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Film Review: Bumblebee

Bumblebee dares to keep all your Transformers dreams alive

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It’s been 11 years since a Transformers movie left audiences feeling good at the movies. 2017’s The Last Knight pummelled out almost every last inch of joy the 2007 original sparked. With its lacklustre returns dooming the Transformers universe films into the unknown, it is a relief to see that Bumblebee recaptures and reinvigorates a franchise in much need of some Energon.

Travis Knight (who helmed the wonderful Kubo and the Two Strings) proves that while juggling intergalactic robot aliens at war with their human counterparts is a big deal, it doesn’t always have to punch you in the face all the time. And that, is a welcome break from the Michael Bayness that had engulfed the previous films.

With that said, Knight doesn’t shy away from appeasing long time fanboys. Bay was notoriously against making the Transformers exact replicas of their cartoon selves. Knight however, throws us long suffering fans a bone. The opening sequence (a nice throwback to the animated movie from 1986) takes place on Cybertron and is what has been missing from the Bayverse. It’s a few minutes long and says, “I got you”, to those long time fans.

Bumblebee escapes Cybertron to find a new home for the Autobots and finds himself on Earth, circa 1987. We know this because of the title cue, but also because of the glorious 1980s colour palette and music. Once the opening synthesizers of Bon Jovi’s “Runaway” start blaring out, the movie really finds its footing. Bumblebee meets Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a just-turned-18 young woman who like most teenagers, is finding her pre-adult life difficult. Charlie’s dad has passed away and she struggles to find happiness in her world.

She gets picked on, her job sucks, and she can’t seem to finish the project her and her dad worked on before he passed. Her character is one that is both relatable and sympathetic- qualities missing from just about every human character since the first two movies. Steinfeld’s Watson is resourceful, witty, and good at fixing cars. She’s actually a weird amalgamation of Shia LeBeouf’s Sam and Megan Fox’s Mikaela, except less shouty- which is a good thing. The point is, we like her.

“Let me tell you somethin’, son: A driver don’t pick the car, nuh-uh…the car picks the driver. It’s a mystical bond between man and machine.”

She meets Bumblebee and the two bond. Like a good John Hughes flick, its awkward hellos and music that forms the connection. The two have to fight off incoming Decepticons who are after the location of Optimus Prime and the Autobot base. They get help from a pretty well rounded human cast, highlighted by the seemingly hopeless boy-next-door Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Sector 7 agent Jack Burns (John Cena being John Cena) and Charlie’s family.

Knight and writer Christina Hodson have done a good job with the humour. It’s a subtle blast of humour (Bumblebee no fan of Rick Astley or The Smiths? Gold), and thankfully, nothing painfully juvenile like scrotums on a giant robot or one urinating on a human.

It is this deftness that works. Sure, we get explosions and robot battles, but we also get some quieter, lighter touches. Both Bay and Steven Spielberg are credited as Executive Producers on this flick but its the latter whose influence seems more prevalent.

But more importantly, Knight has made us care about this franchise again. At least I do. Bumblebee is supposed to be a prequel to the 2007 film, and while we do get a lot of connections to that film, it still has a lot of work to do to connect directly to the original (but then again, everything became so confusing that maybe, it’ll be more of a reset than a prequel). Nonetheless, it’s great to see that with someone other than Bay at the reins, the Transformers have life. Sure, there’s some pure nostalgia written in (Stan Bush! Yes!), but there’s hope, and there’s joy.

A big blockbuster that’s got the touch. I guess you could say its more than meets…

BUMBLEBEE
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 114 minutes

Film Reviews

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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