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YOMYOMF's Summer Blockbuster Showdown Part 3-01

Select Offenders will be reviewing this summer’s crop of Hollywood tentpole films with a scientifically tested set of criteria that was vetted, nurtured, dissected and regurgitated through the pop-culture gadflies who have nothing better to do than annoy other productive people in the YOMYOMF office. So, we channeled their nitpicks of the incessant reboots, remakes and rehashes that are part and parcel with Hollywood summer movies into this ongoing summer blog series called the SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER SHOWDOWN. You can read previous roundtable reviews, which are all archived here

In this edition, we tackle Michael Mr. Stage Fright Bay’s latest masturbatory opus, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION! BTW, this roundtable review is chock full of spoilers. You’ve been warned! 

1. Remake, Reboot or Recycled:

David: A reboot is supposed to be better, right? OK… I can rip on it like all the critics did, but I’m going for another angle here. The studio. I bet you no execs nor the producers there said this movie was bad. Director Michael Bay keeps churning out these spectacular messes and we pay for them. Sure, I didn’t have to watch it knowing what I will get, but I want to give it a chance. I do. I’m that kind of movie-goer. But this may be the last time I do because of this film. In this industry we really reached a low point that makes me feel so sad as the great yesteryears of solid filmmaking are fading away. Why… It’s all about the Benjamins.

Why can’t EDGE OF TOMORROW be a hit? Too different and cerebral? Why make LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD and ruin the legacy of the first film, which is the template for great action films?

I guess it’s just hard when the studio in a room can say wonderful things about their film and can’t address the 10-ton elephant or dinobot in the room that they made a sucky film. I guess with a track record like Bay’s you may let that massive money printing machine let it do it’s job. But we are going to run out of great summer blockbusters that stay with us in our hearts. This was the issue for me as I left the theater today.

ThorHulkCritic: ALL TRANSFORMERS MOVIES ARE A REBOOT OF TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (1986), ONE OF THE BEST ROBOT MOVIES IN ROBOT MOVIE HISTORY. HULK GOING TO WATCH THAT ONE AGAIN INSTEAD OF NEW BAY MOVIE, BECAUSE ALL THE BAY MOVIES UNIFORMLY AND PREDICTABLY HORRIBLE.

Junko: Recycled; nothing really new other than the Dinobots that didn’t even talk and looked oddly regal. I didn’t even recognize them.

ThorHulkCritic: DID WE NOTE WHICH DINOBOTS ARE IN THE FILM? CANONICALLY THEY ARE GRIMLOCK (tyrannosaur), SLAG (triceratops), SNARL (stegosaurus), SWOOP (the flying one) AND SLUDGE (brontosaur). DIDN’T LOOK THAT UP.

Anderson: It was, by far, the worst Bayformers movie ever, and the previous three set a low-ass bar. Man, it was so mind numbing. Funny to think that two years ago, Bay was saying to the press that T4 would be smaller (budget and story) and focus on more sci-fi space elements. In actuality, this edition has the most explosions, destruction and pointless product placement ever.

2. Asian Sidekick?:

David: Bingbing Li was a cop before being savvy business woman… and knows kung-fu. Oh brother. And they had many Asians here! Well, they were in Hong Kong.

TF4LiBingbingStill2

Anderson: And what was up with her makeup? Is she supposed to be a savvy corporate businesswoman or on her way to a Depeche Mode concert?

ThorHulkCritic: IMDB says there are tons of Asians in AGE OF EXTINCTION. This, one imagines, is a “one step forward two steps back” situation, in that every ethnicity portrayed in the Bayformers films is a terrible idiotic stereotype. As pleased as I am to see Li Bingbing and Ken Watanabe working in the film, I am mortified to find a character description of Watanabe’s character Drift as a “former Decepticon samurai.” Now pardons while I Hulk out…GrrrrrRRRRAAHHH WHAT?

Drift_n_optimus

WTF IS A “FORMER DECEPTICON SAMURAI?”

WHY WOULD ANYONE FEEL THE NEED TO HAVE A TRANSFORMER BE A SAMURAI? BECAUSE HE’S JAPANESE? DOES NO ONE REMEMBER THAT ALL THE TRANSFORMERS ARE ORIGINALLY JAPANESE? IF IT WEREN’T FOR INNOVATIVE JAPANESE TOY DESIGNERS, MICHAEL BAY WOULD STILL BE TRYING TO MAKE “PEARL HARBOR 3.”

OKAY, MAYBE THAT WAS NOT THE BEST HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE, NOW THAT I READ IT AGAIN.

DID NOKIA SPONSOR THIS SAMURAI JOKE ALSO?

THE HELL?

DOES ANYONE THINK THEY COULD’VE GOTTEN AWAY WITH CALLING JAZZ A “FORMER AUTOBOT SLAVE?”

HULK GOING TO START BAND CALLED THE FORMER TRANSFORMER SAMURAIS. WE ARE GOING TO SUCK.

Junko: Lots of sidekicks here! oh, and as my moviegoing friend noted, we also saw Russell Wong’s brother make an appearance. I also spotted “CIA Analyst” who is Erika Fong, the former Pink Samurai Ranger. A few things about our sidekicks… What was UP with Bingbing Li’s false eyelashes? She could’ve easily fanned away any bad guys with them. IMHO, false lashes shouldn’t be THAT distracting on someone’s face unless you’re a Cirque performer. Also, she was just angry the entire time. Not happy that Beijing nor Hong Kong were annihilated or that her boss, Stanley Tucci, wasn’t dead so she could get a raise… no, she was just angry all the time. But my fave scene from our sidekick was the Chinese gesture that Drift did when the humans and all the remaining Autobots meet up. Yeah, I’m talking about this one:

3. Explanasian or “Let Them Fight”:

David: I didn’t care. There’s no point pointing out dumb reasoning for things here. Just dumb dumb dumb.

Dominic: I agree. Let’s go back to the only real TF movie, “Transformers: Age Of 1986.” A coherently plotted film story, with few of the “huh?” moments that marred most of the pre-Pixar-era animated “kiddie” movies. That is to say, it mainly makes sense. No one has to explain why they’re going to fight Unicron, and the Matrix of Leadership is tastefully introduced early as the potential plot-turning secret weapon thing. The only true deus ex machina moment is Kup’s sudden remembering of the “Universal Greeting” which apparently is “Ba Weep Grana Weep Ninibom” or something like that.

You wouldn’t think it would be a big deal in 2014 to say, “have a plot at least as coherent as an animated toy movie from 1986” but apparently it is WAY beyond the powers of anyone on Team Bayformers. The Bay films are actually a seminal achievement in the way they totally annihilated plot. Not only does nothing make sense, the exposition scenes serve only to make the audience dumber and less-informed than they were before the exposition happened.

Junko: In general, I wish there’d been an oracle that would tell me when the movie would end.

Anderson: Transformium must be the worst term ever. It’s what makes the Transformers tick. It’s their DNA and is a living metal. And the humans have made a pact with some evil Transformers from the home planet to turn in Optimus Prime in exchange for “the Seed.” What does it do? Does it matter? I never knew what the “All Spark” did in the other movies, in the first place. It was used to kill Prime, and then bring him back to life, etc. I’m with Dom aka ThorHulkCritic, they should’ve just adapted the animated movie. That has everything you need and it was set in 2015!

4. Ground Zero Metropolis or How much mass destruction?:

David: Hey! It’s a Bay film… you gotsta have everything blow up and ripped apart… just like the critics did o n this film.

THC: IN TF’86, UNICRON EATS A PLANET AND TWO MOONS. EVER FILMED THAT, PUNY BAY SECOND UNIT GUYS?

Junko: Hong Kong was torn up WAY more than Chicago this time, proving that the Chinese people have preserved and in Transformers 5, Hong Kong will be glorious. And thus, the Chinese investors were appeased.

Dominic: Do we all recall that in Bay’s ARMAGEDDON (1998) Hong Kong is destroyed totally by meteor? Bay and HK do not seem to have a good relationship.

Anderson: Chicago was pretty beat up, but Hong Kong took the cake. All those great mom & pop teahouses decimated! Nooo!

5. Nolan or Schumacher? — Which kind of Batman is this movie, the gritty, grounded in reality Dark Knight or the nipples on rubber sculpted muscles, kind of gay Batman?

David: Schumacher…no, but that’s saying it’s good.

Dominic: Bay is not Nolan or Schumacher. He is his own thing, for good or ill. On the other hand, TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE — Revenge of 1986 (yeah, it’s my favorite film, okay?) provided selectively gritty moments for its young kid audience that slyly made our young brains go “Wait, WHAT?”

fightscenes-transformersthemovie-590x350

a) There are three swear words in the original 1986 theatrical release: Spike: “Oh, shit!” Ultra Magnus: “Damn it, open!” Grimlock: “Me Grimlock kick butt!”

Not a big deal by current standards. I don’t know if they even swear in the Bayformers films (I can’t remember anything they say, honestly.). But picture if you will, it’s 1986, and Ultra Magnus just said “Damn.” IMAGINE THE GLEE.

b) Optimus Prime is killed. By a LOT. Yes this moment also happens a few times in the Bay films. But who cares? We are entirely not interested in the death scene of Optimus Bay because of LaBeef’s lifeless acting and because Optimus (or, sorry, “OPTIMUUUUUSSSS!!!!”) still just looks like a dying hardware store aisle. Yet in TF’86, it’s a real scene. The animation is unremarkable, but it describes the moment. The camera holds on Optimus’ face as it tilts away from life. Little Daniel cries onto his massive metal hand. A real movie death scene. Needless to say, if you’re a little kid and Optimus is your favorite toy, seeing your toy DIE on screen is messed-up.

c) And then there is the wholesale slaughtering of all the other Transformers in the movie. including the K.I.A. ends of G1 Wheeljack, Huffer, Ratchet and Ironhide (What I wouldn’t GIVE if they’d kill Ratchet and Ironhide in the Bay movies. But no, instead they kill Jazz. They kill the African-American Autobot. Words fail.) Again, all this is a bigger emotional deal than anything that happens in any MBay film ever. Arcee’s mournful look as she drags Cliffjumper’s eviscerated body off the battlefield says more than any lingerie model’s vapid line readings.

BTW, R.I.P. to the original Cliffjumper voice actor, Casey Kasem. He was number 1 for many consecutive weeks.

So to sum up, when they talk about injecting “gritty realism” into the nerd-genre franchises, let’s remember that Transformers the Movie started all that. The film introduced many a youngling to the totality of death, the casualties of war, and the bad language of adults under stress. All this rather unexpectedly. Just like real life.

Junko: Neither Bay nor Schumacher… I think there was a LOT of Roman Polanski here. The lead girl is suppose to be 17 years old. At the beginning, there was a lot of low cut cleavage action going on (and in the next cut, you see her shirt buttoned up: continuity glitch). Then when she’s in the spaceship and is escaping from the scanner looking for her, she climbs up onto a cage with an alien in it. The alien warps its tongue around her leg… uh… tentacle fantasy anyone??? I was disturbed by the Mark Wahlberg-Nicola Pelz father-daughter relationship. He didn’t look old enough to be a father of a 17 year old and she looked overly made-up that they could’ve easily been lovers. ICK.

Anderson: I think the movie is influenced by this one scene from WAYNE’S WORLD:

Everything that is unholy and part of this movie, is derived from this one scene. That is TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. Even the China stuff was so badly integrated, I would say it was just as bad as the the added scenes that were added in the Chinese version of IRON MAN 3, where China’s biggest stars play doctor and hot nurse and are the ones to take out the nuclear engine out of Tony Stark’s chest, at the end of the movie.

Yep…. So Stark gets emergency, life-threatening, advanced surgery… in China. Hahaha!!!

6. Which character in the film could’ve been played by an Asian and who would be your casting choice?

Dominic: Rain as the intrepid human hero; Chloe Bennet as the former Predacon ninja. (Look it up.) Korean girl group Girls Generation as the Aerialbots; George Takei as Unicron; Bai Ling as Laserbeak; Arthur Chu as Perceptor; John Cho as Hot Rod. Should I go on?

Junko: Chloe Bennet as Tessa Yaeger (wait, is Yaeger a tip of the hat to Pacific Rim?) The couple and realtor looking at the Yaeger residence could’ve been Chinese to reflect present times. I’m not very good at this catergory 😛

ThorHulkCritic: HOW ABOUT CHLOE BENNET AS MECHAGODZILLA? OH WAIT. WRONG GIANT MOVIE.

David: How about Stephen Chow in the Wahlberg role? Hey, might as well make it funny than boring, right?

Anderson: How about just giving Li Bingbing a more fleshed out character, aside from her being always angry, and know kung-fu. Fuck, she didn’t even kiss Stanley Tucci in the end, and he had the hots for her! I get the WM/AF stuff ain’t so popular, but dude, give this woman pulse! Tucci’s character is like Steve Jobs, but he wears Italian suits! C’mon, I’d give that a pass and even the powers that be thought that would have been too much.

7. Banana rating:

David: 4 rotten bananas out of 4 fresh bananas.

THC: DIDN’T SEE IT. TIL PUNY ALL ARE PUNY ONE.

Junko: ½ a banana that someone left behind in the breakroom.

Anderson: No bananas! It was 3 hours of torture.

clockwork_big

About the contributors:
Anderson Le (@ale808) Anderson is one of the founding Offenders of YOMYOMF and curates THE SHORT LIST. He is also the director of programming for the Hawaii International Film Festival.

David C.P. Chan is a visual effects artist and a card carrying “gerd” (geek and nerd) combined.  I quote movie lines at least 50 times a day and will school you at the game of Risk!

Junko Goda (@GoJunko) lives in Los Angeles and is an actor, consultant, Japanese/English interpreter and translator in addition to being an equestrian and mounted archer, who peruses the aisles of the local Book Off (Japanese second hand bookstore) for her next manga discovery. Her twitters are usually filled with Star Trek-isms.

Dominic Mah (@dommah) is a writer, director, erratic blogger at dommah.com, and rock musical enthusiast. He tweets pop-culture critique as @thorhulkcritic. Pretty soon he will be premiering a new reality web show about karaoke bars at melancholyball.com.

9 Comments

  1. I made a comment on Dom’s FB thread about this and he suggested I say something about it here, so like a good lemming, here I am.

    Short intro: I am a TV producer working in China. All of our shows are on Chinese TV, across a swath of different channels (Chinese TV is a murky morass and it would take a huge post to give any real context or insight into it). I’ve also worked on films, TVCs, etc. out here for the last ten years.

    The Ironman 3 “co-pro” with China was orchestrated by DMG Entertainment, a foreign company that mostly does film marketing and very little “hard” production, based in Beijing. A few notes about IM3 and China. Chinese people hated the added China stuff. First of all, it was extremely notable that there was a China version and an international version. China has a very complicated and messed up inferiority complex with regard to international things, and frankly, everyone would prefer to buy foreign products if they can afford them. So naturally a large segment of the Chinese audience was sort of offended that there even was a Chinese version.

    Second, in the Chinese version, the Chinese characters weren’t even relevant. They felt so blatantly like add-ons, DMG took a lot of internet heat for underestimating the intelligence of the Chinese public. To be fair, there are a lot of people here who couldn’t care less either, but most of those people also aren’t spending the money to see movies in theaters (as opposed to super-cheap pirate DVDs or just pirate downloads, which most people in China don’t think of as pirate).

    Third, who goes to China for advanced surgery? I mean, Chinese people save up all their lives so they can get medical treatment in better medical environments. If it had been more Neuromancer-y sort of back-alley surgery it would’ve been more convincing, even to the Chinese public.

    Fourth, bad call on Fan Bingbing. They missed that while she is a still a pretty big star, nobody really takes her seriously, so she’s just candy in the movie and that’s all Chinese audiences expect from her–devalues the Chinese additions.

    Fifth, I happen to know that DMG oversaw the “Chinese” bits and so it’s not surprising that they missed the boat a little bit as a lot of their key people are a bunch of Americans who don’t speak Chinese. I’m just saying, extrapolate that for yourselves.

    Now sure, the Chinese audience is pretty diverse and less monolithic than the media tends to describe for the sake of their own convenience, but it is extremely questionable how much impact the “Chinese” version of IM3 had in terms of affecting sales. Anecdotally, I do know that a few of my favorite DVD shops here all told me that they couldn’t move the Chinese versions as people only wanted the international DVD. Except for foreigners who wanted to see what was in the Chinese one.

    Finally, on Li Bingbing. I like her, I really do. So it’s a little disappointing that she is only doing these Transformers/Resident Evil type movies. Maybe that’s all she can get right now, but she actually has talent. And as for the eyelashes, I mean, everyone does that here, it’s a little nuts.

  2. ‘Twould it be egregious to say that China does not holistically “get” the Transformers, as they are, at base, derived from Japanese imagination/perversion?

  3. Well, not by box office you couldn’t say that. The Transformers movies and toys have done really well here.

    And really, China and Japan’s emotional relationship is really complicated and varies not only amongst individuals and generations but on a macro level by economics and the fact that Chinese people just like quality products. Chinese people love Japanese food. Chinese people like Japanese luxury products.

    Transformers have been big here for a long time. When the first one came out, I remember friends here telling me that they used to watch the show on TV as kids, but couldn’t get the toys. Plenty of guys put Autobot or Decepticon face decals on their cars. And the “to punish and enslave” decal as well.

    I mean, the word zhainan 宅男 is from the Japanese otaku, anime is pretty huge, Japanese cars, cosmetic brands. Every once in a while people will get a little patriotic, but anti-Japanese sentiment is certainly not what it used to be.

  4. YEAH HULK NOT MEAN POLITICALLY, BUT CULTURALLY. WHAT BIG SCIENCE-FICTION NERD TROPES THEY INTO IN CHINA? I MEAN OBVIOUSLY MICHAEL BAY HAS NO HOLISTIC FEELING FOR TRANSFORMERS EITHER. HULK NOT SAYING IT’S A CHINESE OR NOT-CHINESE THING, OBVIOUSLY.