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)

Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 1985: A Look Back

And now for something completely new on this here blog!

For the last three summers, I’ve pontificated on the Top Ten Summer Hits of seasons that came 20 and 10 years before. I just posted my retrospective of 1995 films yesterday on the site and I’ll have my post regarding 2005 up on Friday or over the weekend.

This got me thinking. About this midpoint of summer, many of us wonder what the true song of the summer is. Good thing Billboard keeps track of such items of curiosity and it allows us to delve back 30 years and then 20 years and then 10 years.

Therefore, today’s post will travel back in time to 1985 to give you the Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 1985, along with my quick takes on them and the all important question: is it on my iTunes?

I’ll follow up tomorrow with the top summer jams and ballads of 1995 and on Thursday with 2005. For now, it’s time for some 80s nostalgia and I’ll rate each track (my personal opinion of course) on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (summer hit masterpiece).

10. “Never Surrender” by Corey Hart

The first single of Mr. Hart’s second album is one of those cheesy 80s ballads with an even more gloriously cheesy video to accompany it. I had actually forgotten about this song and it frankly didn’t leave much of an impression. Truth be told, when I think of Corey, I think of his first hit single the year prior… in which he wore his sunglasses. At night.

My Rating: 4

Is It On My iTunes? No

9. “Heaven” by Bryan Adams

Our second Canadian solo singer on this list after Mr. Hart is Mr. Bryan Adams and one of his signature tunes. The raspy voiced crooner fares much better here than Mr. Hart. The track would be covered with success sixteen years later by DJ Sammy in a sped up dance hall version.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

8. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion” by John Parr

OK, now we’re talking. The title track for Joel Schumacher’s Brat Pack hit is a guilty pleasure if there ever was one and I’m not ashamed to admit I quite dig it. Mr. Parr is English by the way, so our streak of American artists so far is 0-3.

My Rating: 9

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

7. “Raspeberry Beret” by Prince and the Revolution

America in the form of Minneapolis and its funky little genius finally appears with the first single off Prince’s Around the World in a Day album, which followed his massive Purple Rain juggernaut. This tune sounds more 60s influenced than anything that had come before on the Purple One’s resume and it’s an infectious groove that still holds up today, like pretty much everything he’s done. It misses a 10 only in comparison to some of his other masterworks.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

**NO VIDEO as Prince doesn’t allow his material on YouTube

6. “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” by Sting

This jazzy and reggae tinged jam marks the first solo release of Sting’s career after the breakup of The Police. It’s a rock solid beginning to one heckuva output over the next three decades.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

5. “Sussudio” by Phil Collins

The first single of his No Jacket Required album, I’m still not sure what this song is about but there are some catchy horns. This has never been one of my favorite tracks from an artist I like tremendously, but it’s still fairly decent.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My iTunes: Yes (mostly because I own his greatest hits)

4. “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran

The English boy band gave us this theme song to the final Roger Moore 007 picture and it’s a beauty, unlike the movie. One of the all time best Bond themes and my favorite track on this list.

My Rating: 10

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

3. “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News

Another movie connection here as Huey Lewis (and his news friends) had their first #1 hit with this track from the Back to the Future soundtrack. It’s a supremely pleasant power ballad that’ll leave you smiling, as so much of Huey’s music did.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes? No

2. “Everytime You Go Away” by Paul Young

If this sounds like a Hall and Oates song, it’s because Daryl Hall wrote it and gave it to Mr. Young, who turned it into a #1 single. It would be used two years later in the closing scene of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It’s solid, though I don’t love it.

My Rating: 7

Is It On My iTunes? No

1. “Shout” by Tears for Fears

The band’s signature tune ranks highest on the list of 1985 summer anthems. And it is indeed truly an anthem – a big sounding song that gave the group its largest hit. And it’s easy to sing along to in the chorus when you let it all out…

My Rating: 9

Is It On My iTunes: No

And there you have it my friends! I’ll have 1995 up tomorrow…