Bumblebee

Bumblebee

By: Kevin Jordan

Are we sure this is a Transformers movie?

As Bumblebee unfolded before our eyes, I had to keep asking myself if my son and I were really watching a Transformers movie.  There were no racist versions of transformers.  The movie was not exploding every twelve seconds.  There were no robots or dogs trying to hump people or other dogs.  There were no baby dinosaur transformers.  There were no gratuitous (read: creepy) shots of scantily clad, sweaty, teenaged girls.  At no time did a transformer ride a dinosaur transformer.  Did Michael Bay die and nobody noticed?

To the chagrin of many a film critic (present company excluded), Bay is alive and well and still making movies.  But, for the first time in the Transformers franchise, Michael Bay did not direct.  Bumblebee was directed by Travis Knight, though Bay was still heavily involved as a producer (and it shows at times).  It does not take long to notice that Bumblebee feels very different from the other five films in the franchise.

You do not have to be sad any more. We found a new director.

(SPOILERS, but – and I cannot believe I am saying this – very minor because Bumblebee does not deserve to be spoiled).

Bumblebee is a prequel to the first Transformers, set twenty years prior in 1987.  The film kicks off with the war on Cybertron between the Autobots and Decepticons.  A Cybertron movie is the movie I really want to see, but like Man of Steel, this movie is too stubborn to give us the destruction of an alien planet.  As the war nears its end, Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to Earth to establish a secret base for the Autobots.  His exact instructions were “protect Earth from the Decepticons.  If they find it, the war will truly be lost.”  Ohhhhh, there you are Mr. Bay.  So, Optimus is sending his smallest soldier (a scout) to protect a random planet that is so important he does not send any of his other remaining soldiers (instead, shooting them off in seemingly random directions).  Fine.  Fuck.  Whatever.  Go sit back down in the corner, Michael.

Obviously, it does not take long for the Decepticons to find Bumblebee, they attack him, and leave him for dead.  Some years later (1987), eighteen year-old Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers a beat-up, yellow Volkswagen beetle in a junkyard, gets it running, then takes it home (as a gift from her uncle).  As seen in the trailers, while looking under the undercarriage, she sees a face, the face lights up, Bumblebee transforms into his robot self and the two become fast friends.  Charlie also accidentally turns on a beacon that the Decepticons pick up and the film’s main plot – chase Bumblebee to find out Optimus’ plans and whereabouts – takes off.  No mystical pyramid-machine keys, no magical cubes, no space-portals used to transport an entire planet to eat another planet.  There is a nearly 100% chance Michael Bay was duct-taped to his producer’s chair during writing and filming.

Chase me. Just chase me.

What I really liked about Bumblebee is something I have been saying for years – keep it small.  The entire world or universe does not have to be at stake (even though Optimus says it is).  Really, the thing at stake is Bumblebee, and to a lesser extent, the remnants of the Autobot rebels.  The movie also features just three transformers for the vast majority of the film.  Bumblebee and the two Decepticons hunting him, Dropkick (Justin Theroux) and Shatter (Angela Bassett).  Yes, that is a female transformer that is not a god-like floating witch with tentacles.  I know it is strange to think, but many women do actually like transforming robots (toys and movie characters) and have more to offer a film than just dewy skin.

On the flip side, the film has a couple of glaring weaknesses.  One is the inclusion of a cartoonish element that feels far too infantile, even for a movie based on toys.  This element rears its head in the form of humans exploding like bags of mucus when shot by Dropkick and the idiocy in which the members of the military/scientific group (Sector 7) is portrayed.  Even as comic relief, it fails spectacularly, much like when Bumblebee peed on John Turturro in the original Transformers.

You could have been a star.

The other weakness is the misuse of John Cena as a special operations soldier.  In the first scene Cena is in, he is relaxed, delivering some funny lines in a casual and delightful way, giving a glimpse of a character we can really get behind.  This Cena is never seen again, as Cena’s character becomes a caricature of a soldier, shrieking many of his lines and trying to kill everything.  Bay must have found a way to slip his bonds one day when Knight was taking his morning constitution.

Overall, the film is more good than bad and occasionally self-aware.  One example of this is when the Sector 7 clowns are debating whether or not to trust the Decepticons, Cena’s character shouts “they literally have decept in their names.”  If we can get a lot more of this in subsequent films, this franchise may actually redeem itself.  As long as the duct tape for Michael Bay doesn’t run out, that is.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back, which is weird to say for a Transformers film.

The Girl on the Train

By: Kevin Jordan

If that didn’t happen, and that didn’t happen, then what did happen?

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The easiest comparison for The Girl on the Train is 2014’s Gone Girl.  Both are based on books, both feature a messed-up title character, and both are thrillers revolving around murder.  The big difference is Gone Girl gives up its big reveal just forty minutes in, while The Girl on the Train saves it for the climax.  The bigger difference is that I knew how I felt immediately after watching The Girl on the Train (unlike with Gone Girl in which I’m still unsure how good that movie was) – I liked it quite a bit.  Moreso, in fact, than Gone Girl.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Have you seen this girl?

Have you seen this girl?

As stated, the biggest reason I liked The Girl on the Train more is because the suspense of the murder is kept up for the entire film.  On top of that, the movie keeps throwing curveballs to keep the viewer from guessing which of the four major characters is the actual murderer.  Granted, I managed to guess who it was before the reveal, but that’s only because I’ve seen hundreds of movies and have learned to spot the little things that foreshadow reveals.  Though, it wasn’t so much that I figured out who the killer was, it was whom I was able to eliminate early on.  But enough patting myself on the back (you’re welcome), let’s talk about the meat of this film.

Was it she?

Was it she?

The girl on the train is Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee living with her sister (Laura Prepon).  Every day, her train ride takes her past her old home where she sees her husband’s new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby.  In addition, she sees the neighbors, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett), who she fantasizes as the perfect couple with the perfect love.  One day, while staring at Megan, she notices that the man with her isn’t her husband.  She gets off the train, has a confrontation with a blond woman (who could be Anna or Megan), then wakes up much later on the side of the road.  She goes home, only to discover that Megan has gone missing and eventually turns up dead.  Right away, you’re probably doubting that she had anything to do with it because that is your natural inclination toward the main character of any film. However, the film spends a good amount of time convincing you that she is a terrible person fully capable of such dastardly deeds.  Yes, I said dastardly.

Was it he?

Was it he?

Just when you start to think that Rachel might just be the murderer, the film starts throwing those curveballs and they have some nasty bite to them.  As the second act moves along, we get far deeper looks into Scott, Anna, Megan, and Tom (Justin Theroux), Rachel’s ex-husband.  There are affairs, abuses, haunted pasts, shady therapists (Edgar Ramirez) – essentially the full gamut of soap opera plot lines, but with much better execution and writing.  A character will start off as either likable or unlikable, then the movie will try to convince you otherwise.  By the end of the second act, if you haven’t noticed those subtle little clues, you will equally suspect Scott, Tom, and Rachel, as well as Anna to a slightly lesser degree (though equally as plausible).  Even as sure as I was about my guess, I was still on the edge of my seat because of the suspense.  They even pull that stunt with Rachel’s previously mentioned confrontation, causing you to keep second guessing what really happened.

Surely not her?

Surely not her?

There isn’t much more I can tell you without ruining the film, but I can tell you that the acting was superb, most notably by Emily Blunt.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Blunt is fantastic, but she’s somehow one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood.  She pulls off beat-down alcoholic as well as anybody’s proverbial drunk uncle.  And kudos to the hair and makeup people who had the daunting task of making Blunt’s appearance match her performance.  She looks at least a decade beyond her actual age (33) and I could almost smell how bad she looked.

Possibly him?

Possibly him?

Like I said, the easy comparison to this movie is Gone Girl, but I think The Girl on the Train is much more interesting due to the whodunit nature of the plot.  That’s not to say Gone Girl was an uninteresting movie, it just wasn’t as suspenseful.  Personally, I enjoyed the subterfuge and mind games The Girl on the Train plays with the audience.  In short, if I’m picking between these two films to rewatch, I’m picking The Girl on the Train.

Rating: I wouldn’t ask for any money back, but if you think Gone Girl is better, ask for a dollar back because it’s very close.

(Note: A quick shout out to comedian Mike Birbiglia, who is the originator of my tagline.)