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 Hits of 1988: A Look Back

Today marks the first official day of summer 2018 and that means some seasonal traditions are back on the blog! For the past few years, I have recounted the top summer tunes from the last 30, 20, and 10 years. It’s a chance to put on our nostalgia goggles and for me to take a look back on if the songs are a summer smash or summer bummer in hindsight. We begin with the tracks of 1988. As in posts from previous summers, I rank each ditty on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (classic) and reveal the most important detail of all – whether said song is on my personal Apple Music collection.

In the coming days, we’ll travel to 1998 and 2008. In July, I’ll get to the movie side recounting the top 10 hits, notable pictures, and flops of ’88, ’98, and ’08.

Let’s get to it!

10. “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” by Chicago

This group that’s been around for decades scored numerous power ballad smashes in the 1980s. This is… one of them. And it’s not nearly as memorable as many of their others from earlier in the period. That said, it nearly deserves an extra half star for its gloriously cheesy music video.

My Ranking: 5

Is It On My Apple Music: Yes (but only because I have their greatest hits downloaded… I never listen to this one)

9. “I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That” by Elton John

Keeping on with the “I Don’t Wanna…” themed hits of three decades ago… ok, so it may not be one of the legend’s classic tunes, but this synth heavy concoction is a well-crafted effort at a time when Elton’s career needed a boost.

My Ranking: 8

Is It On My Apple Music? Yes

8. “Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen

Best known for “Hungry Eyes” from Dirty Dancing, Carmen’s follow-up is a decent sing-along in the car with the windows down experience.

My Ranking: 7

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

7. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns n Roses

One of the signature tracks from the band with its unmistakable guitar riff to start it off, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is part of our DNA now. That said, there are certainly songs from GnR I would rank higher.

My Ranking: 8 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

6. “Hands to Heaven” by Breathe

The London pop group came and went fairly quickly, but ballad “Hands to Heaven” was their initial smash. Cheesy, sure. Solid chorus – yes.

My Ranking: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

5. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard

VH-1 ranked it the second best song of the 1980s in a poll and it certainly is the signature tune of the rock group’s career. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it’s pretty darn iconic. I will, however, confess that the hair bands fad isn’t totally my cup of tea for the most part.

My Ranking: 8 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

4. “Hold On to the Nights” by Richard Marx

Another rather cheesy power ballad, this was nevertheless a smash from Marx that actually kept Leppard’s “Sugar” from hitting #1.

My Ranking: 6

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

3. “Monkey” by George Michael

The fourth single from his landmark Faith album, this uptempo dance track (with production assistance from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) gets the job done even if it doesn’t quite rank with some other classics from the 1987 multi-platinum effort.

My Ranking: 9

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

2. “The Flame” by Cheap Trick

A bit of a comeback single from the Illinois group, it found them traveling down the power ballad lane that dominated this particular summer. It’s fine. I don’t love it. Give me “I Want You To Want Me” any day.

My Ranking: 6 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

1. “Roll With It” by Steve Winwood

Is it catchy? Sure, but I was surprised to recall just how much of a hit this was. Four weeks at #1 and multiple Grammys, but I find it just perfectly adequate and far from a summer classic.

My Ranking: 7

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

I’ll have 1998 up soon! “I Don’t Wanna” keep you waiting long…

Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 1986: A Look Back

On this here blog, we have some summer traditions now. One of them will be a look back at the movies that dominated (and didn’t dominate) the box office from 20 years ago in 1996 and 10 years ago in 2006. Those posts will be coming to the site soon.

However, before we get to that… let’s get to bumping some music in here, shall we? As I did last summer, let’s recount the top ten summer music singles from 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and a decade ago according to the Billboard charts. With each track, we can take a trip down memory lane and I’ll give you my thoughts on each song and, most importantly, whether it’s on my iTunes.

I’ll rate each track (my personal opinion of course) on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (summer hit masterpiece).

We begin today with the summer of 1986!

10. “Mad About You” by Belinda Carlisle

You may have just seen Ms. Carlisle rocking out with her group The Go-Go’s on the Billboard Music Awards, but “Mad About You” was her first solo success after the band broke up over three decades ago. It’s a perfectly reasonable summer ditty that gave her a pretty solid start on her own, though it’s not particularly memorable.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

9. “Venus” by Bananarama

As for girl groups that weren’t broken up in 1986, Bananarama had their signature tune with the dance hit “Venus” and it’s easy to see why. A remake of a #1 1970 hit, it’s catchy as hell and still receives plenty of airplay.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes? No

8. “Holding Back The Years” by Simply Red

From their debut album, this soulful ballad remains the group’s largest hit and it features fine vocals from front man Mick Hucknall.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes: No

7. “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood”

Winwood’s first #1 hit, it’s got Nile Rodgers on rhythm guitar and Chaka Khan doing backing vocals. As summer songs should be, it’s built for belting out with the top down when no one is hopefully looking.

My Rating: 8 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

6. “On My Own” by Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald

Patti and Michael could sing the phone book and it would be riveting. This is the biggest hit of both of their careers in this Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager production. They’ve both had much better tracks, but those voices!

My Rating: 7

Is It On My iTunes: Yes, thanks to McDonald’s greatest hits

5. “Invisible Touch” by Genesis

The first single off their album that bared the same name, “Invisible Touch” is Genesis’s highest selling song. They’ve had better as well, but this is undeniably catchy stuff with some seriously sinister synthesizers.

My Rating: 8 and a half

Is It On My iTunes: Yes

4. “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” by Billy Ocean

Mr. Ocean has had plenty of memorable hits, but I’ll be honest in that I’d kinda forgotten this one. It’s perfectly passable, but it is a little forgettable in a way that “Caribbean Queen” is not.

My Rating: 6

Is It On My iTunes: No

3. “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel

Now we’re talking! This signature tune from former Genesis front man Gabriel has an iconic video and is just a total jam. Love those horns.

My Rating: 10

Is It On My iTunes: Yes

2. “Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera

Chicago lead singer Cetera had his first solo smash with this single from The Karate Kid Part II soundtrack. The David Foster produced ballad is schmaltzy as hell, but it’s also the definition of that song you’ll belt when no one is watching.

My Rating: 8 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

  1. “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna

Coming on the heels of her classic ballad “Live To Tell”, this track continued Madonna’s musical growth in the mid 80s with edgy lyrics dealing with pregnancy and abortion wrapped up in a groovy pop blanket.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My iTunes: Yes

We’ll get to 1996 soon, my friends!