29 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan
Script by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFreely
Directed by Joe Johnston
Release: 22 July 2011
Marvel Studios, 124 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Scrawny, shorty Steve Rogers is selected to be the first Super Soldier to win WWII, but ends up facing an enemy far more powerful than they realized.

Captain America is The Man. He’s the character who represents what it means to be a hero. He epitomizes patriotism – the little man who wants nothing more than to fight for his country, to fight for freedoms and liberties, to stand up against bullies, and to show the red, white, and blue in a funny outfit that just might outfunny Superman’s. Captain America is Steve Rogers, a dude who physically is no way capable of being in a battlefield, let alone leading men. He is courageous, generous, polite, stubborn, and full of vigor to fight the good fight when necessary. Unfortunately, Captain America is also a bit of a one-note character that doesn’t lend himself to be all that interesting. Amazingly, director Joe Johnston and the (probably) many writers onboard crafted a film that – although not great by any means – is more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Right off the bat, I gotta say, Chris Evans did a wonderful job. He embodies Steve Rogers so freakin’ well, it’s a bit weird. Unlike Ryan Reynolds who is able to bring his trademark wisecracks but not fully capable of embodying Hal Jordan, Evans is perfectly able to indulge in his brilliant comic timing (when applicable; the funny is far and few in between) all the while completely being Steve Rogers. A while ago an little something like that would have gone unnoticed by me; guess that goes to show that GREEN LANTERN did make a impression – just not the right one. Anywhoozles, I suggest the casting directors on these Marvel films need raises – there has been some spot on casting 1999: the X-MEN movies, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth and his six pack, Sam Jackson, and now Chris Evans. There’s a lot of brilliance going on behind the Marvel film department. Another standout performance, thanks to a standout, powerful female character is the gorgeous Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Rogers’ love interest and basically boss. Here the infatuation between both parties feels organic instead of the contrived “I wanna hump you!” vibe you get from Natalie Portman’s lustful glances at Thor. Ms. Atwell, and Ms. Carter by extension, are great additions to the movie, and are just as strong and memorable as a Super Serum mascot.Just as great but used less is Tommy Lee Jones who can do this military role sleepwalking, but surprisingly seems to be having a bit of fun with it. At the very least, it’s Jones that delivers the best lines of the film.

The action scenes are wonderfully done. Around the hour mark Steve goes behind enemy lines to liberate some military hostages, and it’s a thrilling sequence as the facility starts to explode around him. We’re also treated to a montage of Captain America fights as he gains popularity among the U.S. military and strikes fear for the German and Hydra division. Sure, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more exploration in Steve’s missions, but I’m satisfied enough with what we were given. The final fight between Steve and Red Skull is also impressive(ish), sorta coming off INCEPTION like as the two punch each other around a descending ship. Ultimately there just isn’t enough action beats in the movie.

Which is a weird thing to say cos I really liked the first 30 minutes of build up to Steve becoming all Super Serumed. I enjoyed seeing the digital small Chris Evans (which really wasn’t all that distracting) get his face punched in and not back away from a fight, or mumble when talking to a gorgeous military woman, or be all ‘I don’t like bullies’ to Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci). All that stuff was good; the perfect amount of time spent on setting up Rogers and Howard Stark and Erskine’s Super Soldier genetics. And then I absolutely loved when Captain America became basically a war publicity whore – thrown out there to big crowds to encourage civilians to support the war monetarily, or have some movies based off his character as he kicks some Nazi ass. Having the Captain do this with his abilities first, before becoming the hero we all know about, was genius, and one of the best parts of the movie.

The best part of the movie is right after Steve gets imbued with his new powers, and the movie – highly immersed in the sort of grandiose 1940s/1950s action movies – cultivates the clich├ęd and contrived dramatic beat of the bad guy throwing a kid off a building or something, but this time the bad guy throws the kid into the water. It’s used time and time ago, cos of course Batman or whoever is gonna let the bad guy go so he can catch the kid. But CAPTAIN AMERICA has a clever script. Rogers looks to the water and the kids says, “Go get him! I can swim!” Motherfrakking brilliant, and the biggest laugh of the movie.

Just to make a quick note: concerning rewatch value, I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA twice in one week. With the exception of the great hostage rescue action piece, and the montage of the Captain in battle, the film actually was a bit boring. Not even Hugo Weaving’s amusing German accent was enough to fully sustain my interest. It’s unfortunate, especially considering the enormous rewatchability of THOR’s messed up family dynamic, or IRON MAN’s drunken hero.
In the end, CAPTAIN AMERICA is worth seeing. Of course it is, if you’re following the Marvel superhero films. As has been noted on nearly every site, this is the last flick before Joss Whedon delivers THE AVENGERS to the world next May, so attendance feels basically mandatory. As a standalone movie, THE FIRST AVENGER surprisingly works quite well. The nods to the past (THOR) and future (AVENGERS) is nicely balanced without one element overshadowing another, and the film definitely has its own legs. Ultimately it’s not my favorite production from Marvel Studios, but that is truthfully no fault to the writers, directors, actors, etc. It’s just that Captain America, the character, just ain’t interesting enough. Or at the very least, extend the runtime to allow us more Steve Rogers in the suit. All that said, hopefully Joss can infuse some dimension into the character. After all, Rogers is thrown into an entirely new environment as the film closes, so Joss has more to work with than the writers here. But all in all, complaints aside, I enjoyed my time.

One last comment: why the hell do the world-ending missiles HAVE to be labeled? “New York”. “Berlin”. Mega Facepalm.

Rating: 7/10 = As a pre-AVENGERS flick, it’s a must see, and although everyone involved in this production quite obviously love the material and put their best work into it, the titular hero just doesn’t grab the viewer enough.

23 July 2011

BATMAN - The Dark Knight Rises Teaser...Rises

So...over the weekend, Warner Bros. seized the opportunity of millions of fanboys being out at the multiplex to enjoy the last HARRY POTTER movie evah to spring upon boys and girls the teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan's last evah Batman film, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. And teaser it is, not giving us too much to go by (only after a good two or so weeks of filming, really) but just enough to make us Batman geeks salivate and ponder what each shot means.

Still, it's more than what we were given with THE DARK KNIGHT teaser trailer, which consisted simply of voice over dialogue from the film juxtaposed against a firing Batman symbol. Absolutely, positively, mind-boggling frustrating, mind you, that teaser trailer. Sure, lived up to the phrase 'teaser' alright, but for a Bat fan - blimey, I wanted to rip me hair out! More, more, more! And I reckon as the marketing of DARK KNIGHT RISES ramps up, I'll be pretty much the same...

First brand new footage from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. And it's Gordon. In a hospital bed. Looking quite unwell. Major suckage. Is this a result of engaging Bane? Or something a lot more simpler, like a police situation gone wrong? Whatever the situation might be, the boys at Batman On Film gave a pretty good comment - here we see the one truly good character of the two films battered and broken: a shocking, devastating sight. It's here we also get our first bits of dialogue, delivered by Gordon (and just as awesomely written as Gordon's DARK KNIGHT monologue, that to this day continues to send chills up and down my spine).
"We were in this together. And then you were gone. Now this evil rises. The Batman...HAS to come back."
So presumably some really tough shit went down in Gotham, and presumably this "evil" Gordon refers to is Bane. If Bane gets the label of "evil" - something the Joker didn't quite manage to do - than he must truly be one indestructible, sadistic, menacing sight to behold, leaving carnage in his path.

Now here's the interesting part. We hear Bale's voice reply (cut to footage of what I believe to be either a flashback of a bearded Bruce Wayne, a young Ra's al Ghul, or something involving a imprisoned and hairy Bane), "What if we doesn't exist anymore?" The interesting part isn't so much the dialogue (which suggests plenty), but that the voice is very distinctly Bruce Wayne, not Batman, and the visual evidence suggests that that is very much Bruce Wayne sitting next to Gordon's hospital bed, and that is very much Gordon addressing Bruce Wayne as Batman. Cool. So, maybe, possibly, Gordon is let in on Wayne's little secret? If so, I am completely all for this. Every time I watch that scene in THE DARK KNIGHT where Gordon talks to Wayne during the whole hospital bizznazz, I really want Wayne to just don his gravely voice and be all, "I'm Batman!" Funny note aside, it would just be really interesting to see how - if at all - Gordon interacts with Batman now knowing his full identity. Like I said: cooooooooll.
"He must, he must."
The Batman needs to come back, no matter what. That's what Gordon's saying. Shit is at a all-time high shit level, and Batman needs to save Gotham's collective asses from Bane and whoever else is terrorizing the city (hopefully minus fear toxins...). Alright, I'm game. It's also sorta cool that it could be/will be Gordon that brings about Batman's resurrection.

Is this Bane crawling out of the tunnel? Is this the tunnel connected to Wayne Manner? A tunnel connected to the League of Shadows, somehow? (c'mon, I really, really think they're making a return this time 'round) There's also a shot that was difficult to get a screencap of where a man is doing push-ups in a prison cell. The man in question has hair and facial hair, so it can't be Bane (unless it's an earlier appearance), so I'm guessing either a Bruce flashback or Ra's al Ghul.
And here's Bane. Motherfrakking freaky. The mouthpiece reminds me of some sort of sci-fi alien creature thingy...or a shark. Who is Bane looking at? Batman? What exactly does that mouth contraption do? [sorry, a bit rusty on my Bane mythology; don't kill me]
Visual information: 1) That looks really cool. 2) If we're to take this symbolically, Gotham City is in a even worse state than in THE DARK KNIGHT, crumbling underneath its own corruption and evil. With Batman's absence, that evil is more powerful and widespread than ever, and Bane's presumed uprising will probably be the final push. This whole bit is a nice trick: the decaying city of sin and greed looking up to the heavens for an answer. Although I do wonder if there is significance to Batman's symbol being white instead of, say, black (representing 'The Dark Knight'). Will Batman now be viewed as a White Knight, in a way, to the citizens of Gotham?
PRETTY! Huh, maybe it's my screencap software, but that looks more like a vanilla ice cream come than the pure white background of the trailer. Note to self: do investigate. Also, now I'm craving some ice cream. Hmmmmm; yum yum. Still dunno how I like the title; just doesn't feel right, y'know? BATMAN RISES would have been a better title, and a finer bookend - BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT, BATMAN RISES. Now doesn't that sound a lot better?
The final shot: Batman preparing to take on Bane. It's wet, the Bat's pumping himself up, and there's some random dude on the middle right frame. Well, the good news is that the shot successfully makes me giddy beyond all imagination. Just these two seconds are enough to make my noggin' work. So where's the fight taking place? Is it the newly remodeled Batcave, as one suggested? Is it connected to the League of Shadows somehow? Or is it just some random, damp place where Batman faces his adversary? Is this his first fight with Bane or another one? Something to take note of the teaser, there's an emphasis on Bane and no mention of Selina Kyle, perhaps suggesting that Selina doesn't fit the bill of antagonist this time around. This seems to be Bane's film...at least thus far.

Alright, so, I've exhausted my noggin' on this teaser trailer. 20 July 2012 seems so far away, a whole year from today, and I can't bloody wait. Well, I can, yes, but the excitement, the anticipation - let's just say it's at a pretty big high. But I need to learn to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the next year, because this is the end. Much like HARRY POTTER's journey has just concluded, this film marks the end of Christopher Nolan's tale, and that's a sad, sad, sad thing, indeed. No more Bale as Batman, no more clever storytelling, no more stunning visuals (unless Alfonso Cuaron took over a Batman flick, doubt we'll get someone of Nolan's caliber again). Leave your thoughts (if any) below, and join me with the excitement factor for the next year as THE DARK KNIGHT RISES continues filming, teases with some brilliant marketing, and eventually is released to the world.

Another scary thought: yikes, I'll nearly be done with school by the time RISES comes out. Blimey, I'll have to figure out what to do with me life!

22 July 2011

Andy's Friday Five: 1995

Looking back through My Life in Movies has returned, and with a vengeance! July will be full of fresh, all-new installments every Friday, so be on the lookout, ladies and gents.

Previous Entries:
1990 | 2000

Judging by the list of films I have below, '95 was apparently one hell of a great year. I'm really having trouble coming up with even halfway decent lists from 1991 to '94, so either movies really sucked in the early nineties or I just really need to exposure myself to more of these 'older' films. Now that aside, 1995 has lots of everything: The year Pixar made it big with a superb animated movie. The year a Japanese monster icon famously died (for a short period of time, granted) and its imitator raised above its masters ashes. The year two movies that are the third in their respective series make my list. The year where I begin valuing fun over well-made. Above all, 1995 was the year I began falling in love with movies. Sure, I wasn't in love in love, but the seeds for what this is right now were being planted.

Films I Really Ought to See
Apollo 13 (I know, I know, I am a absolutely horrible person)
Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Films Worth a Lovefest

Braveheart - Mel Gibson and bloody revenge, what on this beautiful earth is there not to love?

Godzilla vs. Destroyoah - Highly publicized by Toho Co. Ltd as the last Godzilla movie (for a undetermined retirement period) where the titular monster star will certainly die. Not great by any stretch of the imagination, but a deteriorating and pissed off King of the Monsters makes for some fine entertainment.

Jumanji - In the last Friday Five, I confessed that 2000's HOLLOW MAN freaked the shit out of me. Well, feel free to make fun of me again. JUMANJI freaked the shit out of me in the opening scene. Board games, I was not a fan of after this, believe you me.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie - It was right in the thick of RANGER-frenzy, and I got to meet a man dressed up in authentic White Ranger gear, how could this movie not be on the list?

Waterworld - Receives a lot of hate, and appropriately so, but turns out, I loved it. Saw it within the last year, and I was pleasantly surprised by the super funness of the film. Lots of creativity, lots of money, lots of ambition, and lots of what-coulda-been.

Judge Dredd - Just caught this on the Syfy Channel a few months ago. I could not stop watching. I now own it on DVD. So friggin' awesome. Bad, but awesome. See, judging (hehe) from selections like this, my choice of favorites can't be too highly regarded...

Andy's Favorite Five of 1995

5. Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe
I'm a huge monster movie fan, and Shusuke Kaneko's re-imagining of the giant flying turtle after its 1980 disaster is about as perfect a monster movie as we could have hoped back then. Brilliantly, Kaneko outdoes himself in 1999 with GAMERA III, perhaps truly the greatest giant monster movie ever made. But that's in the future. Concerning the here and now, GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE is absolutely brilliant. A clever story that successfully ties science fiction, fantasy, and reality together to make it all seem in the realm of believability [if you wanna know how, rent the movie!]. The greatest accomplishment of Kaneko's first Gamera movie is the special effects. Toho's Godzilla series is, at this point, winding out with lots of sparks and explosions, but very little in the way of genuine creativity in regards to photographing the monster mayhem and pushing the limits of CGI. GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE does this. We have some splendid digital work with Gamera facing the onslaught of missiles from the Japanese Self Defense Force, and some gorgeous composition work in the climax as Gamera faces his opponent in Tokyo. Overall, if one is looking to get into the giant monster genre, I'd highly recommend starting here. [Image Source]

4. Toy Story
By this point I'm five years old, and the majority of my toys are Batman and JURASSIC PARK stuff. While I was compiling this list, I had the funny notion of the scenario of TOY STORY happening with said action figures: the growly Keaton/Kilmer Batman annoyed with his inability to communicate with the T-Rex (which awesomely had a chunk of its 'skin' ripped open, revealing its bones), or Batman's Batmobile broken down and the Caped Crusader using poor ol' Rexie to catch the bad guys (had plenty of Two-Face toys, so thus, he shall be the villain). The point is, next to the splendid, game-changing digital animation from Pixar that made them a force to be reckoned with, TOY STORY is something special beyond words. Even for adults, I bet it sparks imagination (and nostalgia), makes us become kids again where anything is possible. This is a rare type of film that achieves so much. The script is top notch, the jokes hilarious, the toy characters so completely and utterly real, and most of all, watching TOY STORY all these years later, I become a kid again who wants to play with his action figures.

3. Mallrats
Kevin Smith's second film isn't nearly as strong as his breakout CLERKS, but y'know, it actually is pretty entertaining, and doesn't deserve the vile rep it's been given. Like any comedy, there are high points and low points, but the overall product is a success as long as I had fun and was entertained the entire time. MALLRATS is, therefore, a success. For being Smith's first time using real and seasoned(ish) actors, they have less of a presence than the majority of his non-actors in CLERKS, ironically enough. The jokes continue to gravitate towards the nerdy culture, which is much appreciated, and Smith's ability to create great characters is still very much right there on the screen. Tight dialogue, entertaining movie, geek bits, engaging characters. What's not to love, exactly?

2. Die Hard with a Vengeance
I can live without DIE HARD 2. It was okay, nothing grand, nothing memorable. Enter DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE. Wow, complete 360 wrap around here. Loved it. Loads of fun. John McClane a this John McClaneiest. I bloody love this guy, and he absolutely owns this movie. Doesn't mean I shouldn't credit Sam Jackson delivering a surprisingly funny performance as John's forced sidekick Zeus, or Jeremy Irons for being the perfect sounding villain next to Darth Vader (don't shoot me, folks). This third installment has some zaney action sequences that are just great - I rewatch the whole ZOOM! through Central Park and subsequent train sequence quite often. There's the perfect blend of comedy and action here, and that's not a easy balance to maintain, yet VENGEANCE does it with style. Hell, when I'm flipping through FX and by happenstance this flick's on, depending what I'm doing at that specific time, I'll sit back, relax, and watch me some VENGEANCE. Amazingly, 12 years later, that same sense of fun and crazy action sequences were replicated for LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, but that's for another Friday Five...

1. Batman Forever
Love it or (more probable) hate it, BATMAN FOREVER solidified my love for everything Batman. It was my first cinematic exposure to the Caped Crusader after devoting my time to THE ANIMATED SERIES on Kids WB. Batman Fever was all the rag, sirs and misses. At this time in my life, BATMAN FOREVER had it all: there were hints of that edgy darkness, and greater still, a preview of the insane childish venue its predecessor would become. For a five year old, having a Batman movie that (sorta) served both venues was great. I enjoyed the fun, child-oriented aspect of the film, and the wider audience could appreciate the few and far between moments that made it seem like Schumacher and Co. were genuinely trying to craft a damn good Batman movie here. Years later, looking back at FOREVER, I still enjoy it, and I find myself picking this one out of the four 'original' titles more often than the others. I dig what Kilmer did with Bruce Wayne, I dig the action pieces and the Batman design, and hell, I even really love what Tommy Lee Jones did with Two-Face. I don't so much dig Jim Carrey as The Riddler, but it's something I can get past. Granted, not a favorite for everyone, but BATMAN FOREVER is my cup of tea.

21 July 2011

The Watcher: 07/15/11 - 07/21/11

Sorry for the lack of ALPHAS this week. Didn't really feel in the mood. I have all of FALLING SKIES that have aired, but haven't checked 'em out yet. Blimey. But until I play catch up, here's three brand spankin' new episodes!

RESCUE ME S07E02 – “Menses” (20 July 2011) – Last week’s premiere episode was less than the show at its high standards, but “Menses” is the series at its comedic height. Actually, y’know, it’s not fair to compare the two, given that they aim to achieve different things: the premiere was mildly setting up the main elements of the final season, and “Menses” hilariously shows Tommy’s living situation with his wife and daughters (and Sheila), the crew’s attempt to help Lou pass his physical examination, and continuing to plant the ‘9/11, ten years later…’ arc that will probably become paramount in this final run. The 9/11 stuff aside, “Menses” was brilliantly written and acted, with all the ladies hamming up their characters to a ridiculously cartoon degree. Luckily I’ve never been in the situation Tommy faces this time out – and I hope I never will – so I dunno if the girls’ multiple freakouts is at all genuine or the humorous concoction of Leary and his writing pals. Either way, I loved it. I don’t mega care for Lou and his health issues, and I’m anxious to see where his character ends up, but everything his buddies did for him this episode was brilliant, including the therapy session with Garitty which includes ‘frequent masturbation’ and homosexual undertones. Maura Tierney’s return as Kelly was also welcome, albeit short; I hope she returns again before the series is out. Overall, quite the enjoyable episode. Score: 9.7/10

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY S04E02 – “Rendition” (15 July 2011) – For some reason, “Rendition” really didn’t do it for me. Sure, there was the sexy gorgeousness of Dichen Lachmen of DOLLHOUSE fame playing evil CIA Agent Lyn (who works for comedy man Wayne Knight, who seems to take his orders from some higher authority (possibly alien in origin? I’ll be pissed if this becomes another ‘government-conspiracy’ type story – we don’t need another one of those, we really don’t), and the funness of the airplane attendant repeatedly and vigorously denying his homosexual tendencies, but overall, the episode still felt a little flat. I want Torchwood kicking ass and taking names again, and it looks like the ending of “Rendition” will be offering just that from here on out. It’s nice to have Rex finally on Team Torchwood, and Gwen and Jack ready to do what they do best, I just wish I liked it a bit more. Maybe a repeat viewing will improve my enjoyment factor, eh? Although not highly entertaining, I did find myself amused by Vera demanding the top scientific/pharmaceutical minds of the world to help her find a cure for arsenic on a plane; that was sorta fun. Also worth noting is that before I posted this review, looking for a good screencap, I realized I completely forgot about Pullman's free murderer character and his evolving arc. Well, the good news is that Pullman did a fine performance, the bad news is, I still don't get why he's in the show to begin with or where his character could possibly be going. The next episode is written by ex-BUFFY scribe Jane Espenson, and I am very, very much looking forward to that. Here’s hoping Espenson can create some real drama and get TORCHWOD back on its feet. Score: 8.4/10

TRUE BLOOD S04E04 – “I’m Alive and on Fire” (18 July 2011) – The last two episodes were great entertainment, but “I’m Alive and on Fire” was a bit less. Its instances like this that showcases TRUE BLOOD’s adapted novel vibe: the narrative moves at the chapter-by-chapter flow of a novel, not by conventional ‘story/theme: episode’ type setup most shows have. A cool thing to do, but it has its positives and disadvantages. For example, although Jason escapes the panther pack and even manages to kill one of ‘em, and we get our first glimpse of the Wicked Witch of the past, “I’m Alive and on Fire” hardly sizzles when a memory-wiped Eric isn’t onscreen. At this point in time, it’s the free-loving Eric and the blazing chemistry between actors Alex and Anna that made this episode worth watching. I mean, you could totally tell Sookie wanted to snog herself some Eric! Awesome scene. And I still sincerely hope Sam can find some happiness with his shapeshifting partner, even with this (convoluted) subplot of the weredaddy of her child stalking her. And I loved me some Evil Child Syndrome with Arlene’s baby. Finally, some chaos is going down. Looking forward to how this all evolves. Score: 8.1/10

19 July 2011

Celebrating the Harry Potter Films: Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of Ramblings of a Minnesota Geek's multi-day celebration of all things HARRY POTTER, the films. Yesterday I ranked the series, and now I'm going to list some scenes from the films I love. Plus some quotes thrown in for good measure.

Favorite Moments of the Series

Harry Faces Voldemort

: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
First year at Hogwarts: not exactly calm by any stretch of the imagination. Already young Harry has immersed himself in a mystery involving the Sorcerer's Stone and some dude named Nicholas Flammel. This path ultimately leads him to his nemesis, Lord Voldemort, branded on the back of a Hogwarts professor. For the first time since he was a baby - the night Voldemort murdered his father and sacrificial mother - Harry and Voldemort come face to face. It's a positively tense scene, and the lighting and performances sell it spectacularly. This first meeting of the two wizards more entwined than any before them is definitely one of the memorable scenes of the series.
"There is no good and evil. There is only power... and those too weak to seek it."

Draco Vs. Harry

Film: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
In Sorcerer's Stone, Harry declined an invitation on Draco's behalf to be part of his gang, and since then, they've been the youngster equivalent of arch enemies. Malfoy does something stupid, Harry steps in; Malfoy lays some smack on the Potter, Harry just...well, depends on the day: he either shrugs, or gets really pissed off. Here, Professors Lockhearts and Snape enter Potter and Mafloy in a duel, and although it isn't as fulfillingly sweet as I would have liked it to be, it does have some brilliant lead-up moments. For example:
"Scared Potter?"
"You wish."

The Knight Bus

: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Absolutely bonkers. The whole Knight Bus sequence doesn't take more than, say, five minutes, but it's brilliant and highly memorable. The talking head on the bus ("Hey, why the long faces?" [laughs]), the ominous words about Sirius Black being Voldemort's supporter ("Yeah, him I heard of"), and of course director Cuaron just going all-out zaney with the camera. The bus interior is shaking and sliding all over the place, a old lady decides to cross the road in a manner that would infuriate anyone, and Harry splats against a window. What's not to love?

Harry Takes Flight

Film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This is one of those moments that aren't relevant to the plot all that much (well, Harry and Buckbeak's friendship, I guess), but is simply beautiful. Visually, yes, Alfonso Cuaron crafts some gorgeous cinematography in this short sequence. Musically, John Williams captures the swooping, fearless, magical, freedom of flying through the wind...not like I would know from personal experience. And it gives Daniel Radclife the opportunity to just show a entirely happy Harry Potter, something that will be in short supply in the coming year. All in all, it's a beautiful sequence, and one I go back to quite often.
"You tell those spiders, Ron."

Qudditch, Third Year

: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Frakkin' terrifying. Never really been a fan of Qudditch, but blimey, this was an intense match. Harry is harassed by a half dozen Dementors and falls off his broom to his certain death...if it wasn't for an intervention from a certain gray-bearded wizard. Amazing scene, absolutely compelling what with the rain and Harry nearly dying (again) and John Williams showing off why he's the coolest guy in the bizzness. Overall greatness.

Hermione Kicks Arse

Film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
What can possibly be more satisfying than bookworm Hermione Granger flat-out punching Draco Mafloy? Not much, is the answer. One of the bestest moments of the series.

Here There Be Dragons!

: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
I still have problems with the dragon getting loose and chasing Harry all over the castle, but overall, a movie with a dragon is a movie with a dragon: fine by me. All movies need a dragon, I think.
"My eyes aren't glistening with the ghosts of my past!"
Why Do They Have to be in Packs?

: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and Girls. Give the kid a Dark Lord to vanquish, and he's set. Give him the task of getting a date for the Yule Ball - epic fail. Don't distress there, Harry, right there with ya.

Voldemort Reborn

: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Oh shit, Voldy's back.

"Look at Me!"

: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Voldemort's grasp over Harry is tightening, and in this instance, Harry's anger and frustration is getting the best of him and he lashes out at Dumbeldore. Indeed, not the most notable scene of the series, but something that definitely sticks out. For some reason I enjoyed Harry yelling at Dumbeldore - after all, this is a guy who manipulates Harry, ignores him most of the year, and doesn't tell him the truth of basically anything. So, Harry has a reason to be pissed.
"Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now: students. If they can do it, why not us?"

The Only One He Ever Feared

: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Five films into the series, and we haven't been given a proper wizard battle. Well, this movie definitely delivers it. At the Ministry of Magic, after Harry's tragic loss, Voldemort appears to do away with his 'ittle pesky nuisance, but Dumbeldore shows up, the only wizard the Dark Lord has ever feared. In a stunning duel filled with amazing imagery and acting from Ralph Fiennes, David Yates shows us Voldemort at the height of his power and exactly how much of a threat the Dark Lord is. And how badass Dumbeldore can be.
"Harry doesn't want to talk to us right now. He's just too polite to say so."

Dance of Despair

Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
I wrote about this before, so I'm simply going to quote myself: "No amount of wizarding battles or hilarious one-liners or action sequences can quite compare to this quite two minute scene that packs one hell of an emotional punch. As you can tell from the poster - and any Potter fan knows - Harry is on the run from everyone. Voldemort has infiltrated the Ministry and now they want his head on a plate. His friendship with Ron is strained to the point that Ron leaves, but Hermione chooses to stay, her heart conflicted. This scene happens some days after Ron leaves, as Hermione is so completely lost - whether it be lost with hope, or questioning her decision to stay with Harry, what have you, that woman is depressed, broken maybe - and Harry sits down across from her and sees her despair. The radio is on, Nick Cave's "O Children" playing, and Harry gets up and offers his hand to Hermione. The two of them get up and dance. Often I hear about how 'cute' the scene is, and although that it is, the scene is also poignant. It's just a fleeting moment of happiness and carefreeness before re-entering the world where everyone wants to kill them. It is not a romantic moment, it is not a blotted scene to bring us to a long running time, it's a quiet little scene that gives us so much and bares a heavy emotional impact. Life is shit right now, so let's take a moment from that and just forget our worries. Taking it into another context, it's a beautiful moment showing how far these two characters have progressed from the first movie to this last story, their arcs, their grown upness. Magnificent scene, and definitely one of the best of the series."

Ron Faces the Darkness

Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Ron deserves this moment. After staying in Harry's shadow for years, after having so much doubt and consumed with a unsanctioned jealousy, Ronald Weasley is given the opportunity to face his own darkness, and overcome it. A shinning moment for Rupert Grint, and a spectacular moment for Ron. Highlight of the series.

Harry Reveals Himself

: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Looks like Harry's dead. Er...maybe not. Voldemort feels quite victorious, and he definitely shows that off with his mighty freaky laughing. He shows off Harry's body as a prized object. The Boy Who Lived - dead! Neville steps forward, delivers a speech about Harry's everlasting influence, and then the moment comes - Harry pushes himself out of Hagrid's clutch, and reveals himself to Lord Voldemort and the Hogwarts survivors. Voldemort is, naturally, fairly pissed. It's one hell of a fist-pump moment,and leads us into the oh-so-cool fight seven and a half films in the making.
"Come on, Tom. Let's finish this the way we started. Together!"

The Final Duel

: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
This is it. This is The End. Harry vs. Voldemort. Eight films. Hours of build up and anticipation. The foreplay has been so marvelous one is about to burst. Finally, it happens. Wands drawn (literal wands, here, now), Harry and Voldemort duel to the death. Voldemort possesses superior skill and powers, and Harry has a certain trick up his sleeve that will near guarantee him the duel - if he survives long enough for it to work. Greatly expanded from Rowling's novel, Harry and Voldemort's battle is satisfying, although even still, I wish there was a bit more. There is, however, a spectacular moment when the two characters are stuck together flying throughout Hogwarts and at one point, the two merge into one and create one of the freakiest effects of the entire series. In the end, only one can survive, and the execution here is marvelous.

So there we have it, a list of only a few brilliant, memorable scenes of the eight-film series. There is so much to love, so much to cherish from these films, it's impossible to make a exhaustive and full list. But here's the top ones from me brain. Hope you enjoyed, agree/disagree, and had a lovely walk down memory lane.

Oh, and sorry for the lack of HALF-BLOOD PRINCE love. Seriously, apologies.

18 July 2011

Celebrating the Harry Potter Films: Day One

Last weekend, we saw the conclusion of the HARRY POTTER series in cinemas. To celebrate over a decade of marvelous filmmaking and an emotional journey spanning eight films, I'm going to spend the next few days basking in the awesomeness that is the world brought to us by three talented young actors, one determined producer, four imaginative directors, and two clever screenwriters.

Today, I rank all eight HARRY POTTER movies based solely on my tastes. I recognize not a lot of folks will have a similar list, but that's the groovy thing about the internet, no? The most important thing to remember is that HARRY POTTER means a lot of things to a lot of people. I've grown up with the Boy Who Lived, I've stayed up for midnight releases of the books and movies, and I love this series and universe with all my heart. J.K. Rowling has created something monumentally spectacular and important, that much is for sure. And the men and women who saw that vision and translated it for millions more to experience in an all new medium should be given just as much kudos, so this is my attempt.

I love HARRY POTTER. I love the books, I love the movies, and this is my Swan Song to the series and, most importantly, the experience years in the making.

Ranking the Harry Potter Film Series

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Directed by David Yates
Script by Michael Goldenberg

About perfect, I’d say. Through screenings at work, Potter rewatches at home, and regular discussion on the film with my friends, Order of the Phoenix is the one I realized I have the most love for. Originally I think I would have said Prisoner of Azkaban, but aside from praising the visual aesthetic, I can’t really get behind the whole Time Turning material. With OOTP, it has everything I want and desire from a movie: a director who delivers interesting visuals (e.g., the Ministry of Magic duel), a script that brilliantly finds the balance of telling the story, wisely picking and choosing elements of the novel and adapting it for the big screen (which I think is done exceptionally well by Goldenberg, crafting an entirely cohesive story from a book made of subplots), great performances (some of Radcliffe’s absolute best), brisk editing (from start to finish, Phoenix seems to fly by at a lightspeed pace), rousing score (Hooper at his best), and most of all, is entertaining (which it completely is). Everything that Order of the Phoenix is, I love.

I love the glimpses of a darker, angrier Harry. I love his frustration at being ignored by the man he trusted the most, his confusion of these odd visions and fear of influenced by Voldemort, and his agony of losing his only surviving family member. [More on this in the upcoming days] This was the perfect blend of the light, magical world of the first three films and the impending darkness that envelops the wizarding world in the following installments. For the first time, Michael Gambon shows he could be a good Dumbeldore, and Imelda Staunton is Umbridge personified. There is no shortage of memorable performances from Phoenix, and Goldenberg’s clever script that delivers Rolwing’s story and all the right emotional punches is beautifully conveyed by the highly imaginative David Yates. Honestly, I feel like everything is just right with this movie, and no matter how many times I rewatch it, my affection for it continues to grow. 2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Directed by David Yates
Script by Steve Kloves

Another surprise, frankly. Similar to Order of the Phoenix, I think Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is damn near perfect. Sure, the pacing may be a bit off, but I can forgive it for the magnitude of information and events that need be covered before Part 2’s action-heavy conclusion. From a writing standpoint, I think this is Steve Kloves at his best. Just like Goldenberg, Kloves found the perfect balance of character and story, and his ability to pick and choose from the book has never been clearer and agreeable. Again, this is all from my standpoint, and I recognize plenty that aren’t a fan of Deathly Hallows, Part 1. But it just clicks for me. I love the overbearing sense of ‘this is the end, Harry must succeed or die trying’; I love, love, love every scene with Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run (especially Ron’s dramatic and anger-fueled departure which is well handled); I love Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint easily giving their best work (I’m including Part 2 into this equation due to their being filmed simultaneously); I love how the Horcrux affects the group dynamic; I loved how Kloves was able to take this whopping detail heavy book and translate it to a four-and-a-half-hour film and make it seem effortless. There’s loads to love here, and next to Order of the Phoenix, I think this is the most successful adaptation of Rowling’s work and boasts the strongest performances. In regards to the feeling some fellow bloggers commented as being “incomplete”, I surprisingly find Deathly Hallows, Part 1 to feel, although not “complete” in the strictest sense of the word, satisfying. As in, from beginning to end, the film felt like a self-contained entity that can stand on its own. Surprisingly enough, Half-Blood Prince doesn’t give me such a feeling, instead coming off as merely 20% of a much larger storyline. So in the end, I am immensely satisfied and quite in love with Part 1 of Harry’s journey, and absolutely deserves the number two spot. 3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Directed by David Yates
Script by Steve Kloves

I’m not going to get too deep into this film, since I still plan on writing one whopper of a review on it, but the basics are this: very, very, very successful. And very clever. A clever way to adapt the final chapter of Rowling’s final novel in the last two hours of Harry Potter on film, and one hell of a ride from beginning to end. Overall, I love the movie quite a lot. There are moments from the battle royale at Hogwarts that absolutely boggles my mind with how awesome it is, and there are times where I wish more emotion and/or drama could have been infused into a scene. But overall, one hell of a fitting finale for this series. I look at the Deathly Hallows two-parter as one whole film, and much that I wrote above is still true here: the cinematography is lovely, Alexandre Desplat delivers a fine score, and our main trio of actors gives some truly amazing performances. A strong movie in every facet of movie making: screenplay, cinematography, score, editing, performances, sound mixing, special effects, costume design. You name it, Deathly Hallows exemplifies it. Amazing work.

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Script by Steve Kloves

Judging Prisoner of Azkaban purely from a cinematic standpoint, Alfonso Cuaron delivers perhaps the most visually gorgeous film of the franchise. There is no single frame of the film that isn’t somehow miraculously gorgeous to look at. Looking at the script, I liked how the story was presented and the characters portrayed, and I loved the hints of darkness within Harry as he fumes with bloodlust to avenge his parents on this Sirius Black person. In a lot of ways, Prisoner of Azkaban sets the tone and style for the rest of the series, not just visually but also how the screenwriter(s) and actors approach the Harry Potter world. Regardless of its faithfulness to the original text, Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my top favorites because it is so damn fun and rewatchable and gorgeous to look at. Radcliffe amazes with his performance, Hermione is given the opportunity to punch Draco, there’s loads of gags and drama nicely balanced, and John Williams delivers his last and best score for the series. On the negative side, we also get Michael Gambon as Dumbeldore, an actor who is quite hit-or-miss with the character. But overall, a beautiful and fun film I often rewatch.

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Directed by David Yates
Script by Steve Kloves

Half-Blood Prince and Goblet of Fire are the two adaptations I really want to love, but I can’t quite get there. With Half-Blood Prince, there’s this sense of a checklist of necessary plots and subplots that need to be addressed and are simply filmed without any sense of emotion or drama. The relationship of Harry and Ginny is excruciatingly awkward and wooden (and not in that awkward teen kind of way), and with Dumbeldore’s final film alive, this is when they choose to show that a friendship exists between Dumbeldore and Harry that has been noticeably vacant since the passing of Richard Harris. Ultimately, this results in an anticlimactic and lousy death scene for the character. There are certain bits I like, such as Harry’s growth as a person, Ron and Hermione’s bickering, the stuff inside the cave, the opening ten minutes, and Tom Felton’s grand performance. But with every positive, I feel there are some not nice things to say. With all that said, however, I still enjoy the movie – even though the washed out color palette makes the film a bit dreary to look at – but overall, Half-Blood Prince seems disassociated with the material its representing and doesn’t hold that punch it should. 6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Directed by Mike Newell
Script by Steve Kloves

Bits I love, bits I don’t love. Overall, it’s a weird film to watch. I dig the whole Voldemort scene near the end, Brendan Gleeson is absolutely awesome as Mad-Eye Moody, and the youngster side of me can’t help but smile and enjoy all the teen romance part of the fourth film, but I become distracted by the logic of housing the Third Task in a giant maze that not a single person could see, or why their hair is absolutely bonkers, or why Dumbeldore doesn’t come across as being on friendly terms with Harry at all. In addition to Gleeson, Goblet of Fire also delivers onto us not only our first glimpse of Voldemort reincarnate, but Ralph Fiennes playing the villain to utter, skin-crawling perfection. Fiennes’ presence in the following films will continue to be a highlight, and he chews up the scenery here. The best way to sum up Goblet of Fire is that it definitely has its highs and lows, accomplishments and faults, but overall, a film that maintains the haunting and dangerous mood of the book and propels the franchise into the adult, difficult world Harry himself now faces.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Directed by Chris Columbus
Script by Steve Kloves

The perfect family book is adapted to the big screen by a successful family film director, making a great and magical film for the whole family to enjoy. Indeed, the movie is quite faithful to the original text, and even with his first foray into the role of Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe’s skills as an actor are already apparent. It’s an enjoyable movie that nicely introduces us to Harry’s world, sets up the mythology of the universe and what’s to come in the series, and one can’t ask for much more than that. I was entertained, I enjoyed it. I don’t love it, but it’s still quite good.

8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Directed by Chris Columbus
Script by Steve Kloves

That special sense of wonder, awe and excitement that is so hugely a part of Sorcerer’s Stone feels freakishly vacant in the sequel. With the exception of the spectacular Basilisk duel in the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry’s confrontation with a young Tom Riddle, I don’t find myself inclined to revisit the film. I feel that its lengthy, a bit halfheartedly crafted, and flat. Maybe Chris Columbus was simply too exhausted with post production work on Sorcerer’s Stone, but what worked well in the original doesn’t quite gel here – the awesomeness of a magical world, the moments of laughter nicely weighed with series mythology, the mystery aspect, and the general viewer-grabbing ability. I don’t hate Chamber of Secrets – in fact, I don’t hate any of them – but with my Potter rewatch a week ago, I find Chamber to be clearly the weakest. The best way to put it is that Chamber is a chore to watch, which really sucks to say. It’s a fine mystery with one hell of a kickass final battle (and a horribly cinematic cheesefest of a final scene that makes no sense whatsoever), but you won’t find me egging to watch Chamber of Secrets unless it’s Draco vs. Harry or Tom Riddle’s basilisk fetish.

14 July 2011

The Watcher: 07/01/11 - 07/14/11

ALPHAS S01E01 – “Pilot” (11 July 2011) – The Syfy channel debuted their newest show, this time tackling superheroes in a ‘realistic’-ish setting. The good news is that thus far ALPHAS does not seemed to be plagued by the issues HEROES had from the get-go, and although I don’t think this series will last too long on this network (it is, after all, just as evil and quick-handed with the axe of cancellation as Fox), it has potential. I’m not in love with it, nor do I generally dislike it. On the positive side, “Pilot” does a fantastic job of setting up the characters and making them truly individual people instead of a collective symbol, like much of HEROES was. They all have their own distinct abilities that are tackled in a interesting enough way that even often drawn abilities (e.g., psychic, strength) feel nearly fresh. What interests me with ALPHAS is the sort of real-world application of humans with abilities above and beyond what people can do, and throwing these far-fetched characters in a sort of procedural, ‘let’s-catch-the-bad-guy!’ type of show. Also cool enough is the introduction of a rival gang called Red Flag, made up of people with their own abilities but, of course, make up the villainous role of the show. Out of the cast of characters, I enjoyed Gary the most, primarily for Ryan Cartwright’s performance which was fun and charming, a pretty big success considering the character has the potential to be insufferably annoying. Nina, Hicks, Rachel, and Bill have yet to really make an impression on me, other than ‘strong-angry-black guy’, ‘needs-to-wear-a-bra-girl’, ‘sensitive chick’ and ‘I’m-emotionally-scarred-and-look-like-Jack-Shepard-dude’. Sort of a nice way to put it. “Pilot” isn’t extraordinary, and it doesn’t especially grab a viewer and compel them to stick around. As of right now, I’m uncertain whether or not I’m going to continue watching and/or reviewing the show, but at the very least, it was an well put-together episode that introduces the good guys, bad guys, and the basic set-up of the show. Score: 7.0/10

RESCUE ME S07E01 - “Mutha” (13 July 2011) – After what feels like an eternity since RESCUE ME graced our screens, “Mutha” isn’t terribly awesome to signal the beginning of the end (this being the final season and all), but it does mark a somewhat change of direction for the show. It’s clear by the episodes closing minutes Tommy is committed to staying sober and quite clear on his stance of keeping Colleen off the wagon. Speaking of Colleen, Black Shawn’s proposal was a bit humorous, but also a bit odd. Kind of like every episode of RESCUE ME, really. A not great beginning, but a good enough set up of Tommy’s determination to be good and have a happy ending, even in the wake of 9/11’s tenth anniversary. Score: 7.8/10

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY S04E01 – “The New World” (08 July 2011) – In 2009 Russell T. Davies delivered TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH, a five-episode third series of the DOCTOR WHO spin-off to critical acclaim. After Davies’ run on the successful British time traveler series ended in early 2010, the brilliant man was already hard at work bringing TORCHWOOD to America. Teaming up with the Starz channel, we now have MIRACLE DAY, and it’s classic Davies. One day, no one dies. Death stops entirely. This of course creates problems – the population skyrockets, our understanding of the world is altered, no one knows who or what started all of this and how long it will last, etc. All very clever, very reality grounded problems to a spectacular science fiction concept. “The New World” is a fine re-introduction to the world of TORCHWOOD, and a brilliant way to call in American audiences. In Washington, there are rumblings about an organization called Torchwood, now fallen, and with this new phenomenon, the surviving members of Torchwood resurface. Captain Jack Harkness is back with an unexpected consequence to this new world order, and Gwen Cooper, fresh out of pregnancy world, is ready and anxious to get back into the field of bazooka-wielding, car chasing, run-for-your-life alien mayhem.

“The New World” excels in the script department, but that shouldn’t exactly be a leap for Davies. However, despite a great script that accomplishes quite a lot in one hour, the episode feels a bit flat. It fails to generate gusto, really. I wasn’t terribly engaged in the narrative, and a lot of scenes that should have been powerful or dramatic (such as Captain Jack’s much awaited return) didn’t pack the punch it should have. This is regrettable, but entirely possible to overlook. After all, we have nine more episodes of TORCHWOOD awesomeness. And I, for one, absolutely cannot wait. Score: 8.9/10

TRUE BLOOD S04E02 – “You Smell Like Dinner” (06 July 2011) – Last week’s season premiere did a fine job introducing the audience to the arc of the new year, but “You Smell Like Dinner” ends up being the superior episode, despite potentially being boring with not lots of happenings going on. I enjoyed all the character stuff – most of it, at least, cos I still don’t give a damn about Sam or his brotha Tommy (though I am interested to see his relationship with fellow shape-shifter chick grow) – from Sookie acclimating herself to a year later to Eric’s getting a classic comic book mind wipe. It was great seeing Tara again, and looking more gorgeous than ever; Lafayette and Jesus were a joy to watch as well, although I do hope to see their storyline gain some momentum in the episodes to come; flashbacks reveal a small portion of the last year in regards to Bill’s rise to power, and it is surprisingly hilarious (cue screencap); and Hoyt and Jessica’s messed up unstable relationship. I’m sure I missed a subplot or two, there’s plenty going on, but point is, “You Smell Like Dinner” was a really nice episode centered around the characters more than plot and gave them room to have their moments. Luckily, the following episode will be much the same. Score: 9.0/10

TRUE BLOOD S04E03 – “If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin?” (10 July 2011) – Poor Jason just can’t catch a break. In a surprisingly hilarious episode of TRUE BLOOD, Jason is getting his skin chewed on and his penis rode by a bunch of crazy people. Still, I find myself oddly interested to see how his whole arc turns out. Andy’s V-addiction still is immaterial for me, but it is unfortunate that he isn’t given a strong subplot this season, like his determination to show what freaky crap is going on around town in season two. Still, his “fuck it” attitude in the car was hilarious, and nearly worth the subplot. Nearly. As for Arlene’s uninteresting subplot, I don’t remember the significance of that raggedy doll that showed up in the season three finale and has reappeared here; let’s see how this develops. But most importantly of all, every scene with Sookie and a mind-wiped Eric was hilariously written and acted. Even if this season sucks mega loads, the scenes with Alex and Anna are terrific, and definitely going to be a series highlight. I can honestly say I am really looking forward to the next episode; after all, plots are heating up, and looks like there’s going to be some change on the horizon. Score: 9.5/10

06 July 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon [3D]

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Leonard Nimoy
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Michael Bay
Release: 29 June 2011
Paramount, 155 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: An Autobot spacecraft landed in the moon years ago, now its contents will bring about worlds end.

July 2007, Michael Bay “wowed” and amazed me with TRANSFORMERS, the first film of the franchise based off a successful Hasboro action figure line and animated television series. That movie was so beautifully crafted, after each viewing, I wouldn’t be opposed to another. The entire movie flew past me as a young and impressive Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox ran from giant digital robots that by no means looked or felt digital; for all I knew (if I didn’t know better), Michael Bay and producer Steven Spielberg were given tips from the government about an authentic alien species that scans earthbound technology (in this case, cars) and adapts. Haters can hate all they want, but absolutely nothing will break my unabashed and boundless affection for that first movie. It was, in a world, (bloody) fantastic.

Obviously, high expectations for the sequel, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. A great first film, and the trailers for part two promised a darker picture with a interesting scenario, loads of action, and a revenge plot (and occasional readers of this blog will recognize my love for revenge plots), I went into the midnight showing hoping to be wowed. In some cases I was, but my enjoyment was skewered by the presence of two utterly obnoxious Autobots that despite my best wishes never fell in battle, an unfortunate and unnecessary shot of John Turuto’s ass that I will never fully eviscerate from my memory, and perhaps a too convoluted script for its own good. There are still parts of ROTF that I love and watch frequently (especially the scenes with Sam’s parents, which are always priceless), but the movie itself, frankly didn’t meet the possibly momentous expectations from the first one. Although there is a definite feeling of letdown, I try not to be too hard on it; the film is, after all, a casualty of a Writer’s Strike, leaving the producers and director a detailed outline more than a script. So with a lackluster sequel, and growing public distaste of Michael Bay reaching unprecedented proportions, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is hitting theaters with a rather weird position.

One, Michael Bay and company had to redeem themselves for a lackluster and misguided sequel, providing a movie that maintained the same fun and humorous vibe of the first one and insane action sequences from both while creating a good enough, uncomplicated story. Second, audiences are (or rather now, were) rather skeptical about venturing into a third after the dismal second, and with the eye-candy of Ms. Fox gone, would the power of robots battling each other still be appealing to a wide demographic? Third, this is more than likely the last film for its big name stars – Shia, Josh, Bay – so DOTM had to deliver a satisfying enough conclusion to their character arcs and say adieu to the visual aesthetic Michael has cemented in the cinematic TRANSFORMERS world.It delights me to grin-fully say that TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is a worthy sequel. There’s intense, insane, awesome action scenes that only Mr. Bay could realize so beautifully; there’s the perfect balance of comedy, drama, action, and story; and above all, DOTM was enormously fun. ROTF had plenty of fun, but its problems were quite apparent and ultimately sucked one out of the viewing experience; DOTM has no such problems [although I was petrified by John Malkovich’s orange-looking face, like something out of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3]. The movie fulfills the Autobots vs. Decepticons expectations by giving us an epic, Apocalyptic storyline where it truly is a lethal, kill-or-be-killed environment. It gives our characters plots that make them absolutely integral to the story, and ultimately integral to the success or failure of saving the planet. Even Sam’s sexy galfriend Carly eventually becomes more than eye candy, making a choice that has some predictable and surprising consequences. Point is, if this is Bay and Shia’s last film, and maybe even the final TRANSFORMERS production (unlikely that may be), they couldn’t have closed the series better.

Well, sure, they could. Maybe something more conclusive than this, but, um, what should be taken away from this is that they did good.

Now, by this point I’ve seen DARK OF THE MOON twice, and its 155 minute running time had diverse effects both times. The very first midnight screening last week, every second was spectacular and the film flowed very well. I wasn’t antsy, I wasn’t disinterested, and I felt no compulsion to find out what’s going on in the world of Facebook. In a word, I had a blast. Weirdly, my second time wasn’t as fun. Perhaps it was the circumstances: a sore throat, sucky back, there/not there headache, but DOTM sure as hell felt as long as it was. Sure, the jokes were still funny, and the visuals are possibly the best in the business – no denying that – but the film seemed to drag. Thing is, though, reviewing the scenes and events of the film, what on earth could Bay have cut? Yes, there were lots of comic scenes that, in theory, could be cut without losing necessities of plot, but it wouldn’t be a TRANSFORMERS movie without those comedic scenes/elements; it’s half the charm of the trilogy. So part of me wants to complain about the movies length, but in retrospect, I honestly don’t know what to cut. They could condense the plot down to the bare minimum, but it also wouldn’t be a TRANSFORMERS flick without all those obstacles Sam and the girlfriend face.

Anyway, running time aside, DARK OF THE MOON works. It nearly redeems the mistakes of REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, and it’s an absolute joyful time at the theater.Perhaps excited for his last adventure as Sam Witwicky, Shia LaBeouf is very much having a blast. He gets to make out with a Victoria Secret lingerie model, which I’m sure involves some hard acting, run fast through obliterated Chicago streets, get the crap beat out of him and dish it out as much as its thrown at him, and enjoy another verbal jest with his parents (or is it all ad-lib?). Whether he actually cares about the franchise or not, Shia has always delivered strong performances, I feel, and this is no exception. Furthermore, he is given a nice arc this time around, wanting to matter in the world again, not just be a regular Joe. After all, heReplacing Megan Fox after a heated quarrel shortly before or after the release of FALLEN where the actress was let go, Rose Huntington-Whiteley isn’t bad at all. Its obvious acting isn’t her strong suit – and indeed her beautiful British accent is heart-melting enough to nearly overshadow her flaws – but she fulfills the requirements of the role, and she does it well. Moreover, her character is stronger than Mikayela, more mature, confidant, and (occasionally) has some balls. As for the Megan Vs. Rose duel that’s been around since Whiteley’s casting, well, I guess I would favor Fox. Just got a thing for brunettes.
Patrick Dempsey stunned me with a far more complex character than I expected (though my expectations were targeting something near a MADE OF HONOR 2-quality), easily becoming one of the films acting highlights. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are obviously having a blast spouting off funny one-liners and shooting really big guns, and I love ‘em for it. The franchise, if it continues, won’t be the same without them…

<…nor would it be the same without Michael Bay, for that matter. His visual style, color timing, tone, and personality are all over these three films. Just imagine how utterly different the next flick would be under someone new, even if it’s Spielberg himself. Love the guy or hate him, the TRANSFORMERS trilogy is Bay’s directorial crowning achievement, I’d say (and this is without having seen THE ROCK), and it will/would be a odd experience watching TRANSFORMERS 4 without the Man Who Made it Possible. Just respect what the guy accomplished, is all.>

As for the special effects…well, what is there to say? Damn well perfect. The best of the business. Flawless. Detailed. Gorgeous. The special effects are to a point where those digital creations are no longer simply human generated Autobots or Decepticons, and the city destruction isn't manufactured from the mouse clicks of a pressed-down finger, but those Autobots and Decepticons and city destruction scenes are real and authentic feeling. It's amazing, really. The 3-D wasn’t bad, either.

[For those wondering how I’d rate the 3D flicks I’ve seen, here they be:

1. My Bloody Valentine
2. Avatar
3. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
5. The Final Destination

Bet you didn’t expect seeing a horror flick there, first (and last), eh?]
DARK OF THE MOON also features one of my favorite set pieces/scenes in any movie ever: the crumbling building scene. It’s not a spoiler, cos it’s featured in the trailer. I love, love, love, love, LOVE it when our heroes are trapped in a building that is about to go down, and Michael Bay did not disappoint at all in delivering an intense action piece. Lives are lost, crazy shit must be done to survive, and a collapsing building has never been more visually beautiful onscreen. It’s just so fun to watch the heroes figure out what to do next, and when they are sliding on the outside glass: holy freaking crap intensity, man! Basically, one of the best scenes of the series.

Maybe this being the last of the Bay TRANSFORMERS films he thought it best to go out with a bang, actor-wise, but there are so many people that make appearances that it became a fun game and surprise every time. Of course there’s Leonard Nimoy voicing Sentinel Prime, and at one point near the climax, a long-loved STAR TREK line is even freakin’ used. At the midnight theater I think only one other person laughed; it was depressing. Scott Krinsky, “Jeff” from the TV series CHUCK, shows up for one very memorable shot; mega extra Jesse Heiman (who you can also see near Jesse Eisenberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK) walks behind Shia, looks at the camera, pauses for two seconds, and continues walking (!). It was the ultimate extra moment, man [if you want to know more, check out this brilliant video); Ken Jeong continues to seize his current famousness by showing up for a scene; and the awesome Alan Tudyk is given the opportunity to show off his unbelievable hilarious talent as John Turturro's bodyguard. Seeing who was in the movie was almost as fun as the film itself!

All in all, DARK OF THE MOON was a fun experience. Epic in scope, a lot happens in those 155 minutes which you’ll either be completely engaged in or a tad bit bored. This is the end of the world, giant robots style, and Sam Witwicky is the only one who has the balls to stop it. Next to Lennox, of course. The TRANSFORMERS films don’t desire the spite they’re given, and Bay deserves kudos for how far he pushes the envelope with action pieces and really freaking awesome cinematography. If this is the last of Bay and Shia, adios, sirs, you did great. Thanks for giving us three memorable action-packed movies that made me go “wow” again. Good luck on your next projects

For those few still deciding whether or not to see DARK OF THE MOON still, I say take the plunge. It’ll be worth it.

Rating: 9/10 = Redeems REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, and is a kickass, adrenaline-filled experience that will not disappoint.