Bumblebee Movie Review

Steven Spielberg has executive produced all five Transformers movies prior to Bumblebee and he holds that title here. Yet it’s in this prequel/spin-off that his influence feels the most pronounced. In the case of this franchise, that’s a welcome development. Michael Bay’s quintet of loud metal on metal action orgies that began in 2007 are generally nonsensical explosion excuses with occasional jaw dropping moments. Travis Knight, taking over directorial duties, gives Bumblebee a heart and the loudest audio belongs to the terrific 80s soundtrack.

This is a prequel and the happenings occur in 1987, which explains The Smiths, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears providing the tunes. A prologue on the planet Cybertron shows our title character (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) being sent to Earth by Optimus Prime in order to escape death by The Decepticons. He crash lands, of all places, right in the middle of a military training exercise in California where no nonsense Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena) assumes him to be a hostile creature. Bumblebee manages to transform into that iconic 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, but not after being rendered mute when his voice box is disabled. By the way, this all happens in like ten minutes. Pacing is not an issue in this picture, unlike other bloated Transformers flicks.

That Beetle ends up in a junkyard frequented by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a gear head who’s just turned 18. It’s her storyline that brings the Spielberg vibes front and center. She’s experienced parental loss as her beloved father has passed. She’s an outcast in the suburbs. Charlie has an awkward pending romance with her neighbor (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). There’s also a resistance to diving (even though she’s a terrific diver) that we correctly assume will figure into the plot. She also works at a low rent amusement park that looks straight outta Adventureland. When she commandeers the Volkswagen, she discovers the giant yellow extraterrestrial and befriends him. Their relationship is quite E.T. like, if that alien had tires strapped to his back and communicated through radio waves playing Steve Winwood.

Knight, maker of the acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings, is making a Transformers experience that could have been made in the 80s. And it mostly works. There’s only so much he can do with the fight scenes after the Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee to this planet. The tech team here manages to make them easier to follow than Bay’s mashups. So when Colonel Burns and other dumber than they should be government types get involved in the plot, I found myself actually caring a bit. That’s due to screenwriter Christina Hodson’s establishment of Charlie as a full fledged character and Steinfeld’s work elevating her. Her charming interaction with Bee is enough to warrant something the Transformers epics don’t get and that’s a recommendation.

*** (out of four)

Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

2018: The Year of Ryan Coogler

To kick off my series on the people that made significant contributions in cinema for 2018, the first post is the easiest to choose from. In a year filled with many successful tales, Black Panther is undoubtedly THE story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe saga took a superhero not nearly as known as others and the result was a surprising and smashing record breaker.

The man behind it is Ryan Coogler. A 32-year-old Oakland native, Coogler made his directorial debut with 2013’s acclaimed Fruitvale Station. Two years later, he invigorated another franchise with Creed. And in February of this year, Panther was unleashed worldwide. With Chadwick Boseman in the title role, Michael B. Jordan as one of the MCU’s most memorable villains, and Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright providing dynamic support, the film immediately struck a chord with moviegoers and critics. With a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, Panther took in $700 million domestically at the box office.

Let us count the records, shall we? That’s the top hit of the year. It’s the third biggest domestic grosser of all time behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar. Obviously, that designation means it’s Marvel’s #1 earner. One year ago, if anyone had told you this would make more than Avengers: Infinity War (which followed a few weeks later), you wouldn’t have believed it.

For Coogler, he’s made the biggest comic book adaptation ever in a century filled with them. The sky is the limit for him as he’s likely being offered every tent pole project in sight. He’s already struck a deal to direct the Panther sequel. Additionally, this stands an excellent chance to be the first pic of its genre to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

In 2018, Coogler made history by making the #1 picture ever directed by an African-American and introduced a hero already beloved by all. He’s an unquestionable entry in the people that mattered onscreen this year.

Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Movie Review

The Mission: Impossible franchise has now reached its sixth feature and its 22nd year of existence, providing the seemingly ageless Tom Cruise with a hit making series that continues to deliver. That’s a rather remarkable accomplishment and Fallout belongs in the upper echelons in terms of bang for your buck entertainment.

Truth be told, there’s been no total dog yet in the Mission sagas. My one minor complaint about its predecessor, 2015’s Rogue Nation, was its lack of directorial vision. Christopher McQuarrie and his large squad of tech and stunt wizards pulled off some impressive action sequences in that picture. However, unlike the previous four pics, it didn’t feel quite as distinctive. Part 1 was certainly a Brian De Palma experience and the first sequel was all kinds of John Woo (for occasionally better and more for the worse). Same goes for J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird in the next ones (Ghost Protocol still stands as my personal favorite).

McQuarrie is the first filmmaker to return in the director’s chair. I must admit that maybe I just didn’t fully recognize his stamp on the series the first time around. These latest missions are all about spectacle and not really concerned with melding the mayhem to its maker’s vision. In Fallout, that’s pretty much perfectly OK even more so than in Rogue. That’s because the team of people making the action are the best at it. We’ve seen plenty of car chases, helicopter battles, and bathroom brawls in our time. This franchise excels at it in ways few others do.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF squad (including Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) pick up two years after the events of the fifth installment. Learned Mission watchers know the plot will likely be convoluted and a secondary consideration. That’s true here, but let’s go over the basics. We have lost plutonium that IMF must find or risk nuclear attack. Part 5’s villain (Sean Harris) is involved. Ethan is forced to partner with a bulky CIA agent (Henry Cavill). MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) from Rogue resurfaces. She continues to be one of Hunt’s more interesting partners. And the short-lived wedded bliss that we witnessed Ethan in during part 3 with Michelle Monaghan becomes a focal point. Oh… and there’s plenty of double crosses. And those masks. Fallout also features the most satisfying use of a CNN anchor ever committed to film.

Of course, all of this leads to Ethan globe-trotting from London to Paris to Kashmir. And the song remains the same: our hero is the only one capable of figuring out how to keep the world from crumbling. What’s often startling is just how much care is expended in creating the impossible situations he finds himself in. McQuarrie’s biggest contribution may just be the go for broke style vibe to Ethan’s dangerous exploits. As always, Cruise is a more than willing subject and he even broke his ankle during one stunt.

Cruise and McQuarrie simply refuse to allow Mission to coast on auto pilot. The franchise continues to come up with new and exciting ways to put our mega star in peril. Six films in, that is quite a feat.

***1/2 (out of four)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Box Office Prediction

Now in its 22nd year of existence, Tom Cruise’s signature franchise keeps rolling along as Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth offering in the series debuts stateside next weekend. Christopher McQuarrie is the first director to come back behind the camera (he made 2015’s predecessor Rogue Nation) for repeat work after Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird made their stand-alone entries. Returning cast members from previous installments include Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, and Alec Baldwin. Newcomers include Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett.

The buzz for Fallout indicates it could be a high mark in the long running franchise. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 93% with some critics claiming it’s the best of the bunch thus far. It’s particularly being praised for its action scenes and stunt work (which actually caused its mega-watt star to break an ankle on set). Even with the generous helping of sequels and genre pics out there (Skyscraper will be in its third weekend of release with The Equalizer 2 in its second), this series seems to be going strong.

In order to achieve the largest opening of all the M:I features, Fallout would need to top the $57 million achieved 18 years ago by part 2. Rogue Nation came close three summers ago with $55 million. I believe this should have enough juice to do so with a low to mid 60s gross.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout opening weekend prediction: $63.6 million

For my Teen Titans Go! To the Movies prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/18/teen-titans-go-to-the-movies-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

For 22 years now, the Mission: Impossible franchise has been a sturdy and profitable one for its star Tom Cruise. Two weeks from now, the sixth picture in the series Mission: Impossible – Fallout hits theaters stateside. Early reviews have been quite impressive with some critics hailing it as the best movie of the bunch so far. One prominent critic went as far to say it’s the best action flick since Mad Max: Fury Road. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 96%.

In case you forgot, Fury Road got itself a Best Picture nomination. That seems highly unlikely for Fallout, but it’s fair to speculate whether voters will choose to honor it in any way. If they do, it would probably be in a technical category or two with Sound Editing and Sound Mixing being the most obvious. Fallout is being hailed for its amazing action sequences (if there was an Oscar category for Best Stunts, that race could be a wrap).

Of the five Mission‘s that have preceded this, they have a collective Oscar nod count of zero. Just that fact makes it a long shot that part 6 receives any attention. However, if some of the tech category voters want to throw it a bone, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…