New on Blu-ray and DVD: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon,’ ‘Fast Five,’ ‘The Lion King’

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

If you’re looking to define maximalism, a good place to start would be Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” An exhibition in excess, the third installment mends some of the franchise’s wounds left behind by the obnoxious, low-brow sequel “Revenge of the Fallen.”

The unlikeliest of heroes, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has traded in Megan Fox for Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. It’s the first time Bay asks you to suspend disbelief in “Dark of the Moon,” but it won’t be the last.

Three months out of college and Sam is hopelessly searching for a job in D.C., grasping at straws and trying to “smooth-talk” his way into any company that will take him. A small performance from John Malkovich helps make this montage worthwhile.

But Sam knows that no nine-to-five job will satisfy him. After all, he has saved the world twice. He’d much rather aid the Autobots than sit behind a desk, but they’ve formed an alliance with the U.S. from which Sam is excluded.

While on a recon mission to Chernobyl, the Autobots reveal that the government has covered up the crash landing of a vital Cybertronian aircraft on the dark of the moon. The ship, piloted by Autobot leader Sentinel Prime, was carrying hundreds of pillars – teleportation devices that could be the Decepticons’ greatest weapon against Earth.

Unsatisfied with the job he eventually lands, Sam forces his way back into the action, and with his help the Autobots and the government embark on a space race against the Decepticons to retrieve the pillars. It’s mostly just an excuse to watch Michael Bay do what he does best – blow stuff up in a big way.

Bay makes two smart decisions from the get-go: First, he tones down the role of Sam’s mother (Julie White), whose humor only works in the tiniest of doses. Second, he wipes away any trace of Mudflap and Skids, the two most annoying Autobots from “Revenge of the Fallen.”

Now for the really good stuff.

As Bay turns Chicago into his playground of twisted metal and destruction, you begin to realize that his imagination is as limitless as his budget. Keep in mind that imagination and originality are not the same.

Humans cut through the Chicago sky while being chased down by Decepticon fighter ships; skyscrapers teeter over an Autobot-Decepticon warzone; and our heroes are stuck on foot (one in heels) in ground-zero, in what easily ranks as one of the longest action scenes of the year.

Most directors couldn’t even conceive how to translate a vision with such an astronomic scope to the screen. Nor would they care to try. Ever the audacious filmmaker, Bay does, and he manages to bring the scene to life without getting it too muddied up in special effects. Many will argue that the hundreds of millions going into “Dark of the Moon” should enable any director to do whatever the hell they want successfully. I disagree. This is just what Michael Bay was born to do.

In taking big risks, sometimes he fails. In “Dark of the Moon,” it mostly works.
Michael Bay wants his audience to feel like a kid in a candy shop – overwhelmed and always wanting more. If there’s a time to give the devil his due, it’s now.

Grade: B


 

Fast Five

One could argue that “Fast Five,” Justin Lin’s latest installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, is the magnum opus of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s career. But, with filmmographies dominated by “The Fast and the Furious,” “Takers” and “The Chronicles of Riddick,” I don’t really know how much that’s saying.

The fifth installment of the franchise reunites Walker, Diesel and Jordanna Brewster as Brian O’Conner, Dominic and Mia Toretto, as they lay low in Rio de Janeiro after breaking Dom out of prison.

When the trio takes on a job with the wrong people (Hernan Reyes, played by Joaquim de Almeida) they’re set up for killing three federal agents, putting Dom, Brian and Mia on top of the most wanted list.

The team finds themselves on both sides of the law, looking for some sort of Robin Hood justice against Reyes, the wealthy drug dealer who has Rio in his pocket, and being hunted down by Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).

The acting hasn’t gotten any better. Neither has the writing. But those are aspects of the series that cannot change. Instead, “Fast Five” knows it has to outdo its predecessors where it really counts — in the cars.

The action in this installment is slick, well choreographed and way over-the-top. Seeing how bits of dialogue are just mild distractions until the next car chase, “Fast Five” provides its audience with stupid entertainment in its purest for. After all, that’s what audiences came for.

But you also get the sense of finality in “Fast Five,” like Justin Lin and his cast are leaving it all out on the playing field. That bittersweet feeling doesn’t last long as the credits roll, revealing that not only is there room for a sixth movie, but it’s already in the works.

Grade: B-

 

The Lion King

“The Lion King,” one of the most endearing and theatrical animated movies in Disney’s canon, has finally gotten the re-release it deserves.

The film is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” following Simba, the prince of the pride, as he watches his father killed, flees from his kingdom in shame, and returns as an adult to right the wrongs enacted under his uncle Scar’s rule.

The animation, with heavy influences from Kenya’s Hell’s Gate National Park, is some of the best Disney has ever produced, even as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated. The music, by Elton John and Hans Zimmer, is unforgettable and, like the film itself, will live on for decades to come.

Less “magical” than most of Disney’s 1990s releases (“Aladdin” or “Beauty and the Beast” fill those roles nicely), “The Lion King” is a more primal take on the traditional fairytale. Its African setting, without any glass slippers or magic lanterns, helps set itself apart from other animated movies from that era.

Still, there’s a sentimental void that the re-release of “The Lion King” will fill for adults who grew up with Disney’s animated classics. The question remains, though, in an age where computer-generated animation rules the market, can “The Lion King” capture a new generation of fans the way that it did 18 years ago?

Judging by the surprising box office numbers ($80 million and counting), I’d say yes.

Grade: A

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