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Non-Review Review: Bumblebee

In some respects, Bumblebee feels like the Transformers movie that the franchise has been trying and failing to produce for over a decade.

Bumblebee has its share of problems. Some of those are inherited from a franchise working from a template established by Michael Bay, which means that the style of action direction carries over in certain cases. Some of those are inherited from the fact that the film is “based upon the toys produced by Hasbro Entertainment”, which means that the film occasionally feels obliged to cram in various characters and elements for reasons more toyetic than narrative.

“You really don’t get this ‘robots in disguise’ thing, do you?”

That said, Bumblebee largely works due to a combination of factors. Hailee Steinfeld is the most likable protagonist in the series to date, if not the most likable character in general. The direction from Travis Knight largely steers clear of the cluttered excesses that define the other films in the franchise. The script from Christina Hodson cleverly pushes the film down both in scale and spectacle, meaning that Bumblebee is the first Transformers film not to loose sight of its humanity (let alone its human characters) in its storytelling.

Bumblebee is perhaps not the best film that it could be, but is very easily the best Transformers film to date.

A girl and her robot.

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Non-Review Review: White Boy Rick

White Boy Rick struggles to articulate what it is actually saying.

The basic premise of White Boy Rick is quite clear from the outset. The film is set in Detroit. Barring a coda, the bulk of the action unfolds in the four years following on from 1984, during Ronald Reagan’s second term. Although the President himself is not directly discussed in the context of the narrative, there is an early conversation in which two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and one member of the Detroit Police Department ruminate upon Nancy Reagan’s famous “just say no” appeal.

Ricked off.

White Boy Rick is an earnest and well-intentioned movie exploring the consequences of the so-called “War on Drugs” in eighties America, and the manner in which that campaign was both fruitless in terms of its nominal objectives and actively harmful to the communities in which it unfolded. White Boy Rick attempts to position itself as a tragedy about a young man – the eponymous character’s age is something of a recurring battle cry – who happens to get wrapped up in something much bigger than his own circumstances.

Unfortunately, White Boy Rick struggles to construct a strong and engaging narrative around this central thesis statement, repeatedly stumbling in trying to graft the character’s arc and decisions to the broader social commentary that it wants to make. The result is a deeply frustrating film that squanders potentially interesting subject matter.

Daddy’s home.

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88. Back to the Future (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Kieran Gillen, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future.

Marty McFly is just a regular teenager, until he finds himself thrown back in time to the mid-fifties. Accidentally disrupting the first meeting of his parents, Marty must reunite their teenage selves before he is erased from existence.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 44th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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IT’s Mourning in America: Modern Cinema’s End of the Eighties…

IT and Atomic Blonde touch on an intriguing (and renewed) interest in the end of the eighties.

There are a number of other examples scattered across contemporary pop culture. Halt and Catch Fire recently jumped several years in the gap between its penultimate and final seasons, straddling the end of the eighties and exploring the existential chaos of the early nineties. Mindhorn finds its central character unable to escape the shadow of a beloved cult television show that was retired in 1989, his fame ending with that decade. Although the true story that inspired it unfolded in the mid-nineties, Gold is set in the late eighties.

Part of this undoubtedly simple nostalgia. After all, the current generation of cinema audiences most likely came of age in the late eighties and grew in the nineties. This explains the wave of eighties and nineties nostalgia sweeping through popular culture, from the relaunches of shows like Twin Peaks and The X-Files to belated sequels like Independence Day: Resurgence and Jurassic World. People tend to be nostalgic towards their own childhoods, and this explains the pull of pop art like Stranger Things to modern audiences.

At the same time, it is interesting to wonder whether there is something deeper at work in all of this, if this very focused fascination with the end of the eighties is in some way intended as a commentary or reflection on the contemporary world, whether these films are trying to make sense of the modern climate through the framework of the transition from the late eighties into the nineties.

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The Flash (1987-2009) #9-11 – The Chunk/Chunk in the Void/Chunk Barges In (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

While writing The Flash, Mike Baron tended to avoid established villains.

While appearances from Vandal Savage bookend the run, most of the character’s iconic rogues are completely missing from the first year of the title. There is no Reverse-Flash, no Captain Cold, no Weather Wizard, no Heatwave, no Captain Boomerang, no Trickster. Instead, Baron tended to create his own antagonists for Wally West. To be fair, his creatures tended to pop up here and there over the years, but none of them really broke through into the character’s regular supporting cast.

It's the end of the world as we know it...

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Perhaps Chunk came closest. Chester Runk is the most memorable and well-defined new character to appear during Baron’s run on the title. The character would never become a regular fixture of The Flash, but he would pop up time and again over the years. It is easy to see that might be the case. He is rather distinct from most of the other baddies to debut under Baron’s pen. He looks visually distinctive, has a nice character hook, and fits quite comfortably in the world of The Flash. He’s a nice adversary.

Sadly, his debut story is not a good story.

The big man...

The big man…

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The Flash (1987-2009) #7-8 – Red Trinity/Purple Haze (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

Red Trinity and Purple Haze are at least plotted a bit more tightly than Mike Baron’s earlier issues of The Flash.

Baron’s first two two-part stories on The Flash had seen Wally West literally running into trouble – encountering both Vandal Savage and the Kilg%re by chance while running across the country. Speed McGee was only slightly more subtle, revealing that Wally was now dating a woman whose husband just happened to be working on attempts to generate super-speed. Wally seemed to spend the first six months of The Flash randomly bumping into trouble that seemed tailor-made for him.

... And we're off!

… And we’re off!

While the plotting of Red Trinity is hardly elegant, it at least makes a bit more sense. Baron builds off the events of Speed McGee to present a story that flows relatively logically – well, according to comic book logic. Instead of conveniently crossing paths with a problem tailored to his abilities, Wally instead sets out specifically to find the problem at the heart of this issue. His encounter with the eponymous trio is as part of his attempts to help find a cure for the self-titled “Speed Demon”, Jerry McGee.

Inevitably, this brings him into conflict with more new opponents perfectly suited to do battle with The Flash.

Trio of terror?

Trio of terror?

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The Flash (1987-2009) #5-6 – Speed McGee/Super Nature (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

Half-way through its first year, The Flash is still a mess.

It’s easy enough to see what writer Mike Baron is trying to do, but nothing is really gelling together. In theory, The Flash is the story of a twenty-year-old kid who is trying to fill his mentor’s shoes. It’s about a hero who has only just passed from his teenage years into adulthood, and trying to navigate all the problems that come with that. The intent is quite obvious here – to draw in readers who had been alienated by the somewhat generic (and perhaps even “dull”) perception of Barry Allen.

"Hm. This is always much more atmospheric when Batman does it."

“Hm. This is always much more atmospheric when Batman does it.”

This is an approach that clearly owes a lot to Marvel’s reinvention of the superhero genre, and it’s fairly easy to read Mike Baron’s Wally West as an attempt to update the superhero archetype established by Peter Parker for the eighties. Wally is a bit more grounded and real than his predecessor, with a bit of an edge. He finds himself navigating issues and personal problems that Barry Allen never had to worry about.

Unfortunately, the series can’t quite make this work. For every step forwards, there is an awkward step backwards. Every time it seems like The Flash might have a good personal hook into the world of Wally West, it falls back on generic superhero clichés that seem to have been ad-libbed into the script.

"Talk about an explosive relationship."

“Talk about an explosive relationship.”

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