Tag Archives: Transformers

“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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He’s Not Fat. He’s Fluffy.

Out of all of the celebrity interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of going to, I don’t believe I’ve ever had as much fun as I did speaking with comedian Gabriel Iglesias. Iglesias, who also goes by his comedic identity as “Fluffy” was born 1976 in California, which is also his current place of residence. After we introduced ourselves, he talked about how he’s been up since 6 a.m. promoting for his new movie The Fluffy Movie, in theaters July 26, and how he just got to eat.

That’s when I noticed his shirt, which sported a logo of a famous autobot that I loved from a series featuring transforming robots.

“Can I just say that I love your shirt?” I told him.

“Man, I love it to,” he replied. “Even though they don’t want me to market with it. They’re like ‘You should be wearing your old shirt!’ I’m like ‘Man, come on. Really?'”

As we sat down at got ourselves comfortable, me and the other journalists at the table starting asking him questions regarding his early beginning as a comedian. Before becoming the highly-popular comedic phenomenon that he is, Iglesias worked as a salesman for a company called LA Cellular, which would later merge with a company called AT&T.

“We call them the cancer phones, the ones where you put them against your head and you can feel like you’re talking with a microwave,” Iglesias said. “Like, you could use your phone as a weapon. If you dropped your phone back then, you could throw your phone, it was fine, it was industrial, it was meant to last. Not like now, you dropped it off a table, you’re like ‘Oh shoot, there goes 800 bucks.’”

Iglesias took his chance at comedy when he went into a club late into his career as a phone salesman. He even remembered the date that he first performed: April 10th, 1997.

“There was somebody  in the crowd that saw me and he goes ‘Hey, you’re funny. We got a comedy show at this nightclub next week. I’ll pay you $20,'” he said. “So after my first night performing, I already got my first paid gig.”

When I asked him about when he hit mainstream attention, when he became “Fluffy”, he corrected me, saying at how those were two different things.

“I was always known as the Fluffy guy, ever since I started,” he said. “That was always a nickname. In the beginning, people wouldn’t remember ‘Gabriel Iglesias.’ After the show, it’s ‘Hey, good job Fluffy!’ I’m like ‘Ugh, come on man, half of my name is already famous, work with me!’ I would be like, really?”

Iglesias said his career took off once he learned to use the name “Fluffy”.

“I just started embracing it so much that I started marketing it,” he said. “Now its to the point where years later, if you type ‘Fluffy’ in Google or Bing, I’d beat everything. I’m number one. I’d beat out bunnies, cotton candy, quilts, you name it. It works for me, and I’d rather people call me Fluffy than mess with my name. It’s one word, like ‘Cher.’ If I dropped Gabriel Iglesias all together and I just started going by Fluffy tomorrow, people would totally take it.”

Iglesias said that the key to his success has been through networking. That networking has been the key to everything.

“I know a lot of funny guys, guys that are hysterical, that will floor you, leave you bent over just laughing hard, but you know what? They’re really bad at returning phone calls,” Iglesias said. “They’re bad at social networks, they’re really bad at just dealing with people one-on-one, and you know, just negotiating and simple basic things that they’re crippled with, but they’re talented on stage. So someone like that, they need really good management, someone that’s going to be patient with them, somebody that’s going to understand them and speak on their behalf.”

After a journalist mentioned how Iglesias manages all of his own social media, Iglesias said handling it himself has been a big deal to him.

“I don’t want someone speaking on my behalf that’s going to say something I don’t want to say,” he said. “You can tell it’s me that writes the stuff because the grammar is so f—– up. I write everything with an ‘r’ instead of ‘a-r-e’, or a number two instead of ‘to’, I still don’t know how to spell ‘there’ the right way. I always jack that one up, people always correct me, and I’m like ‘Really? Why’d you got to correct me? You let the number two fly, you let the letter U fly, you let everything else fly,’ but I use ‘there’ the wrong way, and I spell ‘there’ instead t-h-i, uh, whatever. It’s so messed up.”

Man, my copy desk chief would be having a fit.

After talking about a time when he was drunk and cussed out his management team on a comedy club stage, Iglesias was asked if he felt like he got too open with his audience sometimes.

“Yeah, like right now,” he said, as the room erupted into laughs. “Probably shouldn’t have said that stuff.”

“But sometimes I do open up a little too much. But if I don’t open up to the crowd, man, I’m not even talking to you at home, I can’t vent about certain things at the house. It’s not the same. At home you get judged. On stage, people are like ‘You know what, I’m messed up like you. I get it.’ And again, at the end of the day, that’s one of the things that people can relate to, it’s like ‘Man, that guy, yeah he’s successful, but he’s still got s— going on.'”

As I conversed with him, I could tell through his speech that his audience was the thing he cared most about his career; about taking pictures with people at the airport and talking to fans as he sat down to order at the Pizza Parlor.

“Just common courtesy, a lot of basic things, they go a long way,” he said. “Any time I perform at a comedy club, talking to the staff, looking at people in the eyes, some people don’t want to just connect at all. You get off the stage, being like ‘Leave me alone,’ it’s like ‘No, why man?’ The staff, they’re the ones that are going to see people and be like ‘Hey, we saw a real funny show, you should come see him, he’s a real nice guy too.’ It goes a long way.”

Iglesias said that he tries to please everyone with his act, and when it doesn’t, he’s bothered by it.

“If somebody says a negative comment on Twitter, I take it so personal, and I care,” Iglesias said. “I care what people say and what they think, and sometimes I care a little too much to where I let it consume me. I’m learning the hard way you can’t please everybody, and that bothers me, because I just want to please everybody. I want everybody to be happy.”

After talking with Jeff Sewell, Improv Comedy Club General manager, for my Shorthorn article, I discovered that he has known comedian Gabriel Iglesias for years. He said that Iglesias hasn’t changed one bit, ever since he met him about ten years ago in Houston.

“He was totally down to earth,” Sewell said. “Everybody you talk to, everybody loves Gabriel. They never have a bad word to say about that guy.”

Iglesias said that despite some disappointments, he won’t change his act, because the Fluffy persona is what helped him sell out stadiums and arenas across the world.

“For people that don’t think I’m edgy enough, well that’s fine,” Iglesias said. “Go ahead, go enjoy whoever makes you laugh. I’ll have fun with my full house.”

To read more on Iglesias, go online at www.theshorthorn.com. My article has a whole slew of good little nuggets, including audio tidbits of some of Iglesias’ best stories that I couldn’t fit into my article.

Oh, and Gabriel also took a selfie with my cell phone.

Yeah. That happened.

-David Dunn

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“STAR TREK” (2009) Review (✫✫✫✫)

To go where no Trekkie has gone before.  

When I first heard about J.J. Abrams rebooting the Star Trek series with another movie outing, my immediate reaction was rolling my eyes.  “Not ANOTHER Star Trek movie!” I remember thinking.  Indeed, wasn’t that everybody’s reaction?  Star Trek lived and had its time, and it seemed like the only people who would enjoy this new release were the Trekkies that were faithful to the series since episode one.

Nothing, however, would have prepared me for how immersive and fantastic this new movie is.  It’s more than just another Star Trek movie: its a science-fiction epic.  It’s an energetic and revamped take on a series that severely needed a new direction.  The story is original, the characters are fresh, and the vision is as bold and fearless as it possibly can be. Its success doesn’t just rely on CGI and visual effects (although believe me, it doesn’t fail in either category).  It’s one of those rare treasures where the characters and their dialogue is more appealing than the action scenes we have to go through every twenty minutes.

The plot originated from an idea that was had way back in 1968.  Back when the series was first spawning its popularity, original creator Gene Rodenberry started early writing for a prequel to his own science-fiction series.  But just like superhero movies Watchmen and Sam Rami’s Spider-man, it was stuck in development hell until finally creative writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were hired to write the script for the new mysterious Star Trek prequel.

This was a smart move.  They are the same writers behind movies as successful as Mission Impossible III, Transformers, and Eagle Eye, and their proficiency as writers shines here more than ever.  They compose a story as brilliant as it is exciting, a plot that is as action-packed, captivating, explosive, humorous, and in-cheek as possibly can be.  They do more than just adapt this universe: they pay tribute to it.  They pay homage to the classic series, pulling inspiration and ideas from all corners of the galaxy in the Star Trek universe.  We can tell this through tidbits of plot and dialogue that Orci and Kurtzman insert throughout the movie that reveal intimate details of the Star Trek universe we might not have known before, such as how Kirk came to become enrolled in Star Fleet, the origins of Spock, or how James McCoy got his famous nickname “Bones”.

This isn’t just another action film where the characters are just shoved aside for the action and explosions: Orci and Kurtzman are just as careful with developing character and dialogue as they are story.

Still though, if we have Orci and Kurtzman to thank for the vision, we have director J.J. Abrams to thank for the realization of it.  To date, this is only his second time in the director’s chair (his first being Mission Impossible III), but his skills as a filmmaker shine here of blockbuster-esque proportions.  Every minute of this film is fueled by both ambition and excitement, with every minute being tense, exciting, funny, exhilerating, and action-packed all at once.  Nothing is ever dull or boring or repetitious in this film: every second is filled with character appeal and visual spectacle that hasn’t been matched since George Lucas’ Star Wars series, or recently James Cameron’s Avatar.  I cannot recall a single moment in the film where I was bored or irritated.

If we’re talking about science-fiction epics, it flat out doesn’t get much better than this.  Star Trek is a great movie for many reasons, both obvious and not obvious.  The obvious reasons would involve its visual effects, make-up, and art direction.  The film is obviously visually ambitious, and like the U.S.S. Enterprise, transports you to many worlds of visual color, dazzle, fantasy, and wonder that is ever-present in the constantly-changing genre of sci-fi.  Another obvious reason would probably involve the performances: Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do a great job at portraying the next-generation versions of James Kirk and Spock, and their chemistry with each other reflects their rivalrous spirit with both great tension and comedy.  Eric Bana also, deserves great props as the lead antagonist.  He portrays a villain so passionate and deadly that I pray the Wrath of Khan would never have to face him.

But those reasons makes the movie succeed: what makes the movie thrive are the unexpected reasons.  And those reasons are writers Orci and Kurtzman and director J.J. Abrams.  I’m not saying their careers don’t precede them: I’ve enjoyed Mission Impossible III and Eagle Eye, and I absolutely love the first Transformers movie (although the second one made me want to gouge my eyes out with a toothpick).

But the caliber of this work goes far beyond what was expected for them.  It’s typical to expect a good product from a good team: it’s rare to see exceptional work of this caliber from that exact same team.

Take this from a guy who isn’t a Trekkie.  I’ve seen a few episodes of “Star Trek” in the past, but I never became interested enough to follow the series as a direct fan.  Watching this movie makes me wonder what I might have been missing out on.

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