Transformers: Age of Extinction

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 5:59 pm

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The script for the new Transformers movie is basically: Noise.  Explosions. Chases. Guy-on-guy fighting.  Transformer-on-Transformer fighting.  Brief pauses for father-teenage daughter conflict, father-boyfriend of the teenage daughter conflict, paranoia-inducing rogue government operatives, paranoia-inducing megalomaniacal one-percenter, and a flicker of a robot existential crisis.  Then back to the noise, explosions, and massive PG-13 destruction, meaning more damage to buildings than people or giant robots, though one of the human characters does get incinerated early on.  Repeat. Repeat again.

Yes, this movie is nearly three hours long.  That’s a lot of robots.  It is long, and it is loud.  The primary focus is the special effects, including the use of the first-ever IMAX 3D camera (though the credits reveal some post-production 3D work as well).  The depth of the frame is impressive.

That’s expected and it is fine.  The special effects are better than the non-special effects moments, which come down to 1. Exposition, which makes very little sense, 2. Banter, which is weak, and 3. In-jokes about sequels and product placement.

The special effects are excellent.  And I can’t help it, I still love to see cars turn into robots and robots turn into cars. This time there are even Transformer dinosaurs!

Somewhere among the robots, there’s an all-new human cast in this fourth Transformers movie, again inspired by the Hasbro toys and the animated television series.  Mark Wahlberg takes over the lead as Cade Yeager, broke inventor and overprotective widowed dad of a 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz as Tessa).  His specialty is “making junk into different junk,” and he has a barn that serves as his lab/repair shop.  He buys a beat-up old truck that turns out to be none other than alpha-bot Optimus Prime (again with the deep and resonant voice of Peter Cullen).  The problem is that since the massive destruction of Chicago in the last movie, which we recall as Cade drives by billboards that say “Remember Chicago,” the consensus in the human population is that all Transformers have to be eliminated.

A government operative named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is leading a black ops program to rid the planet of all Transformers, regardless of whether they are autobots or decepticons.  He refuses to give any information to a clueless and ineffectual White House Chief of Staff (Thomas Lennon).  And he plots with one-percenter Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), an inventor/multi-billionaire sort of cross between Tony Stark and Donald Trump.

So the injured Optimus Prime and his friends are the target of attacks by a business mogul, a government agency, a sort of bounty hunter, and the decepticons, including a sort of re-animator version of Megatron.  That means a lot of collateral damage back in Chicago and in China as well, though the cities are not as well differentiated as the robots and that is not saying much.  While there seem to be references to current debates about immigration and terrorism, the themes are less overtly political (or dramatic) than a random assortment of words selected for their emotional charge.

Notoriously unreconstructed Michael Bay directs as though it is the first iteration of the Transformers, back in the 1980’s.  The racial and gender stereotyping is only slightly less clunky than in earlier installments, which means that the autobots represent various ethnic caricatures for no particular reason and Cade calls his daughter’s Irish boyfriend “Lucky Charms.”  It also means that despite the almost infinite budget for the film, apparently there was not enough to pay for enough material to clothe teenage Tessa.  No matter what she wears, for some reason there is always a lot of skin showing.  There are various sexist comments (jellyfish are compared to women because they are “erotic and dangerous”) and an ooky discussion of why it is not statutory rape when a 20 year old has sex with a 17 year old (the 20 year old in question helpfully carries a copy of the Texas “Romeo and Juliet” law in his wallet, along, I hope, with other protection as well).  The politics of the movie are as incoherent as the fight scenes; in both, it is not always clear who the good guys are supposed to be.  Basically, everyone is bad except the autobots and their human friends.  And the movie is bad except for the robots.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language (s-words, b-words, one f-word), suggestive discussion of teen sex and teen pregnancy, extensive sci-fi action-style violence, constant peril and chases, some characters injured and killed (one burned to a crisp) and widespread destruction and explosions, references to genocide, some disturbing images and scary creatures, some ethnic stereotyping and alcohol (intrusive, if self-mocking, product placement).

Family discussion: What mistakes have turned out well for you? Why was it important to Cade to turn junk into something useful? Why did Attinger insist that all Transformers were bad?

If you like this, try: the other “Transformers” movies and the television series, and “The Iron Giant”

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Fantasy Science-Fiction Series/Sequel

Transformers: The Premake from Kevin Lee

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Go behind the scenes with film critic Kevin Lee to see a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the making of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”  I love the way he incorporated the amateur videos made by fans as the big-budget studio film was being made in Chicago.  You can read more about his experience of making this documentary on Slate.

Lee writes:

There were three types of filmmaking happening all at once, I then realized: a multimillion-dollar global Hollywood blockbuster, my modest independent documentary, and the dozens of amateur videos all being created in an instant. I started to wonder about the connections between the three, and what they might have in common. Trying to answer those questions in documentary form led me to understand Hollywood movies, their production, and our shifting relationship to them as viewers and consumers, in ways that I hadn’t before….

Frankly, it humbled me as a filmmaker, because it drove home the realization that everyone is a filmmaker now. I also realized that everyone in their own way was making their own version of Transformers, based on the small privileged glimpses they had of this massive production. I started to notice these videos popping up on YouTube, and not just from Chicago, but from Utah, Texas, Detroit, Hong Kong. After a weekend of keyword-spelunking through the caves of YouTube, I emerged with 355 videos that documented the production. In a sense, the documentary of the making ofTransformers had already been made, in 355 pieces. Now it was a matter of figuring out how the pieces fit together.

 

 

 

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Behind the Scenes

Michael Mirasol: Movie Robots

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 9:20 am

My friend Michael Mirasol has put together a wonderful supercut of movie robots in honor of this week’s release of the new Transformers movie.  How many can you identify?

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For Your Netflix Queue Movie History Supercuts and Mashups

Our Second Pre-Code Series Starts Tomorrow with Barbara Stanwyck’s “Ladies They Talk About”

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 8:00 am

Margaret Talbot and I will kick off our second series of Pre-Code films at Washington, D.C.’s Hill Center tomorrow night with “The Ladies They Talk About.” As Margaret says, it’s Depression-era “Orange is the New Black,” much of it set in a women’s prison with a colorful group of inmates.  It is based on a play written by an actress who herself served time in prison.

Pre-Code films were made in the brief time between the beginning of the Sound Era (1927) and the enforcement of the Hays Code, which strictly limited the content of films, in 1934. Pre-Code films are frank and remarkably spicy. Tomorrow’s film, which stars Barbara Stanwyck and Margaret’s father, Lyle Talbot, may have a loopy plot, but portions of it feel very modern, including the treatment of a lesbian prisoner.  I hope those of you in the area will join us!

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Film History For Your Netflix Queue Neglected gem

Tribute: Eli Wallach

Posted on June 25, 2014 at 9:35 am

One of the all-time great character actors, Eli Wallach, has died at age 98.  He leaves behind an extraordinary range of work, from iconic bad guys (The Magnificent Seven), to sweet old guys (The Holiday).

He appeared with Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, and Marilyn Monroe in “The Misfits.”

He was already fully at home on screen in his first film role, “Baby Doll” with Carroll Baker.

He appeared opposite Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

Eastwood later directed him in “Mystic River.”

Wallach often worked with his wife, actress Anne Jackson. Here she toasts him for his honorary Oscar.

His autobiography is The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage. He said the role he got the most fan mail for was Mr. Freeze on the old “Batman” television series. May his memory be a blessing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPWvmS_ltk8
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Actors Tribute
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