Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
1 out of 4
Michael Bay's "Transformers" was a surprisingly good summer movie that put the Hasbro toy franchise to perfect use. It was full of special effects, explosive action, and silly fun. Michael Bay's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" undoes all of that. The explosive action of previous has exponentially grown to a mind-numbing amount as it's a barrage of crunching metal over and over again. There's no room for spectacle because one spectacle just keeps trying to outdo the other to the point where it overbearingly becomes the entire movie. The sequences revolving around the humans, which were funny and charming before, now just feel painfully forced. The human aspect of the whole fiasco becomes like an afterthought as if Bay only later realized the whole movie really couldn't be all mechanical mayhem because, from the looks of it, that's all he really had his mind set on. The only thing left going for this overly oil-soaked, greased-up, robust, summer blockbuster overload are the dazzling special effects as they're even more dazzling than last time out, and thank God for that.
Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is off to his freshman year at some fantasy world of a college where dorm rooms are like bachelor pads, frat parties are like night clubs, and everyone is tan and beautiful. This includes Sam's girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox), who he has to leave behind, and the creepy girl who pursues him with a tongue tasting of diesel. Sam accidentally touches a shard of the Cube, which begins putting symbols into his head that cause him to have embarrassing episodes in front of his astrology professor. The Decepticons are making their return to Earth led by The Fallen and want to destroy the sun. Megatron has been resurrected from his burial underwater. Starscream is in space waiting to invade. And apparently Transformers have been around since 17,000 B.C., and we're told this in a wholly unnecessary prologue. There are lots of Decepticon minions and new Autobot sidekicks, all of whom are annoying as all hell. Too many other Transformers begin popping out of everywhere, and they all start looking the same. I like Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, and Megatron. That's about all I can handle. When a giant Decepticon made up of multiple construction vehicles started climbing onto a pyramid, that's when I lost it completely.
Yeah, they end up in Egypt for a good while, and the army shoots at a lot of Transformers like the movie randomly decided to turn into a really colorful war movie. This comes at the movie's climax where Bay felt the need to have more, more, more, more! Megan Fox runs in slow-motion a whole lot. Her acting consists of pouting her lips, showing her cleavage, and following Shia LaBeouf around. And LaBeouf looks much less enthusiastic in this outing probably because he had to run around with a bandaged hand from a real injury he got during shooting. Sam's parents, played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White, make a return and bring back the humor of the predecessor for a bit, but then get sucked into the sappiness of the film's end when they randomly get zapped into Egypt. No explanation on that one.
Lots of other actors are running around in the mix, too, but it's not like they matter. This movie has the "Spider-Man 3" syndrome where it just comes down to there being way too much happening all at once. By the time the movie starts wrapping anything up, it's already too late. Too many hulking chunks of robotic machinery brawled, too much smashing metal had been ripped, torn, and mangled, and far too much incoherence had occurred in the entire plot. God, and did the miniature Decepticon have to really start humping Megan Fox's leg? We get it, she's hot. And why the extended monologue from that bearded Transformer guy from the Smithsonian? That only made the whole thing overblown to despicable absurdity. And why did the random roommate have to tag along? And why, above all, did the movie have to clock in at 2-and-a-half hours long? Its predecessor did, too, but this time it felt endlessly exhausting and excruciating. Note to Michael Bay: sometimes bigger isn't always better. And yet everything about this movie is massive as will be the box office turnout, unfortunately enough. Let the shooting for the next sequel begin. I liked "Transformers." But I sure didn't like "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen." Every ticket should come with a dose of Advil.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
4 out of 4
Sasha Grey was expertly cast as an escort named Chelsea who provides her clients with a "girlfriend experience." Grey has been in over one hundred porn films, and here, her "performance" is shocking in its authenticity. She wasn't selected because we body was going to be splayed about in sex scenes throughout the movie as there is only one fleeting glimpse of full-frontal nudity. It's surprisingly sexless for being a movie about an escort, and rightfully so. It isn't so much about the sex, but rather, what is involved in getting it. Grey provides the demeanor with which an escort would really act, and it's probably safe to say that she didn't have to do much "acting" here. She's a naturally born, still-life Barbie doll, and has the feel of a rising porn star, a young woman in her early 20s who appears innocent only on the surface. If you peer deeper into her eyes, you see that she's multi-layered and that she realizes what a sham it all is but that in the end the joke is very much on her. And in this respect, she's detached, cold, affectless, and generally not very likable. And for this film, she's a perfect match.
"The Girlfriend Experience" is one in a series of small, digitally-shot, semi-improvised films by director Steven Soderbergh like 2006's "Bubble." The movie focuses on Chelsea and her assortment of men, including her long-term boyfriend of eight months (Chris Santos) who is supposedly accepting of what his girlfriend does for a living. And yet, watching the two of them together, you get the sense that she doesn't treat him any differently than any one of her clients. Taking place during the days preceding the 2008 Presidential Election where the economic crisis is just getting underway, the characters within the film bring up matters of financial security a lot, especially Chelsea's clients. These are wealthy men she deals with as her services aren't cheap, and so she listens to them tell her how she should be investing. And yet, that's all part of her job. She must act like she cares about them, listen to them, cuddle with them, and joke around with them. Sex isn't required, but it's never off-limits. The main aspect of her job description is to offer an illusion of intimacy to men who could very well be married and have a family.
The movie keeps a keen eye on Chelsea as if it was a documentary on a real-life person and gives you a glimpse into this world Chelsea lives in that at first intrigues but then ultimately disgusts in its implications it has on our own society. Shot in an avant-garde style, there is interesting cinematography where the camera rarely moves with frequent stationary long takes. The frame rarely has its main characters in the center or even in focus; sometimes light fixtures in the background or wine glasses in the forefront get the focus instead. During one particular scene when Chelsea and her boyfriend are having a fight, Chelsea is sitting on the floor being blocked by a sofa. She appears slightly out of view in many other moments of the film, along with her clients who also play as an insignificant part of the frame in some moments. The fact is that Chelsea, just like her clients, is a vacant body simply moving among the rest of the concerned people during such hard financial times. She exudes a confidence that isn't merited because she may not have it all figured out like she thinks she does.
The progression of the film is not linear in that we jump back and forth through time, which makes different sequences have changing effects depending on how much information is revealed. One encounter we believe to be one thing turns out to be something entirely different upon another take, which warrants this surprisingly complex film a second viewing. Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" is a tantalizing and endlessly fascinating film about money, lust, delusion, and human nature, and it packs in quite the punch of bitter darkness in a consolidated 78 minutes.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
"Where the Wild Things Are," the beloved book, is now being adapted into a very independent-looking movie directed by Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation"), which gives it a whole ton of promise. And with music by Karen O., too, I'm extra excited.
The simple fact that "9" earned a PG-13 rating gets me excited for this one, along with the fact that it's getting released by Focus Features. Directed by Shane Acker (whose animated short film of the same name got nominated for an Oscar in 2005), it's being produced by Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") and Tim Burton.
I kept getting trailers for "New Moon" when typing this one into YouTube. Ugh. Anyway, aside from the fact that Sam Rockwell is awesome, "Moon" looks like a new take on "2001: A Space Odyssey," where insanity and reality gets blurred when in the atmosphere of space.
Friday, June 5, 2009
3 ½ out of 4
"The Hangover" is flat-out hilarious, the funniest movie so far this year with laughs that roll on even into the credits. And it all begins with boasting a clever premise that allows for endlessly hysterical possibilities. Four friends take a weekend trip to Vegas to have themselves a raucous bachelor party before sending their buddy off to get married. It's a one crazy night in Vegas that goes terribly, terribly wrong. The next morning only three friends are there to wake up because they're missing the groom, Doug (Justin Bartha), and they don't remember a thing having no clue as to where he could be. Directed by Todd Phillips ("Old School"), the movie is ingenious in that it skips over the party, and all we're left to witness is the aftermath. The messy, hazy, uproarious aftermath.
Joining Doug on the roadtrip before he disappeared was his two best friends, Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper), and his wife's eccentric brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis). They rent a $4,200 villa and journey up to the roof of the hotel to toast to shots of Jagermeister. And that's the last thing we see. They wake up to the place torn to shreds, a chicken wandering around, a crying baby in a cabinet, a missing tooth, and a Bengal tiger prowling in the bathroom. And Doug missing, of course, which leads to a sort of backward detective plot where these three friends desperately try to figure out what in the world they did last night. And throughout their discoveries, they all can't help but chuckle along the way of how fucked up they must've been. Their search leads them to an emergency room, a cheap wedding chapel, and a police station among other places. The police station because when they give their parking check to the doorman, he pulls around not the vintage car they drove to Vegas, but rather, a police cruiser. Now how the hell did that happen?
It's all a big mystery that plays out not only for the characters but for the audience, as well. We're right there with them wanting to know just what exactly happened, and all the answers are provided in a surprising, fun, and perfectly structured fashion. Except for the chicken. The chicken is never explained. The situations the four comrades get themselves into are giddily surreal and absurd to a point that pushes slapstick plausibility to its brink. The events of this long, long day go against good sense and good taste, and yet you'll find yourself rooting for these guys all the way. The movie also certainly earns its R-rating, but it's never gratuitous because when this goes down in Vegas, well, it's going to be R-rated.
We come across a variety of goofy and unique characters along the way, including an absolutely rambunctious Chinese mob leader named Mr. Chow, played magnificently by Ken Jeong who was last seen in "Role Models." The three friends find him locked in the trunk of their car, and the completely naked man armed with a crowbar jumps out at them as if he was spring-loaded. There's also Jade (Heather Graham), a stripper and hooker who has a good heart and is simply looking for the right guy. Oh, and that Bengal tiger in the bathroom? Well, it leads to a bizarre cameo by Mike Tyson who is simply a weird character all in himself.
"The Hangover" even, ever so slightly, delves into a bit of a character study in the way each buddy holds a distinct personality that slowly gets peeled away. Phil is a schoolteacher who steals field trip money from his students, Stu refers to himself as a doctor even though he's only a dentist and is in a relationship with a feminist Nazi (Rachael Harris), and Alan, well, we'll get to him later. These three men aren't the cool, young crowd going out to Vegas; they are middle-aged and simply trying to replicate wild Vegas movies as fake as those movies are. This movie pokes fun at replicating that one crazy night of a time by turning it into an utter disaster. It's keen in its observations in the ways of an Apatow feature with witty dialogue coming from witty characters.
The revelation here is Zach Galifianakis. As Alan, this short, stocky, fully-bearded weirdo carries around a man purse, calls it a satchel, and occasionally holds a stance that refuses to let anybody take him seriously. He steals each and every scene with one-liners that are so sharp coming from a guy who's meant to be so dumb. He even has a monologue toasting to his three friends that'll leave you dumbfounded. He's funny without even trying and sincere even in his own ignorance. In one scene faced against the dangerous Mr. Chow, Alan's satchel gets taken away and stepped on causing Alan to outburst with, "Hey! There's Skittles in there!" Anyway, take my word for it: He's comedic gold.