29 June 2011

Review: Transformers - Dark of the Moon

It can’t be worse. Can it? After the writer’s strike shortened the story plotting window for most summer blockbuster, Michael Bay‘s last crack at Robots in Disguise suffered the most. It may have looked more polished than his previous effort, but the lackluster story and dialogue brought down the flick significantly. Thankfully, the third film of the series salvages its predecessors.

Sam’s (Shia LaBeouf) life has changed considerably since we last saw him. Gone from his life are the days of college as well as his high-school sweetheart Mikaela. He has been thrust into one of the worst economies in recent memory – cue John Malkovich as the worst boss imaginable – and the thrill of running with the Autobots is also missing. Fortunately, he has the love of a good woman (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who is given exactly as much to do as Megan Fox was; nothing.) so all is well.

After the last battle between Autobots and Decepticons the world seems to be at relative peace. Optimus and co. are always keeping an eye on the figurative sea for lurking danger. The safety of Earth has always depended on mutual cooperation between the government and the Autobots. As it turns out our government has been keeping secrets and they could soon come back to haunt us.

Despite what we have been lead to believe our first official contact with the Transformers was not in 2007. It was in 1969, after the first moon landing. The ship crash on the Moon was the last bit of supplies sent from Sentinel Prime to aid the losing Autobots on Cybertron. Not so coincidentally John F. Kennedy promises to put a man on the moon shortly thereafter. Optimus, now under the order of the U.S. Military is not pleased in the slightest. He, unlike the new head, Mearing (Frances McDormand), knows what is in store for Earth, and it is far worse than anything Megatron could concoct.

Overall most of the original complaints against the franchise have never been quieted. Sam and his human counterparts have plenty to do, but they seldom manage to make the audience care whether they live or die. We came to see the robots fighting anything else is superfluous. To scripter Ehren Kruger’s credit the Jim Crow relics Skid and Mudflap are both missing in action. It is not explained but, frankly, I’m glad they’re dead.

Industrial Lights and Magic really outdid themselves this time. The carnage in Dark of the Moon is cranked up to eleven and Lucas’s effects house does not fail to live up to expectations. Residents of Chicago might be tempted to look outside of the theatre and make sure that the city is in fact still there. The last act of Transformers: Dark of the Moon is intense. And when the final battle plays out in all of its technical glory it almost makes it worth sitting through Sam’s irritating parents, John Turturro as the way over-the-top Agent Simmons, and Skid & Mudflap in all of their gold-tooth specter in the previous films. Almost. No final battle scene could ever make up for that.

Is ‘Dark Side of the Moon‘ Bay’s best Transformers flick? Yes, but only because the final battle scene goes all out in a way that only Michael Bay can. The sheer visceral thrill of watching a city torn apart as Earth’s last battle carries on makes up for the other rather disappointing domestic aspects of the film.

**1/2 out of ****

'Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol' Teaser

Eminem? Why? Doesn't this franchise deserve a little more credit than that?

27 June 2011

Pixar's 'Brave' Trailer

Say hello to Pixar's first original film in recent years. And may I add, "Holy crap that is a gigantic bear I would be running right now!"

22 June 2011

The Vault: Heat (1995)

Michael Mann’s nearly three hour epic is grand in scale, but lacking in emotion. Cop procedurals typically induce strong feelings for the characters involved. It’s not until the final 45 minutes of the picture – which is masterful – that you start to understand, perhaps even sympathize for a couple of these thieves.

In fact the latter of the picture is everything Heat wants to be: compelling, emotionally driven, and enthralling. Instead what comes before the third act is equal measures sluggish and cliched.

The film follows the lives of two men on opposite sides of the law – Hanna played by Al Pacino is a detective and Neil played by Robert De Niro is a thief. After a large robbery, Hanna (who is the sure thing type cop) is assigned to investigate the scene to see who is responsible and when and where they can catch these criminals. But Neil is no ordinary crook. He’s smart and lays out meticulous operations for him and his team – it’s not wonder why they’ve never been caught.

Heat explores the issue at heart here: the reluctancy to leave what we know. In many ways the two – both cop and criminal – need each other. They thrive off one another’s actions and mistakes. They work all day and night to catch and avoid each other – eventually rounding out in one big circle.

The two meet in the film. It’s undoubtedly the best scene in the picture: subtle, moving, and full of nuance. Both on opposite ends of the law, sit across from one another at a coffee shop. They chat about life and their respected duties. And then, the conversation ends appropriately when both individuals agree that what they do, is the only thing they can and will do.
As humans we stay close to what we know: it’s definite and safe. To venture is to risk leaving our comfort zone. We know, deep down, that both Niel and Hanna won’t quit until one of them is dead: it’s the sad truth.

Heat is a touchstone in the Police procedurals – the acting is top-of-the-line and Mann’s story is compelling. Despite having some underwritten characters (every female in the picture) and a perplexing (not to mention sluggish) opening hour, Mann should (and is by many) be acknowledged for his work.However, I’m touching on a different aspect of the film. What Heat is known for is that famous and bombastic action sequence in the middle of the city. The scene is choreographed with expertise by Mann. Even as film transpires and the years pass, that scene so meticulous and brilliant, will always be remembered.

With every shot beautifully rendered and a score that builds up tension and emotion brilliantly, Heat contains spurts of greatness. I cherish the subtleties, though far and few, in the picture. The underlining  conflicts between the two leads is, make no mistake, the driving force here. But it calls into question: With a trim in run time, could Heat be that legendary classic everyone makes it out to be? One can always imagine the possibilities.

21 June 2011

'A Dangerous Method' Trailer

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is Mortensen's year.

19 June 2011

Make This Happen!

I thought it would be fun to open with the Kennedy assassination, and we reveal that the magic bullet was controlled by Magneto. That would explain the physics of it, and we see that he’s pissed off because Kennedy took all the credit for saving the world and mutants weren’t even mentioned. - Matthew Vaughn

Some might question how tasteful it is to recreate the assassination of President Kennedy, but at least the story is on the right track. The evolution of mutants in the U.S. certainly wouldn't come without casualties.

(Courtesy: HitFix)

16 June 2011

Review: Green Lantern

Being in the Green Lantern Corps. is a lot like being a U.S. Marshal. You are allocated a certain degree of autonomy and discretion. Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), however, does not have any of these advantages. A local who happened upon an alien with a dying wish, he finds himself introduced to a world vastly different from his own.
As Hal is the first human Green Lantern, he has to be mentored by a seven foot tall bird named Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush is on a roll isn't he?), he can’t figure out his rings oath, and the leader of the Corps., Sinestro (Mark Strong), is an ass.
Reynolds was a great choice for Hal. He exudes a natural charisma that invites you to share Hal’s unbridled optimism and it doesn't feel false. Green Lantern is much closer to Superman than Batman or Spider-Man. Hal has his own sense of right and wrong and he never crosses it. In a way, he is the luckiest of superheroes; his powers come at no cost, he doesn't lose a family member, and he suffers no hardship for the use of his powers. Hal may be lucky, but he is still in way over his head.
Batman and Spider-Man never have to face otherworldly beings in combat. Hal is not so fortunate. Parallax is such a villain, and a powerful foe. Hal cannot face him alone, even with his new found power. So he has a choice: fail Earth or enlist the aid of the Green Lantern Corp. If that isn't enough, he has to face off with genius, Hector Hammond, (Peter Sarsgaard) who has his mind manipulated by Parallax. Sarsgaard has a lot of fun with the role and works to make their showdown all the more entertaining.
Unfortunately, for Martin Campbell and company, Green Lantern is competing with far better comic book films this season. It is not the best the comic book genre has to offer this summer - X-Men: First Class and Thor are both superior. Green Lantern, like all origin stories, suffers from a lack of suspense. Nothing bad can really happen to Hal as he is the face of a franchise sure to launch several sequels. Additionally, the character arcs are not as developed as the bulk of the story is focused on the costume Hal puts on, rather than the man. Hal makes changes, but he never really finds any depth during the course of the film.

Green Lantern is at times fun, but between the flourishes of visual wonder, the script leaves one wanting more. The romance between Reynolds and Lively doesn't ring true and the cheesy dialogue can only be salvaged by the actors so many times before your eyes start to roll. Despite those two factors, the other-worldly elements of Green Lantern are sometimes spectacular and Reynolds has the charm to pull off a hero.

**1/2 out of ****

14 June 2011

Avengers Assemble!

I'm curious why Hawkeye is going to put an arrow through Captain America's head, but hey who can judge? I'm sure his boyish optimism is irritating.

(Courtesy: TheOnlyESQ/ComicBookMovie.com)

13 June 2011

Vote for Your City to Host a VIP Screening

Vote here and your city could win a VIP Redcarpet screening of Captain America: The First Avenger in your area.

10 June 2011

Your Thoughts on 'Super 8'

J.J Abram's new flick is out. Some have called it Neapolitan ice cream, others have called the best summer film in decades. Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between? Leave your take in the comments below!

07 June 2011

10 Words or Less: 3:10 to Yuma

Keep your enemies close, and your gun closer.

03 June 2011

Review: Tree of Life

After what seemed like an eternity to fans of Terrence Malick's filmography, Tree of Life made its debut at Cannes. Responses to the film were varied and lines were drawn in the sand. Terrence Malick tends to have that reaction on people. From Badlands to The New World, the atmospheric flourishes and strokes that Malick uses to paint his stories quite often alienate viewers. Common narratives are often ignored in favor of sweeping shots of the world around the characters and ethereal voice overs that convey the thoughts, hopes and dreams of those we watch onscreen.

Mr. O'Brien and Mrs. O'Brien offer contrasting lifestyles to their three children: the way of force and the way of grace. The patron O'Brien knows what little this life gives, it has to be hard-earned, or taken. Regret has colored Mr. O'Brien's life by his passions that have languished and he needs to make that impact felt for his three sons. Life is not to be frivolously spent and Brad Pitt's evenhanded approach to the patriarch is one of the major strengths of a film that feels disjointed. Jessica Chastain similarly presents a strong foil to her domineering husband.

Mrs. O'Brien suggests there has to be a different way: nurture. Throughout the majority of Tree of Life, Jack is adapting to the world he finds himself in. He rails against his father, yet when given time to flourish in his absence, Jack instead revels in the violence that his mother objects to. Torn between two worlds, Jack struggles to find himself.

For all of the beauty present in the shots of Earth in its adolescence, Malick loses focus in what is really the core of Tree of Life: family. The trials and tribulations as Jack goes from wayward youth to lost adult (Sean Penn) should be the highlight, but it is shifted from so frequently that the story has no time to lay down its roots. Without a doubt these renderings of space and primordial Earth are breathtakingly captured by Emmanuel Lubezki. Few scenes in cinematic history are as beautiful as these. Yet, the loose connection to the dichotomy that is Jack's childhood detracts from the ultimate effort.

The depiction of small-town life in Texas is something that Malick has done before and does well. When he focuses on that subject he excels. To argue that Terrence Malick only focus on minute details is not a realistic expectation as he is one of the few auteurs that always has a larger focus. Frustratingly, this results in a film that is both wonderful and messy.

**1/2 out of ****

Your Thoughts on 'X-Men: First Class'

X-men, circa 1960's. The origins of Xavier and Magneto's divide came out today. Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between? Leave your take in the comments below!

02 June 2011

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Theatrical Trailer

More action in this trailer, but nothing to convince you to see this if you're on the fence about a Planet of the Apes reboot.