Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on Beast Wars and Beast Machines-He said

As part of our attempt to fill the site with more content we will be trying to do not just reviews but essays or dissections of movies/shows that we enjoy as well.  Also we will be doing at least a review independently from movies we’ve both seen from Netflix that are worthy of mention.  The first of this series will be Beast Wars/Machines which I just got done watching.  Let me preface by saying I have seen this series twice, when it first came out and this time when I re watched it.  Also I’m a huge freaking nerd about all transformers-y stuff (except the movies) so to those that are uninitiated this will be a bunch of mumbo jumbo, and to the hardcore nerds, I’ll simply be stating the obvious.
            Predacon Cast Including Various Forms of Megatron

When Beast Wars came out it was the mid 90’s, America had not seen any new Transformers media in a long time with the exception of the comics.  When the license went to toy company Kenner, they decided to shake things up a bit by having Transformers turn into animals instead of cars.  In this story, the protagonists were not the Autobots and Decepticons, but their descendents the Maximals and Predacons It became the first of many ironic fan whine fests over a new direction in the franchise.  Thankfully it became one of the finest examples of Transformers yet.  You have for the first time a small group of characters, which could be developed more interestingly over the course of the series.  Beast Wars much like Transformers Animated after it features a rookie Optimus Prime character, and a deliciously charming Megatron character. 
       Core Cast of Maximals Including Various forms of Optimus Source

What’s great about this series is that with minimal googling you can understand a lot of references if you wanted to, but if you know them already then it makes Beast Wars a richer experience, in my opinion.  Of course this being the age of Avatar, one might consider the graphics to look really crappy and dated, which I guess if you’re some sort of HD fan it would be detrimental, then again no one critiques old Mickey cartoons for their style.  The show can be forgiven every once in a while for being cheesy.  A big example of this is, is how the Maximals and Predacons NEED to say “maximize” and “terrorize” in order to transform, but put it in the context of little kids watching this, I can already picture them playing with the toys and yelling that out. It’s cute.  The biggest complaint about this series is the pacing.  In the first season you can tell that they haven’t quite figured out what direction they are going in and you have basically the first half of the season being the same episode just in different terrain. 

As I have mentioned before the risks that the show took were groundbreaking back then and they still feel fresh today.  The relative small group of characters made sure you got some quality time with everyone in the crews.  I believe everyone can tell a defining characteristic of all the Maximals and Predacons.  This was not the case in Generation 1 where most o the characters were introduced and forgotten all too quickly. This is mostly due to the fact that there were always new toys that needed attention in the show so they would sell.  To my mind the best characters in the series were Dinobot, Megatron, Cheetor and Optimus Primal, you notice such a change in their personalities that would not happen in most cartoon series today.  But the characters were developed thanks to the great stories that the series had.  While I was sure of the fact that the writers didn’t know the direction they were going in completely, in the first season the second and third seasons had great storylines that referenced season 1 and very seldom were full of plot holes. There were tons of good stand-alone that would be silly and ridiculous sometime but all the while they build towards something greater in the background.

Beast Machines, the sequel to Beast Machines was a completely different animal, if you’ll pardon the pun.  The changes were more abrupt, the characters looked like a freakish humanoid versions of themselves, which is jarring to the untrained eye.   But this is a series for the initiated, you have to know the Beast Wars lore, and I really believe that this series is better appreciated in its own context.
                 Vehicon Generals: Tankor, Jetstorm and Thrust Source

The stories have been criticized that they are not episodic enough, there are plotlines building up constantly that have subsequently bigger repercussions later, and many two or three part storylines.  This made it hard for many people to jump in a la Lost.  Given the fact that there was never any certainty about the length of the series, it made sense that there was always something greater to build up to.  Likewise the character designs, which even to me see a bit odd, make sense in the context of the show’s world.  One of the constant themes was about finding balance between the technological and organic.  I love that the story does become bleaker because of the hard themes that it is trying to tackle. The religious fanaticism exhibited by Optimus Primal in the end of the first season seemed a bit too much.  Much like the third season of Beast Wars you can tell that the producers knew his was going to be their last season and rushed to wrap up too many things in a very limited amount of time.
        Beast Machines Maximals: Cheetor, Blackarachnia, Optimus Primal, and Rattrap Source

Overall, I believe that the series suffers too much from its own radical ideas in terms of what transformers should be, Beast Machines suffers from trying to tackle too dark and philosophical themes in a limited time.  The effects of this series are mostly seen in the articulation of the toys and in the elements borrowed by other series such as Transformers: Animated.  By all means though if you are remotely interested in cartoons, or in transformers you got to check this series out.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Book of Eli

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes

Writer by Gary Whitta

Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis and Ray Stevenson

Synopsis- A mysterious wanderer has a mission, to head West, which is interrupted when he goes into a small town where a mayor is looking for something precious.

Book of Eli- He said

So to quote my consort, the Book of Eli is a "post-apocalyptic Western". It has it all: beautiful, dreary landscape, a vague catastrophic event that led to the current state of affairs, and a complete bad-a main character. The main character here is the ever-awesome Denzel Washington, as the wandering Eli. He is a man trying to survive in this harsh world.  As the film opens, we see him going through his day-to-day routine as he travels towards an unknown destination. This changes when his inexplicably resilient iPod dies on him. Then he decides to go into a town to recharge it. This is where the plot finally starts moving along with the introduction of Gary Oldman’s character.

The movie is quite the enjoyable experience, especially in the context of a genre post-apocalyptic Western. There’s even a bar fight scene! This is pretty good, B-movie type stuff. We come to find out that Eli is an expert fighter and avid reader. The fight scenes are one of the great things of this movie. The choreography is smooth, and you can never go wrong with the gratuitous violence. The ending is one of the best aspects of the movie considering that you expect this movie to play it safe. While the plot is a bit slow in the beginning, most people will be distracted by the beautiful and haunting world that the Hughes brothers created. The music (which I later found out was by Atticus Ross frequent Nine Inch Nails collaborator) creates a good atmosphere that compliments the movie fantastically. (And a highly recommended buy.) The supporting cast is fantastic with Mila Kunis being the highlight as Solara. She has such great potential to be remembered for more than Jackie from That 70’s show. 

While I was pleased enough to say I dug the movie, initially I left the movie theater a bit disappointed. However, thinking about the movie over and over has actually given me a more positive perspective on the movie. Things that seemed silly at the time, such as his iPod and the slightly slow paced first part of the film, seem to make more sense after some absorption of the story as a whole. One thing that does not go away is feeling that the conflict between Eli and Carnigie (Gary Oldman) could have been explored more in a philosophical way. Here you have two dudes that both potentially want to use the Bible to help humanity in their own way, but for some really crappy reason they don’t cross at the right time. On a deeper level, Carnegie is an ass but can we really say that great leaders from the past didn’t do some dishonest things for the greater good? Seeing Eli as a curator for the last bit of humanities past makes him a deeper character in my eyes. From the fact that he knows how to read, even to the iPod he carries, as well as the memories he is doing what Carnegie is doing but with a more selfless purpose.

Overall this movie does take a while to sink in, especially when you get over how badass Denzel is in it. After a while, the layers come out and it does make for a richer experience.

Book of Eli- She said

I went into The Book of Eli with no expectations. I like Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, so I thought it was a win-win situation. The movie starts in this bleak post-apocalyptic world where everyone wears sunglasses…at all times. At first, I assumed it was to look like a badass in this world, but as it turns out, the atmosphere became thinner after “the great flash”, so apparently the sun has become more harmful. Eh, it makes Denzel look even cooler, so I’m okay with it. So, Denzel, or Eli, is traveling west on a mission carrying and rereading this book along the way. He conveniently comes to this town where Gary Oldman is the head-honcho and low and behold, he’s looking for the exact same book. It takes about half the movie to set this whole scenario up, which unfortunately didn’t leave much time for the meat of the movie.

The movie then goes into the battle of faith from the sides of the extremists, Oldman, and righteous, Eli. At this point, I was excited because this is what the movie’s message. How does faith affect the human existence and culture after such a horrific tragedy? Do you run to faith and lean on it? Or do you blame faith for the misgivings? The movie hinted at all of these questions, but it never delivered. After one conversation, nothing deep or philosophical was ever really brought up again. It just went back to Oldman’s obsession with possessing the book.

The look of the world is amazing. It’s dry, bleak, bright, yet dreary and empty. All in all, I was satisfied with the acting performances. There’s a revelation at one point that definitely makes you think about certain things from the movie. With that aside, the movie seemed like it wanted to be this deep religious debate about importance of faith during a time of war; however, the idea was never fully developed. Eli is worth the watch, and it could spur some interesting debates. I just wanted more from it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Review

Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg (Screenplay)
Lionel Wigram (Story), Arthur Conan Doyle (Characters)
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Summary: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson race to prevent a human sacrifice and stop Lord Blackwood. Blackwood is sentenced and put to death, but he’s back to finish what he started. Holmes and Watson have to put a stop to him once and for all.

Sherlock Holmes- She said

I was super stoked to see Sherlock Holmes. The trailer looked amazing, and I found myself watching it multiple times. I got a Pirates vibe from the trailer. It seemed that Guy Ritchie was wanting to reinvent a classic story with a fresh look at the character of Holmes. So, I went into this movie with high expectations. Sure enough, I could tell the path Ritchie wanted to take the movie, but it fell a little short. There was some magic missing from the story. The script tried to do too many things with too many minor characters and very few had a substantial payoff.

The best part of the movie was Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. There chemistry on screen was amazing, and there bromance was so intense I was waiting for them to start “slappa dah bass”. Downey is in top form as the eccentric and somewhat insane Sherlock Holmes. He uses methods and figures out the little details that is nothing short than brilliant. I found myself laughing at his antics and enjoying his character more than anything else in the movie.  Law's Watson is as a man just wanting to get married and leave his life of solving crimes to settle down is a perfect contrast to Holmes.  However, there is always a longing in Watson's eyes when he looks at Holmes, like he's going to miss their crazy adventures. 

I think there’s a real chance for this series. The characters that Downey and Law created are likable and extremely fun to watch. With a better script, the next movie could make up for this let down.

Sherlock Holmes-He Said

As one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the holiday season, I walked into Sherlock Holmes expecting to have an experience very similar to Iron Man, simply I wanted to be blown away.  Instead of getting what some would call "Guy Ritchie’s redemption" and another great addition to Robert Downey Jr.'s filmography, we got a lackluster and pretty average mystery movie.  I will admit I know very little about Sherlock Holmes; I never read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, nor have I ever watched any movies based on his character. I have seen his really popular TV show, House M.D. though.  I believe this is part of what colors my judgment of this movie. The best way for me to think about this movie is like a really long but lackluster House episode around mid-season. 

The movie starts of with Holmes and Jude Law’s John Watson taking down Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, during a sort of Satanic ritual, and Watson moving out of their shared house to somewhere with his fiancĂ© Mary.  Watson’s relationship causes a lot of funny moments due to Holmes’ jealousy over it, and that's where the movie shines.  Law and Downey Jr. have a great chemistry; it totally makes you feel like they’ve been solving mysteries together for ages. And let’s not forget the slightly homosexual tension-it's as thick as clam chowder in some scenes.  Everything else about the movie though just does not seem to gel.  While you go through the movie, the plot feels intense, and you think the pay off will be freaking awesome, instead it’s a let down in ways I won’t get into due to spoilers.  I will say that just like other mystery type movies, this one will benefit from repeated views, once you know the ending you will notice details and it does enrich the experience and adds a little bit of redemption to the movie but not much.

I will say that to the movie’s credit the visual tone feels very dark and consistent to what we all imagine Victorian England to be.  Hans Zimmer’s music is really catchy in a way that John Williams’ music is always catchy.  Overall, the movie is a disappointment, I do believe that writers Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg are the ones to blame for that.  At the same time while I feel House has the formula down a bit better, but the average moviegoer will have a good time during this movie.