Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers 3: AKA You Got One More Chance Michael Bay!

I’m not going to go into some long-winded bullshit about Transformer toys, Michael Bay raping childhood, etc. etc.  I did own the toys when I was a kid, but they never really matched in scale to my GI Joes and Star Wars figures, so I didn’t really give much thought to them. I tried to pair up the two but when you folded up the transformers they looked like bumper cars compared to the Joes.  And I now have officially gone on too long about the toys.

Didn’t really give a shit when the first Transformers film came out, but caught it in the theatre and was underwhelmed to say the least. I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell the difference between Optimus Prime and Megatron. And the spastic way the fight scenes were filmed didn’t help... it looked like those old Tasmanian Devil cartoons where he’d whip himself into a dervish and shit would fly out of the tornado.

Second film? Even worse. Had no fucking clue what was going on. Plus they had little Spike Lee-looking “afro-bots” that completely blew with me what little goodwill Bay had for making the awesome THE ROCK.
Third film? Not excited. Bay had two chances to give us all what we really wanted to see: giant robots fighting; and he buggered it both times. But whether it was the marketing or the early positive reviews... or the fact the Rio had a midnight screening and I had nothing else to do, I was suckered out of $15 and two and a half hours of my life.

And surprisingly, I LIKED it. In fact, it may very well be the only summer film so far that I’ll see twice – for sheer spectacle alone. Third time for a franchise is usually far from a charm, but with Transformers, Bay seemed to finally get it. It’s not without flaws – after some really cool retro NASA business (albeit with a badly rendered CGI John Kennedy) the first chunk of the movie is dedicated to Shia Lebeouf looking for a job. The film beats you over the head with the utterly ridiculous fact that this college grad who hangs with giant robots, and got medals for saving the world twice (and in the second, had a shitload of alien knowledge pumped into his brain – can’t believe I remembered that) can’t get a job. That’s right; our hero’s biggest dilemma isn’t robots or alien conquest, but paying the rent. This whole subplot could have been dropped with a snap of Bay’s fingers, leaving more time for ‘splosions. The whole point of this seemed to be to bring in an odd-looking (and I hope those aren’t his real teeth) John Malkovich, who comes on screen, acts a bit goofy, and then is never seen again. The writers should have simply made Shia “liaison to the bots” or some bullshit, and got on with it.

But once the action gets rolling about 30 minutes in, the film becomes a juggernaut. And most importantly, instead of badly choreographed fights and choppy action, we get some truly thrilling beat downs, car chases, and mayhem. It’s as if filming in 3D was like Ritalin for Bay... he finally slowed down and learned how to properly stage his set pieces. Even the human-based action scenes are fluid and well structured. Unlike the first two films, Bay lets the audience know what the fuck is going on.

And the 3D is incredible. What I assumed would be the typical marketing gimmick designed to lift a few more bucks from wallets ends up being quite the masterful use of the tech. I’m not even getting to the best part yet. Quick plot rundown: turns out some cybertron (that’s the bot’s home world) shit crashed on the moon, hence NASA spending most of the ‘60’s trying to get there. Some shit goes down, the Autobots find out about their junk being up there, and head up in a rocket to find the near-death Sentinel Prime (voiced very cooly by Leonard Nimoy – who in a goosebump-inducing moment even throws in a very familiar line from Wrath of Khan). They resurrect the old Prime, and that’s when the shit hits the fan. Soon Shia and his hot new girlfriend are being chased by Decepticons after some space-age macguffin that will destroy mankind.

And I haven’t even got to the best part – the full on invasion of Chicago by an army of Decepticons. We’re talking War of the Worlds/Mars Attacks style mass destruction. Bay and crew manage to pull off the near apocalypse of the Windy City, complete with human incinerations, in a sequence that will most surely win the CG team an Oscar. Add in a shitload of soldiers actually delivering some payback to the ‘cons, some amazing (real) skydiving stunts in glorious 3D, and some well-done robot battles, and we essentially have the epic battle we’ve been waiting for with the Terminator franchise.

The film overall has a more adult sensibility. Gone are the fetchit-bots, the testicle references, the scat and urine humor, and most of the clowning around that marred the first two films. The violence is definitely more visceral – the robots even bleed red – and the ‘bot invasion is quite intense. Hell, even Turturro manages to steal his scenes without resorting to too much muggery. The whole thing is played, thankfully, with a much more serious tone.

Before you think this review is a Michael Bay circle jerk, the film is far from perfect. There are some head scratching moments, including (SPOILER) why the Autobots wait until most of Chicago’s populace is either incinerated down to their skulls, crushed or exploded before joining the battle. I don’t ask for much, but a simple line saying “we tried to make it sooner” would have sufficed. Instead, the autobots come across as dicks. And character development? You expect that from a giant robot flick? Robot Jox had more character development that this. Even the Autobots seem more believable than the human characters.

But if you’re looking for some cheap summer thrills that deliver, and are actually worthy of the 3D technology... I can’t believe I’m saying this... go see Dark of the Moon.


(hangs head in shame)
Friday, June 10, 2011

TALES FROM TERMINAL CITY: Super 8

Hey all,

Last blog was January so I figured time to update! As some of you know, The Dedmontonian - me, has moved to the coast, making me the... Vancleaverian? I'll work on that. I moved out here for work and to also spread the good word of DEDfest, but don't worry kiddies. I will return for our yearly marathon of madness. And the added bonus? We (and our amazing friends at Metro Cinema) will be bringing you the bad-assed-ness from the historic Garneau Theatre this fall!  Once we make our dates final, we'll make an announcement. Stay peeled to www.dedfest.com for more details.

I figure with all the strangeness, wonderment, and sometimes the frustrations of a new city - especially a city with such roots in the entertainment and film industries - I'll have more fodder for this blog. I'll get into the pole dancing busker on Commercial Drive and the lingerie photoshoot in a store window in Gastown some other time (and those were just from yesterday afternoon!). I should start things off again... and appropriately... with a movie blog.



One of the niceties of living in a film-centric community is the chance to do things like, say, walk down the road and catch a midnight screening of J.J. Abrams' new film Super 8. The verdict? Well aside from my initial thought of "Spielberg with lens flare", Super 8 turned out to be a fun, yet flawed retro mashup of Mr. Spielberg's greatest hits (Spielberg was producer on Super 8 by the way).  If anything, the film is like a very entertaining cover band.

The plot? Essentially it's ET meets Cloverfield. Precocious kids making zombie flick, strange and nasty alien caught on film, even nastier government soldiers, themes of loss and heartfelt family drama - that pretty much sums it up. What worked about the film? Abrams, like Senor Spielbergo before him, nails the casting. These kids are naturals, especially the leads Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney. And the rest of the group are fun to watch. Abrams never paints these characters with broad strokes or falls prey to cliches. The fat kid isn't funny because he's portly, he's funny because he's a bossy director; the small kid is funny not because of his size but because of his pyromaniac tendencies; and so on. And these kids can hold their own alongside most of this year's adult action heroes. On that note, the grown ups in the film (Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as the respective dads) are great too.

I also dug the film's retro setting. Replace the CGI with some practical effects and drag the film print around the parking lot a few times and you could sell someone on this film actually being made in 1979. There are references to pot, disco, The Knack, etc., and for the geeks, we got nice mentions of Aurora Models, Dick Smith makeup, and Fangoria Magazine. Although quite a few critics have criticized Abrams for it, I never found those nostalgic touches too heavy handed.

What was heavy handed, and what nearly derailed the film for me, was the ending. Not plot-wise, but in the way Abrams trotted out the "core" of the film, so to speak, in a very hammy way. And strangely, I'm not quite sure why it felt cheeseball. Perhaps when Spielberg did it in the 70s and 80s, it felt kinda fresh in the context of an event movie. I think as well that in those iconic films, Spielberg had been drawing on his own experiences and influence to give audiences that extra depth - there just seemed to be that something personal in his films. Abrams seems to be drawing on his memories of Spielberg's influences and experiences rather than infusing the film with his own.

And that is what Super 8 feels like: a photocopy of a Spielberg film. A very entertaining and enjoyable copy, but a photocopy nonetheless. Despite that, and because we've had more than enough "event" films over the past few years that had no heart or character at all (looking at YOU Transformers), I'd gladly take a summer movie that dares to put story and character over spectacle any day.

Oh and once last thing, you nancies that like to leave as soon as the credits roll? Stick around to see the finished Super 8 zombie film!

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