Film Review: Bumblebee (2018)

Also known as: Transformers 6 (working title), Brighton Falls (fake working title)
Release Date: December 3rd, 2018 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Glynn Turman, Fred Dryer, Angela Bassett (voice), Justin Theroux (voice), Peter Cullen (voice)

Allspark Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Tencent Pictures, Bay Films, Paramount Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“The darkest nights, produce the brightest stars.” – Memo

The first three minutes and twenty seconds of this movie are pure Transformers perfection. The opening scene hit every single note in the right way and proved to me, right out the gate, that this was not a Michael Bay Transformers movie and that the creative team behind this film, actually cared about the source material.

Then the next scene was spectacular and the opening twelve minutes or so were a hell of a lot of fun, punctuated by John Cena being awesome because he initially felt like a heel in the story.

Now the film starts to taper off from its awesomeness a bit once we meet the main, non-robot characters, and deal with teen angst and crappy summer jobs. But that stuff is far from terrible and the movie does do a good job of fitting within the ’80s. Well, except for how often it has to remind you of what decade it is with a constant barrage of random Top 40 hits of the time. Not that I dislike ’80s music, I love a lot of music from that decade, but the selections didn’t seem cohesive and it felt like some millennial giving their Amazon Echo a very generic statement like, “Play ’80s music!”

This was also the most human and emotional Transformers to date. It develops its characters well, you truly care about Bumblebee and the humans and seeing Bumblebee feeling lost, without his memory, is executed greatly. Sure, it’s a cheesy, feel good movie but what’s wrong with feeling good?

What really wowed me is that most of this film is fan service but it understands what fan service is, delivers it damn well and sort of makes up for all the other atrocious Transformers movies I stopped watching after the second one.

Also, the robots look damn near perfect. Going back to the incredible opening scene, all the Autobots and Decepticons featured there looked exactly as they should if you are using the G1 era as your source. Between Wheeljack, Soundwave, Shockwave and all the others, it felt great to see them in a live action movie the way they were meant to be seen, which is all I ever wanted from the five films before this one. In fact, when Starscream and the Seekers turn into Cybertronian jets, they look just like they did in the pilot of the G1 cartoon, with a sort of sleek pyramid shape.

Megatron is nowhere to be seen but the two main villains were really solid stand-ins. The female robot was voice by Angela Bassett and the male was very much a perfect recreation of Vortex. The two of them were also triple changes. So where the Vortex looking Decepticon looked like the actual Vortex helicopter mode, he was also able to turn into a muscle car.

Hell, Cliffjumper shows up for one scene and he looked perfect. It was great seeing him get an appearance. considering that he’s been completely overshadowed by his brother, Bumblebee, since the original cartoon started. I always liked Cliffjumper better, as a kid.

Hailee Steinfeld put in an energetic and convincing performance and was the best human protagonist in the history of Transformers movies. The kid crushing on her was pretty useless but I didn’t hate him. However, the kid playing her little brother was terrific and I wish we would have seen more of him. Also, Pamela Adlon as her mother was a very strong plus for me.

In the end, Bumblebee was the Transformers movie I never thought I’d get. It’s far from perfect but it is a great step in the right direction. While this was intended to be a prequel to the Michael Bay films, I think they should just use this as a reboot and relaunch the franchise off of the shoulders of this film. And with that being said, I don’t want this to be the last time we see Steinfeld’s character.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Transformers cartoon and animated movie but NOT the Michael Bay films, as this is so much better than those.

Film Review: Aquaman (2018)

Release Date: November 26th, 2018 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan
Based on: Aquaman by Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Djimon Hounsou, Julie Andrews (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice)

Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Films, Mad Ghost Productions, 143 Minutes

Review:

“You think you’re unworthy to lead because you’re of two different worlds? But that is exactly why you are worthy!” – Mera

People talked this movie up quite a bit when it came out but I didn’t see it in the theater because the holidays are busy for me and this is not a Tolkien movie.

But I had high hopes as several people I tend to trust told me that I’d like it. Well, they were wrong. I mean, I didn’t hate it and if you are comparing this to the other DCEU films, it’s actually the second best. However, that’s not a high threshold to try and beat.

First off, I like Jason Mamoa and I like Jason Mamoa in this movie. However, he’s basically playing Jason Mamoa and not Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman. Well, at least not how Aquaman has been written for decades. And couldn’t he have gone blonde? He could’ve kept the long hair and beard, as Aquaman has had that look before but I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger did a good job of once playing Conan without brunette locks.

But the thing is, he doesn’t feel like Aquaman and he really just feels like a badass buff dude with similar powers to Aquaman.

I thought that Amber Heard was pretty on point as Mera, though. She needs a bit more confidence if she’s to be the tough as nails future queen but this was a good start, assuming they make more of these, which they probably will.

Most importantly, though, Mamoa and Heard had damn good chemistry and that’s what had to carry this movie and it was certainly a strength when everything else around it felt like aquatic Candyland.

Other than a handful of good actors, mainly Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Temuera Morrison, the rest of the film was pretty lackluster and underwhelming.

It had action, it was fun for the most part, but a lot of the film felt too dragged out once you got to the middle. It had really good pacing for about 45 minutes but then the plot just seemed to be a mixture of different genres and this didn’t have a clear identity as to what it was. Some of these genre twists seemed like they were more in conflict with the film as a whole than being a collection of interesting ingredients there to make the dish taste better.

I didn’t like how Black Manta was handled and he’s just sort of a henchman and an afterthought in this film. He’s much more badass than that. Read Dan Abnett’s first few story arcs on his run of the Aquman comic. There, Black Manta was a dangerous terrorist that had Aquaman and Atlantis in the palm of his hand. I know that they introduced him in this film to build him up for later but I just don’t feel like they did it effectively and it’ll be hard to take him seriously as the big baddie when he was just portrayed as Mr. Laserface and then get knocked down a cliff. Plus, with his helmet on, the effect they used on his voice mixed with the actor’s line delivery, reminded me of Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

Patrick Wilson was pretty good as the Ocean Master but the way he was written was confusing. He’s willing to do pure evil to maintain his throne but he doesn’t seem to commit to the bit and he just sort of accepts his fate when his mom shows up and tells him to love his brother.

This film is an example of something being fun and entertaining but not being good and not being something that I particularly like. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and that goes for all the films in the DCEU. But that also doesn’t mean that I won’t watch the sequel, I probably will but I doubt I’ll see that one in the theater either.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC Comics movies within the same shared universe.

Documentary Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Music by: Jonathan Kirkscey

Tremolo Productions, Focus Features, 93 Minutes

Review:

This was a highly lauded documentary when it came out at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. I heard about it almost immediately but I didn’t get to see it till now, as it is streaming through HBO, which I happen to have at the moment.

I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but then, what kid in America didn’t? But because of this, I always felt close to Fred Rogers. I mean, he was a part of my daily life during my developmental years and I continued to see him often, as younger kids in my family also grew up watching the show.

It was really nice seeing this, as it does take a real intimate look at the show and Fred Rogers, the man. This does a great job of being both a biography film of Rogers personal life, as well as a behind the scenes look at the show’s development, production and legacy.

I learned a lot about Rogers and who the man was. I, like most people, always wondered if he was a character or if he was just being himself. Now I have no doubts that the man we all grew up with was the authentic Fred Rogers.

The documentary gives a lot of speaking time for several people from Rogers’ professional and personal lives. All of them had nothing but love and admiration and while that may make the skeptic wonder as to whether this was just some sort of puff piece or not, I think that Rogers truly touched everyone around him.

I love showbiz documentaries but this was a rare gem in that it delved into a part of showbiz that isn’t really examined.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent biographical documentaries featured on HBO.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Release Date: December 6th, 2018 (Singapore sneak preview)
Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Written by: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli
Music by: Daniel Pemberton
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Lake Bell, Marvin Jones III, Stan Lee (cameo), Cliff Robertson (archive recording), Oscar Issac (cameo), Donald Glover (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Arad Productions, Lord Miller Productions, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 117 Minutes, 143 Minutes (Alt Universe Cut)

Review:

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.” – Stan Lee

I intended to see this in the theater but the holidays are really busy for me and I didn’t get around to it or any other movies around that time. I heard great things about this movie though, so I rented it as soon as it was available.

Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of animated films. At least I haven’t been in my adult life. I still love a lot of the old cartoons and anime I watched as a kid but due to the overwhelming positive fan response to this and my love of Miles Morales, I wanted to give this a chance.

Overall, it’s a mighty fine motion picture and the best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2.

I thought that the CGI animation was really well done. I prefer traditional animation and have never found CGI animation to be that interesting but this shows how great this animation style can be when pushed to the max and utilized for its strengths while being meticulously crafted with heart.

The story doesn’t really follow the comics but how many comic book film adaptations do? Still, it was engaging, it captured who Miles is and it examined a lot of different aspects of heroism. I absolutely love how it presented and handled the life of an aged Peter Parker. And ultimately, the bond between Miles, Peter, Gwen Stacy and the other heroes was strong and everything human and emotional felt natural.

I was really excited to see Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham, especially. I loved Gwen’s earliest stories and I’ve been a Spider-Ham junkie since childhood.

This also features a lot of villains and even does a gender bending twist to Doctor Octopus that worked for me.

I think that this movie definitely did exactly what it set out to do which was to launch Miles Morales into the minds of normal moviegoers and kids that don’t pick up the comics while incorporating a nice array of other Spider-heroes in a fun and unique way. It also humanizes the vilest villain and makes this a more emotional and touching movie than most of the live action Spider-Man adaptations.

I’m definitely excited for the multiple sequels and spinoffs that Sony seems to have planned for the very near future.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: I’d assume, the future sequels and spinoffs. As well as Miles Morales Spider-Man comics.

Film Review: Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Hoshi Wo Kû Mono (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 3: The Planet Eater (full title)
Release Date: November 3rd, 2018 (TIFF)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji

Toho, 90 Minutes

Review:

Well, I wasn’t too keen on the first two chapters in the Godzilla anime trilogy but I watched those pictures, so I thought I should watch the finale in an effort to see if this brought all of the movies together in a meaningful way.

Sadly, this was pretty much as dull as the other two.

I still can’t get behind the animation and how it is a mish mash of traditional hand drawn animation and CGI. The mix of the two never works for me. I get why they do this but it just makes a project feel rushed and cheap. Sure, the CGI is of good quality but it is still cheaper than having skilled animators draw out every frame of the more ambitious action sequences.

Also, maybe they had to rush this because they thought people would lose interest if it took Toho ten years to put out a solid hand drawn trilogy. But with that being said, people can’t lose interest in something if the first release doesn’t generate any interest to begin with.

I’m not saying that these films don’t have their fans, they do. What I’m saying is that they could have had more and these films could have been something exceptional with the time and care put into them.

Now having seen the complete body of work, I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that this is just a superficial project used to capitalize off of an existing (and lucrative) IP that will just waste away on Netflix without much real fanfare. Other than having the distinction of being the first official Godzilla anime in history, this is pretty damn forgettable.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan. I love old school tokusatsu and kaiju franchises pretty immensely. But I don’t think that I’ll ever have the urge to revisit any of these ever again.

But I also can’t ignore the skill and craftsmanship that went into this, even if it wasn’t created in the way that I would have preferred.

Also, the villain monster was pretty cool and creative but that doesn’t carry the film.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

Film Review: Batman Ninja (2018)

Release Date: March 24th, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Junpei Mizusaki
Written by: Kazuki Nakashima
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Yugo Kanno
Cast: Tony Hale (English dub), Tara Strong (English dub), Kōichi Yamadera, Wataru Takagi, Ai Kakuma, Rie Kugimiya, Hōchū Ōtsuka

DC Entertainment, Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, Barnum Studio, Warner Bros., 85 Minutes

Review:

“This is madness.” – Batman

Yes… yes it is, Batman.

The only reason I checked this out is that it’s on the DC Universe app, which I now have and am trying out. Other than that, I didn’t have much interest in this.

However, some of the character designs looked cool and I thought that this might just be bonkers enough to be enjoyable. The problem is that I only made it about twenty minutes into the film before I regretted hitting the play button.

Cool and interesting character designs don’t mean much outside of a sketchbook of conceptual art. You have to apply these cool looking characters in an engaging and dynamic way and this anime fails to do just that.

This movie is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions and I’m pretty sure that the creators behind this had no idea what the hell they wanted to do apart from throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen just for the sake of throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen.

The story is all over the place, makes little sense, I can’t tell what the hell is happening through most of the film and there’s a big mecha battle because this is Japanese and it can’t exist without a big mecha battle.

This is a bunch of cool, unrelated shit thrown into a blender without little care as to whether or not it would blend well and be enjoyable, let alone remotely palatable. I had an uncle that had throat cancer and for awhile, he had to blend up every meal. His face while drinking his meals was similar to mine while trying to drink in this movie.

Batman Ninja is abhorrent and it should not have been made. It’s existence reminds me of the most famous of all of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quotes: “Your scientists creators were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: terrible to subpar anime.

TV Review: Titans (2018- )

Also known as: Teen Titans (informal title)
Original Run: October 3rd, 2018 (New York Comic Con) – current
Created by: Akiva Goldsmith, Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters from DC Comics
Music by: Clint Mansell, Kevin Kiner
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Anna Diop, Teagan Croft, Ryan Potter

Weed Road Pictures, Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 11 Episodes (so far), 40-50 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I finally got DC Universe, as it became available on the Amazon FireStick after months of dealys. So that being said, I have now checked out Titans, the streaming service’s first big attempt at original content.

While this wasn’t a total waste of time and shows some promise, it was still a pretty drab attempt at getting me excited for spending $7.99 per month on yet another video-on-demand service.

The biggest issue for me is that the characters don’t really act like the characters in the comics. Dick Grayson a.k.a. Robin a.k.a. Nightwing just straight up murders people the first time we see him confront some thugs. Then everyone else in the show kills or maims people pretty quickly and it’s fairly easy to see what we have here, which is another live action DC Comics property giving itself fully over to their gritty, edgy boy formula that only worked for Christopher Nolan, ten years ago, and Zack Snyder once with Watchmen, also ten years ago.

Also, Gotham does a good job of being gritty but it takes tremendous creative liberties and took awhile to really find its footing.

So Titans could definitely improve, as Gotham did. In fact, there are signs of better things within this first season. However, there isn’t much here to make me care about the main characters. Dick and Rachel, who will become Raven, are emo to the point of cringe but at least Starfire is interesting and Gar, who will become Beast Boy, is charismatic and could potentially be the best thing on the show.

The real problem with Titans is that the best episodes are the ones where the title characters aren’t the focal point. My two favorite chapters out of the eleven here are the one that’s all about introducing Doom Patrol and the one that serves as the origin story for Hawk & Dove. So what does it say when I’m more interested in secondary characters with minor screen time or characters who are getting their own spinoff?

I’m actually excited about Doom Patrol based off of what I saw here. And if I’m being honest, I’m not all that interested in a second season of Titans, even though I will watch it in hopes that things improve.

The season also suffers from not telling a good, self contained story. We get the season’s cliffhanger ending in the second to last episode and then the final episode, which should have been a resolution to the ten episodes before it, is nothing but a hallucination that ends leaving us exactly in the same spot that the previous penultimate episode did. It’s an absolutely terrible conclusion to a mostly mediocre season.

On the positive side, at least this moves more briskly than the Netflix Marvel shows and even though it has its filler episodes, they at least have action and progress the story in some way.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the upcoming live action DC Universe shows, as well as the DC Comics shows on the CW and Fox’s Gotham.