?)

However, unlike the Left Behind series by Tom LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, in which the authors follows the script(ure) of evangelical Christian belief, The Leftovers offers no easy answers as to why this global Rapture-like event has occurred.

The series opens on October 14th. No year is given. We are introduced to an unnamed woman in a laundromat, a typically mundane scene. She is washing her clothes and talking on the phone over the incessant crying of her baby – in fact, we only catch snatches of her conversation because of the screaming kid. A few moments later we watch the woman, still yapping on the phone – sheesh, it takes me about two hours or more to do the laundry in my laundromat, how the hell long has this woman been on the phone? – strap the baby’s car seat into the car and then get into the driver’s seat. She turns around once to distractedly attempt to quiet her child. The camera moves to the baby, who might be looking up at heaven, and back to the mom, still on the phone…and suddenly the car is quiet.

The baby is gone.

As Mama freaks out – and finally hangs up the damn phone – we also see a young boy yelling for his father (“Where’d you go, Dad?!”) as an empty shopping cart rolls into a parked car’s fender. In the background and a few blocks away we see a (driverless) car slam into another as it speeds through a red light.

Three years later.

A man is running (for exercise, not escape) down a suburban street. He’s wearing headphones, and in an interesting commentary on television and radio punditry we hear analysts and experts and other so-called “authorities” talking about the event, not just on the runner’s headphones, but from a variety of sources. Two percent, approximately 144 million people, disappeared on that day, and everyone is trying to explain it.

Alien abductions? A God-driven event? Well, that may explain the Pope, but Gary Busey? Jennifer Lopez, Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Bourdain are also among the celebrities vanished into thin air. (No mention of the Kardashians, though. We couldn’t be that lucky.) And if it’s about good people having been taken, then why a child beater?

And of course there’s a televised Congressional investigation with scientists and religious experts babbling on with their respective theories.

But nobody knows nothing. Except that I’m fairly certain that the cable news channels are having a field day with this. CNN and the Malaysian plane disappearance, anyone?

The man, Kevin Garvey, is the police chief of a small suburban town somewhere in New York. He’s played by Justin Theroux – of whom I knew nothing about except that he’s been stringing Jennifer Aniston along for what seems like a century, thanks to my tabloid reading while waiting on the checkout line at Stop-and-Shop. Now I know that’s he’s incredibly hot and very good at playing morose and confused, and sees visions of stags. Stuffed stags. Live stags. Run-over stags. Being torn to pieces by wild dogs stags.

About 100 people of his town disappeared in the “rapturous” experience. As the hour progressed we watch and learn how it has affected the “leftovers,” and, by extension, the rest of the remaining population of the earth.

Of course there are cults. One, called the Great Remnant, doesn’t talk, encourages cigarette smoking (“Don’t Waste Your Breath” is one of their mottos), and dresses in white, as if they are on the White Team during Color War at my summer camp. (Kevin’s wife, Laurie, whom we assumed had been whisked off to Never-Never land, is a member of the Great Remnant.) Another cult, one that has not yet been given a name, appears to be ensconced in a survivalist camp of the Neo-Nazi / White Power type somewhere in the deserts of America, although this cult is apparently okay with race, since there is a hot, young Asian chick in a bikini lounging around the camp’s pool as if it’s a luxury hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. I also know this cult isn’t racist because it’s led by a muscularly endowed black man whose name is Wayne and whom is apparently the “know-it-all” religious leader of this cult. We discover that the police chief’s son, Tom, also belongs and has a thing for the hot young Asian chick, as does Big Kahuna Wayne, who has “plans” for her.

Teenagers are still going to school, but it’s a shadowbox routine, as their real life is taken up with smoking weed, drinking alcohol, fucking and pushing life to its limits – including erotic asphyxiation, which the chief’s daughter, Jill (played by Margaret Qualley, who has amazing “Elizabeth Taylor” black eyebrows and blue eyes) partakes in with some loser named Max. (It seems that Max is dead as we see Jill walk out of the bedroom after their, uh, session.)

I know that I’ve been kind of flip in talking about The Leftovers, but in actuality I’m very intrigued. I think that, in just this one premier episode, the creative team has shed a lot of hokey nonsense about a mass disappearance of humanity (I’m sorry, those of you who are Christian evangelicals, but there is nothing called the Rapture in either the Old Testament or the New – it was dreamed up by a British minister, John Nelson Darby, sometime in the 1830s after one of his parishioners claimed to have had a vision of Christ’s return) and instead has captured the crazy ways that humanity would actually deal with it.

And I do mean crazy.

None of these characters is sane. Nor should they be. Unexplained phenomena is fun to talk about and to base TV shows on – I watch my fair portion of Ancient Aliens and Ghosthunters – but if two percent of the population of the Earth just suddenly disappeared one day, the frenetic behaviors, the fanatical actions, the extreme activities of the “leftovers” would surely rate new chapters in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) of the American Psychiatric Association – that is, if there were any sane shrinks left, much less a professional association.

I think we’re in for a fun – and thought provoking – ride.

And may I say…

Thank God.