Category Archives: Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

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I’ll tell you a conversation I heard in the men’s room straight after the film between two young boys (that probably just hit puberty) that sums it up pretty well:

“Man, what an awesome movie!”

“Yeah!  But what I didn’t get was why they had to [spoilers].”

“I didn’t get that either.  And who was the robot that [spoilers] and the one that [spoilers] in the end?”

“I’m not sure.  I think it was [spoilers] and [spoilers].”

“Really?  I thought it was [spoilers].”

“Who cares?  Megan Fox was hot though.”

“And the cars and robot fights were really cool.”

“Yeah, what an awesome movie!”

Overview

The second film (there will inevitably be more) of Michael Bay’s Transformers series is bigger, louder, longer and dumber than the original.  So if you’ve seen the first, expect more of the same except with everything magnified.  For some, like the teenage boys described above, that’s awesome.  For most others, it’s downright unbearable.

As for me, I went into the film with sub-zero expectations because everything I’ve come across about the film shreds it to pieces.  And while the film does fail miserably in most departments, it is not a complete waste of time and money.  Some parts were exciting.  Some were a little funny.  So if you can put up with the rest of the parts that weren’t (and those were in the clear majority), then you might find it okay.

What’s it about?

Next.

The good

There were 2 things in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (let’s just call it Transformers II) that improved on the first film: (1) robot fight scenes; and (2) special effects.

One of my gripes about the original Transformers movie was that you couldn’t tell what was going on in a lot of the fight scenes between the Autobots and the Decepticons.  All you could see were some quick flashes and giant balls of metal rolling around before one of them would stand victorious.

Transformers II rectifies the problem in a big way.  The camera pans back this time and stays on the robots long enough for audiences to see and appreciate the action.  So much so that kids can probably recreate the battles with their licensed Hasbro toys afterwards.

Seriously, the robot action was a lot smoother and more fluid this time.

Less noticeably, perhaps, were the special effects, which also improved from the original.  Apart from the robots themselves, many of the fight scenes involved destroying well-known landmarks.  This was done with amazing realism.  Further, the robot transformations were even more intricate and visually impressive than last time.

The bad

Yep, there was a lot of bad.

For starters, the movie was way too long, clocking in at 2 hours and X minutes.  I wouldn’t have had a problem had the film felt shorter, but it didn’t.  It felt like a really long movie.

Secondly, the plot.  It’s hard to know where to start with it so I won’t even try.  I hadn’t expected it to be original but this was derivative to the point that you couldn’t simply ignore it.  Let’s just say they could have put a little more effort into disguising it better.

Even the jokes were bad this time.  There were some decent laughs too, but many of jokes in Transformers II fell flat.  Like bad ‘Scary Movie’ jokes flat.  Especially when it tried to be ‘cool’, it turned out to be lame.  The twin Autobots were the prime culprits.

The film took a turn for the better when John Turturro arrived.  Like the first film, he was the comic highlight, but although he had some good lines he had limited screen time and dare I say even some of his antics wore a little thin at times.

The ugly

Transformers II has some of the worst editing of any film I have seen in recent times.  It’s not bad to the extent that you don’t know what’s going on, but it provides plenty of ‘WTFs?’.  For a major blockbuster like this, there’s no excuse.  To me, it reeks of laziness.  It’s as though the makers only cared about the cars, the action and the girls, and forgot about everything else.

Case in point – you know how when lead actor Shia LaBeouf injured his hand in a motor accident in real life and Bay said that they would work that into the movie?  Not really.  They just kind of fudged it – the idea wasn’t awful, but the execution was.  If you’ve seen the film you’ll know what I mean.

The performers

The majority of the main cast from the original returned.  Shia LaBeouf is getting over exposed these days, so he may be losing his charm, but he still does a reasonable job as the hero.  There were a few scenes where he demonstrates that his head hasn’t gotten so big that he’s unwilling to be ridiculed.

Megan Fox returns to play another sexy role as his girlfriend and doesn’t do much other than trying to look and sound appealing.  She’s actually not bad, but for some reason really looks like she could use a nice long bath.

The key new addition is the new roommate, Leo Spitz, played by Ramon Rodriguez, who is the primary comic relief until John Turturro returns.  Both men provide a spark to an often sagging film, though their jokes can be uneven.

On the military side, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to their rather useless roles.  If they wanted to trim the fat off this movie then these guys should have gone first.

Final word

Michael Bay didn’t try to cater for all audiences like say JJ Abrams did with Star Trek – it’s very clear from the first few minutes that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is nothing more than a bit of brainless fun targeted at overly excited teenagers.  However, even if you accept the film for what it is, it doesn’t necessarily succeed.  It’s still far too long and disjointed, and everything other than the special effects and action sequences feel extraordinarily lazy, as though they didn’t think anyone would notice or care if they put no effort into it.  That said, if you can put all of that aside…

2.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

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I went to see Terminator Salvation with reasonable (albeit guarded) expectations, but the film absolutely exceeded them.  In my humble opinion, it’s the second best film (out of four) of the great Terminator franchise.  Bearing in mind that I thought Terminator 2: Judgment Day was one of the best action movies and sequels of all time, that’s a pretty big compliment for the new film directed by McG and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

As per usual, I’ll keep plot details to an absolute minimum.  All that needs to be said is that the story revolves around a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale, or Edward Furlong from T2 and Nick Stahl from T3).  If you’ve seen the previous 3 films or have a vague idea what they are about, then no further explanation is necessary.

However, you don’t need to have seen any of the previous Terminator films to appreciate this one.  It stands up well as an independent feature, and is significantly different in style to its predecessors.  It’s substantially more dark, grim and gritty, capturing the pessimistic mood of the world perfectly.  But when it comes to action sequences, of which Terminator Salvation has plenty, it doesn’t do too shabbily when judged under the high standards set by the franchise.

While I said the story revolves around John Connor, the movie really belongs to new character Markus Wright, played by Aussie Sam Worthington (who will be appearing in Avatar later this year and will play Perseus in the remake of Clash of the Titans).  Worthington is arguably the lead character of the film, and shares just as much as screen time as (if not more than) Bale – and he has the more interesting story.  This is the second time in a row Bale has been relegated to second fiddle despite being the supposed ‘lead character’ for a major film (the first, of course, is when Heath Ledger’s Joker upstaged his Batman in The Dark Knight).  Maybe that’s the real reason Bale went American Psycho on the set!

While Bale and Worthington hog most of the minutes, Anton Yelchin absolutely steals the show as a young Kyle Reese.  He is terrific in this role, and I have become a big fan.  Also solid is Moon Bloodgood, a Resistance soldier, and Jadagrace Berry, too cute for her own good.  Michael Ironside grunts his way through the film for his paycheck, but it is Bryce Dallas Howard that has the most thankless role as as Kate Connor.  She really got short changed.

When people hear a guy named McG directed the film (you may remember him from such films as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), they cringe and refuse to give it a chance.  Poor guy, but that’s the nickname he was given from birth because too many relatives had the same names (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol).  However, McG does a splendid job in Terminator Salvation, creating a realistic, believable world, keeping the action thrilling and dynamic (with creative camera angles and movements), while managing to add in some cool homages to the previous films.  I thought they were cool anyway.

The special effects were superb, but audiences don’t expect anything less than seamless these days.  Although there were some highly creative sequences, none of them were as iconic as those from T1 or T2.

I was surprised how relatively little fanfare accompanied the release of this movie, which was the first in the franchise without Governor Schwarzenegger in the lead.  I’m not sure if it was because I was hidden from the world during my studies, but to me, Terminator Salvation had none of the hype that surrounded the release of other recent major films such as Star Trek or Angels & Demons.  Of course, there was that infamous psychotic Christian Bale rant on set that made headlines all around the world, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the unexpected low-keyness of it all.  Then again, that didn’t stop the early reviewers of the film from spoiling the many wonderful surprises in this underrated blockbuster (if you haven’t seen it yet, dear reader, then I hope you had more success than me in avoiding them).

Okay, now the verdict.  In my opinion, it’s better than a 4-star film, but not quite good enough to warrant 4.5 stars.  Hence, I will have to settle for 4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

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Today I took some time out of my busy study schedule to go check out the new Star Trek movie.  Some call it the new JJ Abrams movie.  You know, the one everybody’s talking about.

Just a disclaimer: I’ve never been a Star Trek fan, never seen an episode of the TV show, and only saw one of the films (I can’t even remember which one – perhaps First Contact or Nemesis – and I can’t remember a single thing about it).  Like most normal people though, I have heard of some of the catchphrases and I know of Kirk, Spock (including his ears and hand gesture) and Scotty, but that’s the extent of my Star Trek knowledge.

And so, I went into the movie relatively optimistic but unsure of what to expect.  I came out of the film raving about it.  Honestly, it blew my mind!

The new Star Trek is what has been called a ‘reboot’ (kind of like the new Batman films with Christian Bale) that explores the origins of its two most famous characters, Captain James T Kirk and his pointy-eared Vulcan friend, Spock.  It’s also considered a ‘prequel’ that sets the foundation for a whole new series of films.  With the exception of one person, the film sports an all-new cast that is fresh, young and brimming with vitality.

As per my usual review code of conduct, I won’t give away the plot, and honestly, I don’t even know if I could explain it even if I wanted to.  There’s a fair bit of what I assume is ‘Trekkie’ jargon (but it could also be basic science stuff) that went right over my head and the film didn’t exactly take its time to explain everything in detail.  But it’s not hard to figure out the basic premise of the storyline and what is going on.

In any case, the story, while interesting in its own right, is not the strength of the film.  The strength lies in the way in which director JJ Abrams (the genius that created Alias, Lost and Fringe and produced Cloverfield) has reinvigorated the franchise with freshness, excitement and enthusiasm. You don’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy this movie.  Star Trek WAS, for the most part, seen as a thing for die-hard fans and sci-fi geeks only.  One of the reasons I never got into it in the first place was because it seemed old and out-dated (despite being set in the future!), and the world it created was so extensive (with so many series, movies and novels) that I couldn’t be bothered making the effort to get to know it.  This film has provided the perfect spark to inject some much-needed life back into the franchise, and because it’s set right at the beginning, newbies to Star Trek (like me) can be eased into its world.

Abrams has inserted his unique directorial style and visual flair to the film.  Fans of his other works can probably spot the best elements of Lost and Fringe somewhere in there.  The new franchise players, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto were knockouts. Pine delivered a scruffy yet charismatic Kirk, brash and arrogant but a born leader, whereas Quinto showed he could be much more than a psychopath killer (what happened to Sylar’s eyebrows?!), inhabiting the character of Spock.  The supporting cast is also great.  John Cho managed to leave Harold (of Harold and Kumar fame) behind, and Simon Pegg stole the show as Scotty.  Guys like Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin were also solid.

The film was action-packed right from the start and didn’t let up.  It also had just the right dash of humor.  As for the special effects – I didn’t really notice it that much because I expected to see space ships and lasers flying through space – but I suppose that means they did an excellent job of it by not allowing the effects to overwhelm the film.

There were only two weaknesses I could point out.  The first was probably the antagonist played by Eric Bana  (almost unrecognisable in heavy make-up), which I felt wasn’t really terrifying or imposing enough.  It wasn’t really his fault though because the focus of the film was firmly on the young Kirk and Spock.  The second was some of the action sequences, which still relied too heavily on the rapid cut scenes.

On the whole, however, the new Star Trek was fantastic.  I’m sure old Trekkies will enjoy it, as will those who simply like to watch a fun, exciting movie.  Despite its significant running length (126 minutes), I was left wanting more by the time the credits began rolling.

I’m not going to rush out to buy the series on DVD any time soon, but I’m glad to hear that this film could be the first of many.  Bring on the sequels!

4.5 stars out of 5