The Longest Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight

by Hope Madden

Have you ever wondered what kind of chaos would ensue if both Optimus Prime and Megatron just disappeared?

Nope? Well, what if we could work the Transformers story and the King Arthur story into one?

No interest?

Cars, robots, explosions, needless sentiment and a girl who looks alarmingly like Megan Fox in tight clothes?

Let’s be honest, either you’re going to see Transformers: The Last Knight or you are not. Nothing I say is going to sway you one direction or another. But I had to see it. So I’m saying some stuff.

The latest installment in Michael Bay’s toy franchise might actually be more palatable than any of its predecessors. The story borders on being coherent. The action is far more clearly presented than usual. The racism is somewhat muted. There’s less sentimentality.

Also, Bay – not known to have a sense of humor at all – flirts with self-referential comedy now and again. Sure, he steals whole cloth from Alien, Terminator, Star Wars, Short Circuit – but he jokes about it, so it’s cool.

There’s also a strong female character – Vivian (Laura Haddock). We shouldn’t question her strength just because she’s convinced to do something when a male character yells, “Do it. Now!”

Twice.

But the costume changes have to raise an eyebrow. In the car ride she wears one outfit, she gets out of the car in another, goes back home to change, goes directly to a submarine in another outfit, gets off the submarine in another outfit – where are all these clothes coming from?!

And, in case you’re betting, Michael Bay is not above shooting down the shirt of an under-aged girl (Isabel Moner – here playing Needless Emotional Youngster).

All of which could have been almost tolerable, until it occurred to me that we were 70 minutes in and the plot had still not been explained. Then more than 90 minutes in and the hero (not Mark Wahlberg, the real hero) hadn’t joined the cast.

Transformers: The Last Knight is long.

So.
Fucking.
Long.

So needlessly long. So unendurably long. It’s a movie about toy trucks that turn into robots who fight with each other. For the love of God, can we cap it at 2 hours?

Nope.

Verdict-2-0-Stars

Bay Really Tried

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

by Hope Madden

While it may be tough to separate the release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from the US presidential race, there’s little question that the tale itself offers the kind of compelling material suitable for the big screen.

Director Michael Bay helms the film chronicling the disastrous consequences of understaffing the security detail surrounding an American ambassador and a secret CIA installation in one of the globe’s most unstable nations.

The trivia section for this film’s IMDB page notes that this is Michael Bay’s third film based on true events, after Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain. That does not inspire a lot of optimism. And yet, for a Michael Bay film, 13 Hours is surprisingly restrained, respectful, and solid.

Had it been any other director, the word “restrained” would probably not appear in that sentence, but Bay dials down his own bombast to a degree that is genuinely surprising.

The screenplay, written by Chuck Hogan from Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff’s book (co-written by surviving members of the security team), offers the point of view of the veteran security detail hired by the CIA to police and protect their compound. Staffed by retired Marines, Navy SEALs, and Army Special Forces, the security team on the ground on the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks had the skills, but not the number, to contend with the organized militant attack.

John Krasinski and James Badge Dale anchor the film with believable if under-dimensional performances of two of the security contractors in a by-the-numbers combat procedural.

Sidestepping politics in favor of nerve-shredding action, Bay creates set piece after explosion-and-firebombing-ready set piece. His tendencies and crutches are on full display, though the film feels relatively simply crafted when compared to his other atrocious efforts. It’s a welcome change of pace because self-congratulatory violence would undermine this truly harrowing ordeal.

Yes, CIA agents are painted as one-dimensional pencil pushers jealous of and abusive to their physically superior security guards; yes, individual character weaknesses are exaggerated; yes, tragedies and fatalities are telegraphed from the opening scene. And, yes, the story these survivors have to tell would likely have been better handled by another filmmaker.

13 Hours, though, is not a terrible film. It’s no Zero Dark Thirty, not even a Lone Survivor, and perhaps the sheer volume of blood spilled for the sake of excitement and hoo-rah is too great to consider the film deeply respectful of its subject matter. But I think it’s safe to say that Bay really tried, and, to a limited degree, he succeeded.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Big Green Dud

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

by George Wolf

 

So, what’s this movie about?

Teenage. Mutant. Ninja. Turtles.

OK, not much gray area in that title, but it does sound fun.

It could have been, but producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman can’t find a balance between Saturday morning sensibilities and adult superhero action.

There’s a serious origin story, as we see how the four massive turtles (and their wise sensai, a rat) come to live under the streets of New York City, battling a crime syndicate known as the Foot Clan.

Young TV reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) catches a glimpse of the secretive vigilantes in action, and instantly knows that unmasking them is the big story that will propel her career.

The turtles themselves still love pizza and make wisecracks, but these moments of silliness and self-aware humor seem meant for a different film. The plot that surrounds the young ninjas is full of cartoon obviousness played overly straight, with no hint of the tongue-in-cheek attitude it sorely needs.

In short, where’s the fun? The tech-savvy, 3D action sequences may be big and loud, but they’re also dull, confusing and instantly forgettable. It isn’t long before this film feels too long.

The idea of a big-budget TMNT reboot works, both on a nostalgia level and as a business model aimed at today’s kids.

Maybe it should have stayed an idea, because it lands on the big screen with a big, green, slimy thud.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars

 

Beefcake! Beefcake!

 

by George Wolf

In fairness to director Michael Bay (did I just write that out loud?) turning a real life murder case into a comedy is not unheard of. Just last year, Ricard Linklater pulled it off with the delightful Bernie.

It can be done, but judging by Pain & Gain, Bay doesn’t know how.

The film is based on the exploits of two Miami bodybuilders currently sitting on Death Row. In the mid-1990s they  kidnapped and tortured wealthy businessman Marc Schiller until he signed away nearly all his fortune. They attempted to kill him as well, but even though he survived, Schiller struggled to get police to buy his story.

Thinking they got away once, the “Sun Gym Gang” eventually tried the scheme again, and two people died grisly deaths.

In the right hands, this story could become a dark, satirical comedy that uses the wretched excess of South Beach as a platform to skewer the misplaced values of a consumer culture run amok. The possibilities are there, but Bay doesn’t do nuance.

Instead, the gang is sympathetically portrayed as a group of bumbling clowns just taking a kookier path to the American dream. Ringleader Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) attends get rich seminars and calls himself a “doer” while roping the steroid-crazed Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) into his plans. For extra muscle, they recruit the gigantic Paul (Dwayne Johnson), a rehabbing, Jesus-loving ex-con character reportedly written as a composite of other real life gang members.

Wahlberg and Mackie are fine, Johnson’s growth as an actor continues to impress, and there is solid supporting work from Tony Shalhoub. All are hamstrung, though, by how their respective characters are conceived. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the Narnia series) hit a target that’s just a few “nyuk nyuks” away from the Stooges, which is a few miles away from where they should have been aiming.

Ironically, with all the slo-mo, voiceovers and onscreen text, you get the feeling Bay actually thinks he crafted a Natural Born Killers for a new generation.

He didn’t.

Still, he’s trying, in his own misguided way, to say something here. That, along with the capable performances, is all Pain & Gain needs to stand as Bay’s best film to date.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvMsuONpTLo