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Review: Bumblebee, or 4 Reasons This Is a Proper Throwback

He's like a cute metal death pet.

I am a child of the 80s. I was born in December 1979, so all my earliest memories were formed during the colourful decade of the 1980s. And like a true 80s boys, the Transformers, those robots in disguise that are more than meets the eye, hold a very special place in my heart.

When the first movie – oh, wait, the first Transformers movie was animated, and it came out in 1986. Let me rephrase that. When the first live-action movie came out in 2007, I was one of those geeky fanboys who almost wet themselves with excitement. Incidentally, the 2007 film is also the very first film reviewed in Da Couch Tomato, so, yeah. I love them Transformers.

However, not everyone found satisfaction in witnessing Michael Bay murder their childhood (an exaggeration, of course, but netizens and hyperbole are such a common pair), which is why the producers decided to give us this sequel reboot spinoff new Transformers flick. Here now are four reasons why Bumblebee is a proper throwback to the true spirit of this beloved franchise.

Classic character design
I’m going to make this short and sweet. How do we know that the filmmakers got the classic character designs right? Because they did. They actually did. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film’s opening minutes, set during the Battle of Cybertron, identifying the robots as they appeared onscreen and shouting their names out loud. “Soundwave! Shockwave! Arcee!”, pretty much like how I shouted out the names of the characters that made an appearance in Ready Player One.

Peter Cullen
Younger viewers may know Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, and nothing else. With older viewers, some may know that he also voiced the lethargic donkey Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, but almost every child who grew up with the Transformers knows that Peter Cullen isn’t just the voice of Optimus Prime – Peter Cullen IS Optimus Prime. His voice is so iconic that all live-action versions of the Transformers franchise featured Cullen as the Autobot leader. The filmmakers may have gotten away with turning Bumblebee into a Camaro, but they would never have gotten away with someone else voicing Prime. It’s Cullen or nothing.

The true test of Transformers geekery lies in the ability to answer this question from the top of your head: Name at least three (3) Triple Changers. (Easy: Astrotrain, Blitzwing, and Springer.) This film features Triple Changers, alright, but Shatter and Dropkick are not part of the 1980s Transformers line. I’m not sure why they chose to debut their Triple Changers with new characters when they could have just chosen any of the six Triple Changers from the old Transformers line. If they were going for all-out nostalgia, they shouldn’t have held back on this one. It’s fine, though. I’m not complaining. Thank you, Travis Knight!

In filmmaking, there are two ways you can set the time period. First is through production design, which takes care of the visual aspect, and this includes costume and wardrobe. Second is through the soundtrack, which takes care of the auditory aspect. Let’s have a quick rundown of a few of the artists on the soundtrack: The Smiths. Bon Jovi. A-ha. Tears for Fears. Duran Duran. I mean, come on. Nothing screams 80s more than Duran Duran. And of course, as a wink to the audience: Stan Bush’s “The Touch”, which was the theme song to the original 1986 Transformers film. See what they did there?

"Who's gonna drive me home tonight?"

Bumblebee. China/USA. 2018.

Original rating: 7.7/10
John Cena: +0.1
Hailee Steinfeld: +0.2
Final rating: 8.0/10


Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, or This Is the Best Animated Film I Have Seen In a Long, Long Time

"I sense an Oscar win, guys."

Let me begin this review with my sentiments, which a lot of other people share: "This is the best animation style I have ever seen." Well, of course stop motion animation is still a glorious thing to behold, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gives us a much-needed break from all the computer-generated animation flicks that are basically just Pixar clones. And Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), together with last year's T'Challa from Black Panther, gives us a much-needed break from all the Caucasian superheroes of the silver screen.

Into the Spider-Verse does beautifully what Ang Lee's Hulk tried to do back in 2003, and that is to blend the visual comic medium with the audio-visual medium of cinema (Lee received a lot of hate with Hulk, but I was one of the very few who genuinely thought it was groundbreaking). The result is a visual style that is totally new, a breath of fresh air in this age where every computer animated film looks the same. There are several nods to the source medium of print, such as using speech bubbles and sound effects text, using CMYK offsetting instead of blurs, and of course the iconic use of halftones. Nothing says print more than those halftone dots.

The plot's pacing was okay, although there were times when the almost two-hour running time felt longer than that. And the story is a good take on the alternate universe template. If this were a live-action flick, the filmmakers would probably put the same actor in different makeup and costumes to illustrate different alternate dimension versions of the character. But why should Spider-Man in another dimension always look exactly like Peter Parker (Jake Johnson)? Why can't there be a black Spider-Man, a female Spider-Man (Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), an anime Spider-Man (Peni Parker, voiced by Kimiko Glenn), an animated pig Spider-Man (Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney), or a black-and-white Spider-Man who sounds like Nicholas Cage? In the same vein, why shouldn't an alternate dimension version of me look like Brad Pitt?

Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman could also have chosen to go the cheesy route and have Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy kiss in the end. It's a good thing they didn't, and they replaced it with Miles hugging his dad in the end instead. This film is about friendship and family, and isn't about Spider-Man's romantic love interest, because Miles Morales just hit puberty, after all.

This review comes a bit late, as the film was released in December, but it does come off a recent Golden Globe win for Best Animated Film. And that is a good sign that Into the Spider-Verse just might take home the animated film Oscar. This is important because I've met children nowadays who would ignore a beautifully animated Hayao Miyazaki flick for a crappy Paw Patrol episode simply because Miyazaki is 2D. Sad, I know, but kids need to be reintroduced to great animation that isn't overtly computer-generated. I guess we need to wean them off gradually, so maybe give them a film that's CGI, but doesn't feel totally CGI, and that pays homage to the 2D medium – and coincidentally, that's what this film is.

Honestly, I think this would still rock even as a 2D-animated film. 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. USA. 2018.

Orinal rating: 8.0/10
Mahershala Ali looking like his character: +0.25
Brian Tyree Henry voicing Miles's dad: +0.25
Liev Schreiber's unrecognisable voice: +0.25
Stan Lee's cameo: +0.25
Final rating: 9.0/10


DCT Podcast: Episode 4 – Buy Bust X We Will Not Die Tonight

YouTube here and here

Da Couch Tomato Podcast, Episode 4, discussing Erik Matti's Buy Bust and Richard Somes's We Will Not Die Tonight, how the Bacolod filmmakers are pushing the envelope for action movies, and how female action heroines might be the next trend.

Hosts: Sting Lacson and Giosi Mendoza


DCT Podcast: Episode 3 – Westworld Season 2


Da Couch Tomato Podcast, Episode 3, discussing HBO's Westworld Season 2, how it is not the next Game of Thrones, and how it is the new Matrix.

Hosts: Sting Lacson and Giosi Mendoza, with guest Rachel P.


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