Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Phantom of the Menace . . . in 3D!

Took Bella to see her first Star Wars movie on the big screen Saturday. We ended up missing half the movie because somebody decided to go to a last minute birthday party, but it was the boring half of the movie so that's ok.
Episode I isn't as bad as you remember (they should have put that on the poster!) but it remains the weakest of the saga, mainly due to the miscasting of little "Ani" (Jake Lloyd, where are you now?) and a plot that goes nowhere until the last half hour of the movie.
The 3D conversion was solid if not eye-popping, but the main appeal is seeing the podrace and the phenomenal lightsaber duel on the big screen again. Aside from those two action scenes, the best parts of the film are Liam Neeson (amazing how he manages to bring such gravitas to such an under-written character with no history), Ian McDiarmid, the amazing detail of the various worlds and the score (Johnny Williams never goes wrong). The CG characters are starting to look a little dated (though I still love Watto), but replacing the stroke victim Yoda puppet with the digital version was a welcome change. I still enjoy the senate scenes (the E.T.'s are a lot easier to spot on the big screen) and I've never understood why so many people complained about the boring politics of the prequels. That would be like watching a film about the fall of the Roman Empire and complaining there was too much talking in it. Lucas said as far back as the 80's that the prequels would be heavily focused on politics. It's not his fault the fans weren't prepared for that.
Jar Jar is perhaps not quite as annoying as he was 13 years ago, though I find it funny that my three year old didn't care about him but loved Darth Maul. The Phantom Menace is an enjoyable movie (outside of the verrrry slow section on Tatooine), but it's really just a teaser for the far superior episodes that follow it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

An open letter to Michael Bay (re: Transformers 4)

Hey, Michael. Heard you've agreed to return to Transformers for a fourth round. Congratulations. Can't wait to see you bring your special brand of explosive magic to even greater heights. Just a couple of small requests. Can we get, you know, an actual story this time? And have a Transformers movie actually be about the Transformers? Maybe add some of Spielberg's sense of wonder, if that's not too much to ask (he's still producing, right)? And cut back on the lowbrow humour? The film will still make a billion dollars, either way. And while you're at it, try and keep the running time under two hours. Oops, sorry, that's more than two requests.
Tell you what, I've saved you the trouble of finding a new screenwriter. Here's an outline for Transformers 4. It could be your best movie yet (yes, even better than The Island. That movie was da bomb, yo)!


Prologue – The Planet Cybertron. 65 Million Years Ago. We open with a massive battle that dwarfs anything seen in the previous films. Primitive Autobots and Decepticons (looking like their boxy cartoon versions) are wiped out by the thousands as they try and gain access to a heavily guarded ancient library before the other side. A renegade Autobot named GRIMLOCK and his commandos escape the library with a disk that supposedly contains information about the origin of their species. Both sides want the disk for different reasons, but Grimlock and his team decide to leave Cybertron rather than turn it over to the current PRIME. They flee in a superfast shuttle that takes them across the galaxy but they are pursued by a smaller Decepticon craft. Following a shootout in an asteroid belt near a familiar blue-green world, the Decepticon ship is destroyed, knocking loose a massive chunk of meteor. The Autobot ship and the meteor crash in what will become Mexico, while a smaller piece of the ship breaks off and lands further north. The massive impact sends up a cloud of dust that blocks out the sun and we hear distant dinosaur roars.

The Planet Earth. Washinton D.C. Present Day. SPECIAL AGENT DELBERT FURMAN – tough, 40ish, Will Smith (or someone cheaper but equally charismatic) – wakes in his Spartan apartment. While he eats breakfast and dresses he watches a report on TV about troubled relations between the government and the Autobots. There are protests and people burn Autobot effigies in the street. A Senator calls for the Autobots to leave since the Decepticons have been defeated and their continued presence only puts Earth at threat. A commentator asks how we can trust OPTIMUS PRIME after he gave mass-murdering Decepticon MEGATRON a funeral more fitting for a hero, blasting his body off into deep space? Delbert turns off the TV, holsters his gun and goes to work.

Portland, Oregon. A nearby volcano erupts, awakening something that has been buried under it since the time of the dinosaurs. Meanwhile, 12 yo DEL FURMAN is running from some bullies. They catch up to him and he stands up to them, even though they are bigger. But when they see the eruption the bullies forget about him. Del looks anxious. His older brother is working on a construction project there.

That evening at dinner, “SPARKPLUG” FURMAN tells his fascinated younger sibling that the area around the volcano has been sealed off while they investigate a cave-in. Their single mother tells Sparky he’s not going back to work until it’s safe.

After school the next day, Del decides to sneak into the site of the volcano. He rides his bike there and watches from afar when suddenly what looks like a metallic tyrannosaurus rex bursts out of the ground. It destroys the construction equipment in its path before escaping into the forest. Del decides to follow it. He eventually tracks it down. The T-Rex looks as if it is about to eat him before Del casually asks him what his name is. The T-Rex calms slightly and reveals his name is Grimlock. His speech is very primitive due to degradation of his circuits over millions of years. He says he is searching for something in the area around the volcano that will save his companions who came to Earth with him. Del says he will help Grimlock find it.

Washington D.C. The military detect an Autobot homing beacon being sent out in Chicxulub, Mexico and assign Agent Furman to investigate. The Autobots, who have also detected the signal and believe it to be the legendary ship Grimlock and his team left in, ask to assist in the operation. Furman turns them down. He appears not to trust anyone.

Portland. Del is letting Grimlock hide out in his barn. They play cops and robbers, with Del as the cop. He tells Grimlock that his dad, who he never sees, is a cop and he hopes to be one someday. When Del asks why Grimlock looks like a dinosaur if he’s a robot, Grimlock tells his origin.

When their ship crashed on Earth Grimlock was thrown free from the impact. His companions were damaged beyond repair and he decided to seek out the disk they stole from their home of Cybertron in the hopes it would hold the key to reviving them. He changed his form to imitate a tyrannosaurus rex that he saw on his journey north so as not to attract attention from the indigenous population. He made it all the way to the volcano near where the rest of the ship crashed, but was buried alive in an earthquake before he could retrieve it. He remained underground in hibernation until the eruption awoke him 65 million years later. Grimlock cannot transfer back to his original robot mode, possibly because of being inactive for so long. Del says Grimlock should be called a Dinobot instead of an Autobot, and the name sticks.

Del has to go to school and says goodbye, but Grimlock follows him. When the bullies attack again, Grimlock jumps out and roars at them, making the other boys run in terror. Del is grateful, but he is worried that his secret is out now.

Antartica. The lone Decepticon still on Earth, SOUNDWAVE, is monitoring the Autobots when he intercepts a transmission about the search for the long lost Grimlock. He sends a message to the Decepticon commander on Cybertron, SCORPONOK, who reluctantly agrees to send a battalion to Earth through a makeshift space bridge to make sure they retrieve Grimlock and his commandos before the Autobots can harness their power. Soundwave worries that the Autobots working with the Earth military will be able to defeat the untested Decepticons, but Scorponok has a plan.

Washington D.C. Agent Furman is visited by one of his staff, cute young redhead computer wiz JOSIE BELLER, who tells him she has uncovered signs of a Decepticon invasion. Intrigued by her skills, Furman asks her to accompany him on his mission.

Portland. With Del’s help, Grimlock find the disk they took from Cybertron. He stores it in a compartment on his body and takes Del home. A local woman sees Del perched on Grimlock’s back as the Dinobot goes stomping by and panics. She whips the townsfolk into a frenzy and they come hunting for Grimlock. Del tries to tell them he’s not dangerous but they won’t listen. Grimlock is forced to flee from their sticks and bullets rather than harm them, but he destroys several cars and buildings in his anger. Del goes searching for him and meets the sinister MR. KEYS – a government agent who asks Del all kinds of questions about the “Oregon Dinosaur”. Del pretends to be clueless and gives Keys the slip.

Cybertronian Decepticons arrive on Earth disguised as Autobots. They cause havoc at a drive-in in California, near the Mexican border. The Autobots, who were secretly en route to the location of the homing beacon, arrive to stop the Deceps, but the police and military fire on them, unable to distinguish them from the fake Autobots.

Meanwhile, Furman arrives in Chicxulub and meets with a government division even more secret than his own. They have found the crash site and are in the process of digging up the ship. Furman is told that one of the robots that was in the ship is already in government custody. He looks completely shocked.

Portland. Del’s mom tells him they are moving because of the controversy and Del tracks down Grimlock to say goodbye. He finds him hiding out and promises to come back and see him one day. Grimlock, running low on fuel, disappears into the woods, only to be captured by Mr. Keys and his team, who had been following Del. A helpless Del watchs in horror as Grimlock is taken away. We realise that these events are taking place in 1984 and Del and Agent Furman are the same person.

Back in the present, Furman is taken to a nearby installation and sees an imprisoned Grimlock looking like a shadow of his former self. They have been keeping him all this time to learn about the Transformers and also as "insurance". Furman's stiff resolve finally breaks and when Jessie questions him about this sudden display of emotion, he reveals that he discovered Grimlock, 28 years ago. He has been secretly searching for him all this time – it was the whole reason he wanted to work with the government. He angrily calls his superior and asks why he wasn’t informed about this. The answer is that he didn’t need to know, until now.

Furman meets with Mr. Keys – now an old man – and demands he release Grimlock as he is an Autobot and an ally to Earth. Mr. Keys refuses and kicks Furman and Jessie out of the installation. They are followed by a familiar red truck that transforms into Optimus Prime. When they discover they both want the same thing – Grimlock freed – Furman reluctantly agrees to team up. However, it is impossible to get back into the installation now. The Autobot leader asks Furman to take him to where the other Cybertronians’ bodies are so they can be revived and help in the rescue mission.
Furman sneaks the Autobots into the crash site. They find the bodies of the four ancient Autobots and flee with them before the military can stop them.

RATCHET manages to rebuild the bodies of SWOOP, SNARL, SLAG and SLUDGE, giving them the ability to transform into various dinosaurs so they will fit in with their leader. Prime brings them back to life with the Matrix of Leadership and asks the Dinobots if they want to help rescue their commander. They readily agree. Jessie uses her computer skills to help the Autobots bypass the military security. She asks Furman if he will tell Grimlock who he is, but he would rather the Dinobot remember him as the boy he was.

With the Dinobots providing a distraction, the Autobots are able to rescue Grimlock without harming any humans. A furious Mr. Keys has egg on his face. However, before they can get away they find the Decepticons waiting for them. They overpower the Autobots and take Grimlock so they can extract his secrets for themselves.

Furman wants to go right after the Decepticons, but the weakened Autobots have to refuel first. As soon as they are ready, the Autobots attack the nearby Decepticon base. TRYPTICON has arrived from Cybertron and the giant Decepticon forces them into retreat when it begins destroying nearby human buildings.

Meanwhile, Grimlock awakes to find himself being tortured by Soundwave. Soundwave retrieves the disk and plays its contents. We see that Cybertron was once a cosmic being called PRIMUS (the Transformer’s God). He disguised himself as a planet to hide from the Chaos Bringer, UNICRON. Following an epic battle, both were trapped in the form of planets. Unicron travelled the galaxy for eons, searching for his old enemy and consuming planets in his way to survive. Soundwave dismisses this as a fairytale and throws Grimlock to the ground so he can join the battle. However, he has left Grimock near an energon cube.

The battle continues and, following a brief duel with Optimus, Soundwave flees through the spacebridge, blowing it up behind him. Prime, Furman and several other Autobots are caught in the explosion and are seemingly disintegrated. Jessie seeks shelter while all hell breaks loose around her. The demoralised Autobots are no match for the Deceps.

A revived Grimlock makes his way outside and sees a boy around Del’s age in trouble. It awakens his inner rage and he finally transforms into robot mode and cuts a swathe through the Deceps in one continuous heroic slow motion shot (you’re welcome, Mr. Bay). It takes the combined effort of the Dinobots to take down Trypticon – Grimlock takes a beating but beheads him with his sword. The Deceps are defeated, but the Autobots need a new leader.

Meanwhile, on Cybertron, Optimus and the others find themselves transported to the core of the planet. There they encounter Primus and his ancient guardian. The fairytale is true! Primus is accidentally awoken when Soundwave appears and shoots at them. His primal scream echoes across the galaxy. Soundwave is neutralised and the guardian manages to put Primus back into sleep mode, but warns the damage is done.

Back on Earth, Grimlock is sworn in as the new leader. He promises a fresh start with the fleshlings, as he calls them.

In the post-credits coda, Prime tells Furman that if Primus’ awakening has alerted Unicron to their location, then it may be already too late to stop him. Sure enough, on the far side of the galaxy, Unicron roars Primus’s name and begins his long journey towards Cybertron.


Friday, February 03, 2012

Imaginary Cinema Awards 2011!

Despite all the doom about the death of cinema, 2011 was actually one of the best years for genre movies in the last 30 years, almost matching such years as 1982, 1984 and 1997. While there may not have been any completely original classics (though there are a few films I have yet to see, such as Hugo), there were a whole slew of blockbuster fantasy movies that exceeded expectations. Although it’s pretty sad that even the best film of the year relied on JJ Abrams aping Spielberg for most of its emotional power.

Best Movie: Super 8
Runners-up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Midnight in Paris, Rango (don’t normally include animated movies about talking animals in Imaginary Cinema, but this was so odd and beautifully animated it deserves a spot), Attack the Block, Captain America, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (I know it was a 2010 movie, but it didn’t get a proper release until last year), Thor, Contagion, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Best Screenplay: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

Best Director: JJ Abrams (Super 8)

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class)
Runners-up: Alan Rickman (Harry Potter), Joel Courtney (Super 8), James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), David Tennant (Fright Night), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class)
Runners-up: Kate Winslet (Contagion), Marion Cottilard (Midnight in Paris), Katie Holmes (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark)

Best Music: X-Men: First Class (Henry Jackman)
Runners-up: Super 8 (Michael Giacchino)

Best Visual Effects: Captain America
Runners-up: Super 8, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Makeup: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Best Costumes: X-Men: First Class
Runner-up: Captain America

Best Homage to Classic Cinema: Super 8, followed by X-Men (James Bond), Rango (spaghetti western) and Paul (a foul-mouthed version of E.T.)

Best Board Game Movie: Rock em Sock em Robots, I mean Real Steel (Battleship looks like a contender for Worst Board Game Movie for 2012)

Best Guilty Pleasure: Drive Angry 3D - Patrick Lussier tops the gratuitous nudity in My Bloody Valentine 3D with an even more gratuitous scene where Nicolas Cage has sex with a woman while shooting it out with several bad guys.

Most Pointless Remake: Conan the Barbarian
The Thing and Fright Night were pretty pointless, too, but at least they were watchable.

Most Disappointing Movie: Sucker Punch (taking the plot of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, replacing the characters with young girls and inserting random video game cut scenes – how could that fail?)

Just Ignore This Shit and it’ll Go Away Award: Transformers 3, Cars 2