Tag Archives: Michael Bay

“13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Hell in half a day.

Here are the facts. On Sept. 11, 2012, the same day as another infamous tragedy, a U.S. compound in Benghazi was attacked. Four Americans were murdered that day, one of them being ambassador Chris Stevens. The rest of the on-site personnel fought for their lives for over 13 nightmarish hours against an enemy as cruel as they were relentless. This much is indisputable.

In the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, there were accusers from all sides looking for someone to blame. The Republicans blamed the Democrats for being ignorant to the threat in the middle east. The Democrats wrote off the Republican’s criticisms as embellishing the truth. In their accusations against the other party, both forgot about the party that mattered the most: the American survivors. They didn’t care about left-wing or right-wing democracy. They cared about one more gasp of breath, the next plane that was flying out, how soon they could see their families again, maybe even hearing their voices one last time. You can talk politics about the situation all you want, but you cannot deny the 13 hours when someone’s family members were stuck in that hellhole.

I myself do not care about two party politics. They distract from the larger issues at hand, such as the growing anti-American sentiment in the middle east or getting our own citizens back home to us. Michael Bay apparently shares my emotions as he brings us 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, an exhilarating and heart-racing look at the soldiers fighting on the front lines, not the politicians making speeches from behind them.

In this adaptation of the real-life tragedy, 13 Hours follows the Global Response Staff (GRS), a team of ex-military operatives assigned to protect a U.S. compound based in Libya. Keep in mind, this is not an official embassy. Technically speaking, the U.S. isn’t even supposed to be in Libya. But legalities haven’t stopped the U.S. from operating outside the law before, and it’s not very likely to start now.

There are six men assigned to the GRS task force. One of them is Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a father of three with another one on the way. The rest of the team members aren’t so different from Jack. In one pivotal scene before the aforementioned events take place, all of the soldiers are on phones and videochats, talking to their wives, sons, and daughters back home, all whom are eagerly waiting to see each of them again. In this very important moment, we see these soldiers not as killers, but as human beings.

And of course, you already know what happens from there.

The best thing about this movie by far is the action. That’s so unusual for me to say, because most of the time, the action is the most overused part of any movie. Here though, the firefights are so exemplary, chaotic and explosive all at once, throwing our heroes through nearly impossible stakes that keep building as the movie goes on. The one thing Michael Bay is excellent at directing is action, and the firefights get so intense and on-edge that you question if our heroes can make it out multiple times.

But that’s not all Michael Bay does well here. Surprisingly, he exercises excellent restraint in slower-paced moments as well. In one early scene, Jack and fellow team member Tyrone Woods (James Dale) are at a standstill with a Libyan militia. I think I counted eight men training their guns against the two of them in their car. Woods tells them that a drone is flying over, and if anything happens to them, it’ll launch an airstrike against him and his men. After a narrow escape, Jack asks if they really had a drone on this assignment. Woods scoffs. “What do you think?”

I didn’t notice any obvious political motives from the film. I don’t care about them if they are in there. As a film critic, I’m not looking for those. What I am looking for is emotion, pacing, timing, things that help build the mood of the scene and help further implicate the ideas the movie is expressing. The best movies combine entertainment with relevance, and 13 Hours does that stunningly well. Think of a movie blending the paranoia of Zero Dark Thirty with the violence and grit from Black Hawk Down, and you get 13 Hours.

I’ve been very critical of Michael Bay in the past, and I think rightfully so. His Transformers movies have long plagued Hollywood with its stupid writing and absent-minded, overblown action sequences, while Pain and Gain was as offensive to its real-life subjects as it was to its movie theater attendants. With 13 Hours, however, Michael Bay finds himself in the zone, expressing his own style while at the same time spreading awareness on real-life issues. Thank God for those six men that found themselves fighting for their lives in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Without them, those 13 hours could have gone a lot worse.

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“TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION” Review (Zero Stars)

It damn well better be.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is a strong candidate for the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Not one of the worst. The worst. I detested every moronic minute of this obnoxious, illogical, idiotic, unfunny, offensive, trite, annoying, and prolonged experience that is more resemblant of a Chinese torture chamber than a form of entertainment. You couldn’t have binged watched a 24-hour marathon of Uwe Boll movies and shit out something as awful as this.

The plot. What is the plot of this monstrosity? I couldn’t tell you, and I’ve seen the film. I remember bits and pieces like a horrible morning hangover. Autobots and Decepticons destroyed Chicago in an epic battle. Decepticons came to Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The government is teaming up with the Decepticons to take down the Autobots. Mark Wahlberg discovers and reanimates Optimus Prime. The government attacks and blows up his house. An orgy of metal clanging and exploding ensues for two hours and 45 minutes.

I’m not going to spend much time thinking about the movie’s plot. Why should I, when the writer doesn’t bother to put in that much thought himself? Ehren Kruger has been the worst part of the Transformers movies for a long time now. Revenge of the Fallen was the first time where his mind-numbingly dumb and unfunny screenwriting infested the series like the bubonic plague. Dark of the Moon showed slight hope for him and his career.

Now he has written Age of Extinction. For his sake, I hope his career becomes just that.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is a truly mortifying and abominable experience. I am so disgusted and repulsed by its stench, I don’t know where to begin. The movie isn’t just bad. It transcends a level of stupidity and tastelessness to the point where it seems intentional. Stanley Tucci’s character, for instance, discovers an element called “Transformium” (Yes, that is the actual name). Dinosaurs, through some form of flawed logic, become Transformers. Mark Wahlberg kills a guy with a football. It’s like Michael Bay wasn’t just not trying: it’s like he was aggressively trying to make the dumbest, most disillusioned film he possibly could to alienate what few followers he has.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen bad Michael Bay movies before, including Pearl Harbor and the last two Transformers movies. But in those films, he at least seemed innocently clueless or ignorant to making a cohesive film, more interested in explosions and sexual innuendo to fuel his audience’s desperate need for testosterone. Here, he seems fully driven just to piss people off. There is nothing even slightly resembling story, plot, character development, or a conscious intelligence with this film. The film is literally it’s explosive trailer, except it extends for a nearly exasperating three hours instead of three minutes.

Is there any reason to talk about the actors? We know none of them are in here to act. They’re all here just so the film can have star power, but the film absolutely wastes and squanders all of their talents.

Wahlberg, for instance, needs no explanation. He was heartbreaking in Lone Survivor. He was a powerhouse in The Fighter. He was charismatic and intimidating in The Departed. He can be great in action movies. He’s done it before. How is it, then, that he gets stuck in the same tragic fate as Shia Labeouf did and just get stuck with running away from giant, convoluted machines and screaming loudly?

But its not just Wahlberg. Everyone suffers from stupid characterizations in the movie. T.J. Miller is killed off in the first 30 minutes. Kelsey Grammar’s character is the biggest idiot in an action movie since Paul Gleason’s character in Die Hard. For Pete’s sake, even Stanley Tucci’s unique charisma is completely erased and replaced with this cartoon of a character. What does that say about your film when you make Stanley Tucci look like a bad actor?

I’ve played this movie over and over again in my head, scanning it, desperately looking for any redeeming quality, if any, that I can find to give this movie even half of a star. I couldn’t. The first half of this film was bad enough, but for it to keep going with its obnoxious explosions, loud sound effects, terrible scripting, bad acting and even worse directing, I felt like I was getting punished for continuing to watch the movie. I have to believe that even if you like the Transformers movies, you still don’t like this movie.

To those reading this review, I plea to you: do not watch this movie. I know my plea will fall on deaf ears, and some of you will be unfortunate enough to give this movie a chance. I won’t be making that mistake again.

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“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)” Review (✫)

Thankfully, they’re not aliens. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in complete and utter shambles, a movie that can’t decide on what it wants to be and not much better on how it wants to accomplish that. At times, it’s a loud and obnoxious action movie that takes its characters and their situations seriously. At other times, it’s so campy and immature it might as well be the Nickelodeon cartoon series. Wait, I take that back, that’s a dishonor to the Nickelodeon cartoon series. I don’t know what sort of movie I was expecting out of something titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I would have taken anything over this travesty.

Based (somewhat) on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comic-book creations, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles follows the story of April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a struggling news reporter who is looking to uncover the criminal conspiracy of the Foot Clan, a team of specialized military-trained soldiers who fight for their master, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). Shredder is tyrannical Japanese warlord who wants nothing more but to rule New York City, and like all dark and obscure bad guys, he’ll stop at nothing until he gets what he’s after. But April’s not alone in this fight; she also has her pet rat and turtles by her side, her little friends she’s cared for since they were experimented on by her father when she was just a little girl.

…What? Yes, dear readers, they changed the origin story. After Mr. O’Neil discovered how the dangerous turtle weapons were going to be used for destructive purposes, he sets his lab ablaze, killing himself and destroying all of his hard work. Just before the turtles could be destroyed, however, April saves her small friends from the fire and they escape into the sewers. (Question: Since the fire is so hot that it consumes her father nearly instantly, how is it that  6-year old April manages to not only get into the lab, but also avoid the fire, grab the turtles, get out of the lab, and get back onto the pavement with a little ash makeup spread onto her face for good measure?)

As years pass, the rat and turtles mature into giant-sized humanoid creatures who teach themselves the art of ninjutsu, thanks to a book they fished out of the garbage and the convenience the script allowed them. The rat named Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) trained his sons Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), knowing one day that they would need to fight the Shredder and defend New York City.

Where do I even begin with this? For starters, the script is unreliable, an immature, idiotic and thinly-written-and-thought-out mess that has plot holes the size of Swiss cheese and is as convenient as the dollar store. I could be cheap and pick apart the small things in the story, like what compelled the scientists to pick turtles as their experiments of mass destruction?

That, however, is too easy. It’s much more fun to pick apart the bigger holes in the plot, including:

  1. The fact that there is no way that Splinter, as a regular lab rat, could know anything about the Shredder or what he was plotting for him and the turtles.
  2. That since Shredder is a highly-skilled ninja, there is no reason why his foot clan shouldn’t be at least slightly trained in the arts either.
  3. That to convince her editor-in-chief that there are living, fighting humanoid ninja turtles in New York City she shows her a picture of a turtle she pulled off of Google images, not the pictures she took on her smart phone.
  4. That since Shredder is after the mutagen in the turtles’ blood, he wouldn’t spare Raphael and abandon him after he beat him to a pulp and cracked his shell.
  5. That to rescue his brothers when they were kidnapped halfway through the movie that Raphael, April and her camera man Vernon (Will Arnett) drive to rescue them in the snow mountains that apparently exist 50 minutes outside of Manhattan.

Oh yes, this script is a mess, and the actors do a nice job at making it even more laughable through their complacent, boring and plastic performances that could be played better by action figures. Any actor who was not a CGI character was completely wasted in a sea of bad dialogue and bland delivery, looking like victims to the screenplay and to the movie that they’re playing in. William Fichtner is hesitantly the best performance as an evil scientist, but his character is so plainly forgettable that it is almost completely wasted. Arnett is more charismatic and smirking as the camera man, but the dialogue he sputters is so unbelievably written at times that it hardly matters. (Ex. When told that your city’s vigilantes are giant turtles, is your first reaction to seriously ask if they’re aliens? I’m frankly surprised he didn’t laugh when April told him her crazy story.)

But the worst performance of the film is Megan Fox’s. Oh. My. God. What is she doing in the movie industry? Her performance was both disinterested and disingenuous, her expression looking as stiff and uncomfortable as if she came out of a facelift surgery. Fox is not a good actress. I say it again: Fox is not a good actress. Good-looking, yes, but looks only make half of a character, and she doesn’t fit April in neither appearance or spirit. In the 1990 film we had Judith Hoag portraying April, and boy, did she bring energy and enthusiasm to the character. Now we have Fox reading a teleprompter to replace the performance, and I start wondering if it would be better if April was recast as a Barbie doll in the movie.

Yes, the turtles, Splinter and Shredder look cool, and there’s a very sweet action sequence where they are sliding down the snow mountains that I will admit to have enjoyed. But in a visually-dominated industry, visual effects are a compliment I’m recycling at this point. Visual effects and fight scenes are wasted if you have a terrible plot, and in this case, where the bad guy’s master plan is to intoxicate a city with a poisonous gas by smashing a tower over it (an idea stolen from The Amazing Spider-man, by the way), I’m not inclined to say that the movie has much good of anything.

I know there is an audience for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the majority of them will probably be under 12. The ones over that age will have grown up with the franchise, and will be looking for some sort of nostalgic experience to remind them of what it was like to grow up with the ninja turtles. I too went in hoping to feel some sort of nostalgia, but as the movie went on, I continued to notice that all of my hopes were running down the sewer.

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“PACIFIC RIM” Review (✫✫✫)

Transformers meets a whole lotta Godzillas.  

Pacific Rim is an action movie for the action fan, a movie so overblown with giant-sized robots, monsters, explosions and destroyed buildings that I wonder how the planet is still intact by the film’s conclusion. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, that there’s this much action in a movie like this, especially with the release of Man Of Steel earlier this summer. It just means that this is a specific movie for a specific audience: one that is very stylish, visually stunning and hella lot noisy.

The premise is something of a Independence Day meets Transformers. These mythical creatures called “Kaiju”, who are the biological equivalent to the Godzilla monsters, come from a portal deep in the pacific ocean called “The Bridge”, and it is this portal where the Kaiju stem from to attack the human populace. They start at specific locations at first: San Francisco. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. The more frequent the attacks, the more the humans realize that they need a battle plan to counterattack the Kaiju.

Enter the Jaeger program. “Jaeger”, from what we’re told, is German for “Hunter”, and that’s exactly what this program is. It’s a military initiative designed by the world’s leader, combining their resources to make a weapon to fight the Kaiju with, which in this case, is an army of giant, imposing robots that would make Optimus Prime explode in his diaper.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why use the resources on a robot army instead of finding a way to close the portal?” Because then we wouldn’t have our movie, now would we? The most experienced of these Jaeger pilots is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a retired Jaeger pilot who quit after losing his twin brother in battle. With their resources dwindling by the hour, however, Raleigh is recruited by Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) back into the fray, to defend the earth before it is forever lost to the Kaiju army.

Sounds like a movie by Michael Bay, right? No? Well, how about Roland Emerich? Alexander Pryas?  Andy and Lana Wachiowski? All wrong. This movie is written and directed by spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who is most known for movies including HellboyPan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. What exactly, convinced him to step out of those realms to traverse into a science-fiction action movie like Pacific Rim?

Doesn’t matter. This is a good movie. A very good movie. How good, you might ask? So good that when you watch the movie, you can’t help but be blown away. It’s the sort of explosive, massive, beat-em-up action movie that functions as a sort of love letter to classic Japanese manga and anime, with shows such as Voltron and Gundam seeming to serve as the inspiration for these crazy monster fights. The fight scenes in the movie are big and boisterous, its level of scale and destruction so disastrous that it made movies like Godzilla and King Kong classics. I remember when I saw the 1939 King Kong for the first time five years ago and being impressed by what they accomplished visually despite the lack of technologies they had back then. Hear me, fellow reader: what Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack did with King Kong, Guillero Del Toro did with Pacific Rim.

In this day and age though, its easy to just focus on a film visually and forget to invest time in the story and characters as well. That’s where most action movies fail and what makes us frustrated by the majority of them, including the Transformers sequels and any Stephen Sommers movie. Here, Del Toro is smart enough to craft an actual story with his visuals, and for this I appreciate his effort. It isn’t just mindless action we’re watching on the screen here: Del Toro takes careful consideration in crafting a smart and interesting story to keep viewers interested, starting with the first day the Kaiju came to earth, to looking deeper into the troubled histories of many of these Jaeger pilots. There was one scene specifically that sticks out in my mind, a troubling and disconcerting memory of one of the female pilots recounting their experiences as a child when a Kaiju came and destroyed her home and her family, all while her male co-pilot tries his best to console her while crying helplessly like a lost child.

This is what turns the movie from good to memorable: the presence of these characters are rich, charismatic and dramatic, a nice combination of an involving, epic story with that of over-the-top stylish and exciting action scenes. Rarely do we get a combination this effective, and Del Toro does a great job delegating both parts of the story when the time calls for it.

It’s a shame, though, that Del Toro doesn’t keep up with that balance all the way through. There is a common problem this movie shares with many other action movies, and that is a final 30-40 minute action sequence that becomes repetitive, boring and predictable that loses all of the momentum and excitement it had at the beginning of the film.  What happened? It’s overstuffed, dear reader. The end sequence takes place in the pacific ocean with two Jaeger’s fighting against an army of Kaiju. There are two things I know for a fact here: 1) The good guys are going to win, and 2) The main character, Raliegh, is going to live. I know thats how its going to end because the film would receive backlash if it ended any other way.

I’m fine with a predictable ending as long as it emotionally satisfies me, but why drag it out this long with action that loses its momentum? I know its for the viewers that just like to see big things blow up on screen and nothing more, but the ending sequence dragged out way too long. It became less of a story about humanity and survival and more of a video game watching things punching each other and screaming.

Okay, now before any sci-fi die-hards pounce on me like a wildcat, let me wrap this up. There may be some problems with this movie. Nevermind that. Take out the huge explosions. Take out the prolonged action scenes. Take out the cheesy dialogue and any of the movie’s supposed faults and just look at the film from the action fan’s perspective. This is an action movie that is exciting, suspenseful, involving, visually stunning, and mind-blowingly spectacular. This is an action movie that has been done right, not that Michael Bay would know about anything like that.

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