Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ken Jeong, John Malkovitch, Frances McDormand

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

154 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

C’mon, people. Robots are fighting. Things are blowing up. Of course it is a Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain) movie!

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Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, Fury) is now finished with college and trying to make a life for himself. His only claim to fame is saving the world twice, which he isn’t allowed to mention (even though I’m pretty sure that he is called out in the previous film by name over the television airwaves, so I imagine he wouldn’t have to hide it). He has a new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Mad Max: Fury Road) and a new home, but no job until he meets Bruce Brazos (John Malkovitch, TV’s Crossbones, Dangerous Liaisons) who grants him one. Meanwhile, the Autobots and NEST are coming under heavy fire from Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand, Fargo, Promised Land) who believes that NEST should be restructured or disassembled. The Autobots have been busy trying to uncover the mystery of an Autobot ship that crashed on the moon and caused the space race.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Blood & Chocolate) seems to have learned from the mistakes made in the previous installment. The basic plot structure of this film has reeled it back to where it becomes very simplistic. In fact, the finale of the film is the entire last half. Now, I will admit that there are definite pacing issues. So much of the minutia of the first hour feels unimportant until the major event about halfway through, involving an invasion of Chicago. Once that happens, there are a lot of Chicago set pieces. A lot. I mean it. The film could’ve chopped a few scenes off. Two and a half hours long is reaching for a Transformers movie until they learn about how plot and character development  work.

The actors and actresses seem better in this film when compared to the previous installment. Patrick Dempsey (TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Valentine’s Day) is one notable exception as Dylan, Carly’s boss who helps Sam get his job but has some secrets of his own. He is absolutely awful, and I like him normally. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley actually succeeds at performing worse than Megan Fox did. I don’t know how, but she did.

We get a lot of awesome battles, specifically a few involving Shockwave, a massive beast of a Decepticon who can take down skyscrapers with ease. The visual effects continue to impress in this series.

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn’t get nearly as much right as the original film, but is more of an achievement than Revenge of the Fallen was. It gets a lot more on track, but it still comes down to likable trash. Worth a see, but still mostly for major fans.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

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The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

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In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

Transformers (2007)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight

Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

I had a conversation once with a friend who told me something very profound and possibly the best description of director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain). He said, “Michael Bay makes likable trash.” It’s true. None of his films are very well put together, so going into them with the thought process that you are reviewing a Best Picture nominee would be a mistake. You have to take it at face value.

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That being said, I think Transformers is one of his best works. It stars Shia LaBeouf (Lawless, Fury) as Sam Witwicky, a teenager who just wants a car. He wants something that is his, something that he thinks will make him unique. He quickly finds out how true that is when he comes across the realization that his newly acquired vehicle is actually a robot in disguise named Bumblebee. Bumblebee is an Autobot, a good guy, and he isn’t the only Transformer on Earth. In fact, Sam soon finds himself entangled in a battle between the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by an unknown force. Sam only has romantic interest Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, This is 40) to assist him as he is hunted by the mysterious government agency Sector 7 and its leader Agent Simmons (John Turturro, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Exodus: Gods and Kings). Meanwhile, a military base in Qatar is attacked by Decepticon forces, leading Captain William Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV’s Las Vegas, Scenic Route) and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Black Nativity) across the desert in search of rescue and answers.

I walked into Transformers expecting crap, but what I got was a fun romp that didn’t take itself very seriously and worked for that very reason. It had a lighthearted screenplay from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and strong actors in the roles, with the exception of Megan Fox who essentially fills the role of Boobs and Ass very nicely, but is little more than a thing to look at when the robots aren’t fighting. Bay doesn’t take his source material very seriously either, and I think that is why it works so well. He was reported as almost turning down the film based on the fact that he didn’t know or like the Transformers line. The same can be said of J.J. Abrams when he took the role of director on the Star Trek films. He wasn’t a fan of them and therefore came at the material from an unclaimed perspective.

I think that is one of the reasons that the sequels to Transformers suffer from so many more flaws, but the original film is a good time. Most of the production’s technical aspects are nothing too exciting, but the post-production work with the visual effects is astounding and if you asked me, and of course you are, I think that it got robbed the Oscar in visual effects that year.

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Have fun with this movie. I did. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how much fun I had. It had some pretty likable trash indeed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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