26 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

Michael Bay directs the second installment of the Transformers series. The Decepticons are back to revive their leader and their designs on the entire planet. Of course, Optimus Prime will do everything he can to save Sam Witwicky and the rest of the human race.

URBAN: I almost left after the first 45 minutes. After that, there is a rebound, but it still contains at least 2 big blunders.

This film contains essentially the same overall framework as the first Transformers film.

1. It begins with a flashback to a prior earth visit by the Decepticons
2. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) acts nervous around girls
3. Robots Enter
4. Robots and military destroy several large set pieces
5. Optimus Prime gives a motivational voice over

The main differences are that this one is much longer and that the focus changes from the human characters to the transformers/technology.

To be completely honest, I almost left the theater after the first 45 minutes. It is seriously that bad. Maybe it's the Terminator 3 style girlfriend, maybe its the tired "I'm nervous around girls" bit that LaBeouf does, but my money is that the biggest problem with this movie is Michael Bay's ridiculous need to appease the younger crowd as evidenced by his taste in humor. This film has some funny lines that complement the action quite well. For the most part, John Turturro handles the funny role quite well, but Bay has unfortunately also seen it fit to include to wisecracking robots who are clearly racist stereotypes. It is not their accents that are necessarily negative, (a la Jar Jar Binks) but rather the gold teeth and illiteracy.

These are only the major issues that occur within the first 45 minutes (out of 150). There are two issues which occur near the end of the film that were simply laughable. The first is the Heaven's gate vision which occurs as Sam (LaBeouf) lies dead in the sand. Sam's vision is of the robot ancestors. They tell him how to use the Matrix of Leadership (MOS). Yes, the secret to saving our planet is the Matrix of Leadership (I know it is from the comic book, but it is the dorkiest name ever). This is the second laughable issue that this film raises at the end of the film, where it should be reaching its peak.

To be fair, there were some parts of the film that were worthy of recognition. The film did a good job of presenting its mythology. The mention of this mythology is one of the only things that holds the weak plot together, and is probably the only thing would draw me to another sequel in this series. This film also did a much better job that the first entry in portraying the robot vs. robot violence. In the first film it was often quite difficult to identify the robots as they battled (the quick cuts didn't help). This shortcoming is corrected by depicting all of the Autobots in bright colors and all of the Decepticons in gray. The only time that I had trouble differentiating between the two groups of robots was during the battle between the US military as they attempted to defend the village against the Decepticons.

The first film worked because it was able to portray interesting characters and make the viewer care about their story. In this film, it seems that director Bay has attempted to switch this strategy around. Here, the human characters; Sam, girlfriend, roomate, family and the military characters are not featured as prominently as the robots and military technology (well, maybe the girlfriend was). What I mean by this is to say that the most compelling parts of this film all had to do with the robot characters. The fight scene where Optimus Prime defends Sam against 3 Decepticons and eventually sacrifices himself is the only part that draws any true emotion. Likewise, the United States military, which seemed woefully underpowered against the Decepticons in the first film, has upgraded their firepower in order to provide a reliable option.

In closing, this film, like the first looks good on the screen. It has great effects with fights between robots and dips into an interesting mythology. Even with several things going for it, the film just fails miserably on several key points,,,,, points that really aren't necessary for this film to succeed. In reality, I believe that the best use of this film is to explain the need for our full-fledged support of General Motors.

Think about it...

The world is being threatened (the recession) by a small parasitic group looking for energy (greedy Wall-Street executives). If we lend our support to the Autobots (General Motors) through the NEST agreement (Bailout) they will continue to protect us (from losing our automobile manufacturing jobs) and give us the Camaro (Consumer Society).

On a serious note, this film does seem to have a very clear and positive message on behalf of interventionist politics. It is too bad that this feature was not explored more prominently.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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24 June 2009

Coming Up, Friday June 26

As you probably expected, this week it has got to be Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This film hasn't been reviewed well, but it is still the biggest show in town, having already taken in $16 million at the box office.

The first edition in this franchise did a good job of making viewers take interest in the human characters, focusing on their story as a part of the larger robot mythology. Of course, director Michael Bay will be serving up plenty of explosions and effects that will be interesting. I just hope that the robot fight scenes come off a better this time around.
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Terminator Salvation

McG directs Christian Bale as John Connor in the fourth installment of the Terminator series.

URBAN: Extremely Kinetic, way better than T:3

This was one of the films that I was looking forward to this summer. Once again I am dissapointed, but only slightly this time. The film keeps the viewers interest with great action and pacing, but ultimately is a failure in the way it fails to add to the Terminator legend.

I don't know why this film got such terrible reviews. It probably had something to do with the dark themes and often frightening sequences involving dehumanizing mechanical forces (which visually recall the holocaust). While I thought the film had several shortcomings, these issues are largely personal and deal primarily with the lack of meta-arch information. One area that the film really hit on the head was the action. The opening sequence, especially the helicopter crash, all look outstanding and set the dark tone extremely well. Despite the focus on John Connor, the character of Marcus Wright is actually the most interesting and the one who drives most of the plot. With regard to the action, he provides important balance to the fight scenes, which would have been overwhelmingly just shots of Christian Bale getting a beat down.

More importantly, the character of Marcus Wright drives the plot forward and provides the only window through which the viewer can approach the key philosophical questions that the Terminator series brings to the table. His ability to fully reason and participate in human community-while also having a fully mechanized endo-skeleton, provide an interesting answer to the primary component of humanity.

The film fails to answer any of the questions regarding artificial intelligence or tell the history of the first battles between man and machine that provide the setting for all of the Terminator films. The unwillingness to share on these issues nearly forces this film into the same category as the completely derivative T:3. Despite the new, post-apocalyptic environment in which this film is set, it is only the new characters and the intense action which keep it out of this zone.

Alas, great action is reproduced and improved upon every summer. Five years from now the effects used in this film will begin to feel outdated (Check out The Matrix now and tell me the cg doesn't stand out). McG goes for the pure adrenaline rush and largely succeeds. Success of this kind doesn't directly correlate to any type of long lasting status. We will probably forget about it by the end of the summer.

URBAN: Recommended
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10 June 2009

Sony PSP Delivers on the smallest screen

Urban: I'm back from the desert.

While this is not explicitly about movies, it does touch on a number of points along the distribution element of the film business. Portable formats are a viable format which will only continue to grow as the platform expands.

While sitting in a tent in the middle of the Mojave Desert I had the pleasure of watching Ridley Scott's Alien on the most recent edition of the Sony PSP. I was pleasantly surprised. The screen was wider than those offered by both Apple's iPod and Microsoft's Zune. The sound was an initial dissapointment, not containing the necessary volume to please a viewer of feature films containing copious amounts of conversation. This problem was overcome with a pair of headphones, which yielded surprisingly good sound across all levels.

The width of the screen approximated a viewing experience that at very least recalled a movie screen. Different lighting conditions are handled well by the PSP with an option that can change the amount of lighting behind the screen.

Currently, only the biggest movie releases are able to see the light of day in the UMD format that the PSP employs. Certain classics have been given the greenlight as well, but these focus on on only the biggest hits of the 80's and 90's and today (kind of like a radio station). True diversity and depth of film viewing is not offered by this platform and it is rumored that, despite their press, may be attempting to move away from the platform in the next generation of PSP.

This issue is minimized by the ability to play computer media files. The primary issue here has to do with memory. Watching a ripped DVD normally calls for 7-8 gb of memory, which must be purchased as a memory card when using the PSP.
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