Too much jammed into one movie, but with some improvements

When you think of Michael Bay what do you think?  No I’m not making a joke about him ruining every movie series, but instead explosions, slow running, and unbalanced qualities in a movie.  Years ago the director was able to impress us with his big budget productions of giant robots fighting each other, launching chaotic explosions in an attempt to accomplish a goal, all the while protecting a select few humans.  That trend has continued, and this weekend his latest work Transformers 4, age of extinction releases in an attempt to make up for some of his follies in the last few years.  What is the verdict on this movie?  Read on to find out.


Once again Bay has managed to outdo himself, somehow mistakenly defining balance with cramming as many things into one movie as possible.  The first movie in this new trilogy attempts to explain what has happened over the last four years  while trying to introduce a set of new characters in the process.  Normally this would be fine, except the director attempted to develop a rather poor love story, while developing a darker story for the Autobots, and trying to give equal screen time to robot and human alike.   So many variables are difficult to balance for any director, and I felt it was a challenge too great for this director.  The result is a hodge-podge of half complete aspects that make for a rather rushed and disproportionate movie, when it could be so much simpler and entertaining.


What do I mean by this?  It’s really simple, when I go see a movie about Transformers I want to see a movie about CGI behemoths fighting each other for a goal with all robots having some ample contribution to the battle.  He was able to do this in the first movie, but lately Bay and company have had a fixation on one or two robots (Usually Optimus and Bumblebee) or showing humans running from the aliens while attempting to lighten the situation with a flood of jokes and offset comedy.  Sure comedy is a good thing, but I didn’t sign up for nearly three hours of  Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci making fools of themselves.  Yes they were a huge improvement from the previous cast, but again I came for the robots, not the humans.  However, it is not all bad, as Bay has improved on the action substantially mixing a blend of high speed chases, city wide shoot outs, and loud melee’s that shake the theater.  What helps is that editing has improved their ability to differentiate robots, creating combatants with individual qualities that help them stand out, while also keeping camera work decently stable.


Unfortunately not every Autobot has an equal role in the combat, with Bay once again favoring one or two autobots despite having five available.  Fans of Bumblebee will love the cute little robot’s scenes, but they have redesigned him and with a bit of an attitude, developing a darker edge like the rest of his compadres, and getting half his normal screen time.  Optimus and newcomer Hound, voiced by John Goodman, the latter of which spouts out jokes and orders while wrecking his way through hordes of enemy robots.  Their actions scenes were great, but I ask Bay again, why not take a lesson from the Avengers and actually show all your heroes fighting, instead of just one or two.  This is especially true for the Dinobots, whose announcement at the Super Bowl trailer had fans screaming in delight.  While their designs are epic these beasts do not appear until near the end, and most of them don’t really do much other than run into buildings.  What was the point of even bringing them in this installment then if you weren’t going to do much with them?  I guess that happens when you stuff too many things into one movie huh?


As for the story, well it’s an improvement over the last two installments, with a much darker twist and suspenseful tone.  No one is safe in the high hostility world, as there are many disturbing treatments to a world that was lighthearted.  Optimus, as well as the other Autobots, are no longer the embodiment of good guys who praise justice and equality, but are more like mercenaries doing what they have to do.  To offset this darker tone, is the lighter human story whose characters are hastily developed into generic, carbon copy comedians and tight clothed eye candy.  Both stories were hastily developed, leaving lots of plot gaps, stretches of the imagination, and lackluster emotion that was incredibly humorous.  Yet there were some plot twists put into the mold that non comic book readers will enjoy, most of which set the stage for the next movie that is sure to come.  I rather enjoyed the direction, but am unsure of where Bay will go next with the choices he made in this film.


There is a lot more to talk about in this film, but I’m running out of room.  All in all TF4 is a blockbuster smash whose editing and special effects are meant for the big screen.  While it is a menagerie of various movie qualities, both well and badly done, I enjoyed it more than I did some of its predecessors.  Fans of the series will most likely enjoy it, and will get their laughs from cheesy dialog and over the top advertising found in the film, as chaos and firework explosions erupt on the scene.  I think it’s worth a trip to the theater in my opinion and definitely worth a shot in 3-D if you have a chance to do it, though I believe there are other movies coming out that will be better use of your time and money.


My scores are:


Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi:  7.5

Movie Overall:  7.0

Well Designed World that Drags

Jersey boys

            The Four Seasons, a musical sensation that lasted throughout the years as one of the greatest bands of the 20th century.  With uptown beats, a blend of instruments, and a high pitched Frankie Valli; this group led the charts for many years.  So what is the entertaining world’s current trend in recognizing their achievements?  Simple, they make plays and movies about the group, in particular about the origins and underlying story of the singing sensations.  That’s right, my movie review is on Jersey Boys, the latest work of director Clint Eastwood.


Like most movies about singing legends, the underlying tone is dark, often the glamorous lifestyle of fame a mere cover for some tormenting background.  If you didn’t get this from the movie trailer, or the title, I’m here to tell you that Jersey Boys is a tale of dark and dreary times.  Right from the start we are thrown smack dab in the middle of a depressing neighborhood, filled with citizens whose dreams seem dead, with the exception of a few, as Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) introduces us to his life.  In a curse filled, angry tone, one already gets a feeling the movie will have a more somber tone than any of the films I’ve seen in the past few weeks.  Over the course of two hours, the tale grows darker, every ounce of happiness offset by seedy greed and selfish desires of one or two characters.  While realistic, it became slow at points and bored me to wanting to take a nap.  Now maybe it was the double feature after a day of work, but the truth is this movie dragged at points for me, especially in the beginning where I was waiting for them to actually sing something.  Luckily the film picks up pace when the first song leaves Frankie’s golden throat, but after the brief span of nostalgic tunes, it hits a low point again.  Yes, it sets up a tale that has lots of character development, but shorten the movie by a half an hour and you will still make your point.


Putting story aside, the recreated world of the 60’s was well executed, as various trends and commodities returned from the shelves of time.  Various couples in the audience lit up with delight at being dragged back in time, commenting on how much fun establishments like that used to be. Regardless, the setting is well done, both costumes and makeup blending in with the artificial towns that changes, as the seasons grow older.  While I am no expert in how the seasons looked, I felt the cast did a nice job of recreating them, styling hair and casting actors who looked and played the part.  While the characters can be real sleaze balls, I think the fantastic four did a great job filling the epic shoes, and blending Jersey edge with Italian loyalty.  Frankie (John Lloyd Young) in particular was my favorite character, a wide variety of emotion and qualities that made me most interested in his story.  Of course seeing as the tale was more focused on him, I can’t tell how much was glamorized to make him look good, but still I rather enjoyed his character.  As for the other actors, well I applaud their talent as well, each playing an integral role in “moving” the story along and providing a different angle on things.


Let’s talk about the part I enjoyed the most about Jersey Boys.  No I’m not talking that it ending, I’m talking about the music.  The one shred of light in this story is getting to hear the gang sing some of their big time hits.  Is it live singing or well-rehearsed dub overs?  I don’t know, but regardless I was moving my knees and bobbing to the rhythm as the Four Seasons played their melodies.  The elaborate stage shows with their bright lights brightened the mood and temporarily eliminated the cloud of dismay I was feeling.  Getting not one, but four songs as well, made me feel as if I wasn’t being gipped, and the fact they played the entire son, or at least most of it, was another plus that Eastwood did right.  Of course, the only thing that I wished could have been different, was that these songs were not so clustered together, to help relieve some of the latter dramatic tension and depression, but Eastwood cant’ change history any more than we can.


Jersey Boys has the magic of bringing a world to life, however depressing that world may be.  With a great cast, beautiful setting, and music that continues to span the test of time, Eastwood deserves applause for what he has done.  Yet, it is slow, and not really a movie I can say deserves flocking to the theater to see, when it can be appreciated from the comforts of home, and cheaper as well.  It may win an Oscar though, so if given the chance to see it take it, but hold your money for some of the other films coming in the next couple of weeks.


I give Jersey Boys:


Drama/Biography/Musical:  7.5

Overall:  7.0 

Think Like A Man… Again


            Romantic comedies, they come so fast that they always seem to blur together in one tangled mess.  This past weekend, we got yet another one, in the form of Steve Harvey’s latest creation and sequel: Think Like a Man Too.  No shock, the predecessor to this movie didn’t have much in terms of originality, but still it was an entertaining movie that many found to be enjoyable.  So what in the world did this sequel have in store, and was it worth a trip to the theaters?  Read on to find out


Let’s state the obvious; this flick is a repeat of what we saw a few years ago, though this time with a little more uniformity in the story.  Taking the prequels concepts of multiple relationship issues, this tale added a baseline plot element that helped keep the stories tied together, something Vegas seems to have a strong ability of doing.  Although the couples start out separated in that classic bachelor/bachelorette party vintage, their stories intertwine in a mess of gossip sessions, where both parties reveal their insecurities.  Though amidst these talks is a plethora of scenes that bring you back in to the world of Vegas partying… again.    And surprise, surprise, the plot is predictable with everything ending the way you expect it to be, albeit with a little twist thrown in.  Now cool your jets, because I know the plot isn’t the main thing you come to see, but as a reviewer I have to state not the most original story I’ve seen.


Let’s push past the story and go into the humor next.  Once again the comedy focuses on one man to make us laugh, and that is Kevin Hart.  Hart still doesn’t waver from his style of screaming like a buffoon, trying to steal all the attention with interrupting insults, and over elaborate actions.  Fans of his comedy will love Cedric, as his accident prone, bad luck nature gets the gang into some fun gags. It’s old; it’s beaten into your head, but still funny at times, often due to the response from the other actors.  Speaking of the other actors, well they are Kevin’s support group, throwing in occasional jokes to give us a break from Hart’s idiotic tendencies.  Some of the jokes are funny, and others are just sad, but they’ve attempted to throw in some balance that I look for in these movies.  A majority of the time though, the cast is merely eye candy, with half naked men and women filling the screen and getting responses from both sexes alike. Again something we tend to see in Vegas movies.


When not looking sexy on the screen though, the rest of the cast is playing the drama role.  The same issues that hooked many last time remains, but introduces a few new dilemmas to the mix to keep things “interesting.”  Mother in law issues, wanting kids, parenting, or perhaps putting love before all else, are some of the issues Harvey addresses in the film.  Surely one of these stories will grab hold of your interests, my guess between either the marrying couple’s issues, or the job over relationship tale, as these were the two tales I was interested in.  Despite predictability, it’s done well and the drama is enough to keep the plot going, but not take away from the good, fun, attitude the comedy provides.  The morals and lessons Harvey preaches will touch your hearts, if you have one for love that is.


Overall Think Like a Man Too was not that bad of a sequel.  It’s a nice balance of comedy and drama, and does a decent job of developing some of the characters to help keep you into the story.  Yes, Hart steals most of the show, but it still doesn’t bother me too much with how much the cast gets to act in, as opposed to movies like Valentine’s Day that fail so much in spreading out their stars.  I had a good time with this movie, but I say again it’s no academy award winner, which is perfectly fine.  One thing I will admit about Harvey’s work it’s a movie that can be seen as a group or a date night movie, so if looking for one consider this film.


My scores are:


Comedy/Drama:  7.0

Overall:  6.5

Very Little Fault In This Drama


            Movies about terminal illness, so passionate, so well done, but somehow so sad.  Yet for some reason we are drawn to them like moths to a flame, often for the quality tales they spin, and the emotions they stir up.  This week The Fault in Our Stars released, another movie based on, yes you guessed it a book.  So naturally after coming off my latest science fiction high, it was time for me to return to my local theater and calm myself with this drama/romantic tale.  What did I think?  As always, please read on to find out.


For those who haven’t seen the plethora of trailers, or read the book, this movie is the story of Hazel (Shailene Woodley) a girl who suffers from cancer and the associated depression that follows.  Just when everything seems lost, a charismatic man named Gus(Ansel Elgort) enters, whose positive outlook and bright spirits send them on a journey of self discovery and wonder.  I know, the story sounds like all the other terminally ill stories, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out.  The Fault in our Stars is an incredibly passionate movie, filled to the brim with amazing scenes of beauty, wonder, and emotion.


It all starts with the characters, who at first are like yin and yang, opposite approaches to the same situation.  Woodley’s portrayal of Hazel was fantastic, the dismay and depression flowing out of her so naturally, it was as if she herself was suffering from the disease.  It was so refreshing to see her not playing an overly whiney, teenager as I’ve seen in her past roles, instead showing the true abilities she had beneath.  Yet the character that really brought the movie to me was Gus.  This man’s positivity and will were infectious, brightening up the negative energy of the situation and keeping the movie fun despite the dire outcomes that awaited.  Elgort was like a low key Jesse Eisenberg, arrogant, but not as much of a jerk that makes him lovable.  The characters are strong on their own, but together they evolve into a duo that breathes so much life into the movie and hooks you into the two-hour ride. Even when they are not speaking, these young actors portray their feelings in simple gestures, an eye roll here, a smirk there, that translates the thoughts going on in their minds.


Supporting the characters is a some creative dialog, that was synthesized from a variety of styles to help get the point across.  At first it is nothing more than the ire filled thoughts of a cancer patient that reflects the suffering they face.  Depression eventually turns into casual conversations when Gus arrives, balanced in comedy, romance, and other emotions that continue to shift as the story unfolds.  What could be a laugh fest at one point can turn into a sobfest at another, but one thing that holds constant is the realism of the movie.  Unlike some movies, there is no magical word, saying, or moment that erases all the hurt, but instead a realist approach to handling the cards life deals you.  I for one can learn a thing or two from what this movie preached, and perhaps if you open your eyes you can see it too.


To help sell the point, the cinematography exploded with symbolism and emotion at the time of the scene.  When the characters were down, the camera maximized emphasis on the face, if they were trying capture love, the scene focused on finding romantic imagery to bring out the scene.  The musical score they selected only further enhanced the feelings, somehow working behind the scenes to synergistically pull at your heartstrings.  You would think I would have gotten annoyed by all of this repetitive themes, but somehow they balanced all of this and kept the pace going, avoiding the cheesiness many romance movies contain in my eyes.


Of course what I consider cheesy, others find to be inspiring and beautiful.  Being the robot I am, I did not cry in this movie, mostly because I knew what the ending would be well into the movie.  Despite the lack of tears, I’ll admit that the movie still moved me sending my emotions on a roller coaster ride.  As for the other audience members though, the water works flowed through the entire movie.  What do these observations mean?  It means that you can experience a variety of emotions and learn a lot of things from this movie, which can mean multiple watches of this movie, though the tale will still remain predictable.  Another warning is that there are some very tough struggles in this movie, perhaps not appropriate for those with a personal connection to this story.  If you’re like me though, you’ll be able to find happiness in this tale, hopefully being inspired rather than depressed.


Surprisingly The Fault In Our Stars impressed me despite the fact it is a story I’ve seen before.  The balance in it impresses me the most, brought to full force with the wonderful acting the cast has to bring.  Yes, it is a predictable ending, but the delivery is so solid, I can’t really dock it too much.  I strongly recommend checking out this movie, hoping that you will take away something from the messages crammed in this movie.  Those who have less control over their tears, are warned to bring tissues, or at least the supporting arm of a loved one to get you through the journey.  My scores are down below:


Drama/Romance:  8.5

Overall: 8.5

Will Have You On The Edge Of Your Seat with Action!


edge of tomorrow

Science fiction is a genre that is by far my favorite to watch and review.  The worlds and creatures created stretch the imagination and allow for a variety of qualities to be built into the story, i.e. horror, action, etc.  Of course, many recent sci-fi films fall below expectations, with the trailers often more entertaining than the actual movie itself.  So when I saw the trailer for Edge of Tomorrow (EOT), I was entranced, but skeptical as to what they would bring to the table.  Would it be repetitive?  Would it have the action promised?  Would Tom Cruise annoy the heck out of me? What did I think about this most anticipated movie?  Read on to find out.


If you haven’t seen the trailers, EOT is a time paradox movie centering on Major Cage (Cruise) and his battle against the metallic Mimic army.  After a failed operation, the first time, Cage develops the ability to relive the day before the invasion over and over again, training under super solider Rita (Emily Blunt) to stop the invasion.  Now like most scene repeat movies, there is a looming threat of becoming bored with the repetitive scenes and sequences.  Some movies know how to keep up the entertainment value, but others use repetition as merely a tool to get more length at a fraction of the price.  In this movie, the movie remains entertaining, only occasionally becoming drab as Cage fails training, often in some comedic scream or landing.  Yet, director Doug Liman manages to keep the other elements intertwined with the repetition, allowing the story to unfold in a rather efficient manner.  The fact that he keeps the scenes funny as well makes the repetition relevant to the story and actually worth watching.


Of course comedy wasn’t what I was going for mainly in this movie; I was all about the action the trailers promised.  I’ll admit in the beginning I was worried that I would be disappointed, as the first battle was merely a sequence of running, death, and convulsive, dizzying camera work.  Luckily, both aspects improved, the first battle merely a diluted taste of what is to come, the camera work occasionally getting unstable at parts. As Cage grows stronger in the art of war, becoming adrenaline-pumping carnage that fans will love. While the scenes are nowhere near as long as I wanted, they are well adapted to drive the movie, allowing for strategy and planning to be integrated with gunplay.  There were a lot of similarities to the final battle from the Matrix Revolutions, but the story and strategy helped EOT stand out on its own.  However, Rita and Cage are primarily an army of two against the swarm of machines, while the other soldiers are merely CGI cannon fodder for the glowing beasts, which brings me to my next point.


The movie focuses on pretty much only these two with a few cameos and interjections from others here and there.  Now surely this comes to no surprise, so there should be no complaints right?  For the most part I agree, Blunt and Cruise work well together, their chemistry was very good, almost as if being two soldiers caught in an infinite time loop was their job.  The main complaint I had though was that despite the amount of screen time they had, the two characters didn’t have much development past fighting the war.  Bits and pieces of their lives unfolded, more so Rita’s, yet half of the pertinent information was kind of blown over and pointless.  What was the point of such intricate details if you weren’t going to use them in the first place?  I guess in such a limited time span and such dire circumstances there is only so much bonding you can do.  Luckily the story to uncover the secret of the machines has enough suspense and “mystery” to make up for the lack of character development.  However, it cannot make up for the introduction of the J squad and doing practically nothing with them.  The squad does have some comedic relief and has a few useful moments, but I felt they were rather useless in the grand scheme of things.  Oh well, when you get decent, graphic technological warfare, you probably don’t care much about the other infantry.


Edge of Tomorrow has a lot of good qualities that make it one of the better science fiction movies in the recent years.  While the action is not what I expected, it is well balanced with comedy and plot to help keep the movie suspenseful.  The acting is pretty solid, and fans of Tom Cruise will enjoy the scientologist’s latest project of whipping CGI butt.  Just don’t expect much detailed character development in anybody else, or any life lessons because it is not there.  As for watching it in 3-D, I could see a lot of potential, but truth is the 2-D was awesome, and you save yourself a few bucks.  Check this one out in theaters.


My scores for this film are:


Action/Sci-Fi:  8.5

Overall: 8.0