Thursday, June 30, 2011

10 Best Things of June 2011

1-2. Gay marriage legal in NY

Now, if only my fatcat congressmen voted on the MMA bill, I would have been very happy this month.

3. Game of Thrones, "Baelor"

Truly shocking, highly entertaining pen-ultimate episode. One of those moments where you witness great television.

4. Alamo Drafthouse's PSA on talking during the movies

This viral video produced by the great minds behind the Alamo Drafthouse reminded everyone to shut the hell up.

5. UFC Live: Kongo vs. Barry

Two great knockouts and an underdog story that made the night. Matt Mitrione's classy stroll after blasting Morecraft was awesome.

6. HBO Documentaries

Rewatch Bobby Fisher's downward spiral over again.

7. Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class

Stole the show from everyone and everything in the superhero revamp. Not even the Wolverine cameo could match him. Well, almost.

8. The immense scorn of Duke Nukem: Forever

The absolute best display of the horrors of the 14 year-in-the-making game was Far From Subtle's four hour live show where the enthusiasm and joy was draining out of the crew.

9. Super 8

Very mint, indeed.

10. Power Rangers comes to Netflix

Now I can enjoy the Green Ranger Saga again when not groaning at the bad comedy of a talking robot and the outdated clothing attires everyone wears.

My Tops of 2011 - June

Halfway point of the year and yet again I have great films beating out the worst. Kinda odd considering all of the crap this summer has given out.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was a nice twist on the superhero genre and a great showcase for Michael Fassbender.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was a Woody Allen film. Nothing bad but nothing grand for me.

GREEN LANTERN was disastrous, almost making the worst list if not for the actors.

CARS 2 was a product for products, not a movie.

SUPER 8 sapped into 80's nostalgia and had a more interesting coming of age tale than a monster amuck flick.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON was surprisingly enjoyable for an action fix but the humans and their insufferable comedy had another encore performance.

Best Films of 2011

1. Bridesmaids

2. Rango

3. Source Code

4. Super 8

5. X-Men: First Class

6. The Green Hornet

7. Paul

8. Thor

Worst Films of 2011

1. Battle: Los Angeles

2. Atlas Shrugged

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

4. Scream 4

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Review

I seriously must be displaced into Bizarro World or the Twilight Zone. I have dubbed this film season to be a summer of disappointment, where the few gems are outweighed by several colossal failures. I've seen pirates, kung fu animals, wolf packs, space cops, and talking cars all unable to rise beyond being stupid and boring. And now we come to Michael Bay and the continuation of his "Bayformers", a franchise that has produced a lot of scorn and loathing due to its awfulness and its racist and sexist attitudes. Well for one of the few times imaginable, everybody wins. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is shockingly an entertaining action exploitation sequel where past critical and public opinion is implemented to fix some of its major problems.

Now don't expect everything to work out because the plot is still plot hole filled and dumber than a bag of hammers. If you saw any of the early trailers for the film then you've seen all of the important moments of the prologue. Bay crafts this overlong opening montage, complete with archival footage, of a Cybertronian ship crashing on the Moon during the Cold War and the political cover-ups of it. This ship carried an important piece of weaponry that would have been a game-changer to the war on Cybertron, so now both the Autobots and Decepticons want it. But it order to use said weapon, they need the revival of its guardian Sentinel Prime, voiced lovingly by Leonard Nimoy. So, in other words, Optimus Prime uses the second film's Macguffin to bring life to another Macguffin for another Macguffin.

This plotline with the Transformers is somewhat interesting, since it heavily involves the main stars and the main reason people watch these films, but of course humans have to be involved as well. Yet again, Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger subjects the audience to the misadventures of Sam Witwicky. The creators thought it would be funny and topical to have Sam now unable to get a job in our current era and how his parents smugly rag on his failures. This is just very offensive to viewers like myself; Using an easy tactic for audience sympathy and the fact that the U.S. government has Sam off the grid despite saving the world twice is insultingly dumb. But the human incompetence continues during the vastly pointless first hour of this two and a half hour film. An entire subplot involving the assassinations of several space officials and the rise of Decepticon sleeper agents ultimately doesn't matter besides raising the body count. Frances McDormand is brought in to play the newest political bigwig who, along with the world's top leaders, makes big inane decisions on how to handle the Transformers war simply to further the plot. Bay and Kruger's humor also sadly returns with multiple gay panic jokes, "wacky" slapstick, and a mind-numbingly atrocious scene involving Sam and some security guards.

However, once the war heads to Chicago, everything is muted considerably. The characters nobody likes vanish completely and the comedy is vastly subtracted. You get to experience a heavily grim tonal shift with the Decepticons ruling over Chi-Town while committing a human genocide. This leads to all-out mindless fun and an epic third act as the Autobots and the U.S. military bring the pain to prevent the Decepticons' master plan from being completed. This is the true reason to see the film as the action choreography and visual effects work beautifully together for many memorable moments, most notable being a sequence in a collapsing building. Sure the final and important part of the Decepticons' plan would scientifically be a dumb thing to do but you'll be busy being distracted yet exhausted by explosions and gunfights that will give you shivers.

The entertaining finale can't cover up all the gaping holes of Bay's tapestry of action. The majority of the robots are still hard to distinguish and some of them, especially an Autobot named Que, are frighteningly ugly to behold. The early battle scenes are blurry to watch and are ripped-off from the previous films, i.e. yet another firefight on a highway. Michael Bay also made sure to bring his infamous portrayals of women as hand-holders for men or sexualized centerpieces. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces the departing Megan Fox as Sam's new love interest, though the character is clearly written for Fox's character, and is wooden as expected. The love story with her and Sam is more superfluous and extraneous than the previous film's "I love you" plot.

The creators did at least try and succeed with solving some of previous franchise problems with some acting and character decisions. McDormand, though forced to do idiotic things, is a true pleasure as a clearly created powerful woman. Her only job seems to make wisecracks and belittle Sam constantly so of course she's a great delight to have. I also enjoyed John Malkovich as a Steve Jobs parody who's more interested in the visual layouts of his offices than his products. Props also to Partrick Dempsey as the smooth operating boss of Whiteley and the expansion of Tyrese Gibson's character as a make-shift but courageous leader of human resistance. Also, no appearance of the Racist Twins and Peter Cullen as Optimus is still the best actor.

I went into this film honestly with no expectations. I though it was going to suck hard at times, which it did considerably, with only a few minor improvements. Instead, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON became a genuine surprise with its depressing melodrama and the impressive action in its last half. If you go into it only for popcorn thrills and a bad plot, then you'll receive a nice guilty pleasure.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Super 8 - Review

SUPER 8 is far more fascinating as a coming of age tale and a nostalgia piece than as a monster amuck film. The suspenseful scenes of the alien attacks are well-crafted and exciting but I didn't really fear for the lives of our pre-teen heroes. That doesn't mean that writer-director J.J. Abrams has them off the hook. Several big action sequences has the motley crew almost being killed constantly by train derailments and a tank battle within the confines of the suburbs. These scenarios fit perfectly since the kids, as well as the adults, are willing do reckless and dangerous things as a release from all of the family pain and suffering that has been afflicted on them.

Joe (Joel Courtney) is working on his best friend Charles' z-grade zombie movie four months after the tragic death of his mother. The summer break is suited to be unlimited time for it but it becomes borrowed time due to his stubborn and still suffering father (Kyle Chandler). One curfew-breaking night has Joe, Charles and other friends filming an easy melodramatic scene at a train station. Along for the film ride, but also illegally driving them to and from, is Alice (Elle Fanning), Joe's crush and the daughter of the man socially blamed for his mother's death. A "mint" opportunity to have a train go by while the actors perform proves to be disastrous once it derails. With this destruction comes more destructive entities, as both the U.S. Air Force and something that broke loose begin to haunt inside Joe's town and their Super 8 film cameras.

Though invested in making popcorn fuel, J.J. Abrams explores how film, whether in moving pictures or still shots, has become our keeper of memories and how it consumes us from letting the past go. Joe constantly tortures himself by holding on to his mother's locket and repeatedly watching old home movies. Only by sharing his feelings with his equal Alice and confronting his anger with his dad is he able to draw out the brave and caring leader in himself. But Abrams also wisely showcases the joie de vivre of filmmaking with the character of Charles. The young and stubborn auteur wants everything to be "mint" and when given some cinema verite, such as when some military personnel take evidence out of a house, he has everyone get dressed up and read his new lines about how Vietnam was hard for a pint-sized kid in the army. The real treat comes at the ending credits, where we are treated to the entire film, bad splices and synches in all.

The script isn't perfect and sadly seems cookie cutter at times. The Air Force is one-dimensionally evil but dumb enough not to pick up on the Super 8 film trail. They also make giant leaps in thinking when the direction calls for it, such as their takeover of the school. Also, similar to the Abrams' produced film CLOVERFIELD, the alien creature is horrifying but once you totally see it becomes kinda laughable. However, the real laughs come from Abrams wanting to humanize the alien even after he kills and eats several side characters. When he isn't seemingly strip-mining elements of E.T. and THE GOONIES, Abrams makes the real stupid decisions for the deflating third act, which is clearly very rushed and has one important character captured for its entirety.

Despite these harsh sentiments, I did very much enjoyed the expertise of the film. Abrams and cinematographer Larry Fong have perfect framing and mise en scene when they are not being distracted by annoying lens flares. All of the child actors handle the heavy burden of playing real kids, swearing and insults galore, to great results. Joel Courtney is a well-suited boy hero who is able to bring forth the deep pains of his character. I was also particularly fawned of Elle Fanning, who makes Alice to look tough and world-weary beyond her years. She subtly captures the burden of being a "murderer's" offspring and has great chemistry with Courtney, most notable in a comical and heartwarming scene involving how to act like a zombie. The adult actors, from Chandler to his nemeses Ron Eldard and Noah Emmerich, handle their parts well for the melodramatic and action moments. Major regards are also in order to the sound design crew for making the ring of a gas dispenser sound creepy and all of explosions sound really good.

SUPER 8 is magnificent as an alien and family disaster film. It is a nice little sci-fi fable with the nostalgia goggles glued tightly on. The musical cues, the Daisy Dukes and the running gag of a lost handheld electronic football all come together to make a thrilling experience. Abrams may have exploited a lot to make it but that doesn't mean it can't fully work. I believe with time, I will embrace it more as one of the true standouts of 2011.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cars 2 - Review

I can picture it all in my head: John Lasseter, high on the euphoria of bringing total satisfaction to every single person alive either with joy or money, just suddenly snapped. He runs up and down the corridors of Pixar before tackling his future co-writer and director Brad Lewis. He screams out, "It's time! It's time! It's Mater's time!!" And thus, the streak is over.

Very eerily similar to the main failure of the recent PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film, CARS 2 makes the foolhardy decision of placing the comic relief character upfront as the new headliner. Never mind that the character already had a televised series of animated shorts that mined the rest of his persona and he doesn't work as an audience surrogate, Lasseter wanted this film to be all about the Mater. This final verdict is depressingly sad since CARS 2 is certainly the worst Pixar output ever released.

I did actually really enjoyed CARS, both for its simplicity in story and its visually interesting animated environments. CARS 2 is bigger but not better with its many bloated and stupid plotlines and a very harsh ending moral. Former main protagonist Lightning McQueen, now a four-time Piston Cup champion, embarks on a series of races around the world in order to showcase a former Big Oil tycoon's newly created alternative fuel. Now say sayonara to this story after its inception because it moves to the back-burner for Mater's spy games and car scatological humor. The previously cute sidekick is mistaken for an American spy and becomes tangled up with an international crime plot to smear the image of the new fuel and further raise the power of Big Oil. This wannabe topical issue is obviously hard to take seriously for adults when your star is fart-friendly and a huge Ugly American.

Mater's demeaning attitude to world culture throughout the film leads to the biggest error in judgment in that, according to Lasseter and his fellow screenwriters' main moral, it is very okay for someone to be ethnocentric and be proud to be an Ugly American. This message is a more nihilistic state of affairs than the world of WALL-E. It also doesn't help that that the art directors chose the obvious and easy stereotypes of the cultures of Japan (sumo, wasabi), Italy (food, love), and England (the Queen) to cement into children's minds. Of course, when these same directors aren't cementing the idea to buy the new toys spun from this feature film.

Finally, there is the weird aspects of the film. For a G rated flick, it certainly has some gory and violent moments for something that is very childish. When you remind yourself that the car characters are sentient beings, the scenes involving forced spontaneous combustion and a plunge off an oil rig are fairly graphic. But the most peculiar is the entire incused subplot of McQueen and Mater's power of friendship that practically has them ready to make out with each other's fenders. CARS 2 is really the most homoerotic film involving vehicles I've seen since David Cronenberg's CRASH. This may sound insane but look closely at the diminished female roles, the many scenes of them angsting over an early fallout, and the entire closing credits where the two buddies travel the globe together while Brad Paisley sings about how Mater's is only the fool for McQueen.

So, what saves the film from being totalled completely? A couple of good voice performances, mainly Michael Caine and a cameoing Bruce Campbell, the vibrant animation and some well-choreographed action sequences. Oh, and there's the animated short before the screening with the TOY STORY characters that actually brought the laughs and wit needed for the main feature. If Lasseter wanted to continued the CARS franchise, whether to please Disney or his own love in the product, he should have made it for television. That way, this extensive toy commercial can hang out with the real commercials.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Green Lantern - Review

SPIDERMAN, this isn't. GREEN LANTERN is a colossal disappointment for what is supposed to be DC Comics' new second place superhero for the big screen. It is one of those movies where you just wished the actors would just stop the proceedings and go on a staged strike until the crew can get the calamities under control. Anyone can notice the extensive cinematic surgeries done to keep the movie in somewhat stable condition and clear to understand. The film is utterly bankrupt in its creativity when it should be drawing a lot from its massive comic-book bank.

Hal Jordan is a young reckless loose cannon pilot who is dangerous and doesn't play by the rules of engagement. He tries to hide his childhood trauma of losing his dad by constantly posing as a smug, fearless jerk who is willing to walk away whenever he feels like it. However, his internal warmth and willpower causes him to be chosen by a dying purple alien and his power ring to become the next Green Lantern, a space cop and protector of Sector 2814 (a.k.a. The Milky Way Galaxy). His first assignment: to stop a mammoth entity of fear known as Parallax from conquering the universe.

See the description above? That's how easy this film should have been to show and tell. Instead, director Martin Campbell and his four writers blunder every opportunity of coherency to insert pointless characters and complicated storylines. There's this whole other plot involving a recluse scientist and government cover-ups that is only added to make comic book fans wet in glee but ultimately serves no purpose besides padding. Hell, I love the character of Amanda "The Wall" Waller and really enjoyed Angela Bassett's portrayal, but what does learning about her past matter to the audience when she only has four scenes? Then there's all the scenes on the hollow and lifeless Oa, the head planet of the Green Lantern Corps, that just adds more plot dumping and speeches, speeches, and more speeches. But it has cameos of other Lanterns, so it must be good right?

Stuart Baird's editing should be a new example of how not to edit or save a film in distress. Scenes often seem to end prematurely or inserted at random. Be ready to see multiple shots of Hal worrying and looking at his ring. There's also the big problem of spoiling Oa, the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians early on instead of starting with the material on Earth before making the quantum leap into space drama. Baird even failed to do the cliffhanging stinger right, putting it after a couple of credits instead of the very end. Not even the extensive CGI effects can cover up the scars. For all of the money into the making of a CG Lantern suit and the alien Lanterns, it seems that it wasn't spread around to the other departments as some shots suffer greatly with horrible special effects. A floating syringe, robotic arms in a lab, and anything involving electricity are the clearest examples. As for the big bad Parallax, instead of being an intergalactic space bug (Comics everyone!), he goofily looks like the Shang Tsung version of THE BLOB.

The only saving grace is the overall cast, which is shockingly very effective. Ryan Reynolds gets his biggest Hollywood chance as Hal and does well with some nice charm to the role. Blake Lively fits as love interest Carol Ferris, bringing a suited tomboyish quality to her. The supporting cast delivers greatly, with the ham-meister Peter Sarsgaard as the scuzzy Hector Hammond and Mark Strong as Sinestro being the standouts. When these people are given some good moments, such as a bar talk and a meta-play on secret identities, they make you feel enthralled. However, the script is unable to properly work right, with all of its plot holes and lack of payoffs.

Like the now infamous Batman film dilemma during the mid-90's, you should stay home a watch the animated film version of the Green Lantern mythos instead of this theatrical attempt. GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT was able to balance out the fun and dark material and focus only on the space storyline to become an entertaining epic movie. This mass of confusion can't handle anything right unless you are an actor or product placement. Now please excuse me while I go get a five dollar footlong at Subway while staring intently at my Verizon LG phone.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris - Review

I finally reached a huge milestone in my cinematic adventures at the movie theaters. I finally sat down and saw a Woody Allen film on the big screen. This is only the first major stop for myself on a pretentious filmmaker express, as next week will have the train come to rest with the local release of Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE. Oh, what sweet shallowness and superficiality to behold.

I don't mean to be too harsh on these two acclaimed filmmakers, emphasis on the too, but I feel that the sheer artistic boredom and lack of freshness from their recent affairs in film have heavily jaded my senses. My disdain is pure scorched earth. So I tried to break apart this intense loathing I have and decided to check out the newest and most critically praised of Woody Allen's current films. Sadly, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a repeated affair of Woody-isms, Woody plot structure, and Woody's love of everything pre-rock and roll.

Owen Wilson is Gil Pender, a "popular" film screenwriter who goes on a vacation to Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and his future in-laws. Instead of fighting and arguing with his companions' shrewish and pedantic lifestyle, Gil just auto-pilots through life and constantly nerds completely out with his love of Paris' rich history. He then stumbles into a form of time travel, able to travel back to the 1920's once the clocks hit midnight and a car stops for him to hop in. Once there, he embarks in many conversations with the noted elite of "The Lost Generation" and falls for the "artist groupie" Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

This plot sounds and is cute, but cuteness is only skin-deep. Gil's time paradoxes and multiple mental notes for the artists, such as suggesting to Luis Bunuel the premise of THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, are the only jokes Allen really has going for him. This transforms the film into simply being a popular quiz game for English majors and a day off from work for English teachers. The entire film isn't completely objectionable; Allen knows how to probably block and direct his actors into giving good performances. Cotillard, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, and a hammy Adrian Brody as Salvador Dali are all fine and interesting. The cinematography is also acceptable despite it often being tourist-friendly, most notably in the opening "music video" of Paris.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is simply just a satisfactory film that would have entertained myself more if I actually really cared about the magical time in 1920's Paris. Also being an exact and predictable copy of all of Allen's previous film ideas, complete with Cole Porter tunes, didn't help in its favor either. I too often wondered and wished to walk around a certain period of time, i.e. the life and times of the "New Hollywood" regime. However, I always quickly realize that life wasn't always perfect back then and nostalgia is more of a hindrance than a help.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

X-Men: First Class - Review

One of the greatest misfortunes to come from the imaginative minds of writers is the origin story. The origin story is destructive and poisonous when it is produced nowadays. Instead of just showing and telling the introductory text of a newly created character in a simple manner at the top of the story, many wannabe fresh writers or money-grubbing, heavily-editing producers want it later. After all, why relate and enjoy the growth of someone when you can see how badass they are now. Of course, the other newly popular origin method is to look back at the past of a popular character and create it, revisit it, revise it, and/or make a new canonical origin. Plot holes and a new wave of unpopularity be damned.

A theatrical showing of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a giant question mark for viewers. After a mediocre finale for the original trilogy and a previous origin film that was a humongous disaster, many would choose to avoid another helping of the popular superhero group when all of attention and production is focused on the next Marvel group, the Avengers. Despite a high pedigree in its cast and crew, can the general public's fear and dread be dissipated away from this new origin product? Why yes, yes it can because X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a darkly satisfying film that might be the top superhero film of the summer outputs.

Instead of focusing strictly only on the mutant relationships and expected story developments in the foreground, Matthew Vaughn lustily looks to the background, the complex social tone and rich color of the 1960's, and wraps it all around the plot and characters for some much needed allure. Sure, it may be deemed too campy at times for some but that's when Vaughn and his writers make sure to include harsh violence and black humor. The film is more of a spy film than a superhero flick, complete with a leading James Bond figure, global politics, and a major villain who relishes his id. The mutant powers are simply the gadgets, designed for specific and timely purposes, while the real conflict is settled with mind games, fist fights, and heavy weaponry.

The film chronicles the first formation of the X-Men and the friendship and later breakup between the future Professor X and Magneto but it is mostly Magneto's, a.k.a. Erik Lehnsherr, own personal movie. We see what further happened to him in his childhood past in a concentration camp, previously mentioned in X-MEN. There, he becomes the "student"/test subject for a Nazi doctor who studies mutant powers. The young kid later grows up, played by Michael Fassbender, and embarks on a personal mission to kill former and now hiding Nazis to find the location of the doctor. When he eventually finds him, newly dubbed as Sebastian Shaw and played by Kevin Bacon, he fails at his assassination attempt only to team up Charles Xavier and the CIA. They want to stop Shaw's master plan of escalating the Cold War in an attempt for mutants, which Shaw reveals later to be one as well, to become the new rulers of the global political stage.

When you look at the acting, you look solely at three actors: Fassbender, Bacon, and Jennifer Lawrence. They are given the most material and pay it all back and then some. Fassbender, in his most striking American film role, creates a truly human portrayal of a man consumed by his guilt and violent instincts. Bacon continues his patented scenery-chewing even when he viciously kills someone without a show of remorse. Lawrence, who plays Raven a.k.a. Mystique, has the most diffcult task as the central character for the mutant debate and is able to handle it with a real range of emotions. Her only fault is due to the makers, as her powers as a shapeshifter aren't used more often considering the film is all about spy games and deception. James McAvoy does a good job as Xavier, bringing in his noted superdickery and smugness, and Rosa Bryne is well as Moira MacTaggert. The lone elephant in the room is January Jones, whose flat facials and boring line reading causes the viewer to question the powers of her character Emma Frost. Is she supposed to be a telepath or someone who creates charisma black holes?

The story has some great drama and comedic parts but the major theme of mutant tolerance is very misguided. The film very much agrees with Magneto's viewpoint of the world fearing and hating mutants for not being "normal". Xavier's opinion of equal rights is muted thanks to a lack of the superheroes using their powers for public good and his own egotistic and sexual nature. But the debate isn't able to totally work due to the laughable portrayal of mutant racism. It comes off very forced and unbelievable, completely unlike the famous Iceman scene in X2: X-MEN UNITED. The script also greatly fails in one important scene where the new mutant recruits, all of whom receive little characterization, lose two members due to a sudden heel turn and a death with no emotion weight for the viewer.

Despite these misguided points, the overall film is highly entertaining when its light-hearted and dark, cheesy and serious. The action sequences are well-choreographed even with some problematic special effects. As stated before, the violence is really shocking for a PG-13 film, even with little blood and two especially brutal and gory moments. This humor and horror structure greatly works thanks to Vaughn's direction, which can also be seen better in last year's KICK-ASS, John Matheison's cinematography, and the exceptional editing of Eddie Hamilton and Lee Smith.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is able to overcome its big problems to become another shining example of a good superhero film. It brings tongue-in-cheek comic book humor, 60's chic, and human pathos all together and keep it entirely stable throughout its slightly long running time. If it can have a scene with an undercover woman dressed solely in lingerie without raising an objection, then you know that it works. Also, the big cameo is absolutely fantastic and there is no stinger.