24 June 2009

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" Review: Revenge of the Redundant

In 2007 middle Americans brandishing their hotdogs and gas guzzlers lined up in drones for a peek at Michael Bay’s giant robot orgy Transformers, making its wide release on none other than July 4th, only contributing to its symbolic representation of epitomized American cinema. The movie, based on Hasbro’s line of shape-shifting action figures popular when my dad was in high school, revolved around giant robots from a distant planet coming to Earth and blowing things up in pursuit of a cube that made them giant robots in the first place. A few hundred million dollars and legions of cocky teenagers declaring it as the “best movie ever made” later and it was a phenomenon whose financial success surely prompted it for a sequel to premier less than two years later at the whims of studio executives sipping on martinis with their pockets bursting at the seams with money while thanking God that average Americans are bloodthirsty enough to spend their own hard-earned cash to watch robots wale about for nearly 3 hours.

The first Transformers was decent fun if only because the special effects were so spectacular and seamless that it made you completely forget that the robots talked and had names like “Bumblebee” and “Ratchet” and tagged alongside a kid who would probably be delivering pizzas somewhere if it wasn’t for the Disney Channel. We’re pretty much at the point where effects really aren’t going to get any better and unlike the early and mid-90s movies really can’t get by via simply cramming their frames full of CGI explosions, so the only way for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or since I cannot stand subscript I’ll simply refer to as T2 (which the film may like because it makes it sound like a much better movie starring Ah-nold) had any chance to best its predecessor, which shouldn’t have been difficult given its mish-mash direction, was to make it less stupid. Sadly, it doesn’t, and dives into depths of absurdity thought reserved only for obscure comic books and Spider-Man 3. The original got a free pass for its laughable dialogue and horrible story because it balanced on the line between dumb fun and just plain dumb, while T2 loses its balance and falls off that little tightrope into literary oblivion.

Let’s begin. It’s been 2 years since the events of T1 and the Autobots, who can be distinguished from the Decepticons by their metrosexual paint jobs, aide the governments of the United States and England, the cool countries, in fighting Decepticons (Deception, get it?) hidden on Earth. It begins in Shanghai where we learn that a Fallen will rise or something like that and then turns to Sam Witwicky as he goes to college, feeds his mom pot brownies, and meets a girl who seems like she wants to butcher him into a million pieces and eat his entrails while drinking his blood. He finds a shard of the AllSpark, a mysterious object that turns ordinary appliances into killing machines that engraves a message in his brain that he starts transcribing and blah blah blah.

If you frequent my reviews you’ll notice my penchant for making fun of Michael Bay’s lack of ability to put together a coherent plot and I’m here to declare that I’m done with it. T2 has given me a new respect for Bay as a filmmaker in that instead of fixing the mistakes of his first film he’s simply glorified them in his second while practically waving his middle finger at the camera and giving a big “Screw you” to the critics who hammered T1 for blowing too many things up. See, a bad filmmaker, like Uwe Boll for example, is a filmmaker who makes mistakes by accident and can never quite seem to understand what he did wrong. Michael Bay, on the other hand, knows exactly what he’s doing and is going to keep on doing it because he knows that Americans eat it up like crazy. He doesn’t give a damn what serious critics want in their films and only cares about what will please the masses, which usually involves monuments being desecrated. You can argue that Bay can’t put a decent story together to save his life but you can’t argue that he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing, which is blowing things up as much as possible with beautiful cinematography on an epic canvas.

From a story standpoint, like T1, T2 crawls along using it as a vehicle for action. In most (good) films, the action revolves around the story. In Bay’s Transformers universe, however, the story is simply filler for the action, a vehicle to get from giant robot fight A to giant robot fight B, culminating at an effects-filled climax at Giza. And you know what? This is fine.

Lost in the complaints about the plot and the dialogue is the fact that this is a movie based on freaking toys. Taking it seriously would be like expecting the philosophical complexity of Christopher Nolan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which just isn’t going to happen. You have to go into T2 remembering that you’re there to watch giant Rubik’s cubes beat the crap out of each other, not Shakespeare.

The problem, though, is that Bay has a tendency to overdo it. Yeah, your robots look cool, even though they really haven’t improved much graphically from the last one except that now they’re covered in a layer of dust, but even so the battles and fight scenes are stretched out so long that you stop giving a damn about who wins and just want someone to die so it moves the hell on. Somehow, Bay finds a way to make giant robots beating the snot out of each other boring.

And then there’s the humans. Why do we even have them? I never watched the original Transformers show that capitalized on the success of the toys but I’m still fairly certain there weren’t gawky teenagers running around like whiney little bitches (Shia Labouef). Oh, wait, that’s right, the only reason the movie exists is to make money so Bay decided to throw in a heartthrob who makes my girlfriend swoon whenever he comes on TV and a girl that draws most men’s blood from their brains down into their pants. I’ve never really bought into the whole Megan Fox phenomenon, but whatever. She recently complained about being compared to Angelina Jolie. Who the hell whines about that? If someone wanted to compare me to, say, Brad Pitt, the last thing I’d do is complain.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not a good movie. I can forgive poor storytelling in favor of awesome effects on occasion, but since this is the second film in what will probably be a gajillion the trick’s gone stale. What it is, though, is a decent movie. It’s honestly more of the same. If you’ve seen T1, then seeing T2 is a redundant experience. While it suffers from an intertwining plot that makes about as much sense as drunk mathematicians and contains more Transformers than anyone who’s ever been on a date can name it still manages to be fun to watch when it’s not being boring. It tries to get by using the same elements as the first: effects and cinematography, and it almost makes it. I can excuse length if the length has meaning, like King Kong or The Dark Knight, but I can’t excuse it when it’s simply the same freaking robots beating the crap out the same exact freaking robots. While this is fine and dandy for a few minutes, Bay doesn’t know when to stop and by the time the battle’s over, you’ve completely forgotten why they were fighting in the first place. The film is an exercise in showcasing the best effects ever known, besides maybe the aforementioned King Kong, but in an era where even student films are using CGI it just isn’t all that impressive anymore. It’ll make a ton of money and win over a lot of teenage and wife-beating fans, but the fact remains that T2 is just a shell, an expensive, shiny, hollow shell devoid of a heart or anything that makes any sense…or a good movie.

-Correct me if I’m wrong but I noticed that the Xbox360 Transformer from the first film wasn’t in this one…Red Ring of Death?
-When Peter Jackson finally comes to his senses and hires me to direct Halo, I’m hiring Michael Bay as my effects supervisor, but he will be banned from the writing room.
-Did the Queer Eye guys get a hold of the Autobots?

Score: 6.5/10

10 June 2009

"Land of the Lost" Review: Like Matt Lauer, This Movie Can Suck It

First and foremost, I want to get something out of the way, just so you, the reader(s), can fully understand just how bad Brad Sildeberg’s, who made A Series of Unfortunate Events in 2004 (which I liked by the way) new take on a not-so-obscure kids’ fiction, aptly titled Land of the Lost is. Before even seeing it, many critics trashed the movie over the filmmakers’ decision to reimagine it as a comedy. “Why did they make it a comedy?” they cried. “It’s serious, they’re just going to make fun of it!” they bellowed. Well, get the fuck over it. It was a show about a man and his two kids who ran around evading retards dressed in lizard costumes and clay-mation dinosaurs with names like “Grumpy,” not to mention ape-men, crystals, your occasional random old crazy person and multi-dimensional vortexes that meant nothing to the 8-year-olds watching. The show is virtually a parody upon itself, like Scrubs or one of those interchangeable random generic ghost/cop shows on NBC every other freaking week. So yeah, I think it should be a comedy. And you know what? I think that most of the people who watched the thing back when it was on are probably in their 40s right now, so yeah, put Will Ferrell in it, who I personally think is a one-trick pony (which I’ll talk about later) but has a monetary track record on par with the Master Chief and God. So yes, to hammer it home, I think they made the right decision making Land of the Lost a comedy, so there, you know I’m not just going to jump on the bandwagon of every other movie critic in the world.

The problem, though, is that’s a fucking stupid comedy.

It’s one thing to have a stupid comedy when you have a simpler plot. Talladega Nights was a stupid comedy but people loved it because it was about a stupid guy with a stupid story about a stupid sport. But you throw in time vortexes and lost worlds and inter-dimensional crystal thingies and “tachyons” (which I originally thought were just made up to badly parody the word “tacky” but Microsoft Word isn’t correcting my spelling of it so maybe there’s more to it) and you have to, as a filmmaker, give it a little more depth, which Sildeberg simply doesn’t do. I know that when I’m watching a movie about lizard-men using crystals to open different dimensions, and with Will Ferrell in it, I shouldn’t be expecting the scientific depth of a Michael Crichton novel but come the fuck on! How the hell can someone who demonstrates himself to be a complete idiot throughout the movie create, in one night, a dimension-ripping device? How can a woman learn from a mysterious ape man from a land of the fucking Lost learn the ape language in about 5 seconds? How come the raptors, who make their obligatory dinosaur movie appearance, pass up the three protagonists to attack a goddamn ice cream truck? How can the Sleestaks possibly be a threat when they walk like constipated blind people trying to make their way to the mall bathroom after dropping their cane? And, finally, how the fuck can you be pooped out of a dinosaur, alive, about 30 seconds after being eaten?

Who wrote this thing? Oh, a writer for Saturday Night Live. That makes sense considering that, like the monuments scattered about the Dali-esque desert landscape, everything in the movie seems completely fucking random. There’s a scene where a dinosaur is blown to bits after swallowing a tank of liquid nitrogen followed shortly by Will Ferrell dancing across a lava pit singing show tunes and followed after that by a stoned Ferrell and McBride eating a giant cooked crab and sprinkling it with a totally random giant orange slice.

Knowing this you can start to get a sense for what kind of film Land of the Lost really is which is made even more evident by the sources behind its writing: a series of skits, hit and miss, jammed together into an incoherent mess of a movie. And when I say hit and miss, I mean more like barely scratch the surface and miss, because there really isn’t anything in the movie that “hits” in the traditional sense, there are just some scenes that are slightly more bearable than others. For example, there’s a scene in the desert where a T-Rex and an Allosaurus are chasing Will Ferrell around that’s actually somewhat enjoyable. And though you never get a sense that our heroes are in any danger, which is expected since the film dubs itself as a “comedy,” it still manages to be somewhat fun to watch. This, though, is complimented by a scene where Marshall, Will, and an ape-man named Chaka are whacked out on some primordial narcotic and contemplating kissing each other. The scene is basically a single continuous take that goes on for-fucking-ever! It’s arduous and painful to watch, just like most of the prolonged scenes throughout the movie’s running time. There are a ton of these, ranging from discussions over a miniature model to Ferrell sitting in an old car with his hands halfway down his pants. Seriously. It’s like that guy at the party telling the same fucking joke over and over again hoping that eventually someone will find it funny.

There are “homages” to the original series sprinkled throughout the movie but they lack any subtly whatsoever. Take Star Trek, another adaptation this year, and you’ll find that it’s written in a way that pays great respect to its source material, enough for any layman watching it to figure the references out. They never overdo it, and put the various homages and throwbacks into the script naturally. Land of the Lost on the other hand feels the need to repeat its callbacks to the original series. There’s a scene at the beginning where Holly says they’re going on a “routine expedition,” Will Ferrell repeated it, then she did again, then practically looked at the screen with a wink, and repeated it yet again. Then later, when they encounter the T-Rex (who, incidentally, may be the most likeable character in the movie), Holly makes sure to say, “Boy, he’s grumpy.” They could’ve easily stuck with that line and everyone would’ve gotten the memo, but no, she had to add on to the pit of intolerable idiocy, “We should name him Grumpy.” These are not just writing problems, these are directing problems. If you see something that sucks, cut it out! Later on, Ferrell, in a pointless move, actually has the audacity to sing the Land of the Lost theme song. Hmm, that’s not an attempt to put in an obvious homage, is it? Retard.

If there is a bright spot, many thought it would be Ferrell, but the one (the only one) who shines is Danny McBride, who is by far the only (human) character who actually makes us laugh. He seems to be the only one who realizes the kind of movie Land of the Lost should be in that he balances the perfect amount of seriousness and comedy and outshines Ferrell in nearly every scene.

I can also compliment the visuals but saying a movie has good visuals these days is like saying cars have power windows and Miley Cyrus isn’t a virgin, it’s just something that should go with the territory. CGI has pretty much made it so every movie has good visuals, even the shitty ones, though I will say that the cartoony style of the dinosaurs compliments the wonky (aka retarded) style of the movie. The landscapes and backdrops are also quite impressive, even if the desert gets a little monotonous after awhile.

And on to Will Ferrell himself. Personally, I’ve always felt he was a one-trick pony (like I said before if you actually have the patience/balls to read the entire review) who’s made a career from that staple brand of “comedy” involving dim-witted middle aged men that has legions of fans lining up to bathe his scrotum in saliva. I’ve never cared for it, but I’ll give it the credit it deserves considering everything he makes brings in money like a hooker with 3 vaginas. In Land of the Lost, though, the dim-witted middle aged man he supposedly always plays is spliced with a brilliant scientist and it just doesn’t work. Either he’s a fucking moron or a genius, and when you try to make him both you just end up epitomizing everything wrong with the movie.

LOTL is a movie that can’t really decide what it is. It’s too stupid for adults yet to vulgar for children. We go from talking about power crystals in one scene to giant vibrators in another. It feels like a kids’ movie but there are too many piss and dick jokes to really merit anyone seeing it under the age of 15 (well, these days, 12). This contrasts sharply with Sildeberg’s earlier film A Series of Unfortunate Events which, while dark, always knew that it was a movie for kids and acted as such. Land of the Lost on the other hand can sometimes border on disturbing, with velociraptors ripping the limbs off an ice cream man. So, based upon this, I’ve come to the conclusion that Land of the Lost is not a movie for kids, nor a movie for adults, but a combination of the two; a movie for child-like adults. And not the kind who still love Star Trek (2nd reference) and talk about it on computer forums while living in their mom’s basement, but the wild abusive boyfriend kind, the kind who drinks more beer than water and still goes to frat parties a decade after graduating. That guy. That’s who Land of the Lost is for. For the rest of us normal people, it’s an exercise on how to take $100 million dollars and the childhood memories of middle-aged Americans and turn it into an hour and a half of Will Ferrell’s jack-off material.

-Catch my very subtle televangelist joke?
-I think it’s time to retire velociraptors. Once you find out they were just prehistoric turkeys, they kinda lose their pizzazz

Score: 2.5/10

Updates coming

Sorry for the lack of updates. The problem with being an "independent" critic is that I don't get paid, so if I want to review a movie, I have to work 3 hours at $7 per hour to go see it. Also, I'm planning on putting everything on a dedicated site (not a blogspot site) sometime in the future, hoping that may increase my chances of actually getting paid for this one day. Anyway, new trilogy chop shop coming next week and a Land of the Lost review later today.

05 June 2009

"Up" Review: Brilliant

Warning: Up is a movie that is best gone into blindly, for any information on the intricacies on the plot can seriously hurt its emotional value and as such the film as whole. So if you haven't seen Up, yet, don't read this review. Go see it. Now.
Once in awhile, a film comes along that gets a free pass because, not only were there little expectations for it, but in Up's case practically no expectations. If you weren't a movie guru, you probably didn't even hear about Pixar's latest film until recently. It didn't have the marketing of Wall-E, who had a seat at the NBA finals in 2008. Hell, Finding Nemo has its own fucking ride at Disneyland. Up, on the other hand, approached subtley, not with a bang, and as a result, it's not destined to make nearly as much money as previous Pixar efforts, but that doesn't mean it isn't one of the elites. It is. In fact, it may just be the best film this studio has ever churned out. And considering the source: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Monsters Inc, that is saying a whhhoooole damn lot.
Up is the story of Carl Fredericson, who, with his loving, outgoing wife, has lived a life of (apparent) missed dreams, as their lifelong dream of visiting Venezuela and having a house atop paradise falls is abruptly ended by tragedy. On the brink of losing his-their-house, he decides to finally set into action and take his precious Ellie to the land they both dreamt of, bringing along, inadvertently, a young wilderness explorer named Russel who essentially represents every under-loved child who isn't going around robbing convenience stores. The journey that follows isn't epic in scope. There are just a few characters, one big locale (that happens to be beautifully rendered), and no real one-liners, with the exception of one spouted by Dug, a dog with a collar that vocalizes his thoughts.
Wall-E, for all its wonders, was a film that basically got by through injecting its veins with concentrated cuteness, creating coos and awes that resonated with audiences everywhere. Not that Wall-E was bad, I just don't think it would've been as good if Wall-E wasn't so goddamn cute. Finding Nemo was incredible because of its animation, the underwater landscapes were breathtaking. And Toy Story, well, it was the first time anyone had ever seen anything like that before, so it has its obvious place atop the pantheon of CGI films.
Up, on the other hand, is anchored by its fabulous writing. It's an emotional, heart-wrenching, tear-jerking story that will, and not just because of innate sadness but its overwhelming sense of adventure and the joy you'll get from watching Frederison's house soar through the air near the film's climax. No, it doesn't have the cute robots, nor is it full of one-liners, and that's really more of a marketing problem than the film's. Note that this really isn't a kids' movie. While, obviously, it's a cartoon with talking dogs, the themes present throughout its runningtime are really more on par with adults.
Pixar's latest isn't Pixar's most extravagent. Kids will fidget. It won't make as much money. It doesn't have the cutsey characters. But it has the best story of all of them, and should be a serious consideration for Best Picture and not just Best Animated Film at 2010's Oscar ceremony. It'll keep you enthralled, make you care about the characters, and a final sequence involving a zoom-out of paradise falls will bring tears to even the biggest Pittbull-lovers eyes. Up isn't Pixar's biggest film, but it may just be its grandest.
Score: 10/10