Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the . . . oh yeah, we almost forgot the Half-Blood Prince

We went on our first family movie trip last night to see a special early screening of the latest Harry Potter movie. Bella did pretty good, though she cried during the loud parts. But on to the movie.
In general, it was better than Order of the Phoenix, but still not as good as movies three and four (or even Chamber of Secrets). I gave David Yates a pass on the last film, since I figured most of the problems were due to the screenwriter. But after watching his two back to back efforts it's clear that, while he gets good performances from his cast and has a good eye for visuals, he also a) can't direct epic action and b)has no clue how to deliver a satisfying climax. Both of these failings have me worried about Deathly Hallows, which really needs a director of the caliber of, say, Peter Jackson, to do the book justice.
Anyway, after an eye-popping opening where Death Eaters destroy the Millennium Bridge (pretty much the only major appearance of muggles in the film) we get a rather odd scene (not in the book) where Harry chats up a girl in a train station and calls himself a "tosser". Once back at Hogwarts, the movie follows the book pretty closely. There's a stylishly creepy scene where a female student is flung into the air by a cursed item intended for Dumbledore. There are also some interesting flashbacks to a young Tom Riddle (along with Prisoner of Azkaban, this is the only story in the series where Voldemort does not appear).
After sitting through an hour of, admittedly amusing, love triangles, the beginning of the search for Voldemort's horcruxes finally gives the plot a sense of urgency. After an impressive scene where Harry and Dumbledore enter a peril-filled cave to find one of the horcruxes we get to the big climax, where unfortunately it all falls apart. Dumbledore's death is underwhelming, and the revelation of the identity of the Half-Blood Prince (who is supposed to be a hero to Harry after his book helped him in potions class) is thrown away. It doesn't help that Harry just stands by and watches his mentor die (in the book he was frozen by a spell from Dumbledore). The only real emotion comes when the teachers and students raise their wands in tribute to their fallen headmaster.
The films gets the characters where they need to be for the final film(s). But it fails to offer an interesting plot by itself. Too much time is wasted on how horny everyone at Hogwarts is, and not enough on the mystery which should be central to the film. The cast can't be faulted, though. Everyone steps up their game, though Daniel Radcliffe is the only one who gets enough screentime. Jim Broadbent is funny as the rather barmy new potions teacher Slughorn And Helene Bonham Carter once again relishes her evil role. Alan Rickman is good as always, though even in a movie that should be about him he is left underdeveloped still.
Don't get me wrong, the film is good. But it's probably the second worst in the series from an adaptation point of view (you know what the worst is). It also suffers from the almost complete absence of John Williams' theme. I just hope splitting Deathly Hallows over two films will avoid the rushed feeling of this one and end the series on a high note.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Bay

So, I've finally seen most of Transformers 2: Electric Boogaloo (I don't have two and a half hours to spare to watch Michael Bay's "epic" in one sitting). I wasn't expecting much based on the reviews, but it managed to actually be worse than my lowered expectations.

I actually liked the first film despite all its Bayisms, mainly because a) they got Optimus Prime's voice and character right, b) Spielberg's guiding hand could be felt in the sense of awe when the Autobots first arrived and the fun "boy and his car" plot, and c) the inherent coolness of a live action Transformers movie (something I'd been dreaming about for over 20 years) just about outweighed the inherent stupidity of Bay's direction. But here the awe is gone and so too is Spielberg's influence, despite his producing credit. This is Bay's "vision" all the way.

I had problems with the film right from the start. First of all, the Autobots and human military working together to wipe out the remaining Decepticons just feels wrong. Maybe the writers were trying to put a twist on the usual humans fear and attack aliens plot, but the Autobots should have had more of a struggle to earn the trust of Earthlings, not be automatically accepted as good guys. After a cartoony sequence where the Autobots take down a giant wheeled Decepticon in Shanghai (if anything, the effects are worse in this film) Prime shoots the already defeated Decep in the head (a very out of character moment). The film actually gets worse after that.

We are treated to an hour of the lowest lowbrow humour you will ever find in a mainstream blockbuster, including racial stereotype Autobots, Sam's mum going crazy after eating some special brownies and slapstick jokes even George Lucas would cringe at. This is interspersed with a plot that consists of little more than lots of talk about the Fallen and the Matrix of Leadership (an idea from the cartoon which makes you wonder why they didn't just use that in the first film instead of the Allspark), boring military scenes and the camera ogling Megan Fox (who clearly belongs in porno, not mainstream cinema) at every opportunity. We do get some nice sparring between Megatron and Starscream, but not enough to save these scenes.

Finally, almost halfway through the movie, Sam gets seduced by a sexy Decepticon (I kid you not) and a chase scene leads to the one undeniably exciting scene in the movie, Optimus vs. three Decepticons. It was obvious from Shia LaBeouf's Oscar moment in the trailer ("Optimus!") that something bad was going to happen to ol' Prime, and the rest of the movie turns in to National Treasure as Sam and his human friends (who include a website conspiracy theorist and the return of John Turturro in a speedo) search for the Matrix in an effort to bring Optimus back to life so he can stop the Fallen . . . ah, who cares? Clearly not the filmmakers.

The Constructicons forming Devestator is a nice effect, though he gets beaten far too easily. And, for reasons probably know only to Bay, he has giant testicles. The infamous Fallen also goes down like a chump, after a resurrected Optimus puts on the skin of an ancient British Transformer (what were they smoking?) to fight him. It ends pretty much the same as the first film, with Optimus narrating and promising more adventures.

I'm sure some people will say I'm being too harsh. It's just a stupid fun movie about giant toys robots, right? Well, first of all, the Transformers have a rich 25 year history that could make an epic movie if anyone took them at least half seriously. Secondly, if fun is all you want, there are plenty of movies that are ten times more exciting than Revenge of the Fallen without being completely moronic and offensive. Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and any of the Star Wars films spring to mind. Hell, even Independence Day seems like a masterpiece by comparison.

If the franchise can be saved (artistically speaking; box office wise it seems to be doing fine) then here's a list of things they need to do:

1. Fire Michael Bay
2. Introduce the Dinobots
3. Have the transformations actually visible and not just a random blur of moving parts
4. Stop making all the Transformers faces look like arse
5. Fire Michael Bay
6. Introduce Unicron
7. Stop focusing on boring human characters
8. Look to the Marvel Comics for inspiration (especially Simon Furman's stories)
9. Have the Transformers go back to Cybertron
10. Fire Michael Bay

Maybe one day someone will make a great Transformers movie. I can only hope if Bay makes a third one it'll flop so we can get a reboot.