Tag Archives: Michael Bay

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.

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Gravity (A Review)

Gravity_Poster

I’ve seen Gravity earlier this week, but as my initial thoughts on viewing it were a bit shaky at best, I thought that I should give it a second shot. Similar to what I thought of Prometheus at first, I thought I should watch it a second time, this time as a detached observer. If the first viewing is the experience of it, the second viewing, I believe, should be the more critical viewing, as I won’t be subjected to the suspense of figuring who’ll live or die in this film and just focus on how well the film was made, how the issues and themes were handled, etc. And so, after a second round with Cuaron’s Gravity (again seen on IMAX), does this film deserve all the praise and recognition given to it by mainstream critics out there? Or is it another example of a film heavily hyped by the mainstream media?

The answer really depends on what you’re expecting with this.  If you’re looking for in-your-face 3D effects, this film isn’t for you. If you’re expecting a thriller with slow-burn paced tension, then this may be for you. If you’re looking for a by-the-numbers Hollywood thriller, then this film again MAY BE for you. Like I said, the answer as to whether this is THE FILM of 2013 depends on one’s expectations for it. As such, let us begin, as usual, with The Good followed by The Bad.

The Good

I am a huge fan of horror/thriller-type films as well as speculative fiction because, despite their unrealistic portrayal of events in the real world, speculative fiction (if done well) can say something more about the human condition than most realistic fiction out there. Even if Gravity plays around the grey area of science fiction and science fact, this film is science-fiction by virtue of being set in space. In this case, it’s a typical survival film. An accident happens during a routine repair mission in space and astronauts Stone and Kowalski must do everything they can to survive. It’s as simple as that; it’s a survival story and the characters’ resolve to live is tested through the obstacles they encounter.

“Wait a minute, Evil Dr. Bok,” I hear you lowly minions scream, “It sounds like a typical Hollywood story to me. How is that supposed to be a good thing?” Well, for one, it wasn’t distracting. It wasn’t trying to make ultra profound statements about the nature of human existence, but the story works. It’s about survival; it couldn’t get any more complex than that. Those looking for a profound philosophical treatise reminiscent of 2001 A Space Odyssey (or the more pretentious and heavy handed musings of the vastly overrated/deservedly hated Prometheus) might be a bit disappointed, but at least director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron knew which aspect of humanity to explore on even in broad strokes. That, I believe, is an achievement in the scripting, the direction, and the editing of the film.

Speaking of direction, to be able to make a 90 minute film with only two main characters engaging is an achievement. Granted, there are some who might say that the opening (or the part after the initial action, or any part where the script gets talky) gets dragging a little bit, but considering what Cuaron is telling us about survival, I’m guessing this is a bit of a compromise. Other than that, the action sequences are masterfully done (shot in what now seems to be Cuaron’s trademark long-takes), and the scenes in space are among the most terrifyingly tense scenes I’ve seen in a while.

I’d also want to mention that score and the sound design. Aiming for a more realistic approach to depicting scenes in space, Cuaron decided to opt for a complete silence (more or less). There are no explosions in space, no Michael Bay type explosions once the space debris obliterate space stations, shuttles, and satellites, just the intense score by Steven Price, and a sound design consisting of the actor and actress’s voice through a microphone filter, beeping alarms, and decompression processes. Come Oscar Night, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film wins Best Score or Sound Design/Editing.

The Bad

Upon initial viewing, I told my friends and colleagues that one must watch Gravity in 3D, or IMAX if possible, as the 3D effects make for a pretty effective way to raise the tension due to movement. The unearthly camera movements make one feel uneasy, especially in the first 15 minutes of the film. While this isn’t a problem for me, I’m placing this here because some people might not appreciate the effect. One of the viewers exclaimed, “I feel sick”, and I can understand his feeling: the camera movements (at least for the space-walk scenes) may cause motion sickness to some viewers, and this ultimately could detract from the experience. I say “may” because, even if this didn’t affect me as much, other viewers might not appreciate it.

Additionally, while the 3D effects were interesting upon preliminary viewing, having seen it a second I realized that maybe the recommendation to see it in 3D might not be the best, but rather to see it in a LARGE screen. The 3D isn’t quite in your face (except for a few gimmicky moments of debris flying at you); at times you might not even realize it. Avatar and Transformers 3D still remain my benchmark for good 3D.

The Verdict

I’ve always mentioned when talking to other people that while there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, there are films which come pretty close. Gravity isn’t exactly one of those; I admit that there are portions that drag on a bit, and the 3D may cause motion sickness to some viewers of the audience. However, story and scriptwise, the film still works. Film-making wise, Cuaron shows that he’s really someone to look out for in the future with his  visual panaches. This film may not be for every body, but for those looking for serious science-fiction film along the veins of 2001 and MoonGravity is highly recommended.

Pacific Rim (A Review)

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*This review contains some minor spoilers.

All I can say about Pacific Rim is that it seems to have been made by someone who understood what makes giant mechas fighting giant monsters fun. It’s not so much as adding as much computer generated mayhem on screen but also adding a basic human element alongside the spectacle. Granted, the storyline might be derivative from every blockbuster out there, and that the plot almost feels like an extended Saturday morning program (Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers come to mind). However, director Guillermo del Toro knew what made the genre fun and so he goes all out on the fun factor for this particular outing.

The Good

The biggest draw to this film was the idea of seeing giant monsters slugging it out with giant robots. That alone is the reason to watch the movie. In that aspect, the movie delivers well. The visual effects don’t overwhelm the story, they serve a purpose. Despite my appreciation of Michael Bay’s Transformers, these robots look and feel more real than Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Bumblebee. A jaeger’s footsteps send tremors to its surroundings, and so does a kaiju’s. Both the jaegers and the kaiju feel colossal. These creatures feel more like the CGI armies in The Lord of the Rings than the robots in Transformers; they have depth. It’s not just a CGI robot; it’s a fully functional CGI robot. And if that alone just describes the scale, wait till you reach the slugfests.

We see a jaeger using an oil tanker as a sword (I shouted “Power Sword Now!” in that sequence). A jaeger has rocket-powered fisticuffs, and upon making contact upon the kaiju, its snot, skin, and others comes flying from its face. Kaijus are sliced in half and blown to bits with an ion cannon. These descriptions should be sufficient.

As for the acting, while it’s not exactly Oscar worthy, they function well for the story. Some might complain that the characters are too cartoony or cliché, that they are more of sketches than actual characters. It doesn’t matter, it fits the story. It’s a live action Saturday morning cartoon, so it’s only fitting that everything about the movie feels like a cartoon. While it’s not bad to brood about the meaning of life (ala The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel), it wouldn’t fit in a movie whose single premise (robots vs. monsters) is the main reason for watching it.

The Bad (minor spoilers)

I don’t believe in perfect movies (even The Prestige, The Lord of the Rings and Leon the Professional have its issues) and Pacific Rim has its share of problems. However, while the rest are, for me, more nitpicking than actual criticisms, the biggest problem of the film would have to be the 3rd act underwater fight. Coming from the extremely exciting Hong Kong fight, the underwater fight near the dimensional rift seems a bit uncreative and, to an extent, overlong. Some argued that the 3rd act fight was meant to highlight the sacrifice and the not the slugfest, but if that’s the case, then how it was presented seemed to be a bit off. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t entirely bad. It’s just, coming from the previous fight, one expected an escalation. As presented, however, it just felt a bit anticlimactic.

The Verdict

As a whole, however, none of the more problematic parts of the film are deal breakers. Despite the anticlimactic feel of the 3rd act, the film’s presentation of the 2nd act slugfest mostly undoes every wrong thing about the film (plot holes included). The film set some expectations about what to expect and it delivered on it. My personal take on it when asked if it has a stupid story was this, “Story? What story? I came to watch giant robots fight giant monsters! That’s good enough for me!”

Realizations about “Cookie-Cutter” Films

The great videogame critic/professional troll Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw is one person who loves (a HUGE understatement) videogames immensely. He is one of those who believe that videogames are an exciting new medium for storytelling and that he believes that a good game is one that manages to combine gameplay and story-telling in a very effective way (notable examples being Silent Hill 2, Bastion, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent). He enjoys these games because of how they meld story and gameplay seamlessly, and how these games manages to tell their story without resorting to cheap expository dialogue (namely, how Final Fantasy XIII did it).

He loves the “art of videogames” so much that he slams most mainstream videogames (namely Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3etc) not because they are bad games but because they represent something problematic in the videogame industry. These are games which my good friend, A.g. De Mesa (yes, visit his street-photography blog, he’s really good) calls “cookie-cutter” games. By “cookie-cutter”, it basically means that it is something formulaic. It is something which isn’t new or groundbreaking. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and yet it does what it does: entertain you for the short time you spend together.

Keywords here are “entertain” and “short time spent together”. It’s something specifically made to distract you for awhile before you go back to your lives. It isn’t something life-changing or profound; it just gets your attention for awhile. When it’s over, it’s over. You could either forget about it, or continue devouring it. Either way, it has done its job.

What does this have to do with movies? Simple. I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter over the weekend. Now I have to tell you that I purposely lowered my expectations for this film as I knew that it was going to be a horrible movie. I went in to kill a few brain cells because you have to admit; the occasional brainless activity in the midst of intellectually rigorous work is not entirely a bad thing.

Why did I hate Vampire Hunter? I hated it because right then and there, I finally understood Yahtzee’s disdain for “cookie-cutter” games. Yes, it’s occasionally entertaining and all, but in the end it’s really something disposable. You’ll forget about it after you’re done with it. It’s like toilet paper; sure it’s useful but do you really reuse a soiled-up toilet paper?

Sure, Vampire Hunter’s action sequences are fun (if you can forgive the horrible CGI, that horse stampede sequence had something going for it). Gore fanatics will enjoy the violence. Vampire aficionados will like the treatment of vampires in this film. Alternate history fans will find the vampire aspect of the Civil War interesting. But in the end, Vampire Hunter’s nothing but that: interesting ideas mashed together in an incomprehensible mess of a film.

“Cookie-cutter” filmmaking  is filmmaking at its worst. It’s a filmmaker who’s on auto-pilot. He gets things done in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort. He comes up with something “okay”; not excellent or mediocre, just “okay.” The cookie-cutter filmmaker makes generic and formulaic films which, though they may not be too bad, do not push the envelope for films.

Act of Valor (A Review)

* a pretty long disclaimer. you may skip ahead if you like…

Before I start, I would like to tell you guys (at least for those stumbling upon this site for the very first time) that I am a Filipino. My mother was born in San Miguel, Bulacan; and my father in Angono, Rizal. I was born in San Juan, Metro Manila, thus being a full-blooded Tagalog. And I’ve been living in the Philippines for the past 25 years.

Some members of the Filipino community (Stateside I think) have found this film, Act of Valorto be really insensitive to the portrayal of Filipinos in this movie. Now (consider this as a SPOILER ALERT) the Filipinos in this picture were portrayed as jihadists, as suicide bombers, hired by some Chechen who for some reason really hates the United States. The plan is to blow sh*t up, thank you very much, because F*ck Imperial America.  The offended Filipinos said that the portrayal of my countrymen in this film would pretty much hurt the Filipino image, most especially those who plan to enter the United States.

Now, as a Filipino, I personally do not mind this portrayal of my countrymen. In fact, I find it interesting and pretty bad-ass that Filipinos seem to be getting more exposure in Hollywood these days. Additionally, I would say that now I am more proud to be one simply because the Yanks now consider us monkeys from the Pearl of the Orient as a threat to be reckoned with (I don’t know if this makes sense, but what the hell). Take note, however, that my issues with this film go beyond the “racial stereotyping”. I love movies. I love entertaining movies. I most especially love well made entertaining movies. Even if the film’s storyline is dumb to begin with, as long as the craftsmanship is good, that’s good enough for me. I am not swayed by any underlying polical or moral dimensions (unless it becomes way too distracting), so if ever I end up giving a low review for this film, it isn’t because Filipinos are bad in this film: it’ll be because this IS a badly made film.

REVIEW

And now for Act of Valor. This film is probably the closest we can ever get to a Call of Duty movie. The elements are all there: good American military people, bad terrorists with bad accents, lots of sweet military hardware,  FPS-style cinematography, and explosions which would make Michael Bay cream his pants (well, not exactly, but it’ll still give him a boner). Now, some of you might have issues with the overly simplistic and pro-American storyline (and the negative portrayal of the non-Americans), but believe me when I say that those complaints are unfounded and irrelevant. But first, let us start with…

The Good

I think the film’s promotional material made it clear from the beginning who its target audience is. This film is for military enthusiasts, geardoes, action junkies, and patriots. The action sequences of this film are some of the best since Black Hawk Down. The amount of military hardware in this film (though few for those expecting Michael Bay-ish pron shots) are portrayed in a more plausible way. The SEAL Team insertions, combat tactics, and etc. are all portrayed with much attention to realism as possible. In short, this is definitely Call of Duty the Movie (minus the ridiculous storylines the series has been spewing out recently).

While I have to admit that the story’s nothing new, it more than works for a film which aims to highlight just how bad-ass the SEALs are. Of course, we have the usual tropes of a soldier with a baby on the way in order for us to sympathize with the character. I didn’t mind that. That’s all you need to know about the character. In short, while criminally predictable, this is a film with a solid plot which doesn’t distract us from the main highlights of the film (American bad-assery).

The Bad

While it was an interesting premise to use actual Navy SEALs in this film, the execution of it wasn’t flawless. Sure, the portrayal of their combat tactics were spot-on (hence the choice for Navy SEALs), but still, this is a film. They were trying to paint an illusion for us. And, unfortunately, the illusion is nearly shattered with their awkward (though not cringeworthy) acting. Don’t worry, the acting isn’t all that bad: t’s just that the SEALs’ limitations in acting pop up at the most inopportune times (namely the character development scenes).

Additionally, while the initial wow factor of the action sequences definitely packs a punch, it starts to sizzle out by the final shoot-out in the third act. The opening rescue mission had a UAV, two mini-gun armed gunboats, snipers, and some bad-ass SEALs. The second shoot-out had tactical positioning, helicopter gunships gunning Filipino terrorists down, and some bad-ass SEALs. The final shoot-out just had, well, bad-ass SEALs. What I’m saying is that they seemed to run-out of some pretty cool ideas for the final shoot-out that they elected to do a standard shoot ’em up. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty exciting. However, placed next to two really cool action set-pieces, the last one kinda fell short.

Finally (and this is where my being a Filipino has to be allowed to rant), while I said that the negative portrayal of the Filipinos wasn’t a big problem for me, the spoken dialogue was. I’m sure this wasn’t a big problem for non-Filipinos but the Tagalog dialogue in most scenes here were really, and I mean, really distracting. It wasn’t that they spoke in a really bad accent: they spoke lines which most Filipinos wouldn’t even say. I’m guessing the translators made the translators a bit too literal in some parts that it actually made me laugh in some parts. And don’t even get me started when the main baddie speaks to his suicide bombers in Filipino: fine his character’s an Eastern European, not a native speaker, but for goodness sake his accent was so laughably bad!

The Verdict

This film knew what it set out to do, and it knew its target audience. It set out to give a realistic and a favorable portrayal of the American Armed Forces, and they did so decently enough. While this storyline is nothing new, the plot was solid. The filmmaking was well done, though the choice to use authentic Navy SEALs wasn’t executed properly enough in the more dramatic portions of the film.

Overall, this is a decent action film, and possibly one of the better portrayals of American soldiers on cinema since Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers.

Recommended, but not for everyone.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (aka Transformers 3D) ***

*Forget the “Dark of the Moon” bullsh*t; I’m calling this movie Transformers 3D.

**Seen in 2D, will update the review once I watch this on IMAX.

***UPDATED: Watched on IMAX 3D

It seems like Michael Bay just gave us his valedictory address with this film. Having practically blown up every imaginable thing on the planet (and an asteroid), he unleashes the mother-load with Transformers 3D, a film oozing with Bay’s trademark style of explosions, stylistic camera angles, and a butchered script milked for humor.

The Good

There are only two things I’m looking for in a summer blockbuster film: a decent story, and a decent spectacle. Those are the bare minimum, and if a movie achieves that, I’m all praises for it. And in this particular movie, both have been achieved with satisfactory results.

For those who think that there’s no way for the franchise to be redeemed after the clusterf*ck that is Revenge of the Fallen, you’re mistaken. Transformers 3D actually has a plot and a story (not a life changing one though but that’s beside the point); a story which finally gives us that long awaited glimpse of the epic civil war on the planet Cybertron, and how that war got the planet earth involved through the Apollo 11 moon landings. Thus, we finally see how epic (in the loosest definition of the word) the world of the Transformers is.

I mentioned earlier that this film is Michael Bay’s valedictory address. If Michael Bay were to retire from filmmaking after this movie, my goodness what a final film this is. Explosions galore, impressive action set-pieces, nice CGI, smoother camera movements in the action scenes (gasp!), and robot gore (probably the goriest robot film in history), yep: Michael Bay could already retire after this.

On an additional note on the cinematography, the decision to film this movie on 3D may be one of the best things that ever happened to Michael Bay. Gone are the problematic camera movements from Revenge of the Fallen (action scenes which leave the audience confused due to frantic camera work, et. al.), meaning that one will be able to follow most of the robot battles here.

For the acting, I’d have to give credit to John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey, John Turturro, and Ken Jeong. These guys just went there to have fun (most especially in the case of Malkovich and Tudyk). Patrick Dempsey gives a chilling performance as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s boss, and Ken Jeong, well, plays himself in this film.

The Bad (spoiler alerts)

Just some minor technical complaints. I’ve heard that Bay shot the film on digital and 70mm cameras. There are portions of the film where you can spot the difference; there are moments when the image is clear then suddenly it becomes too grainy. This may be intentional but the abrupt change on image quality becomes occasionally disturbing.

Secondly, there seem to be too much villains. Sure we have Megatron and the other Decepticons, as well as the new muscle troop in the form of Shockwave. However, two other significant villains make an appearance in the middle act, with more emphasis on a traitor character, thus making Megatron and Starcream supporting villains.

Regarding the film’s length, the movie suffered from an overextended 3rd Act. Sure, the last hour is an orgy or explosions, demolished buildings, and robot gore. However, there are moments where I admit I felt quite bored as the events were just too long.

For some geek ranting (as requested by some friends of mine, so this portion isn’t entirely my thoughts), why didn’t Starscream betray Megatron once in the series? Now, my knowledge of the T.V. series is basic at best, but what I know is that Starscream is always trying his darnest to overthrown Megatron. But all three films portray him as a pathetic loyal follower. What a way to portray one of the more memorable Transformer.

3D Effects

I’m having mixed feelings about the film’s 3D effects. The effects here certainly isn’t Avatar. There you have things moving from the screen towards you (in a very non-gimmicky fashion). For this film, in particular, the screen is kinda like a diorama: we do not see things mostly coming towards us (when they do, it was pretty gimmicky) but instead we see depth. This isn’t so much of a problem, but there are moments when the 3D effects are too minimal that you hardly see the illusion at all. And when things do  jump at you, like I said earlier, it was pure gimmickry.

Some 3D scenes were pretty cool though. The Cybertron war scenes were cool, the highway chase scene was cool, the gliding sequence over Chicago was cool, and Optimus Prime killling the robots before his big fight with the main baddie was also cool. In short, majority of the action sequences looked cool in 3D.

The Verdict

As I said earlier, this is a summer blockbuster film. More specifically, this is a Michael Bay film. As such, all expectations of something profound and life-changing are non-existent here. I went there to kill a few brain cells, to be entertained, and I was. The film had a plot, the action sequences, though a bit extended, are entertaining. While there are some technical complaints regarding the abrupt changes in visual style, the distraction was not enough to kill the experience.

As for the 3D, this ain’t Avatar. However, in the midst of trashy post-conversion live-action 3D films like Thor and Green Lantern, Transformers 3D is pretty good.

4 stars out of 5.