Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Perhaps I should preface this posting with a little bit of a disclaimer. It was the midnight showing, there were certain levels of intoxication, and I was sitting in the front row. I just feel like it’s important for all of us to be on the same page. That being said, let’s get on with the review.

I can sum up the whole of Transformers 2 in one quick statement: It was better than the first one.

Now, I’m sure you’re finding yourself a bit confused right now. “But Asa,” you’re saying, “the first one was so bad. I mean, sure it had some fun action sequences, but the uneven blend of serious action and ridiculous attempts at humor did not balance out. At all! How on earth could a sequel be better?”

And I’ll quietly soothe you, “It’s okay. I know. I couldn’t agree more. And yet, somehow, I find myself believing it.”

Do you remember the weakest part about the first Transformers movie? Aside from all the pathetic humor that distracted away from the overall plot of the movie. The weak part was that there hardly was a plot. These guys over here, they’re the Autobots. The guys over there, they’re the Decepticonz. They like to fight. A lot. And that was about it. Sure there was something about an Energon Cube, but not even the Transformers seemed to know what it was.

Transformers 2 actually had a plot line. One that was relatively easy to follow. (“Relatively” being the key word here.) Apparently, Transformers have been coming to our planet for a long time. They are scattered all over in search of their energy source known as Energon. The Autobots try to live in harmony with the planet, while the Decepticonz think it would be easier just to blow up the whole thing. There’s an ultimate energy source know as the Matrix Key that can do a lot of stuff, including destroy the universe. And, as fate would have it, Sam (Shia) is the only person who knows how to find it. And thus, the battle begins.

What I liked about this story was that it captured a sense of mythology. There was a lot of history implied in the plot and that tends to make things more interesting. These kinds of twists and turns are the things that keep me reading comicbooks. They don’t always have to make sense, they just have to keep me interested.

However, all that being said, it’s important to create a distinction. This still isn’t a good movie. The action sequences are muddled and confusing. The dialogue is ridiculous. And Shia screams out main characters names at the screen as if he’s attempting to be the next Charlton Heston. (Those shoes are far too big for you, kiddo.)

But let’s not forget the most important thing about the film. As it would seem, all women are whores, idiots, and the butt of all jokes. All of them. In the Transformers world, that is. Not my opinion. Seriously.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Hangover

Under normal circumstances, I try to let a day or two pass before I review a movie. Really let it sink in. But in the case of The Hangover I'm anxious to get this down before I forget the movie entirely.

That's right. Unremarkable.

I was pretty into seeing this movie. It was the only film in the latest batch of blockbusters that seemed appealing at all. With the cost of tickets these days, I want to know that I'm not making a big mistake before walking into the theater. Sure, we all strike out sometimes, but that's the breaks. Hangover was not so much a strike out, more of a walk.

Following the same premise as Dude, Where's My Car? (one of my personal favorites), four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party and get hammered. They wake up the next morning to discover a trashed hotel suite, a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom, and no memory of the night before. Oh, and the groom-to-be is gone. So you could call this Dude, Where's My Best Friend? (I died a little inside when I wrote that.)

There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. It has some laughs. Ed Helms is always a funny guy. He turns down his character quite a bit for this movie, not at all like his role in The Office. The other guys I didn't recognize, so I can't comment on previous performances. The guy with the beard (Zach Galifianakis) plays the weird one, with much more weird than funny. Bradley Cooper plays the “asshole” of the bunch, but doesn’t really deliver with the laughs you’d expect from said character cliché. And Justin Bartha, playing the groom-to-be, isn’t in three-quarters of the movie anyway, so who cares?

Did any of you see I Love You, Man? The Hangover reminded me a lot of that movie. A good cast, a good concept, some genuinely funny moments, and an all in all unremarkable movie. I think in the case of both films, the creators put way too much stock in the cast’s ability to be hilarious, and didn’t bother to build up a humorous script or an engaging story. I Love You, Man had the advantage of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Two guys who know how to be funny. The Hangover… not so much.

There are some laughs. Don’t get me wrong. But to be the #1 movie in America two weeks in a row? Really? Is this a sign of the times? I’ll say that the blockbuster bill for this summer doesn’t get me particularly excited. Two movies based on toys. One of which is a sequel. Harry Potter does look pretty awesome though. You can definitely look forward to my review of that.

In conclusion, if the fact that my last two paragraphs of this review aren’t even about the movie I’m reviewing don’t give away anything, I don’t know what will.

And once again, IMDB is reporting a sequel. When will it end?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a really good bad movie. And not the kind of good bad movie that was originally intended to be a serious, genuine film. Like, say, the movie Fear, starring Mark Wahlberg. But the kind of good bad movie that from step one, you know the director said to himself: “I’m gonna make a really kick ass bad movie!” For example, Drag Me To Hell, starring Alison Lohman.

I know, I know, everybody likes to get down on Sam Raimi for making Spiderman 3, but give the guy some credit. He did make Spiderman 2 after all. And Army of Darkness. And while we’re on the subject, Spiderman 3 really wasn’t that bad! Sure, it was campy and that whole dancing scene was kinda weird. But the special effects were awesome, the super-hero fights were kick ass, and that whole dancing scene was also kinda hilarious. Cut the guy a break.

Drag Me To Hell is a very different kind of movie than any of the Spidey flicks. It’s much more like it’s predecessors, the Evil Dead trilogy. Setting out to make a movie that tells you from the very beginning that it’s going to be scary. But every time it gets scary, you find yourself laughing instead of screaming. Not because the movie is bad, like any of the Saw series. No, this movie is carefully crafted to just be a tremendous amount of fun.

If I had been, say, twelve years old today and went to see this movie, my life would have changed. I would spend months raving about it to my friends. Buying a promo t-shirt online. Ravenously waiting outside of a video store the day before it came out on DVD. Fortunately, my obsession for film has taken on a much healthier, more productive turn.

Probably my favorite thing about the movie was the balance they struck between conservatism and just plain old gross. On the one hand, you have a film that isn’t particularly bloody. Sam is skillfully showing just the right amount of violence and gore to keep you from being offended/hang onto his PG-13 rating. But on the other, you have a creepy old lady puking maggots all over the star-hot chick’s face. (Not the only face-puking scene in the movie.) And when such a balance can take place, and be exposed with craft and attention, you have yourself art.

By using the term “art” (not a word I like to throw around a whole lot), I’m not saying this movie will change the face of modern cinema. Sam Raimi already did that back with the Evil Dead trilogy. Or even be hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. But it can’t be denied it was a labor of love. I’ll probably show my kids this movie, one of these days. When I have kids.

It’s not really fair to call a movie an “instant cult classic” if everyone agrees that it’s awesome. Because then it’s just a classic. No cult about it. And that’s a fact.


Is it a good or bad sign to cry like a baby within the first five minutes of a movie? Because this movie hits the ground running with the heartfelt, tear-jerking fun that Pixar is just so good at. Leaving me with an all time personal best of three scenes in the movie that brought tears to my eyes. Only continuing an almost unerring streak (let’s not talk about Cars) of leaving me with a sense of emotional exhaustion and a goofy smile plastered on my face.

Cry #1: The opening montage, spanning the life and relationship of Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Edward Asner) and his wife Ellie. Exploring their mutual desire for adventure, and the inevitable fate of life getting in the way. This scene packs multiple punches, but should all be counted as one. When Ellie discovers at the doctors office she can’t have children and all the sweet things Carl does to cheer her up. The multiple super-cute shots of the two of them getting old together. And of course, when her health fails and Carl ends up alone, with nothing but a house they built together and a big pile of memories.

Cry #2: The young boy Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), who accidentally tags along on the house-balloon-sailing trip, gets a chance to show some depth of character. He shares that his dad is never around to help him with all of his scout badges. That the woman who insists he bugs his father too much isn’t actually his mother. And that if he gets the final badge he needs, his dad will be there at the award ceremony. This explanation of his family is intentionally vague, and all the stronger for it. Watching the vulnerability on Russell’s face, and the realization on Carl’s… Man.

Cry #3: The handoff of a sacred memento from Carl to Russell in the conclusion of the movie. I’m trying my best not to spoil it. Not to say this moment isn’t expected or particularly surprising when it happens. But the way these two guys stand together at the end of the film makes you remember what movie magic is all about.

However, let’s not forget about what makes Pixar movies stand so high above all the rest. The fact that they are freaking hilarious. Rather than relying on pop culture references and potty humor (which have their place, don’t get me wrong), these guys put in genuinely funny, timeless jokes that keep you laughing. Dug, the dog, (voiced by Bob Peterson) will have you rolling on the floor. Capturing the actual essence and mindset of a golden retriever can’t be easy. Not to mention having to do it with words. But for anyone who has ever owned one of these dogs, you’ll recognize him instantly.

While Up is certainly not Pixar’s best movie to date, what it does have, which all of them have (yes, even Cars), is a story which is completely different. They’re not reinventing the wheel with cool new animation. They’re constructing an entirely different mode of transportation. Like flying a house with thousands of balloons.