New Trailer: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

https://i1.wp.com/www.designbolts.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/TMNT-2014-Desktop-Wallpaper-HD1.jpgYou ever see a trailer and think, “holy crap, that is the worst violation of my childhood that I will ever watch start to finish”? That was my feeling when watching the latest TMNT trailer, which was released late last month. Despite the abundant hints that this movie is going to be another Bay-backed atrocity, complete with racist caricatures, sexist portrayals, eye-candy visuals and stupid dialogue, I still felt kind of nostalgic seeing it.

And there were some additional hints that told me this movie was going to totally suck. For starters, it is strongly implied yet again that the Turtles were created as some sort of covert project. It’s also strongly implied that “The Shredder” – the main antagonist in the TMNT universe – was a similar creation. Hell, they even go as far to say that he’s a damn robot with Wolverine-like retractable claws. What can I say to that except… NOOOOOO!

But like most fans who grew up with the Turtles, I was never looking to this movie to provide any kind of faithful reboot. In fact, when I heard Bay was doing a relaunch of the franchise, I believe I just rolled my eyes and filed it in the “could care less” category. So while I might get around to seeing this, I do not imagine for one second that I am expecting anything from it other than utter amusement.

Low expectations people, that’s the way to survive a Bay movie! Oh yeah, and enjoy the trailer:

Fan-Made Film: Transformers “Attack on Giant”

https://i2.wp.com/onetechavenue.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/transformers-stop-motion.jpgMichael Bay has earned his fair share of notoriety for taking popular 80’s franchises and completely ruining them. With his crass remakes of nostalgic classics like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a soon-to-be-reviled remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he might just best George Lucas for the title of who raped 80’s childhoods the most.

But it is arguably his work with the Transformers genre that has earned him the most scorn. From it’s beginning as a semi-decent movie that still had all the Bay staples (racist caricatures, sexist portrayals, stupid dialogue, action porn, eye-candy visuals), it quickly degenerated into a franchise that produced equal parts convulsive laughter and vomiting over just how bad it was. And with a fourth movie on the way, its clear he has no intention of stopping.

https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpf1/t31.0-8/p417x417/10321100_703313716407853_1238366140818904261_o.jpgLuckily (as is often proving to be the case these days) fans of the franchise have stepped up to fill the void left by Bay’s hackish, opportunistic attempts to recreate a childhood classic. Entitled “Attack On Giant”, this mini-film was shot entirely in stop-motion using Transformer toys, sound effects from the original series, and focuses on a fight scene between two original version toys: Battle Tanker and Giant.

Sure, the visuals may not be as intensely colored as in Bay’s movies, and the stop-motion might be a little clunkier than seamless CGI, but the quality and the heart are there in spades. And you got to admit, this was a very fine effort for a fan-made film. This is just one of several stop motion fan films made by Harris Loureiro, a Malaysian amateur filmmaker who has created five Transformers fan-films to date.

So if you like this video, be sure to check out of some of his other videos:


Sources: theverge.com, techtimes.com

New Trailer: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtles-Scary-HD-Desktop-WallpaperAs a kid, I was a big fan of the Eastman and Laird TMNT comics. As a youngster who grew up in the Star Wars and Karate Kid era, and who loved science fiction and RPGs, my love of this franchise was pretty much a given from the get go. And over the years, I and many other adolescents were excited to see these characters adapted to television and the big screen, with mixed results. And now, true to form, Michael Bay has chosen to tap into this latest reservoir of nostalgic energy for the sake of profit.

And after a few years of development and lots or preliminary hype (mainly that the script sucked and Bay claiming it wasn’t his fault),  Paramount Pictures has announced the movie’s release. It will be premiering on August 8th, 2014 (just in time for the summer blockbuster season) and will star Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, Danny Woodburn, William Fichtner, and Megan Fox in the role of investigative reporter April O’Neil.

Rather than direct, Bay has chosen to produce this baby and the leave the behind-the-camera work to Jonathan Liebesman, who brought us such action porn movies as Battle: Los Angeles, Clash of the Titans, and Bay’s reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And between Fox, the eye-candy cinematography, and the slow-motion/fast-motion action shots, it looks to me like this is yet another campy action flick on par with Bay’s Transformer series.

And I’m just assuming (based on past experience with Bay movies) that the turtles themselves will all be terribly cheesy and borderline racist caricatures, with at least one sounding very much like a punchy, sass-talking black dude. Also, is anyone surprised to see Fox here? Didn’t she burn all her bridges with Bay after she compared him to a Nazi? Just saying… Enjoy the trailer:

Top Stories from CES 2014

CES2014_GooglePlus_BoxThe Consumer Electronics Show has been in full swing for two days now, and already the top spots for most impressive technology of the year has been selected. Granted, opinion is divided, and there are many top contenders, but between displays, gaming, smartphones, and personal devices, there’s been no shortage of technologies to choose from.

And having sifted through some news stories from the front lines, I have decided to compile a list of what I think the most impressive gadgets, displays and devices of this year’s show were. And as usual, they range from the innovative and creative, to the cool and futuristic, with some quirky and fun things holding up the middle. And here they are, in alphabetical order:

celestron_cosmosAs an astronomy enthusiast, and someone who enjoys hearing about new and innovative technologies, Celestron’s Cosmos 90GT WiFi Telescope was quite the story. Hoping to make astronomy more accessible to the masses, this new telescope is the first that can be controlled by an app over WiFi. Once paired, the system guides stargazers through the cosmos as directions flow from the app to the motorized scope base.

In terms of comuting, Lenovo chose to breathe some new life into the oft-declared dying industry of desktop PCs this year, thanks to the unveiling of their Horizon 2. Its 27-inch touchscreen can go fully horizontal, becoming both a gaming and media table. The large touch display has a novel pairing technique that lets you drop multiple smartphones directly onto the screen, as well as group, share, and edit photos from them.

Lenovo Horizon 2 Aura scanNext up is the latest set of display glasses to the world by storm, courtesy of the Epson Smart Glass project. Ever since Google Glass was unveiled in 2012, other electronics and IT companies have been racing to produce a similar product, one that can make heads-up display tech, WiFi connectivity, internet browsing, and augmented reality portable and wearable.

Epson was already moving in that direction back in 2011 when they released their BT100 augmented reality glasses. And now, with their Moverio BT200, they’ve clearly stepped up their game. In addition to being 60 percent lighter than the previous generation, the system has two parts – consisting of a pair of glasses and a control unit.

moverio-bt200-1The glasses feature a tiny LCD-based projection lens system and optical light guide which project digital content onto a transparent virtual display (960 x 540 resolution) and has a camera for video and stills capture, or AR marker detection. With the incorporation of third-party software, and taking advantage of the internal gyroscope and compass, a user can even create 360 degree panoramic environments.

At the other end, the handheld controller runs on Android 4.0, has a textured touchpad control surface, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for video content streaming, and up to six hours of battery life.


The BT-200 smart glasses are currently being demonstrated at Epson’s CES booth, where visitors can experience a table-top virtual fighting game with AR characters, a medical imaging system that allows wearers to see through a person’s skin, and an AR assistance app to help perform unfamiliar tasks .

This year’s CES also featured a ridiculous amount of curved screens. Samsung seemed particularly proud of its garish, curved LCD TV’s, and even booked headliners like Mark Cuban and Michael Bay to promote them. In the latter case, this didn’t go so well. However, one curved screen device actually seemed appropriate – the LG G Flex 6-inch smartphone.

LG_G_GlexWhen it comes to massive curved screens, only one person can benefit from the sweet spot of the display – that focal point in the center where they feel enveloped. But in the case of the LG G Flex-6, the subtle bend in the screen allows for less light intrusion from the sides, and it distorts your own reflection just enough to obscure any distracting glare. Granted, its not exactly the flexible tech I was hoping to see, but its something!

In the world of gaming, two contributions made a rather big splash this year. These included the Playstation Now, a game streaming service just unveiled by Sony that lets gamers instantly play their games from a PS3, PS4, or PS Vita without downloading and always in the most updated version. Plus, it gives users the ability to rent titles they’re interested in, rather than buying the full copy.

maingear_sparkThen there was the Maingear Spark, a gaming desktop designed to run Valve’s gaming-centric SteamOS (and Windows) that measures just five inches square and weighs less than a pound. This is a big boon for gamers who usually have to deal gaming desktops that are bulky, heavy, and don’t fit well on an entertainment stand next to other gaming devices, an HD box, and anything else you might have there.

Next up, there is a device that helps consumers navigate the complex world of iris identification that is becoming all the rage. It’s known as the Myris Eyelock, a simple, straightforward gadget that takes a quick video of your eyeball, has you log in to your various accounts, and then automatically signs you in, without you ever having to type in your password.

myris_eyelockSo basically, you can utilize this new biometric ID system by having your retinal scan on your person wherever you go. And then, rather than go through the process of remembering multiple (and no doubt, complicated passwords, as identity theft is becoming increasingly problematic), you can upload a marker that leaves no doubt as to your identity. And at less than $300, it’s an affordable option, too.

And what would an electronics show be without showcasing a little drone technology? And the Parrot MiniDrone was this year’s crowd pleaser: a palm-sized, camera-equipped, remotely-piloted quad-rotor. However, this model has the added feature of two six-inch wheels, which affords it the ability to zip across floors, climb walls, and even move across ceilings! A truly versatile personal drone.

 

scanaduAnother very interesting display this year was the Scanadu Scout, the world’s first real-life tricorder. First unveiled back in May of 2013, the Scout represents the culmination of years of work by the NASA Ames Research Center to produce the world’s first, non-invasive medical scanner. And this year, they chose to showcase it at CES and let people test it out on themselves and each other.

All told, the Scanadu Scout can measure a person’s vital signs – including their heart rate, blood pressure, temperature – without ever touching them. All that’s needed is to place the scanner above your skin, wait a moment, and voila! Instant vitals. The sensor will begin a pilot program with 10,000 users this spring, the first key step toward FDA approval.

wowwee_mip_sg_4And of course, no CES would be complete without a toy robot or two. This year, it was the WowWee MiP (Mobile Inverted Pendulum) that put on a big show. Basically, it is an eight-inch bot that balances itself on dual wheels (like a Segway), is controllable by hand gestures, a Bluetooth-conncted phone, or can autonomously roll around.

Its sensitivity to commands and its ability to balance while zooming across the floor are super impressive. While on display, many were shown carrying a tray around (sometimes with another MiP on a tray). And, a real crowd pleaser, the MiP can even dance. Always got to throw in something for the retro 80’s crowd, the people who grew up with the SICO robot, Jinx, and other friendly automatons!

iOptikBut perhaps most impressive of all, at least in my humble opinion, is the display of the prototype for the iOptik AR Contact Lens. While most of the focus on high-tech eyewear has been focused on wearables like Google Glass of late, other developers have been steadily working towards display devices that are small enough to worse over your pupil.

Developed by the Washington-based company Innovega with support from DARPA, the iOptik is a heads-up display built into a set of contact lenses. And this year, the first fully-functioning prototypes are being showcased at CES. Acting as a micro-display, the glasses project a picture onto the contact lens, which works as a filter to separate the real-world from the digital environment and then interlaces them into the one image.

ioptik_contact_lenses-7Embedded in the contact lenses are micro-components that enable the user to focus on near-eye images. Light projected by the display (built into a set of glasses) passes through the center of the pupil and then works with the eye’s regular optics to focus the display on the retina, while light from the real-life environment reaches the retina via an outer filter.

This creates two separate images on the retina which are then superimposed to create one integrated image, or augmented reality. It also offers an alternative solution to traditional near-eye displays which create the illusion of an object in the distance so as not to hinder regular vision. At present, still requires clearance from the FDA before it becomes commercially available, which may come in late 2014 or early 2015.


Well, its certainly been an interesting year, once again, in the world of electronics, robotics, personal devices, and wearable technology. And it manages to capture the pace of change that is increasingly coming to characterize our lives. And according to the tech site Mashable, this year’s show was characterized by televisions with 4K pixel resolution, wearables, biometrics, the internet of personalized and data-driven things, and of course, 3-D printing and imaging.

And as always, there were plenty of videos showcasing tons of interesting concepts and devices that were featured this year. Here are a few that I managed to find and thought were worthy of passing on:

Internet of Things Highlights:


Motion Tech Highlights:


Wearable Tech Highlights:


Sources: popsci.com, (2), cesweb, mashable, (2), gizmag, (2), news.cnet

Michael Bay’s Meltdown at CES 2014

CES2014_bayThe annual Consumer Electronics Show has once again kicked off in Las Vegas. And Samsung Galaxy thought they had scored a coup when they managed to land director Michael Bay to come on and extoll the virtues of their new Curved 105-inch UHD TV. Unfortunately, a problem with the teleprompter caused Bay to lose his place, and things went a little awry from there.

Naturally, Bay tried to wing it, and even acknowledged his mistake. But after several seconds of tense silence, he gave up, apologized and left the stage. Immediately thereafter, every social media and video-sharing site around the globe began broadcasting the one-and-a-half minute gaff, referring to it as Michael Bay’s CES “meltdown”. And thanks to a friend of mine, who’s there as we speak, I learned about it a bit early.

samsung-curved-tvs12_2040_verge_super_wide_large_verge_medium_landscapeAnd almost as quickly, Bay responded. Returning home to blog about the experience, he described the gaff humbly, and declared his endorsement for the technology:

Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES. I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.

But I’m doing a special curved screen experience with Samsung and Transformers 4 footage that will be traveling around the world.

It made for an extremely awkward moment, and an embarrassing one for Samsung, which loaded the conference with its usual bevy of product announcements in a number of different areas. And it managed to show just what kind of waves an event at CES makes – particularly from a high-profile company such as Samsung. Unfortunately for Bay, these weren’t the kind of waves anyone wanted to make.

EurekaCloseUpSUPA9895But of course, Bay’s come back from worse. Remember Transformers II, his little online tiff with Megan Fox, or the news of his abortive attempt at remaking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Yeah, he’ll be fine. And there will be plenty more news coming out of Vegas in the coming days, and I intend to be writing about it aplenty!

And in the meantime, check out the video of this embarrassing, but entirely forgivable, blunder:


Sources:
ces.cnet.com, ca.ign.com

2001: A Space Odyssey Trailer Relaunch

The fun folks over at Film School Rejects have just released a clever video which deals with the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and how the trailers would look if the movie were relaunched today. As a big fan of 2001, I couldn’t help but enjoy the presentation and think that it was bang on with its not-so-subtle commentary on how things have changed over the years.

I can remember watching this movie when I was a child. Being too young to appreciate its nuances and complex plot, the only thing I remember was that many scenes had no sound. It was explained to me that this is because there is no sound in space. Suddenly Star Wars didn’t make any sense to me! But being too big a fan of that space opera, I chose to compartmentalize this knowledge and strategically ignore it whenever fun space simulators and sci-fi movies came out that broke this rule.

Years later, I would see the movie again as a young adult, when I was old enough to appreciate it. I did so in the hopes that I would understand it and why the movie has remained such an enduring classic. Of course I could see why, but I also didn’t fail to notice the many extended, and I mean really extended, scenes where space ships and space stations danced around in carefully choreographed display set to classical music. Beautiful, inspiring, but they sure could test your patience.

My mother noticed this too and wondered if anyone could get away with such things in today’s world. As a child of the sixties, she had seen this movie when it first came out and witnessed the stark changes that had taken place in cinema ever since. I recall observing that unlike today’s movies 2001 was shot in a time when “people still had attention spans”. She thought that was funny and reminds me of this from time to time, you know how parents are 😉 In any case, that’s what came to mind when I saw this trailer the other day.

Editing to ensure maximum effect in a minimum amount of time, and taking advantage of all the latest flashy editing techniques, FSR reminds us that at one time, people were willing to hear a presentation out. That is to say, they were willing to wait longer for a point to be made and didn’t demand explosions, cut scenes and loud music every few seconds just to stay interested. Take that Michael Bay!

Conan (Cont’d)

Conan (Cont’d)

And we’re back! Last time, I got into Conan (ca. 1982), the Milnius/Stone/Laurentiis version that effectively made Arnie’s career. Now, it’s time for the remake, the one directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jason Momoa. Having just sat through it, I can tell you that the impressions it left are fresh in my mind, as is the bad taste it left in my mouth. I suppose that’s the inevitable result of seeing something that comes with high hopes, only to find out that it really isn’t that good. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, here’s Conan, the remake!

Conan The Barbarian (2011):

For some time now, producers have been trying to do a remake/re-imaging of Conan. Perhaps its the nostalgic appeal of the original or maybe its just a retro thing: sooner or later, fans grow up and pay good money to see something that reminds them of their youth. Just look at American Graffiti. But these attempts can always be messed up when studios spend forever fighting over rights and trying to come up with a plan, and then slap together a product hastily. That’s apparently  what happened here.

After spending  seven years in development with Warner Bros, the rights to shoot this film were shifted to Nu Image/Millennium Films in 2007, with a clause wishing for immediate start on production. It then took another two years before they found a director, eventually settling on Marcus Nispel, a man who’s made his career shooting remakes for guys like Michael Bay, and the critically-panned movie Pathfinder. A big-ass writing team was then assembled to come up with a passable script, and Jason Momoa (hot off playing the role of Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones) was cast as the hero.

Not a very encouraging start, but there were signs of promise. Momoa seemed like a good fit, having already done the badass barbarian thing as Drogo. Stephen Lang also seemed like a good choice to play the villain, having performed the role of the dubious military man in Avatar. And Ron Perlman, hell, he’s always good as a dirty, hairy, hut-dwelling man! One look at Quest for Fire and you can see how he seemed like a sure thing to play Conan’s father. All that was left was the story.

Plot Synopsis:

The story opens with narration by Morgan Freeman. Okay, bit of miscasting right there, but whatever. He explains how its the Hyborian Age, and gives us the bare bones of what’s been going on in this vague, adventurous period of historical fiction. And unlike the first movie, the back story here is kind of extensive. This story, we soon learn, has to do with a magic mask that gave evil witches and wizards the power of Gods. They are known as the Acheronian necromancers, and as the name suggests, they could resurrect the dead and… do other scary things I guess. Okay, seems a little Dungeons and Dragonsesque, but the movie’s just starting…

We also learn that this mask was broken when the evil people were cast down and divided amongst the Cimmerian tribes. And now, predictably, some evil dude is going around and collecting them, hoping to put the mask back together so he can have godlike power. All he needs is one final piece, and guess who’s got it… Conan’s people, naturally! We also get to see how Conan was born, on the battlefield of all places when his pregnant mother was stabbed and his dad had to perform a battlefield C section. Thus, in keeping with his legend, we get a boy who was “borne in battle”. Again, kind of over the top, but things are just getting started.

What follows are many scenes showing Conan as a young boy. After eviscerating a war party of rival tribesmen, we see him helping his father forge a sword, being told all about the Riddle of Steel. And wouldn’t you know it, they even tell us what it is! “What’s more important, Conan, the fire or the ice? Both! It’s the two that make steel hard. That’s the Riddle of Steel.” Really? That’s the riddle, fire and ice make it hard? Gee, I thought it would be something more complicated, not a user’s guide to smithing. If knowing this is all it takes to get into Valhalla then the damn place must be overflowing!

And then, Conan’s people are attacked by some big, bad warlord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). Hmm, Khalar, Khal? Do I detect a slight similarity (aka. ripoff!) there? Anyhoo, he beseiges the village, Conan’s people die, and he tells Corin that he can bend the knee and give up the last remaining fragment, or he’ll burn him alive and take it anyway. He also lets him know its okay to submit to him, since he’ll soon be a living God. But of course, Corin says no, and tells him that God or no, he’ll still fall! Conan of course comes to his aid, but it captured and tied up with him. Zym takes the last fragment, completes the mask (which looks like some kind of dried octopus, all tentacly-like), puts it on and has his evil moment. “Bwoohaahahahaha” and all that.

Conan and his father are left chained to a pot of molten iron which is suspended above them. In short, all they can do is stand there, or risk dumping it on one of their heads. Conan does his best to release his father, but Corin eventually sacrifices himself and causes the pot to dump on his head. Hmm, getting another deja vu moment here. Golden Crown anyone? Conan then goes out into the killing fields that were his home, grabs a sword and does the avenging hero thing. He raises it high and yells!

At this point, we’re about half an hour into the movie and the differences are becoming glaring. For one, in the original movie, Conan was the focus of things. Sure, its about his quest for revenge, but its also a big-time bildungsroman, the telling of how he came to be a powerful warlord who would go on to become a king. There was no magic MacGuffin to incite the plot and keep things going. Second, a great deal of time, far more than was necessary, is dedicated to Conan’s childhood in this movie. Whereas in the original, we get a brief glimpse of a rough, honest and in some ways idyllic existence that was interrupted by tragedy, here we get a full-on preamble that kind of overdeveloped things.

I mean, was it really necessary to show how Conan was a badass even as a child? Wasn’t it supposed to be his hard life that made him so rough and ruthless? Here we see him cutting off the heads of multiple warriors before he’s even hit puberty! And not at the neck, which would have been more civilized; no, he hews their heads off at the jaw! With blunt instruments! Forget Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Psychopath would have been much more appropriate! Don’t get me wrong, I was pulling for him, but it still seemed over-the-top.

What’s more, in spite of that fact Conan brutalized some of his men (he cuts off one of their noses), Zym decides to basically leave Conan alive. Sure, he chained them up to a pot of molten metal, but doesn’t that seem a little super-villainy? Instead of killing the father and selling the child into slavery, I’m going to put them in a situation that at least one of them can escape and pray they never find me. Doom at least had the foresight to sell the boy into slavery, and he seemed relatively helpless by comparison. But with this little psycho, seems to me the sane thing would have been to make sure he died in that village. He chops heads in half at ten, how bad do you think he’s going to be in twenty years?

And of course, the movie then cuts to Conan as a man. He’s part of a group of Aquilonian Mercenaries led by a big burly dude named Artus (Nonso Anozie). He and Conan are close friends and are dedicated to piracy and making trouble, but in truth their ultimate goal is to free slaves and find the man that killed Conan’s people. We get a scene where they are doing just this, killing slavers and setting the captives free because, as Conan says “No man shall live in chains.” After taking the slaves to party in Messantia, Conan is chanced upon by a man named Ela-Shan (Saïd Taghmaoui), a thief who is being pursued by one of Zym’s men: Lucius, the man who lost his nose to Conan as a boy.

Conan recognizes the man and decides to let himself be captured. Once in his prison, he breaks free and begins torturing him for answers. He reveals Zym’s identity to Conan and tells him of his plans. Basically, they involve him capturing a “pure one”, aka. a descendent of the Acheron necromancers, so he can unleash the mask’s power. Taking this information, Conan makes Lucius swallow the prison’s master key and hands the slaves a knife, telling them their freedom lies in Lucius’ belly. I suppose this is meant to be a kind of comic relief, “You swore you’d let me live!” “I swore that I wouldn’t kill you!” Mainly, it just seems cruel. However, Conan is told by Ela-Shan (who is a clear remake of Subotai) that if he ever needs a favor, to come looking for him in the City of Thieves. And of course, he will…

We then cut to Zym and his daughter, the dark sorceress Marique (Rose McGowan), as they cross the land looking for the “pure one”. This journey brings them to a monastery where we see a woman named Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who is being told her future by the head priest. He tells her that she will meet a warrior, a man who will change the course of history. However, the lesson is cut short when Zym’s men attack and seize the place.  A totally overdone scene follows where Marique, after they’ve rounded up all the monasteries ladies, tastes their blood with her claws and then kills them, one after another, once she’s determined that they are not pure.

We also learn that Zym’s ultimate goal is to resurrect his wife, a witch herself who was burned alive by monks, and that he’s quite bitter about it. And of course, there’s also the obligatory scene where Zym smashes the head of the head priest on the stone steps after he tells him his wife was evil and got what she deserved.  Okay, we get it, these guys are really, really bad! Moving on… On the plus side, Tamara got away, and it just so happens that Conan sees her fleeing and recognizes the men that are chasing her. After saving her, Conan pretends that he is going to ransom her to Zym for gold, but his real goal is to lure Zym into a trap.

Conan manages to catch up with Zym as his land-ship (a sea vessel which, for some reason, he’s having pulled across land!) where Zym and his daughter are talking about their plans. Marique tells Zym, in a speech heavily laced with incest, that she could be her mother and he wouldn’t need to bring her back. But naturally, in a response laced with abusiveness, he shoves her away and tells her she will never be her mother. Okay, if the goal here was to make these two seem more evil, then mission accomplished! Otherwise, all I can say is ew! In any case, that’s when Conan delivers his message via a catapult (yep, you read that right!): he hurls Zym’s man at his ship with a note attached. “Meet me at this abandoned trading post at midday”, it says. “Come alone!”

But of course, he doesn’t. He comes to the post with Marique, and Conan confronts them and demands Zym’s head! This is the first fight scene between these two, and naturally it goes against Conan. Using her dark magic, Marique sends a whole bunch of sand people at Conan while he father and him exchange blows with their swords. Conan is forced to flee, taking Tamara with them, by jumping off the edge of the cliff into the water, where Conan’s buddies happen to be waiting. They get on board, sail off, fight off some of Zym’s men, and Tamara and Conan get better acquainted. She learns that he’s incredibly noble, in spite of his rough and tumble exterior. And Conan tells Artus that he’s found the man who murdered father, his family, his people, and of course Artus pledges to help him get his revenge. They’re buddies, remember?

So Conan is dropped up farther along the coast, where he will make his way to Zym’s fortress. However, Tamara decides to tag along for a bit and the two have rough sex in a cave nearby. Yes, the timing of this seems stupid, the dialogue is quite awful, and there’s absolutely no chemistry between them. But what’s even more odd is on the following morning, Tamara wanders out of the cave before Conan awakes (guess she wasn’t too impressed!) somehow finds herself wandering deeper in the wilderness, and is captured by Zym’s daughter. Wait, weren’t they doing it in a cave near the shore? How did she wander into the forest here? Was she totally turned around, or was the sex just that good? In any case, Marique tastes her blood (as usual) and determines she’s the one! Shortly thereafter, Conan wakes up, follows Tamara’s trail to the same wood, and finds one of Marique’s claws which she carelessly left behind. It’s on now!

He then, as previewed, travels to the City of Thieves (guard your pocket book man!), finds Ela-Shan and tells him he needs his help breaking in to Zym’s stronghold. They arrive just Zym is preparing the sacrifice, which consists of making Tamara wear some tight, revealing outfit, cuffing her wrists and ankles, strapping her to a big wheel and… I’m sorry, I got lost there for a second. Were they going for some serious visual innuendo here? Somehow, it seemed like they took a wrong turn on “damsel in distress” road and got lost in S&M junction. But predictably, Conan and El-Shan battle their way in, fight some bad dudes and a big tentacled monster, and Conan is set for his big finale with Zym.

And I can say without reservation that the final fight was totally anti-climactic! For one, they seem to be fighting in front of a poorly animated green screen for all it. It looks like a scene from Mordor, but only if the people from Xena had designed it! And invariably, Tamara must be saved repeatedly (which is annoying), the fight scenes get both ludicrous (they fight on the wheel as its suspended on two rocks over a chasm!) and there’s really no tension to speak of. But alas, Tamara needs to be saved again, as she falls through a plank on a walkway and Zym’s spell is taking effect. Slowly, she’s being invaded by the evil spirit of Zym’s wife. She tells Conan to drop her, but he can’t! Not even with Zym standing before him ready to deliver a death blow.

He and Zym then delivers their final words to each other, which is really just a rehashing of the words he and Conan’s father shared years before. Zym tells Conan that there’s no shame in kneeling to him since he’s a living god. Conan replies, “You forgot what my father told you. God or not, you will FALL! He then knocks the planks out from under Zym’s feet, he falls to his death, and Tamara is saved from being taken over by the spirit of his dead wife. They make it out, he drops her off at a new monastery, then carries on the remains of his old village site. There, he finds the remains of his father’s forge, raises his old sword, and yells!

Strengths/Weaknesses/Impressions:

Okay, I’m going to start with what I didn’t like about this movie, because its a far more important list. Strengths, I got few to mention, and as for impressions, practically none! So here goes… First of all, having Morgan Freeman do the narration was a serious case of miscasting. Yeah, I love Morgan as much as the next person, and he is like THE guy when it comes to voice-over work, but not for this movie. This is a fantasy and historical fiction epic, it requires someone who sounds bad-ass and foreboding. Someone like Mako, Keith David (Spawn), or Tony Todd (The Crow), not the man who narrated Shawshank Redemption, played God in Bruce Almighty, was Driving Miss Daisy, and played Neslon Mandella. It’s just not a good fit!

Second, as mentioned, Conan’s backstory. The original did the best job of this, in my opinion. When it comes right down to it, Conan is characterized by a few simple things: his strength, his cunning, and his feral wits. He’s tough in a way that speaks to hard living and smart in a way that speaks to a life of survival and living on the edge. By taking that away, the remake made his less believable, presenting him as a guy who was just badass from the day he was born. This might have seemed cool to some, but in my opinion it made him way less believable.

Also, in this remake, the character of Conan seemed poorly executed and somewhat confused. With his many overdone antics, we’re made to believe he’s a real bad dude. But then they kind of go out of their way to make him appear good, loyal and loving. And when I say out of their way, I mean they just come out and say it. “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” “No man shall live in chains”. “He has the loyalty of a dog”, etc, etc. In the original, Arnie needed barely any words at all to convey this, he just played the part. People could tell from his mere presence he was bad, and by his friendship with Subotai and his romance with Valeria that he was loyal and loving, and by his determination to find Doom and avenge his parents on his own that he was brave. Nobody needed to say anything out loud.

The same is true for the villain, Khalar Zym. I was surprised, to be sure. Ordinarily, Stephen Lang is an effective actor who lends a certain dignity and strength to his characters. This was true even in Avatar, where in spite of a weak plot a cliched characters, he still managed to give strong performance. But here, he is both overdone as the bad guy and really not scary at all! Mainly, he just seems like a creepy old dude who’s looking to get smashed! I’m not sure where all those muscles he built up for Avatar went, but in this movie, he looked pretty damn scrawny and emaciated. Might have been the costume, but gone was the picture of the brusque and burly old dude who can still kick your ass! And that tuft of grey hair on his chin? Didn’t help! Neither did his cheesy lines: “Behold… and despair… your new master!”

In addition, the supporting cast is pretty weak. Ron Perlman did a good job of portraying Conan’s father, but the role really didn’t seem like a challenge for him. Mainly, he just looked the part and phoned the rest in. Then there was Rachel Nichols, who people might recognize from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra or as the new blonde lady on Criminal Minds. To call her acting wooden would be too kind! Seriously, I haven’t seen blank stares and cardboard acting like this since… well, GI Joe! The romance between her and Conan was also totally unbelievable. At one point I asked myself, isn’t this woman supposed to be a nun or something? Why then is she shagging the barbarian? And the way he just drops her off at a monastery at the end. Has she not broken her vows at this point? Wouldn’t there be some kind of moral conflict in them having an affair?

Rose McGowan (from Charmed and clealrly one of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s favorite people to work with)  filled the role of the evil daughter quite well, but the character itself was quite weak. Mainly, she’s just creepy and dark for the sake of being creepy and dark, and the incest thing was clearly just thrown in for added vileness. And Ela-Shan, a clear homage to Sobutai’s character, felt like he was just penciled in out of duty. He shows up near the beginning to advance the plot, disappears, reappears as needed, then disappears again. In short, he’s the friend you call when you need a ride but have no intention of hanging out with. That’s mean!

Jason Momoa, who I admire the hell out of for his performance of Khal Drogo in the HBO Game of Thrones miniseries, also had some issues adapting the role of Conan. Sure, he looks the part. A tall, dark, ripped dude with long dark hair? Hell, he IS the part! But he’s a long way from Khal Drogo in this one. Much of the time, he can’t seem to decide if he’s going to go with the deep, raspy voice (a la Christian Bale in Batman), or just use his natural, deep voice. The latter was far better, but he kept doing the raspy thing, sometimes switching in mid-sentence. And when he does the evil stare and threatening words, he just sounded kind of silly! Momoa said he wanted to steer away from Arnie’s version of Conan, which was totally respectable. But at the same time, I think he should have taken a lesson from Arnie’s performance: less is more, especially when you’ve got the kind the commanding presence these two share.

Okay, what was actually good about this movie was the set design. Here was something that also reminded me of Game of Thrones, and it was the picturesque castles and landscapes the movie’s animators came up with. Most of the time, they are pretty cool, and don’t look particularly phoney or out of place. This cannot be said for the final scene where Conan and Zym fight it out in the “Cracks of Doom”, but otherwise the setting looked pretty good. And they did manage to make a lot of the settings look and feel like something out of the original story, giving things a dirty look and feel that calls to mind Biblical allusions, or scenes out of Orientalist art. This was something the original movie did quite well in spite of a limited budget, and this movie did it quite well too.

Reception/Recommendation:

Other than that, sorry to say, but this movie did not live up to the original or the graphic novel which inspired it all. It was a good attempt, but clearly a combination of things were working against it. For one, you can’t take something like an original cult-classic and just redo it! Something like that takes dedication, vision, time, and energy. Throwing writers, a director, some actors (albeit good ones) together and saying “get on it” just isn’t enough. And in the end, the results spoke for themselves. In addition to being almost universally panned by critics, this movie made only 20 million dollars, and that was with a budget over 70! Given time and with DVD sales, I’m sure the studio will recoup its dough, but for the moment, this re-release has done little aside from riding off the coat tails of Game of Thrones.

Speaking of which, it was recently announced that Nonso Anozie will be in season 2 of GOT, playing the role of Xaro Xhoan Daxos. It’s also been said that Momoa’s been talking to the writers about bringing the character of Khal Drogo back. The ties between these two projects continues to astound me! In any case, if you’re looking for some cheesy entertainment, pick this one up and help the studio make its money back! If you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the original though, something with sword, epic fantasy and a touch of realism, I strongly recommend you rewatch the original, maybe even with the commentary. Or you could just check out Game of Thrones! Whatever floats your boat…

Conan The Barbarian (2011):

Entertainment Value: 7/10

Plot: 4/10

Direction: 6/10

Overall: 5.5/10

More Plot Holes and Oversights!

Round two! Having done a few more reviews, I’ve come to find new instances where plot muck-ups and weak writing made a movie glaringly bad, or just brought down an otherwise good effort. Here’s what I got this time:

Transformers:
Yeah, I’ve come to decide that Michael Bay is my least favorite director of all time. Not only is he responsible for creating crappy movies that are all form, no substance. He’s also guilty of completely objectifying women, reducing people to caricatures that are annoying and often racist, and just generally insulting our intelligence. And when it comes to his style, the Transformers trilogy stands out as a perfect example. In addition to being racist, sexist and low-brow, it was also full of plot holes. Here are some of the biggest that I could find:

1. Megatron’s Dead… Sort of:
Remember in movie one where Megatron was destroyed, and how they dropped his body into the Laurentian Abyss where the pressure and heat would make it impossible for him to be rescued or resurrected? Well in movie two, Bay disregarded all of that in order to bring the chief villain back. Basically, a couple bad guys swim down there, plug his body with a fragment of the All Spark, and he flies out. Here’s a thought: if you’re planning on making sequels, don’t write yourself into a corner by killing off the lead bad guy and making it impossible to bring him back!

2. Continuity Error:
This hole actually runs through all three, so you might say its more like a plot tunnel. In movie one, we are told that Megatron came to Earth in the 1930’s seeking the All Spark and then got frozen in the Arctic. It wasn’t until almost 70’s years later, in 2007 when the first film is taking place, that the Autobots and Decepticons came to Earth seeking the same thing. So… no other Transformers were on Earth between the 1930’s and 2007, right?

But then, in movie three, we’re told that the Ark crashed on the Moon in the early 1960’s, thus prompting the Space Race, and immediately thereafter, people and governments began collaborating with the Decepticons. They did this mainly by putting a stop to all subsequent Moon missions, mainly by lying and saying that it was suddenly too expensive (actually, it was!) But according to movie one, Megatron was the only Decepticon to visit Earth before 2007, and he was frozen and in government custody. If the other Decepticons didn’t come to Earth until the first movie in search of Megatron and the All Spark, then who the hell were these humans collaborating with? In other words, who were they taking their orders from if no Decepticons were even on Earth yet?

Ah, which brings to mind movie two. After Megatron was brought back to life, he flew out to the edge of the solar system where a big Decepticon ship was waiting. According to Wikipedia, this ship is called the Nemesis, which is taken from the original animated series. In any case, the Fallen guy is on board and they’ve been breeding “hatchlings”. This sets up the plot since the Decepticons want the Sun blower upper so they can harvest energon and power the things, thus making a new army. Hold on, if they’ve got some huge, badass warship out there, why not just attack Earth with it? And when did it show up in the first place? Didn’t the Decepticons fly in some comet-like spaceships in the first movie? So it had to have arrived between the first and second…

But if that’s the case and they have this big spaceship on hand now, why go through the whole convoluted process of searching from stupid harvester and building an army? Why not just level Earth and the Autobots from orbit? That makes a lot more sense than actually going down there and fighting them face to face. Another thing, where did it go after movie two? In movie three, there’s no trace of this spaceship and Megatron and his crew are hiding out in the Serengeti. That seems awfully stupid if they’ve got a couple megatons of firepower out in space.

But I’m getting distracted here… The main thing is that the whole sun-harvester/hatchling thread doesn’t square with what happened in the third movie. There, they reveal that they’ve had reinforcements on the dark side of the moon for decades who were laying in wait for some big attack once Sentinel was reactivated and set up that transporter gate. But if that’s so, why was anyone bothering with making all of these hatchlings? If you’ve already got reinforcements on hand, why not just call them in and end the war sooner? Sure, movie two was kind of a write off, but you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen! And it was movie three, supposedly the best in the series, that shot the premises of the first two to hell. Once again, if you’re going to make sequels, try to make sure they’re consistent with the other ones!

3. Symbols and Clues:
So if I remember the plot of the second movie right, Sam got his brain zapped by a piece of the All Spark, which made him see symbols. This in turn gave him the knowledge of the last known location of the Matrix of Leadership. Hold on, why the hell would the All Spark have the location of the Matrix encoded into it? The All Spark was the mysterious alien thing that created the Transformers while the Matrix of Leadership was the start-up key to the big Sun Harvester. One was created by forces unknown millions of years ago and the other was created by the Primes thousands of years ago.

In short, these things had nothing to do with each other, so why would the All Spark have that information on it? Doesn’t make sense, but then again, it wasn’t really meant to. It was only meant to serve as a deus ex machina to get the plot rolling in the first place.

Speaking of which, what was the deal with all those clues that lead them to the Matrix near the end? These took the form of symbols (the Primes ancient language) which were scrawled on various historic monuments, and which Sam could now read since his brain got zapped by the All Spark. Again, makes no sense, just there to move the plot along. I mean c’mon, why the hell would the Primes put clues to the location of the Matrix out there for people to see? Wasn’t it said that they were trying to hide the Matrix so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands? Wasn’t that why they sacrificed themselves and created that weird-ass cage out of their bodies to house it? Yes! So why would they leave clues around like they are hoping for someone to find it?

Oh yeah, and if the thing falls to dust unless its being handled by a “true leader” – you may recall that Sam had this explained to him when he went to robot heaven (holy shit, that was dumb!) – why bother even hiding it? Wouldn’t it be useless to the Fallen or any other Decepticon if they laid their hands on it? But again, I’m expecting too much if I’m asking this movie to make sense aren’t I? Moving on…

The Matrix Sequels:
The first movie in this trilogy was pretty seamless. And by that I mean I can’t think of a single plot hole off the top of my head. The sequels, however, are another matter entirely. Given the complicated and convoluted plot, it was somewhat inevitable that holes would open up. I think I covered most of them in my previous review of the trilogy, but I never get tired of criticizing flops!

1. Neo’s Powers:
The big mystery after movie two was how Neo managed to destroy machines in the real world with his mind. The explanations was one of the things that made the third movie a big letdown. According to the Oracle, the power of the One goes beyond the Matrix, right to the Source, from where it comes from. What the hell does that even mean? Is she implying that the Source CREATES the Ones? Why on Earth would it do that, create its own worst enemy over and over? Is that supposed to be like some Judea-Christian mystery, like why would God create the Devil?

The way the Architect put it in movie two, the Ones are a natural occurrence, much like the 1 percent of people who can’t accept the program because they are somehow more adept than the rest. But how would this person who can not only reject but control the Matrix bring that control into the real world? Who knows? It’s never explained. And any way you try, it ends up not making much sense.

2. Neo in Limbo:
Another thing that was never explained was why Neo went back into the Matrix when he went into a coma. How did he do this if he wasn’t even wired in? Again, the Oracle gives what clearly is meant to be a mysterious answer, but actually is just weak. Apparently, that’s just something the One can do. He can control machines and go in and out of the Matrix without the need for a plug-in. Really? Does the mind of the One operate like wireless internet? Can he interface with machines and hack into the system without DSL or a Modem? Like I said, never explained, but that’s probably because no explanation would make sense. It’s just weird, ethereal stuff that’s meant to advance the plot.

3. Why did Neo go to the Machine City?
So movie two ended with Neo realizing he could destroy machines in the real world. Sure, the experience kind of left him floored, but once he got all better, he was up and kicking machine ass. Hell, all he had to do was raise a hand and squiddies went boom by the bucket load! So why was Neo’s next move to go to the machine city? Because he was having dreams about it? Or because he figured he could save Zion by making a deal with the Source to stop Smith? Okay, seems a bit contrived, but okay. Still, why would he do that when he could have saved Zion on his own terms? If he can blow up machines with a thought, all they would need to do is fly him to Zion where he could unleash hell on the squiddy army. Zion army almost stopped the machines as it was, but with Neo they could have mopped the floor with them!

And didn’t the Architect say that the Matrix was on the verge of crashing? Yes, that was part two of the whole plan that kept the Ones in line. Blow up Zion, threaten to crash the system, thus threatening all of humanity and forcing the Ones’ compliance. But if Neo managed to use his abilities to save Zion from the attack, and the Matrix crashed as planned, that would mean the machines would lose their power source and die, wouldn’t it? Sure, millions of humans would die too; but as Morpheus said, as long as they’re still wired into the system, they’re the enemy! So yes, lots of blood would be on his hands, but in exchange for that one act of unsentimental ruthlessness, the machines would be licked good!

4. The Treaty Thing:
By the end, we’re told that a treaty is in place between humanity and the machines, as a result of the deal Neo cut and the sacrifice he made. Just one question, why are the machines going along with this? Once Neo did his thing and ensured Smith’s destruction, the squiddies just up and left Zion for good. Why? They were on the verge of wiping it off the face of the Earth. Why not follow through and finish the job?

What’s more, why did the Architect promise the Oracle that all humans who couldn’t accept the program would henceforth be set free? That was never part of the deal! Neo just said he wanted peace, he never said anything about the “red pills” henceforth being released. Sure, it seems like an elegant solution to the problem of what to do with them in the short run – just let them go and join Zion – but what about the long run? The more people the machines let go, the larger Zion gets. What’s going to happen when they get too big for their britches and start encroaching on machine territory?

Surely, the machines would have been able to foresee this, so why did they go along with it? Are we really to believe that within all their programming, machines believe in such a thing as keeping their word? The Architect seemed to think so… he gave HIS word that from then on, the unruly humans would be set free and got offended when the Oracle questioned him on that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that honor is a human thing, based on ethical insight and emotion, and not cold, hard logic. And as we saw repeatedly in the Matrix, emotion is something the machines don’t care for. So really, once they realized they were in a position of power, wouldn’t the rational, MACHINE thing to do be to keep going and wipe Zion out?

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending they went with better. But it didn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of sense. And the Wachowski’s seemed to acknowledge this too, since they wrote in the bit where the Architect asks the Oracle: “How long do you think this treaty of yours can last?” Sure, it was meant to sound cynical and machine-like, but it was also true. If the Architect could see how little sense this made, surely the rest of the machines could too!

5. The Big Climax:
I saved this one for last because its the one I'm the least clear on. The way the movie ended, it seemed like a culmination of various things. But almost immediately after I saw it, the logic began to escape me. Let me see if I can recap it. Neo promises to deal with Smith, the Source plugs him in, he and Smith have their big fight. It ends when Neo realizes that he and Smith are destined to come together and cancel each other out. Like the Oracle said, "he is your equal, your opposite", and once Smith blows up, the Matrix reboots because Neo still was carrying the reboot codes he picked up when he went in and met the Architect. It's poetic and wraps things up; but really, how did Neo letting Smith merge with him destroy the guy?

On the one hand, it might be that what the Oracle said was meant somewhat literally. Having Neo merge with Smith, his equal and opposite by this point, might have just overloaded Smith's program, but if so, why did he assimilate Neo? He had JUST taken over the Oracle and was now in possession of her prescience. If he saw what she saw, why do the thing that would guarantee his destruction? However, there is an alternative explanation, one which I came up… with all by myself!

My personal impression was that the Smiths blew up because the Source killed them. Or rather, it killed Neo for failing. That's what appeared to be the case, at any rate. The Source was pissed and zapped his body, but since he was now indistinguishable from Smith, it was really Smith who got zapped and this overloaded him and destroyed him. Still, this idea also presents problems. If zapping someone wired into the Matrix was all it would take to kill Smith, why didn't the system do that the moment he started copying himself onto people? Seriously, by the end, he had copied himself onto every single person within the Matrix. That’s a couple million opportunities to kill him!

Or, here’s another idea, the Source could have started unplugging everyone Smith copied as soon as he started doing it. At the same time, corner him some agents and shoot the original Smith, then boom! He’s contained, Neo’s help would have never been needed, and the machines would be free to wipe out Zion. Again, I’m overthinking things, but that tends to happen whenever movies stop making sense.

More in part II, coming up next…

Transformers (Cont’d)

(Continued…)

3. Stupid Comic Relief:
Not long ago, I thought George Lucas was the authority when it came to using stupid characters in a movie, ones which were intended for comic relief, but were really just annoying and oftentimes racist. Then Bay came along not once, not twice, but thrice with his own take on that idea! In all three Transformers movies, it seemed that the only point of having black characters was to add some sass and punchy dialogue. Take for example the fat, hacker dude in the first one (Anthony Anderson*), the fat, whiney special ops dude in the third one, the “Twins” in the second, or the street-talking “Jazz” (“whaddut bitches?”) from the first, who was also the only one to die! In most cases, these caricatures bordered on racism, or at least, bad taste. But when it came to the “Twins” – those flappy-eared, gold-toothed, ebonics talking, non-reading robots – it was not only blatantly racist, but incedibly stupid! Really, the only strong black character in this entire franchise was Epps (Tyrese Gibson), but even he was constantly playing second fiddle to Lennox, the white special ops dude played by Josh Duhamel.

(*Anthony Anderson, from Harold and Kumar fame: “Pooky, we gotta burn this muthaf*cka down!”)

Then there were Sam’s parents. In all three movies, they are annoying, too-much-information spouting, no fashion-sense having, clueless morons who are constantly getting in the way. In the first one, this was semi-tolerable, just some passing talk about masturbation and the usual “parents are insufferable” stuff. But the scene in movie two where they are bringing him to college and the mom gets high on some pot brownies? How stupid was that? And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they are then captured by the Decepticons, thus becoming a total liability as well. By movie three, they are such incessant nags with the worst fashion sense that you get the feeling they are retired, eighty, and partly-senile (they’re even driving a massive Winnebago!) And aside from just popping in and being a total bother, they serve no other purpose. Yep, in movie three, they don’t even have the good sense to get kidnapped, but that was probably for the best!

And then there was John Turturro, a usually sublime actor reduced to the role of the Sector 7 agent, who’s purpose it seemed was to be awkward, inject some comic relief, and advance the action a little. He kind of peaked in the second movie, what with that whole “I’m under the machine’s scrotum” thing. Seriously, Transformer balls?! John Malcovich who they brought in for the third movie was similarly awful, a solid actor from such classics as Of Mice and Men, In the Line of Fire and Being John Malcovich brought in to plays an oddball eccentric who insists on color-coding everything on his office floor, boxes with a Transformer and then falls to the ground declaring he’s ticklish, and stares luridly at Sam’s girlfriend! Not funny! Dumb!

The same is true of Rainn Wilson (the creepy professor in #2), Alan Tudyk (Turturro’s fey, German bodygaurd in #3), Ramon Rodriguez (Sam’s cowardly, hacker roommate in #2), Frances McDormund (the CIA director-lady in #3), and Ken Jeong (office weirdo in #3). In each case, we see otherwise well-respected and talented actorw/actresses reduced to the most low-brow of antics in order to provide cheap laughs. Again, in the first movie, it was tolerable. The second time around, these antics were so awash in crappy writing that it kind of went unnoticed. But by movie three, I just couldn’t believe it anymore. In fact, it got so over the top by movie three that I had to wonder what kind of man Bay really is. Does HE think creepy weirdos who get in people’s faces, annoy the hell out of them and act so dumb you want take a monkey wrench to their faces are funny? Is HE that kind of person? Megan Fox would seem to think so, but she’s aint exactly the authority on sane behavior herself!

Above all, it seems like every single secondary character has no purpose in these movies aside from providing cheap laughs. Well, that and advancing the plot by increments, but always with an unhealthy dose of stupid antics! Who finds this funny? Seriously, who?

4. Women as Objects:
Speaking of Megan Fox, she did one thing which I respect the hell out of, and that was tell Bay where to go! Shortly after she quit the franchise, Fox went on record as saying the main reason she left was because she was sick of being treated like an object by her former director. This was by no means her only complaint about the man, nor his about her, but she had a valid point. Just look at how Bay positioned Fox in every single shot of movies one and two! When she’s not spread out on the back of a motorbike or reclining over something, she’s running around in tiny jean shorts and a tank top.

Once she left, look who Bay decided to replace her with… a freaking lingerie model! Yep, rather than go with an actress, Bay decided to enlist Victoria Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Fox’s replacement. Fox calls him an awkward sexist schmuck and he goes and does this. Way to prove people wrong, Bay! In addition to having zero acting experience, her range consisted of smiling seductively and staring vacantly, even when things are exploding around her. In every shot, she looks like she’s modeling, pushing out her breasts or puckering her big, luscious lips. That might work wonders on the runway or in commercials, but in a movie, people are expected to talk, interact, and show some emotion.

Oh, and remember that awful scene where her evil boss is talking about cars and the female form? The whole time, the camera is checking her out while she’s stands idly by, breasts out, back arched, arms behind her like she’s a mannequin. At no point in the movie is she wearing street clothes or sensible shoes, just dresses and high heels. She provides no real impetus to the movie, other than being a damsel in distress and providing sex appeal. But of course, that’s why Bay went with her, isn’t it? Whereas Megan clearly thought of herself as an actress and demanded more respect, Rosie is a model and clearly has no problem being moved around like a doll or told to pose seductively. It’s what models do!

But what this really seems to demonstrate is the attitude behind Bay’s approach. Just like his repeated use of racial caricatures, he seems committed to portraying women in the most stereotypical light possible. When they are not pretty little dolls constantly bending over things or running around in skimpy outfits, they’re damsels in distress, being captured so the hero can save them. The only exception is when they are vile temptresses. Remember robot-girl Alice from Fallen? It was the dumbest thing in the world that she turned out to be a robot, but still, her purpose was clear. A pretty thing with pouty lips and partially exposed breasts, constantly trying to screw Sam so he’d divulge secrets! That bit about the robot tongue only added insult to injury!

5. Raping History:
As a historian, it always bothers me when crappy movie makers try to rip off history in order to lend a sense of credibility to their movies. Just look at Roland Emmerich or Jerry Bruckheimer. The former used Roswell to make Independence Day, the American Revolution to make the Patriot, and the mysteries of the Mayan Calendar to make 2012. Meanwhile, Bruckheimer (who was the executive producer for several of Bay’s movies) has been at least partially responsible for the rape of Arthurian legend, 19th century piracy, and just about every conspiracy theory known to man in order to make The Rock, Pirates of the Carribean, and National Treasure.

But with this franchise, Bay had em all beat! In the first movie, he claimed that the Hoover Dam was some sort of secret base. Why? Because it was built during FDR’s presidency, which was when Sector 7 was formed and Megatron found. In movie two, ancient history becomes the target as Bay claims that the Pyramid of Giza and the ancient city of Petra were both built in order to hide some ancient Transformer artifacts. Then, hang onto your hat, in movie 3, he claims that the ENTIRE SPACE RACE was part of some alien, robot-related conspiracy. And the fact that we’ve never been back since the 70’s was attributed to some cover up by the Decepticon-collaborators. Yep, not budgets, not the general thaw in tensions between East and West. No, no, it was a big cover up! And let’s not forget Chernobyl. It was already established that the Appollo program led the US to discover the wrecked Ark and that Sputnik did something similar for the Russians. But they take that a step further by saying that the nuclear accident at Chernobyl was in fact Russian scientists testing captured Decepticon technology. Only fifteen minutes into the movie and already I wanted to vomit!

6. Big Changes:
Just me just say off the bat that I am abundantly aware of how geeky this is going to sound! And truth be told, it always annoys me when people say how changes were made from the original like its automatically a bad thing. But in this case, I think they would be right. As someone who grew up with the original series, I did happen to notice that certain things had been changed or discarded from the original series that had actually lent it some depth and credibility. I mention this for those reasons, not because I feel like someone raped my childhood by deviated from the original script (George Lucas!) Okay, disclaimer signed, bring on the geekdom!

The All Spark: In the original series, it was never entirely clear where the Transformers had come from. They’re were references here and there to something called the Matrix, but it was never really made clear exactly what this was. But as the series got older, the concept seemed to mature (much like its fanbase). I never really did watch any of the spin offs after the original series, but by the time Beast Wars came out, nostalgia got the better of me and I watched a few episodes. Interestingly enough, by this time, the focus seemed to have shifted to dealing with more adult themes, like why the Transformers transform in the first place, the origins of Cybertron, and the purpose of their existence.

All of this seemed to point to some genuine signs of quality. There were also clear examples of Biblical allegories and parallels with other creation myths which was pretty cool. For example, in the course of Beast Wars, it was explained that the Matrix was a sentient machine that lay at the heart of Cybertron. It was also established that it was responsible for creating the earliest robot civilizations and had given rise to both the Autobots and the Decepticons. In addition, it was said that every robot had a spark, an indefinable essence that gave them life. Like a soul, it was indestructible and rejoined the Matrix once the robot died. Though the Autobots were around for several millions years, they really knew nothing about the Matrix or why it had chosen to create them in the first place. They also had no idea why it had chosen to create evil in the form of the Decepticons.

In short, the origins of the Transformers was something shrouded in mystery, subject to legend and myth. This was something that was missing from the movies. At no point in the original was there something known as an All Spark. And while the Matrix served the same basic purpose (i.e. giving the robots an origins story), we never really got a close look at it or learned much about it. Nor, for that matter, was there a race on to claim it because it really had no role in their war. In short, it was inaccessible, beyond the control of anyone, and who’s purpose, creators and motives were completely unknown. It’s obvious why Bay would choose to change all that; it simplified the plot, cut down on explanations and exposition, and provided an motive for why the bots came to Earth in the first place. Which brings me to change number 2:

The Ark: In movie three, we are told that the Ark was a ship carrying a weapon and was bound for Earth because Sentinel was trying to save Cybertron with it (in truth, he was defecting, but that’s neither here nor there). But in the original, the Ark served a much more inspired purpose. Essentially, it was a survivor ship that the Autobots built after they realized that the war on Cybertron was lost. It’s purpose was to carry the Autobots to some distant solar system where they would survive and rebuild. Yep, another Biblical allegory! However, the Decepticons intercepted and boarded it, and the resulting fight caused the ship to crash-land on Earth, circa several million years ago. In short, the Transformers came to Earth by accident, not in search of something.

Again, this was an example of real quality in the original. And again, Bay changed and simplified it. Not only was the Ark robbed of its significance in movie 3, it was also used for the purposes of giving the Transformers yet another thing to scramble for, just like in movies 1 and 2! So not only did he tamper with an original idea, he did so for the purposes of unoriginality! Which relates directly to the entire premise of the second movie – you know, the whole sun-destroyer inside the Pyramid thing. In short, none of it happened in the original franchise, but I’m sure everybody knew that already. The idea of Transformers hiding a massive sun destroyer inside the Pyramid of Giza was so dumb, audiences had to know that only Bay could be responsible.

Whoa! That was a long review! But this is a big franchise. Not in terms of depth or credibility, but definitely in terms of screen time and hype. And really, did it deserve either? As I’m sure I wrote earlier, I’m not one of these people who would say Bay is a criminal based on how he made changes from the original franchise. I WOULD say he’s a criminal based on what he’s done to our collective intellect; namely, insulted it! And if you look at Bay’s resume, this was just one entry in a long list of things he rehashed, rebooted, or reimagined: The Island, The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. In short, he’s done virtually nothing in his entire career that could be called original!

Ultimately, the Transformers Trilogy failed to be the big re-imagining and the pop-culture phenomena that many hoped it would be. The main reason for this, aside from the weak writing, poor acting and the directorial style of Michael Bay, was the motives that went into making it. Like all of Bay’s projects, the goal here was obvious: spend a shitload of money on some movies who’s sole purpose was to make an even bigger shitload of money. He’s good at that, no doubt about it! When all is said and done, Bay excels at giving the audience what they want. At least in the short-run. The problem is, once its over, we all feel guilty for wasting the time and money and subjecting ourselves to such insulting crap. In a way, its kind of getting waisted and having a one-night stand. Sure, it seems like fun at the time, but there’s always the hangover and walk of shame to worry about the next day!

Transformers:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 6/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 6.5/10

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 1/10
Direction: 5/10
Total:
3/10

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 5/10
Direction: 5/10
Total: 5.5/10

The Transformers Trilogy!

Awhile back, when I was first starting these reviews, I had shied away from reviewing Transformers 2. Not sure why I wanted to review it in the first place, probably just because I was looking to bash the hell out of it! But you know what they say about dead horses… However, I recently saw Transformers 3 at long last, and figured that since I had the trilogy under my belt, maybe a review was in order. However, there are two other reasons for why I would want to cover this franchise now. One, Michael Bay’s re-envisioning of this franchise has earned him some serious bitch-slapping from fans and critics alike, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to get some slaps of my own in! Two, as a kid, I was a big fan of the animated series and happened to notice there were some pretty big differences between the old and the new. And just for the sake of doing something different, I think I’ll ditch the usual formats and try to review all three at once! A tall order, and reviewing Bay movies has been known to be harmful to the grey matter, so wish me luck!

Transformers:
The movie opens with an explanation by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) of the movie’s big maguffin – that is, the thing that’s driving the plot. It’s called the All Spark, its a mysterious technology that creates living machinery, and is apparently what created the Transformers. And this is why they are coming to Earth, apparently, to retrieve it before the Decepticons can. Because, as is explained later, this is where it landed and whoever has it will decide the fate of Cybertron – the Transformer homeworld which has been devastated by an ongoing war between the two sides. The Autobots want to use it to rebuild, Megatron wants to use it to take over.

This sets up the plot which consists of a race to find it, as well as the character of Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf). He’s the unlikely hero who’s grandad happened to accidentally find the location of it when he chanced upon Megatron’s frozen carcass somewhere over the Arctic Circle. Seems Megatron came to Earth back in the 30’s to locate the All Spark has been here ever since, in frozen form. And, of course, his discovery by other humans at this time became the basis for some shadowy group named Sector 7 – a covert intel bunch that has all kinds of info on the Decepticons and is currently in possession of the All Spark and Megatron’s body. When the Decepticons attack, they are doing so in order to find Megatron, the All Spark, and info on Sector 7 (the aforementioned shadowy group). Sam and his unlikely girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) get roped in on the side of the Autobots and fight to stop them and save Earth. Everything culminates in a big shoot out in Mission City where Megatron and the All Spark are destroyed.

Preeeeetty simple! And only marginally in keeping with the original story. But I’ll get into that later. Point is, the plot was never meant to be deep or particularly challenging, just an excuse to get into some big shoot-em-ups with lots of CGI and special effects. And that’s precisely what we got. It didn’t suck, wasn’t great, but there were some tell-tale weaknesses that would become more glaring as Bay went on to make more movies in this franchise. Which brings us to…

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen:
Let me not waste any time in saying that this movie sucked! Hell, even Bay and LaBeouf said so, but there was one overriding reason for this. Bay had a hand in writing it! Yes, it was during the height of the writers strike that this movie was being produced, which is why the script was so bland, cheesy, overdone, and stupid. It reflected everything Bay brings to a movie through his direction; but since he was working at it from both ends this time, from conception to execution, it was like a Bay movie on crack!

But I digress… this time around, we see the Decepticons bringing in someone new. Seems the Autobots have ancient ancestors known as the Primes, whom Optimus is the last of. They went around the universe harvesting energon which they need to survive, and did so by blowing up suns. Uh… okay. But, since the Primes predated the EVIL Decepticons, they had some ethics about it. For example, they never blew up a sun that had inhabited planets around it (is this some kind of environmental statement here?) But one Prime, “The Fallen”, decided to defy this rule, which was why they brought him down and exiled him to… Saturn? Okay… Ah, and the device used to blow up the sun was hidden on Earth in… the Pyramid of Giza? Again… okay! And the trigger, known as the Matrix of Leadership, they hid by melding their bodies together into a big cage-like thing, which in turn was hidden inside… the ancient city of Petra?

Jesus this is hard! So the Autobots learn that the Decepticons are looking for “The Fallen” at the beginning where they and some human special forces go to Shanghai and take down a Decepticon hiding there. Seems humans (or at least, the US military and CIA) are working with the Autobots and covering up their existence. Wait, what? Why, and more importantly how, are they covering this up? They freaking fought in a major city in the last movie… downtown… during BUSINESS HOURS! How they hell did they manage to cover that up? And this time around, it was ever worse! Downtown Shanghai, population: millions of Chinese with internet access, camera phones, Youtube… Okay, you know what… never mind! I’ll be here forever if I start poking holes now!

Regardless, things really starts to happen when the Decepticons get to Megatrons body and reactivate it. Wait! Wasn’t he dead AND placed at the bottom of the Laurentian Abyssal where nothing can withstand the pressure? And how could they even revive him after he was killed – NEVER MIND! Okay, so they reactivate him and bring him back so they can get “The Fallen” off of Saturn, find the Matrix key, destroy the sun, harvest the energon, conquer the universe. Right! But the Autobots are similarly looking for the key since they need it to reactivate Prime after he was killed by Megatron. When Sam finds it, it turns to dust, he dies in a VERY long fight scene in the desert, and goes to Autobot heaven where they tell him his deads have earned him the right to use the Matrix since it can only be used by proven leaders! He miraculously comes back to life and then revives Prime with the thing. It is taking all my restraint not to poke holes in THAT one!

So Prime is brought back to life, kills The Fallen and beats up Megatron, the sun destroyer is blown up, day is saved, end of story! Oh, and I should mention that the entire inciting event to all this was when Sam found a piece of the All Spark on his clothes which zapped his brain with the last known coordinates of the Matrix of Leadership. Yeah, one tiny piece somehow stuck to his clothes for a whole summer and he didn’t once notice. Needless to say, this whole plot is yet another case of a race to find the lost whatever, the location of which is hidden in symbols that only Sam has access to.

The movie was panned and bashed by virtually everyone who saw it, critics and fans alike. But luckily, the strike ended and Bay got to making a third which, if all went well, would get things back on track…

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon:
I was a little curious about the title beforehand and could only surmise that Bay didn’t want to get sued by Pink Floyd’s estate, hence why the dropped the obvious “Side” from the title. However, that theory is complicated by the fact that they said Dark Side of the Moon and even referenced Floyd in the movie, a couple of times! But since I know nothing of copyright law, I’ll just assume that this rule only applies to titles and not dialogue. Whatever, point is, it’s a stupid name, but the movie itself was definitely better than the second. Unfortunately, that’s about the nicest thing anyone could say about it.

It’s starts by going back to the beginning, to Cybertron during the last phase of the war. The Ark (something that comes from the original series) was headed out on some kind of salvation mission, was shot down and ended up crashing on the Moon. The entire Space Race between the US and the USSR was therefore a covert attempt to reach the wreckage and get a hold on the technology. This was done, and a shadow conspiracy has existed on Earth ever since. Seems humans the world over were collaborating with Decepticons since they discovered the wreck of the Ark and were preparing some plan for them (a clear allegory to Munich there!) As soon as the Autobots find out about the wreckage, and the fact that humans have known of it for some time, they become eager to get to it and open it up for themselves.

Essentially, the Ark was carrying a weapon of sorts, a matter gateway that can pull objects across light years of space. Optimus’ predecessor, Sentinel Prime (voice by Leonard Nimoy) was also aboard the ship and is the only one who can activate it. He was supposed to use the weapon to win the war for the Autobots, but instead had made a deal with Megatron where he surrendered and would let him use it to rebuild Cybertron. Since he was deactivated and the only way he could be revived was with (again!) the Matrix of Leadership, the Decepticons decide to lead the Autobots to it and wait for them to revive him, which is when they make their move. Wait, if he was defecting, why did the Decepticons shoot him down? Didn’t they get the memo? Tagline: Don’t shoot this ship down, it’s working for us? Whoop, sorry! I digress…

As we get to the midway mark, Sentinel betrays the Autobots, sets up the gateway, and hundreds of Decepticon reinforcements which have hiding on the dark side of the moon are let loose and attack Earth. Oh, and we learn that the real purpose of the gateway is to bring Cybertron to Earth – right into our orbit no less! – so they can use the human race as slaves to rebuilt it. Wait, wouldn’t putting a massive planet directly into our orbit cause unbelievable seismic disturbances and basically destroy our planet? Sorry!

Naturally, the Autobots were thought to have been killed when Earth voted to get rid of them and stuck them on board a ship bound for deep space which the Decepticons then blew up (more attempts to channel the spectre of Munich!). But they tricked everyone by bailing out early, and are therefore on the scene just in time to help out the beleagered US special forces and mount a counter-attack. What follows is another long, drawn-out fight scene in downtown Chicago where they manage to stop it all from happening. They destroy the gateway’s controls, which not only sends Cybertron back, but also all the attacking Decepticons… somehow. Megatron then decides Sentinel is getting too big for his britches and helps Optimus kill him, Optimus then kills Megatron, and Sam and his girl are reunited and everyone stands heroicly in front of an American flag for a slow-motion shot! Yaaaaaay! Optimus makes his usual closing remarks, roll credits, and the franchise is over!

Okay, now that I’m free to poke holes, here’s a categorical list of what sucked about it!

1. Repetition:
Bay is not known for his subtlety, depth, plots, pacing – well anything really! But with this franchise, he also demonstrated his total lack of originality. In all three movie, things begin with an action sequence that hastily introduces the plot, which always revolves around some kind of object that must be found since it which will bring victory to whoever finds it first. The rest of the movie is just a big race to get to it with a whole lot of stupid jokes and annoying characters slipped in between action shots, culminating in a big, over-long fight scene which is tantamount to action-porn.

Yes, its exciting; not because we care about the characters or have become the slightest bit emotionally invested in things. No, it’s strictly because the visuals are visceral, the explosions are big and the destruction on a grand scale. Oh, and did you notice how in all three movies, the good guys always show up in the nick of time to save someone? Again, its most glaring and obvious in the third where it happened repeatedlty. Things get real tense right before the bad guy’s about to deliver the death blow and then, just in time, Optimus, Bumblebee, or someone else flies in and saves the day, and always in slow motion.

Hell, even the action scenes are the same in all three movies! In movie one, you have an early fight scene where US military forces take on the Decepticon “Scorponok” in the desert around some village. Sand flies, buildings explode, bombs go off, there’s lots of debris and a shitload of pyrotechnics. Then at the end, you got another big fight scene in downtown Mission City (in beautiful, British Columbia), and its more of the same. Explosions, wreckage, and a frenzy of yelling and shooting. In movie two, we get a fight scene in downtown Shanghai at the beginning followed by another, really long fight scene in the desert towards the end. This is the same thing that happened in movie one, just inverted. In movie three, at the beginning, we get a fight scene outside of an abandoned city (Chernobyl) for a change, but by the end, we get YET another fight scene in a downtown area – this time Chicago. It drags on and on, and is just another orgy of explosions, debris, and all kinds of over-the-top action.

In the first film, the action scenes were pretty tolerable, even fun to watch! But by movie two, they’d been done. By three, they’d been done to death!

2. Frenetic Pacing:
Like I said, Bay is not known for his even pacing. He likes to get right into things with an action shot, rush through speeches and character development, then get to another action shot. He keeps constantly moving even when the scene calls for exposition, comic relief, or what have you. And the purpose is obvious. Draw the audience in, get them hooked early, keep em hooked with a mad rush to the climax, then blow their minds with an orgasmic action-packed ending. In that respect, you might say he’s like a shark. If he stops, he dies, or rather the movie does because everyone will see just how paper thin it is! Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but it is not exaggeration to say that everything in his movies are slaved to the need to go fast. And it doesn’t end until the very end, where there’s an epilogue that lasts mere seconds.

Hell, even the dialogue is rushed, everyone just spitting out lines set to a montage of images and action music. This was present throughout the franchise, but by the third installment, it was like Bay had decided to speed things up even more. The entire first half of the movie was painful for me to watch because I felt like I was watching some overamped kid on meth bouncing off the walls and shouting the whole time. This is best exemplified by Shia LaBeouf, who spent most of the first half of the movie screaming, fidgeting, running around, or hitting things, and his action scenes hadn’t even happened yet! I seriously had to pause it again and again because it was making my heart race and my brain bleed! The only time things felt like they were slowing down was during the big action sequence at the end. I’m not kidding! Here, and only here, did the incredibly fast pace feel natural, or at least tolerable.

All in all, the only time Bay slows things down for even a second is during an action-scene slow-motion shot, and the only purpose here is to make the audience go “whoooaaaaa!” But I doubt anyone was doing that by the third movie. Maybe the first time it was cool, but the more you see it, the less cool it gets. Eventually, it just feels tiresome and cliche.

(I lied, can’t do it all in one post! To be continued…)