TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014)
reviewed by Elvin Jones
"A new era has begun. The age of the Transformers is over..."
-Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar)
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Yes it truly is, although not the way this character probably meant.  At this point the franchise has really become about making money, cool shots of things exploding, and the token hot girl in short shorts than what it originally was and should have been, the continued war between Autobots and Decepticons.  Really now the series should be “Random Humans Caught in Alien War That Take Away From the Real Reason We Came Here”.

KEYWORDS
Long, empty, lacking, unreal, like, really long

THE GOOD
Optimus Prime – the hero of all heroes, willing to die or do whatever is necessary to save his family, both robot and human.  He also heads in a direction in his quest that you wouldn’t quite expect but I enjoy.
Hound – great addition to Team Autobot, voiced by John Goodman (perfect voice casting in my opinion)
Kelsey Grammar/Stanley Tucci – love Kelsey as a bad guy and Stanley as a Steve Jobs gone extreme type of role
Dinobots – finally!
Lockdown – a villain robot with a mission, worthy adversary

THE BAD
Mark Wahlberg – the one liners, the believability of him as this great inventor, not buying it
Deaths – both human and robot, did not really feel them
New Transformers – call me old school, but I feel Transformers should transform, with that cool sound
Dinobots – limited screen time
Length – at nearly three hours with most of that dealing with the human storyline. 

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Set 4-5 years after Dark Side of the Moon aka We Blew Chicago Off The Map, Autobots are in hiding, being stalked by secret government organization led by Kelsey Grammar.  At first we think its retaliation for the events in Chicago but there is a more sinister plan involved.  Random struggling inventor Mark Walberg “happens” to discover Optimus Prime in hiding, which pulls him and family into the middle of a three way war between our government, and a bounty hunting robot looking for Optimus Prime, for completely separate reasons.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Blowing stuff up and commercialism.  So first off, we all know “Bayhem” is a given when you see a Michael Bay film.  He knows it too.  If there was an Oscar category for blowing stuff up in the most creative way, he would probably win it every year.  He knows he isn’t winning awards, he is trying to fill seats and make money and as long as these movies make ridiculous amounts of money ($100 million opening weekend – best in franchise) there is no reason to fix the many things wrong with the series.  First off, let me go on record as saying I’m a diehard fan of the original 80’s cartoon series.  I know there have been many versions of Transformers since and we get a lot of material from the movies from these sources.  But having said that SLIGHT SPOILER, from the original movie to this one, we only have two remaining Transformers, (Optimus and Bumblebee), everyone is dead or gone.  Hound is a great addition from the classic Transformers, but I would much rather see more of the classics then to keep bringing in newer characters or made up ones.  You bring in the Dinobots great but only one of which is basically an original Dinobot.  The others LOOK like the ones I remember but you gave them different names.  Why? 

And we are using any chance we get to do product tie-ins.  Granted, this is a common practice in movies today, but I think we can afford to do without them in some cases especially when we know a movie is going to make money regardless.  I mean at one point Mark Walberg crashes a spaceship like right on top of a Bud Light truck and takes a moment to pop a cap and have a sip, in the middle of a battle.  Oh and then there is the flip over a bus of some kind that is almost completely destroyed save for a Victoria Secret sign?  Insert Blank Stare here.  I mean Victoria Secret.  And of course it is so great that these robots transform into cars that the average person CAN’T BUY.  But they sure do looks snazzy!

And more and more with these movies, the humans seems to be taking a bigger role and portion of the movie.  Remember the Transformers cartoon movie.  There was like 2 humans in it, and it was AWESOME.  Let’s get back to basics.

CONCLUSION
Way too long time wise, short on the robots.  If you are going to keep changing the human cast, at least keep the robots somewhat intact.  And give us a story, a real story.  I may not know much about the Transformers outside the classic series, but there is so much rich backstory and history I feel like if anything let’s go into the archives and pull a story from there as a starting point.  And spend more money on more robots and less humans.  I came to see Transformers, not humans.

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2 out of 4

 
 
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“You can’t escape it you know, bad things happen everywhere.” 
- Crazy random woman to the main character Jim (Roy Abramsohm)

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Truer words have never rung louder in my ears. Jim, who is trying to assemble any type of normalcy in this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ influenced white rabbit chasing narrative, doesn’t want to leave the world of Walt, even though warnings around every corner subliminally urge him otherwise. Like our main character, I wanted to escape the horrifically acted scenes and indiscernible plot, but with the beautiful, seductive façade of the camera lens, it compelled me to stay with its devilish Cheshire grin.

KEYWORDS
Perverse, resentful, audacious, incoherent, cheaply surrealistic, visually striking, low budget, goofy (Not the character)

THE GOOD 
Ingenious Concept
Audacious Guerrilla Style - Neo Realistic Filmmaking
Attractive black and white cinematography
Usage of cynical directorial commentary
Satirical undercurrent tone

THE BAD
Maddeningly incomprehensible plot
Pulls punches directed at Disney
Main Character is a detestable pervert
Weak narrative
Sophomoric in tone

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
A middle aged American, husband, self loathing schlep and father (Abramsohm - Monk, Franklin and Bash) of two learns that he loses his job while on a family vacation at Walt Disney World (No copyright infringement – please don’t come after me Mickey). He soon embarks on a park hopping excursion between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot and, as the stress eats at him, he starts to lose his sanity due to the claustrophobia emitted from the “happiest place on earth."

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
This movie’s main attractiveness that separates it from other film festival darlings is that director, Randy Moore, shot this film at the actual Walt Disney World resort without permission. The whole film’s story, scenes, and verisimilitudes were all at the expense of an uncontrolled open environment while shrouded with the threat of possibly being caught by Big “Mouse Eared” Brother. Moore shot this film during operational park hours, and communicated with his actors via iPhones, where, case in point – plot points and script changes were given to the actors and production staff as a way to communicate around the live environment of the park’s actual paying customers. Because Moore didn’t have filming permission or creative license, the guerrilla filmmaking approach was a godsend to this film and by osmosis us the audience, but up to a certain point. Due to the aforementioned ballsy shooting on park property, and possible legal ramifications, Moore went to South Korea for post production so Disney would not find out and take his soul for all eternity. The subtext of the film derives from Moore’s personal reconciliation in which he strives for a dudgeon commentary towards Disney through his cinematic avatar Jim and his journey.

This movie for all of its intended art purposes is split right down the middle. Technically, you can see that Moore, a former film student, has a firm grasp to make an aesthetically pleasing film. Unfortunately for us, he also wanted a writing credit. The screenplay of this movie makes absolute no sense whatsoever to where I’m still trying to piece together Jim’s story and struggle. Jim is portrayed as a man who, as a recipient of bad news, is trying to do the honorable thing and withhold it from his family so they can move forward with the rest of the vacation. However, in his intention to be honorable, chooses to ultimately give in and self-destruct – and with that self destruction he succumbs to the machinations of the plot and the weak surrealism inhabiting each movie frame. You don’t once feel for this guy, nor wish for his betterment. He is not redeemable, like the hobo at the liquor store you give a wrinkled dollar to isn’t. Jim is portrayed as some gadfly that is let loose with no one (wife included) being able to corral him, but then again does anyone care to in the first place? There is a truth to the performance of Jim. He is always meant to be a jackass no matter what the mood calls for. This isn’t Indiana Jones. This is a jackass Indiana Jones if Indy could hang himself by his own whip. Additionally, Moore, in my opinion handles the film too safe. You can see in the film’s message that there is a conflict in his commentary. On one hand Moore wants to eviscerate Disney, due to his personal terrible childhood familial experiences at the park, but there is a begrudging reverence or deep rooted hidden fondness exemplified by an insincere anger towards Disney that betrays not only his sensitivity but also the audience’s.  Moreover, Jim finally meets face to face one of the French fourteen year-old girls that he’s been following throughout the park in a “Woody Allen this isn’t bad right?” kind of way. In this encounter Jim and the camera pull up to the girl for an intimate moment in which Jim’s attraction is shattered by the girl spitting in his face in slow motion. It's a tight, art house camera shot that represents in a metaphorically kitschy way, the film's symbolic message of Moore’s feelings in how he views Disney in a receptive but hurtful manner.

KEY SCENE
The most delirious moment of the movie comes in the beginning when Jim, with his family, traverses through ‘it’s a small world’. In this scene, exhibited and deliciously shot - is the movie at its most cynical, funny, satirical eye roll that could only be possibly understood by those who dared to experience the ride against their better judgment.

CONCLUSION
This movie for all of its strengths and weaknesses is entertaining but up to a certain point. It never takes itself too seriously and neither should the viewer. However, having said that, this is a tone deaf derivation of the shining, that in my opinion, had Moore allowed himself to follow surrealistic movie codes of Kubrick’s aforementioned film or Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ with a hard driven tangibility of Jim’s mental deterioration, we would have a more satisfying conclusion amid the personal axe-grinding. Regardless of plot holes, choppy acting and narrative shitty-ness, this movie does offer a breadth of fan boy inspired filmmaking that would make even Walt slightly proud. 
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2 out of 4

 
 
THE SIGNAL (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"What do you think that sound is?"
- Haley (Olivia Cooke) to Nic (Brenton Thwaites)
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That sound the main character Haley hears is a loud indeterminate THUD! This movie for all of its allegorical ambitions fails to meet its self imposed lofty goal due to the pure acting shortcomings of its main star, newcomer Brenton Thwaites and the stoic, pedestrian direction of the film and the world it creates. 

KEYWORDS
Somber, Emotionally Limited, Stilted, Fractured, Esoteric, Predictable, Ambitious to a fault 

THE GOOD
The movie was able to convey a mood of unbalance reality.
Lawrence Fishburne’s terrific puzzling performance as the enigmatic Damon. 

THE BAD
Forced acting by the three main leads. 
Over usage of Telephoto lens especially during key scenes 
Straightforward and gimmicky camerawork style by the director 
Missed an opportunity to combine an interesting medium of a hybrid indie sci-fi thriller/superhero origin story

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Three college students on a roadtrip across the southwest of America take a detour to track down a computer genius who hacked into their computers at M.I.T. They find themselves drawn to a butt hurt scary area where something snatches the female lead played by Haley - Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) and drags her mid air like a date rapey honing beacon.  Then everything goes dark! When our main lead Nic - Brandon Thwaites (Malificent) wakes up with a horrific nosebleed, he finds himself locked in an observation room being monitored by the “Scientist” Damon - Lawrence Fishburne (Matrix, Boyz in the Hood)

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
This movie, directed by up and coming indie director, William Eubank, aims for a low budget indie sci-fi thriller which play’s on an allegorical context of Plato’s work ‘Allegory in a cave.' The movie’s premise involves trapping the characters in a particular setting, in this case – a strange desert laboratory/facility where all does not seem right – forcing the characters to accept the world as their reality unless, you have one person (Nic) that decides to not accept the preconceptions of the world’s forced upon alleged truthfulness.

Eubank wanted to create an argument within this film where “Logic vs. Emotion” is the main theme. The Character Nic, whom we follow begrudgingly, is the conduit of the argument. In the scenes where Nic has to make decisions that could affect the outcome of the trappings of the plot - such as trying to break out of the medical facility overseen by Damon, the intent was to convey that the conflict of his decisions weight heavily between his inherent choice of usage between logic or emotion to get him out of dodge. And here in lies the problem with the film – This movie for all of its awareness seems to miss the fundamental point in the movie’s story arc, and ultimately Nic’s character arc, which is: The audience needs to be emotionally invested in the character to feel any sentimentality towards the movie. Not once was I interested or gripped by this predictable mess to see that thematic tension to where it won me over. Thwaites plays Nic as an honest and technically brilliant guy, but is overwhelmed by the scenes that need him to push out of his comfort zone and man up. When he does do it, it comes across whiny and petulant. Fishburne is the standout here in this film (not that it would take much). As with his impressive career, he puts in another credible fine performance as the antagonist Damon. Fishburne plays it with shades of ease and accommodating affability, but with a dangerous unflinching detachment. Furthermore, the director steals flashback scenes from the Christopher Nolan school of filmmaking with the backstory of Nic, his girlfriend Haley, and the third principal character, best friend – Jonah; Eubank during primary scenes will do a flashback to show Nic’s personal attachment to the past, impressionistically explaining Nic’s wants and needs, and reflections of a better or more idealized time; however, it doesn’t bridge the narrative cohesively. This is a shame cause the movie to its credit is ideologically thoughtful just not a well executed.

KEY SCENE
In this scene you get an idea of the two leads, as we by proxy do, with how we are to feel towards the lead character, but also towards Damon as well. Not only are both characters “feeling” each other out and sizing up the situation but we are also trying to feel out the validity of the circumstances that Nic finds himself in, and how he responds to power in an adversarial manner.

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CONCLUSION
This movie really didn’t work for me on any particular intended level that the director was pushing for. The film’s direction was nothing to write home about nor did the characters possess any particular magnetism harnessed through their angst ridden first world problems. Also I tend to roll my eyes, when the director or creative powers that be put a built in crutch to plant “adversity” onto the main character. Nic has to face the plot while being crippled and using crutches/and or wheel chair. This isn’t Rear Window where James Stewart’s character is asked to overcome his lack of mobility to find resolution, Rear Window forces Stewart to utilize it to his advantage, and this movie to a lesser extent did not choose to go that route by hampering Nic with his affliction. By asking Nic while in a wheel chair, to save his girlfriend sneak out the facility, and locate his Paul Pfiffer looking best friend, with his full metal alchemist death grip, we the audience come quickly to the conclusion  that he is not going to get very far. Even with newly found well built robotic legs this movie has a hard time finding its proverbial footing.




1.5 out of 4