Transformers: Age of Extinction
After the events of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, referred to in the film as The Battle of Chicago, the surviving Autobots are being hunted to extinction. The United States government is bent on exterminating all Transformers, good and bad, believing them to be an unwelcome global threat. All the while, the hypocritical government has simultaneously partnered with a wealthy inventor who is trying to create his own superior, man-made variations of Transformers. Furthermore, they’re working with the help of the Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown to search out and annihilate Optimus Prime, the famed leader of the Autobots. Prime has been forced into hiding and has sent out a distress call encouraging his comrades to follow suit. When amateur inventor Cade Yeager inadvertently stumbles upon a disguised Optimus Prime, he helps to repair the damaged Transformer who must reunite with his remaining allies to fight for their right to live.
Before I dive into this review, I think I should inform you that I have not seen any of the previous Transformers movies. I should also note that I’m something of a Transformers hater. Despite pressure from family and friends who have praised the movie series, I have deliberately avoided every single one of the films. I never liked the cartoon as a kid, and while Transformers’ amalgamation of cars and robots may be a dream combination for most guys, I have very little interest in either. However, as a critic, I cannot let my own biases get in the way of giving fair judgment. After having watched Transformers: Age of Extinction, I can thankfully report that the film actually wasn’t half bad. While it’s not going to make a Transformers fan out of me, it was an entertaining, albeit overly-long, movie-going experience.
Age of Extinction is an action-packed ride, filled with the kind of over-the-top entertainment you would expect from a Michael Bay film. While Bay has developed something of a bad rap, there’s no denying his knack for fun and ridiculous action sequences. He’s a man who spares no expense when it comes to explosions and special effects, and this is where Bay is at his best. Love him or hate him, it’s hard to argue with his results as he’s surely one of the most successful directors of all time. However, clocking in at two hours and forty-five minutes, the high-speed action of Age of Extinction is exhausting and becomes tiresome long before the finale. Even when Bay slows things down, he keeps the camera overly busy with particle effects and constant movement. While all of that looks great in IMAX 3D, it feels like an endless visual barrage that is frankly a lot to take in. How many lens flares must a man endure in one movie? I understand the desire to make every shot exciting and visually striking, but I think Bay is trying to tackle too much on camera.
Similarly, Age of Extinction is trying to squeeze too much into its plot, which could almost be broken up into two entirely separate movies. We have the hunt for Optimus Prime and the Transformers by Lockdown and the CIA; Cade Yeager’s discovery of Prime and their ensuing alliance; the love story between Cade’s daughter and her boyfriend; the emergence of the Dinobots; as well as the man-made construction of new Transformers. The result is a fast-paced action movie that is convoluted and far too long. That’s not to say that what is there is bad, though. Awful love story aside, all of the other components of the story are solid and even pretty interesting. Kelsey Grammer puts in a good performance as the head of the CIA who is responsible for the extermination of the Transformers. Similarly, Stanley Tucci is great as Joshua Joyce, the brilliant inventor who is recreating human-controlled Transformers for military use. Yet I can’t help but think that Joyce’s plot would have been perhaps been better to save for a sequel. Sure, it offers a nice parallel between the two inventors and it also creates an opportunity for them to introduce some all-new Transformers, but aren’t the Dinobots enough? There’s so much going on in the film that the eagerly-anticipated Dinobots aren’t given much screen time at all. There is just an unreasonable amount of narratives going on in this movie, to the point where it’s hard to follow, and even harder to stay interested in. Instead of sitting on the edge of your seat during the climactic showdown, you’re probably going to be looking at your watch and wondering how much longer this movie can possibly go on.
While I’m no expert on Transformers, I think the film does an admirable job in bringing the robotic characters to life. Their appearance and animation are both impressive, and they’re typically a pretty fun bunch. I have to admit, though, that I was a bit jarred by the angry and violent demeanor of Optimus Prime. I thought he was supposed to be the good guy everyone looked up to? In Age of Extinction, he clearly has some anger management issues. While he might be the most skilled warrior out there, he sure doesn’t seem like much of a role model. Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, has one again returned to voice the character. John Goodman gives a stand-out voice performance as Hound, in a role he seemed to have a lot of fun with, and Ken Watanabe voices the Samurai-like Transformer known as Drift. All in all, there are a lot of Transformers in the movie, but there is hardly ample time to get to know most of them. I imagine many of them have been introduced in previous films, but for a newcomer like myself, I had a hard time distinguishing between quite a few of them. Then there are the Dinobots, which look awesome, but we’re not given a chance to know much of anything about them. It’s a shame that they’re reduced to feeling like unnecessary bookends to an already overly-crammed movie.
On the human side of things, Mark Wahlberg is enjoyable as the struggling inventor who scavengers through whatever he can to try to create a breakthrough invention. He brings a charming and heroic presence to his role, making him a character we can identify with and root for as he tries to assist the highly-targeted Transformers. T.J. Miller’s Lucas makes for a mildly humorous companion to Cade, although much of the film’s attempts at comedy feel forced and aren’t very funny. Then there’s Nicola Peltz as the skimpily-dressed, rebellious but brainy and innocent, party girl daughter Tessa. She fits right into Bay’s stereotypical sexist female lead who serves as little more than a damsel in distress and eye candy. Still, I don’t know who is worse; Tessa, or her rally car racing boyfriend Shane, played by Jack Reynor. I felt just as frustrated by them as Wahlberg does playing Tessa’s disgruntled and disapproving father. These two lovebirds are an annoying and unwanted addition that only further drag out the plot. While it was at first vaguely amusing to watch Cade freak out as the over-protective father, that shtick ended up getting old real quick. While Wahlberg makes a good new face for the franchise, I hope to God that he comes alone for the next one.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is a fun summer movie. Director Michael Bay sticks to his usual mode of operation with ridiculous action sequences, top of the line special effects, and a whole lot of explosions. If you’re looking for a movie with more flash than substance, Age of Extinction should be right up your alley. It’s jam-packed and overly ambitious, stretching the run time far longer than it ever should, but if offers plenty of dumb, fun entertainment. Transformers fans should be pleased, though the series still has yet to make a fan out of me.
A Walk Among the Tombstones
After watching A Walk Among the Tombstones, I literally felt like I was going to puke. This mystery-thriller, based on Lawrence Block’s popular novel, is a gross and grisly foray into the criminal underworld in search of sadistic kidnappers. Director Scott Frank paints a portrait of a dark and twisted 1990s New York City where women are disappearing, only to later show up chopped into pieces. The film is grim without remorse or reason, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be eager for it to end so you can wash your hands of it entirely. It stars Liam Neeson as an unlicensed private detective named Matthew Scudder who leads an investigation to find the people responsible for these horrific murders. While it may appear from the trailers to be another entry in Neeson’s growing lineup of ass-kicking action-thrillers, it’s actually far from it. A Walk Among the Tombstones plays out more like a brooding, slow-paced horror film. If you’re expecting Taken, then you’re walking right into the wrong movie.
Neeson’s character Matt Scudder is a former alcoholic and an ex-cop turned personal private investigator who works in exchange for favors. Since he’s no longer affiliated with the police, he’s an appealing person to turn to for those who need help but want to keep the cops out of the picture. When a drug dealer’s wife is kidnapped and savagely murdered, he seeks out Scudder for help. What follows is in an investigation into the murder that links up to the murder of another drug dealer’s wife. With the killers still at large, Scudder is determined to catch them before they can strike again.
Being that Scudder is working with criminals to find even worse criminals, the characters in A Walk Among the Tombstones are quite despicable. In fact, I would argue there’s not a single likeable character in the whole film. Even our protagonist Scudder is a shady person with a corrupt past. It’s hard to care about anyone here except for the poor abducted women, and yet we never get to know any of them. They’re reduced to the point where it’s hard to see them as anything more than the killers’ unlucky victims who have no chance of surviving. We follow Scudder through this twisted investigation not because we care about him, but for their sake of these women, with the hope that our detective hero can put an end to these killers’ unspeakable crimes. The film’s dreadful cast of characters give an incredibly bleak and hopeless outlook on people as a whole.
Liam Neeson gives a suitable performance as Scudder, fitting into the role of a detective quite naturally. As usual, he has a great presence and commands your attention any time he’s on screen. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, he’s not nearly the unstoppable action-hero he has been in his other recent films, but he’s still an intimidating guy you’d be wise not to mess with. He does actually have a couple tense conversations with the killers over the phone that are reminiscent of the famous scene in Taken, but certainly not as memorable.
The killers in the movie happen to be far more appalling than interesting. We don’t ever get to know much about them or their motives. They’re sick, demented people that aren’t given much more depth than being bad for the sake of being bad. However, there's no question that they're believably haunting and deranged. Despite their limited screen time and lack of complexity, their actors put in truly unnerving performances.
The film is well-acted throughout, with a few especially notable performances from supporting characters. Olafur Darri Olafsson is terrific as the creepy cemetery groundskeeper, and Eric Nelsen does a commendable job as the drug addict younger brother of the drug dealer who sought Scudder’s help. There’s also Brian “Astro” Bradley as a homeless teenager named TJ that Scudder befriends, who volunteers himself to be his crime-solving partner. Astro at times lightens up the moody film with his charm, and while he’s truly the only character that offers any sense of hope in the film’s gritty world, I think his character largely feels out of place as an unnecessary inclusion.
Scott Frank effectively creates a dark and sullen atmosphere in his movie that is also visually striking. He turns New York’s underbelly into a stylishly gloomy city where its seedy citizens can run rampant. He demonstrates proficiency behind the camera, building eeriness and suspense. However, he goes too far with the film’s graphic sexual content, which includes rape, torture, and mutilation. While he never gives you a very clear look at these heinous acts, he puts you right there in the moment and lets the camera linger. It’s sadistic, cruel, and very disturbing to watch. In a bizarre directorial decision, he has the 12 steps to recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous narrated over the climax of the film. Considering Scudder regularly attends AA meetings to celebrate his sobriety, I can understand why it was included, but it just doesn’t work and ends up detracting from the film’s most heightened sequences. He also disappointingly finishes the movie on a bad note with a conclusion that is drawn out far too long and which contains a weak, conventional ending that is completely forgettable.
A Walk Among the Tombstones raises more questions than it answers, but in a movie this morbid, maybe it’s best not to know. While the movie excels at being unsettling, it’s never really all that compelling. Filled with plenty of bad dialogue and characters that are hard to relate to and care about, I was yearning for this one to end so I wouldn’t have to endure any more of its vileness. Even with all the disturbing content aside, I would argue that the film is still only average at best. While I’m sure there are plenty of people with a penchant for the macabre that will enjoy the film, I am certainly not one of them and I left the theater feeling completely disturbed by what I had just watched. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a decent detective movie, but your enjoyment of the film may depend on how well you can handle its grimy setting and extreme violence. One thing that I can assure you is that I personally don't have the stomach for it.
Imagine yourself in a situation where your whole life is turned upside-down in an instant, and nothing will ever be the same again. That’s the troubling position young Mia Hall is faced with in If I Stay, after her and her family are involved in a terrible car accident. Mia wakes up from the crash, only to discover that she’s having some sort of transcendental experience, where she sees her own lifeless body being treated by paramedics. In her ghost-like form, no one is able to see or hear her, leaving her helpless as she watches her tragedy unfold. The devastating crash put her into a comatose state, and as she teeters on the verge of life and death, she’s informed by her nurse that whether or not she lives is entirely predicated on her will to survive. Based on the young adult novel by Gayle Forman, If I Stay asks us if life is still worth living even when all hope appears to be lost. Whether it’s really even worth it to endure life’s cruel hardship and heartache, and to muster the courage to face another day.
Well, if you answered that question with a resounding “yes!”, then like me, you’ll probably find this movie to be pretty darn stupid. Actually, regardless of your opinion on the matter, I think it would be hard for anyone to escape the fact that this movie is pretty darn stupid. However, as much as I find the central question of the movie to be absurd and even offensive, it didn’t detract from my interest in seeing the film. So let’s not make the assumption that I disliked this movie from the get-go, because that’s really just not true. Even though I may disagree with it, I can certainly sympathize with the idea of a teenager who is experiencing a life-shattering trauma and is afraid to continue living on afterward. However, I would personally argue that she hasn’t actually experienced any of that at all. She’s living in an extra dimensional safe-zone. Her horror can’t be real unless she makes it real by returning to life to face it. To look at it another way, couldn’t we say that if she chose death instead, that she never would have experienced the tragedy at all since she was stuck in a coma, and that she would be dead without ever knowing the fate of her family? That’s what I think, though I’ll admit it’s rather complicated as it draws upon unanswerable questions. To be frank, it’s a bogus scenario for a bogus movie that isn’t even worthy of that much thought, and clearly wasn’t ever given that much thought.
Before I digress on this topic, I’d like to look into a few of its implications, because I think it’s sending a terrible and dangerous message to its viewers, particularly the teenagers it’s targeted to. Basically, I believe the film is implying that death is a perfectly okay alternative to facing an undesirable change. I find that very idea to be immoral, irresponsible, and horribly atrocious. “Sorry your dad died, Timmy. If you can’t bear to live another day and want to end it all right here, well that’s okay with us. We understand and we won’t judge!” Are you kidding me? What kind of a message are they trying to send here? “Bad day? Just give up! Things are great here in Heaven! Join us today!” Is that really what they’re trying to tell us? How is anyone possibly okay with this? The film is essentially preaching that killing yourself is a perfectly acceptable option when life gets hard, and I have a really big problem with that.
Whether we want to think about it or not, suicide is always an option we have in life, but that doesn’t mean that we should encourage it or try to pretend that it’s ever a favorable opportunity. Mia doesn’t even know what life will be like if she wakes up because she hasn’t lived it yet. Her fears are fully based off of negative assumptions. Yeah, maybe things will be really hard if she comes out of her coma. Maybe she’ll wish she was dead. Or maybe she’ll go through some difficult times, but then maybe things will get better and she’ll pick up the pieces and end up living a wonderful and happy life. Had she actually endured this new life and struggled with thoughts about suicide, I think it would have made for a far more compelling narrative, rather than all of this hypothetic nonsense. Either way, good or bad, life goes on. It’s up to us to adapt to it. Where there is hope, there is always possibility. With all that said, I would still contend that If I Stay’s premise is only the tip of the iceberg of its problems. This supposed tear-jerked failed to stir up any sympathy or sadness from me, and there are a few major reasons why.
First of all, it completely fails as a love story. The film is almost entirely devoid of romance, and has no believable connection between Mia and her boyfriend, Adam. Rather than being a Prince Charming type, Adam’s mostly just a jerk that she shouldn’t be wasting her time with in the first place. Yet the movie tries to make you believe that it’s love, and that this is what all normal relationships are like. It’s a complete crock. Movies like this give girls a false understanding of what love should be, and I find that to be an unforgivable offense. Adam’s the local hot shot rocker who falls for Mia, the talented young cello player who aspires to go to the renowned music school Julliard in New York. Adam manages to win her heart and the two of them start dating. Unfortunately though, their relationship can be pretty unpleasant to watch.
Adam’s living the life of a local rock star and is blindly dragging Mia along for the ride, introducing the sweet, young girl to a world of parties, sex, and alcohol. Adam’s utterly oblivious to her disinterest in such a lifestyle and he rarely shows any concern for her feelings anyway. Yet she’s so foolishly committed to him that she follows this path of corruption, all for a guy who only thinks about himself. I thought this was supposed to be a love story, but it’s severely lacking in the love department. Just because Adam occasionally does something nice, we’re supposed to think he’s a good guy and forgive him for the majority of the time when he’s a lousy boyfriend and a loser? Of course, how romantic! Their whole relationship is lifeless and immensely frustrating. If living with him was my alternative to death, believe me, I’d choose death without hesitation.
Had I not seen this film with a friend, it would have been the first movie I’ve ever walked out of. I haven’t hated a movie this much all year. Even with my friend there, I still thought about leaving, then had a good laugh about the film’s title being so perfectly appropriate, as I contemplated to myself whether or not I should go. As much as I wanted to leave, I stuck it out all the way to the end. Then the entire audience ended up laughing at the ending, which goes to show I was far from the only one that thought this movie was a complete joke and waste of time. I had more than a few laughs at the film’s expense, from its dumb and derivative dialogue, to the way Chloe Grace Moretz slightly crosses her eyes whenever she’s upset. While I think I still remained relatively open-minded about the film despite my issues with the story, I really don’t think the film itself was any good, nor does it appear to serve any purpose.
Seriously, what’s the point of this movie? To give people hope that you can overcome obstacles in life? To justify suicide? I don’t know. Halfway through the movie, I was so disengaged from it that I was imagining how fun it would be to do cartwheels in the theater. That must be the lesson that I learned from all this. Well, that and to steer clear of crummy musicians, I suppose. While I’ve heard a lot of praise about the film’s soundtrack, I thought Adam’s band was quite horrendous. They do have a moment of redemption when they cover a Smashing Pumpkins song, which may have been the only good moment in this otherwise pitiful movie. I also found the lyrics of that song to be unusually appropriate to my misery when they said, “I’ll rip my eyes out, before I get out.” It’s almost funny that this might have been the only moment of the movie I could actually relate to: the thought of ripping my eyes out before being able to leave.
If I Stay is a movie that disappoints and offends on nearly every conceivable level. The saddest thing about this film is that garbage like this actually exists. Its pro-death agenda is just plain horrible and ill-conceived. It also troubles me greatly to think that teenage girls might watch this film and think that Mia and Adam’s tumultuous relationship is a desirable model of love. Lastly, I’d like to note that the If I Stay novel does have a follow-up book titled Where She Went. Wherever she goes, I sure hope it’s not back to theaters. If I have to sit through another If I Stay movie, I might just give up on life myself.
5 Minute Movie Guy
I'm just a movie crazed dude, with a love for Tom Cruise.