Thursday, October 30, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

I like Transformers, and by that I mean the franchise as a whole. I have a few of the toys, and always seem to gravitate towards them when in a toy store these days. I have read a few of the comics, and have seen quite a lot of the animated shows on tv. Every time something Transformers comes out, they go a new direction with it. They make new designs for the Classic robots to sell more toys. They introduce new cast mates to sell more toys. They change the overall style or general sell more toys. Toys will always be at the heart of this franchise, and the desire to make money. So in the new movie, I was not surprised that they did away with the robot cast from the previous entries. We get a few new autobots with Bee and Optimus. And no returning decepticons, but instead a new faction with new robots....for toys. Also if you know anything about me, you know I hated the last few transformers movies. They were awful, and usually filled with mindless plot holes that seemed so apparent while watching, I had to wonder how they missed them. Maybe they didn't, and they just didn't feel like fixing it. The last few movies were poorly written, poorly shot, and were a travesty to the Transformers franchise. They did sell toys however, so I guess good on them. How does the new movie stack up? Well let me say I did enjoy it more then the others. I liked the human cast more in this one. Mark Wahlberg and T.J. Miller killed it the first part of the movie. And Kelsey Grammer played a pretty slick villain. The Robots though.....well I will get to that in a moment.

The story for this film is centered around the Final battle from the last one. The big fight in Chicago caused a ton of damage and killed quite a few people as well. The government decided, rightfully so, we don't need the transformers on our planet anymore. They gave asylum to a few Autobots and started to hunt the remaining Decepticons down. Or at least that was the story they gave out. They actually teamed up with a 3rd faction who was hunting the Transformers for trophies. They wanted Optimus so they could return him to the creators. This Transformer was called Lockdown, and could transform his face into a Sniper Rifle. Yes it was as cool as it sounds. Kelsey Grammer leads the black ops team working with him, and they are hunting all the remaining robots.

Mark Wahlberg is a struggling inventor, whose inventions don't actually seem to work. He and T.J. Miller are doing a job cleaning up a old theater when they come across a broken down Truck. Wahlberg buys it and takes it back to his barn to try and see if he can part it out for money. Of course it turns out to be Optimus Prime and the goverment storms his house to try and capture him. Wahlberg and his family are forced into hiding and join up with the autobots as they try to fight for their freedom. Also Dinobots show up at the end of the film for 10 or so minutes.

Acting in these movies, not usually top shelf stuff. But to be fair Mark Wahlberg does a good job here. He has good emotions, and seeing him play angry protective father is good fun. T.J. Miller is always gold for me. The guy just cracks me up, and I have enjoyed him in everything I can think of. Even Yogi Bear, so seeing him here was a very nice surprise. Sadly they decide to only use him for about 30 minutes or so. Grammer is the main human villain, and he does well with what he is given. He never really comes across as scary, or even intimidating though. It just felt like they could have done much more with him.

For the robots, Optimus is voiced by Peter Cullen. Cullen has been voicing that particular robot for 30 years now. He was the same guy who voiced him back in the first animated series. Frank Weller also returns, voicing Galvatron. He also has been voicing that robot and a few others since the 80's. Seeing these guys still working their roles is great, but also a little disappointing. They do a wonderful job, and hearing their voices is a joy. But the way they are being used now, you have to wonder if they even care about their past. Maybe it is just me being to critical, but the versions of those characters we have now are in no way similar to the great characters they have offered us in the past. More on that in a minute though.

The visuals in the movie range from god awful, to pretty damn impressive. Usually the later thankfully. However there was a scene where Wahlberg and his daughter are saved by her sometimes Irish boyfriend. He is a rally driver, and has a course set up where he jumps out of a parking garage onto a ramp. The whole sequence was just ridiculous looking. The moment the car left the garage it looked very fake, even the way it moved seemed very off. This is just one example, but there were a few times I just shook my head at how poorly something looked. On the other end of the spectrum though, I would like to talk about Transformium. It is a new metal the humans have invented in order to combat the robots. It allows them to make their own transformers, and the way it moves and transforms is a visual treat. It separates into little spheres and then reforms into the new shape. It was one of the cooler elements in the film. Seeing them change a gun into Rainbow Dash made me smile. And seeing it used in the battle sequences did the same. Sadly the actual fights did not do the same.

The action sequences were about the same as the last few films. Explosions for the sake of explosions. Fighting that seemed very out of place for the Autobots. And a whole lot of nothing happening for extended duration. They also decided to have Wahlberg fight the transformers, which worked with varying success. He is given a gun, that is human size, and he can kill them with it. He gets it off of a transformer ship though, where we never actually see anybody human size who could wield it. Also as it seems to be firing physical rounds instead of lasers, I have to wonder how much recoil a transformer killing weapon would have.....apparently none is the correct answer. He even gets the final fight, as after Lockdown takes out Optimus Prime, why wouldn't the human with a gun be able to win?

So in previous variations of the Transformers, autobots end up stranded on our planet. They decide to support and protect us from the deceptions, as it was simply the right thing to do. In other variations humans have gotten a hold of their tech and used it to fight them, but they still protected us as it was simply the right thing to do. In this movie that changes. The autobots don't like the humans, and even come off as villains in some portions. They are unable to see the difference between the corrupt members running the black ops group, and everybody else. A running gag is the autobots requesting permission from Optimus to kill random humans. And even Optimus himself does not go out of his way to protect the innocents. He even brings fights into highly populated areas purposefully. Let's remember that was his entire thing. Optimus Prime discovered sentient life on the planet and swore to protect it. That is from his wiki, and it perfectly sums up him as a character. This Optimus does not have that, and nothing has happened to him that hasn't happened in other versions of the fiction. If it was the first movie I could sort of understand it, but he seems to not remember any of the humans who have helped him from the past few Bay films. I spent the majority of the movie hating the autobots, as frankly they were awful protagonist. The fact that Cullen still voiced Optimus in this performance has lowered my opinion of him.

The high point of the film were the sequences that did not involve the transformers. T.J. Miller and Mark Wahlberg hanging out was easily the best part of the movie. The entire first 30 minutes, I actually thought they had finally made a film I was going to enjoy. Then they get rid of Miller and replace him with Jack Raynor who was just awful. He couldn't pick a accent, and his character was simply annoying. He was used to add humor to the film, but it just fell flat for me. Wahlberg did a great job of holding everything together, but even he couldn't carry the entire movie.

With a horrible story, bland action sequences, annoying inconsistencies, that whole we could have just shot the magnet the whole time thing. (if you watch the movie you will get this) Frankly this movie was garbage. Wahlberg was better then Shia Labeouf, but everybody other then him and Miller were bland and forgettable. The autobots were jerks and unlikable, though my wife was surprised that Goodman was still alive. So finding out she was wrong about that was a positive for her. It was odd watching this movie, it started out so strong. But as it progressed it somehow got worse and worse as time went on. By the end, I was just glad it was over with.

I have a strict, no money on Bay Formers rule, guess it will stay in effect for the time being. If you want a redbox, look for something else. Godzilla is out now, and Deliver us from Evil just showed up there. Give one of those a shot instead.

No trailer, watch this instead.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dracula Untold (2014)

Dracula untold is advertising itself as a, well untold variation of the Dracula story. It tries to portray Dracula as a hero, and give a justification to his transformation into the Vampire itself. It also tries to paint Vlad the Impaler  as a sympathetic leader with high morals whom we should feel bad for. Now my research on either of those two subjects is very limited, or rather non existent. But from what I do know I had a hard time accepting either of those. Doesn't honestly effect the film at all, as it is fiction. But it was a odd choice for a story. Untold has a romance plot, and it is a story about family. The Turks demanded 1000 boys to add into their army years ago. Vlad was one of those and was raised alongside the now Sultan Mehmed. Vlad felt bad about all his actions and the whole Impaler thing, and returned to his people to rule Transylvania as a benevolent leader. Sadly all does not go well, and the Turks are provoked by the Transylvanians, albeit by no real fault of their own. They demand 1000 boys again, as well as Vlad's own son. Vlad does not like this and decides to meet with the Master Vampire played by Charles Dance, and ask for his power. Vlad is given a 3 day trial period. If he does not drink blood he will return to normal....oddly enough he dies in order to initiate the trial. Not sure if that means he would die at the end of the 3 days for good, or some how magically come back to life. Either way he uses vampire magic and abilities to protect his people, and even rallies them behind his new darkness.

The story behind the movie is passable, and honestly it does its job of setting up action. That is the entire draw of this movie, the fighting. You are not seeing a horror, a drama, or anything where you are expecting to be enthralled by a epic tale. You are hear to see Vlad kill some Turks, and look stylish while doing it. And for the most part it delivers in that regard. Vlad strolls into a huge group of enemies and just lays waste to them with his powers. The way they integrated the bat transformation looked great, and seeing him form into swarm and just fly around the battlefield was good fun. The effects were good, not amazing, but still well done. There were a few cheesy moments, but all in all there were very few complaints from that department. There is a scene where Vlad controls a huge hoard of bats and they mimic his movements by crating giant fists out of their bodies. It looked kinda funny and reminded me of that scene in the mummy where the sand was forming the Mummies body as it chased the heroes in the plane.

Sadly where the movie fails the hardest, is as a vampire flick. It is about Dracula, but we don't actually get to see any real vampire activity until the finally. Yes he has powers until then, but he is devoid of the ferocity and the animal instincts you come to expect from these creatures. Until the last few minutes you never see anybody feed. No blood sucking in a vampire movie, what is the point then? Also the final fight was laughable at best. Silver is a vampire weakness according to this, which seems to be about 50-50 with most vampire lore. So the villain tricks Vlad into fighting him in a room of silver. Vlad is then reduced back to the power level of a normal human, and gets progressively weaker as time goes by. I guess it makes sense, but it once again detracted from what I wanted from the movie. Vampire violence. Final fight, Vlad has given in and is now Dracula. I wanted to see him rip the Sultan apart, not struggle with him for a few minutes before somehow just overcoming the silver weakness because of love.

The movie is at its strongest when it is not dealing with vampires. Vlad is likable, and I was able to understand his motivations and even agree with what he was doing. The family aspect and him wanting to save his son over protecting his people was interesting. And then when they turn on him and he tries to restore the balance by protecting them was noble. But I couldn't help but feel it would have worked better if they explored the darker side of the story more, instead of trying to turn Vlad into this amazing great guy. I get that Vampires are "hip" right now, but that doesn't mean we have to make everything about them a love story.

Acting was good across the board. Luke Evans was a good Vlad, and he did alright with the action sequences. Sarah Gadon played his wife Mirena, and she managed that well enough. The character was pretty unlikable by the end, but that wasn't Gadon's fault. Dominic Cooper always plays smug well, and is easy to dislike in pretty much every thing. I think it has to do with his face, but that may just be me. The weakest performance was probably by Game of Thrones actor Art Parkinson who plays Vlad's son. But hey he is young and still learning.

So let's wrap this up. Story is passable, but not great. Action sequences are enjoyable for the most part, but does have some cheesy sections that made me shake my head. Vampires were severely underused, and the film never really felt like it utilized the Dracula property to its fullest. The ending was awful, in many ways I can not explain with out spoiling more then I am willing to. But hey it had a cool line near the end. I am Dracula, son of  the devil. I would have used that as a the tagline for the film. Dracula Untold: Son of the Devil. Or Dracula Untold: The legend is born. Honestly, which one of those sounds like a movie worth seeing?