Transformers: Dark of the Moon (May Contain Spoilers)

After the diabolical flop of the second film, I haven’t been getting too excited about the third instalment in the Transformers series. I remember seeing the first one and being blown away by the effects of real-life transforming robots, even though the script suffered from a certain degree of the cheese factor, but the second film ended up being the black mark on the franchise. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay swore that everything they did wrong in the second one would be rectified for the third, so I made the decision to give it a chance.

After the events of Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) the Autobots are working with the US Military on covert operations to keep the world safe while the Decepticons have gone into hiding. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is out in the world looking for a job along with his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley). But a conspiracy from the US moon landing and an Autobot ship that crashed there decades ago brings Sam out of his new life and back into the world of the Autobots. After Optimus and the others find out what the US Government have been hiding from them, they recover their old leader from the wreckage of the crash on the moon – Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). But after they bring Sentinel Prime back to Earth, Megatron (Hugo Weaving) and the Decepticons make the move they’ve been waiting to make – to rebuild Cybertron on Earth.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon does manage to eradicate a lot of the memory of the second film by going deeper into the mythos of the original action figures and storylines, and manages to pull off a much more interesting plotline by mixing human and Autobot histories together with twists that really aren’t obvious, rather than subjecting people to 2 ½ hours of bad acting and confusing storylines like the second one did and did it with far less annoying characters, even though there had to be a couple to give smaller audience members something to laugh at. The fact that Leonard Nimoy does the voice of Sentinel Prime as well came as a surprise to me as I didn’t know this before I went to the film. But despite how good he is at voicing characters, apparently Michael Bay couldn’t resist having a completely shameless Star Trek Spock quote of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in there – not all that clever, but obviously too good to resist.

Then there is the much more impressive replacement to Megan Fox, Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley. Putting aside for a moment (but never forgetting) that she used to be a Victoria’s Secret model, she actually manages to act in Dark of the Moon and comes across as much less annoying than Megan Fox was. For one thing, she manages to OPEN her mouth when she speaks, despite the ridiculous amount of pouting she still manages to do throughout the film. But the fact she’s British does redeem her a little bit from some of the bits that let her down – like towards the end, when she simply stands in the middle of a war zone with destruction happening all around her and stares blankly at something while she puts the pieces together in her mind. Still, at least she’s not Megan Fox.

One addition to this film that I really liked was the idea of robotic “gore” during the fight scenes. While some might argue that it’s a little bit too close to real gore for a 12A movie, what they’ve done for this instalment is add in the idea that if a character gets punched in the face, or shot in the chest or has an arm ripped off, there is engine oil and mechanic lubricants that spray everywhere like blood effects. It’s definitely a clever idea that hasn’t been approached before, but it could spark a debate as to how close to real gore you can get in what is essentially meant to be a kids film.

Even though the storyline is a lot better in Dark of the Moon and the action scenes are shot and imaged much better than the last film, two and a half hours is still an epic amount of time for what you actually get and a lot could have been shaved off the first half of the film since some parts aren’t relevant to the overall storyline and are mostly thrown in for continuity than anything else.

But it must be said, the most unrealistic thing of the entire film (which, let us not forget, has transforming robots that beat the crap out of each other) is that someone like Shia LaBeouf would end up with an ex-Victoria’s Secret model as his girlfriend, whether he’s saved the world with his robot car or not.

Overall, the big budget effects and storyline work well in Dark of the Moon and do for the franchise what was lost in the second film, but it seems there were only a few bits worth seeing in 3D and probably wouldn’t warrant the entire 3D upgrade, but IMAX might well be a different story. Transformers: Dark of the Moon gets 7 out of 10 for redeeming itself after the second film and having a better storyline and cast, but still dragging on in parts.

Advertisements

LISTED Film Previews – April 2011

Yes, intrepid film explorers, it’s time for another monthly round-up of my previews for the coming month of films. I think April is going to be the start of something very good this year, and is going to start the film juices flowing for easier digestion of the upcoming year. I can also only apologise for the lack of other posts recently, but I assure you, there will be more to come soon! Until that point in the future, wrap your eyelids round these for a while as a snack before the main course:

THOR (12A) (Dir. Kenneth Branagh)

The first (and quite possibly the best) of the big comic-book hero movies of the year comes in the form of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the famous Norse God of Thunder who, after defying his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), gets cast out from Asgard and must live amongst humans on Earth. When he meets the scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), he finds a new reason to defend Earth and retrieves his hammer Mjolnir, the source of his thunder powers. Expect big-time graphics and 3D during the scenes in Asgard and with The Destroyer from one of Marvel Comics biggest hits. And if this film manages to pull in the crowds, imagine how much The Avengers will do next year! Released 15th April.

SUCKER PUNCH (15) (Dir. Zack Snyder)

Snyder’s own original fantasy style vision will hit our screens in his true bombastic fashion. Locked away in a mental institute by her father, a young girl nick-named Baby Doll (Emily Browning) retreats into a Fantasy world with four other girl inmates (including Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie and Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea) of their own creation. But as they regress further into their fantasy world, a plan becomes clear to how they can collect 5 items from the fantasy world which they can use to escape their captors in the real world before it’s too late for all of them. Expect loads of amazing visuals and sexy steam-punk dressed girls battling dragons and other creatures with massive machine guns and suits of armour –a geeks dream come true? Quite possibly! Released 1st April.

SCREAM 4 (18) (Dir. Wes Craven)

The fourth instalment of Wes Craven’s genre-bending comedy-slasher series finally arrives to give a new generation a reason to not answer the phone. Neve Campbell returns as Sydney Prescott, the girl with a dark history who after a decade away returns to the town of Woodsboro. But along with her arrival comes a chain of copy-cat murders from a new Ghostface. Now, after a generation of horror films, the rules have all changed which means anything goes in this game of horror. With a new cast of possible victims including Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin, and with David Arquette and Courtney Cox returning also, who knows who will be the next to go… Released 22nd April.

FAST FIVE (12A) (Dir. Justin Lin)

Clearly, this whole car-porn line of films generates enough money that they can keep making sequels despite how little variation on a storyline there can really be. Still, saying that, Fast Five has been shot with the idea of releasing it in IMAX, so even the most un-car-savvy of us might actually be tempted into seeing some sweet rides race across floor-to-ceiling screens in high definition and 3D. At least this one still has the original cast of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, and with the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, you can bet this will be as explosive as the other Fast and the Furious films. Released 29th April.

As published in Listed Magazine and on http://www.listedmagazine.com

Alice In Wonderland (Contains Spoilers)

When I first heard about this film being made, I was so incredibly excited about it that I sent the link to the trailer to a bunch of my friends. After that, I slowly became wary that the films like this usually have a hard time living up to expectations, so I was ready to view this film with an entirely open mind. Tim Burton’s take on the Lewis Carroll classic is interesting to say the least. But it’s also clearly Tim Burton massaging his ego with the material he’s probably been dying to do ever since he graduated Art School. I’d like to point out here that I, in no way, “hated” Alice In Wonderland. But I also didn’t think it was the jewel in Tim Burton’s crown everyone was expecting it to be either. In other words, it was good, but not as great as it was meant to be…

Alice In Wonderland is the kind of film that relies heavily on a few things. First and foremost, it relies on having the epic, drug-addled visuals that the original material built up in people’s heads. This, Tim Burton has done a fantastic job on – of course he has, it’s Tim Burton’s imagination! He probably has dreams like this every night! But regardless of that, everything that appears in this Alice In Wonderland version matched pretty closely to how things should look, with Burton adding in his own acid-trip effects in the right places. However, maybe letting Tim Burton totally re-write how things should have looked as well would have been interesting to see, but could have annoyed and confused people who know the original material well.

This leads me to my second point – the adaptation to the script. Obviously, this version is not the original story. Or at least, not for the most part. There were clearly parts from the original text that Tim Burton wanted so badly to do, but at the same time create a unique piece of work that could act as his own version, that he couldn’t choose between the two. So the fact that the now 19-year-old Alice has conveniently forgotten her original adventure into Wonderland means that for the first hour or so of the movie, she gets to re-discover everything all over again. This has obviously been done for the convenience of easing the audience gradually into this new extension of the original story without completely going off the rails. Which could be either clever or redundant depending which side of the Tim Burton fence you fall on.

But possibly the biggest thing that Alice In Wonderland’s storyline relies on isn’t Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Alice at all. In fact, this version revolves (for the most part) entirely around Johnny Depp’s character of The Mad Hatter. And that, unfortunately, is where I thought the film started to falter…

Whilst it’s common knowledge that Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter (who also appears in nearly every Tim Burton film, and stars in this as The Red Queen) are married, its undeniable that him and Johnny Depp do so much work together that they may as well be having an affair. However, doing so much work with Tim Burton is obviously starting to wear thin for Depp, and his Mad Hatter seemed to be lacking a few elements to be entirely complete. Which is a shame, because as I mentioned, this new story revolves almost entirely around The Mad Hatter character, and sadly, I expected a lot more from him in this. I personally was expecting an entirely outrageously eccentric character from Depp, but instead he seemed more like The Multiple Personality Disorder Hatter, or The Mild-Case-Of-Tourettes Hatter instead. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that this character fits this version, though, as Tim Burton is doing his usual thing of putting a darker twist on an otherwise light-hearted story.

This new story, as many might know by now, sees Alice returning to wonderland to take up her rightful place of overthrowing The Red Queen’s rule over Wonderland (or technically “Underland”) by slaying The Jabberwocky (played by none other than Christopher Lee!) so that The White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway) can restore the land to the way it once was. This darker, almost apocalyptic version of Wonderland is fitting for what Tim Burton does, and Johnny Depp’s more serious, forlorn Mad Hatter fits into this, but it’s clearly not what people were hoping for from him. Instead of the bizarre, original, off-the-wall character we were hoping for we get a mixture of Jack Sparrow and Sweeny Todd. There were also other things about the story that started to annoy me which I’ll avoid going on a rant about, but I’ll list in case other people noticed them as well.

Firstly, the fact that Alice miraculously and conveniently tames the Bandersnatch after it already nearly killed her. It had no rhyme nor reason behind it, other than it was means for her escape from the castle. There were many other ways that this could be done, but instead they clearly wanted to have a scene with Alice taming a Bandersnatch. Secondly, the “why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?” riddle was brought up WAY too many times – it was clever in the original text to prove a point, but they are trying to use it way too much in this. The whole point of the riddle is that a raven IS NOT like a writing desk, and therefore its point for use is made redundant! Thirdly, Anne Hathaway (as great as her acting is, making her one of the best performances of the film) does this thing with her hands throughout the film to make her character seem more graceful, but it actually distracts from her performance a little too much.

As for the rest of the film, I thought it was fantastically stylised, and the voice talents of Stephen Fry as The Cheshire Cat, Matt Lucas as The Tweedles and Micheal Sheen as The White Rabbit amongst others were completely on the mark and really perfected those characters. The visuals were epic, the creatures like The Jub-Jub Bird and The Jabberwocky looked perfect, and all the set pieces from the original Wonderland story were there. I think that seeing Alice In Wonderland in 3D or IMAX would possibly be distracting people from the storyline with pretty effects and stuff, but it would also be entertaining to see how different certain scenes are between the 2D and 3D versions.

Overall, I enjoyed Alice In Wonderland to the extent that I found it interesting to watch and fun to see the characters and set pieces brought to life in a live-action film, but the storyline that doesn’t delve too deep and a few disappointing performances and parts of the script mean that it wasn’t the instantly awe-inspiring film that I was hoping to be. For that, I’m giving Alice In Wonderland a half-and-half 5 out of 10. I liked it, but I did not love it.

Avatar (Contains Spoilers)

Or, should that rightly be “James Cameron’s Avatar”? I’m not sure. Personally, if I were him, I’d stick my name all over this as well! James Cameron, throughout his career and within the film-making community, is widely regarded as someone who with each film he makes, pushes the boundaries of what is capable with cinema effects that little bit more. Terminator and Terminator 2, Aliens, Titanic – all are just a few examples of how his name has now become synonymous with creating ground-breaking effects in films. Avatar, it would seem, is less so much pushing the boundaries, but more giving them a great big kick square in the ass over the edge of a cliff!

When going to see Avatar (or James Cameron’s… ok, just Avatar for now!) it’s best to bear in mind that this film has been made using the most ground-breaking, cutting-edge technology that you can possibly get right now (so that’s where all that extra Oscar revenue from Titanic went?) and should therefore be viewed in the best possible quality. That’s why it was made, that’s how it’s intended to be viewed, and that’s the best way to experience it. 2D might not quite cut it in places unless it’s in the best digital possible, 3D will be explained in this review, and IMAX (I’m gonna guess here) would possibly make you open your eyes so wide they’d fall out of their sockets. Avatar was filmed with the intention of it being screened in Digital, 3D or better (IMAX, then) and they used filming equipment and CGI that would make all of this possible. The whole film is about 50/50 between digital effects and actual actors and sets. Right from the opening, you can tell that this will be visually amazing. Or, at least, that is what I’d hoped…

I would like to say, right at this point, that I am in NO WAY disappointed with the visuals of the actual film. Not at all. In fact, I’d go so far as to agree with the presses and film reviews that yes, this is in fact the most stunningly visual film I have seen lately, and does in fact push the boundaries of modern film viewing to new heights. Yes, yes, this is all true, and we’ve all heard it by now. No, my main qualm is this – whether it was just this particular cinema or not, I don’t know, but the 3D glasses you get seem to have a tint to them. Almost like they’re semi-sunglasses. I assume that this is what they use in the lens to make it (duh) 3D – but what this also means is that it dulls the brightness of the screen that little bit more. This really disappointed me, as I went to see this film to be blown away by the brightness and vividness of the scenery and the world of Pandora that James Cameron has created. Unfortunately, I had to partly sacrifice this for seeing the whole thing brought to me in 3D. Now, in hindsight, this might not be so bad – seeing it in 3D does make essential differences to the viewing that you would not otherwise get. But part of me couldn’t help wondering if they could have compensated for this by making the 3D version that much brighter on the screen?

3D visuals or not, this does not detract any more from the story itself. James Cameron has actually said that Avatar is his own personal “environmental” film, and they do not in ANY way shy away from that in the storyline. Certain reviewers have said that at points towards the end, Avatar gets a bit touchy-feely, a bit cliché, even a bit “tree-huggy”. Whilst this is true to a certain extent – there are distinct parallels between Avatar and other environmental statements such as Fern Gully or even Pocahontas if you want to go that far – it is easy to see how it COULD be hugely more cliché and soppy in the last hour or so. They’ve clearly been able to take a step back during making this and dial down the Hollywood Fodder in the scriptwriting process, and decided that actually people don’t need this rammed down their throats. As such, for me personally it was only bordering on getting crappily cliché.

I’m sure many people by now know exactly what Avatar is about, but let’s recap in brief anyway – Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-marine who gets enrolled in the Avatar programme on the planet Pandora which is inhabited by the Na’Vi race who are 10 foot tall blue humanoids who live in the forests. Sully gets an Avatar of a Na’Vi which responds to his brainwaves and he controls, and is sent to live with the Na’Vi and learn all about them. (It should be mentioned at this point that Sigourney Weaver plays her part very well also, and you grow to like her character throughout the duration of the film.) The Marines want to be typically human and blitz the place and mine the shit out of it for expensive materials, and Sully ends up siding with the Na’Vi after seeing all the wonderful things they can do and connect with in their world, and after losing the trust of the people then goes on to become a great tribal warrior whom they all now see as a great leader. Massive fights ensue, Sully and one of the local girls fall in love, then out of love, then in love again (que violins…) and ultimately Good triumphs over Selfishness once again. Cliche? Perhaps in theory, but when watching it, you’re not really thinking of the overall concept. Instead your focussing on the minor details. Like the parallel being drawn between the Settlers and the Natives in America, or the Deforestation of the Amazon. Or how the script comes worryingly close to being very cliché, but manages to disguise it just enough to avoid groaning at the screen. Or how cool that shot of a Ten Foot Tall Blue Dude jumping onto a massive flying creature looked…

Essentially, if you’re going to watch Avatar you should be a bit prepared for certain things. Firstly, it is a long film, clocking in at about 2 hours 30 minutes. Not THAT long compared to certain other effects-driven blockbusters (Thanks, Lord of the Rings!), and it doesn’t really drop into being slow at any point because you’re still fixated on how amazing the whole thing looks, but you should not expect a short film in any case. Secondly, the message of environmentalism will NOT be discreet. It will, in fact, be very prominent, but not to the point of rubbing it in the audiences faces. Much. BUT, that’s the whole point behind Avatar – it’s mixing action with a vital purpose, really. Thirdly, it does get a bit spiritual – the “connection” that the Na’Vi have to all the life (sometimes a literal connection, with their ponytails connecting to the creatures they ride in a slightly creepy way…) on Pandora gets a bit spiritual at points, but again, this is just one more metaphor that they draw. Fourthly, the violence is relentless at points. The Marines bomb the living shit out of the Na’Vi homeland and don’t blink an eye. People die. A lot. So, unless you’re ready to explain to your five-year-old about casualties of war when they were expecting a film about big blue hippies, you may want to prepare. But again, strangely, this is actually something I liked – it doesn’t hold back. It’s harsh, yes, but at least it’s truthful and real. It doesn’t sugar-coat anything at these points, and that’s an actual eye-opener. Good on you, Cameron…

And lastly, YES, those big mechanical things the Marines use to blitz the living crap out of things? Those ARE, basically, the Powerloaders from Aliens! Stop pointing that out, people! James Cameron came up with those, he can use them as much as he likes!

Anyway, regardless of the fact that I’ll probably have to see it again (but IMAX next time!) so that I can appreciate the visuals and details that little bit more, Avatar was a hugely entertaining film that did in fact amaze me visually. The story perhaps could have run ever-so slightly deeper, and strayed ever-so slightly further away from the cliche-border, but as it stands they did a good job of getting the message out there and mixing it with the action sequences just right as well. I’d probably have to give (James Cameron’s…) Avatar about a 7 out of 10, but that could be likely to change once I get to see it again without the colours being dulled by 3D glasses!

The Continuing Adventures of Myself – Part The First

Tuesday 3rd November: So, part of what I’m doing out here is developing some of my skills which I would be likely to use professionally, in whatever kind of direction that would take me, and part of that includes working on my writing even more than what I’m doing now. It’s like with anything you want to be good at – practise, practise, practise. You want to learn an instrument? You don’t just read a book, then take a lesson, and then get good over night. It takes work, and lots of it. I found that out after a while with my vocal lessons when my tutor caught onto the fact that I might not have been practising, and then when I did start doing more, I was picking up more stuff a lot more quickly. So, like I said, part of what I’m doing out here on my extended trip to Los Angeles, California is working on all the things that I want to use to make a career, and one of those is writing, in whatever form that may come in, whether its creative writing, lyrics, articles, whatever. This means, therefore, that I shall be doing a little bit of a journal everyday as part of this challenge. Nothing major, just a little little bit everyday.

So, to start, something new I discovered today – for all the usefulness and inexpensiveness of California’s public transport, and for how clean and majoritively tramp-free they are, there is always likely to be a problem. Today, I discovered that problem, and it came in the form of one bus I really needed to get not coming. At ALL. A half an hour goes by, I’m still waiting for it to come and by now its past 15 minutes since it was due and I’m now 5/10 minutes late. My plan of action now? Say “Fuck this” and walk the over-a-fucking-mile to the place I’m working. In the midday sun. Carrying almost my entire computer supplies. My reward later on in the day? A big cake/cookie thing called a Snickerdoodle!! SCORE!! And the world is balanced once again! Day out of the office tomorrow, and the plan WAS to find a Starbucks somewhere and do work, but I might need to make calls so I’ll probably be staying in instead. No beach/work/cappuccino combination for me tomorrow then!

Wednesday 4th November: Not much to say. Worked and researched from the house, have been outside for a total of 10 minutes to get some fresh air after getting cabin fever over being inside. Was meant to go out and explore a place called The Howard Hughes Centre (big massive shopping place with restaurants and a huge Imax cinema), but people cancelled. Bad times. Perhaps tomorrow will bring better prospects, who knows?

Friday 6th November: No entry yesterday, I know. “Better prospects” fell asleep when they got in from work and then overslept, even after I texted them, so instead my evening was occupied with other activities. For instance – ever wondered what happens to a BLT sandwich when you forget about it for 2 weeks? Neither have I, but I found out all the same. One bag scrub, and a bunch of clothes ironing later, and it’s already evening, so no time for even 1 episode of The Mighty Boosh! Still, today has fared better – work has been somewhat completed (minus the polishing-up), and adventures a-plenty tonight as I stay round friend’s/people-I’m-working-for’s house for an early start to a recording session tomorrow, which I’ve been invited to sit in on. Outlook for the rest of the weekend after? Sketchy, with a chance of clarity later tomorrow. Stay tuned, good people.

Saturday 7th November: What a previous 24 hours that was!! Stayed at friend’s house last night, and watched films till about 1.30 am, before finally crashing out on a bed-on-the-floor which had never felt so comfortable, woke up to a breakfast of chicken-sausages and swiss cheese eggs (which, by the way, has been the best breakfast I’ve had since getting here if you don’t include Lucky Charms!), and then spent the entire day in a recording studio recording a song to be used in a low-budget film the head of the facility I’m working at is involved in! The studio belonged to a man named Bruce Hanifan, who has actually written and recorded loads of music and scores for shows like Ice Road Truckers and won awards for them, but his studio is set up in a converted garage in his back garden, which is amazing when yousee how professional it is! The song was, as everyone admits, a cover of a stupid little song that the band 10cc made eons ago called Neanderthal Man, but part of doing a cover is that you do your own thing with it, and these guys bloody nailed it!! Layered, harmonised vocals; gang singalongs; jazzy bass solos; the lot! It was awesome just to witness, but then to be able to be involved in it as was even more amazing! So, today was my first time singing in an actual recording studio and I think its something I could easily get used to!! Also, I worked with an amazingly gorgeous girl named Sarah, who apparently is a very talented singer-songwriter/actress/model in her native Germany, and is on her way to being kinda famous, so I’ll be watching the presses closely! Went for proper, no-nonsense sushi afterwards and I got a proper, no-nonsense blast of wasabi to the back of my sinuses. Also tried “oni”, which is sea urchin. Personally, after trying it once I won’t recommend it – it’s sort of what I picture brains feeling and tasting like. Oh well, lesson learned! Anyway, that’s enough for now, shattered, need sleep, more plans for tomorrow and the day after as well.

Sunday 8th November: Adventures come in all sizes. I found that out today in the form of a simple outing to get some essentials for the fridge. A simple excursion to the local supermarket? No, more like getting severe culture shock in a crowded area!! Only in America can you walk into a supermarket and be greeted with a Starbucks right by the door, and trollies that have coffee cup holders. Not only that, but the mentality of having all sorts of choices gets taken to extremes here. For instance, how many kinds of peanut butter can you think of? Smooth and crunchy, right? No. Try Honey Roasted Peanut Butter, or Almond Butter, etc etc, but all can be found at a station that actually PRESSES the nuts into the paste/butter for you in a deli-style tub that you then pay for. Not only that, but in some supermarkets like the one I went to, there are fast food chains in the MIDDLE of the store, like a half-way point of doing your shopping – Getting tired of hauling those bags of milk and bread around? Stop at the Panda Express Chinese Food in the centre of the shop! Craziness… Also, if you come over here and are looking to buy a fresh can of anti-perspirant spray, don’t bother, as apparently it’s borderline illegal and they only use the horrible anti-perspirant sticks here. Regular deodorant spray is it, then! Anyway, apart from that, it was a pretty chilled day. Spoke to loads of friends today, which was awesome to see how they were all doing, and then went to some friends of the family’s house for an evening of chilli and sports, which I wouldn’t mind spending most of my Sunday’s doing as it’s a pretty good combination! Back to the interning tomorrow, hopefully some more exploration in the evening. One week done with already? Where does it all go?!