Short Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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It’s hard to not like this movie when you consider the previous film to be Michael Bay’s valedictory address. Transformers 3D (yes, I’m still sticking to that title) is a culmination of everything Michael Bay has learned in filmmaking (for better or for worse). To suddenly go back to the franchise when it was effectively concluded in the third film just reeks of everything rotten in the current Hollywood system.

“But Evil Dr. Bok,” some of you minions would groan, “You enjoy Michael Bay movies, The Rock, Bad Boys 2, and Transformers 3D to be exact. You even told your students that watching Michael Bay movies is to expect nothing but explosions explosions explosions. Heck, you enjoyed The Expendables, a movie which is essentially a corny 80s action flick made with contemporary sensibilities. Why the hate surrounding this movie?” The answer is simple; Bay-isms can only take the film so far.

Transformers 3D had a story, and that alone saved the film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had absolutely no direction in the plot, character, etc. While you may accuse Transformers 3D of committing the same atrocities, its crime to story-telling isn’t anywhere  near as criminal compared to Revenge of the Fallen. Age of Extinction’s plot is Revenge of the Fallen bad. What makes its frustratingly bad is that there are slivers of brilliance in the script. The idea of humans going against their saviors is actually a stroke of genius story wise. It actually challenges the Autobots’ faith in humanity; if humans will turn against their saviors, why save them to begin with? This is where Cade’s family enters. Yeah, it’s a cliche but it can work given the proper storytelling.

And let’s not forget about Lockdown, the primary Cybertronian antagonist in the film. This is actually one Cybertronian I’m scared of. This dude is scary; he’s ruthless, he’s badass, he’s cool. He holds no loyalty for the war between Autobots and Decepticons; that makes him scary.

These nuggets actually made the film for me, but they were unfortunately drowned in the excesses Bay usually presents in his films. The explosions are there; they still look gorgeous in typically Bay fashion but they lack something which was present in the earlier Transformers films. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, but I am under the impression that this film somehow lost the charm the three previous ones had. Everything here, except for the two points I mentioned, seems so disconnected. The film somehow feels half-baked, similar to how Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was. Sad to say, this film, I believe, is what Michael Bay makes when he is on auto-pilot. Yes, I’m saying it; despite my ultra low expectations for Transformers: Age of Extinction, this film is a bad film, even by Michael Bay standards. Do yourself a favor and wait for it once it reaches cable.

A Short Diversion: Philippine Independence, and the German football team

As of time of writing, it’s the 13th of June, Friday, 2014. Yesterday was the Philippine Independence Day, thus a holiday. Yahoo. Thanks for the other countries who celebrated with us in spirit. ;)

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Secondly, I just found out that the 2014 FIFA World Cup has just started. As the Philippine Azkals have not yet qualified for the World Cup, again we Filipinos must look to an imperial time to support. Most of my friends lean favorably towards the Spanish team. I, on the other hand, am leaning towards the German national football team. There’s just something about their play (at least during the previous World Cup) which appealed to me; I guess it was the “precision German engineering” aspect of it which hooked me in. So there, go Germany!

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See you at the movies, and at Brazil! ;)

Short Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (In Question and Answer Form)

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414I won’t be the harlot that I was in my Godzilla entry. Is X-Men: Days of Future Past any good? It depends on what you mean by “good”. If you consider ANY X-Men film better than X-Men: The Last Stand as good, then yes, this is a good film. If you think that a comic book film that perfectly captures the feel of a comic book reboot ala Crisis on Infinite Earths is good, then yes, Days of Future Past is good. If you think that a film that apologizes for the debacles that were X-Men: The Last StandX-Men Origins: Wolverine, and arguably The Wolverine, is considered good, then yes, X-Men: Days of Future Past is good. If you think that a movie which tries to be an Avengers is good, then yes, X-Men: Days of Future Past is good.

“But Evil Dr. Bok,” you guys ask, “is it THE best X-Men movie made?” I answer, “No, it would still be X2: X-Men United“. “Is it the best superhero movie ever made?” you continue. “No,” I reply, “that would still be Spider-Man 2, arguably The Dark Knight, and The Avengers“. I wouldn’t call X-Men: Days of Future Past overrated; I just enjoyed the earlier superhero films more. For now, I would say that the best superhero film of the year would still be Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Other than that, consider this a recommendation. ;)

 

Thoughts on “Godzilla” (2014)

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This blog has always been known for its tendency to go against what most mainstream critics agree upon. Other times, it definitely agrees with them. Most times, it stumbles like an extremely indecisive dude who can’t seem to agree whether he will buy a pair of rubber shoes or a booster box of a Magic The Gathering cards. This entry feels somewhat in between because while I understand what the critics are positively saying about the latest Godzilla film, I still can’t over the fact that those critics seem to be deliberately ignoring certain problematic elements about the movie.

“Enough with the teasing, Evil Dr. Bok, you harlot you; did you like Gareth Edward’s Godzilla?” you mindless minions groaning in frustration as I make a long winded introduction to this entry. To that I reply, “If you were expecting giant monster fights ala Pacific Rim, then you will be sort off disappointed. If, however, you belong to those who have an excellent knowledge of the Godzilla lore from the original 1954 film to the more recent ones, who jizz at the very sight of Godzilla charging up for his radioactive breath attack, then yes, you will enjoy this movie IF (that’s a big if) you can forgive the fact that Godzilla has less screen time than the human characters.”

Anti-Nuclear Allegory

You see, one has to be in a certain mindset before watching this movie. Those expecting the kind of film where Godzilla fights other giant monsters might feel pretty underwhelmed when watching this movie because this film takes off from the 1954 version. And no, I’m not referring to the American re-edit title Godzilla: King of Monsters, but rather to the original Toho film starring Kurosawa veteran, Takashi Shimura. That Godzilla film was meant to be more of a sci-fi horror/disaster flick where Godzilla was indeed a monster, an unstoppable force of nature. It was meant to reflect the Japanese anxiety towards nuclear weapons and, for the time, one can only imagine the film to be extremely effective considering that it was released a mere 9 years after World War 2 ended.

Kaiju Battle Royale

So there we have it; the 1954 Godzilla was meant to address a present anxiety among the Japanese. It was with the sequels when the movie started to embrace the inherent ridiculousness of a guy in a rubber suit fighting other monsters; that was when the films supposedly became more fun. In other words, it was a film that didn’t take itself too seriously. Now, the first “true” Godzilla film I saw was the one film where Godzilla first teamed up with Mothra to defeat this alien monster. I was too young to remember precise details but I was pretty sure I was laughing my butt of with the sheer awesomeness of Godzilla drop-kicking the other monster. That’s the fun kind of Godzilla. To an extent, and I know some of you might violently disagree with this, but I actually enjoyed watching the terrible 1998 Godzilla. Yes it is the poor man’s Jurassic Park, and it was just a huge mess, but it is the kind of fun mess that I would want to watch drunk with my friends just so we can make fun of the film’s stupidity. In a sense, despite it having no relation to the Japanese Godzilla, at the film can still be enjoyed ironically with the help of a couple of beers and some boorish company.

Godzilla 2014 (SPOILER WARNING)

Which leads us now to the new Godzilla. I understand that it was meant to follow in the footsteps of the 1954 original, and for that, at least I can applaud them for echoing some of the post-nuclear anxieties of the 1954 film (the film’s prologue echoes the Fukushima disaster a few years ago). And the climactic Battle Royale with the two other monsters, was pretty satisfying (the radioactive breath’s introduction was pretty cool). However, this is where the audience’s patience will be tested for between the monster appearances and their fights, we are subjected to the human element of the story.

Now I know that I have said before that for a film to be effective, one needs the human hook; the investment towards the characters. This hook worked to an extent in Inception, The Expendables, and Captain America:  The Winter Soldier. These are summer blockbusters, but one they had which the current Godzilla didn’t are well developed characters (or at least, developed enough that they do not upstage the more brainless part of a summer blockbuster). Inception had Cobb wanting to return to his kids, The Expendables had Barney and Tool’s inner demons, and The Winter Soldier had the chemistry between Steve Rogers and Agent Romanoff. Godzilla, unfortunately only had Bryan Cranston who dies roughly 20 minutes into the film. Even if the writers’ intentions was to focus on the human element and their actions during a kaiju invasion, at least let the story have memorable characters that MAKE major and believable contributions to the plot. Other film reviews also mention Jaws and the Spielberg influence in Godzilla. I thought that the reference was invalid as Jaws had Chief Brody, Hooper, and Quint. Aside from Heisenberg, which human character stood out in Godzilla? If I were to summarize this portion in phrase, I would echo what my friends and I said about the first Transformers film, “More Godzilla, less humans.”

Closing Words

I may have been a bit harsh on the film as I enjoyed certain portions of it. The three-way climactic fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs was pretty fun. It was just unfortunate that the film had us wade through the sludge that was the boring human story elements for almost 90 minutes before we got through the kaiju fights that have been teasing us since Godzilla’ arrival at Hawaii. But heck, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings book even as it had me go through 2 to 300 pages of walking, unpronouncable names, and scenery descriptions so who am I to condemn this film. That said, if you are indeed one of those hardcore Godzilla fans, or is simply willing to wait for 90 minutes for the giant monster extravaganza at the end, then consider this a recommendation on my part. Otherwise, stick to Pacific Rim or even the old Godzilla films if you want more no-holds barred kaiju action.

No Oscars 2014 Commentary

First off, I just want to thank you, my loyal minions, for the site traffic for the past few weeks. That rant over Frozen seems to be my most read entry here, and it’s very good to know that I am not alone in my impressions over that film. So, thank you! ;)

Secondly, I want to apologize in advance. As you know, Oscars 2014 is roughly 18 hours away and some of you might be wondering whether I’ll be providing a live commentary of it. Sadly, I won’t be able to. Compared to last year when the Oscars fell during a free-day at work, this year’s Oscars fall on a working day; hey, I need to earn in order to conquer the world eventually. ;)

So, there; thank you for your support, and I’m sorry if you won’t be seeing a live Oscar commentary tomorrow.

See you at the movies!

Evil Dr. Bok :)

Why I Think “Frozen” Is An Overrated Film

*this entry will contain SPOILERS

I already mentioned in my previous post that I thought Frozen falls quite short in practically every aspect that Tangled did better, that is except for the songs. I maintain this idea as I’ve seen Frozen for a second time. Now, before I get lynched once more by those loudmouthed idiots over the internet who believe shouting louder makes them more correct, I’m not saying that Frozen is bad; I’m simply saying that is it an overrated film. It’s not bad by any account; it’s just not as well-made as compared to Tangled, nor does it even stand on its own next to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or even the non-musical Wreck-It Ralph.

An Organic Unity of Story, Song, and Spectacle

The really good Disney movies have an organic unity of story, song, and spectacle. The story is simple, but not condescending. By condescending, I mean it doesn’t treat its audience like children. Beauty and the Beast is one; it may be the most fairytale of the Disney Renaissance as well as the most girly, but its simple but intelligently written storyline is appealing for the kids and not distracting for the adults. Its script respects the intelligence of the audience, unlike Frozen. Remember Anna’s resurrection scene when Olaf mentioned something about “self-sacrifice being able to thaw a frozen heart?” Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Olaf! Thank you for ruining that scene which I thought was clichéd as hell, and which was bordering on being a deus ex machina. So there, we have one of Frozen’s problems; a distractingly written script which looks down on its audience. Another recent Disney film had that problem; it was The Princess and the Frog. If any children’s film is guilty of being too condescending, it would be that.

“But surely, Evil Dr. Bok,” you ask, “Surely the songs make up for the script’s shortcomings?” Uh, yes, in a pretty lazy way, and no that isn’t a good thing. Disney songs are good, but they contribute to the narrative drive of the film. Again, I would give the example of Beauty and the Beast as that film is the gold standard for Disney musicals in the 90s. Every song, and I mean every song, is absolutely necessary as it contributes some character development as well as help in the film’s narrative. The opening song number establishes Belle and her status in the village, how she feels that she doesn’t fit quite in, and it also establishes one of the key characters, Gaston. See the economy in that song number? See how it merges into the film’s narrative?  That’s the organic unity I’m talking about. What does the Olaf song have to do with the story? Fine, it’s cute, and the novelty of seeing a snowman in summer is fun, but what does it contribute to the entire narrative? Maybe I need a copy of the lyrics to fully appreciate it, but for now, it would seem that there’s no other purpose for the song other than, “Hey we have a talking snowman here. Let him sing.”

And for those particularly close listeners, see how every single song in Beauty and the Beast, while particularly catchy, feels organic? “What do you mean by that, Evil Dr. Bok?” you ask, and I reply, “There is a consistency in the musicality of the song numbers and the score.” We know it was Alan Menken who scored the film, and we also know that it was Alan Menken who composed the song’s music. That’s the consistency I’m talking about. The problem with Frozen was that there is a disjoint between the film’s score and its songs.

Speaking of musical consistency , there isn’t even a good consistency within the songs themselves. We’ve got the opening chant, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”, “For the First Time in Forever”, that duet with the Gaston wannabe, the inevitable “Let It Go”, and the Troll and Olaf songs. If you have a copy of the OST, try to listen to them to see what I mean. Now try to listen to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hercules, and to an extent, Tangled (except for the opening song number). Each song has a musical consistency with each other. While some songs maybe too comedic at times, it works within the film’s world itself. Some songs in Frozen are too poppy; definitely at odds with the opening chant in the film. While the chant does give an interesting sound, the succeeding pop tunes tend to diminish it, which is why when we finally hear that chant again when Elsa finally thaws Arendelle, one can’t help but feel that the motif was underdeveloped.

As for the spectacle, well, I guess I can’t complain much about Frozen’s look; the ice motifs are definitely fun to look at (the “Let it Go” sequence, I’ll admit, had me forming goosebumps. And if there’s something that Disney has perfected, it’s coming up with the appropriate “MTV” for its musical numbers (I don’t mean that as a derogatory remark, by the way). Which leads me to one minor (more of nitpicking) complaint…

Where’s the villain?

Beauty and the Beast had Gaston; Tangled, despite having way too many antagonists, both real and pseudo, had Mother Gothel; Sleeping Beauty had Malificent; Wreck-It Ralph had King Candy; and The Lion King had Scar. What did Frozen have? A snivelly old man from Weasel Town, and a Gaston wannabe who’s character reversal is not well established because we were paying too much attention to the songs. Yes, this film meant to examine the sisterhood relationship of Anna and Elsa, and I appreciate that, but I have to admit I missed seeing an actual villain in this film. Tangled, surprisingly, had one very interesting villain. Gothel wasn’t as established as Scar or Gaston, but she makes up for it for her slyness and sheer manipulation. She managed to keep that flower hidden for god knows how many years. She was able to sneak into the castle to kidnap Rapunzel as an old lady, AS AN OLD LADY! She climbed up the terrace AS AN OLD LADY! My goodness I just realized how cool that is! That and she managed to manipulate Rapunzel into singing to for the next 18 years, she manipulated the Stabbington Brothers into working for her, and she stabbed Eugene Fitzherbert at the back! And she was supposed to be one of the “weaker” villains in Disney lore! What did Frozen have? Not much.

Final Words

The really good Disney films have stand out musical numbers, and to that aspect, I will again say that Frozen’s musical numbers really stand out. They are hummable, catchy, and indeed well composed. That, however, is its “downfall”. I thought that Frozen’s musical numbers are distracting in the sense that it distracts you from the problematic script, and the (I hate using the word) cliché storyline. In the end, one remembers the songs, not the story. Is this a good thing? Not exactly. Always remember that  film is still primarily a narrative driven medium, and regardless of how good the songs and eye candy is, the story, songs, and spectacle must be unified.  In this aspect, Tangled beats Frozen in practically every other department except for the songs.