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BUMBLEBEE – Review

Hailee Steinfeld in BUMBLEBEE (Paramount Pictures (c), photo by Enrique Chediak)
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Well, here’s a Christmas miracle: after a decade of increasingly puerile heartlessness, the Bay/Spielberg Transformers franchise finds a heart. Hailee Steinfeld leads this 80s-set prequel as Charlie, a budding mechanic who discovers the titular robot in a junkyard. Disguised as a rusty Volkswagen Beetle, ‘Bee’ is on the run from a war on his home planet, Cyberton, and tasked by resistance leader, Optimus Prime, with finding the freedom-fighting Autobots a new home. 

Though placed chronologically before Michael Bay’s own efforts, this serves as a soft reboot/retelling of the 2007 original, with Steinfeld taking up the Shia LaBoeuf role (albeit with a total absence of masturbation jokes). Charlie is a far more sympathetic character, however, and allowed more motivation than Sam Witwicky’s simple quest to get laid. A once promising diver, she’s retired to the garage, obsessed with a broken corvette that she and her recently-deceased father used to cherish. 

Steinfeld brings lovable wide-eyed wonder to Charlie, providing not only this franchise’s first fully-rounded character, but one which young audiences can admire and sympathise with (her mother fusses needlessly, her stepfather is embarrassing, her brother steals their affections, and so on). When she sees Bee metamorphose from motor to mech for the first time, her closely-guarded sadness begins to transform (sorry) into something much closer to hope. One immediately feels echoes of E.T. and The Iron Giant which continue to emerge as the two form a delightful double act.

Christina Hodson sneaks more than one fish-out-of-water cliché into the screenplay, but that crucial presence of genuine pathos sets this prequel light years beyond what we’ve come to expect. The scenes of Bee attempting to navigate the family living room or learning to hide in plain sight are gems of physical comedy, and all based in the burgeoning emotional bond between teen and titan. Even John Cena (carving a great slice of ham in the undemanding role of ‘generic special forces man’) is gifted a neat moment of empathy. 

Perhaps more surprising still are the scenes of robo-rough-and-tumble. Director Travis Knight – whose last film was the wonderful animation Kubo and the Two Strings – knows how to make proper use of space in an action sequence, electing to pull the camera back and slow down the editing pace. A hectic opening skirmish on the robot homeworld – a landscape not short on spikes, girders, and other untidy metalwork – is still more tangible than anything glimpsed in the series thus far (a relief to those fearing the scrap metal orgies of episodes past). Our combatants have also been reduced in number by a factor of ten, and redesigned to more closely resemble the iconic action figures.

Painted in bright, primary colours, their retreat to the crash-bang-wallop of child’s play is symbolic of what this franchise should have been from the start. The heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous, the music is a joyful 80s mixtape, and at no point does Optimus Prime turn into a murderous zealot. Rejoice!

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Director: Ron Howard Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson & Emilia Clarke Rating: 12A Duration: 135 minutes Release date: 24 May (UK) For one reason or another, the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga does not seem as highly anticipated as is usually the case for the popular franchise. There may be various reasons for … Continue reading Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Psycho (1960)

The neon sign blinking through the rain. The silhouette of an old woman in
the window of the house up the hill. The shower. The scream. The screeching
strings.

Even without the title above this piece or the picture accompanying it, you
would know the film from that description. Psycho has left such an
indelible imprint on our popular culture that even if you hadn’t seen
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, you will be able to identify it from any
number of references. It is widely regarded as the film that would
influence the arrival of the slasher sub-genre and in his book on
Hitchcock, French critic Serge Kaganski dubbed it “the first
psychoanalytical thriller.” It pushed censorship boundaries, it shocked
audiences with its violence, and launched a thousand parodies. But, as
Hitchcock himself said, “Psycho all came from Robert Bloch’s book.” The key
difference is in how they present their chief character, Norman Bates.

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Solaris (1972)

Exploration has always been a key human endeavor and fascination, one which
has yielded some incredible discoveries and terrible consequences. In
science fiction, it’s a constant source of inspiration and a tried and
tested method of not only exploring the galaxy, but what it means to be
human in the face of such a vast and unknowable universe. It’s a big
question, a huge question. One that we will likely never be done with
exploring.

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