Wednesday, July 1, 2009

[Movie Review] Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Sequel to the 2007 morphing robots flick, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen reminds us that sequels should never leave the drawing board. Put simply, the film is over the top. The original had excessive amounts of special effects, lots of action a mildly worthwhile plot and a few corny jokes. Revenge of the Fallen has explosions coming out of its arse, barely time to breathe between action sequences, no plot nor sense and a slew of quick and fast corny jokes. I was about to say that the latest movie went for much too long, but it only beat its predecessor by six minutes. But it still seems much too long. Where in his first attempt at adapting the Hasbro toy line to the screen director Michael Bay’s style worked, this second installment makes his beloved special effects are downright annoying.

The actors don’t even try to make the ridiculous dialogue in the script flow. Every line is supposed to be some sort of pun or melodramatically meaningful. Humour is drawn from slightly disgusting sexual innuendo, jokes so corny they have children in them, and stereotypes. In the first film, the characters didn’t have much depth, which can be forgiven for its being an action movie, but the scripting of this installment seemed to want to show such attributes, for people who it surely did not exist. The plot is a hole that imploded on itself. For most sci-fi fantasy, I have to suspend my disbelief, for this I found I was suspending my belief, in logic. There are stereotyped characters a plenty in this foray into sci-fi. From the screaming mother, to the paranoid conspiracy believer, there’s even a black guy who I am sure is “just in this movie to say things like “damn!” And smile.” On top of that are the two robots who further portray African American stereotypes, though this is allegedly pure coincidence. It’s quite obvious that some actors, namely Megan Fox, are just there for eye candy. Her first scene wherein she is dressed in a leather jacket and denim micro shorts proves this. I thought that that would be more than enough of a display, but no, not for Michael Bay. Cue Megan for running in slow-mo for the latter half of the film, with a clean face despite her ever diminishing clothing.

The CGI was incredible; credit must be given to whoever made that. The stunning cogs of each automaton blew me away. Or they might have, if I was that at all interested in CGI. These effects are great, but one must understand that they alone cannot carry a movie. Such is the crux of Michael Bay, notorious for his indulgence into the computer generated scene. Every scene has a computer generated something or other. Unavoidable given the subject matter but still, highly orchestrated explosions, with helicopters flying every which way looks cool the first few times, but after the fourth or fifth explosion of the minute, it gets a bit gimmicky. It’s as though CGI was used because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. Let’s put lots of things on the screen, so the audience forgets that nothing of any value is actually happening. Good on the actors, though, for having to work so much with tennis balls on sticks for all of their scenes, bravo.

If we say the action is needed to identify with the target demographic, which judging by those around me is 14-20 year olds, it would be great it fit were coherent. To be perfectly honest I was in the front row of the cinema with the Xtreme screen, but I found myself having to look away from the mechanized violence on screen for a few seconds. My kingdom for a mounted camera. Seriously, the movie was shakier than The Bourne Ultimatum and at least in that the handy cam was used to an effect, for this it seems it was used just to disorientate and confuse. The final battle was so discernable that I saw the film only a few hours ago and I can’t tell you what happened, though I know Megan Fox ran in slow motion. The slo motion may have contributed to this, but the movie was so long. Its prequel came close to its finishing time, bt it wasn’t nearly as long. The reason: less drawn out melodrama and nonsensical robot fights. The movie clocks in at a mammoth two and a half hours for Pete’s sake.

Word is that Revenge of the Fallen is a contender in the up and coming Razzies, befittingly so. This sequel smeared the name of a movie that I considered the greatest film adaption of an 80’s children’s phenomena ever (yes, that means I thought Transformers > TMNT).

If you find my paragraphing difficult, I was attempting to imitate the storyboard.

And for the record, Megatron originally transformed into a Walther P38, not a lame-ass tank.

The Fallen is not megtron's boss in the real (animated) canon, Unicron is.

A funny excerpt from South Park, describing various directors styles:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

[Movie Review] Watchmen

The Watchmen is based on the critically acclaimed 1986 comic book series, I will make some references to the “graphic novel”, but this review serves to state my opinion on the movie.

The story takes place in an alternate timeline wherein costumed vigilantism was commonplace in the forties. These “heroes” were ordinary humans and, were ultimately eclipsed when a nuclear accident births a true superman. Fast forward to the mid eighties, masked crime fighting is now illegal, and thanks to the work of former “mask” The Comedian and the radioactive Dr Manhattan, the US have one in Vietnam. However, the Soviet Union continues to stockpile weapons with each passing day, and the threat of Nuclear Holocaust seems omnipresent. Coupled with that, a single masked crime fighter still walks the streets, under the pseudonym of Rorschach.

Edward Blake, The Comedian, is found dead. Someone did it, was it one of his former archrivals, the Soviets, or the very government by which he was employed. Who ever it is Rorschach is compelled to find out who. What unfolds is a story of mystery, identity and meaningfulness.

For fans of the comic, many of the scenes are faithfully recreated, yet some plot points or chronologies are changed. For running time’s sake (the film still clocks up over two hours), many of the subplots are culled, but lots of key points remain. One of the appeals of watchmen was that it showed its heroes fornicating, committing acts of real violence and most importantly, it showed a nuclear powered superhuman’s penis. The penis was a big part of the movie for me, I was worried that they wouldn’t have the gonads (how fitting) to reveal it, but I think they even showed the appendage more times on screen than in the source.

On the source, many things, like the details of the ending were changed. The new ending, while arriving at the same conclusion though taking a little while longer to get there, is slightly more logical. However, I disapprove of many of the effects used. A bullet time affect was used in almost every fight. The effect gives the impression of superpowers, but that’s exactly what the original book was against. There is also a lot of blood, and heroes seem to have the strength to break bones in a single punch. The blood I can understand, it makes a statement. It says, “This movie breaks traditional molds but having heroes break the mold of enemy cartilage”. Yet many throws are enhanced by strings, not greatly, mind you, but altered to the point of unrealism no less.

The actors are all relatively unknown, a good move. They also do good jobs of their characters, though I think breathing more life into some than necessary. I find that Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks a bit too much like Robert Downey Junior, leading me to believe posters of him in costume were for a new Iron man movie.

The soundtrack is fantastic. Great songs of the pre-eighties era. If I didn’t own all of the songs anyway, I’d buy the soundtrack. It was only let down by a bad track of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I Honestly, I would see the movie for the music alone.

On a side note, while the movie lacks many of the subplots that really hooked me on the Watchmen universe, there are rumors of a four hour long director cut edition which includes many times more footage.

Whilst not having quite as much depth as the page original, the Watchmen movie still retains much of what makes the canon great.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

[Book Series Review] Twilight

The Twilight series totals four books and has recently jumped into the international reader’s eye, even if one disregards the recently released movie. The series has gained a massive following in its demographic (which, as far as I can tell, is teenage girls), unfortunately it’s not as good as Harry Potter, despite being almost the same size as the series page wise. The first book in the series, Twilight, came as quite a shock to me. I had become used to books gaining mild popularity despite bad writing, but I had to stop for a minute or two and say, “This? This!” I could not honestly fathom how the book could have gained popularity. The story contains characters that were so perfect in all aspects: the girl is clumsy and has never had a boyfriend, but is not objective to a boy who wants to be with her all the time and have her straddle his chest three weeks into their relationship. The boy is all too perfect, handsome, smart and caring. But wait! He’s a vampire. Oh, no, he doesn’t eat people. On top of that, he’s special for a vampire. The characters were so shallow in Twilight, they had no hobbies, no faults that didn’t fit their cliché, they were horrible. Not only that, many of the subjects of the tome are quite…well…bad. Lots of what the main character says is sexist (against women) and the males of the book just play along, all of them heroes, doting upon every girl in the class (of which there seems to be four). I found this book repulsive. I was shocked that so many bought the 130,000 book about nothing. I was so aversive to this book that I honestly could not justify reading the rest of the series. Fortunately, my mother bought them, so I was backed into a corner, lest I let money go to waste.

I was glad she did, because the second book was better. Mind you, not much better. The characters actually had a bit of emotion, but this became mere melodrama. “I can’t live without you, I love you.” The universe is expanded a bit, and the books become more of a fantasy. In addition to this, an actual conflict is presented. It was a little better, but not much. Still, it laid seeds that kept me wondering if Meyer had green literary thumbs. I then moved on to the third book of the series and my heart dropped.

Oh my god. It was as though someone had taken an enema of good writing skill and doused Stephanie Meyer. The book, while still not being a massive literary achievement, was leagues above its predecessors. There was a great conflict, action and a growing romantic tension. Meyer’s writing style is a double edged sword, its word heavy, but extremely light really; I finished this book in a day and a half. I felt proud to read Meyer’s work. Her first book was so bad, but her third… it showed that she had grown, I really felt like commending her. Though the book still had to appease its target demographic, so it didn’t have an all too compelling storyline, and the ending was not close to what my dark mind conspired. Still and all, it was a great Summer read. Its worth noting that it was this book that brought the series international success which, as a children’s book, it is more than worthy of.

The fourth and final book was just more of the third, not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just found it a bit of a let down. Though I knew in my heart that this would be the case, for Stephanie was bound to serving her dark and hungry god; the tweenage female market. I found myself left with a feeling of solace by finishing the series, knowing from what terribleness it had risen, I would now be proud to have that book in my personal library.

In conclusion, the end latter parts of the series are good examples of want young girls want in a book, though overall the series loses points for it's beginnings.


Bravo Stephanie Meyer, bravo.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

[Movie Review] Mamma Mia

Straight off, I will say this: Mamma Mia is not meant to be a movie, it is supposed to be a stage musical, which is why it fails as a movie. It was never meant for the silver screen, this is obvious with it's weak plot and focus on breaking into ABBA song. Still, it's shortcomings are helped by a simple fact; its fun. While not holding a candle to the great screen musical that was Grease it is a fantastic delight to sit and sing-a-long to your favourite Swedish pop (especially on DVD special karaoke mode).

The plot centres on twenty-year-old bride to be, Sophie, who steals her mother's diary in an attempt to find the identity of her father. She arrives at three possible matches and invites them all to her Greek island home in the hope that she can have her dad walk her down the aisle. Of course, things go awry when neither the men, Sophie or her mother, can shed light on the paternity. With the wedding looming, Sophie must unravel the mystery, whilst singing song that every peasant seems to know by heart. Overall, the story acts as a loose segue from one Abba hit to the next.

The cast, headed by relative newbie Amanda Seyfried, is okay. Though being studded with veterans (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep), Mamma Mia seems a little flat in the non-singing department, though this could be due to weak dialogue. Each cast member sings, which is an achievement, though the females certainly do much better than their penis owning counterparts.

The singing segments are quite fitting of a musical, though it looks utterly ridiculous on screen. During these segments, former Abba members make cameos. These are both the films strongest point and its undoing, if you know the words and can join in (in my primary school many of the tunes were mandatory) then you will find this fun and great experience. Conversely, if you're not into musicals, singing or ABBA, then you should not attend a screening of this picture.


Monday, December 8, 2008

[Movie Review] Wallace and Gromit: A matter of Loaf and Death

For those of you who don't know, the Wallace and Gromit franchise is a series of animated shorts and a feature length film, focused on the adventures on a man and his dog. A British claymation spawned in the late Eighties, the dumbfounded inventor, Wallace, and his long suffering canine, Gromit, stand as symbols of my childhood. They retain themes of love, loss and cheese and crackers. In this respect, they are very British to the point where stated that the pair have "[done] more to improve the image of the English world-wide than any officially appointed ambassadors". the shorts have been aired many times in my home country of Australia, despite the last one premiering in 1995. Until recently, that is. The latest in the collection of shorts aired on December the 3rd in my country, at eight o'clock. The film, entitled A matter of Loaf and Death, is a disappointment, in my opinion. It achieves fairly in its own right but, like the latest Bond flick, cannot hold it's head high in the company of its kin.

The film starts the same as its predecessors, with the camera panning across photographs, a device used to key the viewer in to the chronology of the central characters, this time giving hints that they have taken up baking. The camera cuts to a baker at night, turning to see what we assume is a familiar face, only to scream and raise his arms in defense. We then see Wallace and Gromit going about there morning ritual of delivering bread. During this drive, Wallace sees a hefty woman riding a bicycle, which he identifies as his heartthrob, the model for Bak-O-Lite, albeit a tad larger. Then, the less-than-dainty lass loses control of her bike, leading Wallace and Gromit to an impromptu rescue. After saving her, Wallace becomes infatuated with the woman, Piella. Though she often disappears for hours at a time, while the baker serial killer continues his reign of terror on the streets. The plot is not all too hard to predict, but keep in mind this is a children's program and such veins are expected.

I have many problems with this picture, firstly it's dark tone. The opening scenes involving the baker's murder are perhaps the most violent in the series, though this level of non-benevolence is far below that of many modern TV shows. However, the last few minutes are blacker that night (I'm talking one of the cute claymation characters attempting to kill itself). Its these dark themes that unnerve me whilst watching Wallace and Gromit. What's next? Wallace coming to grips with his loneliness, or perhaps Gromit tackling his substance abuse issues. I fear for my favorite claymates. Are there darker times ahead? Only time, and Nick Park, will tell. I don't like it, not only for the fact that the piece is quite somber, but the fact that it lacks many elements that I would consider staple. I swear that "cheese and crackers" was mentioned about once in the entire twenty nine minutes. The episode is also very Gromit-centric. In previous installments Gromit has been very much the plot driver, though it feels as if he is never off camera. My only explanation for this is that the darkness is a result of the creator trying to reach the older audience that saw his work at its birth. This is a step in the wrong direction. Does Nick Park not realize that kids watch his show til this day? I even found some subtle Yorkshire bashing, a brand of comedy aimed at adults or at least older kids.

Another gripe that ails me on this topic is the pacing. To be fair, I missed the story's opening five minutes, but when the Bake-O-Lite girl came onscreen I had no idea what I was supposed to recognize. That said, I understand it is hard to cram everything you want into such a small time frame. The final, and befittingly ultimate thing that Loaf and Death lacks is heart. Maybe hear is the wrong word... soul? I can't describe the feeling, I just felt that it was in deficit of something. One could argue that I've simply outgrown the series, though I checked, and I believe I still have innocence (it was in my desk drawer, a bit dusty, but still intact).

Despite it's scripting flaws, the claymation that Wallace and Gromit is presented in is great. Time has served the art form well, with charcters being greatly sculpted, tears and all.

Australia is the first to receive this helping of Wallace and Gromit (I knew there were advantages to being connected to the commonwealth), with it airing in the UK on Christmas day. With Britanians making up about a quarter of this blog's total lifetime readership, I wish you (yes, you) a merry Christmas, with a gift that's okay, but not all that good.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

[Movie Review] Lolita (1964)

Lolita is a 1964 film starring James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters and Peter Sellers. It is directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the book of the same name by Russian author, Vladimir Nabokov. It's focus is the sexual relationship between Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and his fourteen-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita (Sue Lyon). It was a controversial film for its time and, in my opinion, can be traced back as the influence to many cinematic masterpieces.

The film opens with the murder of a playwright, for none other reason than "the shaming of my daughter". The plot then cuts back four years and we see Humbert Humbert inquiring lodging at the house of Charlotte Haze (Winters). An intellectual man, Humbert is taken aback by the widowed Haze's self centered and frankly annoying demeanor. His decision is made, however, when he sees the woman's fourteen-year-old-daughter sunbathing in a bikini. Immediately finding her attractive, he chooses to stay with the family for none other reason than to watch over the girl. Being the flighty girl she is, she flirts with him and displays herself as somewhat of a nymph. As the weeks pass, he idolizes her from afar, torn when she is sent off to camp. In the weeks she is away, he is proposed to by the senior Haze woman. Though he finds the thought of loving her literally hysterical, he opts to wed as it will keep him close to the girl he desires. Weeks into the marriage, tragedy strikes and Mrs. Haze dies. Humbert revels in this fact and sees the opportunity to live alone with Lolita. Upon picking her up from camp, she flirts with him in their hotel room, enticing him into indulging in the feelings he held of her for so long. What follows is attempts to hide their relationship, as well as the drama of simply maintaining it.

Despite the film's subject matter, it is hardly erotic. In fact, it is quote tame, only making the slightest reference to the pair's sex life, which we assume is constant. This is mainly due to the censorship at the time, which found the idea shocking enough to earn it an R rating. It also contains a lot of blue humor, with adults openly suggesting foursomes and other promiscuity. Lolita's Summer camp is called Camp Climax which garnered many giggles from me. Humbert takes the innocent role in the relationship, remaining stately as his stepdaughter flays herself across his chest, suggesting they play "the game" that a boy played with her at Summer camp. Peter Seller's character is another suitor of Lolita, albeit the polar opposite of her stepfather. He represents the lustful side of Humbert, which is only revealed through the latter's narration.

The film is black and white, though this does nothing to detract from the experience. This is most due to the artistic brilliance that is Stanley Kubrick's direction. The film was produced after the epic Spartacus and Kubrick just keeps building momentum. With censorship so marring on such a film, he does a fantastic job of suggesting sexuality, yet keeping it brief enough so that one does not feel uncomfortable watching the film in the presence of one's family. The dialogue is perfectly handled,as with all Kubrick films. The running time of a little over two hours seems extensive but the film never slows, that said, the American release is some twenty seconds shorter than the UK's or Australia's. Each actor does a brilliant job of their part, with the obvious stand out of Peter Sellers. Sue Lyon is fantastic considering that this is her first outing on the silver screen. Ironically, she was unable to attend the film's premier due to it being rated R. Equally as sad, the part of Lolita carried with it a stigma which the young Miss Lyon was unable to shake, her acting career sinking in the late sixties.

I feel the movie is ahead of its time in many ways. If it were made today, it would be much more overtly sexual, however I think that would be a detraction. I think it may have had great influence on 1999's American Beauty, which has similar elements, though far more erotic. Lolita was the first commercial film to make pedophilia a main element. Though the subject is not really sex offense, other than misdirected lust. A movie with strong elements of this subversion is The Woodsman starring Kevin Bacon, which I recommend to anyone exploring the subject through film.

The book on which this film is based differs in many aspects of the story, or so I'm told. It reportedly focuses much more on the erotic side of the relationship and gives Humbert a reason to have his so-called fetish. The movie was remade in 1997, with a plot that stayed much truer to the book. Unfortunately, this was a box office disaster, pulling in only a dismal one million domestically. However i do intend to read both the book and see the other movie, if I can get my hands on either of them. I hear the book is relatively abundant.

So due to the groundbreaking subject matter and the artful, brilliant (as always) direction by Stanley Kubrick, I highly recommend this film. That said, parental discretion is advised, then again, my veiwing has never been censored.


Friday, November 21, 2008

The Ice Harvest (book review)

The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips is a dark tale about a small country town and its seedy underworld. The first novel by this author, it achieved high popularity in the year 2000 and was made into a feature film five years later. In my opinion, the movie is far superior to the book in almost all respects. Nonetheless, the novel captures more completely the noir genre, though it also feels as though I’m reading a fantastically well written, high-brow parody. With dark undertones, some great black humor and an awesome movie, The Ice Harvest should be read by all.

The plotline chronicles a night in the life of Charlie Arglist, a lawyer working for the local mobsters, whom tires to rob his employers blind. As the story progresses, we see the dark underbelly of the seemingly quiet town in which the novel is set. Throughout the book, we see a variety of, often violent, greedy and vindictive characters that all have an entertaining side story to tell. These tales all eventually amalgamate into Charlie’s plan to rob his boss of millions in dirty money with his partner, Vic. Of course, as with every heist, there’s a beautifully seductive femme fatale to throw a spanner in the works. All of a sudden, fellow mobsters are dying left right and centre, the boss has discovered the plan and Charlie’s wondering about the disappearance of a lap dancer named Desiray.

The story takes place on a snow riddled Christmas Eve of 1979, in the back water town of Wichita, Kansas. The town’s local entrepreneurs’ attempt to set up a chain of strip clubs, brothels and bars has garnered little success, and it’s these places of business which set the backdrop for the better half of the story. Through the eyes of the book’s protagonist, Charlie Arglist, the small town seems like a shade down from being Las Vegas. Even when Charlie makes a trip to see his ex wife and whish his children a merry Christmas, the air is full of cursing, violence and tension. Such a settings as a suburban house are few and far between in this novel, wherein Charlie bounces from one strip club to the next, talking to the owner for a few minutes before he realizes that he has to return to the club he just visited, only to repeat the process again in a seemingly unending cycle. Thankfully, the cycle dissipates as the novel begins its second stanza. From there on, Charlie moves away from the quiet little town and the novel, unsurprisingly, takes on a lighter mood. This mood, however, does not stop disaster from striking its characters.

The characters of the novel each have their own charms, but, with the with the exception of a few, they all follow the same formula. That is violence, seediness and lies. There’s an excess of dumb blonde exotic dancers, lovable but psychotic barkeeps and wives who can be just as moral lacking as their husbands. Charlie Arglist, the central character, seems at home in a world of beer and breasts and I don’t really see where his desire to screw it over stems from. His, literally, partner in crime, Vic Cavanaugh, is the worst of the worst type of people. His greedy, spiteful and just plain evil demeanor was captured effortlessly on screen by Billy Bob Thornton and is even more evident in the novel. Both these men, unbeknownst to each other, somehow become romantically involved with Renata, the beautiful owner of local gentleman’s club, the Sweet Cage. In this story, she acts as a catalyst, which of the two does she really love, and which does she plan to kill? After wading through the swamp of emotionally wanting characters in this, there are still glimpses of a lighter side. Charlie’s drunken ex brother-in-law, Pete, serves as some slight comic relief while dancing girl Rusti finds love by the end of that cold night.

All in all, the novel is a perfect example of noir being brought into the new millennium. Having the utmost skillful writing, Scott Philips shows his talent for the genre. However, whilst reading this I couldn’t shake the feeling I was reading a parody. Its pitch perfect; too much so, in fact. The characters, while the genre makes this unavoidable, are blatant cliché’s. Everything Charlie experiences has been done before; even the ending is all too formulaic. That said, the factor which sets this novel apart from mere noir emulators is the delivery. Its mood, timing and twists turn an otherwise mediocre book into something worth consideration.

Another thing that I found troublesome with this novel was the seediness. While I understand it is yet another unavoidable facet of the genre, the book is quite dirty. Take, example, this excerpt from page 26 “Francie had already dropped her G-string and she crouched awkwardly, concentrating hard, trying to take the five-dollar bill from Culligan’s palsied hand with her labia.” Now why does the writer feel he has to share that with his audience? It detaches the reader from the story, being unable to envision the highly unrealistic situation. It is in this alienation of the audience which lets the book down so. One feels no compassion for the smutty characters or their even smuttier lives.

Still, the book’s brilliant writing supports it all the way. The book is a great case study and an enjoyable read that should be experienced by the masses. It is, for all it’s fault, worthy of it’s
critical acclaim.