Darke Reviews – Transformers Age of Extinction

Where do I begin? Lets start with me for a moment. I am able to go to movies alone. It sucks. I can entertain myself just fine. went through Transformers (1986) while waiting. I miss having someone to talk to. It’s also nice to be able to get a drink and not worry about your stuff. I was literally surrounded by college age ‘bro’s’ talking about illegal shark fishing, abusing police power, and all the other things I thought were just a stereotype. I watched as nearly half a dozen people just ignored the 50 people in line behind them and just slipped in because they were too cool. Their words, not mine. I am constantly amazed by the stupidity of people to talk about things loud enough for strangers to hear.

Stupidity makes a good segue into this review. In this 4th installment of the Transformers franchise, does Michael Bay redeem himself? The franchise? My faith in Hollywood? My faith in American Audiences?

Short answer, nope. Trust me when I tell you I want to violate my rules and give spoilers – just to vent about how much this movie irritated me on every conceivable level. The sad thing is the film itself didn’t actually make me angry. The film itself left me at a colossal – MEH. I couldn’t muster a single emotion watching this and oh how I wanted to.

Ehren Kruger, the writer of the last two TF movies has reached a new level of suck. I don’t know how much is him or how much is Michael Bay. Lets see, sexually objectifying a character who is 17 years old. Trying to justify her being in a relationship in the dumbest law name I have heard of (it’s seriously called Romeo & Juliet). Low angle shots. Everyone is sweaty, dirty, and in orange light. Classic Bay. Rotating cameras during action sequences. Camera cuts so quick you might as well just close your eyes for all you are getting out of it.

I don’t think Kruger/Bay realize we didn’t like Transformers for the humans. I don’t know anyone who has watched any Gen of the cartoon and gone “wow…that human is my favorite character. I want more humans and their lives on this show about giant robots.”

Speaking of giant robots. I could tell you maybe five names of the ones in this. Five. One because they kept uttering it every chance they could. Two because it was Prime and Bumblebee. The other Autobots? No clue. Decepticons? Forget it. NONE except two had names and there are A LOT of Decepticons. So we are back to faceless, nameless robots fighting more faceless, nameless robots in jerky, fireworks filled camera frames. Even the Dinobots (you saw them in the trailer, that isn’t a spoiler) are hard to identify.

I know you don’t go to Michael Bay for deep character development. You also don’t go to him to be simultaneously confused and bored. At this point I also think he is trying to be intentionally offensive. Stereotypes everywhere to their extreme. One character called Lucky Charms the entire film.

Characters, thats a generous word. We have Mark Wahlberg trying to prove he can still do action, but this was not the right movie for him. Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer clearly lost a bet. we have the return of the most boring actress in Hollywood, Nicola Peltz (Katara in M Nights Airbender). She has gotten better since then, but only by a little.

I really think Bay is deliberately trying to insult us as an audience with how bad this movie is. I think he is going to sit in his mansion as the checks roll in with a smug look on his face knowing he is going to make money hand over fist with this THREE HOUR waste of celluloid. so that brings me to

TL;DR

DO NOT SEE THIS. Go see How to Train Your Dragon 2, Maleficent, X-Men, Godzilla, anything but this.

DO NOT LET YOUR FRIENDS SEE IT.

DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN SEE IT.

This movie is garbage. Bay really is trying to flip american audiences the bird and call it a movie. Audiences are going to pay and the studio will regrettably make a 5th one.

Stop them. Don’t see it. Spread the word. Do not let others see it.

When I wasn’t angry. I was bored. When I wasn’t feeling insulted I was feeling bored. 3 hours. 3 bloody hours.

Michael Bay must be stopped. No matter the cost.

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Darke Reviews – How to Train Your Dragon 2

If I recall correctly, How to Train Your Dragon was one of the first films I did a review on when I began writing reviews again a few years back. I stopped again and started hard core last year. Things that I remember from the review was that my ex and I were some of the only people in theatres in week two of its release and that weeks three and four it picked up even more steam. If you don’t know how rare that is that a movie gets MORE popular the longer it goes, well that just means you are a normal individual who isn’t obsessed with movies. I remember showing people the DVD long after and the general consensus is “I wish I had seen it in theatres”. This is a chance to fix that – sort of.

So how did they do on the sequel?

Well, to be perfectly honest and still spoiler free. They held to sequel rules. If you have a big bad, you need a bigger bad. Check. Call backs to the first film. Check. Take it a bit darker in certain beats? Check. Character Growth? eh…not so much.

This is one of those rare cases where being both Writer and Director works. Dean DeBlois, who gave us the original How to Train and Lilo & Stitch returns in both writing and directing roles. I can see the writing that gave us Lilo & stitch here. I can see the writing that gave us the first How to Train here. I can also see only a slight bit of experience and growth. When the first film became both critically and financially successful ($217mm) in 2010 the sequel was inevitable. I can see that he had a lot of ideas and tried to get some of them in, but not all of them worked.

He did avoid some serious pitfalls most teen characters with a romance in the first movie fall into. THANK YOU. Sorry that verges into spoiler territory, but it was needed. The movie plot wise also does just a few too many call backs to the original in near entire rehashes of some scenes. None of the characters seem to have learned much in the time between movies. Sure they aged, sure they got better at what they do, but did they grow? Eh, not really.

But damn, did they remember how to fly! One of the things of beauty in the first film is the flying sequences as Hiccup and Toothless become friends and partners. They take to the skies in all three dimensions and bring you along the way with the camera in a way that really does bring you with them. Its beautiful, it is magical and it is whimsical. It is magnificent in every sense of the word and they remembered how to do it. They also got better at it. Some of the sequences were just amazingly beautiful that I started to cry from it. The sky dance (not a spoiler) is breathtakingly gorgeous. This is the movies greatest success.

The return of the entire cast of the first is also a success. Everyone reprises their roles from the first as if they have never left. Sadly they don’t get a lot of screen time but the movie wisely doesn’t make more of certain characters since  they have become more famous over the past four years. Adding to the cast is Djimon Hounsou as Drago and Kit Harington as Eret. Finally Jon Snow knows something! Apparently it’s dragons. The irony is not lost on me.

The music is also as engaging as it was in the first. With…one exception. There’s a trend in certain movies to stick a song with vocals over a scene rather than use a score. It’s particularly virulent in childrens movies. The first movie avoided this, sadly this one doesn’t. The song isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It has a very Owl City vibe, but I would have preferred the musical queue to be pure music rather than an actual song. It took me out of the moment just enough that it was, to me a bad call.

TL;DR?

The movie made me laugh. Made me cry. Made me smile. Made me catch my breath. What else should a movie do? Some movies are designed to be art appreciated for that. Others are designed to be entertainment. This movie is both artistically beautiful in a literal sense and entertaining.

I know that there were children in the audience you didn’t hear move an inch or utter a word that wasn’t a squeal of joy. What else should there be?

Really nothing. The movie is good. Really good. A few missteps keep it from being great, but I wholeheartedly recommend this film.  I recommend becoming lost in it and enjoying what it delivers.

I also recommend 3D if you can take it. Not required, but it does certainly enhance the movie.

If you go to see a movie this weekend or next, go learn How to Train Your Dragon again. You won’t regret it. This is *the* movie to see with family, friends, children over the next few weeks.

Darke Reviews – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Sorry folks, this one was late. I was a lil busy at Phoenix Comic Con and didn’t get a chance to see this until tonight. In my usual fashion I am forgoing sleep to get a review out. I am pretty sure this is a form of mild insanity. Ok, so as usual spoiler free, but if you have seen a single trailer for it you know it involves time travel. Ugh that makes it a challenge to write a review without spoilers on a movie that has such a wibbly wobbly timey-wimey narrative.

This isn’t to say the narrative is bad or confusing. Is it a hodge podge of other plots you’ve seen before? Yep. This is Groundhogs Day + Starship Troopers + Mass Effect + probably a few others I could name but won’t. The last Tom Cruise movie I saw, Oblivion (I really need a page so I can link to these), did this too. An amalgam of plots we’ve seen blended with some care and only a little grace to create a final product. Does it do it well?

For starters, this one is based off of a story by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka published in 2004. I cannot speak to the original source material beyond I can see the clear influence of it through the narrative and the places the movie went that we would not innately go in the US. The screenplay then has the dreaded 3+ Rule applied with multiple individuals adapting this. Christopher McQuarrie best known for Jack Reacher, The Tourist, and the Usual Suspects. In other words he likes using characters to drive the story forward. Good. There’s Jez Butterworth, who has the 2007 bomb the Last Legion and 2010 politico thriller Fair Game. No idea what he added or how he got the work based on history here. There is also his younger brother John-Henry Butterworth, who also worked on Fair Game. My feeling here is that the brothers wrote the original screenplay and McQuarrie was brought in for rewrites and polish. This is a fairly common thing in Hollywood and leads to the problems we often find in the plot.

What is the plot? Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is being sent into a D-Day style final battle against an alien threat called Mimics. During the battle he dies (this is not a spoiler) then wakes up (still no spoiler). During the course of understanding this he encounters Sgt Vanke (Emily Blunt) who has answers. Together they will try to stop the failure that is the D-Day invasion and hopefully stop the alien menace.

You have no idea how hard it is to avoid spoilers here. Director Doug Linman (Jumper, Mr. & Mrs Smith, Bourne Identity) brings an A Game we have not seen to date outside of Bourne to this. With the exception of ONE decision the entire film I think he did it all right. He deals with the time travel in a fairly inventive way and is smart enough to not let the plot over explain it. He sets ground rules and expects you to follow along or get left behind. No real time or effort is wasted in exploring  the why’s just the whats. This is brilliant. When watching a movie, I expect it to meet it’s own rules, by not firmly setting all the rules he gives himself some freedom and avoids traps and paradoxes other stories hit head on (Looper).

I *LIKE* movies that do this. Give me a world. Go over the basics. I will either accept this or reject it. Too much detail creates traps that sharp minds will spring on the writers, directors, and their work. He does this fairly well and again with one exception doesn’t leave me angry at his choices; including the cast.

Tom Cruise is picking interesting films of late with two of his last three being firmly entrenched in sci fi. Both of which are doing their best to give us something new from the ashes of the sci fi we have had before. I know some people have issues with him on a personal level. I don’t care. I really don’t. Does he act well? I think so. Does he entertain me? With few exceptions, yes he does. He delves into relatively new territory here and I enjoy the exploration of his character as he lives, dies, and resets. He really pulls off the damage this can do to your psyche. You don’t get a firm count on how often it has happened, and you know it has happened  more times than they show, but you know it is A LOT of pain and death.

Supporting him fully here is Emily Blunt. You ask yourselves, the Love interest from Looper? The love interest in The Adjustment Bureau. The love interest in The Wolfman and the dramatic female actress from so many romantic dramas I can’t count them all. How does this person support Tom Cruise in a war movie? By being the biggest and baddest person on screen. She is fit, she is commanding, she is powerful. She is the force of nature that earns the nickname her character has in the story. Her power is what drives him and what drives the story forward.  Both characters develop as the story goes on  and sadly hers to a lesser extent than his. She however makes the action look effortless. She has a natural chemistry with Cruise that makes their battlefield camaraderie work.

The supporting cast really isn’t worth mentioning. They were cast for who they are and what they bring and are nothing but backdrop charactertures. Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson as entertaining as they are could have their parts filled by others with the near the same result. Sad that. The others bear next to no mention. They get little screen time and little impact. Both good and bad there.

Technically? Well here’s where I can get a little ..bothered. The creature design is clearly inspired by the biomechanical squiddies from Matrix. Down vote. They move like some of the things from Battleship. Downvote. In combination and with their additional details they do create a new creature in our sci fi consciousness which is still oddly interesting. Upvote. Too bad you don’t get to see a lot of them. I get that in film  with heavy CG you have to find new ways to hide things and blurry quick motions are an easy way to do it. This bordered on abusive and may have crossed the line. The power armor itself was awesome and even if it was inspired from non canonical sources in its design I have not quite seen THIS design before. I like what I saw and I like how they used it. The biggest problem of the movie is the camera work on the action. I do like to see it. They do great work on the slow beats in the battles but when the pulse is to be pounding, the eyes are too busy to make sense of it all. When you do see things I admit it looks cool as hell.

The only other technical flaw is the final credits. I am tired of blue print sequences ala Iron Man. I am tired of pop music that is vaguely ironic or tied to the film by the most tenuous thread. John Newman’s light poppy beat Love me Again is a mangled mess of a song to have attached to this movie. It took me so out of the film it was painful and jarring. It did NOT belong in the credits at all. This isn’t saying it’s a bad song. It isn’t. Its just a poor choice and was used simply because it has a “again”/time element to it. Even if it is slightly overused Imagine Dragons Radioactive would have been better. Linkin Park’s What I’ve done or Bleed it Out, while ‘older’ would have felt more natural to how the film ended from a musical queue. 30 Seconds to Mars – This is War or Kings and Queens, if you need something softer would work. Love Me Again – definitely not.

TL;DR? Thought so.

Yes this movie borrows heavily from many concepts done before, but it does it well. This is an important movie to sci fi and if the genre is something you enjoy – You must see this film.

If Sci fi and War movies are not your thing you either didn’t read this review or did and now know you shouldn’t see this. That opinion stands.

This is a REALLY good sci fi film. It doesn’t necessarily make you ask questions, which keeps it from being great, but weaves a solid narrative and interesting action with that science fiction bent. It does a lot really well and only fails in a few places I couldn’t talk about here. If this is your genre – this is your movie.

Please go see Edge of Tomorrow. We need more good sci fi and movies like this need our support. It wont change the world on its own but given time and a little patience it can help bring us to a brighter future of Sci Fi.

This weeks review – Dragons…..