Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ and ‘Chef’

The Autobot Optimus Prime swings into action in a scene from “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”  Photo courtesy of Paramount

The Autobot Optimus Prime swings into action in a scene from “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Photo courtesy of Paramount

This week’s home video releases are anchored by the fourth live-action “Transformers” film.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Paramount
Available on: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

In recent years, Michael Bay has focused nearly all his directorial energy on the “Transformers” franchise, reinforcing his reputation as the go-to guy for effects-driven spectacles.

Bay may not be Hollywood’s best storyteller, but he knows how to blow things up, and he has an uncanny knack for seamlessly blending practical footage with breathtaking digital imagery. These skills are put to good use in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” the fourth film in a series that’s made oodles of money despite an astonishing lack of imagination.

The problem with each of the “Transformers” films is that storytelling has always taken a back seat to imagery, and that doesn’t change with “Extinction.” The action is set five years after events in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and humans have grown weary of the destruction wrought each time the massive, mechanized Autobots and Decepticons face off.

Although Autobots fought with humanity in previous installments, some in the U.S. government have decided that all Transformers are dangerous. In particular, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has made a point of hunting and killing the alien robots, and he is particularly intent on finding Autobot leader Optimus Prime. His obsession with Prime is fueled more by private ambition than anything else, but saying more would reveal too much of the plot.

In the meantime, struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys a rundown semi in hopes of parting it out. As he gets to work, he discovers that the truck is actually Optimus, and he and his family are caught in the battle between the Transformers and CIA.

This is the first “Transformers” film without Shia LaBeouf, but Wahlberg – one of the most appealing actors of his generation – is a more than adequate replacement. The cast is further bolstered by Stanley Tucci (as a scientist trying to create his own Transformers), Nicola Peltz (as Cade’s daughter, Tessa) and Jack Reynor (as Tessa’s boyfriend). The cast is a treat, but “Transformers” movies aren’t really about acting. In fact, the human stars do little more than pave the way for special effects sequences, and that’s the movie’s undoing.

It’s fun to watch giant robots morph into different shapes, and it’s impressive when Optimus frees a group of ancient machines known as Dinobots. But these eye-candy moments would be better served if tied to a deeper story and more complex human characters. Everyone – robot and human – in “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is an archetype, and that makes it easy to tune out when the flashy effects finally grow tired.

The DVD release has no extras, but the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D versions include numerous behind-the-scenes features.

 

Chef

4 stars
Rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Long gone are the days when writer-director-actor Jon Favreau was celebrated as an indie darling. That reputation tends to melt when one directs mega-hits, like “Elf” and “Iron Man.” But Favreau still possesses the sharp, indie sensibility that nudged him into the spotlight with 1996’s “Swingers.” Anyone who doubts this need only watch “Chef.”

In the film, Favreau wears the hats of writer, director, producer and star while delivering a sweet, simple drama about a man who has lost touch with the most important things in life. This is a widespread problem in a world where money regularly trumps passion, and that should help viewers of all types identify with celebrity chef Carl Casper (Favreau).

Despite remarkable chops and a desire to push foodie boundaries, Carl has fallen into a rut, largely because his boss (Dustin Hoffman) demands that he play it safe. When this strategy results in a devastating review from top Los Angeles food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), Carl throws a fit – punctuated by handfuls of molten lava cake – in the dining room of his restaurant. Within hours, the meltdown is a YouTube sensation and Carl finds himself distraught, out of work and seeking redemption.

This forces the chef into a journey of rediscovery that reminds him why he loves cooking and – more importantly – that he needs to take a more active role in the life of his 10-year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Helping him with the journey are his ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara) and his best pal, Martin (John Leguizamo).

The script is so delightful that “Chef” would likely work even with lesser players, but Favreau built a dream team. He and Leguizamo have wonderful chemistry, and it’s tough to go wrong when your supporting cast includes Hoffman, Platt and Scarlett Johansson. All the actors – even those with limited screen time – make their characters feel like real people, and this allows viewers to invest themselves in the drama.

Foodies will love the movie’s gorgeous presentation of dishes ranging from filet mignon to grilled cheese (yes, it’s the type of picture that makes you hungry). But one needn’t be a chef or even a devoted diner to appreciate the film’s universal themes. Carl is stuck, and it’s not until he’s pushed out of his comfort zone that he realizes this. I suspect a lot of Americans – regardless of profession – feel just like Carl. For them, “Chef” should be both entertaining and cathartic.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Favreau and co-producer Roy Choi.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Third Person”: Writer-director Paul Haggis (“Crash”) delivers a drama built on three intertwined love stories. Liam Neeson, Maria Bello, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger, Adrien Brody and Olivia Wilde star.

“Cold in July”: When a small-town man (Michael C. Hall) kills a burglar, he is initially called a hero. Then, the burglar’s father (Sam Shepard) shows up looking for revenge. Don Johnson also stars. Directed by Jim Mickle.

“Are You Here”: Comedy about a slacker (Zach Galifianakis) who returns home with his childhood best friend (Owen Wilson) after learning that his estranged father died, leaving him a large inheritance. Amy Poehler also stars. Written and directed by Matthew Weiner.

“Ali – Fear Eats the Soul”: Criterion Collection restoration of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 melodrama. The film, about a woman in her mid-’60s who falls for a much younger man, is a German-language remake of Douglas Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows.” Presented in German with English subtitles.

“Sundays and Cybèle”: Criterion Collection restoration of director Serge Bourguignon’s 1962 drama about a tortured war veteran (Hardy Krüger) whose fatherly friendship with a young girl is misunderstood. The movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1963. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Delivery – The Beast Within”: Horror film about a young mother (Laurel Vail) who comes to believe her unborn child is possessed. Co-written and directed by Brian Netto.

“The Mentalist” – The Complete Sixth Season: The upcoming seventh season will be the last for “The Mentalist,” but fans can relive all 22 episodes of the sixth season with this set. Simon Baker stars as a former psychic who works with police to solve crimes.

“Mike and Molly” – The Complete Fourth Season: This comedy, about a police officer (Billy Gardell) and his spunky bride (Melissa McCarthy), is an ongoing hit for CBS.

“NYPD Blue” – Season 7: Twenty-two episodes of the hour-long police drama that drew top ratings for ABC from the mid 1990s through 2005. Dennis Franz, Rick Schroder, Andrea Thompson and Kim Delaney star.

“Thunder and the House of Magic”: This animated adventure from Shout Factory is being sold exclusively at Walmart stores. The plot centers on a lost cat that wanders into the mansion of a retired magician.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

 

NOTE: Blu-rays, DVDs and screening links used to review films are provided at no charge. This enables us to run reviews the day titles become public, but it does not influence the opinions expressed in the copy.
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3 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

3 responses to “Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ and ‘Chef’

  1. Pingback: Critics’ Choice Movie Awards nominees announced |

  2. Pingback: RiffTrax names worst films of 2014 |

  3. smilingldsgirl

    The biggest problem with Transformers is that it is nearly 3 hours long. KMN. It could have been a dopey action movie at 1.5 hours and would have been better but ugh. Why do people see these movies? They are basically critic proof and yet the women are dopey, the humor is awful, the story is really quite boring and the action unending. I don’t get it?

    Like

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