A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “Transformers: the Last Night,” “The Hero’s” tale of redemption and the underwater terror of “47 Metres Down.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies including the eye scorching visuals of “Transformers: the Last Night,” “The Hero’s” tale of redemption and the underwater terror of “47 Metres Down.”
Familiar but fresh. If you are a Hollywood executive you probably say these words a hundred times a day. In pitch meetings and story conferences those f-words are a mantra in a town that never met an idea it couldn’t recycle.
Convinced that audiences will only respond to variations on brands they are already familiar with, this summer the studios are offering freshened up versions of The Mummy, Amityville Horror and Spider-Man among others. Hollywood, the Nation’s Blue Bin. The biggest and loudest of the bunch will likely be Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth film based on the toys created by Hasbro and Tomy.
Once again directed by Michael Bay, the movie reportedly cost a budget-busting $260 million. The special effects-laden story of humans vs. Transformers and a mysterious artifact is on track to make multi-millions domestically and worldwide, one of the few aging tentpole films to beat audience blockbuster fatigue.
It’s familiar but fresh.
In the familiar department you have Mark Wahlberg as star, the return of heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime and director Bay’s trademarked bombast. He makes action orgy movies for audiences who crave a rumbling theatre seat. His Transformers films engage three of the five senses — only smell and taste are exempt — that leave viewers with scorched eyes and ringing ears and his audience eat up his gladiatorial sense of spectacle.
Freshening up the story is the addition of screen legend (and Marvel Cinematic Universe actor) Anthony Hopkins as an astronomer and historian knowledgeable in the history of the Transformers on Earth and a healthy dose of Arthurian myth woven into the story.
It sounds like the perfect mix of familiar and fresh but there are no guarantees in the blockbuster business. Recently, despite the presence of Tom Cruise and two — count ’em, two — classic horror characters, critics, audiences and the box office met The Mummy with a collective yawn. Although it has done better business overseas one pundit suggested the movie’s poor showing “stems from being an antiquated property paired with an antiquated star.”
Now there’s a statement that’ll send the collective shivers that were so sorely missing from The Mummy down the backs of studio executives. Perhaps the revamped story of an ancient malevolent evil wasn’t familiar or fresh enough for audiences. Or perhaps it’s because potential moviegoers sensed the cynicism in The Mummy. Bundling Cruise and legendary monsters in the movie with a few laughs, some typical blockbuster action and a CGI climax that wouldn’t be out of place in an Avengers movie, felt like a carefully constructed exercise in marketing first and a movie second.
The blockbuster business is a big one with high risk and reward. It didn’t work for Cruise and Co.’s The Mummy or Dwayne Johnson’s raunchy Baywatch reboot, but the Autobots have been good producers for Hollywood. Transformers: The Last Knight, wedged into a summer packed to the gills with big-budget blockbusters, likely won’t make the coin of its predecessors but Michael Bay doesn’t seem worried.
Although The Last Knight will be his last Transformers as director, he says the film lays the groundwork and backstory for 14 upcoming movies. At the rate they’re going, that’s almost 30 more years of Bumblebee and Megatron. That’s a lot of bot battles, and a lot of freshening up.
Audiences complain that Hollywood has no new ideas, that everything is a rebrand, reboot or remake. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” they say.
The “Transformers” franchise should encapsulate everything that is wrong with summer blockbusters. It’s a story based on a line of toys, it values spectacle over story and the paper thin characters feel more like place holders for the action than real people and yet, here we are on episode five, with (according to director Michael Bay) fourteen more in the pipeline.
In fact, they do make ‘em like they used to. You could be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu while watching “Transformers: The Last Knight.” The “Transformers” movies are remarkably consistent. They are heavy metal filmmaking, all bluster and retina roasting visuals and people eat them up.
People go see “Transformers” for the robots—their transformation scenes remain the coolest thing about the series—and the new movie doesn’t disappoint, creating a new backstory for its mechanical stars. According to the new movie the Transformers were friendly with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable and fought the Nazis during World War II.
A decade into Bay’s franchise good guy leader of the Autobots Optimus Prime has high tailed it back to his home planet Cybertron. Humans are at war with the Transformers—“Two species at war, one flesh, one metal.”—and the future of the world is at stake. As a short prologue with King Arthur suggests, the key to Earth’s survival lies in the secret history of the Transformers and a 1600-year-old secret artefact. To unlock this mystery enter Autobot ally, inventor and single father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers historian and English lord Sir Edmund Exposition (Anthony Hopkins)—he’s got some mansplainin’ to do!—Oxford University Professor of English Literature (and descendant of the most famous wizard of all time other than Harry Potter) Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) and Autobot Bumblebee (voice of Erik Aadahi).
Director Michael Bay has finally taken the Transformers where they always should’ve been, to the Realm of the Ridiculous. Any movie based on a line of toys is bound to be silly but this may be one of the silliest films ever made. From a prologue set in the Middle Ages and robots hanging out on Cuban beaches to a wisecracking Merlin the Magician and a 700-year-old opera singing robot, this is wacky stuff.
Is it good stuff, you may ask? It doesn’t take itself as seriously as some of the other entries in the series, so that’s good but like the other “Transformers” movies, it’s too long and gets lost in an orgy of action and gravity defying stunts.
Hopkins seems to be having fun cavorting with his sassy C-3PO wannabe Cogman (Jim Carter) but it’s a thankless job. He’s there mostly to provide the convoluted backstory. As a member of the secret society to protect the history of Transformers, which also includes suck luminaries as Harriet Tubman and Stephen Hawking among others, he’s the keeper of the info and boy, does he over share. He scrolls through hundreds of years of nonsensical Transformers history but at least he does says thing like, “It was alien power or as they knew it in those days, magic,” in his distinctive Hannibal Lecter voice.
It’s all a bit much. With a story this convoluted why bother with the story at all? Those who want to see the Transformers battle will not be disappointed. The chunks of metal are cooler and than ever before and when Hopkins isn’t explaining what’s going on the robots are going at it.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” is Bay’s farewell to the franchise as director (he’ll stay on as a producer) and he has not held back. It’s heavy metal filmmaking, loud and proud, like a drum solo that goes on for just a hair too long.
Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters had never met before starting work on the new police dramedy Battle Creek.
“I was actually driving onto the lot in Manhattan Beach for a fitting,” says Winters, the actor known for his roles on Oz, 30 Rock and the Allstate Insurance commercials, “and I wasn’t looking where I was going and literally, true story, almost ran Josh over. That was our first encounter.”
Their jarring introduction could have been useful as they created their characters, a Battle Creek, Michigan cop and FBI agent who butt heads on police procedure and everything else, but they decided not to be too method in their approach to the work.
“To me that is a sign of insecurity in people who don’t know what they are doing,” says Winters.
Instead the pair relied on-the-job research to get under the skins of their characters.
Duhamel spent time with Battle Creek cops, doing ride alongs with their undercover officers, drug enforcement team and gang unit. “There is some real stuff happening in that town,” he says. “Nobody would ever suspect because it sits right in between Detroit and Chicago but they get a lot of riff raff fleeing either city and hiding out there. They get a lot of crime you wouldn’t expect in what seems to be a very all-American town.”
Winters says “the best part of the ride alongs is actually listening to the cops talk. They have their own language, their own rhythms in the way they talk to one each other. It’s really fascinating. I don’t think anyone has ever really captured it to be honest with you.
“It truly is a whole different world. I really do the relationship Josh and I have is pretty close, especially when we’re driving down the street in the Suburban. A lot of those conversations are priceless. I think [Canadian series creator and writer] David Shore has a real ear for that.”
On screen the pair investigate a series of wild cases—“The crimes we are investigating on the show you won’t see anywhere else,” says Duhamel.—like an illegal maple syrup ring and the murder of a cereal company mascot. “We have to take it seriously as police officers,” says Duhamel, “but it is kind of funny.”
With thirteen episodes in the can Battle Creek Duhamel and Winters have had time to get to know one another since their first meeting and have become close.
“I just really like him and wanted to be his friend,” laughs Duhamel.
“I just want to stand near him.” Winters says of his handsome co-star. “He makes you look good.”
Richard interviews Josh Duhamel & Dean Winters on “Battle Creek”
JOSH: Being the committed actor that I am. I wanted to go see it and feel it and talk to some of the local cops to see what kind of stiff they really deal with. See how they felt about this show. It was a lot more informative than I expected it to be. I expected to wander around. I didn’t tell anybody I was going until I got there. I had somebody call the police department and they took me out on a ride along with their undercover guys, their drug enforcement guys, the gang unit. There is some real stuff happening in this town. Nobody would ever suspect because it sits right in between Detroit and Chicago and they get a lot of riff raff fleeing either city and hiding out there. They get a lot of crime you wouldn’t expect in what seems to be a very all-American town.
Josh: It was actually very… he puts in in the back of this car and I can’t really tell you what we did or bought…
JOSH: He put me in the car, in the backseat. He drives this old crappy Suburban with a cracked woindow and a windshield wiper that never stops, but he’s a cop and he has these CI’s these Confidential Informants he uses to get information. He could put these guys away if he wanted but they help get the big fish. He’s building a case against this guy and I’m in the backseat and he introduces me to this heroin addict who is an informant for him. “This is my friend Milt.” That’s who I play on the show. We bought drugs and did the whole thing. A ew weeks later he sent me a text saying they had gotten the guy they were trying to get.
I’d never been in that situation. It’s pretty real when you’re actually in it. It doesn’t feel like TV anymore.
“Life As We Know It” has one of the most standard romantic comedy set-ups folded into a movie with a decidedly non-rom-com premise. Take the usual couple who can’t stand one another and mix with a story involving death and childrearing and you have a dram com—a dramatic comedy—and a pretty good one at that. Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel play Holly and Eric, the mismatched couple, two people set up on a disastrous blind date by their best friends—he has a motorcycle, she drives a Smart car, which is rom com shorthand for incompatible—who, after their friends are killed in a car accident, find they are the godparents to the surviving baby. They decide to make a go of it, playing mommy and daddy to little Sophie despite their obvious differences.
“Life As We Know It” takes a couple of risks. It allows us to get to like the child’s parents before killing them off and isn’t afraid to have long stretches of laugh free scenes. In fact, that’s the movie’s strength. The moments of real emotion, such as when Holly and Eric go back to their friend’s house for the first time after the accident, are well played and effective, it’s only when the movie slips into the “please don‘t say anything, just listen” stage that it becomes as traditional and predictable as any other Katherine Heigl movie. Luckily there are more real moments than not, some genuinely funny lines—at a diaper change Josh says, “It’s like “Slumdog Millionaire” in there”—and surprisingly effective performances from two lead actors better known for their looks than their acting abilities. “Life As We Know It” isn’t a classic by any stretch, but it is a lot better than the trailer would suggest.
The good part of “When in Rome,” the new Kristen Bell film, is that it doesn’t follow the usual unlikely boy-meets-unlikely-girl romantic comedy set-up. The bad part is that just because it doesn’t follow the usual rom com rules doesn’t mean it isn’t predictable.
Bell is Beth, a work obsessed curator at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. After her last boyfriend “ripped out her heart and fed it to the pigeons in Central Park” she lost faith in romance but when her sister impulsively decides to get married in Italy Beth reluctantly takes a couple of days off, where she ends up drunk in the “fountain of love” plucking coins from the water. Little does she realize that an old legend declares that when you take coins from the fountain, you take the heart of the person who tossed the coin in the fountain in the first place. Soon she is being unwillingly courted by four men—an artist, a street magician, a sausage salesman, a model and willingly courted by Nick (Josh Duhamel), an ex football star. The question is, “Is the love for real or just a magic spell?”
“When in Rome” is as frothy as it gets. It’s a romantic fantasy with no foot in reality. In fact, the only fantasy here is that anybody thought this was a strong enough idea to carry a whole movie. There are a few laughs sprinkled throughout and the audience I saw this with laughed intermittently, but the jokes—like an Italian priest mispronouncing “lawfully wedded wife” as “awfully wedded wife” not once, but twice!—are more amusing than actually funny.
The movie does earn some legit laughs—a tiny European car gag is silly fun—from the more comic savvy members of the cast like Will Arnett, Danny DeVito and Dax Shepard, (Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder continues his string of more annoying than funny performances), but when the attention shifts away from them to the leads “When in Rome” flat lines.
Bell’s idea of physical comedy is to smile with spinach in her teeth and while she’s an agreeable screen presence she isn’t really suited for this kind of comedy. Ditto Don Johnson who plays her father. The years have been kind to Johnson, but he doesn’t have a natural gift for comedy. As for Anjelica Huston as Beth’s testy Guggenheim head curator… well let’s just say I choose to remember her glory days in films like “The Grifters” and “Prizzi’s Honor.”
Josh Duhamel fares slightly better. He’s the charming (but slightly goofy) single guy with the perfect bachelor pad—complete with a barber’s chair, a pinball machine and neon cocktail sign—who can deliver a joke well enough but appears to me to be a modern day Tab Hunter; more male model than an interesting actor.
“When In Rome” is further proof that romantic comedy needs a shot in the arm. A few weeks ago, on the release of “Leap Year,” I suggested that someone like Quentin Tarantino should come in and completely reboot the genre. Seeing “When in Rome” didn’t change my mind.