science fiction

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story [MINOR SPOILERS]

It is a lawless time.

CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources – food, medicine, and HYPERFUEL.

On the shipbuilding planet of CORELLIA, the foul LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection.

On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars….

SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by Ron Howard

We are dangerously close to Star Wars overkill.  With the announcement of:

  1. A new trilogy helmed by so-so director Rian Johnson.
  2. A new trilogy brought to you by the folks who gave us Game of Thrones.
  3. A live action TV series from Jon Favreau.
  4. And not to mention more Star Wars Story spinoffs (Obi-Wan? Boba?) and the only movie that really matters: the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga, Episode IX.

We are very close to oversaturation indeed.  Remember when you had to wait three years between movies and much longer between trilogies?

Fortunately, Solo is a welcome addition to the crowded Star Wars family.

Solo was one of the spinoffs conceived by George Lucas before he abandoned ship.  He’d been trying to do “young Han” since at least Revenge of the Sith, when he was pictured in concept art as an orphan raised by Wookiees.  Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) and son Jon wrote Solo, so you can be assured there is a level of authenticity here.  Who better to write that space scoundrel?  Nobody.

And who better to direct than Ron Howard?  He came in under difficult circumstances after the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, re-shot 70% of the movie, and pretty much nailed it too.  Howard also brought in some of his regulars (brother Clint Howard and Paul Bettany) and threw in a literal ton of Star Wars references and crossovers.  Solo is Easter Egg heaven.

Finally, composer John Powell created a soundtrack that is different yet founded in the Star Wars universe.  Powell hybridized new and old themes together into a memorable score.  He too included Easter Eggs, in his music.  Listen closely when [SPOILER] the marauder Enfys Nest and her gang arrives.  Powell utilised a children’s choir, as a clue foreshadowing Enfys’ young age under the mask.

Everybody was worried about lead actor Alden Ehrenreich as Solo.  Admit it, you were too.  Fear not, for young Ehrenreich (who is signed on for three films) nailed the role.  His higher voice is the only niggle that consistently reminds you that he’s not the Han you remember.  Similarly, Donald Glover fits into Lando Calrissian’s capes comfortably, including the suave talkin’.  Billy Dee Williams should be very happy with the new Lando.

The concept of Han as an orphan is retained, but instead of being raised by Wookiees, his backstory is more aligned with the old Star Wars novels.  He is a thief on planet Corellia, where he and girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to stay under the Empire’s nose.  Corellia is a shipbuilding world with huge, expansive scenes of Star Destroyers under construction.  When Han and Qi’ra are separated, he joins the Empire, as he did in the comics.

Han wanted to be a pilot, but got stationed in the muddy trenches to quell an uprising on planet Mimban.  Han, you see, isn’t the best at taking orders.  While enlisted on Mimban, he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his best friend to be, Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo).  Solo is swept into the seedy world of organised crime where he is delighted to catch up to Qi’ra, and is introduced to her boss played by Paul Bettany.  They both work for the dark, shadowy crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.

From an exciting pulse-pounding train heist to the Millenium Falcon, Solo keeps things moving.  It’s one big set piece after another, including the Kessel Run.  And yes, they used the novels as the source material.  The Falcon does indeed make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, getting a little beat up in the process.  By the end of the film, she’ll look a little more like the ship you remember.

The plot has its twists but you can foresee that some backs are going to get stabbed.  Han’s backstory is over-explained a bit too much for a single film, but there is still enough left to explore should Solo 2 be somewhere in pipe.  The truth is, the first viewing of Solo is less paying attention to the plot, and more looking for cameos.  Speaking of which, characters tie Solo into movies as diverse as Rogue One and The Phantom Menace.  You’ll see some stirrings of the early Rebellion, and Han’s intrinsic sense of right and wrong.  You might even see a giant “fuck you” to the Star Wars special editions.  [SPOILER] Han is definitely a “shoot first” kind of guy.

Things get a little muddled with a side character (Lando’s droid L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with a passion for droid’s rights.  Perhaps a droid-based Star Wars movie would be interesting for the future, but it was extraneous here.  Solo is best when it’s giving you a tour of the Star Wars universe, from crime lords to the trenches on the front lines of the Empire.  Trench warfare on Mimban is directly inspired by the muddy fields of World War 1, and it’s far better than any of the Clone Wars stuff in Revenge of the Sith.

Unlike The Last Jedi, a spinoff movie doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  In many measures, the pressure was off.  Solo aims to be a fun movie that requires no connections to the Force or Skywalker family.  It’s a shame that it has not performed well, but that is not a reflection on its quality.

3.75/5 stars

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WTF Comments: Discovery of the Lemming edition

Star Trek: Discovery is a controversial series.  Reviews have been very mixed, and fans are split.

Before reviewing, I watched every Discovery episode twice.  Even three times for some.  My review is rather positive3.5/5 stars — and hopeful for the future of the show.  Discovery is not perfect.  Not only is there room for improvement, but things that simply must improve.  But Star Trek has a history of poor first seasons.  Remember The Next Generation in 1987?  Nobody liked Next Generation best in 1987.  It had a rough, rough start.

My review received lots of great comments.  Nobody agreed with my full assessment, just bits and pieces here and there, but comments were helpful and completely relevant.

All but one!  Enjoy this WTF Comment from Dick Dirk.  

He blocked me shortly after.

In the words of William Shatner, “It’s just a TV show!  Get a life!”

MOVIE REVIEW: Runaway (1984 – The KISS Re-Review Series)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 27:  Bonus movie review!

RUNAWAY (1984 Tristar)

Directed by Michael Crichton and featuring Gene Simmons

Being in  was never enough for Gene Simmons.  Dating Cher and Diana Ross gave him a taste of Hollywood stardom.  He saw movies as his next mountain to climb.  Gene secured an audition with novelist and sometimes director Michael Crichton.  Crichton asked Gene to communicate, without saying any words, his desire to kill him.  Whatever Gene did worked, and he scored the role without even having to read for it.

Crichton’s next film Runaway was a Tom Selleck sci-fi vehicle and Gene played the villain Dr. Charles Luther.  Turning his back on Kiss and leaving Paul Stanley to do all the heavy lifting, Simmons cut his hair and got filming.

Set in the “near future”, Runaway depicts an America in which robots are commonplace.  Every household has some, and they have failsafes built in to protect humans.  Selleck played Jack Ramsay, a veteran cop now on the “runaway squad”, a quiet department dedicated to capturing errant robots.  His latest case is a shocker.  A robot has committed the first ‘bot-human homicide in history.  What caused it to malfunction and deliberately kill its owners?  Ramsay discovers a strange chip inside designed not only to override its safety protocols, but also to order the robot to kill.  But who would do such a thing?

Who else?  The evil Dr. Charles Luther played by the God of Thunder himself.

Dr. Luther developed new templates that allow robots to identify and assassinate specific humans.  They are worth a fortune on the black market, and so Luther killed his partners and went rogue.  However his ladyfriend Jackie (Kirstie Alley) doublecrossed him and stole the chips.  When Ramsay and his cop partner Karen find Jackie, they narrowly escape Luther who was tracking her.  Not only does he have killer robots, but also a huge-ass handgun that has homing bullets that can even turn corners.  They try to set up him by having Jackie return the stolen chips, but in one of his best scenes, Gene Simmons stabs her in the back in the middle of a kiss.

Jackie didn’t turn over all the chips.  Ramsay still has some.  Being the evil genius that he is, Luther hacks the police computers and finds out where Ramsay lives.  This leads to a very typical final confrontation, in which Luther kidnaps Ramsay’s son and brings him to an under-construction skyscraper.  Of course he would.  It’s a standard movie cliche involving elevators and heights.  Conveniently, the movie establishes early that Ramsay has a fear of heights.  Of course he does!

Luther does have one neat gadget for this long and fairly boring ending.  He has robotic spiders that spit acid, programmed to kill anything that comes down from the building.  Tom Selleck eventually bests Gene Simmons as you knew he would, but Gene also gets one of the cheesiest movie after-deaths you will ever see.  You know those scenes when you think the villain is dead, but he’s not?  Gene gets to make a funny face and go “RAAAAHHHHH!” before dropping down dead for real this time.

Michael Crichton was certainly a fine science fiction writer, with titles like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain to his credits.  As a movie director, he was less successful.  The Great Train Robbery (1979) starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, and based on his own novel, was his best work.  Others point to Westworld (1973) as his best work as a director.   The main point is, nobody looks to Runaway for movie gold.  It’s sluggish, clunky and at times pretty goofy.  As a science fiction film, it utilized intelligent concepts and envisioned a future that was very different for the cinema in 1984.  Runaway had a story idea.  Jack Ramsay was a complicated character, with a cliche but workable back story.  It was just poorly executed.  One redeeming value is its Jerry Goldsmith score, which was his first all-electronic soundtrack.

While Runaway isn’t considered Michael Crichton’s best film, it might be Gene’s.  His next roles were less flattering.  He played a transvestite villain in Never Too Young to Die with John Stamos.  There was a cameo in the horror cult classic Trick Or Treat.  Opposite Rutger Hauer, he played a stereotypical terrorist in Wanted: Dead or Alive.  His last film before returning to Kiss full-time was an early George Clooney film called Red Surf.  Gene was a friendly weapons dealer.

Meanwhile in Kiss, Paul Stanley had clearly taken over leadership.  All the singles were his.  Since Gene had short hair, he wore a pretty silly wig on stage with Kiss.  None of this helped his image in the eyes of fans.  He did earn a good review for Runaway from Roger Ebert, but otherwise the movie was a dud.

2/5 stars

To be continued…

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars – Rogue One [spoiler-free]

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”

jyn-erso-rogue-one-posterSTAR WARS:  ROGUE ONE (2016)

Directed by Gareth Edwards

If you are familiar with the opening crawl from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), then you are already familiar with the last third of Star Wars: Rogue One.  With Disney now in control, we will see Star Wars movies to fill every nook and cranny in the mythos.  Rogue One is just the beginning, and it’s a logical place to start.  A New Hope began mid-action.  Princess Leia is under attack and captured by Darth Vader, but R2D2 and C3P0 have escaped his clutches with the plans to the Death Star.  Did we need an entire movie to see how they got there?

Of course we didn’t.  That’s why George settled for an opening crawl.  The story of how the Death Star plans got into Leia’s hands has gone through many iterations over the years.  The original Star Wars radio drama was one variation.  In another, the video game Dark Forces, you steal the plans yourself as a character named Kyle Katarn.  Now we have the official story featuring a new band of rebels:  Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K2S0 (Alan Tudyk), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and the charismatic pair of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).  They are assisted by the forces of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an extremist character originally from the Clone Wars television series.  Together they must get those Death Star schematics into the hands of the Rebel Alliance.

If only it didn’t take so long to do it.

Rogue One is a long running movie, with a final battle that is stunning eye candy but too slow.  As X-Wings, Tie Fighters, Y-Wings and new ships such as Tie Strikers and U-Wings do battle over the planet Scarif where the Death Star plans are stored, you get to watch…someone trying to flip a master control switch.  Someone describing the location of the switch.  Someone trying to locate a file in an archive.   Someone trying to align an antenna and send a file.  Almost sounds like another day at the office, and it takes forever to get from A to B.

Fortunately, Rogue One delivers in other respects.  Planets new and old (you’re gonna shit your pants when you see which old) are to be seen.  One strength of the original trilogy was the variety of planets.  We visited five different worlds:  desert, ice, cloud, swamp and forest.  The prequel movies brought fire and water planets.  Rogue One debuts the exotic Jedha, a spiritual home of the Jedi religion and a source of the Kyber crystals that power their lightsabers.  There is also a tropical paradise planet, torn up and exploited by the evil Empire.

img_20161223_212600There are also cool new ships and stormtroopers to feast your eyes on.  The coolest of these are the black Death Troopers, the personal force of Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).  Krennic is the prime villain of the film, an ambitious yet bumbling higher-up in the Empire who finds himself on the wrong side of Governor Tarkin (a CG Peter Cushing) and Lord Darth Vader himself.  And as you shall see in the climax of the film, being on the wrong side of Darth Vader is not a place you want to find yourself.  Mendelsohn shines in the role, especially in any scene in which he is paired with Mads Mikkelsen who portrays Jyn’s father Galen Erso.  The character of Galen Erso is revealed to have made a major covert move in the war, that changes A New Hope in one significant way.

In trying to please Star Wars fans who weren’t into The Force Awakens or the prequel trilogy, perhaps Rogue One went too far.   A film with Tarkin as a major villain is a Star Wars fan’s dream, but CG isn’t at the stage yet where he looks perfect.  The uncanny valley strikes again, and somewhere between your eyes and brain, you can tell something is “off” about the character.  The same can be said about another surprise cameo from the past.  Other characters seem shoehorned into the film without a good reason.  (Was there any logical reason to see Pignose and his friend, Scott?)  On the other hand, there is some very clever use of original, unused footage from 1977 to bring other characters back who absolutely should be there.  You’ll know the shots when you see them.  Best, and most significant of the nods to the past are appearances by Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) and Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), two senior leaders of the Rebel Alliance.

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are as fantastic as Mendelsohn is.  Jones can do more acting with her face than most can do with 10 lines of dialogue, but her character isn’t fleshed out.  We know a little bit about who she is, but not about what makes her tick and what she feels.  Luna’s Cassian Andor seems to have more depth.  He seems to have some more skin the game.  Jyn Erso is just along for the ride until she changes her mind mid-way and does a complete 180.  Too many times, characters don’t take actions that are consistent or logical.

The biggest flaw with Rogue One is you already know how it ends.  And if you don’t, you will be able to predict death scenes well in advance, so obviously are they telegraphed.

What makes Rogue One special despite its flaws are the ways it brings childhood dreams to the big screen.  For decades, kids have been flying their X-wings through the back yard, strafing their stormtroopers on invented planets.  Others lucky enough to have an AT-AT in their collection enjoyed target practice with a group of Rebel soldiers.  Younger fans brought up on Star Wars video games will enjoy settings and action right out of the Jedi Knight series.  Rogue One also lifts the veil on the Empire a little bit, an organization we actually see little of in the original trilogy.  Think about it.  Most of the time, you were following around Luke and his friends, on the run from the Empire and doing their own thing.  You didn’t see much of what life under the Empire is like.  Now you do.  Mass electronic surveillance, police state tactics, punishment and coverups are the order of the day.

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The last issue to discuss is the score by Michael Giacchino, which is intentionally different from a John Williams soundtrack. It is different and good, but lacks the standout themes that the saga films are known for.  That was the right direction to take, as Rogue One should and does feel like a different kind of Star Wars movie.  It should not be confused with the concurrent saga films, which follow the story of the Skywalker family.

It’s not Giacchino’s fault that Rogue One doesn’t deliver the same kind of awe-inspiring story of the other films.  While it does venture into the mythos of the Force via the blind guardian Chirrut Îmwe, it is not intended to unveil the same kind of chilling revelations.  There is no “I am your father” moment.  There is no self-discovery of inner power as we saw in the past with Anakin, Luke and Rey.  Instead Rogue One travels the road of the soldiers, the grunts on the ground fighting the Empire both openly and secretly.  There are no Jedi to save them, no chosen ones.  Only luck, if you believe in that sort of thing.

The most encouraging thing about Rogue One is how “right” it was done.  Its heart is in the right place at all times.  When the prequels came out to fill in the blanks, they left us more puzzled than anything.  Wait…Darth Vader built C3P0?  Obi-Wan was actually trained by Liam Neeson?  Princess Leia’s mother died in childbirth even though Leia remembered her as being “beautiful, but sad?”  Rogue One doesn’t trample on the continuity at all, it only enhances it.  And that’s all we really needed.

3.5/5 stars

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers (2007)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment. With all apologies to the regular music readers, I decided to post my reviews of the first three Transformers movies, in reverse order.  That’s the only way I could have saved the best for last!

Click here for Dark of the Moon.
And here for Revenge of the Fallen.


TRANSFORMERS (2007 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

J. from Resurrection Songs requested quite some time ago that I post this review.  I decided that the only way to post my review of this movie, the first of the loathed “Bayverse” Transformers film, was to do it legit.  I wrote up a review for my journal almost 10 years ago that has never been seen by anybody.  Back then, I actually liked the movie, and the first is still the best of the series.  Let’s look at this thing from the perspective of “then”.  Things seemed wide open!  Whatever was wrong with the movie could be fixed in the next one, right?

How wrong we were.  Read on!


PRIME

Date: 2007/07/23

TRANSFORMERS: Not actually much more than meets the eye!

I hate Michael Bay. Period. I hated him when I saw Armageddon, easily the worst excuse for science fiction I’d ever seen. I maintain that anyone seeing that movie is dumber for doing so. It kills brain cells like a shot of Absinthe, straight up. I was predisposed to hating Transformers since Michael Bay directed it, but surprisingly I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it either; it was infinitely flawed. But what I liked in the film, the stuff that they nailed perfectly, was killer.

So what did they mess up so badly that I was cringing? What did they get right? Where did they surprise me?

I am with most people who hated the robots speaking and acting “contemporary”. These are aliens after all, so why Optimus would say “My bad!” when stepping in a flower bed, or why Jazz would talk like Bill Cosby acting hip-hop, I have no idea. Bumblebee “peeing” on John Turturro irked me too. For the record, “peeing” occured twice in this masterpiece of film: Once when Bumblebee unloaded on Turturro’s Agent Simmons, and once when a puppy dog urinated on Ironhide’s foot. (I did like it when he said, “That’s going to rust!” though.) This kind of thing was stupid, juvenile, and out of place even as comedy relief. Granted we’re talking about a movie based on a toy line, but the kids who played with those toys are grown up and have kids of their own now. I would like to think that piss jokes in a science fiction movie are a little passe now. (Although I do own Jackass 1 and Number 2, so call me a hypocrite.)

The storyline was a little weak. The “Allspark” that the Transformers are seeking is nothing more than a McGuffin to drive the plot. Apparently in the hands of Megatron it can do infinite harm, in the hands of the Autobots, it can heal their homeworld of Cybertron. However, in the end, it’s just a box that robots chase each other around for, like a colossal game of Cybertron Football.

The human character of Sam Witwicky as played by Speilberg’s new protege Shia LaBouf was really funny. I don’t know if he had much more dimension than that, though. He’s an awkward teen who wants to get the girl, any girl, but Megan Fox just happens to be available at the right time. When Shia is ready to protect the Allspark with his life (“No sacrifice, no victory!”) it comes a little bit out of left field considering that he rarely showed any motivation beyond getting the girl and staying alive. However, his honest, humourous delivery will make him a star one day. This kid has yet to show what he can do. I am sure he will under Speilberg in Indy 4*. As for Megan “the” Fox, she did little other than live up to her name. She did that very well. However, she didn’t really generate any other feelings in the audience. Lots of gratuitous skin shots.

Bernie Mac had some funny lines, totally over the top. But that’s why they hired a guy like Bernie Mac to play a used car salesman. John Turturro was OK, but you can tell he just phoned in his performance. John Voight, give the man some credit, looked like he was trying. Shame his part was so generic. All the soldiers in the film were pretty much just Michael Bay Soldiers…the same, every film, every time.

The robots had no characters, aside from Optimus and Bumblebee. They could have been fleshed out a lot more, but at least they felt like characters. Megatron was completely wasted, just a really big, mean, bad guy. You couldn’t even tell it was Hugo Weaving voicing him. Peter Cullen did a great job as Optimus, of course. I’m glad about that casting choice.

There were many nods to the past. Most of the characters still transformed into similar forms. Optimus looked amazing. Bumblebee was pefect as a Camaro. Frenzy was no longer a cassette tape, but the basic gist of the robot was the same. Brawl (misnamed “Devastator” in the subtitles…will this be fixed on the DVD version?**) was still a tank. Starscream was no longer an F-15 Eagle, but now a F-22 Raptor…killer update! Scorponok looked amazing in scorpion mode, but had no character to speak of and wasn’t seen in robot mode at all. Shame, that. He was once one of the deepest characters of the old Marvel series.

There was even some dialogue from the past: Optimus says, “One shall live, and one shall fall!”, the same words he said before Megatron killed him in the 1986 Transformers movie. However, twice the words “more than meets the eye” were uttered, making everyone in the audience groan. (It was just as bad as James Cromwell saying, “And you guys are astronauts, on some kind of star trek?” in Star Trek: First Contact.)

There were many nods to the creators. “This is way better than Armageddon!” one character says, with Michael Bay’s penis firmly in mouth. Someone mentioned E.T. in honour of Señor Spielbergo. There were also a small number of original series Star Trek soundbites, since the same dudes who wrote this are also working on Star Trek XI, an original series-era movie.*** (Interestingly, Michael Bay’s cousin Susan is married to Leonard Nimoy.)  Some of these things were cool, some were not.

Michael Bay’s directing, as always, was suck-ass. Just for fun I watched Team America a few days before going to see Transformers. All that stuff that is made fun of in that film was in Transformers, in spades! As soon as we hit the desert in Qatar, there’s a piece of “Arabic” music that sounded right out of Team America. All the slow-mo shots interspersed with high-speed action, all the cheesy dialogue, all those over-dramatic camera angles and lighting effects…Michael Bay threw in the kitchen sink, every trick he knew.

I think the coolest thing about Transformers was that it opens up wide what can happen in 2 and 3 (Peter Cullen, Megan Fox, and Shia LaBouf have signed on for two more). Michael Bay isn’t necessarily doing the sequels, so maybe someone with a lighter hand can take over. Slow things down a bit. Let us actually see the robots. The action was mostly so fast and white-washed with explosions and debris that you couldn’t see the robots.

Speaking of the robots, much has been made of their look: People whine that Optimus shouldn’t have flames, the Megatron should transform into a gun, that Bumblebee should have been a VW Beetle. I say, stop whining. These robots look amazing. I’m sure Megatron will look different in the next film anyway.**^

Speaking of the next film: Storywise, it’s already been said that the Dinobots, Constructicons and Soundwave are potential characters for the sequel, opening up story possibilities big time. I’d like to see Grimlock and Optimus clash over leadership direction a little bit like in the old Marvel series. Megatron and Starscream too…their conflict was hinted at. The ending was left wide open for sequels. (Why did the stupid humans believe that Megatron could be disposed of in such an easy way? Foolhardy!)

So there you go. Go get a Coke and a huge tub of popcorn. Enjoy and most importantly, enjoy discussing afterwards with all your geek and nerd friends like I am.

3/5 stars

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*He did not.  

**It was not. Even though Bay introduced the actual character of Devastator in the next film.

***2009’s Star Trek.

**^He did look different, but not any better.

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment.  Apologies to the regular music readers, I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order.  Because fuck these movies.

Click here for Dark of the Moon.


Scan_20160423TRANSFORMERS – Revenge of the Fallen (2009 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

This is a movie to make you say “wow”!  Not because it’s great, or the because the CGI effects are any good (they’re not) — just because Transformers 2 mucks things up even more than the first one did.

For example, the robot dialogue is geared towards kiddies, just like the old cartoon was. Then, mixed in the middle of all that kiddie dialogue, is Megan Fox wearing a tank top, then Megan Fox wearing leather chaps, then Megan Fox stripping off those chaps…just who is this movie for? It’s either geared for kids with no consideration at all for throwing all this sexual imagery at you, or it’s geared for adults (males) and really dumbed down.

All that could be forgivable if this movie had a plot, or characters, or even decent visuals. The effects were so bad; clearly the crew only had so much time and budget to finish. So when you see a robot called “The Doctor” manipulate Sam’s (Shia Labouf) face, it looks like something out of Roger Rabbit, or Star Wars Episode I. When robots are getting blown apart, you see little pieces of junk flying off them, but they don’t look real at all — it looks like little cartoon pieces of junk. Everything looks completely fake, except the explosions. Those look real (because they were real) and there are a lot of them, because BOOM Michael Bay BOOM!

So many opportunities here are squandered. The death of a beloved character has no emotion to it; even the pathetic 1986 cartoon movie had more emotion to the scene in question. The Fallen — one of the all time great Transformers villains — is just another bad guy, not the awe inspiring menace he should be. And don’t get me started on the hip-hop-bots. Why does Devastator have genitalia again? Was that really necessary?  Like the prior film, the humour was awfully juvenile — Sam’s parents are more annoying than ever, especially his mother (who gets high accidentally) and his roommate is one character that either should never have been written, or killed off in Act 2.

There are some minor shining lights in this movie. John Turturro, as Simmons, is better and funnier than before. There are also lots more robots — dozens. I couldn’t keep them straight!

However that is part of Michael Bay’s problem. His design team makes the robots essentially all look the same, particularly the Decepticons. There are a group of “protoform” Decepticons who arrive on Earth. Since they are “protoforms”, they are actually all identical with the exact same design. Budget wise, you can see how using the same animation model for a whole bunch of ‘Cons makes sense.  Visually, it reduced the film to an onscreen mess of flying shit.  Oh sure, there were Constructicons, and Insecticons…so what?   They didn’t do anything important.  The humans, in fact, do all the thinking, talking, leading, and everything else in this movie. The plot only moves forward when the puny humans decide to do something.  That isn’t what the original Marvel series envisioned by Bob Budianski and Simon Furman was about. That isn’t even what the cartoon was about. Transformers is about the robots, and yes, they should have some characterization! If the comic book did, surely they can do it in a multi-million dollar movie. But no; either nobody thought to write interesting characters for classic robots like Sideswipe, Arcee, and Ratchet, or they just didn’t have the time to do them properly. Sad.

Plot holes big enough to drive a Peterbilt truck through:

1. A bunch of mini-bots attack Sam in his kitchen, requiring Bumblebee to barely save him. Two minutes later, Sam is telling Bee that he’s all grown up and doesn’t need his protection anymore. Then, just 20 minutes later, Sam does need protection and Bee comes to save Sam from a Decepticon Pretender…but doesn’t actually do anything! He lets the Pretender into the car, and then he just plays annoying songs on his radio and sprays the Pretender with lubricant instead of…I dunno…driving off? Seriously.

2. The tomb of the Primes! Woah!  But…as Jetfire explains it, the original Primes sacrificed themselves to create a tomb out of their bodies. Then he continues to exposit, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen.” Well, maybe they shouldn’t have sacrificed themselves?

3. The tomb that they sacrificed their bodies to create doesn’t actually do anything. It’s opened with one simple blast.

4. And yes, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen,” according to Jetfire.  We are not sure why.  When the two finally clash they just have a normal-type robot brawl. Nothing special here that any other ‘bot couldn’t do, and Prime needed all of Jetfire’s parts (seriously!) to help him do it!

Since people are going to buy this movie no matter what I say, I’ll draw this review to a close.  I have only scratched the surface of the issues with Revenge of the Fallen.  Proceed at your own risk.  This is a turd.

2/5 energon cubes

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers – Dark of the Moon (2011)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment.  Apologies to the regular music readers, but I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order.  Because fuck these movies.


Scan_20160421TRANSFORMERS – Dark of the Moon (2011 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

As I sat there finishing the third Transformers movie, I thought to myself, “Does Michael Bay ever take himself seriously?” I mean, the dialogue here is so juvenile and stupid, the characters are more one-dimensional than ever (how is that even possible?), and every inch of film is so stupidly overblown, it’s beyond ridiculous. It’s like giving very expensive movie making equipment to a child with a Bart Simpson streak.  Welcome to the Bay-verse, where one can walk away from a flaming car wreck with no injuries, and no idea what the hell the story is!

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the discovery of Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy and Autobot mentor to Optimus) on our moon by Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apollo 11. Sentinel has something (yet another “McGuffin” in this series – a generic object that the protagonists and antagonists seek) that can save Cybertron (again). But there’s more than meets the eye and things are not always what they seem! Funny though how Earth always seems to be the epicentre of all Transformers plots and schemes.  Are we a magnet for alien assholes?

Though it is the worst of the first three in the series, Dark of the Moon was a marginal improvement in some minor ways.  Many of the most annoying characters (Sam’s annoying parents, the hip-hop-bots) are toned down in movie #3.  The plot is still a confounding mess in a universe that defies all logic and physics.  It’s all there to support a massive end battle that takes up almost half of the movie. Is that battle spectacular to watch? Oh, sure, I guess so.  Can it hold your attention? No. After about half of the end battle had transpired, I was begging for this movie to please just fucking end.

I have to say though, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is an upgrade over Megan Fox. Something about British accents. Bad British acting always trumps bad American acting.  The cast is rounding out by Frances McDormand (also wasted here), John Malkovich (criminally wasted), Patrick Dempsey (meh) and of course John Turturro who always should have more screen time.

A thudding end to a disappointing trilogy.

1.5/5 stars

Oh, and by the by — no special features!  On the Blu-ray!  You suck, Bay!

Blu-ray REVIEW: Paul (2011)

By special request of J, from Resurrection Songs!


 

PAUL_0001PAUL (2011 Universal)

Directed by Greg Mottola

You know how most comedies today put all the best stuff in the trailers, and the movies are crap? Paul is the opposite. The trailers sucked (Paul mooning out of a bus window?) but the movie is so much better. To my surprise and joy, Paul is a satisfying sci-fi-comedy with witty dialogue and great performances.

A lot of people (myself included) are sick of Seth Rogen, but Paul succeeds both because of and in spite of him. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost co-wrote and co-starred in a great movie here. It succeeds in combining characters that you actually care about with outrageous situations. Throw in some damn fine sci-fi references and superior casting, and now we’re cooking.

It is a science fiction nerd’s dream. Remember that “Homage-o-meter” that was on the DVDs of Spaced? You could do the same thing with Paul. From little bits of dialogue here and there (“Punch it!”) to flat out homages (re-enacting the Kirk-Gorn fight on the same mountain) this movie is loaded with loving references to the best of the best of the best.

What about the story?

Remember that “UFO” that crashed in Roswell in 1947? Turns out, that was Paul. He crash landed on Earth and has been here ever since, but he just wants to get home. See, the big nasty US government wants to cut out his brain, to gain his powers. In the decades since his arrival here on Earth, his image has been leaked out to us in the form of movies (great Speilberg voice cameo), so as to not shock us when contact is eventually revealed to the world. But before brain surgery and full disclosure, Paul escapes and runs into our two heroes, straight on their way from Comic-Con. Thus begins our sci-fi-bromance-road-trip comedy.

Before too long, Paul, Clive (Frost) and Graeme (Pegg) are on the run from the CIA, with others complicating the mix. Two “hillbilly types” and a Bible thumper are also chasing them for their own reasons. Along the way they meet Ruth (Kristin Wiig), a sheltered Christian girl who has her faith shaken by Paul, but provides much needed help. And let’s not forget Keith Nash! (I want a Keith Nash spinoff movie!)

The reason this works are many. One: the humour is not too outrageous as it is with many of today’s comedies. It combines the right amount of emotion with the juvenile humour. Two: the plot twists and turns. Its carefully woven elements all rhyme, emerging at the appropriate times. Lastly, all the characters are actual characters. It seems character is a writing skill lost in many of today’s movies. Well, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg do not lack that problem. Graeme and Clive are as well written and fully fleshed out as any classic comedy characters.

Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Sigourney Weaver, and the mighty, immortal Jeffrey Tambor (as pompous sci-fi author Adam Shadowchild) all lend their skills to this wonderful movie.

Bonus features are fun. I particularly enjoyed seeing how the live action stuff was filmed since Paul himself was all CG. There are also two cuts of the movie – both equally entertaining.

4.5/5 stars

Blu-ray REVIEW: The Arrival (1996)

ARRIVAL_0001THE ARRIVAL (1996 Lionsgate)

Written and Directed by David Thowy

I’ll confess that this review has little to do with rock and roll.  The Blu-ray disc does contain a killer 7.1 DTS HD surround sound mix, and that will appeal to those who appreciate a good 7.1 soundtrack.  I haven’t had the chance to review many 7.1 releases here.  Other than that, the only connection is that Charlie Sheen parties like a rock star, so he’s in the club honorarily at this point. He did in fact proclaim himself a “total freakin’ rock star from Mars,” and I’m not going to argue with Charlie Sheen.

When this movie came out back in the 90’s, I snagged a neat widescreen VHS copy in a clamshell case, which ironically has more special features than the Blu-ray or DVD releases! It’s weird and disappointing to me that the interviews from the VHS version are not available anymore, but whatever — when I found this disc at a cut-rate price I decided to make the leap from the tape to Blu.

The good: The 7.1 surround mix is really excellent. When Charlie Sheen first discovers an alien signal, it’s rotating around the room in a really cool way. There aren’t many discs out there in 7.1, but if you’ve got the equipment, here’s a good sci-fi movie to try out. The hi-def transfer also looked quite good.

The bad: Oh dear Lord, some of these mid-90’s movies have the worst CG effects. The Arrival has some of the worst I’ve seen in a movie of this stature.

Plot summary: Charlie Sheen is Zane Zaminski, an astronomer working for the JPL in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Mirroring the plot of the concurrently released (but much higher budgeted) Contact, Zaminski finds a “wow” signal and takes it to his boss, Phil Gordian (Ron Silver).  But there may be a conspiracy afoot — Gordian secretly destroys the tape, the only proof of the signal.  He has Zaminski fired, and attempts to destroy his credibility in the scientific community. Why?

The firing scene is especially enjoyable today, as Zane Zaminski has a paranoid public meltdown foreshadowing that of his tiger blood drinking, eternally winning, rock-star-wizard real-life counterpart.  It’s amusing from that point of view, but it’s also a really cool scene that Sheen and Silver both nail.

What follows is a series of mysteries, cover-ups and alien intrigue that links Zane to Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse, Iceman) in Mexico. Dr. Green has found flowers growing in a small patch of grass in the frigid Arctic, and links it to a strange spike in CO2 emissions. But how is that happening, and to what ends?

Several exciting action sequences are to be enjoyed before Zane discovers what is really going on down in Mexico and why Gordian turned on him. It’s not a monumental earth-shattering revelation, nor is it a total surprise, but I won’t spoil it for you regardless.  The Arrival is a fun movie, and that’s all it’s really intended to be, so I’ll save the fun for you.

For the price I paid ($11), this disc was totally worthwhile regardless of the fact that it has zero special features. It’s a decent yarn, the sound is awesome, and it’s always nice to upgrade from VHS to hi-def.

3/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Free Enterprise (1999)


 

FREE ENTERPRISE_0001FREE ENTERPRISE (1999, 2006 “Five Year Mission Extended Edition”, Anchor Bay)

Directed by Robert Meyer Burnett.

I’ll admit I never saw the original cut of this 1999 cult indy classic. I’d heard of it back then, but never saw it. All I’ve seen is this recut version, and I am pleased to bits over it. Not knowing what to expect, I popped the movie into the DVD player. This movie was a good 15 years ahead of its time. Now you can see this every week on The Big Bang Theory. I’d almost go as far as to call Big Bang a ripoff. Almost. Big Bang never got Shatner on their show.

I was immediately inundated with sci-fi and pop culture references to make Kevin Smith wet his bed. Anyone born in the 1970’s will understand. Yet, this is not as cheesily done as the disappointing Fanboys.  Something about this strikes the nerve of authenticity.  From re-enactments of Logan’s Run (“Run, runner!”) to geekouts over Wrath Of Khan laserdiscs, and incorporating Terminator quotes into everyday life, if you’re a sci-fi geek, you will never find a more wretched hive…sorry, got carried away there. Throw in Swingers influences for the late 20’s crowd in the late 90’s and you have a pretty entertaining film.  Although in the wake of Big Bang Theory, I fear viewers today will simply feel they’ve seen this before.

FREE ENTERPRISE_0004Eric McCormack is a struggling writer (his latest screenplay, Brady Killer — a horror movie set in the Brady house — is pretty much junk).  Rafer Weigel (who?) is a film editor for a tiny studio, making movies like Beach Babe Bingo Fiesta. Their lives consist of trying to score, geeking out over Star Trek (“only original, only classic!”), and in Rafer’s case, paying the bills without hawking his Trek goods. Their lives take a turn for the interesting when they are browsing books and run into…William Shatner (browsing porn), as played by William Shatner.

This is, in my own humble geek opinion, Shatner’s best movie. At times he plays himself understatedly dark, other times with panache, and outrageously at others. Most of all, Shatner’s Shatner is whacko. A lonely whacko, and lovable, but also out-of-his-tree whacko, as if every story you ever heard about his ego was true. He is working on his own film project, a little epic. William Shatner and William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. A musical version. Six hours long. Three intermissions. With Shatner playing all the parts. Except Calpurnia. He was thinking about getting Sharon Stone for that part.

Shatner, as great as he is, is only the background for this lovingly made film. He appears in childhood dream sequences, and he pops up unexpectedly when the characters need to confess their problems to what essentially amounts to a friendly, lonely stranger. Our main characters are going through their own late-20’s problems, mostly with women. The performances are merely adequate, certainly not Oscar-worthy, but damned if McCormack doesn’t do the best Shatner monologue that I’ve ever seen.  It’s a very, very good Shat.

This is not a complex story, but it is a warm one about friends and Trek, and is infinitely re-watchable. I pull it off the shelves every year or so to enjoy and geek out. I can’t say the same thing about Fanboys.  Its only flaw is its ending, which is a shame since the ending is kind of the important part.  Considering that the ending is a musical performance by William Shatner though, there’s some camp value to it.  It’s just…not very good.

FREE ENTERPRISE_0005The DVD bonus features are pure awesomeness at warp 9. My favourite was a pilot for a series called Cafe Fantastique that was never picked up, but damn, it should have been. The makers of Free Enterprise came up with a series where they just discuss science fiction news and films over drinks in a bar with special guests. Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) appears in this pilot. It’s kind of like that show that Jon Favreau had where he just hangs out at dinner with his friends. Shoulda woulda coulda been a series. I would have watched it, and so would you.  Lastly there is a large booklet with lots of pictures and essays, and a glossary of geek speak.  For example “Soylent Green is people!”

Pickup Free Enterprise if you:
a) are a Shatner fan
b) love Kevin Smith style films
c) think Han shot first.

3.5/5 stars. An indispensable part of my Trek library.