Monthly Archives: June 2011

Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

transformers 3 dark of the moonThere are two types of moviegoers, story/plot fans and action/special effects fans. Those of you that love a good story and good acting will detest Transformers: Dark of the Moon. If you’re a fan of special effects and seek entertainment on the big screen, a few hours of escape and some righteous butt-kicking and loud explosions, you’ve already enjoyed Transformers and might even have forgiven Michael Bay and team for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. You’ll like Transformers 3, and there’s no question, it’s going to open big this weekend, especially with Bay actively encouraging people to see it in 3D and encouraging theater owners to crank up the projectors so that the 3D version isn’t dull and lifeless.

The story starts out surprisingly strong, with a conspiracy that reaches back fifty years to the Cold War, the Apollo program and even the disastrous meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. With overlap from X Men: First Class and the yet-unreleased horror film Apollo 18, the first 45 minutes or so were really good, far better than I expected. Then the entire film collapsed into incoherence propelled forward just as much by setups for sarcastic repartee and embarrassing homophobic jokes as by anything to do with the increasingly MIA storyline.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) is back as the clumsy nerd-done-well, though after jettisoning the annoying Mikaela (Megan Fox) he’s now living with equally gorgeous Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Inexplicably, they’re in a relationship and sharing a funky warehouse apartment that has enough space that Autobot Bumblebee can actually come up a freight elevator and park in the living room. Even though Sam’s unemployed.
See, there I go again, expecting a storyline that’s logical, a film that makes sense, and some sort of narrative thread that has elements introduced, explained and resolved as the film proceeds. That’s just not what Transformers: Dark of the Moon is about, however, so if you’re one of those story-driven film fans, you will want to skip this film. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a big screen entertainment with truly amazing visual effects, this is escapism at its finest. Turn off your brain so you don’t worry about story and don’t grimace every time Huntington-Whiteley is trying to act and you might just find this a great ride.

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Review: Green Lantern

green lantern one sheetJust when I thought that the summer was going to be defined by a set of great tentpole films (I really liked both X-Men: First Class and Super 8) I sat through the dreck that is Green Lantern. Based on a storyline that is more suited for Saturday morning cartoons than a big screen production, the film had the awkward feel of a children’s made-for-TV animation that got redefined along the way to be a live-action “adult” movie. 

The Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force that utilizes the green energy of Will and serving is considered an extraordinary honor. The universe, we learn, is split into 3600 sectors  and the Green Lantern who is assigned to our little galaxy has a disastrous encounter with the evil creature Parallax and it’s his ring that selects ne’er-do-well test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as the next Green Lantern.
Jordan is a cocky daredevil in the Top Gun vein, but he runs from difficult situations, including his unresolved emotions about the death of his fearless and beloved test pilot father. His on-again, off-again girlfriend is Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), daughter of Ferris Aircraft president Carl (Jay O. Sanders) and a superb test pilot in her own right.
Meanwhile, back in Green Lantern intergalactic headquarters, Sinestro (Mark Strong) leads the Corps and debates the threat of Parallax (who is powered by “yellow fear” rather than “green will” energy) with the council of Guardians, an immortal circle of wise puppets who look like rejects from E.T.’s prop department. Sinestro doesn’t believe humans are good enough to be in the Corps and tells Jordan quite bluntly on their first meeting, in what was intended to pass as some sort of interpersonal tension.
If you guess that Parallax is the evil bad guy creature that the Corps can’t stop but new Green Lantern Hal Jordan can because of his new-found courage, you’d be right. But it’s all so extraordinarily predictable that’s not a spoiler, just a statement of the obvious. And that’s the core problem with Green Lantern, that the story is so asinine, so rife with cliches that it was boring and completely unengaging, a factor exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the special effects look like they were done for a high-budget kids cartoon, not a full-blown big screen flick. My advice is for you to skip it, this’ll be on TV soon enough.

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Review: Super 8

super 8 one sheetWith the rush to special effects and computer graphics, too many filmmakers have forgotten that the core of every good film is an interesting story, which is why the Steven Spielberg/J.J. Abrams collaboration Super 8 was such a joy to watch. Yes, there were splendid special effects, but the characters were all delightful and the story slowly unfolded, letting our curiosity build as we tried to figure out why people were acting as they were and what was going on as things proceeded.

The film is set in the small steel town of Lillian, Ohio in 1979 and revolves around pre-teen pals Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Cary (Ryan Lee), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Alice (Elle Fanning). Joe’s mother has died in a mill accident as the film opens, leaving him and his father, town deputy sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) to grieve in awkward dysfunctional silence.

Led by budding filmmaker Charles, the boys are busy making a zombie film called “The Case” when they sneak out at midnight to shoot some night footage at the train station. As they watch in horror, there’s a tremendous train wreck and they barely escape with their lives.

Mysterious things start to happen in Lillian and they start to wonder if there’s a connection with the great train derailment, even as they continue to film while using the US Air Force clean up efforts as backgrounds for their scenes.

Super 8 pays homage to the great kid adventure films of the 80s, including The Goonies (co-written by Spielberg), along with much of Spielberg’s amazing oeuvre of films including E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, there are entire scenes (like one where Joe’s invited to stay at Charles’ house for dinner, with the camera slowly panning through the chaos of his siblings) that are almost lifted intact from these earlier films, something I found both endearing and amusing.

A beast was being transported on the train and when the accident occurs, it escapes into the rural area around Lillian. The scenes with the monster were pretty intense, certainly more so than the gentle aura of both E.T. and Close Encounters, but from the children vs. adults theme to the skepticism of the military’s motives, Super 8 touches on a number of Spielberg’s most enduring themes, and does so beautifully. This is filmmaking as it should be and is a movie  I’ll look forward to purchasing on Blu-Ray to watch again and again.
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