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Monday, June 22, 2009

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009) - Michael Bay

Heh heh heh. Hee hee hee. Ya know, there’s a part of me that is secretly relishing the prospect of writing what I’m about to write. I’m excited at the catharsis I’ll feel having vented about Michael Bay’s latest piece of cinematic art. Because for the last twelve hours... minus the few hours sleep I got... I have stewed slowly. I’ve allowed what I witnessed last night to seep slowly into my brain, and I’ve attempted to arrange the images and sounds into an understandable and comprehensible series of sequences so that I can give Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen the review it deserves.

Okay, it’s been two years since Optimus Prime and his little human buddy Sam Witwicky (having still not changed his name by deed poll) defeated Megatron and the Decepticons. Sam is now ready to head off to college. He will be leaving behind his parents, girlfriend Mikaela, and best buddy and Autobot, Bumblebee. However, once Sam hits the campus, things go wrong. It seems the Decepticons are searching for Megatron’s body in order to resurrect him. It turns out Megatron is only second in command to another Decepticon, The Fallen, who wants to return to Earth (he was here at the dawn of civilisation.... don’t ask) to destroy our sun in order to get the power to give birth to more Decepticons.... Queue explosions and all manner of utter bollocks for two and a half bloody hours.



There is so much that is wrong with Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, that it’s difficult to know where to start. I’m not that easily offended by movies. Admittedly, I actively seek out the films that create controversy and make people walk out of theatres. It’s not that I enjoy being repulsed. Though there is some sick fascination with the depth to which some directors stoop in order to shock. Take Martyrs or Cannibal Holocaust as examples. They’re both pretty reprehensible films. But they’re made for a specific type of viewer and don’t in any way try to be entertainment for the masses. What I absolutely object to, however, is a director who is so low-brow, he makes Rob Schneider look like the 21st Century’s Lawrence Olivier. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is the freak bastard child that would emerge if Nuts magazine got absolutely twisted drunk and had sex with Top Gear and a military recruitment video. Michael Bay is the sick voyeuristic neighbour filming it all to jerk off to later.

The film is incredibly misogynistic. There are three female characters in the film. Bay treats them with all the subtlety and depth of a slap-happy pimp. When not filming Magan Fox as is she’s in the opening few scenes of a hard-core porno, he’s getting up-skirt shots of some other starlet or treating Sam’s mother with sneering disdain for her kooky antics. Were he able to get away with it, I’d imagine Bay would have had Sam’s father go Ray Winstone on her ass and beat her into the ground a la Nil By Mouth... although with swooping camera moves and slow motion impacts. All Megan Fox has to do for the entire film is wear a low-cut top, keep a permanent pout on her face and occasionally run awkwardly from an explosion. Which, thankfully for her, encompasses the entirety of her talents. She is a dreadful actress. And I’m pretty sure she was born without a soul. Whenever the camera stared, nay, leered into her unquestionably beautiful eyes, you can’t quite help but feel there’s a deep, gaping, black void of humanity staring back. I don’t know whether that’s Bay’s work, or Fox herself, but it was somewhat unnerving.



Then there’s the xenophobia. Good christ, there’s plenty of that. Bay has made some sort of deal with the US military, because the last hour of the film is just an army recruitment video shot, again, as explosion porno. Planes, tanks, trucks, guns, missiles, aircraft carriers, high-tech weaponry are all wheeled out and fired at the enemy, who, for the record, are completely ineffectual against humans. I mean, THEY’RE GIANT FUCKING ROBOTS. Yet none of them are capable of defeating a small platoon of squishy humans with guns that fire tiny bullets. Anyway, all this ordnance is fired at the Decepticons in the last battle, which takes place in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. And as a consequence, pyramids and thousands of years of history are wiped out and reduced to dust. And do the Yanks care? Not a jot. Bay may as well have gone the final step and had one of the GI Joes prance to the top of the crumbled remains of the pyramids and jam an American flag into place. In one spectacularly ‘look how stupid Johnny Foreigner is’ moment, Sam and his pals try to cross the Jordan-Egypt border. It is here that they encounter Johnny foreigner’s army, which has a midget in charge. Yup, a midget. I thought crossing borders was a difficult thing in today’s political climate. But apparently shouting ‘NEW YORK’ in an American accent gains you access to any country. Stupid foreign army. Trey Parker and Matt Stone parodied this attitude in Team America World Police. But Bay obviously doesn’t get parody or irony and took that film as a serious appraisal of American Foreign Policy.

The special effects are spectacular. There’s no denying that. Hundreds of millions of dollars were pumped into the film and it shows. The team at ILM and Digital Domain are top-notch and you can feel the heat in every explosion. But special effects should be there to help tell a story. Not be the centre-piece that the story is written around. And that is how this film feels. The story is all over the place. Every few minutes, everybody has to stop to explain to one-another what’s going on. When that’s not happening, logic is thrown out the window. One scene takes place in the Smithsonian Air And Space Museum. The characters crash through a wall, and are in the desert. The wall was obviously some sort of portal through space-time, because the last time I checked, the Smithsonian is in the middle of Washington DC. A FUCKING CITY. It’s this utter contempt for the intelligence of the audience that I really have a problem with.



The problems with the film are innumerable. It’s indefensibly bad. The script is a bloody mess of confusing decisions, illogical situations and ludicrous events that defy reality; I know it’s a film about giant robots, but when a man rings an aircraft carrier and gets them to use a top-secret experimental weapon without any question of authority, chain of command or procedure, you’re going too far from reality. The acting is terrible. It’s really shocking to see John Turturro slumming it so badly. The guy was a darling of the Coen Brothers. What the fuck is he doing in this crap?
There’s also the question of the Autobot twins, two of the most ill-conceived and insulting sidekicks since Jar Jar Binks. Every moment of their screen-time sucks out a bit of your soul. They aren’t funny. They’re cringeworthy. Shame of the writers for creating them, shame on the designers for making them look like they do. Shame on all involved.

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is a film made by idiotic scumbags for the entertainment of imbeciles. If you think two small dogs fucking is hilarious, then this film right up your alley. And for that, fuck you. It is the intellectual equivalent of a home movies television show. It’s a lads’ magazine filmed for the big screen. It’s like climbing into the mind of a hyperactive thirteen year old boy who’s been sitting at his Playstation for too long. I don’t object to a bit of entertainment for entertainment’s sake. But I do think that this kind of film sums up exactly what’s wrong with the industry. It’s a prime example of what happens when film companies aim to squeeze as much money out of the audience’s pocket as possible. The executives at Dreamworks and Paramount may as well drop to their knees and start giving blow-jobs for pennies. Because there is infinitely more dignity in that than having your name attached to this film. And I’m an idiot for spending money I worked for on this shit.
Fuck you Michael Bay. Fuck you Dreamworks Pictures. Fuck you audience around me who laughed at all the incredibly unfunny jokes and stared slack-jawed at the shiney things and ‘splosions. Fuck you universe for allowing this film to happen.

Oh, and just before I forget... Decepticon testicles... Fuck you, Michael Bay.


1/10

THE HANGOVER (2009) - Todd Phillips

You’ll have to excuse the briefness of this review as I’m writing it, and my thoughts on Transformers both in one sitting, and I’m just dying to get onto Transformers. The Hangover is a comedy from Todd Phillips, the writer-director of Old School and Road Trip. In a way, The Hangover is like a melding of those two films. It’s part road movie, part grown up guys having a good time with consequences film, although in this film, we only see their partying.

Doug is due to get married. Two days before his wedding, his best friends, Phil and Stu, and Doug’s soon-to-be brother in law, Alan take him on his bachelor weekend in Las Vegas. Phil is a married teacher and wants to party hard before he has to settle for good. Stu is a man on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend, a thundering bitch who keeps tabs on him twenty four seven. And Alan is a bit of an idiot, but well-meaning at the heart of it. Things go awry when Phil, Stu and Alan wake up after the party with no memory of what had happened and no sign of Doug’s whereabouts. So they must begin an odyssey to find their friend before the wedding.



There’s not much that can really be said about The Hangover. It’s a really entertaining, genuinely funny buddy comedy that relies less on gross-out humour and more on situational comedy. It’s too easy to just gross the audience into laughter in comedies these days. But rather than rely on that, Phillips lets his characters and the messes they get themselves into create the laughs. Ed Helms, who is a central character on The Office seems most at home when it comes to comedy. He’s a very funny performer, and while Stu, his character in the Hangover isn’t as ludicrous as The Office’s Andy Bernard, he still handles the situations very well.

Zach Galifianakis plays the idiot of the piece, which, along with Bradley Cooper’s pretty asshole character, is a staple of these types of comedies. It’d be too easy to mess this character up, but Galifianakis gets some pretty big laughs throughout the film. He spends most of the film with a blank expression on his face, but the is part of his schtick, and carries the character.



The most uncomfortable part of the film is a cameo by Mike Tyson. It’s impossible to separate Tyson from the controversies that have dogged him throughout his career. And when he does turn up, you can’t help but feel he’s going to lose it, step out of the screen and punch you right in the face. However, seeing Tyson singing and air-drumming along Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ is worth the price of admission alone, and much more entertaining than a drumming ape in a chocolate advertisement.

A very solid and entertaining comedy, The Hangover shows that resorting to lowest common denominator laughs isn’t the only way to garner a chuckle from the audience. Far better than Phillips’ other two hits, The Hangover is a quality film amidst a swathe of really terrible summer blockbusters.


8/10

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009) - McG

Let’s face it. There are very very few people who don’t like the Terminator franchise. And when I say Terminator franchise, I mean Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Rise of the Machines was a Terminator film only in name. Otherwise it was a dreadfully misjudged film that should be cast into oblivion and forgotten about. However, it did prove that the series still had some pulling power. And thus, six years later, we have Terminator Salvation. The McG film takes place after Judgement Day and chronicles the struggles of John Connor and his band of merry resistance fighters as they attempt to overpower Skynet and gain control of the planet once again.

As mentioned, Judgement Day has been and gone. The world is very different. Humans are an endangered species and struggle to survive and fight back against the machines. John Connor is the man fated to lead humanity back from the brink. But something has changed. Connor sees his present as different to the future he was told about by his mother. The appearance of Marcus Wright further complicates things. And when Connor discovers that his father, a teenage Kyle Reese has been targeted and captured by Skynet, he must learn to trust Marcus Wright, defy his superiors and infiltrate Skynet in order to free Reese. All this while the humans are planning to mount their largest attack on Skynet.



Terminator Salvation is a difficult film to nail down. It has some great moments. The first 50 minutes are really enjoyable. And it’s even got Michael Ironside in it, for Christ sake. But for some reason... some three-lettered reason, the film fails. Let’s start with the good. The first 50 minutes. In this section, we see the lengths the resistance are going to in order to fight Skynet. We saw briefly in flash... backs... or is it flash-forwards, in the previous films what the post-Judgement Day world looked like. We saw the fight against the machines. Terminator Salvation expands on this, and shows us John Connor leading a raid on a Skynet R’n’D facility. Now, unfortunately, while the entire film is set in this world, we don’t see enough of what you’d expect from the post-Judgement Day world. A glaring problem is that the lines are too clearly drawn. Skynet stays on their side, the resistance stays on theirs. Occasionally, each side will venture into their enemy’s territory, but this is not what we were expecting from this world. It just feels... wrong.

Sam Worthington is brilliant as Marcus Wright. He is, but a long-shot, the best thing about the film. If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you know the big ‘surprise.’ If you haven’t, skip this paragraph, as it’s about to give a part of the film away. Wright is a tortured soul. In the opening few minutes of the film, set in 2003, Wright is executed for the murder of his brother and two cops. His body is donated to Cyberdyne Systems. He wakes up fifteen years later and is pretty confused. He hooks up with Kyle Reese (played by Anton Yelchin doing a pretty nifty imitation of Michael Biehn’s Terminator performance) and when Reese is taken, he does all in his power to get him back. When he is revealed as a terminator, Worthington is pretty damn convincing. He’s torn apart by the crime he committed but also by being a monster. This is his film, not John Connor’s. It’s Marcus Wright’s redemption and he carries the film very well.



They are the strong points, but they’re not without problems. And this film has many problems. Primarily the biggest problem is the sense of urgency. There is none. Terminator and it’s sequel kept you on the edge of your seat. They were incredibly tense films with a real sense that if the heroes fail, we’re all doomed. While they’re films that deal with a small story (despite the huge ramifications if things go wrong) they never let you feel like things were easy. The huge problem with Salvation is, you just find yourself thinking ‘so what?’ You’re left feeling that if things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. And this isn’t just a problem with McG’s direction. It’s also down to the fact that in a world that’s close to being overrun by Skynet, there is very little Skynet presence. The T-600s (the precursors to the iconic T-800s) seem to wander about in single figures, making them very easy to deal with. You get the sense that Skynet really isn’t trying to wipe the humans out. Once Skynet reveals it’s evil plan, it becomes very clear that the AI really isn’t very smart. And where they had countless opportunities to win the war, they just didn’t bother because it that way wouldn’t be elaborate enough. Skynet is like a clich├ęd Bond villain that won’t just shoot Bond in the head. It insists on a long, drawn-out, elaborate execution plan that does little but provide the heroes with an easy way to escape. It’s bad, lazy, and sloppy writing.


Speaking of bad and sloppy, the editing in the film is terrible. Editing itself is an art form. The audience has watched countless films. It has developed a keen sense of timing. And therefore, bad editing, bad camera-work, bad direction stand out. Even if some members of the audience cannot explain why. It’s just something we’ve become accustomed to. And Terminator Salvation is full of these problems. Scenes are jarringly cut, you feel like sections have been left on the editing room floor, screwing with the logical progression of an idea or sequence and some scenes even feel like they’re thrown in for no reason while some ideas aren’t developed enough. I know there were script problems with the film (a problem that doesn’t seem to have been resolved). And the film definitely feels like it has been cut to make it a PG-13 film. But to castrate a film just for the sake of money is a really sad reflection of the state of the industry. I’m not saying the film would have been better had there been more “fucks”, a tit or two and some splatter effects. But if you are going to cut parts of the film out, it would help things greatly if scenes were tidied up a lot more.

Another glaringly obvious indication that the script and direction are all over the place is Christian Bale’s performance. In one spectacularly badly edited sequence, Connor is imploring the resistance around the world not to attack Skynet until he gives the order. He spreads his message over the radio. At one moment, he speaks with gravitas, utilising the Dark Knight growl. In the next cut, Connor seems to be panic-stricken almost screaming his words through the radio. It’s a small example of the sloppy nature of the entire film. I like Bale. I think he’s a great actor. But he has very little to do in the film other than being pissed off with the whole situation. It’s a very one-dimensional performance and is eclipsed by a far better Sam Worthington.



There are a whole laundry list of problems with Terminator Salvation. At times you feel like McG just made a list of really cool shots and moments from films such as Blade Runner, Lord of the Rings, Black Hawk Down, Apocalypse Now, the previous Terminator films, Minority Report, The Matrix, and a whole load of other films, wrote a Terminator story to tie them all together and then shot a film. It’s a really derivative and poorly-executed film. Like I said, there are some cool moments. And the first 50 minutes work pretty well. But they worked pretty well in other films before this one.
Terrible direction and sloppy editing (surprisingly, from the editor of Terminator 2) and a distinct lack of urgency let Terminator Salvation badly down. It’s more of a Terminator film than Rise of the Machines, that’s for sure. But it is leagues away from James Cameron’s films.


4/10