Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson - RIP

Like every kid growing up in the the 80's and the 90's, I was a big fan of the King of Pop. I still am today. The man made me love both music and dancing. My friends have often given me a theme song, either as a solo dance at a party or as a ringtone. They have always been songs from Michael Jackson.

My first official album was Jackson's heavily hyped Dangerous. I may have listened to "Black or White" too many times before actually listening to the rest of the tracks. His Captain EO movie ride was a highlight for me at my first visit to Disney World. Thriller was the first vinyl record I listened to. The music video of the title track both amazed and really scared me. The MOONWALKER film was very pretentious, but it had some of the best animations and music videos ever directed....

I could go on. He had his problems, but he still had the presence of a musical and social god.
Rest in Peace, MJ.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Review

This was not the action-packed sequel to TRANSFORMERS. This was a comedy film. A comedy film so riddled with stupid humor and offensive caricatures that the makers realized in post-production that it wasn't funny so they decided to put a few action scenes in. TRANSFORMERS was very dumb, like all of Michael Bay's films, but it had a fun atmosphere, some awe-inspired visual effects, a great finale, and the subtle guidance and supervision of executive producer Steven Spielberg. TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN very nearly destroys everything set by its predecessor and may harm the future of the franchise. After viewing it, you will realize you saw no advancement of any kind and simply saw a generic episode of the television series except stretched for two and a half hours.

Two years after the previous film's events, the Autobots have teamed with the U.S. military (why not the U.N.?) to destroy any returning and new Decepticons from harming Earth. A bigwig politician wants to halt the project but you don't need me to tell you what happens to him or this angle. Meanwhile, Sam (Shia LaBeouf) pursues his educational future at college while maintaining a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox). Before leaving his house, he comes into contact with a chip of the first film's MacGuffin and starts mentally wrestling with Cybertronian symbols. The Decepticons want this information in Sam's head while the Autobots want to protect him and humankind. This now living MacGuffin then leads to another MacGuffin that can either give life or take it. That's right, there is two MacGuffins in one film. Has is that possible?

Have you also noticed something? This film is an odd palindrome and a carbon copy to the first film. It starts off with a robot battle in a crowded city and ends in the deserts of Africa. Both the humans and robots are going after MacGuffins all while the military intervene and debates supporting this dilemma. Bay and his three(!) writers didn't try making a different entity. There is some new story ideas that are interesting to pursue. The politician has a monologue of exposition that proves to be disastrous since the Decepticons are listening in on it. Also at one point, the Decepticons have an all-out attack on the Earth and broadcast that they will continue until Sam is brought to them. What could have a been an interesting idea by having Sam debate his purpose and causing his friends and family to be in danger while avoiding angry citizens is then quickly dropped and not elaborated on. New characterization is avoided for more ball and scrotum jokes.

There is way too many male genitalia jokes. They get hit, smashed, punched, groped, and tasered. Even a giant Decepticon has one for a throwaway joke. When it isn't that, there is regular sex jokes. Characters and moments do the usual "car=sex" metaphors or simply have repeated shots of things humping. Crap like this really annoy me and question why for their inclusions. But what strongly unnerves me is the rest of the humor: embarrassment humor. Like in the first, Sam is put in situations where we laugh at his misfortunes in public view. This is ramped up more due to his struggles maintaining the symbols flowing through his head.

And then, there is Mudflaps and Skids. These two robots are unbelievably awful for being in the film. There are new Autobots sent to Earth to help the cause but they do nothing but argue with each other and swear constantly. There is no need for swearing, but Bay really wanted it and it always come from them. What's worst is that they are both caricatures of African Americans. One even has a gold tooth (WHY?!). Their humor was so unfunny that the six kids in front of me didn't laugh once. This Anti-Black humor is further illustrated when we see an African American with really fake but bad teeth working in a deli.

But what drove me nuts is the film's stance against women. Their is misogynism and their is being Lars Von Trier. Michael Bay has had a problem with the depictions of women; they always appear as supporters for men then individual fighters. Sometimes he changes for the better, such as in the first film with Fox and the female hacker. But TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN is the worst. Fox's character hardly does a lot like in the first and is more of a hand-holder for Sam. Mikaela also has scenes where she lays in stupidly sexy poses or strip during important robot/human bonding scenes. Also, you have Sam's mother who does nothing except to be dumb and has rapid mood swings. A bit where she ingests pot brownies and goes crazy on campus drove me to look away. This hatred comes to a head with the existence of a college female student who goes after Sam and is a double for Mikaela. She ends up being a Decepticon with a long tongue and a tail that gives a upskirt shot for the audience. Real classy, Bay.

As for acting, again, it gravities more toward comedy than drama. LeBouf and Fox are still fine with their performances. I have to say I'm sorry to Fox, since I have been annoyed with her constant presence over her beauty instead of acting. She showed better promise and abilities then her previous films. Josh Duhamel and Tryese Gibson hardly have any scenes, so they can't be judged. Ramon Rodriguez, who plays Sam's new and unwanted college buddy, annoys everyone and strictly plays stupid and vapid all the time. But of course, the best overall acting again goes to Peter Cullen and the rest of the Transformers. Their voice acting hammers down the action and make the giant robots look cool and not just giant toys.

Well, it has been this long, and now I touch on the Transformers themselves. Since the film wants comedy not action, all of the Transformers get little to none screen time except for Optimus Prime, Megatron, and the Fallen. More on the Fallen later. All of the Autobots introduced earlier spend time in the background of shots and fights. Even Bumblebee gets less time instead of being Sam's partner and friend. Like Skids and Mudflaps, some new Autobots are brought in but get no time either. Did you know fan-favorite Arcee is in it? Did you know there's three of her? Well, she gets only three scenes and two lines of dialogue. If Bay wanted comedy, why didn't he get Blur in as well? For the Decepticons, Soundwave (the great Frank Welker) is brought in and barks more orders than Megatron but only exists as a surveillance bot. Fan-favorite Devastator, a ultra-giant robot of various construction vehicles, isn't very menacing when he should be thanks to Bay's direction. The legendary relationship Megatron and Starscream is brought up several times and both get more to do than the first film.

But now, let's get to the Fallen. The Fallen is the titled villain and is supposed to be the biggest threat. Megatron, the first film's major villain and more evil of the two, is instead regulated to being the servant of him. He even has Tony Todd as his voice. But let me make this clear:

The Fallen is one of the worst villains I ever seen in a major picture or sequel.

He does nothing and isn't threatening. He is in only five scenes. FIVE SCENES! In two of them, he is sitting down, like the Emperor in the STAR WARS films but has none of the charisma or presence. Not even the pointless prologue where he fights hunters and gatherers in the B.C. age is he shown as a menace. "The Decepticons" should have replaced his name in the title, since they actually do things and defeat their opponents.

I could go on other things, such as the still disbelief that people don't see these robots especially with YouTube around or the return of the annoying small Decepticons, but I'm done. I went through this film with so much hatred for what? A few good moments and entertaining battles with Optimus Prime being Optimus Prime? Hopefully, Bay is taken away from the eventual sequel and some good can come next.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rifftrax: Night of the Living Dead - Review

I have not partaken in any kind of Rifftrax. This has always been a peculiar problem for myself. It isn't because of commerce or taste. I believe it has more to due with my ongoing beliefs of digital and real ownership. I would rather have a comedic commentary track inputed in the encoding of a DVD rather buying two separate items and and play "synch tag" to work.

Rifftrax is the latest side project from some of the cast and crew of the cult 90's television series, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). It has the same principle of the show, a group of people lambasting comically at films, but it exists as a mp3 file instead of a chrome-keyed visual as a way to bypass copyright laws. The crew also changed the variety of their targets, going after films that are popular with the public and/or actually very well-made films such as CASABLANCA. Recently, the company and Legend Films released a bunch of DVDs with the commentary tracks attached but only for films that are publicly domain.

RIFFTRAX: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wasn't the one I wanted to buy. I was eyeing their educational shorts collection (which the MST3K crew were always great with) and MISSILE TO THE MOON with special guest Fred Willard. However, due to my local Best Buy, this was the only one available at the time.

I had some reservations about the selected film. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a horror classic filled with political and social issues of the 1960s. Also, Mike Nelson, the head of Rifftrax and the 2nd host of MST3K, did a solo track on a previous release by Legend Films and it wasn't well received even by the MST3K fans. Some earlier reviewers have unhappily stated that some of Nelson's jokes are re-used here. I didn't see this version but it makes me wonder about getting their REEFER MADNESS DVD since I own and heard Nelson's take on it.

The DVD starts off deader(?) than any of the film's "ghouls." The trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow) have nothing but lame observational quips for the opening moments in the cemetery. While a few are smile-worthy, the jokes caused me to question the writing of their script. Were these lame to entice new and curious viewers? If I was an average viewer, I would have turned off the DVD.

As soon as the second protagonist is introduced and the constant shots of barricading windows, the commentary gets more lively and witty. Their debates on the odd placement of sound effects, generic characterization, and continuity errors certain deserve a laugh. Popular culture comes into play as well with funny riffs on the animated disaster DELGO and Bill singing a familiar television show when the traumatized female lead keeps repeating its signature name.

To make a truly awful joke about this DVD, it rises from the dead to bring some of the old glory of MST3K back in the spotlight. After the awful first third, the comedic take on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD becomes spot-on and a joy to listen to.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Tokyo Gore Police - Review

During a battle between a woman with a serpent-like left hand and a hunchbacked doctor with a cannon that fires severed hands, a line is spoken. The doctor says, "I am disappointed and I am happy." These are the types of movie lines that critics such as myself crave. It sums up the frustration or joy experiencing with celluloid.

TOKYO GORE POLICE is simply a makeup effects film for gore fanatics. It relishes in the ultraviolence of human bodies and the grotesque modifications of them. There is some joy in this fact but director Yoshihiro Nishimura's exploration further into the film with a lame script hinders its configuration.

The plot is an invisible entity that only re-exists when every they tap out of violent B-roll footage. Ruka (Eihi Shiina) is a officer for the newly privatized police force specially designed to take out "engineers", homicidal human beings with mutated appendages. As part of the newly privatized police force in Japan, she kills the altered citizens of Tokyo while following her personal vendetta against the assassin who murdered her father. Both come to head with the when she meets up with the Keyman, a serial killer and creator of the "engineers."

Story shouldn't have to have too much importance for this film but it needs to due to the tone. TOKYO GORE POLICE wants to be a Verhoeven satire, a surrealistic gory fantasy, and a human tragedy at the same time. The scenes of the latter causes the viewer to question its placement and the hypocritical messages. There's a montage sequence where people are being slaughtered in over-the-top manners to make you laugh along, and then suddenly Ruka is crying over this fact and sad music plays. Essentially, Nishimura hands you out a hot fudge sundae only to spit in it after a couple of mouth fulls.

Ruka also is an annoying problem. She is a bare-bones copy of a popular female character type in independent Japanese films and anime. With a wink toward The A.V. Club's "Maniac Pixie Dream Girl", I have dubbed this type as the Existential Brood Girl. The word "Lonely" was going to be added, but the term is already redundant as it is. Ruka has all of the same mannerisms as the Existential Brood Girl: beautiful yet anti-social, self-inflicting and suicidal in physical altercations, and can't get over family problems and deaths. The Existential Brood Girl is always a problem as a main character but Ruka is so underdeveloped and generic that there is no want to cheer or root. Even the film breaks off from her to go to more violent and disturbing events to keep the tempo going.

Despite these problems with the overall script, including its obvious plot twists and direction, the film at least displays a mastery of makeup and special effects by Nishimura. It achieves a NAKED LUNCH like status of hallucinatory distortions and nearly perfect reproductions of the human body. The Keyman is placed as an important part of this equation, due to the abilities of his "keys." These can create "locks" on selected individuals that rip open the flesh when open. Another small part of the film has him exsanguinate the undesirables and contort their bodies into cardboard boxes. These effects are made surprisingly frightening and disturbing and help make the antagonist much more threatening.

While the gore in the film works effectively, thus living up to its placement in the title, the abundance of blood hurts the violence experience. When human parts starts flying and falling off, long sprays of blood obviously come out in a reminiscence of old samurai films. The problem is that it hits the camera frame a lot. This constant awareness and overflow ruins the impact of scenes where it is part of the act, such as when a driver wipes the piles of blood off his windshield. It also doesn't help that the blood is very watery instead of the Kensington Gore variety.

While my analysis leads more towards the negatives, TOKYO GORE POLICE is an okay film for those looking for blood and guts. It doesn't have the great overall charm of other gory comedy films such as DEAD ALIVE/BRAINDEAD, but is fine for what it is. Just make sure to shut off and unplug the cords to your brain.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mitsuharu Misawa RIP

Mitsuharu Misawa was a living legend and a hated old timer. He could make fans cheer his name and earn the scorn of Internet wrestling fans (a.k.a. IWC). His decisions within his wrestling company, Pro Wrestling NOAH, could help the house show attendance but annoy the followers overseas.

I was one of the detractors but I had respect for the man. He could still go further than some other wrestling legends at his age and created a company that put a spotlight on future stars and wrestlers.

My first match featuring him was a tag team classic during his AJPW days. I was getting further into puroresu (Japanese professional wrestling) and his name kept popping up. This interest in him expanded when I played as him in the Fire Pro Wrestling games on the Game Boy Advance. After this match, I followed his company NOAH and the beginnings and future career. He had "it".

With his sudden death, all of Misawa's recent accomplishments are being seen in a new light. His year-long title reign and Tag Team Tournament win now feel like something for the good for puroresu fans rather than an ego-stroked business decision. It also creates an uncertain future for his company after experiencing a year of troubles and diminished business.

I miss him and wish I could see him perform in person.
Misawa's spirit will continue in the puroresu scene and follow all of his students and friends that lived with him.

Rest in Peace, Misawa Mitsuharu.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Tops of 2009 (so far...)

This is going to be constantly updated and pushed during the entire year.

This post lists my personal favorites of the year and the things that were the best according to me.
(Geez, can that get anymore redundant?)

Top Films of 2009
1. Up
2. The Hurt Locker
3. District 9
4. Away We Go
5. Star Trek
6. Ponyo
7. Zombieland
8. Not Quite Hollywood
9. Moon
10. Avatar
11. Watchmen

Top Video Games of 2009
1. Retro Game Challenge (DS)
2. Beatles: Rock Band (X360)
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (X360)
4. The House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
5. UFC: Undisputed (X360)
6. Punchout! (Wii)
7. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (X360)
8. Wet (X360)
9. Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (X360)

Top Worst Films of 2009
1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

3. The Ugly Truth
4. Land of the Lost
5. The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day
6. The Informers

7. My Life in Ruins
8. 12 Rounds