Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers 4 PosterRating: ★★★★★

Forget about the title “Best Action Director of All Time”; Michael Bay is King of the World. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is a spectacle of sight and sound, of genius and art, of expression and imagination. It is everything we hope for in a giant alien robot action movie, but pumped with steroids, marinated in Bay Sauce and stretched to infinity and beyond.

It is the sight of half a dozen towering robots who chase and punch and shoot and talk trash at each other – sometimes in that order, sometimes in a random loop, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes in a simultaneous loop in different orders, and sometimes all of the above, all the time.

It is the sound of “dialogue” written by “screenwriter” Ehren Kruger, overlapped by the kinetic clashing of metallic entities, overlapped by the crisp explosions of everything that occupies the background, overlapped by heavy things banging on even heavier things, then finally overlapped by dialogue reacting to the things overlapping the initial dialogue.

Michael Bay

King Bay sitting on his throne

It is the genius of incorporating a “new element” in the trailer for each of the three sequels which are essentially and almost literally the same movie, where we get a stomping LEGObot in “Revenge of the Fallen”, a drilling Wormbot in “Dark of the Moon”, and finally hurtling Dinobots in “Age of Extinction”, which proven by box office records is more than enough for the price of an admission.

It is the art of sneaking countless sensual shots of sensually-dressed women in a movie I assume is meant for pre-teens, featuring not one not two but three attractive women who, despite their petite look, has more fat than talent in their body, whose names are Megan Fox, Rosie-Huntington Whitely, and Nicola Peltz, whom I imagine have all done more than just audition to get some of their roles, but I could be wrong.

It is the expression of Michael Bay’s wettest of wet dreams, which are highlighted but not limited to: the fastest of high-speed chases, the lowest of low angle shots, Robot Porn, running explosions, backflipping cars, face cannons, human-sized grenades, fire breathing, laser shooting, karate chopping, struggling actresses that need a lot “guidance” and anything that goes “Boom!” “Swoosh!” “Roar!”, and in some instances, and I’m not kidding here, “phrgpudijaihgacmlx!”

Bay’s ejaculation lasts 165 minutes, so better reserve the first row.

Transformers 4 Lockdown

It is the imagination of Industrial Light & Magic, whose employees spent hundreds and hundreds of hours constructing about five Transformers with a coherent design, a spaceship that looks nothing more than a flying junkyard (no offense to junkyards) and one generic Transformer design multiplied by fifteen, then hundreds of hours of  overtime were again spilled by these souls to make the Transformers destroy each in a matter of minutes, spread across by thousands and thousands of quick cuts, which will remain incomprehensible to the human eye for millions and millions of years to come.

I liked “Age of Extinction” in the sense that viewing it inspired me to revisit all of Roger Ebert’s pieces pertaining to the franchise, and reading him has always been a bliss, or a silver lining, depending on the movie. Early in my reading, I pleasantly discovered that a handful of his observations describe this particular installment so accurately that I might as well copy-paste them here. Because if there is anyone in this planet who deserves the Roger Ebert Treatment, it is Master Bay.

Roger Ebert

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.” – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

“There was no starting out slow and building up to a big climax. The movie is pretty much all climax. The Autobots® and Decepticons® must not have read the warning label on their Viagra. At last we see what a four-hour erection looks like.” – The Fall of the Revengers

“Finding success in a Michael Bay film is like finding the Virgin on a slice of toast, but less rewarding.” – Intro: “A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length”

“Those who think Transformers is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve. Those people contain multitudes. They deserve films that refresh the parts others do not reach. They don’t need to spend a lifetime with the water only up to their toes.” – I’m a Proud Brainiac

Beats Audio

“Age of Extinction” has more unforgettable moments than the overrated, elitist products of last year like “12 Years a Slave”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and even “Gravity”. Consider the spellbinding moment when the self-absorbed scientist played by Stanley Tucci materializes a BEATS speaker from alien technology. And who can forget the end of the spectacular chase sequence when Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager crashes in a BUD LIGHT truck? Or how about that nail-biter when a Pterodactyl Transformer *Swooshes!* down a building and almost crush a bus that’s very clearly sponsored by VICTORIA’S SECRET? And lastly, what kind of “Transformers” movie would this be if it doesn’t have a shot of a building being torn apart with a SAMSUNG billboard watching in terror in the upper left portion of the screen?

Such masterful framing, King Bay. Although if those greedy producers weren’t choking your artistic ways, I’m pretty sure you could have included Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut, Marlboro, Apple, Sony, and Dairy Queen somewhere in your masterpiece. Quite frankly, some of your frames had “Free Space” written all over them.

Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime is the movie, I am the Dinobot

Walking in the cinema, I had no idea that the 7:10PM screening I attended last Wednesday was going to be a special event. About a fourth into the film, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake shook the cinema for at least a full minute. Almost half of the full-house audience walked out in panic, others in caution. I stayed because (1) I’m not sure of the minimum magnitude required for a refund and (2) I really wanted to write this review in hope that someone would read this and embrace it as their silver lining.

In the instance that the earthquake was much stronger and authorities advised the audience to evacuate, I would have probably complied and walked out of the theater, but it won’t be primarily because of that damned earthquake.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past PosterRating: ★★★★☆

The opening shot imagines an apocalyptic future. New York is devastated and hopeless, and the first people we see are lifeless ones being dumped from a truck. A miserable crowd of humans and mutants slowly march with blank faces, possibly towards their execution. A pile of bones cover the earth, where more rot is surely buried underneath.

Meanwhile, a desperate group of survivors retreat in a ruined monastery. Knowing that they will soon be caught, the group sends one of their friends in a last-ditch effort to fix what’s become of the world. The odds that the plan will succeed? Slim, but what other choice do they have? That they sit and wait behind tainted windows suggests that what they are in is less of a mission than it is a prayer.

If you’ve ever wondered how comic book superheroes would fit in a painting of The Holocaust, well here it is.

I walk in most Superhero Movies with an almost jaded attitude – thanks to “Green Lantern”, “Man of Steel”, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, “Thor: The Dark World”, and so on – but the dark, unconventional prologue of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” automatically elevates it from its comic book counterparts. It’s starts with a statement and ends with a bang. Even the scenes of exposition have a pulse. The hype, ladies and gentlemen, is legit.

Days of Future Past

Time travel is the group’s final measure to amend history, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the only candidate that could survive the trip. So back in time he goes. He wakes up fresh from a one night stand; if he was sent back a few hours later, the movie would have an R Rating. Just an example of how time can really change things, but back to the story we go.

Similar to the previous installments, we spend about a fourth of the film being introduced to the mutants, their superpowers, how they can help with the mission, and so on and so forth. In my review of 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”, I observed that the movie’s fatal flaw was drawing itself away from the interesting, important relationship between Charles (Professor X) and Eric (Magneto) to develop irrelevant, annoying supporting mutants like Banshee (the one who can cause ear cancer) and Angel (the one with throat cancer).

Mystique in Days of Future Past

In “Days of Future Past”, the primary characters get the screen time they deserve while the secondary mutants are limited to being cool special effects machines. Amongst the newcomers, runner-up goes to Blink, a sneaky lady with teleport portals while the crowd favorite will undoubtedly be Quicksilver, the gray-haired teenage rebel with an appetite for speed. (I refuse to name the unfortunate Aaron Paul movie).  This chill kid played by Evan Peter provides the single most entertaining, inventive, memorable sequence in the entire film when… but why spoil it for you? Rather, I’ll just pause and wonder why Marvel is busy financing a dozen other sequels instead of getting Quicksilver a film of his own.

Viewers who know their science-fiction will link the film’s use of time travel and robots with that of the “Terminator” trilogy. Comic Books Amateurs like myself thought that “Days of Future Past” got its idea from “Terminator”, but Fanboys were diligent in clarifying that it’s the other way around, since the comic book from which this film is based on was released way back in 1981. I highlight this because of my admiration of the Sentinels, whose unstoppable force reminded me of the T-1000. Both are sadistic shape-shifters that can take a lot of beating first then win later.

The number and strength of the Sentinels are great set pieces yes, but they also pose a real, genuine threat to our heroes. We see a lot of mutants die brutal deaths, and as generic as it looks on the surface, I found myself unusually involved in the climax of the “future” side of the story.

X-Men GIF

Our desperate group of survivors is on the brink of their last stand. Will their prayer be answered or will they, like their fallen friends, also end up being dumped on the dirt? Bryan Singer began his film so brilliantly that it would be a shame to let it end with a salute to Michael Bay. He does not disappoint. What has characterized the “X-Men” franchise is the opposing ideologies between Professor X and Magneto on how they think mutants should live in a world that is not ready for them. This is what decides the film’s outcome. Not by who punched harder or pulled the trigger faster. Here is an approach unheard of in the Marvel Universe. After more than a decade of remakes, re-imaginings, reboots, sequels and spin-offs, I think they’re finally starting to get the idea.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

What do we get after Sam Raimi’s three “Spider-Man” films released in a span of six years? “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 3”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 4”, a spin-off starring Venom, a second spin-off about the Sinister Six and probably a TV series, half a dozen video games and a cameo at “Glee”. Cause why the hell not.

As unnecessary as it felt, Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot showed great potential for improvement with its better casting and enhanced special effects, but its chances at soaring was crushed by the bastards at SONY who downsized the elements that really worked in order to structure future installments. And though this scheme has been true to pretty much all the Marvel movies, it is most abused with this reimagining of Spider-Man.

On a positive note, the parallel stories about struggling student and rebellious superhero can be quite compelling; it’s the set-ups in between that ruin the experience.

So the sequel is here, and with a record-setting running time for a Spidey Flick of 142 minutes, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is just a bigger example of what made its predecessor an avoidable disappointment. Unfocused and uneven, the film juggles the contrivances of the mystery behind the fate of Peter’s parents, the planting of characters that would eventually form the Sinister Six, the introduction of Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) as the next plot twist, and a couple other subplots that I either missed or forgotten about.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2

What I do recall is my fascination for Oscorp, a multi-billion-dollar corporation that has produced more super villains than my country’s Supreme Court. On the previous “Spider-Man” film, the crippled Dr. Curt Conner morphs into The Lizard in a quest to be whole again. Here, the friendless nerd that is Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) evolves into Electro while the dying Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) decays into the Green Goblin. Does anyone in Oscorp know what a background check is? And why is Gwen Stacy still working there? Did she forget that her co-employee-turned-monster killed her Dad?

Loneliness erupts into violence in Electro, whose bluish glow makes him look like a crossbreed between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and the towering blue humanoids in “Avatar”. After plunging into a tank of mutated electric eels (Damn it, Oscorp!), Dillon gains the power to cast explosions of electricity and deliver cheesy one-liners in the process: “It’s my birthday! Time to light my candles!” *Zap, Zap!* Max Dillon’s transformation is rushed by the numerous subplots, making him a stock villain instead of a sympathetic character. He greatly expands the film’s scale (this is the biggest New York production ever), but the action he provides only make a cool trailer, not a captivating film.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy

Notwithstanding, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has strokes of visual excellence, all of which are executed through the abilities of Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) himself. His first appearance, where he swings along New York skyscrapers in POV, evokes genuine exhilaration. The special effects gives weight to Spider-Man’s swift movements, which causes the audience to feel the pull, drag, and momentum in his every swing, then gravity does the rest. Director Mar Webb presents us with the most convincing Spider-Man footage to date, and his skill and enthusiasm is evident. That the scenes of exposition are so dull suggests that Webb himself is restrained by SONY’s intent to stretch the franchise until 2018. At age 30, how long can Garfield continue to play the web-slinger who had just graduated from high school?

Behind all the exposition and special effects is a likeable couple in Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). And of all the onscreen couples in the Marvel universe, the team of Peter and Gwen is the only one that doesn’t feel conventional. Their romance functions as an independent story rather than a device to complete the comic book blueprint. Every time Garfield and Stone share a scene, the film brightens up. Maybe it’s because the two are dating in real life. Maybe it’s because they are younger compared to other Marvel couples and the target audience identifies with them the most. Or maybe it’s because I just find Emma Stone so darn adorable.

Gwen Stacy GIF

Either way, a scene near the end will strike an emotional cord unknown to moviegoers who only watch films in the same wavelength as this one. It’s a brave decision, impressively executed, and it’s the film’s most memorable moment.

So 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” remains to be the best flick of the franchise. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” had the director and actors for second place, but the Hollywood disease has dragged it to a spot only ahead of the embarrassing “Spider-Man 3”. That won’t stop people from buying tickets to it I’m sure, and that’s all fine. I suspect that people will walk in wanting CGI mayhem and walk out asking themselves the question: “When will we get to see a nice little love story starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone?” I know I did.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G. I. Joe: Retaliation PosterRating: ★★☆☆☆

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a no-brainer of a movie. If a supernatural force beyond understanding urged you to like “The Rise of Cobra”, then it is likely that you will enjoy the sequel just as much. Bless you. However, if you hated the 2009 film at least half as much as I did, then you should be smart enough to avoid its 2013 follow-up. Besides, I’m pretty sure that you’ve long decided on whether you’ll see this or not since it’s already been out for almost three weeks.

Sigh. I shouldn’t be writing this review. It’s almost 1 in the morning and I have to be at work in a few hours. (Damn it! I have to be at work in a few hours!) So what gives? You see, movies that are as preposterous as “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” are the most fun to review. And, dear reader, when a movie like this is released, I cannot resist. Roger Ebert specialized in reviewing movies that are dumb beyond belief. I write this in further dedication to his spectacular life.

For the 15th time, Channing Tatum reprises his role as Channing Tatum. He isn’t around for long through as he is quickly replaced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the film’s lead hero. The Rock (The Tooth Fairy) makes a better action star than Channing Tatum, which doesn’t really say much for The Rock, since Justin Timberlake and even Jay Leno would also make a better action star than Tatum. With over 20 movies in his resume, Tatum’s career highlight so far is playing a stripper in “Magic Mike”. Is it about time for the 32-year-old non-actor to take a long, honest look at himself?

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in G.I. Joe: Retaliation

The majority of the Joes are wiped out early on, leaving the fate of the world in the hands of Roadblock (The Rock), Flint, and Lady Jaye. The latter two Joes provide the film with its face value, especially Jaye. She is one of those sexy characters who can avoid all levels of suspicion by simply keeping her head down and her boobs up. We’re lucky she’s on our side. They are later joined by General Joe Colton, effortlessly played by Bruce Willis, probably because he doesn’t care. Colton supplies one of the two entertaining scenes in the film by touring us to his seemingly normal suburban home that has more firearms and ammunition than the entire Philippine Army.

One of the few returning cast members from the original film is Storm Shadow, the gravity-defying ninja with an awkward weakness. Storm Shadow’s first sequence establishes him to be an invincible warrior who can withstand almost all sorts of beatings. He suffers a major electrocution and an explosion big enough to blow up a McDonald’s. No worries. He walks it off like any other ninja would. Later, in the film’s climax, four or five box crates are pushed against him. He gets knocked down. Say what? Poor Storm Spirit. Two more box crates and he would’ve died.

Movies within the same category as “Retaliation” makes its living from advanced gadgets and weaponry. And while this sequel runs on action and adrenaline, its use of technology is utterly joyless and anticlimactic. Consider the sequence when Cobra is rescued from imprisonment. A cluster of robot fireflies is sent to the prison. Think about it. Millions and millions of dollars and hundreds and hundreds of hours must have been spent in the creation of such a complex device. I had high hopes for its capabilities, but what do the robots do the moment they reach the prison gates? They explode. Say what? Whatever happened to firing a rocket launcher? Is it me, or did the evil mastermind Cobra spent millions just to blow up a gate?

Cobra and Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: Retaliation

The scene doesn’t even end there. Firefly, the villain played by Ray Stevenson, not the exploding robots, drives his motorcycle full speed towards the prison’s thick, maximum-security entrance. Seconds before Firefly collides with the wall, he dislodges himself from the motorcycle, causing the motorcycle to do some dislodging on its own. The vehicle, which turns out to be a model far advanced than what it appears to be, separates into about six different pieces. It strikes the wall at full force, and explodes. While I sat motionless and exhausted inside the theater, I imagined Michael Bay, sitting inside a different theater, watching the same movie, saying to himself: “Challenge Accepted”. Oh, dear.

As the extremely wealthy Cobra is released from his bondage, so does his master plan is revealed to us. Are you ready? Seven armed satellites have been positioned above seven countries. Each satellite holds a bomb. A push of a button can annihilate half of the human race! The Joes must act fast! To defeat Cobra and save mankind, Roadblock and his team must… but wait! How much money did Cobra allot for this project? Where did he build the seven satellites and seven bombs? Where did he get the manpower that made this all happen? When did he find the time to print Cobra Flags and Cobra Banners to display outside the White House? I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’m pretty sure that Cobra has the most expensive “Take over the World” budget in movie history. If Cobra just waited a couple more years and saved up, he could have just bought the world.

One last thing: how did those bomb-satellites reach the orbit without getting noticed? Did Cobra commence take off during NASA’s lunch break?

Roger Ebert. My Hero. In Memory.

Roger Ebert at the Movies

He really was my Hero. He delivered me from a lot of the dismal possibilities of an uncertain life: the tragedy of a wasted youth, the temptation to rebel, and the confused depression of having to face a future without a path. Everyone who knew him will share certain memories of his life – his reviews, his achievements, his passion, his complex relationship with the late Gene Siskel – but it is our personal memories of him that will prove to be the most enduring, the most significant.

My memories of Roger Joseph Ebert are one of my most prized possessions. His wisdom changed the way I identify people, his humor changed the way I carry my problems, and his values changed my perspective and priorities. He was my teacher, my supporter, and my correspondent, and during times of doubt and sadness, he was also my encourager, my counselor, and, above all, my friend.

And now he is gone.

A great light has just faded in my world, and I am in what feels to be, the darkest point of my life.

Roger Ebert: My Hero

It is unusual for someone to express this much sorrow for a film critic, but to categorize Roger as a simple “Film Critic” is to commit a crime against his memory. Yes, his inexorable passion for the movies permanently altered the essence and practice of film criticism itself, but it was his kindness, empathy, insight, compassion, humility, and invincible optimism that defines his humanity. If it was possible for me to give him my youth, he would be dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain” somewhere in Chicago right about now.

I first encountered Roger’s reviews when I was 16 years old (five years ago), which was the peak of my prayer life. I had been asking God for something that millions of other people are searching for: a direction. I was one of those aimless high school students who was too busy playing video games to pursue anything of real substance. I had already been in love with the movies at that point, but there was nothing more to it. I stumbled upon Roger’s work, and after a few months of endless reading, my dream was born. I kept reading and never looked back. God provided a direction for my journey by introducing Roger to me.

They say that God works in mysterious ways. Isn’t it mysterious that he intended for me to find a deep connection with a person who is two generations older than I am?

Roger Ebert

Long ago I decided that I wanted to become a film critic by profession. I still do. From the very beginning, I knew that it wasn’t a common profession and that it didn’t involve a lot of monetary rewards. I didn’t care. I still don’t. I found a passion that made me feel good about myself because there was an urgent importance to it. I have a stable job that has taken over a large portion of my life, but the fire of my dream remains burning. To abandon a dream because it doesn’t pay much is to betray the gift of your existence.

One of my lasting attributes is my extreme insecurity. I never enjoyed talking about myself, but you couldn’t shut me up whenever Roger was mentioned in a conversation. He is one of the few things that I am completely and unashamedly confident about. That I’m one of those people who was blessed enough to discover his razor-sharp, lightning-quick wit. That I’ve memorized his pans that has obliterated the reputation of countless bad movies that had it coming. That I’m part of a group of movie-lovers who understands that “a movie is not about what it’s about, but how it’s about it”.

I recited Roger’s words on command, and I would recite Roger’s words even if no one asked for it, and even if I know that they’ve heard me tell them before what I’m about to say. A lot of my friends know how much I admire him, but no one will ever understand how much he means to me. Whenever I feel left out on a particular movie, I could always count on Roger to either back me up or correct me. With Roger, it never really mattered if you agreed with him or not; his opinion may be worlds apart from your own, but you can find peace with his reviews knowing that he only intends to make you a smarter moviegoer.

Reflecting on these things, I somewhat feel hopelessly alone now that Roger’s no longer around.

Roger Ebert on Imperfections

Roger loved the movies more than anyone, and he was the absolute best at what he did. He transformed freedom of expression to an art, and no force in this world could make him compromise his work or surrender his passion. (Roger continued to write, tweet, host film festivals, and appear on television during the last decade of his life despite suffering from cancer.) When Roger wrote about the movies he loves, he transcended opinion writing and approached perfect poetry. When faced with the task of reviewing a bad movie, he was merciless in his condemnation. He did everything in his power to preserve the most profound of all the art forms by lifting the movies that shape it and burying the ones that shame it.

I consider it my duty to continue what he, for so long, fought for. Werner Herzog considers Roger to be the Soldier of the Cinema; he spent 46 years of his life paving a path for those who value the movies as much as he did. Roger left us with 15 books to his name, over 10,000 reviews from his website, and hundreds of other essays for us to read, analyze, breathe. We are well-equipped. All we have to do is march.

Roger’s Blog is one of the calming refuges of my messy life. I would leave comments on his entries in hope that he would one day reply. Guess what? On June 18, 2010, he replied. It was his 68th birthday. I told him about how much his writing gave me a hope, a dream, a skill, and, eventually, a job. Summarizing that lengthy comment on that blissful day, I gave him my eternal gratefulness and told him that he was my biggest Hero. I imagined his voice saying the words as I read his reply: “Anyone receptive to inspiration will find it somewhere.” Oh I was receptive all right. And boy did I find my inspiration. He’s gone now, but I’ll be thinking of him every day, just as I always have.

Thank God for Roger Ebert.

Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert

MOVIE JOURNAL: Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer

It’s that time of the year again where celebrities are restocking their Botox supply in preparation for Red Carpet Premiers. My prediction is that such displays of anesthetized beauty will be adequately mild in the following months, since neither a “Sex and the City” nor a “The Expendables” sequel will be released this year. Three cheers! And no more “Twilight” movies to piss on our brains! Thank the heavens! And! Say it ain’t so! The next Michael Bay movie won’t be in theaters until 2014! Hallelujah!

The season of Summer Movies is once again here, which is an event that belongs to Producers, a lot of which will be biting their nails all the way to their project’s release date. Jerry Bruckheimer won’t be one of them biters though. Just take a quick look at his track record.

With a net worth of $850 million, they guy clearly has everything all figured out. Bruckheimer reminds me of one of those wizards at horse races who always casts his cash on the horse that’ll end up making him rich. His horse for 2013 is Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” starring Johnny Depp, which has the aura of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, with trains as pirate ships, Tonto as Captain Jack Sparrow and Armie Hammer as Orlando Bloom.

While Kristen Stewart tries to find another job that only requires her to daydream and stare into vacant space, let’s take a brief look at the first two Summer Movies of the year: “Oz the Great and the Powerful” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful  Rating: ★★½☆☆

When circus magician Oscar Diggs emerges from the refuge of his hot-air balloon, his relief quickly turns into awe as the Land of Oz fills his sense of wonder. While younger audiences will marvel at the kingdom as much as Oscar, I couldn’t help but fear that the same tools that help build a shinier, zestier Oz would also be the cause of the film’s downfall.

2013’s Land of Oz looks like it’s within the same neighborhood as Avatar’s Pandora and Alice’s Wonderland. It’s bright and vivid, but it’s James Franco who gives life to the screen. Though marked as one of the most awful hosts in the history of the Oscars, he is a likeable actor, and he plays Oz with theatrical energy. Too bad he is weighed down by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams, who are as terrible at being witches as much as James Franco is terrible at being an Oscar Host.

Most of the film’s joy is supplied by the returning elements from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz”. (Good news for those who have seen Victor Fleming’s masterpiece, but what about the folks who are visiting the Land of Oz for the first time?) There is a satisfaction in simply seeing familiar things like the yellow brick road. And Emerald City. And Kansas! And the Muchkins! About the Muchkins though: What’s the point of having them in the film if you’re not gonna allow them to finish their thing?

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is not without the silly fun that represents director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man Trilogy), and the screenplay inserts enough references to tickle our memory, but the story fades away in the film’s final sequences, where Oz becomes just another stage for special effects. How very disappointing. Though a solid hour swings between cute and amusing, this 200 million dollar prequel is still a couple colors short of a rainbow.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer Rating: ★★★☆☆

There are those rare instances when a bad trailer sucker punches you just so the actual movie could kill your lowered expectations once it’s time for the screening. Such is my experience with “Jack the Giant Slayer”, a surprisingly entertaining adventure tale about giants, beanstalks, and the strength and consistency of Ewan McGregor’s hair styling product. I’m serious. What is he using and where can I get one?

Let’s begin at the point of the film where things become interesting. The Princess seeks shelter from the storm at the house of a Young Farmer. They flirt subtly. And then they flirt blatantly. The two of them are about to make a romantic connection until – until a damn beanstalk explodes from the floor, launching the Young Farmer out of his own home. I hate it when that happens. The house, with The Princess trapped inside, is carried to the sky as the beanstalk continues to grow.

The beanstalk takes the Young Farmer, accompanied by a few of The King’s men, to a floating city so immense and so broad, that we wonder why it doesn’t create a shadow on the ground. They encounter roaring giants who aren’t as ferocious as they are hilarious. Legends say that the giants are desperate to climb down their kingdom and rule the land of the humans, probably to escape each other’s stench. There is more breathing room downstairs, you see.

All the notable names involved in “Jack the Giant Slayer” are way above the material they were presented with. I think what makes it all so darn fun is the director’s and actors’ playful attitude towards the movie. Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) show that he knows how to have fun by capitalizing on the goofy look of the giants and by staging a situation where Ewan McGregor becomes an oven away from becoming a burrito.

Stanley Tucci has the best role in the film as Roderick, a scheming, middle-aged bachelor who exercises an evil plan to control the giants. Roderick, in all his gap-toothed glory, is the kind of role that an actor like Tucci would accept for the sole purpose of making a few nephews proud. “Hey! Guess what? My uncle made an army of giants bow down to him while wearing a glowing crown!”

Freedom, Updates, and the Oscars

It is over. I am done. No. Free. Yeah. That’s the word: Free. After four years of non-education, I am finally alive again. I can’t describe the happiness. It’s like being released from prison, except prisons have better cafeteria food. Am I being too harsh to my soon-to-be Alma Mater? Enroll in my college for one semester, and you’d agree that I’m not being harsh enough.

The college itself is incompetent, but I met a few great people during my stay there. My estimate is that for each dozen dismal professors, there is one professor who exemplifies legitimate intellect. Why they agreed to teach in such a sad, crumbling institution is beyond me. The economy? Blackmail? Who knows? I don’t even know how I ended up there in the first place.

Freedom

Batch 2013

I made friends with a handful of quick-witted people who always seem to be conscious of their surroundings. We are different in many ways – in philosophies, in background, in opinions – but I think we all agree that our college is the closest thing to hell we’ve ever been to. For the sake of graduating, we just smile, do our homework, and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Come graduation day, which is in a month, I’ll be putting on that smile again. To those who are actually studying in an adequate school, allow me to share with you a little wisdom from good ‘ol Roger Ebert that kept me sane:

“Don’t train for a career–train for a life. The career will take care of itself, and give you more satisfaction than a surrender to corporate or professional bureaucracy. If you make careers in that world, you will be more successful because your education was not narrow.”

Anyway, one of the greatest rewards that will come out of my graduation is that, on top of my full-time work, I’ll be able to post regularly here again. I thought my Movie Journal could keep me semi-active while I finish my remaining units, but the final stretch of school was a lot more time-consuming than I anticipated. But as Rancho of “3 Idiots” always like to say while holding his fist against his chest: “All Izz Well”. My first review of 2013 will be “Jack the Giant Slayer”. I initially wanted to review “Silver Linings Playbook”, which has just been released here, but I figured not a lot of people will be interested in a review of a movie that was released in the U.S. over three months ago.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Now I move on to the most important part of this post. I plan to start over with a different website. My site’s name will be changed. A tagline will be included. There will be a more organized navigation bar. (Where in the hell did this site’s navigation bar disappear to anyway?) There will be more variety in posts. And so on. I have lots of plans. But that’s all they are so far: Plans. I’ll keep posting here while I look for help and resources, but as soon as the site is up, I’ll be transferring all my reviews there, and this site will simply become another wasteland in the vast universe of the Internet.

About the future site’s name, how does Film Hound sound? Right now, I personally think that a third word is missing. Film Hound Joint? Film Hound Suite? Film Hound Central? One friend suggested Film Hound Infobahn, but I’m still breeding ideas in my head. The tagline will be “Fighting for Better Movies”, that’s for sure. It has been with me since I started this site, and it just feels right as the summary of my, mission, if that’s what you call it.

Before I talk about the Oscars, I have to announce that I wasn’t able to watch the show at all. I was at work during the live telecast and I couldn’t find a replay when I got home. So I’ll only be able to discuss my thoughts about the nominees and some of the winners because … Damn it, YouTube!… not many clips are available online.

Ang Lee's Oscar for Life of Pi

Because my country has issues with independent films and foreign language films, I’ve yet to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Django Unchained”, and “Amour”. But considering the nominees that I have seen, I would say that Argo deserved its Best Picture Oscar, although a part of me wanted “Life of Pi” to win, even though its narrative is flawed. The middle stages of Ang Lee’s latest film are pure cinema magic. When I found out that Ben Affleck wasn’t even nominated for Best Director… Damn it, Oscar!… I was pretty sure that Lee would win. Fudge muffins! I should’ve Tweeted about it! I could have had proof!

That Daniel Day-Lewis won his record-setting third Oscar for Best Lead Actor was no surprise. The moment he was nominated, I was thinking ahead when I asked myself: “Will he go for a 4th win?” “Lincoln” was a great film because Steven Spielberg doesn’t compromise on his material. He respects the story he’s telling and believes that its power is enough to move us, to educate us. In the screening I attended, I noticed that a few members of the audience were bored of all the talking and arguing. What were they expecting from a movie about the Thirteenth Amendment? Explosions?

That’s all I have to say for now. My life is about to experience a major change, and I’m looking forward to it, so far. I’ll get to watch more movies now more than ever, so I can’t complain. I’ll attend the 8:15 PM screening of “Jack the Giant Slayer” on Saturday. In the meantime, here is one of those funny cat videos on the Internetz.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

An Unexpected Journey Poster

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Let me get things straight first. I enjoyed “An Expected Journey” as I was viewing it. From the film’s first half hour, I could tell that it wasn’t going to be an event as grand and glorious as any of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, which was just fine by me. Though weighed down by several substantial flaws, I felt a mild satisfaction when the credits started to roll. The verdict of a movie reviewer should always be based on the immediate experience, and on that notion I should label “An Unexpected Journey” a success. But my later convictions overruled the other, and I realize that I cannot award a positive rating to a movie that could have easily been great but chose not to.

The three volumes that comprised Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” were made into three different films. That’s over 1,300 pages translated into nine hours of film. And while “An Unexpected Journey”, 2013’s “The Desolation of the Smaug”, and 2014’s “There and Back Again” are the components of another planned trilogy, there are all based on a single Tolkien novel, 1937’s “The Hobbit”, which is only around 300 pages long. Does Peter Jackson really have enough material for a trilogy? We don’t know yet, but judging on this first installment, it seems that he will stretch his way to his second billion-dollar franchise. Every single sequence in this introductory film is prolonged, and several other scenes feel unnecessary. The story itself is compelling, but the deadweight pacing prevents us from being compelled.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Time winds back as dear Bilbo Baggins recalls the period of his life when he joined a group of homesick Dwarves, accompanied by the wise and helpful Gandalf (Ian McKellen), in an adventure too dangerous for a hobbit. Opening Narrations always do a good job in setting up the background for a plot, and old Bilbo tells us of Erebor, the realm of the Dwarves that is filled with precious gold. The citizens of Erebor are left with no choice but to abandon their kingdom the moment Smaug flies in and takes control of it. Smaug is of course the greedy dragon with a fetish for gold, of all things. If dragons like Smaug roam in today’s world, and if they pillage great cities blessed with endless treasures, then the Philippines would be one of the safest places on Earth Just sayin’.

Anyway, the Dwarves are steadfast in their mission to reclaim their homeland, and Gandalf convinces their leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage), to take young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) with them, right after they invade his privacy, trash his house, and eat his food. (You would not want to have Dwarves for neighbors. Elves would be more fun.) Other than our main protagonists, the rest of the members of the pack are interchangeable, carrying no distinct characteristics. This is a disappointment. The heroes in the LOTR were memorable in the way that they were diverse and well-developed. Each character came from different races, was introduced with different back stories, and was driven by different motivations. By the time you finished watching “Fellowship of the Ring”, you already knew each character by name. There was Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir. I’m trying to make a mental list of the fellowship in “An Unexpected Journey”, and this is what I’ve got so far: Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin, Bald Dwarf, Fat Dwarf, Skinny Dwarf, Old Dwarf, and Other Dwarf.

Andy Serkis as Gollum

The progression of their adventure takes us through some memorable sequences and some not so amusing ones. Divided by extended periods of tedious walking and plot setting, the most enjoyable parts of the film involve hungry, towering trolls, battling stone giants, and a high-stakes riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum. (Spoiler!) It’s disappointing how all of this comes down to a climax located at the edge of a cliff, on top of a tree. At this point of the film, we see our heroes climb a tree, clump together, and throw pine fireballs to fend off those blasted orcs. A weak way to end such a movie, but there you go. (End Spoiler) This non-climax will feel all the more disappointing when you remind yourself that you spent a massive 150 minutes to get there.

All of my complaints would not have been so if they simply decided to make one darn movie. There are discussions in “An Unexpected Journey” regarding the return of a devilish Necromancer, and we are only treated to small, quick peeks to Smaug the dragon. How much better things would have been if these elements were maximized in this film instead of reserving them for Parts 2 and 3? Did Peter Jackson pushed for this idea, or did “The Hobbit” fall into the hands of greedy Hollywood Producers/Smaugs who want to make more money for the sake of more money? Hollywood’s obsession with franchising everything it touches is getting out of hand. Will the world ever be ready for a Three Little Pigs Trilogy?

MOVIE JOURNAL: Wreck-It Ralph and Take Shelter

School has been a real asshole. I know, I know. My first post since July, and I open with a grumble? I can explain. Time is so darn precious, and much of it is required by the job I have to attend to and this blog that I have to raise. That I’ve only been able to write one review (The Dark Knight Rises) since school started should give you an idea of how endlessly busy I’ve become. Such is my distress, but I find inspiration in the immortal words of Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”. Ah, yes.

But of course the quote is only applicable if you are an extremely intelligent person… or if your school is incompetent by world record standards. I’m not a very smart person, and that should be enough of a hint. Which brings me back to my opening sentence. But never mind. I’m scheduled to graduate in April of next year. That’s five more months. I persevere.

Though April 2013 isn’t as far away as it seems, I can’t wait that long to start posting actively here again. That is why I’ve decided to start this Movie Journal. Despite my soul-sucking schedule, I’m still able to watch around two to four movies a week. It’s the reviewing part that I don’t have time for anymore. So much opportunity has already gone to waste, and I hope that this Journal will be the beginning of a steady revival. Films that I saw and wanted to write about but did not end up reviewing include “Argo”, “Looper”, “Skyfall”, “The Avengers”, “The Muppets”, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, “The Bourne Legacy”, and many, many more.

I plan to post a Journal entry about once a week or every other week, depending on my requirements form school and work. (This will be my routine until I graduate college, reclaiming sweet freedom.) Each post will feature (1) a brief intro regarding my current status and future plans and (2) a short discussion of about two to three movies that I watched within that week; think of it as a collection of Quick Reviews gathered to make one long post. For this first post, I’ll talk about two movies that I’ve recently seen, movies that I’m very enthusiastic about. And they are as follows.

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph – Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve long complained about how many movies of today are constructed to flow like a banal, routine video game. Who would have thought that flipping this notion could produce a place that is so dazzlingly original? “Wreck-It Ralph” is a video game that functions like a Real Movie. Sure, it retains the usual Disney elements of the Misunderstood Good Guy and his Spirited Sidekick, but their journey unfolds within such a beautifully imagined universe that everything it surrounds is given a fresh feel. The story takes place inside arcade games where its characters are able to move independently when no human is in sight. I’m sure our pals at “Toy Story” can relate.

Much of the fun from “Wreck-It Ralph” comes from the ingenious logic used by Disney to connect the games of the arcade. We learn that the adaptor of the extension cord is the central station where famous video game characters like Donkey Kong, Sonic, and Mario could bump into each other and exchange High Fives. Characters can visit other games by travelling through the cord’s wires (Duh!), which are conveniently labeled by game. This allows the story to instantly shift from one dimension to another that’s completely different in genre, design, and graphics. We follow the lives of Ralph, the villain of a 30-year-old game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., and Vanellope von Schweetz, the glitch from a racing game called Sugar Rush.

I cared for Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Venellope (Sarah Silverman). In fact, this is the most I’ve shown affection for a pair of animated characters since I was first introduced to Carl and Ellie Fredricksen in “Up”. I did not want the movie to end.  There were too many games left to explore, and there was a lot more video game characters that I wanted to meet. But oh well. “Wreck-It Ralph” represents the most creative use of animation in years, and the Academy would commit a shameful injustice if it doesn’t award this gem the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Take Shelter

Take Shelter Rating: ★★★★★

“Take Shelter”, the most overlooked Great Movie of 2011, is an apocalyptic thriller that transpires entirely inside the afflicted mind of a man trapped in an agonizing fear. This man is Curtis (Michael Shannon), a simple construction worker who lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf, six-year-old daughter, Hannah. Curtis greatly loves his family, is happy with his job, and is working hard to earn for an expensive operation that could restore Hannah her hearing. Everything is going alright for Curtis until he is plagued by nightmares and hallucinations about a monstrous storm that, according to his visions, will arrive without warning and rain destruction upon the helpless town.

Without deliberation and approval from his wife, Curtis decides to build a storm shelter that he can’t afford with time that he doesn’t have. The townspeople, and later even Samantha, think that the storm shelter is a stupid idea, and that Curtis’s efforts are futile. We, on the other hand, as the film’s audience, are able to empathize with Curtis because we experience every nightmare and hallucination that Curtis goes through. The obvious observation here is that Curtis building the shelter is an act of sheer paranoia, which is not the case. More perceptive moviegoers will identify Curtis’s actions as a fulfillment of his unconditional love towards his family. He risks his employment, his reputation and at some points even his marriage just to make sure that his family is safe from a threat that may not actually end up happening.

With this fact, we feel a subtle suspense, and the final twenty minutes of “Take Shelter” is something to hold in high regard; I was completely in a state of awe during the film’s final scenes. Michael Shannon’s performance here is the most powerful and convincing acting I have witnessed since Daniel Day-Lewis drank our milkshake in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood”. And that’s saying a lot.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises PosterRating: ★★★★☆

Christopher Nolan influenced a rare and astonishing phenomenon back in 2008: He united Critics and Fanboys in glorious, peaceful accordance.  Few would argue with the notion that “The Dark Knight” is the greatest superhero movie ever made. No other comic book movie even comes close. None. To compare “The Dark Knight” with lesser films like “Thor”, or “Captain America”, or “The Amazing Spiderman”, is like comparing Michael Jordan with Kobe Bryant. Why even bother?

But it seems that the overwhelming success of “The Dark Knight” has placed Nolan in an interesting position. His masterpiece left a hungry audience with rising expectations, which is a reasonable effect. Wouldn’t it be weird to walk in a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” and expect the second greatest superhero movie ever made?

Whether this closing chapter is better than its predecessors is not a major concern. All three Batman movies are exhilarating and memorable, and it can be said that they belong in a league of their own. As an artist who is constantly propelled to challenge our minds, Christopher Nolan adapts the superhero genre but does not conform to its traditions. He constructs a dark and ominous world that’s very close to our own, a world separated from the detached, happy-go-lucky playground occupied by the heroes of “The Avengers”.

Gotham is not merely utilized as a canvass for fighting and a backdrop for explosions. Nolan perceives the city’s citizens as more than just curious onlookers or helpless victims. He understands that their knowledge and opinion of Batman greatly affects his actions and limitations, and Nolan puts this principle to good use, especially during the moral chaos instigated by The Joker in “The Dark Knight”. The scale of the series is vast and involving. That the story requires the presence of Real Actors (Morgan Freeman, Michael Cane, Gary Oldman) reveals that there is more to see here than trivial action. In an age where Michael Bay has repeatedly hammered our brains to a pulp, Mr. Nolan has been diligent in rewarding us with movies that give us a jump start.

Tom Hardy as Bane

So Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is an enormous triumph, but, contrary to my previous paragraphs, I am here to review an individual movie, not a trilogy. “The Dark Knight Rises” gave me conflicting emotions as I found myself standing between the line of Satisfaction and Disappointment. I felt satisfaction in the fact that I just saw the finest summer blockbuster of 2012; disappointment slowly emerged as I acknowledged that, out of the three Batman films by Nolan, this was the most flawed and problematic. So much of the movie could have been so much better.

There is a swarm of characters here – old ones, new ones, unnecessary ones, dead ones… You name it. The tragedy is that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and other key characters are robbed of quality screen time in order to develop new supporting characters that only function as nonessential plot devices in a convoluted script. Take, for example, the addition of a suspicious philanthropist named Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). What’s a girl like here doing in a movie like this? Here’s a rule I’d like to propose: Anyone who claims to be a philanthropist in a comic book movie is a Plot Twist waiting to be revealed. Why did Nolan feel the need to invest a lot of time and effort for a twist so apparent and insipid? His films have always been ambitious, but this is his first movie where I got the impression that he may be trying too hard. Maybe the insane hype that “The Dark Knight” left him with a lot of pressure.

And now we move on to Bane (Tom Hardy). His opening sequence, which is one of the film’s most spectacular moments, establishes him as both freakishly strong and extensively intelligent. His immense physique, fearsome and menacing, makes him overqualified for “The Expendables”. His master plan, to annihilate Gotham City via nuclear explosion, forces the troubled and defeated Bruce Wayne to revive his alter-ego, despite the bad publicity. Both Hero and Villain were mentored by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), but we are warned by the always concerned Alfred that Bane may be too much for Batman to handle. Imagine a villain so powerful that he gives Batman a year’s worth of physical punishment in five minutes. He reveals himself to be a monster of no mercy and sadistic humor when he dumps the half-dead Bruce in a hellish prison just for the lulz. No doubt Bane is an effective villain, but he doesn’t make up for an entertaining character. His intimidating presence wears off in the later scenes, and the movie eventually discards him completely in order to highlight needless twists.

Bane and Batman

I mentioned earlier the threat of a fusion bomb. We are informed that the bomb is set to detonate in, if I’m not mistaken, five months. This incredibly long countdown causes countless of exchanges between characters where they update each other, and the audience, regarding the bomb’s state. “Three months ‘til detonation!” “We have two weeks to stop that bomb!” “Twelve hours left! We have to do something!” “One hour to go before that thing goes off! We don’t have much time!”

This causes the suspense of the threat to die down. One element of the plot is delayed so the slower parts of the story could catch up. Can a heavily injured Batman make a full recovery and defeat Bane if the bomb has a countdown of 45 minutes? Try to recall the ferry sequence in “The Dark Knight”. Because the passengers of the two ferries only have 15 minutes to decide, the suspense is magnified, the action is immediate, the possibilities are many, and the moral issue is fascinating. As we sit in eager anticipation, we can easily visualize The Joker blowing up both of the ferries because everyone else chose to do the right thing. Can we really imagine the city of Gotham as a giant pile of ash?

Does my review of “The Dark Knight Rises” feel like a negative one? If yes, then I should make it clear that the flaws are forgivable; the movie has a lot more things going for it than against it. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who wants their intelligence to participate in the theater. We don’t get a lot of Summer Blockbusters with a brain in its head. I predict that it will reach the billion dollar milestone in the box office. The DVD version, once released, will also sell millions and millions of copies, for it will feature those magic white words that should be able to decipher the mysteries surrounding Bane’s dialogue.