Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformer Comedians in Disguise

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

When we last left our favourite robots in disguise, the evil Megatron was powerless at the bottom of the ocean; Starscream was running away; and Optimus Prime was looking towards a peaceful co-existence with the human race. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen pretty much picks up were the original left off. The Autobots are working with the US army to track down the remaining Decepticons hiding around the globe. The Decpticons are secret looking for any remnants from the now destroyed cube featured in the previous movie. A mere fragment of the cube would not only bring Megatron back to life but would also aide Megatron’s master, The Fallen, in finding the mysterious device that would destroy the earth once and for all. As luck would have it, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) discovers a piece of said cube in his old clothing while getting ready to leave for college. With the fate of the entire world at stake Sam, along with his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and trusty Autobot Bumble Bee, must now race to find the ancient device before The Fallen does.

Personally, I think Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will go down as the greatest comedy Michael Bay has ever directed. I know the movie is being sold as a mindless action movie; but you cannot help but laugh at all the unintentional comedic moments in the movie. Having somewhat enjoyed the first movie, I went into the sequel with my brain shut off ready to watch things explode. The only problem was, with the ridiculously long running time, my brain kicked back in about an hour or so into the picture. Partly because it was almost impossible at times to tell the Decepticons apart. The Constructicons and the green truck were the only exceptions; all the other villains looked like the same grey robot. Yet the main thing that caused my brain to start working again, and me to breakout in laughter, was the randomness of the characters and events in the picture.

The government has the technology to track down Decepticons hiding all over the world, but they are unable to notice a massive robot satellite in space. Fine, I am willing to let that slide. The Decepticons magically have Terminator like abilities, and can travel through time, yet only two of them paid attention in class when this was being taught. Hey, I fell asleep in some classes in my time so I will let that go as well. The Fallen has been on his death bed for years but is suddenly in fine form the minute he senses that his nemesis will no longer be a problem. Alright…I guess that makes sense…kind of. The Fallen then proceeds to do nothing until the very last 15 minutes when he swoops in to claim the matrix. The same matrix that you had not only had to travel to robot heaven for, but also endure the “after school special-style” moment where you learn that the power of the magic pixie dust “was in you all along”…Okay you have officially lost me.

The humans do not fair much better in the picture. Shia LaBeouf basically goes through the motions, although I give him credit for delivering some awful dialogue with a straight face. Most of the returning supporting casts are given far less to do in the film. Many just set up one-liners or, in most cases, are the butt of the jokes. Megan Fox provides the eye candy but not much else…not that I am complaining. The only person that really seems to get the silly tone of the film is John Turturro. His exaggeration of Agent Simmons provides the few intentionally funny moments in the entire production.

While all the over the top Bay-style action is present, there was not much that really wowed me. Sure gutting one robot like a fish was cool but, most of the time, the action was pretty much more of the same things we saw in the first one. Frankly it was more thrilling in the original as well. The only real difference is that Michael Bay has taken his spastic filmmaking to a whole new level. One minute he is doing a “serious” dramatic moment, the next he is having robots farting and humping people’s legs, and the less said about the slang talking robots the better. It is easy to dismiss the movie has mindless fun, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is too inept to even reach that level.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fast Aging Cheese Will Leave You Furious

Fast and Furious

I have had a peculiar fondness for The Fast and The Furious series since the beginning. 2001’s The Fast and The Furious is one of those guilty pleasures, similar to The Mummy Returns, for which I can watch over and over. Sure it is basically the low rent car version of Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break; which in itself was a knock off of numerous films before it. Yet there is something about the film the simply works for me. I think it is the fact that at no point does the film try to be more than it really is; an over-the-top action flick with a few cool looking cars. Despite my fondness of the original I did not think another Furious movie, let alone three, was necessary.

The sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, was by far the worst film in the series. Yet it provided me with one of the most memorable theatre going experiences I have ever had. I saw the film while vacationing in Barbados with a fully vocal and interactive audience. It was comparable to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween. The comments from the crowd were priceless, I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard at a non-comedic film.

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift caught my attention mainly due to the director, Justin Lin. Having directed the vastly underrated film Better Luck Tomorrow, which was one of my favourite film at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival, I have been interested in Lin’s work ever since. Although Annapolis was definitely a step in the wrong direction, I was not quite willing to give up on Lin just yet. Though not on par with first flick Tokyo Drift was still a “more enjoyable than it really should be” kind of movie. The type of mindless picture that would help pass the time on a lazy afternoon. The “drift racing”, if nothing else, added a fun new aspect to the series. Lin also showed that he could bring fresh action sequences to a dated series.

Just when I thought the franchise was finally about to hit the retirement home, this year saw the release of yet another high octane low substance entry simply titled Fast and Furious. A movie that is a firm believer in the motto “everything old is new again”. Not only is Justin Lin back in the directing chair but the original cast members, from the good old days when “The” was allowed in movie titles, are back as well. The latest flick is meant to be a sequel to the first two films, and a prequel to the third one. Not that it really matters that much, continuity was never this franchise’s strong suit. In the latest installment, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) has been reinstated in the FBI and is tracking a drug kingpin in L.A. As luck would have it, Bad Boy Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), still on the run from the law, returns to L.A. to settle some personal business with the exact same drug lord. Funny how coincidences like this conveniently happen…but I digress. The only way for both Brian and Dominic to get close to the mysterious man at the top is through the world of underground street racing. Despite the unfinished business between them, Brian and Dominic must put their differences aside if they hope to successfully infiltrate the drug cartel.

While it is nice to see the whole gang altogether again, it would have been even better if the writers actually gave them something to do. This is most noticeable with Jordana Brewster’s character, Mia. Her sole role in the entire movie is to worry about her brother and make out with Brian. To make matters worse, Brewster’s performance in the film is as wooden as it gets. Some of the background extras in the moved showed more range than Jordana did in this movie. Michelle Rodriguez is barely in the movie which is a shame. Rodriguez was more exciting to watch in her brief appearance than any of Brewster scenes.

As the female characters are pretty much no existent in the movie, Fast and Furious ultimately becomes the Vin Diesel and Paul Walker show. With the focus solely on the testosterone it is rather odd that the writers tried to cram in so much in the movie. The movie spend so much time trying to set up a plausible back-story for reuniting Brian and Dominic that they forget the basic element that made the series so financially successful in the first place…the cars. The characters spend more time talking than they do driving in the film. This would be fine if they were actually saying something significant, but alas that is not the case here. The majority of the time the audience knows what the next line will be before it is even uttered. By bringing more attention to the weak plot, it is practically impossible for Justin Lin to cover up the many holes in the story. Sure the few action sequences are nice, but nothing thrilling. In the end this “reboot” just enforces the fact that after a while even the guiltiest of pleasure are no longer exciting.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Monday, June 22, 2009

Locker Safety Key To Not Getting Hurt

The Hurt Locker

“War is a drug.” This statement is featured in a quote at the beginning of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest testosterone filled movie, The Hurt Locker. Those four simple words may not seem like much at the beginning of the film, but it will all make sense at the end. While the film takes place during the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker is not concerned with preaching about the horrors of war. This is film is all about the entertainment, and on that level it succeeds greatly.

After losing their squadron captain (Guy Pearce), the Bravo Company must deal with a new leader who has his own unique methods for defusing bombs. James (Jeremy Renner) is what many would consider a “cowboy” in the field; he frequently breaks protocol and recklessly puts his life on the line. This makes his subordinates in Bravo Company, especially Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), very uneasy about working with him. As the bomb-defusing missions get more difficult, the uneasy tension between the men grows even greater.

The Hurt Locker is a film that thrives on tension. Bigelow does a fantastic job keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Whether it is the stellar opening sequence, a shootout in the dessert, numerous bomb-defusing scenes, or the men reaching their boiling point with each other, the film is never dull. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie have great chemistry and bring good depth to their individual roles. Not only do we understand what makes James tick but also how it affects the decisions he makes later on in the film. The bond that James and Sanborn have always feels authentic, even when they are ready to knock each other out.

I also like the little subplot in the film regarding a solider who fears death. Not only is it a good contrast to James’ character, but it also brings a subtle human aspect to the overall crisis overseas. This film is easily the most accessible (i.e. purely entertaining) movie surrounding the Iraq war to come out in a while. The Hurt Locker delivers the suspense on several levels. Be sure to keep an eye out for some inspired cameos by Ralph Fiennes and David Morse.

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Hangover Is More Enjoyable Than My Last One

The Hangover

It seems every summer there is at least one or two R-rated comedies that really connect with audiences and take Hollywood by surprise. The first one this year is director Todd Phillip’s The Hangover, a film that has defied pundits by dominating the box office for two weeks in a row; the only movie so far this summer to achieve such a feat. What makes The Hangover’s success even more fascinating it that it has beaten out the likes of Pixar, Will Ferrell, and the combined talents of Denzel Washington and John Travolta, all of whom are proven box-office performers. Much of the talk surrounding the film centers around the fact that it has achieved so much success without having a single “big name star.” Yet the reason for The Hangover’s popularity is rather simple, when the jokes work, the movie delivers several big laughs

On the eve of Doug’s (Justin Bartha) wedding, his buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), along with soon to be brother-in law Alan (Zach Galifianakis), take him to Las Vegas for his bachelor party. Adhering to the policy “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” the men plan to have one heck of a night on the town. The next morning Phil, Stud, and Alan wake up to find Doug missing and their hotel room completely trashed. To make matters worse, none of them have any recollection of what happened the night before. The three men have only 24 hours to piece together what they did the previous night in order to find Doug and get him home in time for the wedding.

Essentially The Hangover is a lesser version of Old School in my opinion. While some may see this statement as an insult, it is in fact a compliment to the movie. Old School is one of my favourite comedies of recent years. It is one of those comedies that I can watch over and over without fail. Besides being made by the same director, The Hangover has numerous similarities to Old School, right down to the characterization of the four men. Bradley Cooper is the Vince Vaughn character, the father with hot wife and kid, who will not let the bad boy ways go. Ed Helms is the Luke Wilson character, the good guy whose girl friend is not faithful. Zach Galifianakis is the Will Ferrell man-child of the group, though with fewer brain cells than Ferrell’s “Frank the Tank.” Yet the one unique thing The Hangover has that separates itsef from Phillips other movie is an element of mystery.

I found myself getting caught up in trying to figure out what exactly happened to the guys that night. I liked the way the plot unfolded with clues slowly being dispersed. Also, no matter how crazy some of the explanations were, the movie answered the majority of the questions it raised. The only real draw back to the mystery aspect is that it took away from the consistency of laughs. While The Hangover had many humourous moments, it was not one of those movies where I laughed from beginning to end straight. There are many lulls in the picture to ensure that the advancement of the rather thin plot.

Another thing that hinders the flow of the film at times is the randomness of some of the characters, especially in regards to Alan. In some parts Alan’s clueless oddball routine is funny, yet at other times it is uneven, and worse, down right creepy. Early on Alan remarks that he is legally not to be within 250 yards of a school. Yet the movie never elaborate on this fact; which only makes his comedic scenes with children in the film, especially the hand jesters with the baby, fall flat instead of being scathingly funny. I also thought the Rain Man spoof in the casino was not necessary at all. It actually killed some of the comedic highs of the scenes preceding it. Yet Alan was not the only Vegas bulb that could use some fixing, Phillip’s could have given Doug a much better set up overall. Doug is nothing more than a catalyst for the story to take place. There is nothing remotely interesting about him at all. I actually found myself more interested in Heather Graham’s Jade than I was with anything in Doug’s life. There should have been at least a few scenes between Doug and his fiancée that would make the audience want to see them reunited.

Will The Hangover go down as a comedy classic? No. Although I had fun time watching it, the movie pales in comparison to similar comedies of its ilk (i.e. Old School, Wedding Crashers, etc.). Still, there are enough big laughs in The Hangover to warrant the strong business it is currently doing in theatres.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Monday, June 08, 2009

Not Quite Up There.


The 3D boom in Hollywood continues with the film Up, the latest addition to Pixar’s canon of works. The film follows Carl Fredricksen(Ed Asner), a retired balloon salesman whose life has lost all meaning since his wife, Ellie, passed away. Ever since they were young both Ellie and Carl dreamed of seeing the world like their childhood hero, the famous explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). After a violent altercation with local developers, the court sentences Carl to live the rest of his days at the Shady Oak retirement home. On the eve of going to Shady Oak, Carl decides to honor a promise he made to Ellie years ago and literally fly his house to South America. It is only when Carl is up in the air does he realize that a local boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai), has unexpectedly become part of the adventure.

Although Up is a cute and enjoyable film, I could not help but feel a little under-whelmed during segments. The animation is great as usual and the story is engaging enough to a point. Yet it becomes obvious rather quickly that there is no real reason for this film to be in 3D. The film would have worked just as well, probably even better, in regular 2D format. Pixar has routinely set the bar when it comes to innovation in animation. So when you hear that a Pixar film will be in 3D you have a certain level of expectation. Yet the uses of 3D effects in Up is very subtle, and does not do much to enhance the already stellar animation. I am not saying that the effects must out weight the plot because it should not. Dreamwork’s Monsters vs. Aliens is a perfect example of how having too much of one thing can ruin a movie. That picture had fantastic 3D visuals but was undone by the extremely weak plot. Yet there should still be enough of a balance to justify the audience paying more to see 3D films; especially when they can get the same emotional and visual impact from the 2D version.

Another quibble I had with this film, although it was a minor one, was that the emotional impact of the beginning gets diluted towards the latter half of the film. The standout part of the film for me was how well they conveyed the 60 plus year relationship between Carl and Ellie in 15 minutes or so. By time Ellie passes away we genuinely feel sympathy for Carl; it as if we knew Ellie personally. The only other time you come close to this in the rest of the film is when Russell talks about his father. Yet these moments are brief and are usually followed by some form of comedic distraction. This, at times, makes Up come across like a version of Dennis the Menace; where the grumpy old man has to deal with the well meaning, but troublesome, kid and pets. Sure there are plenty of fun moments for adults to enjoy but the overall tone for the most part skews more toward kids than adults. Ultimately you walk out of the film saying “it was cute fun” oppose to “wow Pixar hit another one out of the park”. This is not a bad thing by any means but, after a string of films that include The Incredibles, Wall-E or Ratatouille, Up falls somewhere in the middle of the Pixar canon for me. I would even go as far as saying that Coraline is still the best animated film so far for 2009…and I saw that in regular 2D.

For more reviews from 2009 click here