Bumblebee Review: A Solid B!

I, like many, found the Michael Bay Transformers movies increasingly unbearable to watch. The first film started out as a so-so guilty pleasure.  The second dropped off completely and was boring and racist. The rest were history.

As fate would have it, another Transformers movie was produced less than a year after The Last Knight; a film that would act as a prequel to Bay’s entire franchise, titled Bumblebee. In actuality this film would go on to bear no resemblance to any of Michael Bay’s films, but it didn’t matter. The collective public groaned and rolled their eyes at the thought of another Transformers movie. They were already on a downward spiral in quality, with The Last Knight being an incoherent mess. How could Bumblebee be any better?

In a shocking twist of events, it can be better! Much better, actually.

Bumblebee takes the basic premise of the first Transformers movie, and shaves away all the fat that makes the plot bloated and boring. There’re bad robots (called Decepticons) chasing down the last of the good robots (called Autobots), who seek to regroup to retake their home planet Cybertron. One of the good robots (nicknamed Bumblebee) goes into hiding on Earth and eventually befriends an awkward, angsty kid named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). Together they build a unique friendship and cause mischief. It thankfully doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

From the minute the film starts, it’s evident that Bumblebee is doing its best to emulate the 80’s Transformers cartoon it’s originally based on. We’re immediately visually assaulted by an interplanetary war of robots, all of whom are fighting, shooting, calling for backup, the works. There’s little introduction to who, what, when, where, and why; and yet I found it easy to identify who was good and who was bad, just like any good kids show from the 80’s.

In the same vein I feel that these characters are easily identifiable with young kids/teens. Hailee Steinfeld is a likable actress who plays the part well, and Bumblebee’s antics play off her more temperamental personality in an amusing way.

And Bumblebee doesn’t just look like the Transformers show, because its style and feel are also similar. You can’t go five minutes without being reminded: This is a totally 80’s movie. Chock full of references to Elvis Costello, the Grenada conflict, and Ronald Reagan, Bumblebee lays on the pop culture quite heavily. The soundtrack is laced with songs from groups ranging from Tears for Fears to The Smiths, mostly songs that really exemplified the era.

Bumblebee goes so overboard in its 1980’s allusions that one can assume it was purposeful. The thought process being, make it so dated and cheesy that it inherently becomes charming. And for the most part, this method works! I found myself laughing a lot at the ridiculous teen stereotypes and cultural fads of the time (Remember Alf!).

It’s a shame that Bumblebee is even associated with the other Transformers films, because it’s really its own thing entirely. I’ve heard Bumblebee compared to The Iron Giant, which is a slight overexaggeration, but I think that mindset is on the right path.

Bumblebee is big blockbuster family fun with lots of adventure, action, and just a pinch of cleverness. Bumblebee‘s the kind of film you wish came out mid-summer and not in the middle of winter.

Yes, they play it safe in more ways than one (not to mention the numerous gaffs and other issues), but I found this excusable when looking at the broader scope of what this film is trying to accomplish. That is, making an entertaining Transformers movie that’s a little more thoughtful and faithful to the original show than previous attempts. That makes Bumblebee alright in my book.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Die Hard (1988) Review

Picture this. An everyday guy, trapped in a skyscraper with foreign terrorists, thirty plus hostages (one being his wife), and inept law enforcement making a mess of the place.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s Die Hard!

Even those who haven’t seen the 1988 action classic know the plot, because it’s been replicated time and time again by countless films that only manage to exist in its shadow. Films like Under Siege and White House Down mimic the style and setup of Die Hard but they both that the substance and emotion it brings to the table.

Really, Die Hard is an anomalous movie for me. Outward appearances would chalk it up to be a standard action picture of the 80’s, and not the pinnacle flick of the decade. There’re movies like Aliens, The Terminator and The Empire Strikes Back, yet Die Hard frequently ranks as number one. There’s a reason for that, and I think it starts with the characters.

One thing I’ve always loved about this movie was the villains, mostly because each is unique and memorable despite having minimal screen time and restricted dialogue. There’s the goofy tech guy drilling the vault, the Asian guy who awkwardly grabs the chocolate bar, and the two blonde European brothers with a bloodlust. Where the filmmakers could’ve easily just written in generic bad guys, they instead gave us something a little more.

And who could forget Alan Rickman’s role as Hans Gruber, the charmingly devious mastermind behind the heist. Clad in an expensive suit and tie, Gruber’s a tad cleverer than your average bear. His methodology comes across as sophisticated and complex, and when I first saw Die Hard, I thought his motives would be intricate. Yet, his master plan is quite the contrary, as he’s nothing more than a common thief looking for a big payout. What a villain.

And with that we’re left with John McClane. The badass. The hero. The everyman. There’s no better guy for the job than 1980’s Bruce Willis. With every memorable punch, gun shot, and one liner he makes, I just want to throw my fist in the air and shout machismo nonsense. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, Willis is an emblem of the masculine hero archetype. But more importantly, he represents a flawed but morally just man willing to sidestep corrupt authority figures in the name of justice. Isn’t that something we all could get behind?

I’ve spent so much time writing about the many personalities that inhabit Die Hard that I didn’t even mention the wonderful writing and direction. The film takes all the right twists and turns, with several reveals that continue to up the ante over time.

One unique thing I’ve always noticed about Die Hard is John McClane’s deteriorating condition as the film progresses. He goes from perfect shape to beaten, battered, and bloodied. That’s something you don’t see even modern action flicks doing too often, and it’s interesting seeing the change in McClane over the span of the movie. Again, it calls back to how much work was put into making Bruce Willis’s character a relatable, tangible human.

You know, there’s an age-old debate about whether this is technically a Christmas movie, since it takes place on Christmas but doesn’t have that much to do with the holiday. While I remain on the “Pro-Christmas” side of things, I think the argument itself speaks to the degree at which people hold Die Hard. It’s pretty much universally held as an action masterpiece, and there aren’t many who criticize its status.

Die Hard is a yearly watch for me, and I recommend it become one for you too.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Overlord Review

Don’t you find it frustrating when people compare the quality of one film to that of another? Especially when one is sub-par and the other is regarded as a classic. That’s how I felt going in to Overlord, a film I’ve seen likened to that of 1982’s The Thing as well as Saving Private Ryan, the most brutally realistic depiction of warfare put to screen.

Overlord tells a tale of WWII paratroopers set to airdrop over France the night before the Invasion of Normandy, D-Day. The Allied soldiers have one mission and one mission only: destroy a German radio tower so that the European invasion can be effectively carried out. After their aircraft is shot down before they could reach their target, they are left with only a handful of men to carry on the job. Chief among this squad of soldiers are Cpl. Ford (the battle-hardened leader of the bunch played by Wyatt Russell), Pvt. Boyce (our main protagonist played by Jovan Adepo), and Tibbet (the wisecracking New Yorker stereotype played by John Margaro).

And upon discovering the radio tower, wouldn’t you know it, they uncover an evil Nazi plot involving serums, secret labs, and even zombies. In the words of Indiana Jones, “Nazis. I hate these guys.” Now crunched for time, our heroes must foil a plot with the potential to secure the Third Reich a one thousand year reign.

The truth is, Overlord really isn’t like either of those films I previously mentioned, mainly because it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a full on B movie or a more serious war drama. So, instead it rides the line between earnest and corny, never giving us enough of either to be worth our time. Not that war dramas cannot ever be both silly and serious, as we’ve seen with such films as Inglorious Bastards. But where Bastards intentionally blended the two with clever fiction writing, Overlord is neither artistic enough nor dumb enough to make the silliness work to its benefit.

There are hints of “brothers in arms” kind of emotional filmmaking, but the exaggerated characters were a little too out there for me to take it seriously. The motives and characterization of Cpl. Ford is always fluctuating with no consistency, and Tibbet is too stereotypical to the point where he’s irritating.

There’s also hints of science fiction elements to it that jumble up Wolfenstein and even some straight to SyFy Channel schlock. This stuff is fun whenever it comes up, but engaging moments like these mostly don’t come until towards the tail end of the film.

Around the middle chunk of the Overlord was when things were the slowest, and I didn’t feel like the film was utilizing its time well. Our heroes were too frequently placed in boring situations when they could’ve been off doing something vastly more interesting. What would you rather watch, WWII soldiers fighting zombies, or soldiers hiding in an attic for forty minutes?

The real tragedy of it all is that while the writing and story of Overlord are confused and lacking, there was a lot of potential hidden just beneath the surface. I highly enjoyed how cinematic the directing was, and some of the beautiful shot compositions really display the true horrors of warfare. One scene had the outlines of paratroopers dangling from trees silhouetted against the smoky, burning forest in the background. This moment was both stunning and horrifying, and it stuck with me long after I saw it.

The action and special effects, when we finally witness their full potential in the final act, are quite good and easily the most memorable part of Overlord. This is when the movie becomes fully unhinged, giving audiences this unnerving experience through effective body horror and top notch CGI. There’s zombies, nice set pieces, frightening imagery that made my skin crawl, and just about everything else I had been hoping to see all throughout the picture.

Overlord is clearly a bit of a mixed bag. Like several previous Bad Robot productions, it has very high highs and painfully low lows. Its premise is fascinating and sounds like a naturally exciting story, but the writing sabotaged the film every step of the way.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

The Predator Review: An Inconvenient Truth

Apparently, the behavior of a Predator (one of the most iconic movie aliens of all time) doesn’t live up to its own animal kingdom namesake. In actuality, the predator acts more like a bass fisherman than an alien beast on the hunt for humans. Why is Predator on the hunt in the first place, you may ask? Well, because of global warming of course! At least, that’s what I was told by the latest installment to the Predator franchise.

Acting as a sequel to previous films in the series, The Predator features shoulder cannons, thermal scanners, and elaborate costumes and props. Yet, it can’t rise to the charm of previous Predator movies. A bad case of looking the part, but not playing the part.

Take the dialogue between our ragtag group of heroes as an example, which consistently came up shy of clever. Absent is the machismo attitude and testosterone-laced humor that defined the initial 1987 classic. Instead, The Predator gives off more of a carefree, Expendables-type vibe.

Our actors are having fun cracking jokes and messing around, occasionally making fun banter that got laughs from the audience. But when it’s time for characters to get serious, suddenly the holes in the writing start to appear. Point being, this movie isn’t cut out to be a laid-back romp. Where’s the suspense? The tension? The excitement? Three necessary qualities The Predator truly lacks.

The action boasts many scenes of Predator slicing and dicing people, as well as alien guns and technology blowing things up. The Predator seems content in this typical action movie formula, and less demanding moviegoers will be too. There’s plenty of “Ooo… ahh…” moments of Predator destroying things and cheeky comedy between our main cast to get the audience to the end. It will be up to the individual to judge whether it was all worth the time.

Ultimately, this film has no drive to tell a cohesive and well-rounded story. It may not sound like a lot, but it can mean the difference between getting a movie like Predator and one like Alien Vs. Predator 2: Requiem.

Part of the appeal of Predator is in the simplicity of its plot and characters, leaving plenty of time for sci-fi action and suspense. When you strip away the muscle-bound heroes and straightforward plot and substitute it for an overly complex and unfocused narrative, what you’re left with isn’t anything too thrilling for audiences.

The Predator is enough to satisfy two hours of popcorn munching, but not repeated viewings. Especially considering the many better alternatives within the genre and franchise. Most moviegoers will likely leave the theater indifferent, shrugging their shoulders saying, “That was okay.”

“Okay” indeed.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

The Meg Review: 130 Million Dollars Well Spent!

“Tell me, do sharks bleed? You will.”

A semi-accurate quote from one of the most deceiving movies I’ve seen this year, The Meg. A big-budget fantasy thriller disguised as a corny B-movie of the past, The Meg boasts 130 million dollars’ worth of CGI sharks and overly-elaborate science lab equipment.

Yes, to my pleasant surprise The Meg goes beyond the “it’s so bad it’s good” gag and delivers some entertaining performances and general dumb fun. In the end, giving audiences something meatier and more worthwhile than films like Sharknado.

The story unfolds like many terrible shark movies of its kind. Scientists unleashed some prehistoric, gigantic shark and must figure out how to stop it before everyone dies. A simple enough plot only made more difficult with the sheer number of characters involved, including the likes of Jason Statham and Rainn Wilson. Two actors who took this hokey script and ran with it, giving delightfully absurd performances for no apparent reason. After all, it is just a shark movie.

And yet, somehow it all works!

I think what makes a film like The Meg work so well is its refusal to acknowledge how bad the concept is, while also putting in effort to make the film passable as a blockbuster movie. If the film was produced as poorly as something like Sharknado, then audiences would’ve decided to skip it and wait for it’s inevitable Netflix release. But because there was some level of leg work put into something so objectively bad, people were naturally drawn to the stupidity. Resulting in a bizarre blend of high-quality and low-quality effects, bad screenwriting but decent acting, and an uneven plot that was still somehow entertaining.

It isn’t high art, but I’d be lying if I said films like The Happytime Murders, Skyscraper, or The First Purge were any better. Quite the opposite actually. The Meg gives that rush of lame excitement one might find while watching the SyFy Channel on a Tuesday night. Only with enough money put into the movie to pull off all the hilariously bad special effects.

I highly enjoyed watching The Meg and all its 3D glory. And judging from its overwhelming success in the box office (despite negative criticism from hoity-toity critics), I’d say audiences have noticed its humorous charm too.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Deadpool 2 Review

After a rather unexpected turn of events, Wade Wilson (our favorite merc with a mouth Deadpool) finds himself in a life-altering crisis. Following a brief stint with the X-Men, he meets a young and impressionable orphan named Russell (Julian Dennison). When Russell becomes targeted by a mysterious cybernetic supersoldier from the future (Josh Brolin), Deadpool assembles a team of power-challenged heroes to protect Russell and earn some self-respect.

Deadpool 2, much like its predecessor, keeps to the theatricals. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool lets the jokes fly in the best of times, and worst of times. Most of which elicit strong reactions from the audience.

He’s even thrust into the ranks of the X-Men, further allowing the audience to associate him with the X-Men Universe. This encounter is of course brief, as things inevitably go south quick (as humorously depicted in the film).

Deadpool goes as far to create his own superhero squad titled the X-Force. That’s because the name X-Men to him is appallingly sexist. This whole X-Force bit is by far my favorite moment of the film, and really highlights why people love Deadpool in the first place. The humor kept piling on and raising the stakes; and my laughter became more uncontrollable as the joke went on. One moment Terry Crews is slamming into a bus windshield, followed by a guy parachuting into a woodchipper. I typically wouldn’t think something so stupid would be this funny, yet here we are.

Overall, I guess I don’t really have much to say in terms of Deadpool 2‘s diversity from other superhero movies (hence why this review was pushed off for many months). It’s good, it’s funny, but there isn’t much to discuss at this point.

Deadpool was among the first films I ever reviewed; and now three years later – after countless more superhero movies – I feel like a broken record discussing very similar movies on repeat.

All I’ll say it this: being sucked into the strange, macabre, comical world of Wade Wilson is not a hard feat. All the obscure, bizarre references to related (and unrelated) pop culture practically acts as a magnet to mainstream movie-goers. Those who go to see Deadpool 2 will be getting exactly what they expect, and I mean that in the most entertaining way possible.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Skyscraper Review: Dwayne Johnson With a Vengeance

Dwayne Johnson’s new action flick Skyscraper is a hard movie to put a finger on. I guess it’s best summed up by the following two words: ridiculous and inconsequential.

As many have pointed out, the plot of Skyscraper mimics the basic formula of Die Hard: action guy (Dwayne Johnson) in tower fights European terrorists in order to save family (his wife being played by Neve Campbell). The plot attempts to get deeper than this, but overall it doesn’t stray from this premise.

Several obvious MacGuffins, Deus ex Machinas, and other overused tropes make Skyscraper a painfully standard action movie. It borrows every last detail from other films that have already done these ideas much better. It’s sterile, Hollywood green screen look is matched only by its lifeless acting and countless inconsequential scenes.

A character will double cross Johnson, only to be killed moments later. Johnson will be seriously wounded and must perform first aid on himself, only to be perfectly fine in the following scene. Someone pivotal to the story will be introduced into the film, only to be forgotten entirely.

In the end it’s all filler gunk that has no real impact on the convoluted and not well-thought-out plot.

As strange as it is, there were multiple instances where the film set itself up for some great foreshadowing. Particularly the opening scene (where Dwayne loses his leg) and the climax (the final showdown with the villain), both of which were formatted similarly. So similar in fact that I hoped they’d make an insightful comparison to the two scenes, maybe about how Dwayne had grown as a person and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But no, they squandered that potential too. They instead try and top the memorable ending to Die Hard by adding in a death scene so corny, so over the top, that I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

One of the most astonishing mistakes that Skyscraper flaunts happened whenever Dwayne would leap off a ledge and catch himself safely on the other side. You could actually see his hands completely miss the ledge in the first shot yet cut to him magically catching the ledge in the next. It may sound minor, but this little goof-up is basic editing that the makers of Skyscraper carelessly neglected.

The sloppy editing was incredibly consistent, becoming the biggest nuisances of the film. Action scenes were choppy and often not very satisfying to watch. What’s worse is sometimes the screen would go dark during intense fighting sequences, which coupled with the bad editing made Skyscraper an incoherent mess.

The most enjoyable part of Skyscraper is just accepting the nonsensical nature of the film and watching Johnson live through the impossible. Leaping off exploding buildings, hoisting himself up by thin pieces of rope, defying gravity, Dwayne Johnson is probably the most impermeable action hero I’ve ever seen.

Nevertheless, even this easygoing mindset had its limitations.

Ultimately my feelings towards Skyscraper are ones of confusion and amazement. 125 million dollars spent on a cheap Die Hard knock-off with terrible editing, so-so effects, and a cheesy script. And for what purpose? I refuse to believe for a second they thought this could make its money back. Dwayne Johnson can bring in a lot of money (as we’ve seen with Rampage and Central Intelligence), but there’s no way he can save this film.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint