Friday, August 7, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

This movie is a jumbled mess. Stephen Sommers has directed better films in the past, but Rise of Cobra is just a schizophrenic nightmare.

Sommers' past films--notably The Mummy--managed to keep a comfortably brisk pace while still making the audience care about the admittedly-silly characters.  G.I. Joe, on the other hand, seems content to completely focus on the action.  There are many flashbacks that explain the backgrounds of several characters, but most of those scenes are more annoying than interesting.

The action scenes are decent, though there's nothing to rave about.  The special effects are pretty terrible, though that might simply be because of "style."  The entire film comes across as a live-action cartoon in nearly every possible way.  However, there's a rather large amount of swearing and a violence for this to be considered a childrens' film, which is rather odd. One wonders what exactly the target audience was for this movie.

In all honesty, there's not much more to say about the film.  It's not terrible, but it's not great.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is like living through a melancholy dream. Even more than The Order of the Phoenix, this film is nearly devoid of bright color, reflecting the dreary mood of the story. This is actually rather strange, as Order of the Phoenix ended on a slightly upbeat and hopeful note. However, as a mostly melancholic, subdued film, The Half-Blood Prince is wonderful.
Right from the start, it's obvious that this is one of the most visually-impressive fantasy films ever created. The cinematography never ceases to amaze, and the extreme level of detail and realism that accompanies the already-striking artistic style rivals that of the Lord of the Rings films. It's especially satisfying to watch the perfectly-rendered Quidditch match in this film and realize just how far the visual effects have come since The Sorcerer's Stone. Each magical spell, gust of snow-filled wind, and billow of black smoke looks perfectly realistic.
Despite the dark tone of the overall plot, this actually may be the most genuinely humorous Potter film. For a good 80% of the movie, the main characters have little more to do than simply live their lives. It might sound boring or pointless, but there's so much character development and genuine humor that it's completely entertaining the whole way through.
One surprising—but not unwelcome—aspect of the story is the heavy emphasis on the close, loving relationship between Harry and Hermione. It's touching in an unexpected way, and goes to show just how strong their friendship really is.
Even Draco Malfoy is given more depth, as we see for the first time that he is a conflicted character, rather than a one-dimensional bigoted bully.

The Half-Blood Prince is not entirely without disappointments, however. While the dark seriousness of the story is not necessarily a bad thing, it does take away some of the "punch" that The Order of the Phoenix excelled at.

Another problem with the film is the fact that it lacks a real ending. While The Order of the Phoenix managed to create a conclusion where one really didn't exist, here we don't even have any sort of closure at all. Although we are told exactly where the characters are going and what's happened at the end, we still don't have the emotional closure that is necessary for the film to work on a purely emotional level. This very well may have been the intent of the filmmakers, as Dumbledore's death is meant to be an emotional blow, but the simple fact is that the ending is not satisfying. It feels as though we are given an invisible "to be continued" message when we shouldn't have needed one.
However, for all of its narrative flaws, the film is far from crippled because of them. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has a wonderful script, well-executed humor, stunning visuals, and great characterization.

Eight points for Gryffindor.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

This is not a good film.
It is, however, a decent-ish movie.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen lacks solid character development, good scriptwriting, and a coherent plot. And yet, for all it's flaws, there are still select moments where it's highly entertaining.

Revenge starts off with a brief prologue, followed by a great action scene that sets up the plot very well. In this story, Optimus Prime and his team of Autobots are working alongside NEST, a small U.S. military force led by Major Lennox, to eradicate the Decepticons from the face of the planet. When an ancient evil enemy, The Fallen, moves to destroy the Earth, Optimus Prime and the Autobots find themselves nearly powerless against this new Decepticon threat.

Unlike the first film, in which the the film's budget greatly restricted the amount of screentime that the transformers could be given, here we see the robots in their full glory throughout the film, even when we probably don't need to. The extreme close-up camera problems from the first film are almost entirely gone, as the action is much better-framed in Revenge of the Fallen.

The film feels very much like the original animated series, as we get the same globe-spanning (and oft-ridiculous) sci-fi war adventures of the Transformers. It's a lot of fun, even if it comes off as convoluted and silly.
A highlight of this film is the much-improved character of Sam Witwicky. In the last film, he was an annoying boy whose entire motivation was to get a cool car and a hot girlfriend. His entire existence in the last film seemed contrived and silly, as was the film's assertion that he somehow represented the best of humankind. In this film, he is shown to be much more responsible, working right from the start towards getting his college education, and, later, saving the world. He is also given a completely plausible reason to exist in the film, which makes his scenes actually contribute to the overall plot rather than distract from it as in the first film. For the first time, I actually care about Sam. He earns his place in the film.

Mikaela (Megan Fox) has nothing to do in the movie. All of her important scenes only serve to advance the plot in a very small way, and it's obvious that the scriptwriters were just looking for something to do with her. Nearly all of the other secondary characters are similarly useless or annoying, with the notable exception of Major Lennox, who continues his role as the .

Throughout the film we see Optimus Prime not as the slow, clunky old robot that he was in the last film, but as a powerful and skilled warrior. After seeing Optimus do little in the first film but give inspirational speeches and get kicked around by Megatron, it's great to see him as the great warrior that he should be. One of his fight scenes is, without a doubt, the best action scene I've seen in a long time. As a Transformers fan, that scene alone was worth the $9.50 I paid for the ticket.

Bumblebee is the only other Autobot that's given much spotlight, which is probably for the best. Honestly, there's no reason for the audience to care about anyone else, so this is a welcome change. He's every bit as cool as he was in the first film, though his speech problems are becoming annoying. In the last movie, we never really got to see him in action, as he was either off-screen or crippled for all of his fight scenes, but here we can see that he's an extremely good fighter; fast and powerful. His Camaro form also gets an upgrade from the 2007 film, which is nice for the people like me who appreciate that.

The two new "comic relief" characters, Skids and Mudflap, are extremely annoying. They're portrayed with a large number of racial stereotypes (which makes absolutely no sense), and serve to do nothing other than sit there and act like morons. They could have been completely taken out of the story and the film would have been better for it. It's not exaggerating to say that they're the worst part of the movie.

Jetfire, perhaps the most important of the new Autobots, is portrayed in an odd fashion. Whereas he was a powerful (and relatively young) Autobot in all of his previous appearances in Transformers lore, here he is shown to be an ancient transformer that can barely move. As a fan, I'm somewhat disappointed with this portrayal, as Jetfire is one of my favorite TF characters. Here he serves the purposes of exposition and little more. His entire introduction scene is actually one of the major subplots that did not need to be in the film.

The rest of the Autobot cast is relatively ignored. Ironhide and Ratchet are given only a few lines in this film, and serve as background characters along with Arcee, Jolt, and Sideswipe. While this might seem sad, it ultimately works, as they really are mere soldiers in a war, and aren't extremely important characters anyway.

The villains this time are actually shown in their full glory outside of battle, rather than only glimpsed as in the 2007 film. It's nice, even if they're a bit silly and not very deep. They really only serve as the threat, not actual characters. However, as that threat, they serve their purpose well.

The aforementioned forest battle comes in the middle of the story, and honestly is the high point of the entire film. The story's climax isn't anywhere near as interesting, but the endless number of explosions and mini-battles keep the intensity high. Perhaps too high, actually.

It's been said by some that a film is filled with depth, while a movie is superficial entertainment. By those definitions, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a terrible film, but a so-so movie. Normally the battles and "fun" elements of the story would be enough to elevate the movie overall, but the bad stuff here is just so bad that it's hard to enjoy the whole.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

This is not the Star Trek you know. At all.

Star Trek is an insanely fast and fun re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise, and it generally works. Those who pine for a methodical, thought-provoking film may be disappointed, as this film makes momentum its primary concern. If the 1978 Star Trek: The Motion Picture was focused on slow plot development with minimal action, then this new Star Trek is its polar opposite. While there is plenty of character definition and development, this film does it in a very quickly-cut style, giving us hundreds of great character "snippets" rather than a few dozen longer sequences. Sadly, the film is perhaps too focused on the momentum, often interweaving too many subplots into the narrative in order to keep the pace going strong. It's a trade-off, and while I'm not sure it was for the best, it certainly keeps the film interesting, which is, at the very least, fun.

"Fun" may be the key word in this new film, which seemingly ditches the science fiction "thinker" feel of the old Star Trek for a much more exciting narrative. Humor similar to that seen in Star Trek IV (the one with the whales) abounds in this film, which may annoy some and thrill others.

The new Trek crew is much more evenly-balanced than the old. While the Original Series shoved characters like Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty to the background, this film gives each crewmember their own spotlight, usually seamlessly.

Chris Pine's portrayal of James T. Kirk is remarkable in that the viewer is not constantly reminded of William Shatner, as there aren't too many comparisons to be drawn. While Shatner's Kirk was a slightly foolish risk-taker, Pine's Kirk is a younger, brasher, and much more thrill-seeking character. He doesn't show the maturity of Shatner's Kirk in this film, but the ending certainly seems to suggest that we will see that in the sequels.

Zachary Quinto's Spock is one of the most significantly different portrayals, as he does not have the complete emotional control that Leonard Nimoy's version of the character possessed. This Spock is shown to be a somewhat conflicted character, constantly confused by his half-Human-half-Vulcan heritage. It's enjoyable to watch, though I do wonder how future storylines will deal with the fact that Spock is now a much more emotional character. Will he still retain his reliance on logic? It seems essential to the character, so I hope so. In any case, Quinto plays the character extremely well, to the point where one actually forgets Nimoy's famously powerful voice, even despite Nimoy's appearance as Spock in the film.

Leonard "Bones" McCoy may be my favorite re-imagining of any of the characters. Karl Urban, known for his Rohirrim-mustering in The Lord of the Rings, plays the slightly manic and constantly paranoid McCoy in such a sensical-yet-constantly-humorous way that the viewer cannot help but be entranced at his every appearance. He can switch from being hilarious to completely serious and dramatic at a split-second's notice, and with absolutely no sign of inconsistency. This McCoy is simultaneously accurate to the original character and completely different, all while being wholly entertaining.

The characters of Scotty and Chekov are played mostly for laughs, and while 80% of the time it works, every fifth gag comes off as childish and stupid. Hopefully that'll change by the time the second film rolls around,

The villain of the film, Nero, is a little bit underdeveloped. Star Trek: Countdown, a comic book prequel to the film, developed Nero's character in an amazing way. However, his portrayal in this film is hampered by the fact that certain very important scenes for Nero were cut out of the theatrical release, leaving us to wonder exactly how and why this seemingly silly character is in command of the massive Romulan mining ship-turned-warship, the Narada. I would have loved to have seen more of the tragic and powerful backstory of Nero in the film, as it really developed him into a character that was sympathetic, truly vengeful, and enthralling.

One significant point must be addressed: two of the main characters become romantically involved. Every time I hear myself or anyone else bring up that relationship, I have to stop and take a moment to gather my scrambled thoughts up off the ground. While the film certainly explains why their coupling should occur, it is still very off-putting. However, the humorously shocked reactions of the other characters to this relationship both acknowledge and alleviate viewers' concerns.

Some of the plot choices in Star Trek are confusing. Why exactly did the writers feel the need for a Willy Wonka-style "Scotty's stuck in a water pipe" scene? It added NOTHING. Also, the reveal of the film's backstory was badly done, leaving many--including myself--scratching their heads as to why the choice was made to reveal the central driving force of the external conflict in such a schitzophrenic and vague manner.

Another seeming plot hole is the fact that Kirk and most of the main characters are mere cadets, yet are almost instantly promoted to being the senior staff of the Federation's flagship by the end of the film. From what I've heard, there was a bit of dialogue that was cut from the film which explained that, due to the time-altering events of the film's prologue, the timeline is attempting to "mend itself" by pushing the same people from the Original Series into their same roles, despite the altered state of the universe. That line would have gone a long way to explain things, and I'm not exactly pleased that it was cut.

There are several events in this film that are so mind-shatteringly epic that they forever alter the Star Trek universe. This new series of films is not the same Trek we've known for 40 years; this is something entirely different, slightly akin to Joss Whedon's Serenity. Some may not initially welcome the change; it took me about twelve hours to accept it. Now that I've had a good morning's sleep, I've realized that I love this new movie. It's character-based, fast, and fun.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Seven years ago, when I first saw the original X-Men film, I was hooked forever. I've now read dozens of X-men comics, seen countless episodes of X-men cartoons, bought action figures, watched all the films, and spent countless hours poring over X-men lore.
And even after all of that, I am honestly not sure what to think of this movie.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not an X-men film, nor is it entirely a Wolverine film. It's actually a strange amalgamation of various elements that all come together into an oddly-constructed narrative.

The plot basically follows Wolverine as he goes through the various events that will lead him through his membership in the superpowered black ops unit, Team X, and end with him losing the memories of his past.

An odd amount of time in the film is actually spent on a dozen or so other mutant characters that honestly feel like "extras" in a film that should be centered solely on the title character. At times, the film feels like a video game with the way that it constantly switches from character-fight-scene to character-fight-scene.

Some characters ultimately work (though the story might have been better-told without them), while others only hold the story back. Most of them fit into the latter category.

Wolverine's biggest flaw is that it doesn't allow you to feel for the character(s). While Hugh Jackman gives it his all, the script, direction, and editing don't allow for the film to work on the personal level that it should. Also, there are many changes in Wolverine's story that seem rather odd, such as the choice to make Sabretooth, a villain seen in the first X-men film, Wolverine's half-brother. Since Wolverine has his memory wiped in this movie [not really a spoiler], it would make sense for him to not remember Sabretooth, but how exactly did Sabretooth go from a cold and calculating murderer to a blonde guy who just stares funny at people and has no memory of anything having to do with Wolverine?

Another disappointment is the fact that Logan's much-hinted-at past is shown to be a lot more boring than we thought it was. X2 had flashbacks showing a horrifying surgery scene which involved Logan escaping from a government facility, traumatized and amnesia-stricken. As it turns out, that surgery scene actually only lasted TWO MINUTES (that's in-story time, not even screen time), and he doesn't lose his memories until several days later. While the comics (and X2) showed Wolverine's past to be bloody, brutal, and horrifying, this film shows the tale to be extremely flat and devoid of deep emotion. It's no wonder that the film version of Logan is so much softer than his comics counterpart; his past is practically happy-go-lucky by comparison.

The visual effects are... hit-and-miss. There's nothing that really blows the mind of the viewer, nor is there really anything with much artistic quality. Many of the special effects are actually pretty bad.

All in all, this isn't a terrible film, but it's not amazing either. Go see it if you're a huge comics fan (if only because this will be the subject of many a geek-discussion in the months and years to come), but otherwise wait until the DVD, then NetFlix it.

As I have recently learned, if you are a female, this film apparently is much, MUCH more enjoyable, and you should add another five points to the below score. (thanks, Hugh Jackman). :P


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hulk Vs

This direct-to-DVD feature is actually two films--Hulk vs Thor and Hulk vs Wolverine--on one disc. However, unlike its deceptively simplistic title, these two animated shorts are not simple fighting matches; they are complete stories which both feature the Hulk as the main antagonist.

Hulk Vs Thor:
This short film is slightly longer than its Wolverine-centered counterpart. Additionally, the story is far more straightforward and epic. This tale is a mythological epic that literally takes the heroes and villains to Hell and back, all with a grand style befitting of its source material.

Everything in this animated Asgard glows with a supernatural light and is sculpted with an angelic grace. This truly feels like a supernatural realm, and is not easily confused with our world.

Thor himself is well-designed, not looking too chunky or overly feminine. He looks, sounds, and moves exactly as he should.

The story is simple, yet takes several turns. At the start, Hulk vs Thor deals with Thor's evil half-brother, Loki, attempting to use the Hulk as a weapon against Asgard. Of course, the Hulk is a monster that cannot be controlled, and apocalyptic chaos ensues.

Bruce Banner's character is given a surprising amount of depth in this story, with the importance of the Hulk/Banner duality in the spotlight. A twist in the plot allows for a deep look at what makes Bruce Banner a hero, something that is rarely--if ever--seen in his other stories.

This tale deals with themes of life, death, love, and self-sacrifice. The epic scale of Thor vs Hulk is remarkable, especially considering its short 45-minute length.

The animation is practically flawless, mixing artistic flair with fluid-yet-brutal motion. I do wonder, however, at the apparent lack of on-screen blood. It seems strange that certain scenes in Hulk vs Thor that show on-screen sword wounds are oddly devoid of the animated blood that permeated Hulk vs Wolverine. After all, it's not as if the film was going to get a rating below PG-13 anyway. Perhaps this film was not originally meant to be coupled with the grittier Wolverine story? Perhaps Marvel Studios wants to be able to air this film on television? In any case, the fact that the story takes place in a magical land covers up for any perceived lack of realism.

All in all, the film is great at what it is: a 45-minute superhero action/drama. Though it may not stand up as high as many of DC comics' animated movies, it's definitely a great feature that fans of action, comic books, mythology, or animation in general can enjoy.



Hulk vs Wolverine

Hulk vs Wolverine trades drama for carnage-filled fun. I was very, very surprised at the level of violence in this film. On-screen characters are dismembered and disemboweled. However, this is not a simple carnage-fest; there is in fact a story here.

This story takes place before Wolverine joins with the X-men, but after he has escaped from the Weapon X science lab. The actual narrative is simple: the government wants Wolverine to track down and possibly kill the Hulk, who has apparently gone on a rampage. However, Wolverine's old Weapon X teammates have special plans, both for Bruce Banner and Logan himself.

One thing that's immediately obvious is that the character designs are a bit different in this film than in Hulk vs Thor. While the designs in Thor were elegant-yet-strong, the characters here have a "clunkier" feeling. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as it reinforces the gritty tone of the story, but I would have appreciated Wolverine looking a little less goofy.

On that note, however, Wolverine is characterized pretty perfectly, just as Thor was. Voiced by the excellent actor who also voices Logan in Wolverine and the X-Men, Wolverine's voice has the perfect amount of grit.

The Hulk/Wolverine fight is one of the best and most brutal fights I have ever seen in animation. It's bloody, tense, and genuinely surprising.

The real story kicks into gear, however, when the Weapon X team shows up.

From left to right: Deadpool, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, Sabretooth

The villains of Weapon X are a lot of fun to watch, but while Omega Red, Deathstryke, and Sabretooth are mostly just out for Wolverine's blood, Deadpool is genuinely funny. His morbid humor is both slightly disgusting and completely hilarious. It's the first time he's ever been seen in animation, and it's nice. It'll be great to see him return in Marvel's future stories.

If there is any real flaw with Hulk vs Wolverine, it's that the story is practically non-existent. It's lots of fun, but after seeing Thor's deep and meaningful development on several different characters, Wolverine is just a bloody thrillride. However, as a bloody thrillride, it's awesome.



All in all, this is a really great DVD movie. It's thoroughly enjoyable, and has some of the best action animation on this side of the Pacific Ocean. The DVD has some great commentaries that highlight the little details, making the experience for comics fans that much better.

Overall grade:

Friday, March 6, 2009


The twelve-issue comic maxi-series Watchmen was published in 1986, and has now become recognized as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. Its deep study of the psychological reasoning behind superheroic characters has influenced every facet of the comic-book industry. The story is gritty, realistic, and shockingly dark at times. It is not a tale for children, as its content is entirely too mature.
Many had previously (and infamously) called Watchmen "unfilmable," citing its overly complicated narrative and nonlinear storytelling. Zach Snyder, director of this 2009 film, has now proven them wrong.

For those who don't know, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985, where costumed vigilantes exist in the real world. With one major exception, none of the so-called "heroes" have superpowers, and many of them are slightly insane. The presence of these vigilantes has completely changed the world, with the U.S. winning the Vietnam War and the subsequent events of the Cold War becoming even more heated. In the present time of Watchmen, the "doomsday clock" stands at five minutes to "midnight," when nuclear devastation will be upon the world. The main plot of Watchmen revolves around a core group of "heroes," complete with lengthy individual flashbacks. When one of these heroes is murdered, a chain of events is set in motion that threatens millions of lives.

Fans of the novel may be dissatisfied with certain alterations to the original story. However, the changes all work in the end. Several alterations are actually superior to the original tale.

Zach Snyder will forever go down in history as the one man with the ability to adapt comics into motion picture form while still maintaining their original integrity. Watchmen practically uses the original novel's panels as storyboards, yet still somehow makes them work in motion. This may be the single most visually well-done film I have ever seen.

Parents must take note: This is not a film for children. Heck, it may not be a film for you. There are at least two notable sex scenes in the film, though only one of them was very graphic. There was also quite a bit of nudity in the film, but only once was it ever used in an unnecessary way. Curses are thrown about like lawn darts, though never without reason. The violence is brutal and bloody. When a younger friend of mine asked me if I thought her parents might allow her to see the film, I replied, "Nope. Your daddy would drag you out of the theater. Too many broken bones and naked people."

Watchmen was always a tale of moral ambiguity, and this film is very accurate to its source material. This is not a simple film in which the characters are identified as "good" or "evil." This is a story about realistic human characters with real human flaws. Those looking for a superhero film will be disappointed: Watchmen is no such thing.

This film is an elaborate series of stunningly beautiful musical montages. Watching Watchmen is like eating New York cheesecake drizzled with strawberry glaze. I found myself wanting to cheer at the action scenes, which are overly stylish, yet kinetic and real enough to seem plausible. Set to electric guitar rock combined with traditional superheroic orchestral fare, the action in this film makes the men in the audience feel like eight-year-old boys again (provided that the on-screen bone breaks and cracked spines don't make them vomit)

Sadly, Watchmen does have its narrative flaws. Even the original novel felt lacking, as though the reader was only privy to short glimpses into the lives of these complex characters. This film has the same problem, but does make up for it somewhat with its highly enjoyable visuals.

All in all, Watchmen is not a perfect film, but is still very good, acting as the new standard for comic book adaptations.