Transformers

Posted on July 1, 2007 at 2:42 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language.
Profanity: Some crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief references
Violence/ Scariness: Action, violence, a lot of peril and property damage but no serious injuries or on-screen deaths
Diversity Issues: Strong female character
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

The surprising transformation here is not from machines into enormous robots but from a modest Saturday morning cartoon based on a line of toys into 2007’s most exhilarating summer movie, able to transform audiences of all ages into 12-year-old fanboys.


The robots are just so cool.


The humans are cool, too. This summer’s Most Valuable Player, Shia LeBeouf (already in the season’s best thriller, Disturbia and the adorable animated Surf’s Up) plays Sam, grandson of an arctic explorer who may have uncovered a cube of great power. His new car seems to have a Herbie-esque mind of its own, expressing itself through the songs on its radio.

A race of giant robots who can transform into ordinary-looking machinery like boom boxes and cars has come to earth in search of the cube. The good guy robots are led by Optiumus Prime and like humans. The bad guy robots are led by Megatron and would be fine with the result of their capture of the cube being the destruction of all human life as well. Most of the movie consists of their fights with the humans on and in their way and with each other and the adventures of the humans who try to stop or help them.


Director Michael Bay ably manages the pacing of the action, comedy, and romance, never letting us get tired despite an almost 2 1/2 hour running time. He knows how to hit the sweet spot between the nostalgic affection felt by kids who grew up back when we still called the shows “cartoons,” not “animation” and winning over those who have no previous connection and just want to see some slam-bang robot-on-robot action. He knows the movie is about the robots and gives us robots to swoon over, brilliantly constructed, every rivet filled with both personality and possibilities. The special effects wizardry is seamless, every movement logical and believable, every interaction with the surrounding environs magestic and weighty. And each of them has his own utterly engaging personality. One can only speak through clips recorded from songs and movies. Another has feet with wheels and races along like a speed skater. Another talks like he’s been listening to hip-hop. And the good guy robots have such friendly and expressive eyes. I admit it, I got a little misty when it looked like one of them might not make it.

And Bay gives us humans who are every bit as engaging as well. LeBoeuf is superb as Sam, struggling with parents who want him to improve his grades and do his chores, trying to figure out how to talk to a pretty girl (Megan Fox), figuring out why his new car seems to have a mind of its own, oh, and being entrusted with the future of the planet. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as survivors of a robot attack on a US military outpost in Qatar strike just the right note of conviction and all-American heroism. John Turturro as a bully from a secret federal agency and John Voight as the Secretary of Defense provide additional depth and interest.


The Transformers, like other kid favorites Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as comic book superheroes from Captain America to the Fantastic Four, tap into the fascination and the fantasy of being able to tap into a hidden source of transformational power (“more than meets the eye”). This idea has special appeal to kids, who are very aware of their vulnerability and curious about the power the adults around them exercise, the power they may have as they get older, and to young teens, on the brink of their own transformations. When a young human character inspires the devotion and loyalty of the powerful creatures (think of Aladdin, or even Elliot and E.T.), that adds to the story’s attraction, another way to tap into the dream of hidden strength.

And then there is the idea of The Ghost in the Machine, the personality that we project on to the gadgets and equipment that make modern life possible, it is we who find ourselves transformed, into fans — who will never look at our cars, boom-boxes, and cell phones the same way again and who, for 2 1/2 happy hours, will believe in enormous, friendly robots.


Parents should know that this film has non-stop “action” violence, which means a lot of peril, robot-on-robot action, and property destruction but no blood, serious onscreen injuries, or deaths. There is some potty humor, there are some crude double-entrendres that middle-schoolers will find edgy (and funny), and there are some vulgar sexual references and brief drug and alcohol references. A mother asks her son if he has been masturbating. A character gives the finger and characters use some mild language (“bitch,” “ho”). Parents should also be aware that while the movie is PG-13, it is being heavily marketed to younger children through the sale of toys and other tie-ins. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking them to work with the media and toy industries to establish a consistent set of ratings for toys and the media they are based on and to establish clear, enforceable guidelines for the marketing of PG-13 movies.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Optiumus Prime thinks makes the human race worth saving and what has made the Transformers popular over the years. What things will you look back on in 50 years and be glad that you did?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the earlier versions of the Transformers and movies like The Iron Giant, Men in Black and the animated The Transformers movie.

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Movies Science-Fiction Thriller

License to Wed

Posted on July 1, 2007 at 2:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and language.
Profanity: Crude references
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None

The best thing about “License to Wed” is that John Krasinski and Mandy Moore have enough of that ever-elusive quality — chemistry — that an impending marriage seems possible if not likely. They easily get us on their side. The chemistry even spills over a little into their paper-thin characters, Ben Murphy and
Sadie Jones. But a little chemistry, a few genuine laughs, and a premise that is adequate if not inventive only barely make up for flip-flopping, underdeveloped characters and a storyline that refuses to surprise, even given multiple opportunities.


The path to wedded bliss begins when Ben proposes to Sadie in front of friends and family, who then support her request to marry at a church that has family significance. The minister of the church, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) has one stipulation for all couples he marries: They must take — and pass — a premarital course designed specifically to subversively test the limits of their relationship and also to develop and strengthen the bond they share. Potential for
ulterior motives, cheesy but thoughtful lines, unexpected actions, and accomplishment abound, but sadly the film takes the low road through all the above territory, rendering the motives unexciting, the lines simply cheesy, the actions numbingly predictable, the slapstick uninspired, and the accomplishments nothing more than satisfactory. The trials Ben and Sadie go through are nothing compared to the obstacle course inflicted on the audience, who has to work very hard to find anything entertaining or enjoyable.


Ben loves Sadie for the standard Hollywood reasons: she’s Smart, Funny, Attractive, etc, but really, when was the last time a movie
character wasn’t? Now, apparently. Sadie works through the course with trust, sincerity and such lack of personality that it’s hardly believable (at least not believing it is preferably to thinking she
really could be that devoid of character). Her puppy-dog loyalty and blind devotion to the program and its teacher are made all the more incongruous given Ben’s description of her as independent, “smart, so smart” and a “take charge” personality. Ben on the other
hand, is blessed with the good-natured expressions Krasinski employs as Jim in NBC’s The Office, and comes across as lovable, trusting, happy and kind without being a pushover. He makes a great romantic lead, but in a film that remains so run-of-the-mill, the thrill is quickly gone. It’s not a union that anyone would be unhappy to see, but in a world where romantic comedies can be so much more than simply romance and comedy, it’s hard not to crave a film that is, dare I say,
Smart, Funny, and Attractive.


Parents should know that the film is aimed at adults, and while not often raunchy, does include discussions of sexual fantasies and
depictions of women in labor. Reverend Frank is offbeat and at times more than a little off-color, and makes jokes about adultery, sexually transmitted disease, and murder. His tactics include having couples simulate fights, which result in name-calling and verbal abuse.


One of the most purportedly humorous tasks involves a pair of purposely ugly
mechanical twins Frank gives to Ben and Sadie, and most scenes with the twins involve their ugliness as a running gag. At one point, however, Ben shakes the robo-baby violently and repeatedly, making for
an uncomfortable allusion to shaken baby syndrome.


Families who see this film will want to discuss the commitment of marriage, and what couples should be sure of before entering into marriage. The concept of needing someone and respecting his or her opinion is pivotal in the film; how can people toe the line between independence and sharing a life with someone else? Child rearing is also explored — what types of responsibilities, large and small, might come along with having children? How might a couple or an individual best prepare for the demands, sacrifices, and joys of having a child? What type of support system might one reach out for?


Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy 2002’s A Walk to
Remember, also starring Mandy Moore, and The Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

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Comedy Movies Romance
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