Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I liked Transformers the first time around. I was eagerly awaiting the sequel, which I was certain to like. With Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg collaborating, this had to be a hit. I can't say I hated this film, but I can say that the talk of a Transformers 3 may be jumping the gun just a bit. Maybe they should have made sure that Revenge of the Fallen was done right before thinking ahead. I'm not against cashing in...but at least make it worth the money.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen feels like a cheap sequel. That is exactly what it is. Mind numbing special effects can not make up for a plot that seems contrived and ill planned. There were some dashes of Hollywood the hot girlfriend catching you in a compromising position with another hottie...only you didn't actually do anything wrong...the timing was just off. This ploy was predictable and poorly executed. It was either filler to add a few minutes to the film or was intended to be a sub-plot that never had time to develop. Whether it was a rushed formulaic idea or filler, it didn't fit. There were other visible shortcuts in the plot as well.

Continuity was another issue I had with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. For a film with exceptional CGI detail, this film overlooked traditionally important real-life details. If you are going to put the female lead in white pants and then have her fighting machines and rolling in the dirt, the pants should remain greasy or dirt stained. The switching back and forth from clean pants to dirty was distracting and ridiculous. Come on. The pants are white. How hard is it to figure out that people are going to notice inconsistencies in the wardrobe. Details like this were missed throughout the film.

The special effects in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen were often phenomenal if not hard to follow. I found the detail to be dizzying at times. The machines were hard to decipher at times, especially during periods of intense action. It seemed like a mechanical blur that could have been done well if I had had time to see. The sound effects were well coordinated with the stunts but were overused. That one deep sub-woofer sound that they kept using to show how good the special effects were didn't work for me. Having said that, the transformation of the machines "on the fly" was amazing to watch." The animated characters were well thought out and intricately detailed. The artistry that went into creating this film was exceptional.

Shia LeBeouf seems to have become a Hollywood staple. He has established himself in several decent films, to include some good action films in recent years. It's not that he is an exceptional actor, but LeBeouf was believable enough as the male lead, Sam Witwicky. I also enjoyed the comic relief provided by his parents, Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (Julie White). They provided the only adult humor that was palatable. There was plenty of crude humor throughout this film. Megan Fox was sizzling hot as Mikaela Banes, Sam's love interest and crime-fighting partner. The two have decent chemistry together and it showed on film. The two are an attractive if not unlikely couple on screen. The acting was okay.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallenattempts to use mindless gutter humor in the place of strong writing. Cheap sexual humor takes the place of witty dialogue, at the cost of making this film worth talking about. A smather of potty humor here or there is okay with me, but to stake the entire comic portion of your film on weak humor with predictable innuendo was a dumb move. It got old quick and demonstrated the shortcuts the writers (Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) were willing to take to get this thing out to the theater. Aside from the tiresome dialogue, visual gags like using wrecking balls on a character to simulate testicles failed to make me snicker. If the film hadn't been so raunchy throughout, I might have laughed at that one...but it was weak comedy inserted throughout the film that really never showed any intelligence. What a disappointment.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Live Free or Die

Unfortunately for Live Free or Die, the attempts at quirky humor were more tedious than fun. The concept was actually interesting and tightly woven, but the actual pacing of the film killed the redeeming qualities. I was mesmerised enough to stick with the film, certain that it would turn the corner. It never did. I hoped that it would pick up and deliver some profundity or capture my imagination some other way. But I was left lacking throughout until the ending left me feeling unfulfilled.

When I disparage the pacing in Live Free or Die, I accept the premise that good independent film can be quirky, slow-paced and still good. One of my favorite independent films, Lars and the Real Girl, is similarly paced and exceptionally quirky. But Lars' character touched me. The writing was subtle enough that the slow pacing didn't feel bogged down because I was gripped by the events and connected to the characters. I felt fulfilled with Lars. I felt as if the character was real and found myself touched by the outpouring of community support at a pretend funeral...a funeral that felt like the loss of a real person. In short, the characters mattered to me. I felt no such connection with the weakly developed and not so likable characters in Live Free or Die.

It wasn't the acting that killed the characters, either. I think Michael Rapaport is an excellent actor and always enjoy seeing him in films. He brings an edginess to his characters that I enjoy watching. He played a Police Officer in Live Free or Die, and was believable in the role. His character even delivered an excellent plot twist. But the convoluted story felt contrived and the characters never really connected, which seemed to be more a product of the writing than the acting. Gregg0 Kavet and Andy Robin are probably considered genius for their comedic writing on Seinfeld. The humor was not very evident in this film.

Aaron Stanford was excellently cast as a wannabe criminal named John Rudgate. Stanford was convincing as a two-bit hustler trying to convince people that he should be respected. Rudgate is more of a victim than a predator...his defensiveness has created a situation where he is forced to project toughness to cover his frailty. Those attributes were apparent in Stanford's performance. However, the character was mildly interesting but not engaging. I wanted to connect with Rudgate, but found his actions to be unbelievable and insipid. I guess Stanford was good with little to make his character relevant other than his performance. It didn't work for me. This film hinges on Stanford's character and I don't really think it was his fault that the character ended up being dull.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Land of the Lost

I want my 93 minutes back. I am ashamed to admit that I paid to see Land of the Lost at the theater. Waxing nostalgic, I figured that this film might take me back to the campy days of my youth, when this television series was so bad it was good. Addictingly unique and interesting. Will Farrell and Danny McBride were supposed to be the icing on the cake. Wrong.

It seemed as if there were elements of the original television series that they attempted to incorporate into the movie to connect this film to her roots. It didn't work. It would have been better to make this film stand alone than to try and meet halfway. The camping trip and rapids that led our original family to the strange land was replaced with a show-tune laden science experiment that transported three adults into the past. I sort of missed the whole kid angle.

Forget what you remember about the original. The sleestaks are about the only thing that seemed to remain the same. Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Farrell) is an embarrassingly outspoken proponent of a theory on time warps. He hawks his book on Matt Lauer only to be laughed out of the scientific community. A young and attractive aspiring scientist, Holly Cantrell (Ariel Friel) seeks out Dr. Marshall and convinces him to resume his research. The two end up testing a prototype device that send them into the past. Along the way, they pick up an unlikely passenger in Will Stanton (Danny McBride), a strange guy that is part fireworks, part novelty item salesman. Did I mention that Stanton also runs a broken down cave amusement...what a great place to transport through time.

When the three arrive in the past, they bumble their way through a variety of obstacles while meeting some throwbacks to the original program. The film seemed to try and incorporate elements in a forced manner that made it feel more like a discussion of the series than a plot. The rather thin plot lies in recovering the device that transported them into the past to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. A minor (and predictable) plot twist evolves before the trio has an opportunity to escape through a temporarily available portal back to the present day.

If this film were campy, I might like it. If it were funny, I might like it. If it had decent dialogue or an interesting story line I might like it. This film had none of the above. It was the lowest common denominator, which is basically cheap humor and hackneyed dialogue. There were a few good lines, but the situational humor was transparent and weak. The few pieces of this film that tied it to the past were poorly done. I was bored, disinterested and disappointed in this film.

I like Will Farrell. I find him to be uncommonly funny at times. It surprises me that Farrell agreed to this gig, because it left very little room for him to work his magic. Although Farrell managed to amuse a couple of times, I found most of the cheap humor turned me off. I think Danny McBride has been brilliant in past movies, as well. His offbeat dry humor strikes a chord with me. McBride played his normal role in this film, and for the most part I liked it. I had a bit of trouble enjoying the situational aspects of the film, but McBride still cracks me up. I like his brand of humor. Friel was a pretty face. Her role was unconvincing and she didn't do anything to sell me on it. I can't really blame her, but she did not bring anything of value to an otherwise weak script.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Up (2009)

Pixar has done it again. Disney constantly raises the bar when it comes to state-of-the-art animation. The latest addition to the Pixar portfolio is UP. I figured I would arrive to the early 3-D screening of this animated film, expecting to get a decent seat. I arrived fifteen minutes early to provide a bit of additional cushion. When I arrived, the theater was packed with the exception of the front two rows…so I spent the entire film literally looking, well…UP!

In true Pixar tradition, UP begins with a cartoon short. The short for UP was a dialogue free examination of the relationship between a stork and a storm cloud. In keeping with the babies delivered by a stork idea, we learn where the babies come from. The storks are all assigned a cloud. Each cloud creates babies with a special mixture of precipitation and magical lightning. While most clouds are creating puppy dogs and kitty cats, one particular dark cloud has a propensity for making alligators, porcupines and sharks. The haggard stork assigned to this particular cloud seems to be at the end of his rope. The estranged relationship is reconciled in an interesting fashion. The story is sweet and original with an old-fashioned feel. It was a great warm-up for a movie that also had a throwback feel.

Up relates the story of a young boy named Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner and Jeremy Leary), who idolizes adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a renowned world traveler. Carl discovers a young gal, Ellie (Elie Docter) who shares his passion. The two experience a lifetime together in the length of a musical interlude. Without the use of dialogue, the animators demonstrate the shared dream of visiting Paradise Falls in South America , represented by a money jar and paintings. The money jar is constantly raided as life’s emergencies continually siphon off the fund. The tempo of the music turns melancholy as we observe Ellie grow old and sickly. The film takes a sad turn as we watch Carl sitting in front of the funeral home mourning.

We learned a lot about our main characters in the short interlude at the beginning of the film, but the real story was one of healing, self-discovery and companionship that begins after Ellie’s passing. Carl finally makes good on a promise and decides to head to Paradise Falls . He unwittingly invites along a guest, Russell (Jordan Nagai). Russell is a scout trying to earn a “help the elderly” badge. His quest puts him on a collision course with the driven mourning Carl. The two experience an amazing adventure as they both realize that they need each other. The story is a warm and original adventure with plenty of touching elements that move the audience.

UP was written by Bob Peterson based on an idea created by co-Director Pete Docter and writer Thomas MCarthy. The story had an excellent pace, interesting characters, rich dialogue and touched on a variety of emotions. The film had a fun plot with great attention to details. The multi-tiered story had simple elements like talking dogs (who are quickly distracted by squirrels) to appeal to younger viewer layered over more mature themes that will tug at the heart-strings of adult viewers. The writing was excellent on every level. Peterson was also co-Director with Pete Docter.

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