Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

John Favreau is one of those directors in which I really don't care for most of his films, but I actually really like the guy. And by that, I mean that I know he's not a hack or a fraud. Ive seen plenty of interviews, his Dinner For Five show, and he genuinely seems like a lover of film and has that genuine non-forced nerd quality about him. But not in the annoying vein of Quentin Tarantino. Like a more relaxed Martin Scorsese (in terms of personality, NOT film making). Im not the biggest fan of Iron Man (in fact, I think it's actually pretty bland). Iron Man 2? It got scathed, but I dont think it's much worse than Iron Man. It's just kinda' more of the same. That doesn't go to say that I think either are terrible. I am just not a giant fan of his movies. Until Cowboys & Aliens.

To jump right in, I really enjoyed Cowboys & Aliens. What I love most is that it's a western with aliens. Not a sci-fi film with cowboys. It's almost the opposite of Star Wars. Think about the scene in which Obi-Wan, Luke and Han all meet for the first time. It's in a bar (which would translate to a saloon), and they're basically looking for a gun for hire with a horse and carriage. It's a western in a sci-fi setting. That's what I think makes this film work. It's the fact that they try to establish characters that actually interact with each other. Not just fodder for the aliens to fuck with. I actually kind of gave a shit about why this kid shouldnt be sent to jail, and the repercussions that would come. Obviously, it's not going to be character work that you're going to see in Once Upon A Time In The West or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but it's enough to actually CARE.

Ill continue with the top-billing name. Daniel Craig. Ive grown to really like him. He met all the requirements of a James Bond and he seems like a rather cool dude. The role was originally supposed to go to Robert Downey Jr. (no surprise there [everyone wants their Bobby DeNiro]), but for some reason, he didnt do it. And I dont mind because Daniel Craig did a good job portraying the Eastwood-esque badass. I have a feeling that Downey Jr. would have included more of his signature wit, which would not have been a totally bad thing. I just think the character called for a more take-no-shit kind of actor. And Craig definitely carried that out within the first 15 minutes. Punching dicks and bashing heads into steel? That works.

Now to the main reason I pledged myself to this movie... Harrison Ford. I remember when the movie was announced, I was like, "Yeah, I'll check it out.". Then Ford was casted and I went from "Sounds cool" to "IM IN". It was something that I always figured he has done, but never actually did. A western. I mean, look at Indiana Jones. I know that when I think about Indy, I see dirt, deserts, and all the ruggedness that comes with a western. Except now, he's actually IN one. PERFECT casting by Favreau. Harrison Ford fanboy-ism aside, was he phenomenal in Cowboys & Aliens? No. But he was pretty damn fucking cool. The one thing about his character that I was surprised with and enjoyed was he was a semi-heel to start with. He wasn't a terribly good man. And Ford needs that. He's always the hero, rarely ever the baddie. That isn't to say he stays like that, but for the little while he is, it's fun to see what he does with his character Dolarhyde.

The rest of the cast was pretty impressive as well. Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers!), and a brief appearance from STEPHEN. Who's Stephen? A wanted man from his island. Okay, maybe Im cross-referencing here. Stephen from Braveheart, David O'Hara. I love that guy. Braveheart, The Departed, this. Everything he's in, he's golden. But again, the cast was pretty damn good. Olivia Wilde was good too. Though, any problems with her character that I had werent really HER fault. More so the writing. Cant really talk about those problems due to it kinda' being a giant fucking spoiler. Though mentioning it being a spoiler might be a spoiler in of itself...

The aliens. Spoiler or not, I have to touch up on what half the fucking movie is about. This has been a fairly disappointing year in alien design. And for that statement to exist, there has to be a plethora of alien films. And this year there were plenty. Battle: LA, Paul, I Am Number Four, Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Now of all those releases, only 3 are straight-forward alien films. Battle: LA, Super 8 and now Cowboys & Aliens. And as I said, the creature designs have been "meh". Battle: LA's aliens were incomprehensible and Super 8's alien design was pretty fucking lame. And Cowboys & Aliens? Well, it was a slightly satisfying visual. When I first saw the creature, I didnt know what to think. Then I saw more of it, and my opinion started to become more whole. And to be honest, I thought it was okay. And at this point, that's good enough for me. After being so incredibly amped for Super 8, and it delivering such a crappy creature design, I can settle for the aliens in this film. They're almost crustacean-looking aliens. But not like District 9. In this, they're more bulky and menacing. Could they have given me a better-looking alien? Yeah. Did it turn me off to the film? No.

The score. Nothing overly memorable, but I dug it. Im listening to it on YouTube now just to remember the tone of it. I remember liking it. But I was also drunk, so I dont remember too much of the score itself. But hearing it now, there are actually more layers to it than I remember. It has 3 particular thematic ques. The action ques, the western guitar ques, and some softer emotional ques, in which I du. The score wasn't mind-blowing, but it definitely complimented the film. And that is essentially what a score's main purpose is.

Is this one of the better summer films? Id say so. It hasnt been an incredible summer. Let alone, year. Im hoping the fall and winter brings some surprise gems.

But my hat's off to Favreau. Finally a movie I can say I actually really like from him. That's another thing I give him immense credit for. NOT to shoot the film in 3D. And Im not hopping on the "I hate 3D" train. I love 3D when the film calls for it and when it's done properly. This movie? There was really nothing that screamed "3D!!!". But that's not why I respect Favreau for his decision. It's because he wanted to shoot his western on celluloid film. And with 3D, you have to shoot digital unless you want a mediocre post-converted 3D final product. So in the end, Cowboys & Aliens is a job well done. But seriously... Cowboys & Paraplegics? Come on.
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Michael Bay Action Movie #9. That's how many people will look at Transformers: Dark of the Moon. And I cant really say I disagree with them. But the difference is... I actually really enjoy (most of) Michael Bay's films. Do any of them have intricate and/or compelling stories? No, not particularly. But the man knows how to make a solid action flick. That is for sure. I really don't want to start this review off all "Michael Bay! Michael Bay! Michael Bay!", but I think I need to address my position on the dude. I am well-aware that his films are mindless action. I know he owns his copy of "How To Make A Movie" with the "Characters" and "Story" chapters ripped out. But guess what? He DOES know how to make a movie. He just needs to hire the proper writers. But when I walk out of a Michael Bay film (even Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), I never feel ripped off (well, that kinda also has to do with being a theatre manager and not having to pay). But what I mean by that is, he DOES give you his bang for your buck. Literally. There is a reason the films cost so much. And that's the production value. The FX, the locations, and the all-around scale of the film.

People can complain about his movies being FX-heavy. Well? Fuck off. You can complain about films being too FX-heavy if their FX are terrible. And even though I voice my pro-Bay opinion with a slightly less defensive tone, I will battle anyone who says his films' FX are "shitty" or "terrible". Feel the way you want about him (and I can totally see why people hate his films). But do NOT trash the FX. That is the one thing he is more talented at than anyone. Bringing great special FX to the big screen. And no, that doesnt make a film good. But it certainly helps a great deal. Alright, Ive said what I needed to say. Now to TFDOTM. No, not "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", "Total Fucking Destruction On The Maximum Level". Okay, so there's no "L". I thought it was clever enough to not have to waste it. Im an idiot. The review...

2007, Transformers. A fun, surprisingly entertaining movie. Didnt know how much you could do with a live action toy franchise film. But it was fun enough to lure me back for the second. 2009, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Eh. Everyone trashes it, but I look at it for what it is... Robots punching each other in the dick. And dont kid yourself, that is what they are. But the first has that element of surprise. The second was just more of the same, just longer. People seemed to think they could take more away from an orgy-of-metal film. As much as I can enjoy Revenge of the Fallen, I do admit it was a far lesser film. Now, 2011, we have Transformers: Dark of the Moon. And I can honestly say that surprise element is back. And that's only due to Revenge of the Fallen falling off the wagon a bit. Had Revenge been just as good at the first, there would be no surprise in Dark of the Moon being good. It would just be expected. But Bay hopped back on the wagon again, and really made a solid Transformers film again.

With Dark of the Moon, he made some good decisions and some bad decisions. First, the good. He erased those fucking terrible twin ebonic robots. Unlike most people, I wasnt offended by them in the second film. What is there to be offended by? So what? They speak like black people. If you were offended, just piss off. The problem with the ebonic robots was that they were FUCKING ANNOYING. And luckily, Bay had enough sense to scrap them for this film. That isn't to say that he doesnt have stupid robots in this. Just not on level of retardation as Skids and Mudflap. Another thing done right by Bay was that he scaled the film down. But by JUST enough. Pirates 4 tried to scale it down from the third film, and it just made it fucking BORING. Pirates 4 felt so damn bland because it needed to feel bigger. Dark of the Moon had just the right size and scope. Granted, the film is still HUGE. But it's not all over the world. The film mostly takes place in D.C. and Chicago.

Now... The bad. As expected, the humor. Or as I call it "Michael Bay Humor". I dont think I really need to elaborate on what that is, but I will anyway. Bay has the humor of an 5th grader. And that's not to say I dont have the humor of a child, but I dont make $200 million dollar films with 5th grader humor. And you know what? Every 15 childish jokes, does come that one guilty laugh. It sometimes CAN make you laugh. But I dont forget why Im sitting in that seat. It's because I want to hear robot dicks clanking together for 2 and a half hours. But my 5th grader humor aside, Bay is pretty terrible at humor. But when it is humorous, it's usually only humorous in the "laughing at you" kind of way.

The FX. Again, Bay and his team managed to make my brain hurt. And I mean that in a good way. Im very rarely confused with who's fighting who, as most people are. That's not the reason my brain hurt. The real reason is because I cannot understand, and probably never will understand how they manage to create such incredible FX. I still cant fathom how it's done. I understand that it is a plethora of animation artists, but that doesnt make it any less easier to comprehend. My hat goes off to all the sketch artists, the concept artists, the rendering artists, the animation artists, everyone. Each and every dollar really does show up on screen.

The 3D. This film has been praised to have the best 3D since Avatar. And I can say that I would agree with that. I dont particularly think it's better than Avatar's 3D, but it does a hold a light to it. Im happy Cameron convinced Bay to shoot in 3D before shooting. Because the last thing I would want Paramount to do with Dark of the Moon, is post-convert it as they did with their previous and upcoming releases for this year. Thor's post-conversion wasn't bad, but it doesnt really sell 3D in a GREAT light. And to my giant surprise, Bay didn't really pull any "Comin-At-Ya" 3D tricks. The film actually has less 3D gimmicks than Avatar. I would expect the opposite from Michael Bay.

The cast. Bay managed to round up an impressive cast. Well actually... They're all just Coen Brothers steals. Ill give him John Tutoro since he's been in every film since the first. But to bring John Malkovich and Frances McDormand into the mix, I liked that. McDormand was pretty okay. Nothing special. But I liked her in this. Malkovich was.. Well... Bay-ized. Michael Bay managed to turn him into a typical stupid Michael Bay character, but a fun stupid Michael Bay character. Basically, John Malkovich plays a Boston-accented Bob Barker. He talks like Matt Damon, but looks like he slept in Bob Barker's spray-tan soaked bed. As I said, his character was stupid, just not annoying stupid. Guilty-laugh stupid. And that's good enough for me in a Michael Bay film. Shia LeBeouf is Shia LeBeouf in this. Not particularly likeable, but not annoying-as-fuck as he can be. And his new girlfriend. Well, it's another case of Michael Bay casting a super model instead of an actress. So many people complain about Megan Fox's absence. Uh...What's the difference? Neither can act to save a short bus of retarded children. To me, it was like replacing a mannequin with a pull-string with another mannequin with a pull-string. Except... This mannequin looks like a duck. I dont know if Rosie Huntington-Whiteley spent money to get her lips to look like that, or needs to spend money to get them fixed. Regardless, I still think Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington were two broads who were getting boned by Michael Bay and happened to walk in front of the cameras for 3 movies.

I always hate vaguely writing about the end of the film because it's usually the worst or best part of the film. And you usually feel the most passionately about something you love or hate. Let's put it this way: If you have read any reviews on TF3, the end IS the best part of the film. For a solid 40+ minutes, it really stays strong. Ive read that it's "cant breathe great". No. There are a few minutes of down-time between each giant robot-destruction beat, but it's not dull downtime. All I can say aside from that is that THAT is where the 3D looks the absolute best. The fucking jumper pilot shots are just as good as anything Avatar 3D.

Wrapping up, see Transformers: Dark of the Moon if you are interested. If you're not a fan of Transformers, dont waste your time. And see it in 3D. It may not be as good as Avatar's 3D, but damnit, it's close. Dont feel like paying the 3D price? Steal glasses from the recycled glasses bin (have fun with that pink eye!). Just dont do it at my theatre. Ill kick your ass out.
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