"Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" stars Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Vélez, Tobe Nwigwe, Peter Cullen, and Ron Perlman. Released on June 9, 2023, the film has the Autobots teaming up with the Maximals to battle the Terrorcons.
The film is directed by Steven Caple Jr., who also directed "The Land" and "Creed II". It is the seventh installment in the "Transformers" film series. The 1990s provided plenty of historical moments that defined us. That includes kids being into things "tubular", the rise of cable television and the internet, and the groups of giant transforming alien robots battling each other for Earth's fate. I'm pretty sure no one remembers the latter during that decade. The robots in disguise are back once again for more summer blockbuster goodness, as the latest installment in the toy-based franchise continues its fresh path that started with the 2018 spin-off, "Bumblebee". You know, after Michael Bay gave up on his take on the "Transformers" with "The Last Knight". This refreshing direction, along with the nostalgic G1 elements and compelling narrative, helped make "Bumblebee" the best film in the franchise, even though it didn't make as much cash as the previous installments from Bay. Regardless, it was successful enough to spawn a sequel that finally unites the Autobots for another globe-trotting adventure, with the long-awaited characters from the "Beast Wars" storyline joining the action. So is it able to continue the franchise's booming trend, or does it belong in the scrap heap? Let's find out.
The story takes place in 1994, seven years after the events of "Bumblebee". It follows Noah Diaz (Ramos), an ex-military electronics expert attempting to support his family in Brooklyn. Noah eventually comes across a vehicle that turns out to be a transforming alien robot from the planet Cybertron. The robot, named Mirage (Pete Davidson), is part of an Autobot resistance team led by Optimus Prime (Cullen), who's attempting to find their way back to Cybertron. However, the Autobots' quest led to them crossing paths with a new alien race known as the Terrorcons, led by the villainous trophy hunter Scourge (Peter Dinklage), with Noah, along with artifact researcher Elena Wallace (Fishback), getting caught in the middle. Even worse is that the Terrorcons' master, a world-devouring god named Unicron (Colman Domingo), is on his way to gobble Earth up like a meatball. Knowing how ruthless the Terrorcons are, the Autobots must join forces with a group of animal Transformers called the Maximals, led by Optimus Primal (Perlman), to save Earth from destruction.
The "Transformers" films serve as guilty pleasures regardless of the quality. Even though their flaws resulted in them being "curses" to the art of cinema, there's this sense of endearment of how thrilling and dumb they are that makes some of us glad they exist. As I've grown older, I understood that the so-called "Bayformers" aren't perfect additions to the sci-fi action genre, mainly the sequels. However, I still find enjoyment in them regarding their intense action sequences, impressive visual effects, and Peter Cullen's performance as Optimus Prime. I even thought "The Last Knight" was an okay watch despite Bay's direction not being on par with his previous installments. As for "Bumblebee", I agree that it was a massive step up from Bay's "Transformers" due to its small-scale direction and mixture of action, humor, and heart. It even lacked Bay's brand of adult humor that tends to go over kids' heads, to everyone's relief. So now we have a follow-up that seeks to start a new trilogy filled with nostalgia and giant robots beating the scrap out of each other. Thankfully, the lovable Bumblebee won't be alone again in this adventure.
"Bumblebee" stood apart from the other "Transformers" films by reinvigorating the franchise's formula as a self-contained "E.T."-inspired family adventure yet retaining some of the elements from the previous installments. This resulted in it being a superb start of a new path for the film series and one of the most delightfully charming movies of the 2010s. "Rise of the Beasts" goes back to the basics of the Michael Bay movies regarding the plot, with the Autobots racing across the globe to prevent Earth's destruction with an artifact tied to Cybertronian history. In this case, it is a Transwarp Key, which the Autobots can use to return to Cybertron. However, their newest adversaries, the Terrorcons, also pursue the Transwarp Key to bring Unicron to his main course: Earth. So if you've watched the installments by Michael Bay, you'll likely see some similarities in "Rise of the Beasts", minus the beefy runtimes and humor relating to sex and stereotypes.
To me and many others, "Rise of the Beasts" is unsurprisingly a step down from "Bumblebee" story-wise. However, it would likely satisfy others who enjoy the pre-"Bumblebee" movies for their massive Earth-saving narratives. But, of course, it all comes down to the enjoyment factor. Even though the plots in "Transformers" and its four sequels are similar, the films' enjoyability ranges from great to explosively middling. In my eyes, they're usually enough to compensate for their narrative flaws and headache-inducing explosions. So where does this one lie regarding this factor? Well, it's far from spectacular, but it is also not a complete train wreck. While flawed in some places regarding its story, "Rise of the Beasts" continues the franchise's track record of providing cinematic popcorn entertainment and nothing else.
Despite its familiar elements, the story in "Rise of the Beasts" managed to be more tolerable than the pre-"Bumblebee" installments. The main reason is that the characters have a genuine balance of comedy and heart, mainly the humans Noah and Elena. Noah struggles to find a job and earn enough cash to pay his little brother's hospital bills, while Elena tries to gain recognition for her research because her boss is a moron. Of course, their problems get sidetracked by a planet-eating robot god, forcing Noah and Elena to help the Autobots stop it. Unlike Bay's installments, the film doesn't use these characters as a source of adult humor amid the explosive action. Instead, it injects a sense of humanity and sincerity into them, making the characters more wholesome and fun than annoyingly cliched. However, there's one thing I thought could've been better regarding the characters. That thing, in particular, is that it could have focused more on the Autobots in specific moments, especially Optimus's arc and relationship with Mirage. Other than that, the film continues the franchise's attempt to provide a soul into its robotic core, even though it didn't live up to the emotional standards of "Bumblebee".
The only movie I've seen from Steven Caple Jr. was 2018's "Creed II". Regarding his direction, I thought he did a splendid job continuing the Creed legacy. So I had no problem seeing him tackle a big-budget summer blockbuster like "Transformers". After viewing the movie, I would say that Caple Jr. didn't disappoint with how he handled this task. One thing he did right was the human side of the story for its Brooklyn representation and authentic 90s elements. More importantly, he made the human characters as entertaining and charismatic as the heroic CGI alien robots regarding their comedy and depth. As for everything else, Steven Caple Jr. was tasked with balancing the intensity and explosive thrills from the Michael Bay movies with the refreshing scope originated from "Bumblebee". While there were a few moments that may not rival Bay's direction, believe it or not, Caple Jr. was able to provide enough Energon in its action sequences to maintain the franchise's pulse.
Of course, I can't forget about the cast, which was why the characters were likable. Anthony Ramos takes the helm as the human lead in the film after Shia LaBeouf, Mark Wahlberg, and Hailee Steinfeld had their chances at helping the Autobots. Ramos has impressed me with his previous works, and unsurprisingly, his performance as Noah is no exception. He offered plenty of heart to his character but with a dash of genuine humor thrown in there for good measure. Dominique Fishback also did well with her performance as Elena, while Tobe Nwigwe served as an acceptable comic relief as Reek. As for the Autobot team, they're obviously delightful, especially Peter Cullen, who's still great as usual as Optimus Prime, and Ron Perlman as Optimus Primal. However, the big highlight of the Autobot cast is Pete Davidson as Mirage. Mirage also serves as the movie's comic relief for his rebellious nature and energetic vibe, which could make or break the film depending on the direction. Fortunately, Mirage managed to avoid a similar fate to the Twins in "Revenge of the Fallen" by delivering a joyful mixture of charm and comedy that benefited from Davidson's vocal performance. Peter Dinklage was also serviceable as the villainous Scourge, who proved himself as formidable as Megatron and Lockdown from "Age of Extinction".
Like the previous installments, "Rise of the Beasts" also benefitted enormously from its visual effects. Regarding the Transformers G1 designs and the Maximals, the CGI succeeded in bringing the nostalgic robots in disguise to brimming life. More importantly, they made them more distinguishable, which should fulfill the needs of people who couldn't tell which robot was which in the Bay films for some reason. The effects also worked well in portraying its action set pieces, including the final battle on the volcano, which weren't as overstuffed as the previous installments.
Overall, "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" continues the franchise's refreshing streak with another satisfyingly fun and action-packed approach to its tried-and-true formula. However, it doesn't pack the same amount of Energon as "Bumblebee" and the first "Transformers" movie regarding its narrative. Nonetheless, it's another genuinely entertaining step in the series's new direction, showcasing that there's more to the blockbuster franchise than meets the eye. Thanks to its cast, Caple Jr.'s direction, decent action scenes, likable characters, impressive visuals, and a mixture of comedy and heart, the movie is another summer blockbuster treat worth seeing on the big screen. If you enjoyed the other "Transformers" movies as much as I did, this latest installment is worth rolling out to the theater to check out.
The Boogeyman (2023)
"The Boogeyman" stars Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton, and David Dastmalchian. Released on June 2, 2023, the film has two sisters encountering a sadistic presence in their home.
The film was directed by Rob Savage, who's known for directing "Strings", "Host", and "Dashcam". It is based on the 1973 short story by Stephen King. Our childhoods are full of pleasant memories that we remember forever. However, they also have a few terrifying ones that made us wet our pants. Notably, we had that anxious feeling of some mysterious figure haunting our rooms in the dead of night, making us lose our sleep and our parents' patience. It could be inside the closet, under our beds, or even down the dark basement. Regardless of where it hides, our imaginations made us aware that no one is safe, not even in the safety of our own home. In 1973, horror author Stephen King turned this haunting idea into reality as a short story published in the March 1973 issue of Cavalier. The story's success resulted in it being adapted as a short film by Jeff C. Schiro in 1982, a theatrical play directed by David Oakes, and a 27-minute movie in 2010 by Gerard Lough. This brings us to the latest adaptation of the terrifying short story that has haunted readers since its debut. However, instead of being another short film, the adaptation expands its horrifying concept as a 90-minute theatrical experience to get more people back to the cinemas. With that said, let's see if this film is scary enough to make us want to sleep with the lights on.
The story follows two sisters: high school student Sadie Harper (Thatcher) and her young sister Sawyer (Blair), who're reeling from their mother's recent death. The sisters' father, Will (Messina), a professional therapist, was also impacted by his wife's death. One day, a desperate patient named Lester Billings (Dastmalchian) arrives unexpectedly at their house, pleading for help. Will accepts the offer, but little did he and the girls know that the patient also brought along a mysterious entity that slowly started to prey on the family. As the supernatural creature grows more dangerous through the family's suffering, the Harper sisters must face their greatest fears to survive its wrath.
For those unaware, I'm one of the few who haven't read many books from Stephen King. However, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate his frightening imagination and storytelling. I've only recognized his works through the film adaptations. Some turned out good, like the recent iteration of "It", while others were better off kept in the closet. "The Boogeyman" is another Stephen King story I was unfamiliar with until it was brought to my attention. Since I genuinely enjoy watching horror movies and a few adaptations of King's numerous novels, it would be a nightmare for me not to check it out. Besides, I think I'm old enough to realize the monster is only a figment of my imagination…unless the movie says otherwise.
"The Boogeyman" is basically a traditional horror movie involving a family encountering a creature often seen in children's nightmares. But there's more to it than the usual series of jump scares and gory moments. The movie is also about loss and fear, with the sisters reeling from losing their mother. The older sister Sadie suffers the most as she struggles to move on, even going as far as wearing her mother's dress to school. While the film has the essential horror elements we expect, it uses them to reflect on its themes and provide tolerable storytelling instead of having them on autopilot as most lackluster horror movies do. The execution is far from perfect, but its direction and frights have enough solid appeal to provide a mostly satisfying adaptation of Stephen King's short story.
Regarding Rob Savage's filmography, the only other movie I've seen from him was "Dashcam". From what I remember, I thought that film was another watchable addition to the found-footage subgenre, even though the main character was pretty annoying. I also heard many great things about "Host", but sadly, I couldn't find the time to watch it because I don't have Shudder on my list of streaming services. So that should make "The Boogeyman" my second exposure to the filmmaker. All I can say is that I appreciate his direction in "The Boogeyman" more than what he did with "Dashcam". It's not just his attempt to balance the scares with bearable drama. It's also how he envisions the scenario. From the bone-chilling, dimly-lit atmosphere to its mixture of tension and creepiness to even the creature design, Rob Savage delivered a solid, nightmarish representation of every kid's worst fear: being alone in the dark and haunted by something hiding in the shadows.
But, of course, the narrative won't impress everyone, depending on what they desire from the genre. This is one of the movies that relied a bit more on the horror drama side than just a straight-up scare-fest with cliched victims and cheap jump scares. There were a few jump scares in the movie, but they were more frightening than irritating. For people who've grown tired of cheap and low-quality modern horror movies, including me, this approach is a nice change of pace that benefited from the cast and a tolerable script by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman. Considering that Beck and Woods hit rock bottom with their latest directorial effort, "65", this improvement is what they need to get themselves back on their feet in the film industry. However, it might not do much for anyone else who does regarding its pacing and focus on the family drama over numerous scare tactics. Additionally, even though its screenplay is suitable for the family aspect, it occasionally falls victim to the usual horror tropes seen in other films, especially during the third act.
Going back to the cast, the actors involved made a decent effort in their performances to keep me away from the dark. Sophie Thatcher, best known for her role in "Yellowjackets", makes for a compelling protagonist struggling with loss regarding her performance as Sadie, and Chris Messina was pretty good as Will. Vivien Lyra Blair also did well in making Sawyer an endurable child character. Blair was known for playing Guppy in "We Can Be Heroes" and the young Leia Organa in the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" series on Disney+. I almost forgot she was in that show until I did some research on her. Considering how well she did in her previous works, here's hoping the young actress can keep the streak going. The rest of the cast was also decent, including LisaGay Hamilton as Dr. Weller and even David Dastmalchian as Lester Billings despite his short screen time.
Overall, "The Boogeyman" makes most of its horror elements go bump in the night with a well-acted and spookily satisfying take on Stephen King's short story. Some of its flawed narrative beats may have prevented the movie from joining the Horror Hall of Fame. However, its technical aspects and decent story have enough light in its core to shine the dreadful darkness away. It's another movie showcasing that a horror film can be watchable if its narrative is as compelling as its frights. From its respectable cast to Savage's approach to its chilling atmosphere, the film provides a fair amount of nightmarish creeps to make specific viewers check their closets and beds more than once before bedtime. It's far from a horror masterpiece, but for casual moviegoers looking for a fright or two, it's a good watch….unless you're afraid of the dark.
"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" stars Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, and Oscar Isaac. Releasing on June 2, 2023, the film has Miles Morales traveling across the multiverse to battle a powerful villain.
The film is directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. Santos is known for working on shows like "Justice League Unlimited", "Avatar: The Last Airbender", "The Legend of Korra", and "Voltron: Legendary Defender". Powers is known for writing "One Night in Miami" and co-writing and co-directing "Soul". It is a sequel to the 2018 film, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse". Following a packed Memorial Day weekend filled with mermaids, comedians, and Gerard Butler, the month of June is going to get a lot more crowded from here on out. We're getting more big movies based on memorable IPs almost every week that'll likely cannibalize each other depending on their word-of-mouth. Granted, all of the June films look enticing enough to see on the big screen, but it won't matter if some underperform due to the crowded competition. Until we find out how they actually turn out, let's spend the first weekend of June traveling across the multiverse with our favorite web-slinger, Miles Morales.
Sony Pictures Animation, known for providing acceptable to mediocre animated family movies, found a diamond in the animation rough in the form of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", a refreshing and highly invigorating take on the superhero's origin story with a multiverse spin. While it didn't earn as much money as the other live-action "Spider-Man" movies from Sony, the animated superhero film succeeded in ushering in a new era of animation through its unique mixture of CGI and traditional hand-drawn techniques inspired by comic books. It was also considered by critics and audiences as one of the best animated films ever, becoming the first non-Disney/Pixar movie to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature since "Rango". Its humongous success helped spawn a sequel that's already gaining massive hype regarding its upgrades to the visual styles and mature story. But are they enough to swing past the superhero fatigue that plagued the previous superhero films like Ant-Man and Shazam? Let's find out.
The story occurs over a year after the events of "Into the Spider-Verse". Miles Morales (Moore) is balancing his everyday life with his heroic duty as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. But, of course, for the young teenager, it's not as easy as it looks. One day, Miles is unexpectedly approached by Gwen Stacy (Steinfeld), who's sent on a high-stakes mission inside the "Spider-Verse". They're tasked to assist a massive group of Spider-People known as the "Spider-Society", led by Miguel O'Hara (Isaac), the Spider-Man from 2099, to save every universe from destruction. Miles not only has to face a supervillain called the Spot (Schwartzman), who can travel through space and different universes with his portals, but also Miguel and his beliefs in the Spider-Man lore. This forces Miles to question his destiny of being Spider-Man while attempting to save the entire Spider-Verse and his own.
"Into the Spider-Verse" is something I would call a crowning achievement for the animation world and superhero films in general. It miraculously provided the cinematic debut of a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, through its cultural representation and a unique and thought-provoking approach to the hero's origin story. Not only that, but it also looked incredible, thanks to its ambitious and visually refreshing animation style for its settings and character designs. It did the character justice and proved that animation is more than just a mindless distraction for the kids, something that Disney is seemingly taking notes on for its upcoming film, "Wish". These elements and a subtly touching tribute to the Spider-Man name made "Into the Spider-Verse" one of my favorite films of all time, both by animation and superhero movie standards.
"Across the Spider-Verse" seeks to capitalize on this astounding success while meeting the high expectations set by its predecessor's fans, animation experts, and even casual families. We've seen many sequels that tried and struggled to justify their existence and follow up on what made their predecessors successful, especially ones from the animation department and the superhero genre. However, there were some occasions where a sequel turned out to be as good, if not better, than its predecessor, including the recent "John Wick: Chapter 4". Fortunately, I'm ecstatic to say that "Across the Spider-Verse" is another occasion, marking another massive win for Hollywood's sequel trend. It retained the elements that made "Into the Spider-Verse" an animated gem and a unique big-screen experience, but it also improved them with spectacular results.
"Into the Spider-Verse" introduced audiences to the multiverse filled with different variations of Spider-Man. However, the multiverse angle took a back seat in favor of representing Miles's coming-of-age journey of filling Peter Parker's shoes as the web-slinging hero. In "Across the Spider-Verse", the filmmakers used this opportunity to further explore the "Spider-Verse" by having the characters journey through the divergently creative universes. But, of course, amid the dazzlement of the "Spider-Dimensions", the movie never lost sight of its storytelling and the quality used to express the depth of the characters and its artistry. It's what made "Into the Spider-Verse" more than just an animated kids movie with goofy characters and colorful nonsense, and the same can be said for "Across the Spider-Verse".
The movie provides a mature and consistently thrilling plot that continues the coming-of-age journey of Miles and its theme of heroism through a chosen destiny. In addition to Miles's journey, which sees him exploring his origin further, the movie also puts equal focus on Gwen Stacy encountering her own personal problems as Spider-Woman. It may seem like one of the reasons the film is surprisingly over two hours long, but it's also necessary to further explore the spider-verse's purpose, the movie's themes, and the relationship between Gwen and Miles. This is due to the film's well-written screenplay, which delivered characters with understandable motives, especially Miguel O'Hara, a satisfying mixture of action and comedy, and a few bold elements to stray beyond the traditional family-friendly and superhero narratives. The film may be rated PG, but it certainly has some moments that should've pushed it to PG-13 territory regarding its thematic material and shocking conclusion.
Like its predecessor, "Across the Spider-Verse" features three directors making their feature directorial debuts, including Joaquim Dos Santos and Kemp Powers. Considering how much I enjoyed their past animation works, especially Kemp Powers's involvement with "Soul", I had high hopes that they would deliver the goods with their vision of the "Spider-Verse" lore. Unsurprisingly, they didn't disappoint. You have the stunningly fluid action choreography from Dos Santos, best known for working on "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and "Korra", and the authentic drama within the African-American and Puerto Rican community from Powers. These things go hand-in-hand with the superhero genre and plenty of surprising easter eggs and cameos to create an experience that's both fun and occasionally emotional.
The voice cast was also great as they were in the predecessor, even though some of their dialogue was periodically a tad hard to hear. Shameik Moore continues to do fantastic work bringing Miles's charismatic personality to life and expressing his vulnerability and concern regarding his conflict. It's still pretty impressive how far Moore has come outside his music career following his acting debut in 2015's "Dope". Unfortunately, he doesn't have much star power under his belt outside of voicing Miles, but his role in the film and the upcoming sequel could change that. Hailee Steinfeld also delivered another captivating performance as Gwen, further showcasing her undeniable talent in the film industry, both in animation and live-action. I will also credit Oscar Isaac for displaying Miguel's anger and unhinged nature amid his duty of protecting the Spider-Verse from destruction. Another highlight I should add was Jason Schwartzman as The Spot, a villain with ties to Miles's past. The Spot is an inexperienced antagonist with no idea how to be one, adding to the movie's comedy. However, his powers and blind obsession with revenge and wanting to be taken seriously makes him a worthy and threatening foe for Miles to face. Schwartzman did a splendid job displaying this personality through his voice work and humor. As for the supporting cast voicing the other Spider-People, they also have moments I genuinely enjoy, including Issa Rae as Jessica Drew and Daniel Kaluuya as Spider-Punk.
Now, some of you have been patiently waiting for me to talk about the film's animation, which inspired Hollywood to experiment with this technique with other movies and shows. As mentioned earlier, the unique visual style made "Into the Spider-Verse" a breathtaking piece of animation art and an immersive experience best seen on the big screen regarding its scope, quality, and action sequences. "Across the Spider-Verse" is obviously no different, with a few upgrades to further reflect the feeling of being inside a comic book. "Across the Spider-Verse" is another incredible showcase of animation as a tool for storytelling and creativity. The color palettes, the character designs, and the artistic and stylish details for each universe are effectively combined to make a visually imaginative and overly busy trek through the colorful and limitless multiverse. The animation also works incredibly well for its action sequences, which were both entertaining and stylistically thrilling, including the Miles vs. Miguel scene. I also got a kick out of the film's music, with Daniel Pemberton returning from its predecessor to compose the sequel's score and Metro Boomin making some catchy hip-hop tunes for the soundtrack.
Overall, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" swings over the sequel pitfalls from the animation and superhero departments to deliver a worthy and visually sublime follow-up to the recent animated superhero classic. Despite its surprisingly long runtime, the movie consistently impressed me with the amount of love and craft put into the narrative and the universes the filmmakers create. More importantly, it's another fantastic example of animation being more than just a distraction for little kids. It's also a filmmaking tool for expressing the user's artistic creativity through storytelling, characters, and settings. But, of course, it remembered to balance this goal with the intention of providing a smart, entertaining, and intense superhero film that sets up big things to come in the upcoming third installment. Thanks to the stellar voice cast, compelling screenplay and direction, great soundtrack, and outstanding animation, the movie is another jaw-dropping and vividly immersive experience that's also one of the best films of 2023. If you're a fan of Spider-Man and even love "Into the Spider-Verse" and animation in general, you definitely don't want to swing past this one.
The Machine (2023)
“The Machine” stars Bert Kreischer, Mark Hamill, Jessica Gabor, Jimmy Tatro, Iva Babić, and Stephanie Kurtzuba. Released on May 26, 2023, the film has a comedian and his father escaping from those he wronged in Russia.
The film was directed by Peter Atencio, who also directed “Key & Peele” and the films “The Rig” and “Keanu”. It is based on the 2016 stand-up routine by Bert Kreischer. We’ve heard many crazy yet hilarious stories that are impossible to believe, especially ones from stand-up comedians. This one, in particular, must be seen to believe. The Memorial Day weekend brings us two comedies recapturing the real-life experiences of specific stand-up comedians and their fathers for movie-going audiences. One is a feel-good Meet-the-Parents-like comedy, while the other is a violent and absurd trip to Russia featuring Luke Skywalker as the comedian’s father. The one I’ll be looking at today is the latter, featuring a comedian that I don’t remember as much as others. Heck, I didn’t even know about Bert Kreischer until this movie appeared right in front of me. I guess that’s what happened when he starred in nothing but reality shows, comedy specials, and drama series I neglected to watch throughout his career. So does his first debut on the big screen prove to be as ridiculous as his stand-up routine? Let’s find out.
The story follows the actual (?) events that inspired Bert Kreischer’s stand-up routine. It depicts the fictionalized version of Bert, who spent his college semester in Russia and wronged several dangerous people. Twenty years later, Bert, now a successful comedian thanks to his “legend”, discovers that his past mistakes are not through with him yet. One of the people Bert wronged, Irina (Babić), arises to capture him and his father, Albert Kreischer Sr. (Hamill), and force them to find her family heirloom he stole years ago. To save himself and his father, Bert attempts to overcome his past and show Russia why he earned the nickname “The Machine”.
As mentioned earlier, I was unfamiliar with Bert Kreischer until this movie. I hadn’t seen any of his previous works beforehand and overlooked his recent stand-ups on Netflix. That was one of the reasons I was concerned about this film going in, as I was in the dark about his comedic standards. I only went to see the movie because Mark Hamill was involved in something outside of “Star Wars” and voice acting. Obviously, I love Hamill, especially regarding his memorable voice work. However, I also viewed it as an opportunity to introduce myself to the comedian, who’s possibly attempting to kickstart the next step in his career: displaying his humor on the big screen. What better way to start that step than with his experience robbing a train in Russia during his college trip?
“The Machine” definitely had potential based on the marketing. It’s not just because of the people involved but also the concept. Kreischer’s origin story about his nickname seemed too outlandish to believe, but it was actually true. Trust me. I looked it up myself. With Hollywood developing Kreischer’s routine into a film, it had the opportunity to provide enough ridiculousness to enhance the lunacy of the comedian’s experience in Russia and deliver a fun and wild party for adult audiences. Unfortunately, while the ridiculousness is present, “The Machine” struggles to maintain it long enough to make this party one to remember, mainly in the first half.
The film’s first half has moments of amusement, especially when it involves Bert and his father. It also offered a somewhat engaging depiction of Bert attempting to win back his family due to an incident. However, the humor was the only thing dragging it down with its forced adult jokes, stereotypical Russian antagonists, and forgettable narrative. Thankfully, the second half was a bit more entertaining regarding its comedy, which is enough to keep it from being on Russia’s hit list. Peter Atencio was involved in making Key and Peele hilariously entertaining comedians through their sketch comedy series and the film “Keanu”, which I thought was ridiculously humorous but average at best. So I figured Atencio would provide a similar experience with “The Machine”. While that’s the case in some scenarios, Atencio couldn’t find the perfect balance between absurdity and adult comedy to impress those outside the comedian’s target audience, including me. However, I would credit the director for providing a couple of passable action scenes.
My first experience seeing Bert Kreischer in action was certainly a mixed bag. His portrayal of himself was admittedly enjoyable enough to satisfy his audience and maybe even some newcomers. However, he also had moments when his over-the-top screaming was more annoying than hilarious. There were also times when he almost sounded like John Cena, which is something that’ll haunt my brain for the rest of my life. Kreischer isn’t something I would call the best thing about the movie, but he delivers enough tolerable moments for me to give him another shot in the future. Instead, that crown belongs to Mark Hamill, who brought plenty of amusement and fun into his role of Bert’s father, joining Robert De Niro in the “Dads Overshadowing Their Comedian Sons” Club. I also surprisingly enjoyed Iva Babić as Irina during a couple of scenes, including her “Family Matters” reference.
Overall, “The Machine” has Bret Kreischer reliving his famous stand-up routine on the big screen. Unfortunately, the cinematic take on the comedian’s college trip to Russia lacked most of the absurdity to live up to his unbelievably true story. It had a few amusing moments regarding its cast that made this trip watchable for me. However, regarding its subpar direction, hit-and-miss humor, and weak first half, the film shows that some legends are better off untold. Seeing how Bret got his nickname was interesting, but that’s about it. It’s another flawed movie I wouldn’t mind watching again if I had nothing else to watch, but I would likely forget about it the next day. It wasn’t awful, as it’s worth watching once for fans of the comedian, but there are other action comedies that I think were more entertaining and ridiculous than going to Russia.
About My Father (2023)
"About My Father" stars Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche, and Kim Cattrall. Released on May 26, 2023, the film has a man inviting his immigrant father to spend the weekend with his girlfriend and her family.
The film was directed by Laura Terruso, who also directed "Fits and Starts", "Good Girls Get High", and "Work It". Parents can be embarrassing more times than we can count, especially when you're attempting to impress your lover and their family. But amid their humiliating mishaps, they always remind us that family is everything. This Memorial Day weekend offers several counter-programming options for people not wanting to watch another Disney live-action remake. While they probably won't affect Disney's iconic mermaid's quest for box office glory, they should at least provide enough entertainment to compensate. One option I'm looking at today is another Meet-the-Parents-type narrative that promises sizable laughs and ruffled feathers. Coincidentally, one of its stars, Robert De Niro, also starred in "Meet the Parents", so this film seemed like destiny for the award-winning actor to take part in. So does the movie provide enough father-son bonding moments to deliver suitable counter-programming? Let's find out.
The story loosely depicts Sebastian Maniscalco's life and complicated relationship with his immigrant father, Salvo (De Niro). The movie involves the fictionalized version of Sebastian planning to propose to his American fiancee Ellie (Bibb). He informs Salvo, who works as a hairdresser, that he'll announce his engagement during a weekend get-together with Ellie's wealthy family. Concerned about his son, Salvo insists on tagging along for the holiday weekend. This resulted in several mishaps leading to culture clashes between the Italian immigrants and the American upper-class family.
Sebastian Maniscalco is another comedian that I hardly recognize until recently. He has starred in earlier movies I watched several years ago, like "The House", "Green Book", and Martin Scorsese's epic gangster masterpiece "The Irishman". Unfortunately, they only put him in supporting roles amid their extremely talented main stars. The only time I immediately recognized Maniscalco was from the film's trailer and the recently-released "Super Mario Bros. Movie", where he voiced Foreman Spike. Life in the movie business can surely be surprising when your first exposure to an actor is from an animated family film about the plumber brothers beating the stuffing out of a turtle monster.
This movie looks to be a turning point in Maniscalco's career because it puts the comedian front and center for the first time to reflect on his relationship with his immigrant father. This allowed him to prove his worth of carrying the film with his brand of humor as the main character while sharing the screen with his "Irishman" co-star, Robert De Niro. As for De Niro himself, he's another reason why I was eager to check the film out. He's a great actor to watch through and through, even though his recent choices between his award-worthy performances were quite questionable. Remember "Dirty Grandpa", anyone? Not to mention he's still making children in his late 70s. Now there's an actor with a lot of determination.
Movies that combine family drama with humor and heart can be easy to come by, especially when we want some escapism from the real world. "About My Father" seems to be another example of this category, but with exploring different cultures and appreciating their traditions. When looking at the film from an audience perspective, this film is admittedly admirable in expressing this commentary and even showcasing Maniscalco's love for his father through the magic of filmmaking. But, unfortunately, from a critical perspective, "About My Father" is also a disappointingly tame and irritatingly restrained family outing that struggles to be as fun as an actual family get-together.
One of the things I can credit the film for without sounding like a heartless idiot is its heartfelt messages. Whenever the film doesn't express its commentary on culture clashes further, it occasionally compensates for it by showcasing the "family" element. Amid the film's mild goofs and stand-up-like dialogue, "About My Father" is a sweet love letter to the parents who make us who we are. In Sebastian's case, he tries to impress Ellie's parents but winds up losing sight of why he came to be who he was, and that's because of his father. Parents can be embarrassing and obnoxious, especially when you attempt to impress someone you like. However, they're also wise and lovable teachers who shape us into the best versions of ourselves. The movie's message is sweet enough to generate some smiles, even though it can be corny and formulaic. Unfortunately, its messages were bogged down by its mediocre screenplay and uneven direction.
If you're expecting "About My Father" to be another wacky "Meet the Parents" movie about different parents clashing with each other, you might be as underwhelmed as I was. Instead, it's more of a family drama involving two families spending their relaxing weekend in a country club, with a few authentic mistakes generating some chuckles. It offers a few mishaps you'd expect from other comedies, mainly the ones from the trailers, but other than that, it's another film that focuses more on the drama than making people do over-the-top stunts for laughs. This direction may be fine for those not into far-fetched comedies, but it did little to elevate its uninteresting drama to compensate for its lack of solid humor. The comedy consists of dialogue poking fun at stereotypes and the main characters' screw-ups, which were surprisingly forgettable. There were a couple of moments that did make me laugh, including Sebastian losing his trunks, but the rest failed to take advantage of its commentary, especially the dialogue.
As mentioned earlier, the film is Maniscalco's first attempt at being the main lead following his number of supporting roles in the past. From what I can remember, I thought he did well in his lesser roles that didn't shine as much as the main leads. Yes, that includes his vocal performance as Spike in "Super Mario Bros". So how was he front and center compared to his previous small performances? Honestly, I thought he did alright. Were his jokes hilarious? No, but I can see that everyone else might enjoy his humor more than I did. Of course, I was new to his comedy compared to my experiences with other comedians like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. His heart's in the right place regarding his performance, but his comedy chops are something that I need to see more of to understand his approach further. Hopefully, he gets a chance to gain more roles like this later on to do so.
Robert De Niro was also decent in the role of Salvo, Sebastian's father and the main reason for the film being somehow watchable. One reason is his chemistry with Maniscalco. Whether the movie is good or not, the father-son duo is heartwarming enough to make this bland get-together mildly entertaining. It won't earn De Niro any awards for his performance, but it does showcase the actor branching out of his serious roles in a harmless light, even if some were just for extra paychecks. Leslie Bibb was respectable as Ellie, and her family had enough okay moments to help the main leads carry the film, but not by much.
Overall, "About My Father" offers a generous father-son duo that's sadly overshadowed by an underwhelming, formulaic, and humorless family weekend. What seemed to be a hysterical and heartfelt outlook on culture clashes amid the holiday weekend is actually a restrained and uninspired drama-comedy that fails to take advantage of its heart and comedy. Maniscalco and De Niro prove to be a watchable duo. Sadly, they're not enough to overcome its family problems, like its mediocre script, weak direction, and subpar humor. Either I wasn't in the right mood while watching this, or my expectations were too high. Either way, I wasn't impressed with how this family holiday weekend turned out. If you like the main actors involved, you'll probably enjoy the film more than I did. However, if you prefer De Niro to do award-worthy performances again, feel free to skip this get-together.
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