Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen



  • Released Internationally on 19/06/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 24/06/09


In a nutshell

Two summers ago a much-loved cartoon series made the jump to the big screen, managing to meet most fan expectations as well as introduce the franchise to a whole new audience. It helped that the film also made truck-loads of money. With an open-ended conclusion to the film, and numerous popular characters still waiting in the wings to make their live-action debut, a sequel was announced only two months after release.

By way of introduction

After a very brief prologue which offers a chilling glimpse of how the Transformers have been around for far longer than we imagine, the film quickly shifts into top gear for a never-ending action sequence in the Far East. Over the next half-hour or so we are introduced to a host of new characters in rapid succession, as the increasingly convoluted plot starts to unfold.

Bits and pieces

My major gripe with the initial film was the design of the Transformers themselves, possibly stemming from my infatuation with the cartoons as a child. The chunky, solid forms of the cartoon characters have been replaced with piecemeal metallic structures with way too much clutter. The look and design were obviously kept for this second film. Whilst working wonders in the style and streamlining departments, this look often makes it harder to distinguish between characters, and makes the action sequences incredibly difficult to follow.  As we see Autobots (the goodies) take on Decepticons (the baddies) in tussles and high-speed chases, the result is often a mass of metal without much definition. I sometimes felt relieved when they changed back to their other form (truck, car, whatever), because they took on a solid form again and were clearly identifiable.

Revenge of the Fallen

The subtitle can be interpreted in two ways, but I won't go into details so as not to spoil the plot. Suffice to say that Megatron (Decepticon-in-chief), left for dead at the bottom of the ocean last time around, is back and in a foul mood. The Autobots have also fallen out of favour with the US president (shown to be Obama in a brief news clip - his first film appearance?), and their assistance is no longer needed. The tables turn when the Decepticons enlist the help of the Constructicons - a group of construction vehicles (with full extras) which I remember vividly from the cartoon series, and which are a welcome addition. They also have a neat party trick which adds greatly to the film's climactic action sequence. Less welcome are the intensely annoying Autobot 'Twins' who plague a number of scenes with their witty banter, and ultimately add little to the plot. After visiting Shanghai and Paris, most of the second half takes place in Egypt and Jordan, offering lots of spectacular scenes of huge robots mingling with the pyramids.

Who's in it?

Director Michael Bay, the man who has become synonymous with large-scale summer blockbusters (Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys, Pearl Harbour), returns to direct the sequel in his usual over-the-top style. Despite regularly drawing fire from critics for choosing style over substance, his focus on scale was very suitable for the first film. Sitting somewhere in the shadows with a cheque-book and a few choice tips is Steven Spielberg, who is credited as executive producer for both films. His recent pet actor Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye, Indiana Jones) returns as Sam Witwicky, the energetic young only son who first makes contact with the Autobots and continues to serve as the link between them and humans. His heroics in the first film landed him the love of the smouldering Michaela Banes, played by up-and-coming Megan Fox (How To Lose Friends & Alienate People), who stands around looking ridiculously hot but not doing much else. John Turturro (Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski) returns as the eccentric but helpful Transformers expert, and Rainn Wilson (The Office's Dwight) has a brief but amusing cameo as Sam's lecturer. Numerous voice actors return to voice the metallic heroes and villains, most notably Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) as Megatron, and Peter Cullen (who voiced the character in the cartoon series) as Optimus Prime. Steve Jablonsky's simplistic score adds some gravitas to the more sombre moments, and adds noise to the action sequences, but is ultimately forgettable.

More than meets the eye?

Not really, no. The action sequences are often messy, and we're introduced to so many new characters that it's hard to get involved or interested. The plot seems built around a few spectacular locations, and is mostly fluff. Many scenes are still a sight to behold, so if all you're after this summer is loud noise and lots of glitz, this might be just your cup of tea. If, however, you like your summer blockbusters to be based on good filmmaking and a great story, look elsewhere.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


July, August, September Preview

Summer 2009


Yesterday, as part of the annual luncheon for film press, KRS unveiled their summer release schedule for the coming three months. The main trailers were all shown back to back, and they ushered in a highly anticipated season of cinema magic.

If you feel like a cool and comfy evening munching popcorn in your favourite cinema this summer, here’s the menu:

(the ones I’m looking forward to most are in orange)

  • 500 Days of Summer – offbeat romantic comedy starring Zooey Deschanel.
  • Adventureland – Disney comedy starring Ryan Reynolds.
  • Aliens in the Attic – Family action/comedy.
  • Bandslam – Music drama about a fledgling rock band, starring Lisa Kudrow and Vanessa Hudgens.
  • Blood: The Last Vampire – Film adaptation of a Japanese anime.
  • Brüno – After Borat, comedian Sasha Baron Cohen unleashes another of his alter-egos.
  • Cheri – Romantic drama set in 1920s Paris, starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
  • Fame – updated version of the 1980 musical.
  • Final Destination: Death Trip 3D – More death-defying stunts from the thrilling franchise.
  • Fired Up – Teen comedy about guys infiltrating a cheerleader camp, with noble intentions.
  • Flame & Citron – WW2 drama.
  • Funny People – Mix of drama and comedy from director Judd Apatow, starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.
  • G Force – Disney family treat starring a team of heroic guinea pigs.
  • G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra – Action film about an elite military unit, starring Dennis Quaid.
  • Genova – Drama about a father caring for his two daughters after the loss of their mother, starring Colin Firth.
  • The Hangover – Raunchy comedy about a bachelor’s party gone wrong, with Heather Graham.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – The wizards and witches of Hogwarts return for their 6th year, as the grand finale approaches.
  • The Horsemen – Crime drama starring Dennis Quaid and Ziyi Zhang.
  • I Love You, Beth Cooper – Teen comedy about a nerd who proclaims his crush to the world with surprising results, directed by Chris Columbus.
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs – Everyone’s favourite pre-historic heroes are back, but they’ve got big company.
  • Imagine That – Family comedy about a businessman who realises that whatever his daughter imagines is coming true, starring Eddie Murphy.
  • Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino’s take on WW2, focusing on a team of brutal soldiers in Nazi-occupied France, starring Brad Pitt.
  • Land of the Lost – Time-travel comedy starring Will Ferrell.
  • Last Chance Harvey – romantic comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
  • The Last House on the Left – remake of the 1972 horror film.
  • Looking for Eric – Eric Cantona’s first starring role, as himself.
  • Mesrine: Killer Instinct – Crime drama about a French Gangster, starring Gerard Depardieu and Vincent Cassel.
  • My Sister’s Keeper – adaptation of the Jodi Picoult novel about a family affected by terminal illness, with Cameron Diaz and Alec Baldwin.
  • Obsessed – Thriller about a stalker, starring Beyonce Knowles.
  • A Perfect Getaway – Psychopath thriller, starring Milla Jovovich.
  • The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – Drama about a woman reflecting on her life, starring Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves, Julianne Moore and Robin Wright Penn.
  • The Proposal – Romantic comedy about an unorthodox engagement, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
  • Public Enemies – Gangster drama from director Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard.
  • Red Cliff – Subtitled Chinese period action drama from director John Woo.
  • Shifty – Urban thriller set in the outskirts of London.
  • Shorts – From director Robert Rodriguez, a film about a boy who discovers a wish-granting rock.
  • The Soloist – Drama about a friendship between a journalist and a homeless musician, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
  • Surrogates – Futuristic thriller from director Jonathan Mostow and starring Bruce Willis.
  • The Taking of Pelham 123 – Hijack drama set on the New York subway, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife – From the celebrated novel, a romantic time-travel drama starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.
  • Tormented – Comedy and horror as a boy returns from the dead to exact revenge on those who bullied him.
  • The Ugly Truth – Romantic comedy about where a man’s heart truly lies, starring Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler.

Take your pick(s) – there’s something for everyone!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell


  • Released Internationally on 27/05/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 17/06/09


In a nutshell

Back in the 80s, director Sam Raimi gained fame and acclaim for his old-fashioned yet inventive and highly amusing horror films. After turning his attention towards the Spider-Man trilogy over the past decade, he now returns to a script he had penned over 20 years ago, and gives us a healthy dose of horror nostalgia.

Ah yes, that

As I detailed in my The Strangers review last summer, horror is not exactly my cup of tea. However, personal fears aside, it's usually very easy and obvious to distinguish between a good horror film and one of the many, many bad ones. Some horror films are simply that - films to generate horror and frights, while others actually have a story to tell, albeit a spine-chilling one. Thankfully, although this particular offering will probably leave many viewers with a disgusting taste in their mouth, it fits firmly into the latter category.

Who's in it?

Director Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy culminated in the hugely entertaining Army of Darkness in 1992, making his lead Bruce Campbell a cult hero and seamlessly combining horror and humour. He then conquered the worldwide box-office by revamping the Spider-Man franchise, and has to date given us another great trilogy, with a fourth instalment in the pipeline.

Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men, Big Fish) stars as Christine Brown, the girl who's average in every department except luck and projected lifespan. After refusing to extend a loan for a gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) she soon realises that she has crossed the wrong old lady, and with the support of her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard) she must try to shake off the ancient curse cast upon her. She has 3 days to do so, or else she will be quite literally dragged to hell, as has happened to a few unlucky individuals over the centuries. In her desperation, she goes from getting advice from a seer (Dileep Rao, from TV’s Brothers and Sisters) to other, rather less lady-like acts, but will understandably stop at nothing to avoid her infernal fate.

Smells like the 90s

When Raimi decided to return to a script that had laid dormant since the early nineties, co-written by him and his brother Ivan, he seems to have decided to fashion his film as if he was making it back then. From the old 'Universal' logo that precedes the main titles, to the overall look and feel of the film, this stands out from the numerous horror films that have been assaulting our screens over the past few years.

Raimi has no qualms with using old clichés to unseat his audience – scary toothless old hags, inclement weather, bodily fluids, the occult, and even a grand rain-swept finale in a graveyard. Some parts might come across as too crude for today’s viewers, but then again the intended audience have seen far worse recently. The cemetery climax is a standout scene, full of gothic imagery and over-the-top sounds and visuals. The few scenes that resort to computer visual effects are unfortunately equally crude, but it’s not clear whether this too was intentional, or simply due to budget restrictions.

In the end

Sound of Music this is not, but neither is it a senseless sequence of killings and frights. It doesn’t take itself seriously, which adds immensely to its overall feeling of horror fun. Right up to the ground-moving finale, this just might make you grin as much as you squirm.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)