Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mechanical Failure: “Transformers Revenge of the Fallen” is Big on Robots, Effects and Clichés, Short on Everything Else

I enjoy mindless action entertainment as much as the next guy, but the Grinch said it best: “One thing I can't stand is the noise, noise, noise, noise!” I wouldn’t say I was the biggest fan of Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie, but I thought it was enjoyable for what it was: a loud, CGI-laden action spectacle; the world’s longest toy commercial. Well if the first film is a loud, CGI-laden action spectacle, then its sequel, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a loud, CGI-laden action spectacle ramped up to a cinematic 11. Make that 11 thousand. “Transformers 2,” (who wants to keep writing Revenge of the Fallen?) is really loud and dumb and makes the first film look Oscar-worthy in comparison. If “Transformers” is “Jaws,” then “Transformers 2” is the pathetic “Jaws the Revenge.” And wouldn’t you know both titles share a common word.

The thing that remains the most interesting in both films is one Shia LeBeouf as Sam Witwicky, who you’ll remember in the first film unwittingly purchased a car that was actually a robot from another planet. But he was a good robot; an Autobot. But for every good robot there is a bad robot; the Decepticons. So poor Sam, who just wants a cool car and a girlfriend, gets stuck in the middle of an ancient war of machine vs. machine. At the end of the last movie everything was right in the world. The bad guys were defeated… or so we thought.

A piece of the “allspark”, a cube device that the robots were fighting over so they could control the universe (and who wouldn’t want to control the universe?) is unknowingly left in Sam’s sweatshirt and it somehow lets the “defeated” Decepticons come back to life. Or something like that. Let’s not get caught up in plot details because there are lots of explosions and chases, and guns firing and military personnel looking at flashy computer screens and shouting gibberish that you and I don’t understand. And if you couldn’t tell from the ten thousand explosions, this is a film directed by Michael Bay! So we get lots of “hero” shots of characters moving in slow motion and outrunning explosions, which I’m pretty sure is impossible, but I’d have to check with the guys from Mythbusters first.

Ok, so why is this movie so dreadfully bad? Well first of all it’s way too long. It’s 150 minutes of mind-numbing action that isn’t very entertaining to begin with. It’s entertaining seeing the robots transform from a vehicle to a five story robot ready to kick ass, but once you’ve seen a robot transform a few times, it feels like a hundred times. And then we get the annoying attempts at comic relief. We have two “eubonic” spewing borderline racist robots who keep beating each other up. The audience laughed a lot, but I didn’t. then we get a cute little transformer who sounded a lot like Steve Buscemi who was cute until he started humping Megan Fox’s leg. And then there was that giant robot with the two large wrecking balls that were supposed to be… well you get the idea. Michael Bay has some serious issues! And I hated the addition of Shia’s college roommate (Ramon Rodriguez) who was just sort of annoying. He was just there to prove Michael Bay can direct a movie with more than just Caucasian actors. And John Turturro is more of a ham than Miss Piggy.

The most normal and enjoyable part of the movie are Sam’s unwitting and cute parents played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White. Mom eats some pot brownies while helping Sam move into college and she starts going sort of crazy. And let me just say that this is the most accurate depiction of college I’ve ever seen in a movie. Wow I can’t believe I got that out with a straight face.

Point is: This is a cliché-riddled mess (I can’t believe no one uttered “I’m so cold”) and I can’t really recommend it unless you have ADD. And I’m going to do the writers a favor and not mention them by name here. If you do find yourself in a movie queue for this flick, be sure to bring aspirin. When I was watching the movie, I heard a baby crying. I felt his pain. GRADE: D+

Friday, June 19, 2009

Home Sweet Home: “Away We Go” is a Pleasant and Funny Road Movie

I’m a fan of director Sam Mendes. The only one of his films I have yet to see is Road to Perdition. And that probably has more to do with the fact that I have no idea what the word perdition means. Although my good friends Merriam and Webster tell me “utter destruction” and “eternal damnation.” Hmm, maybe I actually need to see that movie. But I digress, his newest film “Away We Go” is very Mendes and yet completely non-Mendes. The script by first timers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida is sort of “American Beauty” meets “Juno” with a little “North” thrown in. the story is something we come to expect from Mendes (an interesting point-of-view of American marriage) and yet the style of the film doesn’t have that glossy, high production value of his previous films. While I sort of miss the trademark Sam Mendes “look” I actually welcome the director as trying something different.

The film is about a pregnant couple (interracial!) who aren’t married. The coup[le is played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. They don’t plan on getting married. They live in a little shack. They mostly work from home and now that Burt’s (Kraskinski) parents are going to be moving to Europe, they decide to do some traveling and figure out where they’d like to settle. So Burt and Verona (Rudolph) are off to visit her former boss played by Allison Janney in another quirky showcase role that she does best. She plays Lily, who could easily win Worst Mother of the Year. She makes fun of her chunky daughter and her obvious lesbian tendencies (she’s pudgy and has short hair!). Of course she makes us laugh for the 10 or 15 minutes she’s onscreen.

Our unmarried heroes also visit Burt’s cousin who is really just a family friend. Her name is LN and she’s played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I said her name was LN and its pronounced just as it looks (Ellen). She’s one of the those weird hippie new age mothers who still breastfeeds her 5 year old, doesn’t use strollers (she loves her child, so why would she want to push him away from her) and shares a “family bed” in which she sleeps with her husband and two young children. Gyllenaal’s performance is brief and brilliant and she does the best with the short screen time she’s given. Burt and Verona’s reactions to their odd way of life is nothing short of priceless.

Burt and Verona make other stops along the way and its mostly to show us, the audience, how there are so many ways to define “family.” There are so many different families and this journey is a way for our heroes to figure out the types of parents they want and hope to become (This brings up the fact that this movie actually reminded me of Rob Reiner’s “North” a movie that film critic hated hated hated hated). We slowly get to learn interesting pieces of information from their past. We learn that Verona’s parents died when she was just out of college and how that has affected her and her sister whom they visit as well.

Mendes gives us a movie that isn’t extraordinary (it’s not American Beauty or Juno although, like I said, it’s similar to both) but he gives us a story about two characters we get to know and care about and who are surrounded by complete nutjobs. And the performances are great. Rudolph can certainly do more than just a good Whitney impersonation, although Krasinksi seems to be playing off his goofy "Office"character, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We’re not quite sure where exactly Burt and Verona will end up but like most movies of this type, it’s the journey that makes it fun. GRADE: B

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Rules of Engagement: “The Proposal” is a Comfortable and Funny Romantic Comedy

Let me get this out of the way up front, my opinions of this movie are completely biased because of Betty White. If you don’t know me - and if you don’t, why are you even reading this? – I am a huge Golden Girls fan. So if any Golden Girl is going to be in a movie, I’m going to be there. And luckily she’s in “The Proposal” a lot. And she actually gets some funny things to do and say, instead of the standard “old person” role of three unfunny and unmemorable scenes. Having said that, the film is a decent romantic comedy. It’s formulaic and sort of unoriginal, but its leads are charming and have decent chemistry. Do you hope they get together in the end? Sure. Are you surprised that it happens? Not really.

The film sort of starts out like “The Devil Wears Prada.” Sandra Bullock is Margaret Tate, a pushy, unpleasant boss in a publishing company. Ryan Reynolds is Andrew Paxton, her desperate personal assistant. He’s only keeping this pathetic job because he hopes it will lead to an editor’s job. Ms. Tate is what we’d call a bitch. Everyone in the office hates her and tries to avoid her at all costs. But like we learned about Meryl Streep’s character in “Prada,” she’s really a vulnerable human being on the inside, lonely and sort of pathetic. Margaret, being from Canada, has just learned she’s going to be deported and with a little quick thinking grabs her trustworthy assistant and insists they are engaged and would therefore not have to leave the country. She basically blackmails him into it and if they were to get caught she’d be sent home permanently and he’d be fined and thrown in jail. So they go of to Andrew’s family’s place in Alaska determined to convince the entire civilized world that they are in fact in love and ready to be married.

This is wholly ridiculous and dumb idea. In real life I imagine this would be impossible, but I think we’re supposed to just go with it and accept it as reality. But if you can get over that then you’ll more than likely find something here to enjoy and I found the two leads to be enjoyable. Even though she comes off as a jerk at first, I found myself caring about Margaret and about the horrible thing she’s making Andrew try to pull off. It’s actually fun meeting his family: mom is Mary Steenburgen, Dad is Craig T. Nelson and 90-year-old Grandma is White. Margaret soon learns how well off Andrew is but his father is unhappy that he’s wasting his life away in New York City trying to be a writer when he should be more involved with his family and half the town which his father owns.

Meanwhile we lots of tradition pre-wedding stuff. Like Andrew’s female relatives taking Margaret out for a bachelorette party starring the town Hispanic as the stripper (Oscar from The Office). And they even tailor Grandma’s old wedding dress to fit Margaret even though it doesn’t quite fit her. After all everyone knows how busty Betty White is. Writer Peter Chiarelli even introduces us to Andrew’s ex-girlfriend Gertrude (Malin Akerman) and I have to give him props for not turning the character into an obvious plot point. However, that doesn’t stop him from actually making Margaret and Andrew, two people who couldn’t possibly be more different, from actually realizing they are in love, in just a few days’ time.

I’m going to recommend The Proposal on the sheer fact that it feels much like “early Sandra Bullock.” I miss the days of “While You Were Sleeping” in which you were charmed by her character’s odd predicament and you didn’t feel ashamed for feeling that way. Bullock and Reynolds have some great chemistry even when director Anne Fletcher (“Step Up,” “27 Dresses”) isn’t making them rub against each other completely nude (That was such a freaking odd scene, which they are selling the crap out of in the previews). The movie also has the traditional other oddities including a fluffy dog named Kevin who has an unfortunate run in with an eagle.

You could do worse than “The Proposal,” but if you go in realizing it’s just another romantic comedy, you might actually find yourself laughing and having a good time, despite the fact that you could have written the script yourself (And of course, Betty helps). GRADE: B

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Despair to Remember: “The Hangover” is Hilarious and Hardly Headache-Inducing

“The Hangover” is a lot smarter than you think it would have any right to be. It takes a sort of standard premise… a Las Vegas bachelor party… and makes it more interesting: A tiger in the bathroom! Mike Tyson! Flamboyant Asian crime lords! A missing baby! A missing tooth! A missing groom! “The Hangover” is great because unlike most movies about wild misadventures in Sin City we don’t really see any of the wild night in Vegas, we see the aftermath. We see the next day. And as the film progresses and as three groomsmen start an epic quest to find the groom, we are filled in on all the wacky situations these guys got into because they don’t remember a thing. And we’re laughing all the way through.

We’re introduced to three guys in the middle of a desert. They look beaten up and tired and desperate. One of them phones a woman. He tells her that there is no way they’ll be back in time for her and their friend's wedding. And neither will the groom who is nowhere to be seen. Then the film flashes back two days, where we’re introduced to Phil, (Bradley Cooper) a married elementary school teacher, Stu, (Ed Helms) a dentist who’s in a rocky relationship and Alan, (Zach Galifianakis) the strange brother of the bride. Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married in two days and goes off with his groomsmen for an overnight, drunken stay in Vegas. What could go wrong?

The next morning we see their penthouse suite is completely trashed. A chair is smoking. A chicken wanders around. Stu wakes up on the floor and is missing a tooth. Alan has no pants on and discovers a tiger in the bathroom. Phil has a hospital bracelet on his wrist. While looking for Doug they find a baby in a closet. The three guys can’t find Doug anywhere and set out on a mission to find him. We slowly learn about their unseen crazy, drunken evening. When they ask the valet to get the car, the valet shows up with a police cruiser. They drive to the hospital where Phil was treated and press the doctor for answers. This leads to them finding out that Phil was married to a woman he’d never met before and he even gave the woman his grandmother’s Holocaust ring.

I’m not even going to bother telling you anything else that happens because finding out is what makes the movie so fun. What is so amazing is that we only get to see bits and pieces of their wild night. We only really get to see the aftermath (the set designers certainly must have had fun with this movie). Director Todd Philips, who’s an alumni of the man-boy guy comedies (Road Trip, Old School), slowly reveals the evening’s events and the situations get progressively more wacky and outlandish. And of course it helps that these three guys are so goofy and lovable, I actually cared about what happened to them. And it is actually pretty exciting to try to figure out where exactly Scott Moore and Jon Lucas’ script is going. The film’s biggest mystery – what exactly happened to Doug – is fun trying to figure out. It’s all sort of like a more intelligent version of “Dude Where’s My Car?”

And let me just give a special shout out to Mr. Galifianakis who is this year’s McLovin. He is so tremendously funny and talented he makes looking stupid and acting funny seem easy. He gets most of the film’s laughs because his character is so weird, yet lovable, you can’t take your eyes off him, even when he’s walking around without pants OR underwear.

“The Hangover” is certainly a welcome addition to this summer’s lineup and is certainly one of the funniest movies to hit the big screen in a while (although "I Love You Man" is still by far the best). You’d certainly be doing yourself a favor by indulging in the "The Hangover." It’s a movie that is hilarious and totally unforgettable. (And check out those shockingly hilarious end credits!) GRADE: B+

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Two Cinematic Cents: Title Remakes

Ok ok, everyone knows that Hollywood hardly has any new ideas anymore. It's always remake this, reboot that, reimagine this, sequel that. You know what? I'm sort of ok with it as long as there's something original every once in a while. Look at Pixar for the most original and entertaining movies ever made (Although they do have Toy Story 3, so even they have caught the sequel bug). So since everyone is all distraught over all the remake and reboots of actual movies, why is no one upset when movies reuse the SAME TITLE. So someone decided to make another sequel to The Fast and the Furious. They had 2 Fast 2 Furious. Then there was Fast and the Furiuos: Tokyo Drift. So Fast and the Furious Part 4 was too unoriginal right? I know let's take out the two THEs in the original title: Fast and Furious? huh? And now we have THE FINAL DESTINATION which is the fourth film in the Final Destination series. Apparently those producers only know how to count to three. Frankly the original title, Final Destination Death Trap, would have worked for me. And all of this isn't really a complaint, just an observation. Hence when Spider-Man 4 comes out, can we expect them to add a the? Will it be The Spider-Man? Heck why doesn't Pixar just call Toy Story 3, The Toy Story.

Having said all that, I'm super duper excited for The Final Destination which is going to be released in 3D! The Final Destination series have been one of the most consistant in terms of fresh slasher kills even though it is seriously the same exact plot in every movie. Hey, if it works the first time, don't change a thing! And i'm being serious... Imean this ain't Shakespeare. Bring on the gory deaths August 28th. And check out the trailer now:

The Final Destination trailer in HD