Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

This review will be the first of what I'm calling "Shorties". Every now and then, if I want to post a review but simply do not have the time to devote a full length article to it, or if I want to get it out of the way for another review, I'll write a Shorty. These will be far less detailed than full length reviews, but it will still get my point across (hopefully).

With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay has once again dominated the summer box office. This second installment has been a smash hit, raking in $672 million worldwide in 3 weeks. But is all this attention really necessary? In 2007, Transformers delivered the high octane adrenaline rush a summer movie-goer craves. It's story took a back seat to flashy special effects and a very appealing Megan Fox. So what does Revenge really offer us in terms of originality? The answer is not much.

In this unnecessary sequel, director Michael Bay, along with writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruger, drags us through the exact same film that he released two years ago, but with more Transformers, less plot (I didn't think that was possible), more suggestive shots of Megan Fox, and a little more length. To speak frankly about Revenge of the Fallen, it was a terrible film. No good performances, a terrible script, and noticably long. But who really cares about those things when they buy a ticket for this movie. You want to know about the action. Although the action was fairly impressive, there really wasn't much here that wasn't in the first film. It was more of the same, and it got pretty boring. I am also surprised that there has been no backlash by the African American community about the blatant stereotypes that the writers sprinkled into this film. Two brand new Transformers, Mudflap and Skids, are walking caricatures of all the generalizations of African Americans in our society. I was kind of insulted by it, and I'm white! I couldn't believe this cheap attempt at comic relief. Truly reprehensible.

I can't take too much credit away from Revenge of the Fallen, because it was never really trying to be anything more than it was. It had no aspirations, rather than to be loud and entertain. For that I give it credit. Also, suprisingly, I understood more of what was happening on screen in this film than I did during Public Enemies. For that, I give Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a 5/10

Public Enemies (2009)

From the first scene of Michael Mann's Public Enemies, I knew the ride would be bumpy. As John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is led through the front gates of a prison, the camera jostles up and down in motion with the characters walking, but with extreme exaggeration. After a few lines of mumbled dialogue the cameraman evidently has a seizure while Dillinger and his jailhouse friends stage a breakout. As Dillinger and his buddies, including John "Red" Hamilton (Jason Clarke) and Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), exit with guns blazing, not a moment of it is comprehensible through the frenetic cinematography and abrasively loud gunfire. This is just the beginning of the numerous complaints I have about Public Enemies.

In the year 1933, suave criminal John Dillinger is running wild in Chicago. Robbing banks in "a minute and 40 seconds. Flat." has made him public enemy number 1 for J. Edgar Hoover's (Billy Crudup) FBI. With Dillinger gaining popularity in the public eye for his easy-going demeanor, Hoover is desperate to get the criminal to the electric chair. So he hires Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the man who hunted down and killed Pretty Boy Floyd, to spearhead the manhunt for Dillinger and his associates, including notorious Fed killer Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). But the bulk of the story follows Dillinger in his troubled life, trying to balance his "work" with the love of his life, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

The number one reason Public Enemies fails is it's writer/director Michael Mann. As I described in my opening paragraph, Mann's choice of cinematography was a poor one. Choosing to use an HD handheld video camera, Mann probably wanted the viewer to feel as though he was standing next to John Dillinger. Instead, I felt like I was watching a cheap re-enactment put together for the History Channel. By placing the camera directly into the actor's faces, a sense of claustrophobia sets in, and it makes sitting still very difficult. If that were not bad enough, during the gunfights, understanding what is being shown to you is near impossible. The camera moved so fast and so unsteadily that I would think one character was being shot, and then later in the scene he'd appear again perfectly fine. After just a few seconds of this home video-esque style, my head began to hurt and I started to feel woozy. Throw in the fact that Mann made the gunshots as loud as a sonic boom each, and I couldn't listen to the film either. During a scene showing the famous battle of Little Bohemia, after 20 seconds I had my head buried in my chest, eyes shut, with my hands over my ears, because I was becoming so uncomfortable. My sight and sound, the two senses one needs to enjoy a film, were actually rejecting Public Enemies.

If that weren't enough, Mann's writing skills were lacking greatly as well. (Though he shares billing with 2 other people, it's easier to just write his name). Though full of slick conversation, Public Enemies just doesn't make sense at some points. For example (nothing I'm about to say is a spoiler): the first 40 minutes of the film, the FBI is looking everywhere for Dillinger, and they frequently say they have no leads. Then in the next scene, while Dillinger is in a hotel room with Frechette, the FBI busts down the door and arrests him. That's quite the magic trick Mr. Mann, but how is it done? How could it be that the FBI can go from clueless to busting down his door in a matter of one scene? Well he doesn't explain it, so keep dreaming. For all I know, they did discuss it briefly, but who knows through the mumbled voices of almost every actor in the film. Anybody who has seen a film with Christian Bale knows that he has mastered an American accent. However, the chore of speaking in a southern accent proved too great the task for him. In one of his worst performances, Bale can't quite speak clearly enough to help out the audience. As a friend of mine affectionately put it, "it was like he borrowed his accent from Foghorn Leghorn, and he forgot to use it sometimes". Couldn't have said it better myself. The starpower of Johnny Depp, who tries very hard to save this sinking ship by giving a good but forgettable performance, can't distract us from the fact this film's screenplay is awful. It is painfully slow during most scenes, and then frantically hurried in scenes where valuable information is being thrown around. No medium was ever found in the script, and so the transfer to the screen was just as bad.

Since Mann chose to "put us in the action" rather than tell us an actual story, Public Enemies was an all out failure. Even if I were to forgive the flaws of the screenplay and most of the acting, I'd still give this film a scathing review because of it's direction. It just goes to show that a cast list alone cannot make a film good. You know what I would like to see? A film based on Baby Face Nelson, played by Stephen Graham again. I felt Graham gave the best performance of the film, and I'd like to see him again in the role. That movie might be good. Public Enemies, not so much. My rating (2/10)

I Gotta Catch Up

I've been on break for almost 3 months now and I am deeply upset with myself. In an attempt at redemption for those lost months, I'm going to write brief reviews of most of the films I've seen in that time. I promise, full reviews will follow.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Talk about starting the Summer off with a whimper. This much awaited prequel to the popular X-Men franchise had so much going for it on paper, but failed to produce anything worth watching. The most disappointing aspect of Wolverine was the shoddy special effects that looked like they were borrowed from an episode of "Smallville". Obvious green screen usage made multiple scenes irritating to watch. There was even a point when my girlfriend, who had slept through half the movie, woke up and immediately said to me, "I can see the green screen". You literally could see where the floor was ending and the green screen was beginning. This is inexcusable for such a highly anticipated summer blockbuster. Hugh Jackman gave his all as the title character, and I applaud him for that. As his brother and nemesis, Sabretooth, Liev Schrieber also delivers a pretty good performance, though was under-utilized. This trend continued with most of the supporting characters in the film as well. Ryan Reynolds, who appears on screen for all of 5 minutes, steals the show as Deadpool, the mercenary famous for breaking the fourth wall. No other performance is really worth mentioning other than Taylor Kitsch, as Gambit. Ever since the X-Men franchise began, fans have wanted to see Gambit on the big screen, myself included. When the time finally came to see the universal favorite, we were handed a terrible performance by an actor who couldn't keep his accent straight. In one sentence, Gambit would be from Louisiana. Then in the next, France. Then just American, but with a speech impediment. All in all, disappointment, thy name is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. My rating (4/10)

Star Trek- This is what summer is about! Though I knew absolutely nothing about the original series, this film version of Star Trek was still thoroughly enjoyable throughout. JJ Abrams, of "Lost" fame, handles the material as a seasoned professional, perfectly balancing cheesiness with tense action. Perhaps the most surprising thing to come from this film was the plethora of great performances. Chris Pine plays James T. Kirk, a young womanizer born from a former Starfleet Captain. Pine does a surprisingly good job as Kirk, fitting the part as if it was tailor-made for him. The most exceptional performance belongs to Zachary Quinto as Spock. In his first big screen outing, Quinto shows an impressive aptitude to really dig into a role. The half human-half Vulcan Spock is a volatile character, and it is shown clearly by Quinto. And since Star Trek is after all summer fare, let me talk about it's blockbuster qualities. Unlike Wolverine, this movie knows how to properly use special effects. As characters fight hand-to-hand with enemies on the hood of a ship, it never even crosses your mind that the scene has been altered by computers. Though the film has some flaws (in it's script especially), it is still a thrilling ride and probably one of the best films of 2009, thus far. My rating (8/10)

Up - OK so, me and Pixar have a bit of a beef. Since I have "grown up", I have failed to be impressed by the movies Pixar released year after year. However, year after year, movie critics from coast to coast praise their films as being amazing and then complaining that animated films don't get nominated for Best Picture. It never fails. I didn't care for The Incredibles. I HATED Ratatouille. I thought Wall-E was OK. When would the time come when I finally agreed with those gushing critics? With Up, that time may have, not arrived, but gotten much closer than before. Finally, I genuinely enjoyed a Pixar film for the first time since A Bug's Life. Not only did this film look amazing (which is usually the only compliment I give to their films), but actually made me laugh and stay interested in the characters. Though the main character was a grumpy old man, I found him to be one of the best characters Pixar has made. The gold star of this film which cemented it's place as a great film for me was a cute talking dog named Dug. Words can't explain how cute and hilarious Dug is. You'll have to see it for yourself. My rating (8/10)

Brick - This film was not released this year, but I just recently watched it. It was a film noir set at a modern high school where Brendan (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a loner, goes deep into the world of drugs and mayhem to solve a murder mystery. The film was written and directed by Rian Johnson, and then edited on his home computer. Even with the noticeably small budget, Brick was shot very impressively and was in all an entertaining film to watch. The screenplay, which can only be described as clever, may have been too smart for it's own good. Johnson, who wrote the film as an homage to film noir, got a little too carried away, having his modern teenagers talk like Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. This was the only part of the film I didn't really care for. I liked how Johnson didn't hold onto the film's secrets for very long. We find out halfway through what is going on, and I appreciated that. I can't stand when films make you wait until the very last scene to wrap up EVERYTHING. Throw in a very good lead performance by Gordon-Levitt, and you've got yourself a pretty good film. My rating (7/10)

That's all for now. A review of Public Enemies will be up shortly. I'm back!

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange