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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: Transformers 4 – Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction is not a movie. It is a pneumatic drill. It is sustained bombardment. It is an attempt to force the audience into submission by bounding them. There isn’t a moment of the film where Michael Bay allows silence or mood. Even the establishing shots are offered through swooping camera shots – up, down, in, out. There’s no sense of place or time or character. It’s an extended music video, set to the percussion of cannon fire.

A Prime time?

A Prime time?

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Non-Review Review: Pacific Rim

The generic way of describing Pacific Rim seems to be Transformers vs. Godzilla, which really says more about how hard it is to sell an original blockbuster these days than it does about the quality of the film itself. There are obvious and superficial similarities between Pacific Rim and the two film series cited – giant robots and monsters from the ocean – but that cynical synopsis doesn’t do justice to director Guillermo Del Toro’s bold vision.

Pacific Rim is a punchy old-school summer blockbuster, one which remembers that characters are the foundation of drama, and which imbues its flesh-and-blood cast with as much personality as the flesh-and-blood spectacle unfolding overhead.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

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Non-Review Review: G.I. Joe – Retaliation

I’m actually just a little bit divided on G.I. Joe: Retaliation. It is not, by any measure, a good film. It’s messy, it’s muddled, it’s over-complicated and under-developed at the same time, it’s nonsense, it’s dumb, it’s loud and it’s all over the map. However, some small part of me sort of admired that G.I. Joe: Retaliation had managed to so perfectly evoke the sensation of playing with toys. Had you given my eight-year-old self a box of G.I. Joe toys and told me to play for two hours, my playtime might have been plotted somewhat similarly to this film. I will concede that I admire the way that G.I. Joe: Retaliation feels more like a bunch of kids playing with toys than a carefully constructed action movie.

At the same time, however, I’m not afraid to admit that my eight-year-old self would have directed a pretty terrible action film.

Rock on...

Rock on…

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Non-Review Review: Twilight – Breaking Dawn, Part II

Here’s the thing. Despite all the derision that the Twilight films generate, they actually have any number of ingredients for a perfectly workable young adult horror romance. Despite the sizeable and significant flaws, and those fundamental issues that are very hard to overlook, the film does have a number of very clear thematic roots that can be traced back through horror cinema. The problem with Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II isn’t that it’s inherently cheesy or trashy or absurd. The problem is that it’s never enough of these things. It feels far too comfortable and too casual to ever really grab the viewer, and everything feels far too safe and generic to get any mortal’s blood pumping.

Baby trouble…

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Non-Review Review: People Like Us

People Like Us has an endearingly earnest premise and a solid enough cast, but it’s let down by clumsy writing and somewhat awkward direction. People Like Us is never sure whether it’s only getting started or nearing an emotional resolution, to the point where it seems like there’s a string of false endings in this under-two-hour feature. Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks make for two endearing leads, but they find themselves struggling against an overly melodramatic script and direction that never seems to entirely trust the cast.

A close shave…

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The Stars That Never Were: The “Next Big Thing” That Never Quite Happened…

I was watching Safe House over the weekend. It was fairly okay, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I was watching Ryan Reynolds headlining a film with Denzel Washington. It was only last year that it seemed Reynolds was being given a massive push by Hollywood. It’s always interesting to look at the actors who received a very substantial push from Hollywood, only to barely miss their shot at legitimate stardom – those actors and actresses heralded as “the next big thing”, seemingly the subject of every talk show and newspaper clipping for the better part of a year, only to fall a little bit short of the mark and to end up fading. It’s a cruel industry, and it is sometimes a little disheartening to see the way that certain performers get swallowed up whole by it.

Not quite playing it Safe (House)…

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