Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver

Car chases and music fill the streets of Edgar Wright's fun and action-packed film. In what feels like it could be one of the best movies of the summer, Baby (Ansel Elgort) speeds around Atlanta while listening to music and even when he walks on the streets, he is completely in step with the rhythm. Nothing throws him off as he pulls off a series of heists for the gangster leader Doc (Kevin Spacey). He works with various crews that include hard boiled robbers like Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonz├ílez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx). After the initial chase, Baby has nearly paid back Doc with only one more job required and during the time between he stays at home with his foster dad Joseph (CJ Jones).

Baby is starstruck when he sees Debora (Lily James) a waitress at a 24-hour diner. They form a quick bond in scenes that ooze romantic chemistry as both young actors deliver charming performances under the brilliant direction. The music doesn't stop and after Baby helps Doc dispose of a body and finally pays him back, he just can't get away. Doc wrangles him into another job with coercive threats and sends him out to scout their next job, a post office. In a hilarious scene, Doc sends his 8-year-old nephew into to help scope out the bank, adding brilliant humor in a tense scene.

The laughs work well with the action as the car chase scenes are stunning and on the edge-of-the-seat enjoyable. Bats turns out to be a foil to Baby as his wild behavior finds the new crew for the post office job in a deadly shootout. When Bats demands they eat at the diner and threatens to rob the place, Baby has to shed his quiet demeanor and stand up to the intimidating criminal. Baby plans to get out before the job but finds Buddy waiting for him and Bats discovers his tape recorder that Baby uses to make weird music mixes, an excuse none of the robbers believe. With Joseph threatened, Baby has to pull off the job but the threats grow after the tense night.

Baby doesn't like the violence of the job but the thrill of driving to music is intoxicating. With Bats pointing a gun at him, Baby reacts violently setting off a wild chase that is a ton of fun to watch. The non-stop finale was so much fun recalling classic heist films with tension and undeniable skill of direction. Baby tries to find a way out of an impossible situation as Buddy hunts him through Atlanta knowing he'll be seeking out Debora at the diner. While there is drama and humor, Wright doesn't skimp on an action movie finale with gun battles and explosions to go along with the brilliant car chases. 

Baby Driver was so much fun and like all great car chase movies, I had to consciously slow myself down so as to not speed out the movie theater parking lot. The music makes the movie as so many scenes are brilliantly set to various songs that Baby chooses from his iPod in a plot point that doesn't feel ridiculous or forced. I have enjoyed every movie that Edgar Wright has made and loved seeing the sights of Atlanta in the background. Elgort performance was great standing out among skilled veterans like Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm who are highly entertaining as always. I don't know if I'll enjoy a movie this much for the rest of year. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

TV Show Review: Veep (Season 6)

The ruthless nature of politics turns to brutal jokes in the sixth season of this highly awarded HBO Comedy. Former President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) seeks to cement her legacy with a presidential library and a tell-all book. At her side, Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) continues to assist Selina along with his trusted bag and whisper in her ear all the names she is supposed to remember. Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) hopes to get her new boyfriend elected but her rough tactics that were welcome in D.C. prove a little harsh in this local race. Dan Egan (Reid Scott) works as a new broadcaster after leaving the lobbyist industry. Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) finds success as a politician making one incompetent decision after another. 

Selina continues to be involved in international politics traveling to Georgia, the country, to oversee the first election. Her book depends on the diary of Mike McLintok (Matt Walsh) who she brings along with her. Also accompanying everywhere is Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) who is always ready with a hilarious comment. Selina forms a relationship with Mohammed Al Jaffar (Usman Ally) who helps her out of troublesome situations when she hopes to have a positive photo op. Selina's cold-hearted nature is illustrated most clearly in her relationship with her daughter Catherine Meyer (Sarah Sutherland) who has formed a relationship with Marjorie (Clea DuVall). 

Jonah finds himself courted by the daughter of a wealthy donor who grooms him for marriage. He manages to form a powerful block of Congress and shuts down the government. Assisting Jonah are Selena's former aides Kent Davison (Gary Cole) and Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn). Selina fields rumor of being nominated for the Supreme Court and moves closer to solidifying the location of the Presidential Library. Dan finds that his cohost is spreading rumors about them dating off air and Dan ambitiously embraces the gossip to facilitate his rise as a host. As her health declines with a heart attack, she finds that Gary mirrors her problems and makes her promise to come down to his hometown. Selina charms the stereotypical Southerners with a story she steals from her assistant.

Mike loses Selina's diary so her book publication is overshadowed by the controversial of her past mistakes. However, a past accomplishment that she never got credit for comes to light as well making her a hero for a brief period of time. As the plans for Selina's library are made to look like a vagina, it is revealed that it is buried on the former slaves quarters but of course, Selina doesn't care and wants to cover it up. The finale reflects back on Selina's rough trail through politics and her history of narcissism. At the end of the season, Selina decides to run for President again forcing her to break up with Jaffar but so does Jonah and Dan finds out he got Amy pregnant.

I finally caught up on all of Veep in the last few months and have found the show enjoyable and hilarious. It took me a while to understand the dynamic that Selina is not a likable character and her staff, or former staff, are the characters to actually root for in the hard, cruel world of politics. While the current White House has reached a new level of outrageous, Veep still seems relevant and not so far off base as to ruin the humor or story. It will be interesting to see how the show adjusts to being back on the campaign trail. 

TV Show Review: Silicon Valley (Season 4)

The hilarious HBO comedy continues to skewer the tech business with the group of lovable loser coders. Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) has transferred his brilliant compression code into a video chat application, PiperChat, and tries to build a new internet. Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) struggles with Big Head (Josh Brener) and Big Head's father for funding of their company. Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) is dating a hacker who he is afraid will start spying on him through the computer. Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) harasses Dinesh for his poor girlfriend choice and becomes jealous as Dinesh rises in the company. Jared (Zach Woods) finds that he has more success when he pretends to be someone else. 

Over at Hooli, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) rubs the CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) the wrong way and finds himself in the basement. Dinesh finds himself at the top of the company but when he discovers that most of the users are underage, making this highly illegal. The only solution is to sell Piperchat to Hooli who will then have to deal with the repercussions of the young users. Gavin's decision causes him to lose his position at Hooli as Jack takes over. Big Head finds himself hired by Stanford because of his history as a big tech industry guru even though he has never had any success. Erlich tries to find his own success by investing in a new idea with Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) and his app idea SeeFood. 

Richard searches for funding for his new internet and finds an unlikely ally in Gavin Belson who has become disgraced after his firing from Hooli. Gavin is also keeping his youth by having a young man's blood injected into him. Monica (Amanda Crew) sees promise in SeeFood and demands a demo but Erlich struggles to put something together when he realizes that Jian Yang's app only recognizes hot dogs. This idea works out well though as the app helps block penises from showing up on a more popular chat application. With this success, Monica and Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) start their own company that Erlich hopes to join. Erlich tries to hang out with some other company men but finds that he doesn't have the athletic ability and goes to desperate measures.

Erlich does find success with another wealthy creator Keena Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment) who has an amazing new VR application. Feldspar wants to buy everything and attempts to buy out Richard for a large sum of money that Richard is able to bargain for an even higher price. Gilfoyle works to hack Jin Yang's new smart fridge, which comes back around to save the whole crew when their final plan starts to fall apart. Erlich falls off near the end of the season as T.J. Miller was written off the show, one of the most disappointing pieces of news from this great comedy. Erlich was a memorable character and one of the best so it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here.

Jared nearly parts ways but it looks like this season ends with the crew back on top. This show is always good for a few laughs and a lot of inappropriate humor that lambasts the ridiculousness of the behavior coming out of this West Coast haven for advancement. From absurdly petty billionaires to stressed out hackers, Silicon Valley delivers all of these with great characters at the center trying to succeed with something genuinely new. Mike Judge created this comedy with others after making plenty of other hilarious observations of other cultures in American life.   

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Movie Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

The incomprehensible robot mayhem continues in the latest installment in the children toys action-adventure franchise. No one seems to be taking this seriously, not even the director Michael Bay as he sets the tone early with a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci) receiving a staff from a hidden Transformer to help King Arthur and his knights fight barbarians. In the present day, Izabella (Isabela Moner) sneaks around the wastelands of previous Transformers battles repairing hidden robots and hiding from a military squad that hunts them, the TRF. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) steps in with Bumblebee and the other Autobots saving Izabella and finding a talisman that leads to some ancient legend. At a junkyard, Cade lives with the hidden Autobots and Dinobots and works with his assistant Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael). Lennox (Josh Duhamel) infiltrates the TRF as they recruit Megatron to hunt the Autobots.

The Decepticons, freshly freed from prison, attack Cade's junkyard and battle into a destroyed city somewhere. Cogman, a robot butler, takes Cade away to a castle in England where Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins). Burton has also brought Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) as she is a great descendant of Merlin. Burton explains the significance of the end of the world and the certain steps that can be taken to stop which involves a staff and Cade's talisman. Optimus Prime was floating through space when he was picked up by Quintessa, a creator of Transformers who changes Optimus into Nemesis Prime.

A chase through London, or some other English city never sure where they are in these movies, follows clues and eventually leads to the Navy Museum. Cade and Vivian take a submarine with Cogman and dive deep underwater to another alien ship that no one had discovered before. Lennox and the TRF follow to discover a hidden place of knights. Vivian activates the staff but Optimus finally shows up after being gone pretty much the whole first half of the movie and fights Bumblebee. The yellow robot takes and Optimus quickly changes back to the good side. All the characters come together to launch an attack on the giant Cybertron planet that has floated from space to destroy Earth.

A NASA Engineer (Tony Hale) comes up with a plan and the military attacks alongside the Autobots, but it is up to Vivian to grab the staff. There are tons of explosions and it is nearly impossible to tell what is going on at any one time but eventually, the team makes it to a central area and fight Quintessa and her knights. Megatron also tries to fight them but gets thrown out. There is a hint of a future sequel in horns that rise up out of the ground that don't serve a purpose in the finale of the movie.

The Transformers seems to be out of ideas as they have recycled a very similar plot and formula with a historical event actually being different because of the hidden presence of Transformers. Cade is a silly character and Wahlberg hardly tries while it is sad to see a great actor like Hopkins cashing a paycheck and no longer bothering with a decent role. Any interesting new character is pushed to the side during the entire middle part which is so slow and boring I had a hard time staying awake through it and paying attention to the silly plot points seemed fruitless. I've heard rumors of an expanding universe and there have already been announcements of a Bumblebee movie but trouble at the box office could spell a winding down of this absurd set of films. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

The fourth movie in the Transformers series delves even further into Earth's history and introduces a new main character. Michael Bay continues his unique style of action spectacle directing though the target audience appears to be more international. Before humanity, the Transformers visited and wiped out dinosaurs. A discovery in Artic by the explorer Darcy (Sophia Myles) shows signs of their early presence. In Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) discovers a strange truck while salvaging junk from a movie theater with his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller). Cade's daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) can't get a scholarship to college and the family is in financial trouble. In Chicago, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) coordinates an operation that sends a task force to hunt down Transformers led by James Savoy (Titus Welliver). The transformer they cooperate with, Lockdown, does not discriminate between Autobots and Decepticons.

Cade discovers the truck is actually Optimus Prime who had been trapped by humans and forced into hiding. Attinger sends Savoy and the Transformer hunters to Texas to investigate the truck sighting. They use brutal tactics on the Yeagers until Optimus bursts out of the barn and Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), Tessa's boyfriend, drives in to help them escape. In the ensuing chase, Shane shows off his driving skills and Lucas gets vaporized. Cade does not approve of Shane dating Tessa and investigates the BlackOps organization that attacked him. Optimus updates his look and assembles the remaining autobots, including Bumblebee. 

At a corporation called KSI, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) hopes to use the alien metal Transformium to build a new transformer, Galvetron to look like Optimus Prime, but it keeps looking like Megatron. Joyce works with Attinger to collect the technology. Cade and Shane sneak into KSI with Bumblebee but when they get captured Optimus attacks the company headquarters. Attinger commands Joyce to activate Galvetron and Stinger, a Bumblebee copy. When Optimus fights Galvetron, Lockdown steps in and takes him down. The bounty hunter captures Optimus and Tessa and brings them aboard a large alien ship.

Tessa escapes into the depths of the ship. Lockdown adds Optimus to his collection at the behest of the creators of the Transformers and gives something known as a seed to Savoy. Cade, Shane, and the Autobots sneak aboard the ship. There are alien creatures in cages all throughout the ship. Cade finds Tessa and alien weapons to fight Lockdown's soldiers. The Autobots free Optimus from captivity as Cade, Shane, and Tessa escape leading to a spaceship battle amidst the skyscrapers of Chicago. Spooked by the Autobot attack, Joyce moves his operation to the China facility led by Su Yueming (Bingbing Li). Optimus explains how Galvetron was created by Megatron's mind and that it hopes to launch the seed in a large city.

Attinger sells the seed to Joyce hoping to receive a golden parachute but Joyce has second thoughts after listening to Cade about the dangers of the seed. Galvetron awakens and assumes control of a Transformer army of KSI prototypes. Joyce escapes with the seed and brings it to Cade who flew with Optimus in a spaceship. Galvetron's new army attack and the ship crashes away from Hong Kong. Cade fights Savoy through an apartment complex and kills him by hitting him in the head with a football and pushing him out a window. As the Autobots battle the new Decepticons, Optimus draws a sword that calls to the Dinobots but has to fight one first before he can ride them back to the city. With the Dinobots help, the Autobots fight of Galvetron's army but Lockdown returns and activates a huge magnet on his ship over Hong Kong dropping large objects back onto the city and the Transformers.

Optimus and Cade face off against Lockdown and Attinger in a final battle and with the help of Shane and Tessa, they destroy the CIA agent and transformer bounty hunter. Optimus is last scenes blasting off into space While the special effects in this film are often pretty amazing, the dialogue and overcrowded story make this film pretty hard to enjoy. Wahlberg and others are a poor substitute to what was already a lacking main cast and the obvious marketing even during action scenes reduces the visuals furthers. I didn't despise this film as much on the second watch but it is still a pretty awful piece of cinema. I think of it as the worst in the series but maybe the second one or the new installment give it competition. 

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The third installment of the transforming robot series continues to alter history, this time focusing on the moon landing. Michael Bay continues to bring spectacle with space battles and wild robot fights. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) seeks out employment while living off of a new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitley) in Washington DC. His mom Judy (Julie White) and dad Ron (Kevin Dunn) are traveling across the country in a trailer. Bumblebee and other Autobots work with Lennox (Josh Duhamel) to stop human conflicts. In Chernobyl, Optimus Prime and his team encounter a giant snake transformer, Shockwave and find an engine part from an old Autobot ship.

Sam goes to job interviews until he is hired by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich) though it is disappointing for Sam to be working in the mailroom after saving the world twice. Supervising the Autobots is Director of National Intelligence Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand). Carly works for a curator Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) who flirts with her making Sam jealous. Optimus seeks out Sentinel Prime buried on the moon. Megatron hides out in Africa ordering the assassination of anyone involved in the Decepticons new plot. A coworker Jerry (Ken Jeong) watches Sam and warns him but it's too late as Jerry is thrown out the window by Soundwave's bird spy.

Sam demands to see Bumblebee and confronts Lennox and Mearing as Optimus revives Sentinel who seeks out pillars that open a space portal. Sam seeks out Simmons (John Turturro) and his assistant Dutch (Alan Tudyk) to find out the truth about the Decepticons and the pillars. The Decepticons attack and Sentinel reveals that he made a deal with Megatron, killing Ironhide. On the National Mall, Sentinel Prime activates the pillar which transport Decepticons from the moon to Earth to rebuild Cybertron. Carly's boss Dylan is working with the Decepticons too and captures Carly. Sam has to put on a watch that can be used to spy on the Autobots. The U.N. votes to exile the Autobots on a giant spaceship. Epps (Tyrese Gibson) works on the crew managing the shuttle. 

Emboldened from the spaceship exploding, the Decepticons takeover Chicago and prepare to teleport Cybertron. Sam and Epps sneak into the city with former NEST soldiers searching for Carly. The Autobots reemerge led by Optimus to attack Trump Tower. Sam and Bumblee save Carly and they notify the military about the location of the main pillar. Hunted by Shockwave, the group tries to get into position to shoot the pillar as Lennox parachutes in with another squad. Optimus Prime takes down Shockwave as Sentinel activates the pillars. Sam fights Starscream with a grappling claw and blows his head up with the help of Lennox and Bumblebee. Optimus Prime and the Autobots beat back the Decepticons stopping Cybertron from teleporting. Optimus fights Sentinel and Sam fights Dylan to destroy the main pillar. Carly convinces Megatron to betray Sentinel. Optimus kills Megatron and Sentinel to end the battle.

Dark of the Moon was an improve from the low standard set by its immediate predecessor and the final action scene is a long drawn out doozy of a set with intense robot action for almost an hour. The spectacle of Shockwave ripping through buildings and streets in Chicago was something new to the series that helped stave off some of the lackluster repetition of the previous film. The film does continue to have a confusing plot and the action is not always easy to understand but this is probably the last time I enjoyed a Transformers film in the theater. 

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The Transformers return for a lackluster, poorly written sequel that still has some stunning visuals. The Michael Bay-directed film operates off the premise that the Transformers had come to Earth long ago. In the present, an elite military squad called NEST led by Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sargeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) works with the Autobots to hunt Decepticons. In a destructive battle in Shanghai, Optimus Prime takes down a Decepticon but receives a warning of the Fallen. As Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) readies for college, he discovers a sliver of the Allspark cube that brings household appliance to life and destroys his parents', Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (Julie White), house. Sam has to leave his transformer car Bumblebee behind and say goodbye to Mikaela (Megan Fox) as they start a long distance relationship. He gives her the cube sliver as he departs. 

The government wants to shut down the Autobots just as the Decepticons plan to revive Megatron. At college, Sam tries to cover up his strange past as he meets his crazy roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez). Judy gets high on pot brownies in a moment of humor. Sam starts seeing symbols, an effect from handling the sliver and finds a girl Alice (Isabel Lucas) has taken an interest in him. Bumblebee shows up to take him to Optimus who warns him of a coming war. Sam continues to have strange visions and discovers Alice is a Decepticon just as Mikaela shows up to see him making out with her. Resurrected, Megatron confers with the Fallen and catches Sam to have a microscope transformer probe his brain in search of a source of Energon.

Optimus fights off the Decepticons but Megatron shoves a blade through his mechanical chest and blasts him open. The Autobots take Sam into hiding as the Decepticons announce their presence to the world and kidnap Sam's parents. Sam seeks out Robowarrior aka Simmons (John Turturro) who has discovered the truth of past Transformers' visits. They find an old transformer hidden in a museum who transports them to Egypt. Amidst the pyramids and confounding exposition, Sam finds the key to reviving Optimus Prime. Lennox and Epps bring Optimus to the Middle East, dropping him out of a plane into a village. The Decepticons attack and try to prevent Sam from reaching Optimus.

Sam and Mikaela run toward the village as Simmons and Leo take on a giant transformer with Mudflap and his twin brother transformer. The Decepticons setup a trap with Sam's parents but Bumblebee steps in to fight them off. The military starts dropping lots of bombs and fights with the Autobots to defend Sam against the Decepticons. Simmons calls in a giant Navy gun to stop the giant transformer from revealing the Energon weapon that will destroy the sun. Sam brings Optimus back from the dead after going into the Transformers heaven. Optimus uses the parts of the old transformer to become super powered and destroys the Fallen before it can destroy the sun. Wounded, Megatron retreats with Starscream promising to return for a sequel.

This movie was the silliest of the original trilogy and I think it suffered from a writer's strike, which led to the confused plotting. The action scenes are somewhat fun but it is always hard to understand what is going on and certainly none of it matters. I thought it was the worst of the series but the newer films are even more confused and ridiculous. Revenge of the Fallen expands the Transformers universe and adds history to Earth's interactions with these robotic beings. This sequel could not match the fun of the original and the spectacle of giant fighting robots started to grow old quickly.