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I'm an avid reader and writer of short stories.
Live in Barry, Texas.
No Longer My Transformers...But...
I adore the Transformers. For me, they rank third behind Superman (and the DC Comics Universe as a whole) and "Star Wars." There was something so intrinsically and viscerally cool about normal looking vehicles and contraptions that could turn into giant, sentient robots. I ate up the original Generation One toys and the three seasons of the Sunbow cartoon up with such relish, and pretty much believed that these characters and this story could never be fully realized in a live-action movie.
Of course, I was wrong with 2007's "Transformers," a film I enjoyed then and thoroughly love now. It filled me with such nostalgic gladness, but I knew even then that, despite hearing Peter Cullen's baritone protruding from the metallic lips of an honest-to-God, real (well, CGI, anyway) Optimus Prime, that this was no longer my time or my era. Generation One was dead and gone, and something entirely different had replaced it. However, I felt that the spirit of "The Transformers" remained and that was good enough for me.
Then, came the train wreck that was 2009's "Revenge of the Fallen." Blame for this debacle comes in many forms, not the least director Michael Bay's rush to start production on the film in the oncoming wake of the Writers Guild strike. The film was sloppy, poorly edited, choppy, and at times, really offensive. Yet, there were good things about it, just not enough to make me want to see the movie more than once.
"Dark of the Moon" corrects many of the mistakes of "Fallen," and expands and expounds upon the original film. It hearkens back somewhat to Generation One, but really does ring the death knell for that era of the franchise. This Optimus Prime, despite the same voice, is not the same Prime we all grew to love and look up to. This is a character that comes off as an actual general at war and a leader of a displaced race seeking refuge and peace. This Prime made the hard decisions to finally stop the Decepticon menace and fully embrace Earth as his home and mankind as his protectorate. That make me love this version of the character and look up to him even more than his G1 self.
Now, "Moon" is overlong, by about an hour. Excise the goofy, sophomoric, potty (literal) jokes, the stupid characters like Sam's parents, Agent Simmons -- hell, most of the human characters, then you have a nice, fast-paced, stream-lined action film. I never really cared for these people, at least not in the way I cared for the Transformers, particularly the Autobots, and what's oddest to me is that the newest additions to the cast of characters, like Carly, were the most intriguing and interesting.
The entire Chicago battle sequence is breath-taking and shows Michael Bay at his gratuitous best. The guy knows how to film battle scenes and ILM's CGI work is seamless and realistic. Everything about this movie seems expensive, but in a good way.
And what can I say about the original Galvatron, legend Leonard Nimoy, portraying good-guy-turned-villain Sentinel Prime? Well, it's good to hear Galvatron's voice one last time.
I don't know what will happen next with the Transformers' live-action franchise, but I'm intrigued to see it continue on in the hands of another set of filmmakers and designers. I'd love to see the blocky, chunky Transformers of the G1 era return, and maybe even hear Frank Welker as Megatron at last...but I doubt it'll happen. Why? Simply because these just aren't my Transformers any more.
And I'm okay with that.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Sequel That Did Nothing
There are two saving graces in "Iron Man 2." The first is Gwyneth Paltrow's wondrous performance as Virginia "Pepper" Potts. Paltrow is literally stunning as Pepper and brings a warmth and depth to this character in a beautiful way.
The second is the "Easter egg" scene after the end credits in which we see S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson discover the mighty Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, in a crater in New Mexico.
That's pretty much it.
"Iron Man 2" is boring, trite, and does nothing for the character or this franchise in any meaningful way. Even the battle scenes were not entertaining. Whereas "Iron Man" was fun and exciting and interesting, "2" is the exact opposite and even borders on "Batman & Robin" embarrassing at times, which is pretty terrible.
I had low expectations for "Iron Man 2" whenever I saw the first trailer for the film, and it's safe to say that it exceeded (or whatever the opposite of "exceed" is) them in spades.
I can only hope that the "Captain America," "Thor," and "The Avengers" films are better. And a word of advice to the filmmakers, reign in Robert Downey, Jr. a little bit next time. Just say what's in the script, Robert...we didn't come to the theater to see a Second City improv performance.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
He Never Gives Up...
I, like many other movie-goers, was pleasantly surprised with "The Rise of Cobra." I didn't expect much, but was very happy with the end result.
Why? Mainly because of Ray Park's spot-on portrayal of the definitive Snake Eyes as envisioned by comic book writer (and author of the action figures' data cards) Larry Hama.
The mere fact that director Stephen Sommers and Co. included Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow's shared past and the reason behind their feud was brilliantly executed and very appreciated.
A great film and a fine adaptation of "G.I. Joe." I hope they make more, but who knows? If not, at least for a little bit, we got to see Clan Arishikage realized on the silver screen.
Well, it could've been much worse...right?
I liked "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" right after I left the theater. I defended the durn thing to anyone who'd listen. But, as the days ticked off, I came to find myself not liking this film as much as I had when the credits rolled and the lights came on.
"Revenge" is crude, sexist, and a bit bigoted, and those are things I didn't believe when I first saw the film. I feel ashamed towards Hasbro, the owners of the Transformers brand, for letting such a nasty-spirited film feature the properties they have always protected and held close to the chest.
Now, having said that, there is much to like about "Revenge" including the once-again incredible special effects, the lovely Megan Fox, and most especially Peter Cullen reprising his role as the voice of Optimus Prime. There are many very good battle scenes, some pretty good acting, and even a few jokes that don't make you feel dirty laughing about afterward.
Here's hoping that Michael Bay, who made the original "Transformers" his magnum opus, will get back on track for 2011's "TF 3." God, I hope so, because I won't be so defensive next time...
Star Trek (2009)
Now, this is how to prequel...
Not to impugn the work of Mr. Lucas and Co., but J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" should be the textbook definition of how to make a prequel film. How did Mr. Abrams and his fine crew do it? Well, to make mention of the notorious G.L. once again, they added just enough "Star Wars" to "Trek" to make it both palatable to the non-Trekker audience, and kept just enough Trekker-attuned stuff to make long-time "Trek" fans like me happy, content, and excited once again for the future.
Creating an alternate reality for this films and the inevitable ones to follow was a brilliant move by Abrams and the screen writers, Orci and Kurtzman. The latter two's love of "Trek" was apparent in this film, as was their feelings to keep this film separate from the various television series and films, thus allowing them to peacefully co-exist together. Awesome move, fellas.
And who da thunk it? "Star Trek" on the big screen and "Star Wars" on the tube...boy, the times, they are a-changin'.
Well, it was "Watchmen," but...
I liked "Watchmen." It was a very authentic adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal 1985 twelve-issue D.C. Comics maxi-series (not a graphic novel!), painstakingly put together by auteur Zack Snyder, but in the end, I feel like it was just a movie that didn't really need to be made.
Warner Bros. spent in excess of $120 million to make "Watchmen." This could've been better spent on a sequel to Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns," or any of Warner's long-gestating D.C. Comics-based films like "Wonder Woman" or next year's "Green Lantern." Warner Bros. will take a financial beating on "Watchmen" when they could've made a "real" superhero movie and captured a windfall like they did with last year's "The Dark Knight." But, enough financializing. "Watchmen" features nice performances, particularly Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, most people's favorite character from the original comic's, and perhaps, the most psychologically damaged. Haley deserves at least an Oscar nod for this role, but won't get one. Patrick Wilson is also very good as Dan Dreiberg, the second Night Owl, as is the lovely Malin Ackerman as Laurie Jupiter, the second Silk Spectre. However, Laurie's dramatic arc from the comic feels forced and put upon here in the film. But, that's really what happens when you compress a twelve-issue series down into a two-and-a-half movie.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is never quite believable as Edward Blake, the Comedian. He has the chops, but just really doesn't pull off being the real scumbag the Blake is. Matthew Goode is fairly forgettable as Ozymandias. He brings little to this, perhaps, the most pivotal role in the story. And the ending is a total cop-out, once again feeling forced and rushed. I like Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, but I like seeing her in just about anything. She isn't given much to do here, and her old-age make-up is pretty atrocious.
Billy Crudup makes a fine Doctor Manhattan, but his origin story depicted in the film slows the whole thing down considerably, as does Crudup's dead-pan, monotonic delivery of Osterman/Manhattan's lines. The SFX used to bring he blue, nude living atomic reactor to life is adequate, but not sufficient enough. The CGI Doctor's lips often do not match his lines, which is a bit off-putting.
The SFX for the film as a whole was well-done, and the set direction was spot-on to Mister Gibbons' original artwork. Much has been said about the fast-moving, incredibly choreographed fight scenes. What can I say? I liked them. It shows that these people are well trained and thoroughly experienced enough to be costumed crime fighters. What more do you want? All in all, "Watchmen" is a good movie, but ultimately forgettable. I still think this was money best spent elsewhere on true superheroes like the Man or Steel, the Amazing Amazon, or the Emerald Gladiator.
The Dark Knight (2008)
There Is No Peace...
One thing I realized after watching "The Dark Knight" was that, for the first time in my life, I do not want to be Batman. It is a horrible, horrible life. There is no peace, no rest, no happiness for Bruce Wayne. "The Dark Knight" crystallizes what it is like to be the Batman in a way never seen before on the printed page or on the silver screen. And I do not want to be Batman. I'd rather be any other superhero -- Superman, Green Lantern, or even the Flash.
And another thing. Batman, especially Christopher Nolan's Batman, does not whine. He doesn't complain about how bad he has it. He is the antithesis of Spider-Man, particularly Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Peter Parker seems to almost wallow in his misery, whereas Bruce Wayne gets up, dusts himself off, and launches himself at evil and injustice again and again.
And I'll take the Dark Knight over Iron Man any day. Bruce Wayne plays the role of the vapid, moral-less playboy. Tony Stark is one. Bruce Wayne never compromised himself to do what's right. Tony Stark does this all the time, and even kills people. And lastly, Batman's identity is a secret...Stark basically unmasks himself for everyone to see. I'd rather have the Batman on my side at any time.
Now, this is no normal review of "The Dark Knight." You can get that anywhere. I apologize for using this review as a sounding board, but after seeing the masterpiece that was "The Dark Knight," I just had to share my feelings. And don't get me wrong, I loved "Iron Man." Loved it. But, Iron Man is no Dark Knight. There's only one and thank God he still lives on the silver screen.
Iron Man (2008)
The Greatest Marvel Comics-Based Movie Adaptation...until the last two seconds
Iron Man was one of my favorite comic book superheroes. In many ways, he was the Marvel equivalent of D.C.'s Batman, but also the Dark Knight's juxtaposition.
Well, leave it to Marvel to so totally screw up the character, as of late, that I can hardly stand the guy any more.
That being said, "Iron Man" is, indeed, the finest film adaptation of a Marvel Comic book. It eclipses all of Marvel's other cinematic efforts, even the fairly flawless "Spider-Man 2" and "X2: X-Men United." Robert Downey, Jr. is awe-inspiring as Anthony Edward Stark and his alter ego, the Golden Avenger. It's good to see Downey in top form and he ably proves that he can play the good guy, the action hero, and the star of a huge summer blockbuster.
And that's exactly what "Iron Man" is. A huge summer blockbuster. But, the film is also really grounded in reality, features snappy dialogue, and at times, is genuinely funny.
Jeff Bridges is terrific as the classic '80s comic book villain Obadiah Stane. He's so nice and charming as Stane, that when he transforms into the villain of the piece, it's quite alarming and disarming (well, at least to those who don't know anything about Iron Man or his rogue's gallery).
The film's features spot-on special effects and some great animatronics/costuming work by the legendary Stan Winston. The only time I could tell the "real" Iron Man from the CGI one was when he moved. Otherwise, the transition was flawless.
I so totally fell in love with Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's stalwart assistant Virginia "Pepper" Potts. Now, here's a Marvel-based redhead we can get behind after the dour, sour Mary Jane Watson of the last two "Spider-Man" films. Paltrow is absolutely gorgeous as Pepper, and you have to love the way she teetered about in those heels while on the run from danger.
The film features a cameo from the Marvel secret agent organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., which has been transformed into an American agency here. And I love the way they are integrated into both Tony Stark and Iron Man's lives. However, why the filmmakers (and more than likely, Marvel's editorial department) chose to have Stark reveal his secret identity at the film's close is really beyond me. What's the point of superheroes at all if they don't have secret identities (the Hulk and a few others notwithstanding)? Yet, much of that shock and disappointment is made up in the post-credits sequence featuring Samuel L. Jackson as Nicholas J. Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s public director basically recruiting Stark and Iron Man for the Avengers, Marvel's premier superhero team (think Justice League).
Despite this tiny little gripe, "Iron Man" is amazing, truly amazing. And since Marvel actually financed this small film, hey, they might actually make some money from it this time.
Well Worth the 23-Year Wait...
I've grown up loving "The Transformers." It was 1986 and everyday I'd come home from the third grade and sit in my school clothes and watch twenty-two minutes of every episode of third season of "The Transformers." Even without Optimus Prime that very last season, my all-time favorite Transformer and toy, I was enthralled and engrossed and loved every minute of it.
"The Transformers" have stayed with me. Optimus Prime remains one my heroes, as well as Bumblebee and Jazz. They are still real to me. They always were.
So, when I see some of my childhood heroes realized on the big screen, alive and well and in real life, to say I was floored would be an understatement. To say I didn't cry when I saw that semi-tractor trailer transform into a thirty-foot tall robot and hear Peter Cullen's baritone voice booming out of it would be nothing less than a lie.
Filmmaker Michael Bay has made his masterpiece and it's called "Transformers." And that's whats so damn weird, because in reality, this film is an adaptation of a late animated series and a stalwart toy line. It's not an original idea, and maybe that made it easier for Bay. Whatever the case, he, along with two very talented screenwriters, and Industrial Light & Magic, gave me, and so many other fans, old and young, our Transformers.
I'm really just too emotional to give a good, solid synopsis-filled review. Maybe I will someday, but after seeing "Transformers" twice, I can't sit here and write, "Well, this happened next, and then this actor portrayed his character well, and blah, blah, blah." I can't do it.
At the end the end of the day, I saw a live-action "Transformers" movie. I saw Optimus Prime living and breathing (or the Cybertronian equivalent), I saw Starscream fail Megatron, and I saw Prime and Megatron fight to the death. I heard that glorious transforming noise, and well, I just can't say enough about Mr. Cullen's voice work. He's a god among men, especially men my age.
His Optimus Prime, as it was twenty-plus years ago, is still the heart and soul of everything "The Transformers" stood for then and now. As I've left the theater for the second of probably several more times, it hits me every time, "Now I know why Optimus Prime is still my hero." He just is...
Now, many will not like this film, fans and non-fans alike. And that's fine, I don't expect everyone to like "Transformers." It may not be everybody's cup of tea. But, for me, it was pretty much exactly what I had hoped for...and leaves me wanting more, much, more than meets the eye.
Sorry, had to do it.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
No one's got a crush on Peter...
Let me preface my review of "Spider-Man 3" by saying that in the last few years Marvel Comics has ruined what they have deemed for more than forty years as their flagship character and fictional ambassador, Spider-Man.
Spider-Man was used and abused by Marvel in their disastrous epic storyline known as "Civil War," where he was essentially forced by his creators (and characters in the story) to unmask himself publicly, ruining his reputation as Peter Parker, his crime-fighting career as Spider-Man, and most stupidly of all, risking the very lives of himself and every single person he cares for.
Really, in the scheme of the Marvel Universe, there is no Spider-Man any more. Oh, yes, he still appears in any number of eponymous titles published in grind house-fashion from the House of Ideas, but Peter Parker really isn't Spider-Man any more.
However, the Webslinger still exists, and oddly enough, he exists truly only on the silver screen. What Sam Raimi and Co. have done since 2002 has placed Spider-Man at the forefront of public consciousness in a way that Marvel never has, and now, never will.
"Spider-Man 3" continues that strange phenomenon, and is an awe-inspiring addition to the two companion films that preceded it. Also, interestingly enough, due to its dense, multi-layered, and intricate plot lines, it is the most comic book-esquire film ever made in this re-emerging genre.
So-called critics have complained that too much goes on "Spider-Man 3," and thus, it falls flat. Look, if the eight-year old children sitting around me in the theater could follow the plot(s), and still enjoy the film and themselves, then I really fail to see how middle aged, accomplished writers and journalists could not.
"Spider-Man 3" was able to masterful weave Peter Parker, our lamented titular hero, and the very love of his life, Mary Jane Watson's burgeoning relationship's ups and down, along with MJ's own lagging stage career, Peter's growing ego now that his alter ego has become the city's most beloved citizen and resident protector, the origin story of the criminal Sandman, and the reality that he was actually the murderer of Peter's Uncle Ben Parker, the arrival of rival photographer Eddie Brock, the bonding of Peter with the alien "symbiote" who affords him a new, black costume and a severe personality alteration, Harry Osborn's vendetta against Peter, whom he sees as the murderer of his father, and finally, the rise of Venom, his team-up with the Sandman, the climatic battle between heroes and villains, and culminating in deaths, forgiveness, and redemption. Yes, all that happens in 140 minutes, and somehow, it is done with such skill and enjoyment on the part of the audience, that I still wonder at how it was accomplished.
Tobey Maguire returns as our hero, and hopefully, not for the last time. Maguire epitomizes what Spider-Man used to be, and wears the role with the sort of ease the late, great Christopher Reeve possessed during his reign as the screen's Superman. Kirsten Dunst is given a lot to do here, and portrays Mary Jane Watson with real dramatic gusto, although as the film progresses, I really began to loathe MJ in a way I never have before.
The true highlights are James Franco's Harry Osborn/New Goblin and Thomas Haden Church's Flint Marko/The Sandman. Franco's character has evolved so much during the series, and in "Spider-Man 3" his fall into darkness is well done, as his return to innocence following his disastrous attack on Peter. I have to admit that there were tears in my eyes when Harry, now knowing how his father really died (thanks, Bernard!), saves the life of Peter, not once, but twice in the climactic battle with the Sandman and Venom. Harry dies for his friends, and is truly redeemed in a Darth Vader-like way that is sad, but satisfying.
Church fully fleshes out Flint Marko in such a way, that you can really see director Raimi's fondness for the popular Spidey villain. Church's Sandman is a tragic figure, not sure if he is good or bad, but ultimately willing to do anything to save the life of his daughter (incidentally, also the daughter of the Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 2). Church's Sandman not only survives this film, but actually is forgiven for the worst crime in the Spider-Man mythos, killing Uncle Ben, by Peter himself.
Topher Grace somewhat channels his smarmy role as Carter Duryea in "In Good Company" as the despicable Edward Brock, Jr. And frankly, as the symbiote-fueled Venom, is given little to do at the end. Venom is not seen on screen until the final battle, and does not survive the outcome. And I think for this fact alone, many fans of Spider-Man's comic book adventures from the late 80s and through the late 90s were turned off by this film. Venom rose from a one-trick pony. rip-off supervillain (see Superman's Bizarro No.1 and The Flash's Reverse-Flash) to a full-fledged anti-hero, and I guess, many fanboys expected this to be on full display in "Spider-Man 3." But, this wasn't Venom's story, or even the symbiote's story. It was the story of three friends, Peter, MJ, and Harry, who at last overcome the horrible things that have done to themselves and one another, and at last triumph over evil in a way that could never be done behind a mask or with super-powers.
If this is the end of Spider-Man's cinematic adventures, then I am truly sad. There are still just too many damn stories to tell about the Wall-Crawler. If this is simply the next chapter in Peter Parker's tale, then it is a fitting one that opens the door to the future of still my favorite hard-luck hero...well, next to Batman.