July 30th, 2014

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014) * ½

After three shitty Transformers movies, Americans say enough is enough, and vote to make Transformers illegal. That means Optimus Prime has to leave Shia LaBeouf and hide out in truck form in an abandoned movie theater in Texas. Of course, tinkerer Marky Mark finds him and gets him up and running again, which gets evil black ops guy Kelsey Grammer’s panties in a bunch. As it turns out, Grammer is in cahoots with Stanely Tucci. Grammer is in charge of catching and killing Transformers and grinding them into tiny pieces so Tucci can make his own Transformers. Of course, they used Megatron’s remains to make their latest Transformer, and he is reborn as the villainous Galvatron. Oh, and some Robot Dinosaurs show up.

Let me get this out of the way really quickly. Transformers: Age of Extinction is the best film so far in the franchise. Part of the reason is Marky Mark. I liked his character a lot, and while he does and says some dumb things, he’s miles better than Shia LeBeouf.

After I saw Pain and Gain (one of my favorite movies of last year), I thought I would give Michael Bay and his Transformers another chance. The fact that Pain and Gain’s Marky Mark was the star, made me actually want to see it. Somehow, Bay still manages to screw this up. I’m sorry. Why would you go through all that trouble to put Marky Mark in a Transformers movie and then not let him sing “The Touch” just like he did in Boogie Nights? It kind of defeats the purpose of putting Marky Mark in a Transformers movie, doesn’t it?

At the very least he could’ve thrown in a nod to the Andy Samberg sketch on Saturday Night Live and have Marky Mark say, “Hey, Optimus. What’s up? How you doing? Say hello to your mother for me.”

I did enjoy the early scenes of the film. I liked the interaction between Marky Mark and his family and friends. I dug the scenes in the rundown old movie theater. (Richard Riehle was a hoot as the “senile” owner.) There was also a scene where a speeding car hits a dude in the face in slow motion. I mean when’s the last time you saw THAT in a movie?

Once Marky Mark teams up with Optimus, it’s all downhill though. Battle fatigue really starts to set in once Marky Mark breaks into a spaceship to rescue Optimus, and from there the whole thing unravels at a rapid pace. In fact, had the film climaxed with Optimus being rescued, it would’ve been OK. However, the film continues unnecessarily on for another hour or so afterwards.

It feels like they had two scripts and shoehorned them together. The one plot has Marky Mark finding and repairing Optimus and being on the run from Kelsey Grammer. The other, less successful plot involves Stanley Tucci accidentally reviving Megatron. One of these would’ve sufficed. Unfortunately, Bay crams them all into one nearly three hour (!!!) movie. And if the narrative wasn’t already clogged up enough, just for shits and giggles, he tosses in Robot Dinosaurs in there at the eleventh hour.

This is where Bay really drops the ball. The film opens with a great bit with aliens wiping out the dinosaurs, but the big Dino-Bot reveal is a long time coming and frankly, underwhelming and lame. Once the initial “…cool” factor of seeing a fire-breathing robot dinosaur wears off, not much happens. They aren’t utilized particularly well and are essentially window dressing in the final fight.

Speaking of the final fight, it’s kinda lame. Optimus’ big battle is with the bounty hunter villain and it’s pretty weak. Meanwhile, Galvatron gets away and sets up another sequel in the process. This was another unforgiveable botch. They spend so much time setting him up as the villain and he only gets into one minor fistfight with Prime before getting away Scot free. That’s pretty bogus if you ask me.

I will say that Grammer made for a formidable human villain. I didn’t know Frasier could be such a badass. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him in Expendables 3. Stanley Tucci starts off like an intriguing mix of Steve Jobs and your typical slimy movie villain, but his character soon becomes a bumbling John Turturro stand-in and he winds up embarrassing himself.

The thing that really takes the wind out of the movie’s sails is the third act, which takes place in China. There’s really no reason for the abrupt change of setting, except… you know… to pander to the Chinese market. It’s so blatant that it basically pulls you out of the movie.

I will give Bay credit for at least trying to keep all of his Bay-centric idiocy to a minimum. Gone are the Amos and Andy robots, the humping dogs, and the pot brownie-eating parents. I appreciated the stripped down approach. That doesn’t exactly mean it’s good or anything.

REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967) *

Marlon Brando stars in John Huston’s tepid, tedious, and dull drama as a gay Army man married to Elizabeth Taylor. She’s having an affair with his buddy Brian Keith right under his nose. Meanwhile, Robert Forster (making his film debut), who likes to ride his horse naked through the woods, catches Brando’s eye. However, Forster is too busy sneaking into Liz’s bedroom at night and sniffing her panties.

All of this might’ve seemed shocking, perverse, and outrageous to conservative viewers in the ‘60s. Seeing it now, it just doesn’t work. I think the limitations of the time prevented the film from really having its intended power. Huston hints at a lot of stuff, but never pushes it far enough to make it click. Because of that, it’s all a lot of insinuation, and no titillation.

Brando gives a pretty poor performance here. He emotes OK enough, but his marble-mouthed delivery of even the simplest exchanges of dialogue renders him virtually incomprehensible. Liz basically overacts like she’s on a bad soap opera and Keith more or less blends in with the scenery. Forster isn’t bad, although his nearly silent character is given the short end of the stick, dramatically speaking.

It doesn’t help that Huston directs the picture in a ham-fisted manner. The scene where Liz whips Marlon just like he whipped her horse is especially heavy handed. Plus, he really went overboard on the golden tint. Some scenes almost look like they’re in black and white. What purpose this serves, I don’t know. I mean just because the flick has the words “Golden” and “Eye” in the title doesn’t mean you have to film the damn thing through a golden lens. You didn’t see them doing that shit on Goldeneye did you?

GETAWAY (2013) **

Ethan Hawke is starting to have an interesting career. For every arty independent movie he makes like Boyhood or Before Sunrise, he makes a gritty exploitation movie like The Purge or Getaway. I’m not saying that the latter films are “good” necessarily, but it’s interesting to see which kind of roles he gravitates to.

Hawke plays a washed-up race car driver whose wife gets kidnapped by Jon Voight. He makes Hawke steal a souped-up Shelby Mustang (equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment so Voight can keep an eye on him) and basically create havoc on the roads of Bulgaria. If Hawke refuses, Voight will kill his wife. While on one of his joyrides, he picks up a thug girl (Selena Gomez), who winds up being an unwilling passenger. Eventually, they figure out that Voight is using them as decoys for a big bank heist, and together they try to stop him and rescue Hawke’s wife.

There was a good idea for a movie here. Somewhere. It’s basically The Chase Meets Speed. (There’s even a scene where Gomez puts the surveillance feed on a loop to trick the bad guys, just like in Speed.) Some of the stunt work is decent enough too. However, the action sequences are all annoyingly over-edited, so all of the crashes and near-misses don’t have the impact they should have. Also, all of the shots from the many mini-cameras within the car are overused and only add to the movie’s clunky editing woes.

Hawke is pretty good in this. You can’t fault him for signing on. I mean, all he basically does is sit down for 90 minutes, so it probably was an easy paycheck for him. Likewise, all Jon Voight does is talk of the phone for most of his role.

Gomez on the other hand will get on your nerves pretty fast. Her character is also all over the place. Seriously, we’re supposed to believe that she is A) A street racer B) A gun-toting thug and C) A computer hacker in this movie. Any one of these would’ve been a stretch for her, but having her do all three is a bit much.

Getaway moves at an acceptable pace. For the most part though, it just feels like a feature length version of Grand Theft Auto as Voight has Hawke going on several “missions”. (In one scene, he has to crash through a Christmas village and destroy all the decorations.) This isn’t the worst idea in the world, I guess, but the crappy editing pretty much sinks whatever potential it had.