Sunday, June 25, 2017

Transformers 5, 47 Meters Down, Megan Leavey, The Book of Henry Reviews

Transformers: The Last Knight
Dir. Michael Bay
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NOTE: This review features spoilers! Ye have been warned!

They say "practice makes perfect," so by now, after FIVE movies in the Transformers franchise, you'd think action junkie and explosion enthusiast Michael Bay would be able to craft some kind of coherent story. You'd think. Similar to his other four mega-blockbuster CGI extravaganzas, The Last Knight does not feel like the four credited screenwriters had any real kind of master plan with this movie - yet again it feels like an ADHD-addled 12 year old mashing around his giant, million-dollar robot toys. There are so many ideas, characters, and subplots jammed into this movie that it defies any kind of clear and logical summary. That being said, The Last Knight at least escapes the soul-crushing blandness of Universal's recent The Mummy, featuring wall-to-wall, undiluted Bayhem every step of the way, for better or worse.

Surely a futile exercise, let me try and sum up the plot: Optimus Prime is currently floating in space, searching for his creator. Despite being literally frozen, his robo-corpse accidentally perfectly drifts onto Cybertron, where a Transformer god named Quintessa brainwashes Optimus and sends him back to Earth to conquer mankind. Then Optimus disappears for practically the entire movie, arriving for the final setpiece. The rest of the time, we follow a giant heap of human-based subplots. The main thrust involves "inventor" Cade Yager (Mark Wahlberg), who lives off the grid in a junkyard with his Autobot friends. He eventually crosses paths with a history professor, Vivian (Laura Haddock), whose entrance prompted some guy in my audience to "wolf whistle." They're both brought to the home of an eccentric Englishman, Sir Edward (Anthony Hopkins), who reveals that there's been a secret history of Transformers and humans on Earth; it's even suggested that Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass had their own Transformers helping them (good grief)! Marky Mark and his funky bunch then have to find some miscellaneous artifacts to save their planet from an alien invasion. And if you think that's a lot of BS to keep track of - there are about a half dozen other story threads going on at the same time!

So the plot is a barely-coherent mess that ultimately has no point or message, but I expected that. What Michael Bay does excel at, however, are the visuals, and as easy as it is to trash on the film, it looks amazing. The CGI integration with humans is practically flawless, and there's an early scene were Bumblebee transforms midair during a shootout that was stunning from a technical standpoint. There are some truly beautifully-composed shots throughout the film as well, with cinematographer Jonathan Sela (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) bringing so much breathtaking scale and beauty into a film that doesn't really deserve it. The action itself is also sometimes fun and over-the-top, though after 2.5 straight hours of it you may start to grow weary of the constant metal-on-metal, mindless slow-mo robo-brawls.

I also appreciated the general sense of "fun and fancy free" the cast all seemed to be having here. At the beginning of the film, in an epically-scaled Arthurian battle sequence, Stanley Tucci plays a drunk-off-his-ass Merlin that's so stupid it's funny. Anthony Hopkins far and away steals the show as "Sir Edward," gleefully hamming it up, delivering countless expository monologues, bickering playfully with his C3PO-ripoff robot servant, and screaming obscenities at random people. Cade's "eye candy" love interest had much more life than Tom Cruise's dead-eyed gal pal in The Mummy. I also really liked Izabella (Isabela Moner), a headstrong 14-year-old poised to be a sort of daughter figure for Cade, although she does practically nothing of substance in this movie. Her parents were killed by Decepticons and Moner delivers some amazing reel-worthy monologues, but unbelievably she is pretty much left behind the entire movie while Wahlberg does all the fun stuff.

It's hard to rate this movie because on one hand, it's undeniably "bad." The plot goes all over the place, it's overstuffed with characters who have little bearing on the rest of the movie, it's filled with cringe-worthy jokes, and it says nothing about anything other than "more explosions!" But Michael Bay yet again delivers on the level of IMAX-worthy grandeur, and there were enough "WTF" moments throughout that I was rarely bored. While it's sad that such a talented action director as Michael Bay has spent the last decade making these garbage movies, at least they bear his signature, crazy style.

Rating: D+

47 Meters Down
Dir. Johannes Roberts
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Originally intended for a direct-to-video release, after Dimension sold this movie to the creatively-named Entertainment Studios, they decided the reap the same benefits of last year's The Shallows, another summer-released shark thriller that easily made its money back, by releasing it into theaters. But while 47 Meters Down definitely falls into the low-budget gimmick movie camp, it does boast some nice underwater photography (practically the whole movie is set underwater), and it does manage to wring a lot of tension out of a very isolated, single situation (almost the exact opposite of Transformers 5). The script is dumb and the characters are dumber, but 47 Meters is a step above your typical VOD release.

The story follows sisters Kate (Claire Holt), the "fun" one, and Lisa (Mandy Moore), the "cautious" one. They're on vacation in Mexico just so Lisa can prove to her ex that she is adventurous. Kate suggests that they go swimming in shark-infested waters, and after some minor persuasion ("think of the pictures!"), Lisa agrees. Safe inside a protective cage, before they can even tell the Great Whites swimming around them to 'Say Cheese!,' the line on their cage snaps and they plummet... 47 meters down! Like the title! (They mention how deep they are 10 more times throughout the movie in case you forgot). Anyway, panicked and scared, the two sisters basically try to think their way out of the situation with what little resources and air they have, sort of like Gravity with sharks (and without plausible science).

I actually love the concept of this movie, and Johannes Roberts does have some interesting ways of continually keeping the tension alive. They can't simply swim up to the surface because of "the bends," which causes nitrogen bubbles to erupt in the brain. They're also exposed if they leave their cage for any reason, and the fogginess of the open sea is constantly threatening. The cage itself feels appropriately claustrophobic and there are some semi-clever MacGyver-y ways the girls survive.

However, what practically ruins the whole movie is that the girls narrate every single thing they do, and in shrill obnoxious voices. A blind person could watch this movie and know everything that's going on. We can't even really see their expressions, as they're obscured by their scuba gear, so at times it really is like listening to a radio drama. Also, as I mentioned before, sometimes science and logic is thrown out the window; characters talk to each other perfectly underwater without earpieces, characters go swimming without flippers, and there's a numerous amount of eye-rolling coincidences and deus ex machinas.

47 Meters Down had the potential to be a genuinely scary shark thriller, but ultimately it's a middle-of-the-road B-movie that unfortunately goes full-on silly by the end.

Rating: C+

Megan Leavey
Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite
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Based on a true story, Megan Leavey, from Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, follows Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), a young, wayward Marine who goes from drunkenly peeing in a bush outside her superior's office to finding her path by training a service dog, Rex, an aggressive canine that she manages to tame through due diligence. Together, Megan and Rex go on dozens of missions together until a hidden explosive device injures both of them, putting both their futures in jeopardy.

This being Cowperthwaite's first narrative feature, you get the sense that she understands how deep an emotional connection animals can have with humans (seriously, watch Blackfish!). While overly sentimental at times, this movie works its best when it shows the teamwork and camaraderie between soldiers and their dogs. It's well-acted by all (including Edie Falco as Megan's not-so-understanding mother and Bradley Whitford as her practical father), and does undeniably tug at the heartstrings at times - I mean, emotions will always be heightened when a cute doggie is involved.

However, Megan Leavey is unfortunately directed in a very straightforward, bland, predictable way; at times it feels like the watered-down, "Lifetime Channel" version of The Hurt Locker. Many of the subplots feel abbreviated and underdeveloped (including a budding romance with a fellow soldier), and there are simply no surprises here. It doesn't come close to capturing the same dramatic heft of Wendy and Lucy - another flick about the bond formed between a girl and her dog - but if you're looking for the fast-food equivalent of a tearjerker, Megan Leavey will satisfy your "I need a quick cry" quotient.

Rating: B-

The Book of Henry
Dir. Colin Trevorrow
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Colin Trevorrow directed one of the biggest box office hits of 2015 with Jurassic World, and will undoubtedly strike gold again with its sequel and 2019's Star Wars: Episode IX. While he's clearly become one of the "big boys" at the Hollywood lunch table, weirdly enough, sandwiched between these giant blockbusters, is this oddball little movie The Book of Henry. This family drama follows a single mother of two boys, Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts), who relegates all of her parenting duties to her oldest son, Henry (Jaeden Lieberher). Henry is basically a boy genius who's extremely protective of his little brother (Jacob Tremblay) and childish mother. In Rear Window fashion, Henry one day discovers that their next door neighbors, the police chief (Dean Norris) and his daughter (Maddie Ziegler), harbor a dark secret, and he devises a crazy plan to try and help the young girl.

While critics have tore this movie to shreds (22% on Rotten Tomatoes), I thought The Book of Henry was a breath of fresh air for Trevorrow and the summer movie season in general. It tells an emotional story with fantastic actors, inventive visuals, and a charmingly surreal tone that balances sentimentality, humor, and tension; it's sort of like a Spielberg movie told through the off-kilter lens of Twin Peaks. It feels unlike any movie I've ever seen, and despite the fact that characters act totally implausibly, I was in for the crazy ride.

The Book of Henry defies description. It doesn't cleanly fit into any one genre. I think critics are panning it because they don't know what to do with it - but it was never less than entertaining for me. This movie goes to genuinely surprising, dark places, and the cast all bring their A-games (Tremblay is astonishing considering his age). Maybe I'm crazy, but I thought The Book of Henry was an original, heightened-reality take on the traditional coming-of-age story.

Rating: B

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