The Autobots aren’t here for the good of humanity; they’re here for the good of America. We catch up with them attacking a nuclear weapons facility in an unknown Middle Eastern country (probably Iran). Luckily, the Transformers’ political ideology closely mirrors our own, with Optimus Prime regularly spouting off declarations of freedom. Absurdities aside (and this film can be as dumb as it is big), this is the most massive summer movie you have ever seen, and it throws near-perfect action scenes at you like it’s no big deal for two and a half hours. The movie has serious story problems, and we’ll get to that later, but the fact remains that this is one of the best action movies ever made, both for its eye-watering visual effects and the choreography of destruction. To top it off, the 3D is actually really good, shot with the same cameras as Avatar, though not quite as effective. The movie has shades of James Cameron in it, but while Michael Bay has become the best action director around, he can’t squeeze a drop of emotional connection out of his characters, as Cameron could with ease. The movie is definitely too long, and a lot of fat could have been trimmed from the first and second acts, because by the time you walk out you will be exhausted.
Fast Five is great, superb summer entertainment, and a fitting commemoration for the 10th anniversary of the original The Fast and the Furious. Justin Lin has fashioned himself into a groundbreaking action director in the vein of Michael Bay, and delivers one of the most original action films in recent memory. Considering the Fast and Furious franchise was on its last legs a few years ago, this is a real renaissance for the series. The film works because it dispenses with any pretense of reality or seriousness. The bright primary color palette of the desert and Rio de Janeiro give the movie a feeling of vibrant energy, moving away from the dirge-like tone of the previous entry, Fast and Furious, which had a sense of possibly being the last in the series pending its impressive box office numbers. The film also benefits heavily from the large budget the studio has invested in the property.
Don’t believe all of the inexplicably great reviews for Predators; it is a seriously stupid movie. Billed as a return to the greatness of the original Predator movie, this sequel comes off as a second-rate Avatar, where once entitled actors are brought low, and give bizarre and entertaining performances. Adrien Brody is no Schwarzenegger; hell, he isn’t Glover, either. He does his level best to sell his new badass persona, but every time he says something menacing, you can’t help but crack up. The rest of the crew are an assortment of no-name actors, with the exception of Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins, and a reeling Topher Grace.
The Book of Eli is really great: it’s got the apocalypse, it’s got all kinds of murder and death with blood and rolling heads, and it’s got Denzel Washington saying profound things and threats from the Bible. Denzel is the titular Eli, roaming the wasted deserts of America with the last copy of the Bible in his backpack and packing a razor-sharp machete, along with a sawed off shotgun and a rackety old iPod (when Denzel listens to that old song on his headphones, what a great montage!). The movie really delivers a lot stronger than any of the other recent movies about the world ending, and keeps things moving fast for its considerable running time.
Avatar is a great film. Here is a movie that will actually surprise you and offer things you have never seen before. James Cameron has delivered a special effects powerhouse that is actually an extended acid trip in the jungle. The human tech is underwhelming, so is the heavy-handed theme, but consider these as elements tacked on to a movie about exploring the forest.
The Road is, unfortunately, a boring movie, and the title might as well be Sittin’ Round the Campfire. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is one of the very best books of the decade, and this adaptation falls flat for about half the running time. There are good actors, moments, and visuals, but the whole isn’t more the sum of its parts. Viggo Mortensen puts in his patented perfect performance, and he carries the movie as far as his considerable talent can, but he is only one man, and can’t make up for the shortcomings of the director and writers.
District 9 is a revival of the good old days of R rated 80s and early 90s sci-fi action films. This is a great movie, showing true originality, and delivering on its entertainment mandate. District 9 avoids the pitfalls that rob many sci-fi flicks of their potential, including the poisonous PG-13 rating, the ubiquitous bad computer graphics, and the standard crappy actors. District 9 says “NO” to all of these mandates of modern movies, and gives people what they really want; technology, gore, and action. Neill Blomkamp is a Paul Verhoeven for our times, a man with his finger on the pulse of the audience.
Don’t watch G.I. Joe, it’s about as appealing as an abortion. This isn’t realistic/serious G.I. Joe, and it isn’t pure cartoon fun G.I. Joe. No, this is a third variety; this is pure, unadulterated shit. It’s hard to imagine how, with such a wealth of source material to cull from, a person could create something so profoundly awful. There is a lot of blame to go around, but I’ll split it up into the triad of idiocy, in order of terrible influence; Channing Tatum as Duke, Marlon Wayans as Ripcord, and Stephen Sommers, a director by name only. These forces, gangrenous by themselves, join to create a Chimera of vomit inducing cinema the world has never known.
“Dom, your engine is throbbing!” Fast and Furious is out on DVD, a trip back in time, to a simpler time, a time when Limp Bizkit was popular, and import racing was fresh and exciting and new! The Fast and the Furious started an epic love story, between two men who were too fast to care. Make no mistake, their eight years apart were so very lonely, but now they are finally back together, at long last. This fabled romance is of course between Dominic ‘Dom(inant)’ Torreto, industrious street racer and organized crime boss, and erstwhile cop Brian ‘Spilner’ O’Connor, who is now on the FBI side of his regular polar swings between criminality and the law.
Michael Mann is the de facto king of cops and robbers city street shootouts. Public Enemies makes a nice shift to period piece old timey stuff with no loss in crisp edge. Few people can argue that Miami Vice was a misfire of epic proportion. The only bad thing left over from Vice is the use of HD cameras. It seems like a Depression era story would be a great chance to use film with a nice heavy grain. HD cinematography looks a lot like a camcorder in intense lighting, although black fidelity is through the roof. I have never seen film qualities quite like this, but it proves a double edged sword. Clarity and detail are incredible, but motion can be choppy sometimes, like a cheap LCD TV display. Still, the biggest problem is the absence of good ol’ film grain. Hi tech picture quality is an anachronism next to a 1930s setting.
Michael Bay is the mad hatter. Truly bizarre visions and creatures rule the screen for nearly two and a half hours. Also on display; epic scope, true summer blockbuster scale; Transformers 2 has everything, and delivers everything in a steady and rapid flash. Transformers’ commitment to portraying the U.S. Military as unerring heroes allows the movie to get exclusive Department of Defense access to state-of-the-art equipment. Similarly, large bribes to the Egyptian government give unprecedented access to the Pyramids as a principal set. This is the summer movie to hate, with a majority of reviews eviscerating the film. However, I feel a viewer should focus on what the film (uniquely) is, instead of what it isn’t.
Pixar consistently delivers, to the point that any review of Up is more a measure of greatness, rather than a critique. Up matches the great craftsmanship and thoughtfulness Pixar is known for, upping the ante with seamless 3D integration and well framed daydreams. There is a heavier tone and theme this time around, and kids may wonder why their parents are crying, not understanding the gravity of time and lost paths. Emotional response is where the film really achieves magic, provoking a wistful longing for youth and dashed hopes.
J.J. Abrams takes his place among the likes of James Cameron and Steven Spielberg to deliver the first true blockbuster of the summer. Top shelf special effects, epic space battles, and electric momentum make this a sci-fi classic in its own right, even outside the Star Trek canon. Abrams has real respect for Star Trek and classic science fiction, and puts real care and craftsmanship into every minute of celluloid. After last week’s ho-hum Wolverine release, it is nice to see summer popcorn fare that actually tries to entertain, instead of relying on the guaranty of fan viewership.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an epic catastrophe on every level, a confluence of poor ideas, poorer execution, and blinding stupidity. When faced with a celluloid abomination of this magnitude, a person must look back in time to the benchmark of horrible comic book film, Batman Forever, to find proper comparison. This movie is worse, attempting a realistic tone, grappling with schizophrenic thematic concerns, and dishing out horribly sub-par special effects. This movie is so bad that it will require multiple critical treatises for years to come to plumb its awful depths.