Transformers

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What’s most striking about the cavalcade of new toys recently rolled out at New York City’s own Toy Fair is how familiar they are. Look, over there! Transformers that switch from vehicle to robot and back, right next to the new G.I. Joe sets! Behind them, an ever-evolving set of Star Wars figures and play packs, just a short stroll from tiny Mr. Potato Heads dressed as Marvel superheroes. There is, of course, also a heavily armed raccoon screaming pithy remarks to anyone who will listen, but a lot of what rounds out Hasbro’s latest set of toy lines are old characters made new – or, at least, newish. The team at Hasbro is kind enough to preview its major lines – from Marvel to My Little Pony and back – every year before Toy Fair really gets going, allowing journalists to pack a small convention center and ooh and ahh (sometimes, quite loudly) over new collections, especially those pegged to new feature films (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the latest Transformers all debuted fresh toy accompaniments) and existing properties that still stand tall (yes, there were plenty of Star Wars items, though nothing that seems directly related to the new films in the series). What toys are destined to crowd your shelves soon? And which toys just might give us a read on heavily anticipated films? Take a look, and brace for those tiny Mr. Potato Heads.

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transformers-age-of-extinction

Perhaps casually tossing the word “extinction” into the subtitle of a blockbuster franchise that was once presumed dead (victorious in death, but still dead in theory!) is a bad idea. The (presumably) first film in Michael Bay’s recently relaunched Transformers franchise is set to hit theaters this summer, and the series is starting to go great guns on this marketing thing, launching a full-scale trailer attack during yesterday’s dismal Super Bowl. While the game may have disappointed, the first trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction actually looked quite good (well, it does look like a Transformers trailer, but a good one in the context of things), and it featured the arrival of some robotic, transform-y new characters that might just save this whole outing (sorry, Mark Wahlberg). The Dinobots are here! In the Transformers universe (where, yes, we’re betting Shia LaBeouf actually is still famous), the Dinobots are Autobots whose transformational mode makes them appear to be dinosaurs or similarly prehistoric beasts. Basically, no, they are not turning into planes, trains, or automobiles. Dinobots also get to bot out, thanks to their ability to fight in “robot mode” (much like evil Decepticons). Despite being Autobots by nature and literal design (the original origin story for the Dinobots actually holds that they were built by Wheeljack and Ratchet on Earth), they tend to be independent and interested in their own pursuits and aims. They are wild cards. And they are also dinosaurs that are also robots that are also born from […]

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Tetra-Vaal-robot

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.  Years from now (let’s say 2154), Neill Blomkamp’s significance in film history books will be that he was discovered through his short films. Specifically by Peter Jackson. And for a while he became a sort of poster boy for the situation where a young talented and economical filmmaker catches Hollywood’s eyes with a remarkable short film showcasing computer-generated special effects that make it look like it cost a million bucks. He will also be known for being part of the related trend of a new filmmaker turning his calling-card-functioning short into a debut feature. And as it turns out, another short of his is set to be adapted for his third feature. And another was a test for what was supposed to be his first (the famous failure of the Halo movie). Following film school and a short time working as an effects artist in Vancouver (he’s credited with animation on such things as 3000 Miles to Graceland and Smallville), the South Africa-born director made four notable shorts, one of which is really a commercial, before he moved into the big pictures courtesy of the mentoring Jackson. A fifth short was what originally came about through that partnership. You can watch all five below followed by links to watch six of his exceptional early ad works.

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han-geng01

While one giant robot movie is rounding out a disappointing opening weekend, another continues to announce cast members a year ahead of its own release. This morning, Michael Bay welcomed Asian superstar Han Geng into the fold of Transformers 4, in which he’ll join a cast consisting of Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammar, Sophia Myles and fellow China-based actress Li Bingbing. Han is a singer and actor who can be seen heading up his country’s second highest-grossing domestic release of 2013, So Young (it’s neck and neck with top-grossing Hollywood import, Iron Man 3, and both are now in the top ten of all time there). To give you an idea of how popular he is, just peruse YouTube’s many abridged yet still lengthy versions of the college drama featuring only Han’s scenes. Before becoming a movie star, Han got his start as a member of the South Korean boy band Super Junior, in which he was also known as “Hankyung.” Through the group he got his first major film appearance alongside the other guys in the 2007 Korean high school movie Attack of the Pin-Up Boys and later got his first lead role in My Kingdom in 2011 (the year the last Transformers sequel, Dark of the Moon, was the top-grossing movie in China). Meanwhile, he’s continued to be a recording star with a solo career following a legal battle to get out of his Super Junior contract. Among his hit singles is a song released this […]

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Michael Bay

When a Transformers film or Bad Boys II washes over its audience with gigantic, thunderous popcorn-scented waves, they know the man behind those tsunamis. No, it isn’t Poseidon, but someone even more mythic and powerful: director Michael Bay. He is one of the most successful auteurs working today, and mass audiences love visiting the worlds he presents to them through the colorful, bombastic prism of Awesome. They connect to his movies, but maybe not for the obvious reasons. A Michael Bay picture is many, many things. The global showman has made his career off shiny money shots, a broad sense of humor, solid on-screen pairings, well-orchestrated chaos, and much more. We all know a Bay creation when we see it, and much of that comes from the mind’s more subconscious, inner workings. Bay doesn’t necessarily repeat himself, but there are reoccurring details which appear in most his movies, all of which further his status as an auteur. Since an auteur is generally labeled as a filmmaker with a “strong personal style,” even Bay’s harshest critics should admit he has personality and a well-established brand, whether they like his particular brand or not. The director’s newest movie, the abrasively entertaining Pain & Gain, carries on those trademark signatures in many ways. It’s not the explosions which make him an auteur, it’s the little things that make his human stories more meaningful than what we see from most blockbuster directors. Michael Bay a true visionary auteur, and here’s why:

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IntroBehindScenes

It seems very rare that a behind-the-scenes documentary will earnestly try to show how the movie is made over trying to sensationalize the process. After all, who exactly is the demographic watching these things? Is it people who are genuinely interested in learning the techniques, or is it casual fans of a particular movie peeking behind the curtain? A good documentary caters to both – but above all should be honest in how the film was made. I’d like to explore some of the most earnest examples that I’ve come across. Either as stand alone films or DVD extras – these are documentaries that show, for better or for worse, the good and the bad aspects of the movie making process. This is stuff that no film goon should miss.

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Look – computers will never have souls. It’s disappointing to admit, but we all have to face facts at some point in our lives. Maybe one day they’ll manage to act alive, but they will never feel our love. They have no feelings. They are soulless, uncaring devices that we all too often assign our own humanity to – just like cats. But of course, in film, that would just be no fun. It’s better to have an A.I. that is dynamic and has some kind of personality, even if that personality is a lack of any kind of personality. The key is the voice, and here are some of the most unforgettable ones…

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Bay and Wahlberg

If you can’t beat the Internet, join them! At least, that seems to be Michael Bay‘s mentality when it comes to his (good God) fourth Transformers film. Late last month, a rumor broke free from the gnashing, mewling, almighty Internet machine that held that Bay was looking to his Pain and Gain star, Mark Wahlberg, to lead the latest installment of your little brother’s favorite franchise. At first, Bay was like “oh, no, that’s totally not going to happen. Nope, not at all,” but let’s get real – this is totally going to happen. Bay has now posted about the speculation on his website (via ComingSoon), writing: “I squashed a rumor that was on the internet last week. It was about Mark Walhberg. Mark was rumored to be staring in Transformers 4. We are working on another movie together, not T4. I had such a great time working with Mark on Pain and Gain, and he gave such a great performance – well let’s say that very internet chatter gave me some ideas. We are at the inception of our story process right now on T4. Let’s say some ideas are gaining traction with me and my writer – so I’m here to say thanks internet chatter.”

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Wahlberg and Bay

Though Michael Bay was initially reticent to commit to making a fourth installment of his hugely successful Transformers franchise, the money in these things is just too good, so it was really only a matter of time before he relented and agreed to sign on for a fourth. And though the news of another Bay-directed Transformers movie is going to be enough to earn groans from a lot of film fans, there have been some promising indications that a fourth film could be the best yet, even with the same director in place. From the very beginning, Transformers 4 has been thought of as a retooling of the franchise. Gone would be the north of $200m budgets and focus on Shia LaBeouf’s goofy Sam character and his ridiculously annoying family, and in their place would be a more traditional action plot starring a more traditional action actor. Heck, at one point it was even rumored that the studio was going after Jason Statham to star. Say that Bay made a Transformers movie without a focus on all of that family-friendly humor, with a budget that forced him to rely a little less on technical wizardry and a little more on his ingenuity…that could result in a watchable movie, right? The final battle of Transformers 3 was a lot of fun to watch, what if that were the whole movie?

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Hungry Hungry Hippos

You see what happens when you buy a bunch of tickets to a movie called Transformers? Ever since Hasbro made a gabillion dollars by licensing one of their toy properties for a big screen adaptation, they’ve been trying their damnedest to get every dumb hunk of plastic you played with as a kid into the multiplexes as the latest and greatest summer blockbuster. Already we’ve gotten two Transformers sequels, an abysmal G.I. Joe movie, and a movie about a board game. The disastrous box office performance of this summer’s Battleship and the ending of some of the development deals that Hasbro had with Universal doesn’t seem to be bringing anyone to their senses when it comes to making movies about board games either. The L.A. Times has a report that Hasbro has now signed a trio of new development deals, this time with upstart production company Emmett/Furla, to make more movies based on stupid toys. First in line for development is Monopoly, a movie about that board game with the fake money you always tried to play with your brothers and sisters but never got to the end of before someone quit. Presumably this will be a story about a decrepit old man with a monocle building hotels and taking over railroads, all while bankrupting his friends and loved ones. Sounds scintillating. I hear there’s a scene where he has to go directly to jail that will have you on the edge of your seat. Also included in this dumb deal […]

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Boiling Point

Some time ago, not so long that I’ve forgotten, but so long that I can no longer totally remember, I watched a film that was bad. Upon completion of said film, I went with the cliched statement of “I want my money back.” This prompted a response from an acquaintance and colleague who took some exception to this statement, for whatever reason. It was his opinion that asking for one’s money back is somehow offensive to the people making the movie and he asked what I would do if the filmmakers asked for their budget back. Rather than getting into an internet fight over it, I stewed for a bit, but recently decided to get vocal, especially once I realized that the entire business side of making money is actually studios asking for their budget back.

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Michael Bay Transformers

On a gut level, a lower budget seems like it would be the best thing for the next Transformers movie. The franchise has made an absurd amount of money, sure, but the quality of the movies has always been hampered by excess. A little constraint can actually mean a lot of freedom. Of course, the normal laws of physics might not apply to Michael Bay. In an excellent feature by Geoff Boucher at Hero Complex, Bay opens up the new theme park ride alongside someone in a large Bumblebee costume and lays down some notes about the fourth installment (the one which he said he absolutely wouldn’t return for before absolutely returning for it). Among the details, a lower budget by $30m. That would bring Transformers 4 down to the earthly range of $165m or so, counteracting the tide of bloated blockbusters that can’t seem to nail down two hours worth of action without spending at least $200m. It feels strange to praise Paramount and this franchise for being sensible, but credit should go where credit is due. At the same time, Bay said that the action might take place in outer space. “That feels like the way to go, doesn’t it? I want to go a little off but I don’t want to go too sci-fi. I still want to keep it grounded.That’s what works in these movies, that’s what makes it accessible.” Of course, no matter where the action is, the true significant change will be the cast.

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Culture Warrior

For filmgoers frustrated with a visionary filmmaker whose films’ quality provided diminishing returns as he became ever more prolific, Prometheus was anticipated as a welcome return to form. For those hungry for R-rated, thinking person’s science fiction, Prometheus provided a welcome respite from a summer promising mostly routine franchise continuations. For those who see the 1970s and 1980s as the height of modern Hollywood filmmaking, Prometheus promised a homecoming for a type of blockbuster that was long thought to be dead. Prometheus even beat out The Dark Knight Rises as the most anticipated summer film of 2012 on this very site. But then the reviews came in. And thus began the qualifying, criticizing, parsing out, hyperbolizing, dissecting, backlashing, and disappointed exhaling. There were many responses to Prometheus, but very few of them were the songs of praise that a film this hotly anticipated – and highly desired – by all means should have satisfyingly warranted.

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Culture Warrior

“If Michael Bay directed Raiders, the Ark would be opened in the first act, and people’s heads would explode through the rest of the film.” I don’t typically seek out wisdom from Twitter, but this below-140-character observation (made by @krishnasjenoi and retweeted by @ebertchicago) struck very close to something that’s been occupying my mind as we enter the fifth week of the summer movie season. Though the statement works better as a fun hypothetical critique than a contestable thesis (in other words, there’s no way we’ll ever really know, thank goodness), the sentiment feels relevant. Though the modern Hollywood blockbuster has been a staple of studios’ summer scheduling for almost forty years, the films that become blockbusters don’t look or feel very similar to the films of the 70s and 80s that somehow paradoxically led to today’s cavalcade of sequels, franchises, adaptations and remakes. Criticizing Hollywood’s creative crisis is nothing new. But with the mega-success of The Avengers and the continuing narrative of failure and disappointment that has thus far characterizes every major release since, it seems that this crisis has been put under a microscope. The moment where unprecedented success is the only kind of achievement Hollywood can afford and the well of decade-old franchises and toy companies become desperately mined for material is something we were warned about. But Hollywood’s creativity-crippling reliance on existing properties is not the only, or even the primary, problem faced by mass market filmmaking’s present moment. The bloated numbers sought after each and […]

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Boiling Point

With what is being called a massive failure at the box office, pulling in just $25 million domestic dollars (or 12% of its budget), Peter Berg‘s Battleship is sinking, but not before firing a warning shot across the bow of stupid ideas. And by a “warning shot across the bow” I mean a giant, moronic cruise missile. Battleship wasn’t destined for failure – after all, almost any idea can be made good. If you ignored the title, the idea of a few naval vessels fighting off aliens sounds pretty cool and not altogether stupid. However, you slap the Hasbro logo in-front of the credits and include a sequence where a missile destroyer blindly fires into the ocean while a captain shouts out “J-11″ and the stupidity quotient rises exponentially.

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Boiling Point

The Avengers is kind of a major success. What, you hadn’t heard? Of course you did. Avengers box office is on the tips of tongues, internet screens, newspapers, and even within the pages of Time Magazine. You don’t make a billion dollars that quickly without garnering a lot of attention. With attention comes discussion. People always want to be included in the discussion, it helps get a little bit of that attention directed their way. If at this point you feel the need to point out the hypocrisy of this entire thing, go for it. What do I care? In attempting to be part of the discussion and gather up some of that sweet, sweet spotlight, everyone has been discussing the Avengers box office results and asking the question we all ask of super hero teams and double rainbows: What does it mean?

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Aural Fixation - Large

Bringing a beloved (or at least nostalgia inducing) television show to the big screen is no easy undertaking (especially for shows that have been off the air for a few good years.) The task of adapting existing material (whether it be from a book series, a comic book or a well-known public figure) can be daunting as you hope to live up to expectations while also trying cultivate new fans. When it comes to turning a television show into a film, having a few well placed cameos from the original cast, rooting the film in a story true to that show’s world and (seeing as many of these shows were comedies) not letting the film version take itself too seriously seem to be the keys to these adaptation’s success. With Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s updated 21 Jump Street taking to the silver screen this weekend, I realized that the one thing all these shows have in common (regardless of when they aired, who starred in them or what they were about) is also the one element that many television shows on air today have done away with – a catchy theme song.

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Look, Battleship will probably end up proving that it has at least a few original ideas in its head. Someone out there has to have shoved in one or two scenes that don’t look exactly like other movies, but the trailers certainly aren’t out to prove that. Nevertheless, it’s time to stop ragging on this flick for being a moronic idea and time to start ragging on it as a clear patchwork of other movies. Somehow, Universal has bypassed the need to do Hollywood math by simply copying and pasting directly from other films that have been successful. Why make something like Iron Man or like Transformers when you can go ahead and just make them again under a different name. Watch this new trailer and try to say with a straight face that the alien design isn’t Iron Man with a paint job. Watch the giant building collapse and try not to think up 5 other movies within the past 2 years where it’s happened (and try extra hard not to imagine the exact same scene in Dark of the Moon). No one says much of anything. Probably a good thing. But, whew, the action sure does look eye-popping.

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Oftentimes, when we post these “Because You Asked For It” posts, readers will inevitably weigh in with various calls of “no one asked for this!” or “I didn’t!” No, this time, you all asked for it – by allowing the Transformers franchise to make over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Your reward? More Transformers from Michael Bay. After lots of chatter on the ol’ Internets this afternoon, most of it sparked by producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura announcing in an MTV interview that a fourth Transformers film was coming in June of 2014, complete with director Bay back for still more robots. Beyond that, we don’t have a whole lot of information on the project, as DiBonaventura said, “I think the challenge there is we really are going to do a reboot there, and what that’s going to be we don’t even know yet.” A reboot! Of course! And what about cast and story? “No, it’s so silly. We gotta get a story first. You can’t pick characters until you have a story…there’s still continuity that’s going on. There’ll be a lot of new cast, whether there’s anyone from the first we don’t even know yet. The truth is, there’s going to be a whole new story. The characters that will come along will be Optimus and Bumblebee, I’m sure.” What’s most shocking about this news? That the film’s creative team thinks that they need a story to make another Transformers. Did they not see Transformers: Dark of the Moon?

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Director Peter Berg is making his bid for A-level status (box office-wise) this summer with an adaptation of the Hasbro game Battleship. That, by the way, is a complete misuse of the term ‘adaptation’ seeing as the game has zero story elements to adapt. Maybe if the movie featured naval combatants going head to head and controlled by unseen forces? Or if the aliens were manipulating ships to fight each other? I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here, but you can see how difficult it would be to make a good movie from the game. So why do it? Obviously Universal is hoping to find the same success with Hasbro that Paramount has with their Transformers movies, but it’s still so nonsensical. The Battleship name offers no recognizable pull for audiences. These aren’t fighting robots that viewers have seen in action previously on TV or via toys in their hands…this is a board game with no moving pieces. The film could exist exactly as is under a different name and would end up with the exact same box office results. Check out the new ad below.

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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.17.2014
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