Transformers: Age of Extinction

TransformersWhen the world is under attack by asteroids, alien robots, or even the Japanese, Michael Bay is there. Nearly 1/8th of Bay’s directorial career has been dedicated to the alien robot type of threat, and now with his fourth Transformers film, Transformers: Age of Extinction Bay actually manages a new level of self-indulgence: rebooting his own franchise trilogy with his own new franchise trilogy. Imagine this level of egoism; it would be like if George Lucas went and…oh wait…

It’s exactly like that. Bay moves his timeline forward five years after the near total destruction of Chicago (and Shia LaBeouf’s sanity) and interprets the action between the same Autobots and Decepticons through an entirely new set of human characters. This time our central human figure is Texas inventor Cade Yeager (played by the last person you’d ever expect to play an inventor-type character from Texas, Mark Wahlberg). Wahlberg actually has a lot of fun with the part though, and he actually continuously keeps the film from falling below the low bar set by the previous two Transformers films. Yeager lives on a farm where he experiments in his barnyard laboratory to create inventions in the vain of Randall Peltzer (do yourself a favor and see Gremlins if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Yeager is also the widowed father of Tessa (Nicola Peltz), his high school daughter whom Bay has seemingly discovered new camera lenses and angles for photographing in alarmingly close up ways. Cade is in financial trouble and while Tessa has earned several scholarships, she is continuously denied financial aid and still unable to afford tuition to go to college. Cade resorts to purchasing broken down items and fixing them in the hopes of turning a profit. One such item, a seemingly totaled semi-trailer truck, is actually battle damaged Autobot leader Optimus Prime living in exile. Yeager repairs Prime with the help of his friend Lucas (T.J. Miller) and in turn attracts the attention of CIA director Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and business tycoon Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) both of whom want to capitalize on the alien metal Prime is made of called…wait for it…Transformium.

As it turns out Joyce is using the transformative metal, along with knowledge from a pact with certain Decepticons, to create a robot army that will revolutionize the U.S. military. Of course, when one puts trust into an alien race whose name comes from the root “Deceive,” one can expect complications. What results is the reincarnation of Decepticon leader Megatron as the more powerful Galvitron. Now it’s up to the Yeagers and Prime to gather the Autobot army and fight back.

Bay
I have no sense of artistic integrity.

This is a loud, long, and dumb movie, but it does fit right into a certain fun summer niche that is rather vacant this year. Still, Transformers: Age of Extinction does not fill that vacancy with high quality entertainment, but rather strives for mediocrity with momentary flashes of obscene and immoral product pandering in the style of the famously satirical Wayne’s World scene, only completely without any sense of irony. Bay does this unapologetically, which may explain his smirky IMDB photo (see right image).

The greatest fault with Transformers: Age of Extinction remains its running time. Even the most excited Transformers fan is likely to lose interest around the 100 minute mark, but that still leaves another hour left! This is the best Transformers film since the first one in 2007, but that’s like saying this is the best Chicago Cubs season since 1908 – there hasn’t been much to brag about since. Nonetheless, audiences have come to know what to expect from Bay, and his movies make money, so why should he do anything differently? Wahlberg is all in and his commitment makes the ride feel fun. If you can rise above your sensibilities, there is a movie here, but that’s about all I can say. C

Transformers: Age of Extinction is rated PG-13 and has a running time of TWO HOURS AND FOURTY-FIVE MINUTES!

Lone Survivor

ImageCapturing the essence of war has been a theatrical tradition ever since the Greeks invented drama.  In the cinematic practice, war films range from fully inspiring to grusomely tragic.  Lone Survivor is an example of the latter. 

The film tells the story of an ill-fated Navy SEAL operation named RED WINGS.  During their mission to kill Taliban officer, Ahmad Shah, a SEAL team is stranded in a hostile region of Afganistan.  What follows is a horrific series of events as the four SEALs attempt to escape a barrage of enemy forces after they are ambushed. 

The film opens with a montage of intense Navy SEAL training exercies as preparation for what’s to follow.  Shots of submersive drills, endurance tests, and tactical maneuvers serve two purposes: 1) they make the audience have an initial feeling that nothing can be harder than this, and 2) they serve as a reflective point for when things become exponentially harder than this.  Writer/Director Peter Berg spent four years and a modest $40 million budget to get Marcus Luttrell’s memoir to the big screen.  The result is operatic realism.  Berg scales down the “war film” to create a film that while inherintly anti-war is also a celebration of the men who possess an uncommon type of courage. 

Berg is a filmmaker who has dabbled in this subject matter before with 2007’s The Kingdom.  In that film, Berg showed war as a fast, swift, pulse pounding, adrenaline pumping game, almost like the football depicted in the television series Friday Night Lights, also created by Berg.  Lone Survivor is an entirely different animal.  Here Berg narrows his scope and slows things down.  This brutal battle along the Afgahni hillside is as harrowing, frightening, and vital as perhaps any of its kind.  Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hersh, and Taylor Kitsch play the band of stranded soldiers who intermitedly attempt to communicate with their commanding officer, played by Eric Bana.  Berg’s deliberate pace is on full display packed with slow motion evidence of the blood, guts, and horrors of war. 

What the film has working against it is its outcome, which with the title Lone Survivor, should not surprise anyone.  Thus, it is clear that Berg has more on his agenda than to tell a story.  That agenda is to give tribute to those who fight to keep this country safe while also suggesting what could have been if they didn’t have to.  This agenda is met, but with a melancholy spirit.  The leanness of the film and the bleak tone make it difficult to watch, yet the film is strong, well acted, and evocotive.  The final scenes suggest some of the ironic complexities of modern even with the film’s simplistic nature.  While better films about this topic exist, Berg does a solid job delivering this particular story.  That being said, this is not a film for everybody by any stretch of the imagination; however, it is successful at depicting those naturalistic forces that are at work in the quagmire of today’s combative warfare.  B

Lone Survivor is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 1 minute.    

Ted

ImageThe feeling you get after watching Ted is the same feeling you get after watching your son’s team get “mercied” at a little league game. You give them credit for finishing it, but it’s best if you never speak of it again. Seth MacFarlane dreamed up an idea with infinite potential, but he did not deliver as a director or as the character of Ted. MacFarlane most likely felt nervous to leave his comfort zone of TV, especially after a decade of “animation domination,” and it shows in Ted. That is probably why his directorial debut looks and feels like a television show. With scene after scene to static shots, voice overs, and corny “Family Guy” style interlude music between scenes, it is hard to allow the “mise en cene” to work its magic. This is a warmed up rewrite of thousands of other comedies where the protagonist man-child waits too long to grow up and suffers the consequences of life. Of course a new gimmick is introduced in the form of a raunchy (but I argue not raunchy enough) talking teddy bear, however that wears off quickly and nothing else fills the void except some very obscure pop culture references.
MacFarlane has been extremely successful at what he does, however his reputation as a unique presence in the field has been overshadowed by South Park and The Simpsons for his entire career, both of which went to the theater with successful versions of their respective shows. Ted marked an opportunity for MacFarlane to prove he definitely as talented as the creators of those shows by formulating something new, but it falls short. On a side note, surpassing Trey Parker and Matt Stone as pioneers will probably never happen.
Mark Wahlberg is adequate and Mila Kunis is basically a prop. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Ted, but the fact remains that as a fan of comedy, I do not want to see the bar being lowered for what passes for acceptable films of this genre. There are some funny moments in Ted, my favorite being in the film’s opening scene where the bear is discovered to be alive by young John’s parents. More episodes like this would have been preferred to formulaic events where characters fall into stereotypical character flaws. Overall, I wish Ted had a little more going for it. Unfortunately, when the final inning was over, I was more than ready to avoid eye contact and head for the door. C-