Category Archives: Film

First Look Superheroes

So I’ve been away for a while being pretty busy, and as such haven’t been able to blog much. I will start posting regularly again shortly, but for now here are a couple of official WB promo shots for both The Dark Knight Rises and Superman: Man of Steel:

This is the first shot of Henry Cavill in full costume as Superman. Now, I generally try to avoid judging too much this early, but I couldn’t help it when I first saw this. Cavill certainly has the build and he’s a fine actor, but this guy in the picture just doesn’t look like Superman to me. He looks like a thug playing dress-up. I trust Nolan, but I don’t want Superman to look anything like the Batman series.

Speaking of Batman…

Here’s our first look at Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. Note that the picture, from WB’s own site, is labelled as “Selina Kyle” and not “Catwoman”, which leads me to believe that this isn’t going to be Catwoman’s final outfit. Unlike the Superman pic, I really like this one. Anne Hathaway has the right look.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

The Superhero Summer continues with Friday’s release of Captain America: The First Avenger, which also serves as Marvel Studio’s final film before next year’s team-up bonanza, The Avengers. Thanks to Elfsar Collection, I was able to snag a ticket to the film’s Vancouver premiere screening on the 20th.

I went into the screening cautiously optimistic, but not overly excited. I’d never been a big fan of either the character or the comic, finding it rather difficult to relate with such an overtly American persona. That said, I enjoyed most of Ed Brubaker’s Eisner winning run on the title. And having, for the most part, enjoyed Marvel Studios’ films, I entered the screening desperate for the film to make me a fan.

Did it succeed? Spoiler-filled review after the pic.

For approximately half of the film, Captain America gave me a film that I absolutely loved. A fine blend of character, action, evocative production design, and hints of thematic depth had me rooted to my seat and buying everything director Joe Johnston was saying. Finally, I thought, after the miss that was The Wolfman, Johnston was proving that he never lost his The Rocketeer magic.

Sadly, and I’m not sure if this was a case of the magic running out or studio interference, but the wonderful first half abruptly gave way to a cartoon adventure that was of the Saturday morning variety than anything else. Plot threads were dropped, character development was stunted, and most of the thematic depth was lost.

What Went Right

The character of Steve Rogers, as presented in the first half of the film, was a wonderful representation of the idealized American spirit, the kind of gung-ho heroism that can only exist in the sepia-hued nostalgia of the 40’s. Here is a man, small in stature, willing to stand up for those unable to stand up for themselves. Here is a man who willingly allows himself to be beaten mercilessly, in the hopes of either proving his mettle or letting the bullies know that he will not lay down. Here is a man that we instantly believe is meant o be a hero.

And that’s what makes the character of Captain America work. The name, the costume, the entire persona… none of that would escape from its inherent cheesiness if not for the earnestness of Chris Evan’s portrayal of a burgeoning hero. When asked if he wanted to kill Nazis, Rogers calmly replied: “I just don’t like bullies.” And, by the way he delivered it, we believe that it’s enough justification to go charging headlong into Europe and beating up Nazis.

And even though I have issues with the way the character is utilized later on, Evans maintains his impressive performance all through out.

Also impressive is the production design all throughout. The world of the forties was brought vividly to life before our eyes in painstaking detail. As a geek for nostalgia porn, this was right up my ally. And as that aspect was one of my favourite things of The Rocketeer, I was praying that Johnston deliver. And he did.

Lastly, thematic setup, and to an extent the plot setup, was full of promise and potential.

As mentioned earlier, Steve Rogers was presented as brimming with unbridled idealized heroism. In a way, his ideals represented much of what everybody, Americans included, seem to think the “American Way” is. Over the top and somewhat embarrassingly jingoistic at some points, I was eager to see where the creators would go with this commentary on the American ideal, especially considering the way people view the United States and their foreign policy today.

They almost made it, too, with a wonderfully campy section in the middle that served to cut Captain America, the figure, off at the knees. After getting powered up and proving to be an excellent fighter, Rogers was poised to leap straight into battle. Instead, the smarmy Senator in charge of the Super Soldier project presses the good captain into service as a cheesy propagandist urging the American public to buy war bonds, all the while surrounded by dancing girls.

Would Captain America let his desperation to serve his country overcome his warrior spirit, his sense that he was destined to stay home? Would these cheesy scenes lead to some much welcome soul searching and introspection, proving that Captain America is not a one note, muscle-bound, idealized soldier?

What Went Wrong?

Sadly, as the film entered its second half, it squandered much of the intellectual and thematic ammunition it had built up.

This was a movie about heroism, right? So why did it only look at one side of it? Even the much maligned Green Lantern, which I freely admit is an inferior film, took a good long look at its hero from multiple angles, even having Hal Jordan essentially quit being a GL after some setbacks. Badly executed though it was, it still showed us a hero with a flaw.

After Steve Rogers made the full transition from propaganda machine to front-line warrior, the character stopped developing along any believable lines. He just became this almost monotone super man (small “S”) so emboldened by the patriotism running through his veins, so full of his own heroism, that he charges through the rest of the movie like an unstoppable juggernaut.

I used the term “Super Man”, and that was entirely intentional. Sadly, after the tantalizing set up of the first half, Captain America became the very thing that Marvel acolytes wrongly accuse the Superman character of being: a morally incorruptible, bland, all conquering idealized hero with no weakness. If I may refer to another movie again, briefly, even the much maligned Superman Returns showed us a Superman who was a) vulnerable to Kryptonite, b) rejected by his lady love (for 90% of the film), c) a bit of a dead-beat dad apparently, and d) soundly beaten by Keyser Soze after being shived with a shard of Kryptonite. And yet, with all those weaknesses, Superman pulled himself together and came out smelling like roses in the end.

Captain America had none of that in the second half of the film. There could have been so much done with the character to build on the first half. What about, say, questioning the morality of using a quick fix to become a better hero, essentially “Roiding Up”, as it were? What about the possible health (or moral)  consequences of a man who had spent his whole life as a weakling suddenly able to do things he never dreamed possible?

Dr. Erskine kept saying that  he chose Rogers because he believed that he is a good man, that a weak man would know the value of strength. This was an interesting idea, but nowhere was it shown that Rogers’ moral makeup as Captain America utilized the weak/strong dynamic. Sure, at the end, the Red Skull tried to tempt him into joining him. But the Skull was so outlandishly over the top evil (more on him later) that  I think anybody in Cap’s place, good heart or not, would join the Red Skull.

One of the main problems is that Cap’s heroic beliefs are never challenged, not by outside forces and certainly not by himself. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone with so much belief in his own self righteousness have those same beliefs challenged in some way? I mean, that is essentially what happened to America itself when it was revealed that Iraq had no WMD’s. Even Superman, in Returns, was faced with a pulitzer prize winning article written by his own girlfriend questioning whether the world needs a Superman.

No, none of that was present in the second half of the film. Instead, we are given a very simplistic straightforward action adventure superhero film. And that would be fine, normally, except the plot was faintly ridiculous and over the top, and it was actually boring.

First of all, the villain of the piece, the Red Skull, is, in the face of having seen Loki a scant few months back, woefully one dimensional. The film tried to cast him as Captain America’s dark shadow, but it just doesn’t come off well.

Cap is driven by his heroism, his wish to prove himself in the face of his own weakness. Red Skull is driven by… well… he wants to… well… I guess he wants to use a cosmic cube to power his evil death machines to destroy the world. Uhm… yeah. That’s not one dimensional and cartoony at all. Nope.

Red Skull is difficult to take seriously, and in a movie that raises some interesting questions about heroism, that’s a shame. Here was yet another opportunity to talk about the nature of evil, heroism’s dark shadow. But… no. I guess Marvel wanted to leave that to Thor.

The villain’s lack of credibility underscores the hero’s problem in the second half: the man is just unbeatable, both emotionally and physically. He has no weakness, whether it be Thor’s arrogance, Tony Stark’s alcoholism and lack of a physical heart, Hal Jordan’s fear, or even Superman’s kryptonite.

Oh wait… he does have a weakness: Bucky. He gets sad when Bucky dies. But, oh well, right after that, at least he gets a souped up James Bond/Batman style super motorcycle that has more gadgets and gizmos in it than the Batmobile. Seriously, he just hops on the thing, drives up to Red Skull’s most secret, most powerful base and waltzes on through. He gets captured eventually, but it’s all part of the plan and he’s never in any real danger.

And that’s the thing, let me repeat: Captain America is in no real danger whatsoever in the second half of the film. There’s no – and if I may be film school-y here for a sec – third act “all is lost” moment where we truly believe that the hero can fail. There’s no “Thor gets killed by the Destroyer” or “Superman gets stabbed and left for dead” or “Superman lifts the Kryptonite continent and falls back to Earth essentially comatose” or “The Rocketeer has to give up his jetpack to the evil Nazi or his girlfriend gets it” or “Harvey Dent is mutilated, the two boats on the Gotham River are going to kill each other and the Joker is going to win, and Batman is vilified by the city” or “Superman has to choose between two nuclear weapons, which leads to his girlfriend dying”… the list could go on.

Sadly, that list doesn’t include Captain America. He has no such moment, no major obstacle to overcome. At no point in the movie do we think the Red Skull has won.

Lastly, and briefly, Cap’s love interest Peggy Carter is a shell of a character. The two actors (carter is played admirably by Hayley Atwell) have good chemistry, but the relationship itself as written feels forced. And it feels unrealistic because Peggy has essentially no function in the story except to introduce Cap to the wonders of puberty. She herself has no character arc, no internal need or goal that has to be attained or obstacle to overcome. She’s a non-entity, and as such the poignancy hinted at the end of the film, when Steve gets frozen, feels forced.

So there you have it. After a brilliant first half, I feel that Captain America descends into a far more inferior film than promised. If the film had been set up like that from the get go, a Transformers-like “turn of your brain” kind of action romp, then ironically I would have enjoyed it better.

But because they worked so hard to successfully engage us  viscerally, emotionally, AND intellectually in the beginning, it’s crushing to see all that work go to waste.

That said, I did enjoy it, even if I come off very negative in this review. I have heard and read other people saying that all of those things are not what they want from a superhero film, but I think that films like Iron Man, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the like prove that you can have your superheroics and have a character driven story as well.

And the first half of the film gives us that. For me, that is the movie I’m going to remember. The second half is just apocrypha.

6.5/10

Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels

To make up for a lack of posts recently… here you go. Settle in, it’s a lengthy discussion about one of my favourite films directed by one of my favourite directors.

Wong Kar-Wai

Born in Shanghai in 1958, Wong Kar-Wai moved to Hong Kong at the age of five. The son of a sailor/nightclub manager and a housewife, the mostly mandarin speaking Wong initially felt an intense sense of isolation in the Cantonese filled world of his new home. This sense of drifting (inherited from his father) and isolation would later contribute to the themes that inform his body of work. He would later embrace the Hong Kong culture as his own. He graduated from Hong Kong Polytechnic in 1980 and would join the film industry as a scriptwriter in 1982, working on a variety of genres ranging from romance to gangster to horror. The rise of Wong Kar-Wai as a director can be attributed to Patrick Tam, for whom Wong wrote Final Victory. Tam (who would go on to edit Wong’s films Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild) introduced him to producer Alan Tang, who produced Wong’s directorial debut As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild. It is around this time that Wong met Jeffrey Lau, with whom he would create the production company “Jet Tone Films, ltd.” Under the Jet Tone banner, Wong would continue to make ground breaking “artsy” films, funded in part by the successes of Lau’s more commercially viable blockbuster successes. Wong’s films include: Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, 2046, and My Blueberry Nights, which marks his first foray into the American market.

Fallen Angels

 

As with most of Wong’s films, Fallen Angels’ plot is minimal and difficult to describe. In this neo-noir character study, a disillusioned hitman (Leon Lai) undertakes a series of violent missions given to him by a female dispatcher (Michelle Reis), whom he has never met, who has fallen in love with him. Realizing that he must not mix passion with business, he finds a young blonde woman (Karen Mok) to pour his feelings into. Meanwhile, a young mute named He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who earns money by breaking into other people’s businesses and forcing random people to pay him to stop harassing them, falls in love a strange young woman named Charlie (Charlie Yeung) who is obsessed with an ex-boyfriend. At the end of this bleak movie, He and the Dispatcher end up providing a glimmer of possibility that they will end up together when the hitman dies in the middle of a mission the dispatcher arranged, Charlie ends up with another man, and He is forced to grow up when his father passes away.

A Study of Isolation

Owing to his background as a director working in the strongly genre-based HK film industry, Wong set about tackling a number of different genres and imprinting his own sensibilities on them; usually by eschewing genre conventions and turning them into intense character studies dealing with highly pathological or neurotic individuals. For example, Days of Being Wild went from being an “Ah Fei” (rebellious teen) movie to a study on Oedipal complexes and the tragedy it engenders. Similarly, Ashes of Time started out as a “Wu Xia” martial arts flick and became a study on memory and loss.

Fallen Angels represents Wong’s attempt to do the same genre-bending twist on film noir. It does have most of the conventions of the genre, including a disillusioned and jaded anti-hero, moody visuals, and a femme fatale whose involvement leads to the hero’s death. But more than that, I believe that Fallen Angels deals with an issue that Wong has had to deal with from childhood: Isolation, and the lack of communication that arises from it.

A Lonely HK: The effectiveness of Setting

Hong Kong has never appeared as lonely as it has in this film. Usually frenetic and bursting with energy in both real life and on the screen, the HK of Fallen Angels is remarkably different from Chunking Express’ joyously vibrant city. Here, we are presented with four main characters wandering around the darkened streets of a city hovering on the edge of being a ghost town. As each character goes about their business, Wong’s use of the feeling of abandonment, as well as his decision at set 99% of the film at night, reinforces the idea that each of these characters feel an intense sensation of isolation… one that is almost impossible to escape from. The claustrophobia naturally inherent in HK is never more present than in this film, where the darkness of the streets and the sparseness of people force the characters to be alone… even if they’re physically with someone.

The Human Connection

Wong also does an interesting thing in how these characters relate to each other. As a mandarin speaking child in Cantonese HK, Wong must have felt an intense feeling of isolation simply because of the inability to communicate. The theme of communication, or lack of it, is prevalent in Fallen Angels, and is in evidence right from the get-go. The first line, spoken by the Dispatcher to the Hitman (“Are we still partners?”) goes unanswered. Instead, the Hitman launches into a voiceover communicated to us, the viewer, rather than to her. I never bothered to time it, but I believe that in total, the words spoken between characters in a back and forth dialogue would probably amount to a few pages at most. This film is a veritable soundscape of monologue and unanswered one-sided conversations, symbolizing the distance between characters. Wong uses this trick all throughout the film to emphasize their isolation. For example, when the Hitman encounters an old classmate, he doesn’t say a word. Instead, the classmate babbles on and on to him while the Hitman babbles on and on to us. He Qiwu is mute, so he is incapable of answering anyone at all. When he meets Charlie, who is a bit of a motormouth, she talks AT him, rather than to him, and he is incapable of answering back.

Perhaps the most telling example of non-communication leading to separation is Wong’s use of the Hitman/Dispatcher relationship. The Dispatcher has obviously fallen in love with him, a function perhaps of her obligation to clean his apartment every so often. And he gives us several choice bits of voice-over talking about how man cannot control his passion, which is why he cannot meet this woman. He is sure to fall in love with her too. Knowing this, it lends an almost poignant dimension to scenes like the Dispatcher setting up a hit and even just sitting at a bar that the Hitman frequents. In these two scenes, Wong shows us, through the magic of editing, the Dispatcher and the Hitman occupying the same space, but not the same time. In setting up a kill, the Dispatcher walks through the kill-zone and draws a map. The Hitman later walks through the zone in exactly the same manner. This, and the fact that they go to the same bar at different times, implies the gulf that exists between the two characters and shows the Dispatchers desperate attempt to feel any bit of him that she can, despite not being able to meet him. In the scene in the bar where she lovingly caresses a jukebox that she knows he uses, you can feel her longing… her wish to do the same to him. And when he makes the decision to break off the relationship with her, he does so not by telling her directly, but by guiding her to listen to a song telling her to “Forget Him”… a message she takes badly.

A Ray of Light

This is a world filled with characters who cannot communicate, and yet there does exists a surprisingly sentimental moment in the film where two individuals come together… perhaps the most profound showing of love in any Wong Kar-Wai movie. Towards the end of the film, He Qiwu discovers that he can use a camera to film himself delivering a message. But, unable to speak, he doesn’t think much of it. He takes to filming his father in a number of frustrating moments. At first, his father doesn’t like this. The filming culminates in He filming himself sleeping beside his father, their heads bent close to each other in a moment of pure connection. To his delight, He discovers his father watching the video on his birthday, and enjoying it. When his father passes away, He sits in front of the TV watching the video over and over again, finding a connection with his father purer and stronger than any that exists between the other characters, despite being entirely non-verbal. It is after this moment that He Qiwu makes the decision to grow up. He then meets the Dispatcher, who has fallen into an icy depression after planning the death of her would-be lover. The two of them connect, finally, and he takes her home on the back of his motorcycle.

In one of the most hopeful endings of any of his films, Wong has them ride through a darkened tunnel… and emerge in almost another world; a world where daylight has begun to break. Perhaps this is his way of telling us that once isolation is abandoned and connections are formed, darkness must give way to light and to hope.

Top 10: Favourite Comic Book Movies

With the release of so many comic book adaptations coming out this year and next, I figured it was about time I reassessed my top 10 list. Come on, comic fans, you know you guys have a list too.

Now I stress… this is my favourites list, so I won’t be doing any film school analyses of hero’s journey and third act turning points and the like. I won’t be looking at Metacritic scores are Oscar Awards. These are my favourite comic book films. Period.

And for the sake of brevity, and because I’m too damn lazy, no pictures in this post!

10. Iron Man 

This one shocked me. I am far from the world’s biggest Iron Man fan, in fact after Marvel’s Civil War crossover, I downright hated the character. I hated him so much that when he appeared in JMS’ Thor and Neil Gaiman’s Eternals, I got a thrill from seeing the titular characters layeth the smacketh down on Tony Stark’s candy-ass.

And so I went into the Iron Man screening ready to hate the hell out of the damn thing. Nothing could make me like Tony Stark. Nothing.

Except for Robert Downey, jr. apparently.

Not only was the film itself a rousing, fun thrill ride, RDJ gave me a Tony Stark that was vulnerable yet bad-ass, smarmy yet charming, infantile yet heroic. He was a mess of contradictions that made him fun to watch and easy to root for. The plot itself was alright, nothing great, and the villain was a cardboard cutout, but this film makes my list on the strength of RDJ alone.

9. Constantine

Yes, Keanu Reeves was horribly miscast. But if  you look beyond that, and the americanization of John Constantine, then what you’ll find is a smart supernatural thriller that is well worth a look, even if just to see Peter Stormare ham it up as Lucifer.

 

8. Superman Returns

And here’s where I completely lose most of my readers. Yes, Returns is an overlong homage to a better film, yes it recycled too many motifs that we’ve seen before, yes Superman should have had more “super” things to do than just lift things, yes the super-baby story is… unnecessary and kinda creepy, and yes Kate Bosworth is arguably the worst Lois Lane we’ve ever seen.
But goshdarnit, I enjoyed watching it. I am a die hard Superman fan, and have been since I was a kid. Until Returns came out, I had not had a chance to see Big Blue soar across the big screen. This film gave me a chance to do exactly that.

And for all it’s problems, there are many things I REALLY enjoyed. The plane sequence, obviously, was thrilling and worthy of a Superman film. The effects were great, the flights were well done, and Routh is picture perfect for the role. It’s just too bad that we won’t get to see him really let loose in the next film.

7. X2: X-Men United

After getting the origin stuff out of the way, director Bryan Singer gave us the X-Men film we’d all been waiting for. This one had everything: a (slightly) expanded role for Shadowcat, hints of the Dark Phoenix story-line, a greater emphasis on Jackman’s excellent performance of Wolverine, and a dark story that really delved even more into the core differences between Magneto and Xavier’s respective philosophies.

The mutant battles were better staged, there was no real standout horrible line of dialogue (ala Storm’s “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning?” line from the first film), and Brian Cox (no, not the physicist) was exceptional as William Stryker.

This, for me, was the pinnacle of the X-Men films, and is the highest ranked Marvel film you’ll find on my list. So stop looking for Spider-Man 2.

6. Batman Begins

Yes, I enjoyed the Burton films, Batman Returns more than the other, but the Nolan pictures are better in almost every aspect. Well… except for Bale’s Batman voice.

Explaining why Batman Begins is such a great film would take up an entire post, so I’m going to limit myself to saying: This is how an origin film should be made. And the casting is spot on.

And Kevin Conroy should re-dub this movie. Just saying.

5. The Rocketeer

This is one of my favourite childhood movies. There’s a sense of whiz-bang fun pulpy adventure that permeates every scene in this thing, and that makes it impossible not to like. The flight scenes are amazing, the characters are well drawn, and the acting is superb.

But you know what my favourite thing about this is? The score. Composer James Horner has provided some amazing genre film soundtracks over the years (Aliens, Star Trek II, The Abyss, etc.), but the main theme he concocted for The Rocketeer is definitely one of his best. Lyrical and melodic, it captures the joy and wonder, and indeed the romance, of flight so perfectly, that when I dream of flying, this is the soundtrack I hear. John Williams’ Superman theme may be my favourite Superhero music, but this comes a close second.

4. Superman

And speaking of John Williams, his score for Superman was so perfect, that to this day, it is one of the defining elements of the Superman character for an entire generation.

The other defining element has to be Christopher Reeve. What was interesting about Reeve’s Superman is that his interpretation of the iconic character is not that of a muscle-bound strong man. Instead, Reeve’s Superman is lean, noble, kind, and oozing with humility. He’s a gentleman in a world of cynics. Would that we all were so…

3. The Dark Knight

Much like Bryan Singer did with X2, Nolan followed up his origin movie with a film that solidified everything people liked about the first. TDK is a masterful crime epic, Heat with capes as some people would say, and it gave us one of the single greatest villains to grace our modern screens.

Heath Ledger’s Joker is nothing like we’ve seen before, definitely not the mugging, campy Joker that Jack Nicholson gave us. It’s a shame that we won’t get to see where Nolan and Ledger could have taken us in succeeding films.

2. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Most people don’t know this, but Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful post apocalyptic sci-fi epic did not start out as a film that then got turned into a manga series. In fact, the Japanese legend had to produce the comic book first, just to prove that the concept he came up with was a viable one.

And, boy, is it.

Nausicaa, which follows the adventures of our titular heroine as she strives to bring peace and life back to a barren future, is a timeless classic, as relevant in our fossil-fuel driven culture today as it was in the 80’s, which was when this film came out. It is a message film, yes, but its message is wrapped in a wonderful coming of age story about a young girl accepting her destiny in a world determined to destroy itself.

Beautiful, poignant, gloriously animated, and with a haunting soundtrack, Nausicaa is not only one of my favourite comic book films… it’s one of my favourite films, period.

Aaaaannnndddd…..

1. Road to Perdition

Until Nolan took over the Batman franchise, this was the film I pointed to when people said that there were no quality films to come out of DC after Tim Burton took off. The original graphic novel was a competent crime drama, a standard Max Allan Collins story about a boy’s road trip with his gangster dad.

But when Oscar winning director Sam Mendes teamed up with Oscar winning cinematographer Conrad Hall, Oscar winning actors Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, and Grammy award winning composer Thomas Newman (I lied when I said I wouldn’t talk awards pedigree), Road to Perdition becomes an elegaic masterpiece.

This is a beautiful film; beautifully written, beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and beautifully scored. I’m going to devote a whole post to this film eventually, so I’ll keep my praise here short.

There are a handful of films that, when I watch them, make me feel lucky enough that I was alive to see them. They are life-affirming films that I go back to whenever I feel that the world is dark, or the pressures of my life are starting to get to me. They re-affirm that there is beauty in life, that there is magic and soul. The Shawshank Redemption is one. Road to Perdition is another.

Not only is this my favourite comic book film of all time, it is in my top five favourite films of all time. Period.


 

 


 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Boy, it’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting summer, what with some heavy hitters like X-Men: First Class and Super 8 storming out of the blocks and racking up both the accolades and the moolah. But always looming over the competition was the biggest tentpole of all, the concluding chapter of Michael Bay’s critically divisive Transformers trilogy.

So, was all the hype worth it? Did he truly make amends for some atrocious decisions made in the second film? Did he deliver the rollicking summer blockbuster he promised? Or is Dark of the Moon dead on arrival?

I will try to avoid spoilers.

What Dark of the Moon is… is difficult to review. On the one hand, I could go on and on about some of the niggling issues that I have with it, and the issues it has with the concept of “story”, but on the other hand I just enjoyed the hell out of it so much that I don’t care.

To get it out of the way, yes it is way better than Revenge of the Fallen, and yes I fully acknowledge that it has some problems (pace, unnecessary characters, underdeveloped secondary plots).

But I go to these summer films to be entertained. I never go in expecting In the Mood for Love, The Shawshank Redemption, or Se7en… movies to be analyzed and studied in order to be fully appreciated. For a summer blockbuster, as long as it is reasonably well structured and a glorious sensory experience, that’s more than enough for me.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is everything I want from a summer film. It is an excellent way to kill 2 and a half hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s filled with fun and explosions and all around bad-assery (yes, that’s a word now), and Bay’s sure directing hand makes it hard to dislike any of it.

First of all, he cleans up all the mistakes he made in the previous film. Annoying roommate sidekick? Gone. Nonsensical combiner robots? Kaput. Oodles of expository nonsense that goes on and on and on and on? Whittled away. And best of all… Transformers Nirvana? Forgotten.

Instead, Bay and company give us a running-time-not-withstanding fairly tightly plotted adventure where the stakes are raised both for the characters on a personal level and for the world’s survival in general.

I also absolutely loved the prologue of the film. If you think the opening to Watchmen was a great example of expository compression, wait till you see this one, dealing with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The robot battles are even crisper and smoother, with Bay pulling the camera back far enough for us to see more of what’s going on. And that “bad-assery” I mentioned? Every single battle in the film had at least one moment that either made me drop my jaw in awe or want to stand up and cheer for one of the combatants. The entire final act of the film is one long battle in a war zone, and that battle is an epic one.

Acting-wise, we get more of the same. The Transformers films have always had middle fo the road solid acting, so no real complaints there. For this film, Bay gave us a few more characters. Leonard Nimoy is back in the Transformers Universe at last (anyone remember that he played Galvatron in the animated film?) as Sentinel Prime, and he does a fantastic job. He lends the role a real sense of gravity, which extends to the rest of the film. Alan Tudyck (Wash, from Firefly) is in the film as a pretty unnecessary character, but he is a welcome addition and tons of fun. And watch out for fun cameos from Ken Jeong and the great Buzz Aldrin himself.

Now, one of the bigger questions regarding this film was whether the new hot chick can act.Well, I’m happy to say that Rosie Huntington-Whitely does a commendable job, considering she had no real acting experience besides strutting down a Victoria Secret walkway. Her character, Carly, is more interesting than Megan Fox’s Mikaela, and Rosie is flat out a better actor.

So in the end, I walked out of Transformers: Dark of the Moon quite satisfied. Michael Bay said that this one is his last… but the rumour mill is churning like crazy, and some sources have claimed that if Bay really is gone, Spielberg himself might step in. True or not, the possibility of a Spielberg directed Transformers is mouth-watering.

So it looks like this trilogy has reached it’s conclusion. But if they decide to continue, let’s hope that there’s more to this situation than meets the eye.

Super 8

I am a child of the 80’s (and early 90’s). In the world I grew up in, Cringer turned into Battle-Cat with a bolt of Greyskull infused lightning, Captain Power and his Soldiers of the Future fought for humanity, and Zack Morris always got into trouble with the principle. I watched Return of the Jedi first and worked my way back, I played video games on my Commodore 64, and Justice League comics were hilarious sitcoms.

The movies of my childhood, both in theatres and on Betamax, were windows into another world. The movies I gravitated to, primarily horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, took hold of my imagination and refused to let go. Later labeled as “Escapist fare”, my favorite films were filled with a sense of wonder and awe, dripping with a feeling that if you stepped out into your backyard and gazed at the night sky filled with stars, the world around you would drop away.

There would be no space, no time, for worry and stress… how could such things exist in a world of pure imagination, a place where a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the Goblin King Jareth has stolen a pretty girl’s younger brother, Marty McFly has just hit 88 miles per hour, and Elliot is taking the bicycle ride of his life. So many wondrous things… such a short childhood in which to appreciate them.

Super 8, JJ Abram’s loving homage to producer Steven Spielberg’s films from the 70’s and 80’s, is aimed squarely at someone like me. It is a film that reminds us of a time when the long, lazy summers were filled with possibility and our imaginations knew no limits; a time when the days stretched on forever and ever, and we could take our time to appreciate everything that we had.

Such an homage is dangerous to make, especially in today’s overly-cynical, caffeine and redbull-infused ADHD world; a world where a sense of wonder is deemed naive and childish and feel-good movies are not to be trusted. But Super 8 pulls it off. And how.

I’ll try to be careful, but assume SPOILERS from here on out.

Briefly, the film is set in a small middle America town, circa 1979 and follows the exploits of young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his friends as they deal with the triple threat of young love, young ambition, and young powerlessness in the face of death and the army. After losing his mother in an industrial accident, Joe has to deal with an emotionally absent father (Kyle Chandler), who also happens to be a deputy, completing his best friend’s zombie film shot on a Super 8 camera, and falling in love for the very first time with an older girl, Alice (Elle Fanning), who has agreed to be in the film. As the friends shoot a pivotal scene at an unused train station, they get caught in  the middle of a massive accident involving an air-force train carrying a mysterious, lethal cargo.

JJ Abrams does a masterful job in making Super 8 both a successful homage to 80’s classics like ET and The Goonies, while making sure it stands up well on its own two feet. I may be biased, being the target audience an all, but I just feel it does so many things right.

First of all, though not a long film at about 112 minutes, Abrams gives his movie the time and space to breathe. In other summer blockbusters this year (Thor and Green Lantern come to mind), everything moves at an incredible pace. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM go the scenes, plot point after plot point thunders past as if running a death race. Exhilirating? Sure. But I prefer Super 8‘s style of letting us linger with the characters as they react to things, internal and external, happening around them. Abrams knows how to direct some pretty spiffy “scary movie” scenes, but he also gives us plenty of purely character driven scenes and is content to give them as much time as they need.


There is a moment in the film when the kids are setting up to record a pivotal scene in their zombie movie. With it being a last minute addition to their script, budding Spielberg-wannabe Charles (Riley Griffiths) gives his cast an opportunity to rehearse off camera. While everyone else phones in their performances, Alice gives a heartfelt rendition so powerful that it chokes everyone up. It is at that moment that Joe really falls for her. Hard. There is silence after while the boys process this new sensation. In the hands of a lesser director, maybe one more concerned with run-times and exposition, this scene would have been treated like a bullet point on the script, worthy of a token small reaction.

But Abrams understands that this is not a movie about a monster and action, it is about emotion and all the wondrous feelings of adolescent enchantment. He lets it go on long enough for us to  see why Joe would fall for her, remembering what it was like to be young ourselves and in love for the very first time.

Speaking of which, the cast here is quite remarkable. It has often been said that working with children is impossible in Hollywood. Well, Abrams (and Spielberg before him) proves that if you cast well, and if you have a firm hand on your vision and know how to talk to them, then you can pull out some striking performances from anyone.

Our two leads in particular, Joe and Alice, command the screen like veterans. Elle Fanning already has a track record, and is on her way to becoming a great star, but newcomer Joel Courtney was a pleasant surprise. For someone who came to Hollywood to hang out with his cousin, not to be an actor, Courtney makes a strong case for the label of “someone to keep an eye on” in years to come. The adults do a great job as well, with Kyle Chandler in particular lending the role of the father a conflicted gravitas that makes me wonder why this guy doesn’t get more roles.

Abrams also has a firm grasp of tone in this film. He knows exactly what he wants us to feel when we’re watching it – awe and wonder, of course – and with the help of strong collaborators like composer Michael Giacchino and DP Larry Fong, he knows exactly how to extract those feelings from us. Even his (now) trademark lens flares make sense, adding an eerie other worldliness to the film.



I don’t know if other people see in this movie what I do. I don’t know if they’ll respond to its message of hope and understanding in the same way that I did. I don’t know if in this time of uncertainty and worry, this time of “it’s hip to be cynical” style of filmmaking, there is a place for a throwback like this. Box Offices have been strong so far. Will it last? Is this film destined to be a classic in the way that Stand By Me or ET is?

I hope so. It may not reach the heights of those earlier films, but I hope audiences see this film and realize that there is room in this world for a little wonder, a little awe, and a lot of optimism.

Green Lantern

You’d have to be living a completely un-connected life to missed all the scathing reviews of the new Green Lantern film. With a 40% rating on metacritic, the film has quickly garnered a reputation of being, shall we say, significantly below expectations. As a huge fan of the comics, this worried me, and I went into my screening last night with trepidation.

Is it as bad as some reviewers say? Is it a joyless, soulless, execrable piece of celluloid turd that never should have been made?

Well, that’s a simple question with a not so simple answer.

I personally think that the film is not as bad as people try to make it out to be.

Is it a superhero film on the level of The Dark Knight or Superman, films that transcend the medium and bring respectability to the genre? Heck no. Not even close. It it, then, this season’s Batman and Robin or Elektra, pieces of cinematic hackmanship that do nothing but denigrate the source material? Again, hell no.

Instead, I’d lump Green Lantern with films like Thor and Spider-Man 2. These are movies that capture much of what makes the source material so wonderful and enduring, all the while showcasing some serious problems that give critics major handholds to latch onto.

SPOILERS ahead.

In Brightest Day…

So what does it do right?

1. The Setup – The first act is actually extremely well done, and does everything a first act is supposed to do right. Beginning with an exposition heavy prologue, necessary, I feel, due to Green Lantern’s complex mythology and world-building, the film then proceeds to introduce us to Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds. And the Jordan we meet, while perhaps more of a Kyle Rayner-Guy Gardner-Hal Jordan amalgam than a straight up Hal Jordan, is perfectly established right from the get go. We see his cockiness, his irresponsibility, his childishness, and, yes, his fear. In other words, all the flaws he will have to overcome to become a hero. The other story and character beats also fall into place pretty well, and made me eager to see where the filmmakers would take things.

2. Hal Jordan – I’m not the biggest fan of Hal as he exists in the comics. But I like what they did with him in the film. On the page, he’s essentially a supercop crossed with a Mercury 7 astronaut: cocky, but skilled enough to deserve his cockiness, and one of the greatest GL’s to ever sling the ring. He really had no weaknesses, except a slight inability to relate with some of his comrades, and a major inability to hold a long-term relationship. That’s a fun character for a mentor or side-kick, but not as the main focus of the story.

This is why I’ve always liked Kyle Rayner more. His vulnerabilities are real and deep seated, his stakes more personal, his journey more heroic. He has flaws in abundance, flaws just like you and me.

In crafting the Hal Jordan character for the screen, the writers took what made Kyle great, his humanity, and put them into Hal, making him a guy I could root for. Reynolds did a bang up job as well, knowing when to play it straight and when to crack wise.

3. Sense of Wonder – An aspect of film as a medium that has been missing for a long while is that “childish” sense of wonder that used to accompany Spielberg’s movies and science fiction in general. Green Lantern is a space opera about the ultimate tool of wish fulfillment, a concept begging for the return of a sense of wonder.

Had the filmmakers given in to modern cynicism and withheld that sense of wonder, then the film would have fallen flat on its face. As it is, OA is given the appropriate sense of grandeur, Hal revels in his constructs and his ability to fly, and everything feels heavy with wonder. In fact, it practically drips off the screen in that moment when Tomar-Re (Geoffry Rush) shows Hal a complex construct of a writhing mass responding to his will. Hal’s face, filled with wonder, seals the deal.

4. The Constructs – Reviewers have slammed the constructs as childish and immature. Well, guess what: Hal Jordan, as written, is childish and immature. It fits. And besides, the film is about the power of imagination… if the idea of a grown man occasionally indulging his inner child is offensive to you, then I suggest popping out your DVD of Requiem for a Dream and watching The Goonies or Superman. Have some fun.

5. Sinestro – Although he didn’t have too much to do in the film, Mark Strong as Sinestro was definitely a highlight. The man owned every scene he was in.

6. The Humour – the film is funny in all the right places. It just works. See: Carol Ferris discovering Green Lantern’s secret identity.

In Blackest Night…

It wasn’t all brightest days for Green Lantern, though, as some of the criticism was absolutely justified. So… what went wrong?

1. Pacing – I’m not going to go scene by scene here, but the pacing of the film after the first act was definitely off. Some parts dragged, the first fight scene between Hector Hammond and Hal Jordan was terribly paced within itself, and the third act was atrociously quick. Parallax’s approach and subsequent attack on Earth felt way too rushed. The final battle felt like it was only 5 seconds long, and the wrap-up felt like they just ran out of time and wanted to end things quick. Nothing was given its proper weight in the end, and that’s a shame. In that sense, it was reminiscent of the ending for Golden Compass, which is not a good thing.

2. Carol Ferris – As I said earlier, Blake Lively was competent in her role, having to do nothing more than stand around and look sexy. But that’s the problem… she had nothing else to do but stand around and look sexy. Yes, I know she becomes a major villain (Star Sapphire) later on, but it feels like her character is locked in a holding pattern until such event occurs. A problem, arguably, shared by Sinestro.

3. The Dialogue – I’m sorry, most of the film’s dialogue is just clunky and messy, on the nose and expository to an extreme. There’s some good stuff in there, but I’d rather forget any of the characters outside of Hal and Sinestro opened their mouths at all.

4. The Villains – Hector Hammond, while played admirably by Peter Sarsgaard, was really nothing but a distraction and a waste of space. All his screen time could have been spent developing Parallax more, or perhaps showing more training on OA. Speaking of Parallax…

No. No I will not speak of Parallax any further. Instead, I will just direct you to pick up a copy of Green Lantern: Rebirth from your nearest comic store.

5. No Fear – Yes, I get it. The film is about overcoming fear. You didn’t have to tell me that every 10 minutes. Seriously, I get it.

Beware My power…

So, yes, there you go. The film has a multitude of flaws, and certainly could have been better.

But it could have been worse, too, and when it did work, Green Lantern was a soaring space epic with a strong likeable main character who definitely deserves a chance to anchor another film or two. As the opening film of a potential new franchise, it may not be on the level of Batman Begins, but I’d say it did at least as good of a job as, say, X-Men.

And with the requisite origin story out of the way, I can see the next film being a better, tighter piece, able to focus on the plot, presumably the beginnings of the war of light. And if the end-credits teaser is any indication, Sinestro is about to become a huge factor.

And, let’s face it, I can’t wait to see how Blake Lively fills out this uniform: