Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Priest" - Snark Review

Dear god, and I thought the last one was bad.

As far as backstory goes, there's not a whole lot to tell. Priest is based off of the Korean Manhwa (Comic) of the same name, which from what I can tell was pretty much just an action series that incorporated bits and references to Western christian mythology. Essentially this film is a western interpretation of an eastern interpretation of western religion. I think it's safe to say that we're deep in Evangelion territory with the symbolism here.

I mention Neon Genesis Evangelion because it's a prime example of an Asian piece of fiction that had a habit of making references and allusions to Christianity without ever really getting into the actual theology of it, essentially just making references for the sake of seeming deep. This isn't necessarily a criticism of that practice, especially since American films  have been doing the same thing with eastern religion and philosophy for years. It's just something to note, as it can lead to some rather bizarre stories, such as the short lived manga Let's Bible where the descendent of St. Peter unknowingly attempts to molest Jesus, who has been reincarnated (!?) in the body of a scantily clad young woman, only to be attacked by the Great-Great-Grandson of Satan, who uses the powers of his enchanted mariachi guitar to summon a nuke, only to be defeated when Peter's descendent (named Vulcan) summons the Kraken to eat him.

That's right. There's the son of God.
Why do I bring this up? Because it's a far more interesting story than the pile of shit I actually get to review. At least that story has some sort of self awareness to it. Priest seems absolutely convinced that it's the most epic thing since Lord of the Rings, with absolutely none of the skill, prowess, or story telling to back it up.

The film starts out with a short prologue where we see a group of the titular Priests going through some tunnels, until the eventually reach an open chamber. Then we get our first bit of dialogue, and I immediately lose any hope that this pile of horse shit has any chance at entertaining. They literally stand there for a several seconds, then our main character, who never gets a name other than Priest says; "It is a Trap."

I WISH he was in here.
So then the group is ambushed by at bunch of what we later are told are vampires. But really, these thins have more in common with Aliens in their design than vampires. For some reason I have a hard time imagining this is what Bram Stoker was talking about.
Still, I'll even take Alien: Resurrection ripoffs over the alternative.
Then we cut to an animated prologue, explaining the origin of all this bullshit. Essentially, the humans and "vampires" have been at war for centuries in a battle for the world, which apparently turned the entire planet into a huge irradiated desert. The humans were losing the war, until the church took over and initiated the group known as the Priests, whose amazing ability to punch physics in the crotch with everything they do allowed them to destroy most of the vampires. Being a typical corrupt government, the church then disbanded the Priests and treated their war heroes like they didn't exist. I would say this is some allegory for present day politics, but that would mean the writers would have had to have put more effort into the story than "ZOMG EXPLOSIONS AND SLOW-MO!" so I doubt it.

The story itself is pretty cookie-cutter post-apocalypse stuff, but I will admit when a movie does something right, which in this case would be having Genndy Tatakovsky to do the animation for the prologue. It's easily the highlight of what is otherwise a train wreck of a film. At least somebody had the good sense to get the guy who made this:
and this:
So that not EVERYTHING in this pile of celluloid is unsalvagable.

Back at the plot however, things don't make much sense here. I can maybe understand the Priests being disbanded after the war is over. I imagine a war against fucking vampires would be rather costly, and with the threat apparently gone it doesn't make much sense to keep your fully equipped special ops team running indefinitely. The problem comes in making them a secret. I mean, what the hell? What purpose does that serve? Movie, if you're going to have a tyrannical theocracy be believable you have to MAKE. FUCKING. SENSE.

We then move on to a small, single cabin, in the middle of bum fuck nowhere. We meet a couple who have been living out there with their daughter, and we are told through extremely stilted dialogue that they've been out there for years, waiting for the soil to slowly lose it's radioactivity so they could actually plant something out there.

So wait, they've been living out in the middle of a barren wasteland long enough to raise a daughter into at LEAST her late teens, and they've been doing it in the slim hope that some time, eventually, the dirt will reach a point where it won't immediately kill anything planted in it? Um, what? Was this plan A?
"If we star here long enough, I'm sure this'll be a big, beautiful rainforest! Now drink your dirt honey."
They engage in some meaningless dialogue for a bit, and it's really pointless since everyone but the daughter will be dead within the next 10 minutes, because suddenly there's a horde of wild "vampires" outside, and they try to hide in the basement. Because I'm sure that wooden door will be more than enough to keep out the undead.
Predictably, they all end up dead except for the daughter, who's named Lucy, is the only one to survive, and she's taken away by the leader of the vampires, an apparently human man who according to wikipedia is named "Black Hat". I'm going by the wiki here because he is honestly never given an name during the entire movie. Great job establishing your characters, screenwriters.

We then cut to "Sector 12" which only serves to remind me of The Hunger Games, which isn't a good idea as I'm already rather ambivalent about that adaptation. Then we meet Priest, our protagonist who has the amazing ability to never inject even a modicum of emotion or personality into his performance. It's here we also see that the movie is not content to rip off elements from Judge Dredd and The Matrix, as we see video monitors of Church Leaders, constantly spewing out the importance of following the church. Hey, guys, I've been through High School, meaning I've read 1984 too. Don't try to regurgitate steak and tell me it's still good.

I'm honestly disappointed the Mon Signor didn't have a mustache.
Priest heads to his crappy rundown apartment, and on the way some little kid asks him why he has a Cross tattooed on his forehead and down his nose. His mother then tells him they "don't talk to Priests". Um, why? Weren't these the guys who straight up saved the whole fucking species from extinction and enslavement by Predator rejects? These guys should be constantly knee-deep in parades and handjobs! Is this really the way the world would treat war heroes just because some old guys in silly hats told them to?
Must. Obey.
At his home, Priest finds somebody who he apparently knows, who I THINK is given the name Hicks, but again the movie never makes this clear. Since he'll end up just being the sidekick who doesn't do much other than whine and waste air, I'm just gonna call him Alter Boy. Priest and Alter Boy, here to save the day! AB tells Priest that Lucy's missing and that her parents are dead, and apparently that's important to Priest for some reason. We eventually find out why, but for a bout 60 minutes we're left mostly in the dark about it. Anyway, Priest goes to the Church officials and asks to go out in pursuit of the vampires. They say no, as they don't want to acknowledge that vampires still remain.

If I may ask a question...WHY? What good could that possibly serve? This is the threat that very nearly destroyed humanity, and you're not going to investigate it? Listen, there's "corrupt" and then there's "STUPID AS A SACK OF SPECIAL NEEDS HAMMERS".

Priest decides he'll go anyway, and gets on his...*sigh*...gets on his jet-engine powered bike. Which he uses to go over 200 miles per hour on. With no damage to his face despite the fact that he wears no face mask or goggles. Have the film makers never ridden on a fucking motorcycle before? Or understand anything about basic human endurance. I know that this is an action movie, and thus there's going to be plenty of times where physics gets kicked in the nads, but there has to be more happening to somebody going 260 mph then just having the wind pick their coat up a bit.
...Is that the Bat-pod?
After a pointless and unnecessary montage of him riding his Jet-bike across barren, interchangeable bits of wasteland, Priest arrives at the remains of the cabin, meets back up with Alter Boy, and the 2 of them make their merry way to another city that's been taken over by vampires. Most likely because their leaders also dumbly decided that they should just ignore the still present monstrosities.

We then get to see what's happened with Lucy, who's being imprisoned on a train that belongs to Black Hat. She and Black Hat converse for a few seconds, "Blah blah Priest will come to save me" "Blah Blah I'm counting on it" and a few other lines that would easily fit into an episode of Superman. I'm more interested in the bizarre cinematography of this scene, where everything is put through some strange green filter. It really doesn't do much other than distract me from what little plot there is, and is a bit of a strain on the eyes.

Don't take movie making tips for Joel Schumacher
Anyway, it's established that the couple that died earlier is actually Priest's brother and Ex-girlfriend. I guess she liked to keep it in the family. There's also a scene where we see Priest making bullets for Alter Boy to fight the vampires with. How is he making them, you ask? By taking regular bullets and carving crosses into the front. I don't know enough about ballistics to tell if doing that would have a negative effect on the bullets' effectiveness, but I can say without a doubt that it IS stupid as all shit.

So what, does that mean that they can't kill vampires without being related to a cross in some way? If not, then there's no point in doing it except to waste time and needlessly tamper with your ammunition. If it DOES, then would that men you could essentially just draw a cross on anything to use as a weapon? Like just draw a crucifix on a nuke and drop it on the vampires' hives! Did I forget to mention that? Yeah, the vampires apparently make hives. They now officially have more in common with Bees than they do with actual vampires. Our pair of dressed up mannequins  heroes find they've made one underneath the abandoned city.

Next we get to meet these guys:
Huh-durrrrrrr.
That charming fellow right there is a "Familiar". In this universe they're what happens when a vampire attacks a human without killing them. I don't know what they all look like the horrible result of a one night stand between Gollum and Uncle Fester, but they are apparently enslaved to serve the vampires and protect them during the day. Our heroic duo kill some of them, kill some vampires, and then head off again. I'm so glad we needed this scene here, since it added SO MUCH to the story.

Speaking of story, we then cut back to the city, where the Church higher-ups are sending out 4 other priests in order to bring Priest back. I have to ask...WHY? Why are they willing to send out 4 people to get him back, rather than simply TAKING CARE OF THE VAMPIRES. Seriously, you'd rather exhaust resources in covering up the vampires than just GETTING RID OF THEM?
"This sounds like a good plan."
Also, I should probably mention that during that scene where Priest and Alter Boy (I so need to write a Comic Book called that some day) fought off vampires, Priest used Crucifix shaped shuriken.

Yeah.

The Dynamic Didactic Duo make their way to the nearby remains of a vampire hive, and descend into the depths of its various tunnels to see if they left any clues as to where the hoard is headed. Also I feel I should mention the caves look like the inside of somebody's rectum, and the two seem to, for all outward appearances, be giving the Rock Biter a rectal exam.
"Ya using the whole fist, Doc?"
They run into a female Priest who is again not given a name, but according to wikipedia (again) is named Priestess. I have to wonder if the film makers are all under the impression that your profession is your name. Was this written by Screenwriter, filmed by Camera Man, and starring Actor and Actress? Was it edited by Fucknut With Video Editting Software?

I'm getting off track. Priestess tells them that the 3 other Priests (I'm assuming they're named Canon Fodder, Dead Meat, and Corpse) have head to the town of Jericho to look for him, but she was the only one smart enough to figure out that the guy hunting vampires would probably go to the last place vampires were known to congregate, and that she wants to help him. Then they fight the "Hive Guardian" which is essentially just a larger version of the vamps we've already seen. It kind of looks like a poorly done CG version of Wildmutt from Ben 10.
Oh wait, they already did that. *Sigh*
Also, it's worth noting that the film then takes another chance to piss all over Physics' withered, marred corpse. There's a part where the Hive Guardian is up high, and Priest needs to jump up to get him. So Priestess throws a pair of rocks into the air, which he them jumps towards and then OFF OF, to get higher. THAT. CAN'T. HAPPEN.

AT ALL.

Jesus tap dancing christ, how did the film makers take this seriously at all?

Meanwhile Black Hat and his vampires attack Jericho, and also find and swiftly kill the 3 Priests. Big shocker there I must say. Something to note is that during the scene of the town being destroyed, the score starts randomly playing opera music and Black Hat swings his arms around like he's a music director. It was weird. Moving on.

The next morning Priest, Priestess and Alter Boy (They're only 1 more character away from forming a christian rock band!) arrive at Jericho to find everybody dead and most houses burned to the ground. They also find the 3 Priests' bodies crucified at the town center.
The priest begin talking about what they think the vampires are planing when it just occurred to me that there's a big problem with this whole setting. Where are they getting the wood for these houses? Like seriously, we haven't seen a single tree in this entire god damn world, and yet everything outside of the cities is made of wood. Hell, even Black Hat's train is made of wood! I know it's probably not that important in the long run, but they've spent a LOT of time emphasizing there's absolutely nothing in this entire landscape, and yet expect us to just accept there's an invisible yet highly resourceful lumber industry out there somewhere.

As I was saying, the 3 eventually figure out that the Nosferatu Express is headed for the city, and that they purposefully drew out the Priests in order to leave the city defenseless.

Wait. Does that mean there were only 5 Priests in that entire city? But then...what? What? Just. Ow. My Brain. Thoughts hurt. Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.
Still more coherent than this movie.
They hatch a plan for Priestes to blow up the train while Priest and Alter Boy head into the the train and save Lucy. Now I guess I should mention that several times throughout the film that Priest plans to kill Lucy if she's been infected and turned into a Familiar. Alter Boy has said again and again that he can't support this, because apparently it's better for your loved ones to live on for years without any free will or personality than to simply let them die. This comes to a head as Alter Boy threatens to kill Priest if he still plans to kill Lucy, saying he doesn't have the right because he doesn't know her. Priestess then reveals that Lucy is Priest's daughter, and George Lucas prepares for a lawsuit.
"Best lawyer up, bitch."
I guess this is supposed to mean something, but I honestly don't care. They go to the train, Priest and Alter boy jump on, while Priestess rides ahead in order to prep the explosives up ahead. But things don't go as planned when Alter Boy has to make his way through the train car full of sleeping vampires. And the vampires appear to sleep inside strange, mucus cocoons for some reason. I guess they though Coffins would be too tacky. Priest runs into Black Hat who...appears to just have been standing on top of one of the train cars, waiting for Priest to eventually make it up there. Meanwhile, several familiars hop out of the train to pursue Priestess on motorbikes. And I'm pretty much required to use this joke:
Back at the train, Alter Boy is STILL sloooooooowwwwwwwwwwwlllllyyyyyyyyyyyy making his way through the Vampiric train car, which really seems like the type of place you'd want to get through quickly. Black Hat and Priest just sort of stand there for a bit before BH explains that he was on the mission we saw at the beginning with Priest and was captured by the vampires, who tortured him before the Queen (Apparently Vampires have queens now. Like I said, they're more like giant, grey, quadrupedal bees than vampires.) made him...drink her blood or something, it's not very clear. This turned him into a "Hybrid" of human and vampire, and apparently made him super strong.

After a fight scene that makes me think the Wachowski Brothers should team up with Lucas in suing these guys. Eventually they end up inside the train car with Lucy, and Alter Boy finally makes his way through a single train car. Black Hat kicks their asses, and reveals to Lucy the truth about her father. He actually says "He never told you, did he?" which is so close to Darth Vader that I swear they must have incriminating photos that are keeping Lucas from suing them to hell and back.
"I knew I shouldn't have video taped that Hookers and Blow party."
Alter Boy gets knocked off the train, yet somehow survives, and Priest gets knocked out and nailed to the wall with a knife. I would complain about this being impossible, but at this point I'm just praying for this to end soon. Meanwhile Priestess is setting up the explosives when the Familiars catch up to her. She kills them in a stupid, but thankfully short fight scene, and then discovers that the explosives wont work now because...they got knocked over? I don't even know at this point. So she decides the best course of action is to attach the TNT to her bike and drive headlong into an oncoming train.

Is everyone in this universe just really bad at planning?

Meanwhile Black Hat is up top again and about to infect Lucy, when Priest wakes up, climbs up top, and throws a knife into his throat. All in slow motion. This movie is barely long enough for a theatrical release as it is, and half of it is STILL slow-motion. To make a drawn-out scene shorter, Priestess jumps off the bike, Priest jumps off the train, Black Hat dies in the explosion, and Lucy and Alter Boy get together.
While this would be a good place to end this shit, the film makers decided to sequel bait us instead. Priest storms into the headquarters of the church in the middle of a sermon, take out a severed Vampire head, shows it to the people there, and tells them all that the Queen wasn't with the horde that they killed, and rides off on his super bike into the distance. Hopefully that sequel won't be made though, as Priest just barely managed to recoup its budget during its run in theaters, and I can't imagine the DVD sales will be much better.

And really, the whole damn thing is so boring and derivative of every other action movie in the last 20 years, that even if it wasn't poorly written, horribly acted, and chopped all to hell in the editing room in order to get a PG-13 rating, it still wouldn't be worth the effort of watching it. You'd be better off trying to find Underworld or something similar in a DVD bargain bin somewhere than trying to sit through this trite piece of phoned in horse vomit.

Final Score: 2/10

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"The Last Airbender" - Snark Review

Let's get something straight right off the bat. This is not a movie, it's a train wreck. It is an absolute mess of bad writing, bad editing, bad directing, bad acting, god-awful special effects, and a serious case of the film makers not knowing what the hell they were doing.

For those of you who may not know, The Last Airbender was the first of what was meant to be a trilogy of films that would take the 3 seasons of the popular Nickelodeon TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original title for the film was the same as the show, but then James Cameron came along with his 250 million dollar CGI blockbuster, and threatened to sue if they didn't change the name, as he was afraid people might get the 2 movies confused. Cameron needn't have worried, as while Avatar certainly had it's flaws as a movie, it was in another pantheon compared to this worthless waste of money and celluloid.

Now, I'm already coming into this a bit biased, as I'm a big fan of the original show. I can honestly say it's one of my favorite shows ever, and easily my favorite animated show. I loved the characters, the mythos, the amount of effort and care that went into crafting the world and culture. The brilliant and beautiful animation and designs. It's a show I would recommend to anyone and everyone. So when I heard they were making a live-action adaptation of the first season, I, along with many other fans, was more than a bit apprehensive. After all, there's been a rather dubious history with taking animated creations and making them live-action.

Dammit Hollywood, what did my childhood do to deserve this?

There's also the inherent difficulty that comes with taking 20 episodes of a TV show and fitting it into a reasonable time period. You've got nearly 7 hours of story and characterization coming from a heavily serialized show, and there's many things that aren't important when first introduced, but later become extremely important. It was clear to anyone that for this to work, they would need to get somebody for the project that knew how to handle everything with a deft, delicate touch. You couldn't just give the job to any old shmuck who offered to do it simply to try and make a buck, especially not one that had a recent history of laughably awful - Okay, screw it, insert your own M. Night Shyamalan joke here.

That's right, the man who's latest movie at the time was about plants killing people and Marky mark running through a field trying to outrun wind, was going to not only direct the film, but write and produce it as well. There was a collective groan from the A:TLA fandom.

Things just got worse as the actors cast for the main roles were announced...
Something seems off...did they change Zuko's hair?
Now I'm not the type of person who tries to start problems or controversies when there are none, but this is just...bad. People gave Power Rangers shit for casting a black guy and an asian girl as the Black and Yellow rangers all the way back in the early nineties! Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, you're stupid enough to try and pull a complete race swap for the main characters? This would have been bad enough on its own, but then casting calls for the film surfaced, with such brilliant lines as "If you're korean, wear a kimono." That banging sound you're hearing? It's the legions of fans that are still bashing their heads against the wall at the sheer ignorance of that sentence. This complete lack of tact or intelligence eventually lead to the founding of the Racebending movement, in an attempt to stop stupid shit like this from happening again.

So we've got an inherently difficult to execute project, being helmed by the guy who gave us this scene:
and with a cast of actors that look nothing at all like the characters they are meant to be portraying. To say that the fans weren't much enthused would such an understatement that calling it an understatement is itself and understatement. There were very few fans of the show still holding onto any hope for this movie.

But still, not ALL hope was lost. It had been announced that the creators of the show were going to be involved in the production, so there was that. Plus Shyamalan said he was a big fan of the series, that he watched it every week with his kids during its original run, and that his daughter loved it so much she wanted to dress as Katara for Halloween. So maybe, just maybe, he'd put a little more effort into this script then he had in the last few.

Next came the trailers, and this shows that at least one person involved with the film knew what they were doing. Most likely somebody on the marketing team knew that they were essentially shipping out a turd of a movie, and so they made sure to have virtually no dialogue or extended scenes in the trailers. Instead they mostly had title cards interspersed with short snippets of random actions scenes with not context. This had the effect of assuaging some of the fans' fears. After all, one of the big draws of the show was the amazing fight scenes, so clearly they were doing something right.

Oh how wrong we were.

The film start's out with a shot by shot remake of the opening credits of the show. And while the show had a quick recap voiceover of the general premise during this, we instead get complete silence as we are left to witness the worthless excuse for bending this film will be giving us. Seriously just look at it, it kind of speaks for itself.

Essentially they just have the actors fake seizures on a green screen for a few seconds while poorly rendered CGI follows the vague path of their movements a few seconds after they're done convulsing. For comparison, here's how it goes in the show:

See how everything flows smoothly? That's how it's supposed to go. What we get is a bunch of CG that would look bad in the 80's that kind of almost sorta moves around the actors. This is not a good way to start things out.

After that load of crap we get a text crawl while Katara, the on-again-off-again narrator of the film, reads it of to us. Then we open with our first shot of the story, more poorly animated "water" being slowly controlled by Katara, who for some reason constantly looks like she's on the verge of tears at all times. I swear M. Night Shyamalan had to have been holding her pet puppy hostage or something, because there is no way somebody's eyes are always filled to the brim of tears naturally. Anyway she accidentally dumps the water on her brother Sokk- I'm sorry, Soak-Uh.

Yeah, for some backasswards reason there are several names in the film that are pronounced differently from the show. Aang becomes Ahng, Sokka; Soak-uh, Iroh; Eeroh, Avatar; Ahvatahr. It absolutely confounds me why they would do this. It doesn't sound any less strange or foreign than the names as they're regularly said, so it doesn't make it more accessible to non-fans. Viewers who haven't seen the show aren't going to notice the difference if the names are said normally, so the only people who WILL notice are fans, who are going to be pissed off/confused at this shit. So essentially it's completely unnecessary change that accomplishes nothing other than to piss off fans of the show your film is based on. Way to go Shyamalan.

Getting back to the story, Sokka and Katara are hunting for food near their home in the South Pole, when they come along a patch of ice that has something glowing beneath it. Being a pair of kids who have spent their whole lives in this type of environment, they immediately decide to break open the ice they're standing on to find out what the shiny thing at the bottom of the water is. These 2 are Darwin Awards waiting to happen.

Somehow surviving this bout of extreme stupidity, they see a large globe of ice rise up from beneath the water and crack open, emitting a glowing beam of light into the sky. Inside the globe they find Aang, a young boy with arrow tattoos and a shaved head, along with his flying CGI bison who will amount to absolutely nothing in this film. A far cry from the character that got an entire episode dedicated to him in the show. Still this IS a film adaptation of a show, so some stuff if going to have to be dropped for the sake of brevity.

Suddenly we cut to Aang inside one of the igloos of the southern water tribe, where we get a nice look at another pointless change they did, this time in the name of Christ allegories!

SYMBOLISM!!!!1!!!!!ELEVENTY!!!!!!!!!!!!1
It's here we're introduced to quite possibly one of the worst young actors I've ever watched on screen. I will certainly admit that Aang would be a difficult character for any actor to carry well, since his brand of chipper optimism and wide-eyed hyper-activity is something that takes a lot of energy to keep up, and you always would want to hold back for fear of coming across as irritating. But this kid? He has 2 expressions throughout the whole film. Slightly happy smile, and "Oh god I just pissed myself and everyone can totally see" face. If there's one thing you don't want the hero of your story to do, it's to look like he's constantly wearing soppy underoos.
He just realized this film is the biggest acting credit he'll ever get.
Next up in the train of humiliatingly bad acting is Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame portraying Prince Zuko. Now, I would say that Patel was a bad choice for the role of Zuko, seeing as he looks absolutely nothing like him at all, but Patel wasn't the first choice for the role. You know who was?
Not even kidding.
But still, Patel not being the absolute worst casting choice is the best thing I can say about his performance in this film. While one of Zuko's main characteristics is his anger and bouts of speech concerning honor, he's also got a much less aggressive side to him, which was prevalent even in the 1st season. Patel, for whatever reason, chose to make Zuko as angry, loud, and obnoxious as possible so he couldn't be taken seriously as an antagonist at all. Plus he gives us this immortal line:
Then of course there's the scar. Now, I'm perfectly aware that the large, stylized scar Zuko had in the show would probably look ridiculous in live action, and so making it more realistic was a good decision. The problem is that you can barely see it. That clip I posted up there? That's the clearest the scar ever looks. Ever. Just to make it clear we went from this:
"Man, what happened to that guy's face!?"
to this:
"Umm, did that guy have pink-eye?"
So let's see, we've got a hero who looks like he still wets the bed, a female lead who appears just moments away from a nervous breakdown, and an antagonist with a mild case of conjunctivitis. But there's still Sokka right? Idiotic pronunciation changes aside, they could at least still get his character right. Sure the actor playing him is most famous for playing a weird-looking sparkly guy, but at least he's got SOME acting experience, they might still salvage something right? Oh wait, no, because this movie is pile of ASS and can't get anything right.

Sokka on the show was a character who, while he certainly had a serious side when things took a turn for the worse, was usually very comedic. Be it with sarcastic quips or just providing some slapstick, he was the go-to of the main cast for comedic relief. In the movie on the other hand, he cracks a smile maybe...twice? Through out the whole 100 minute running time, he's completely serious and looks kind of pissed off just being there. Like the actor was maybe roped into doing this and can't get out of his contract without being blacklisted.

So great, now that it's been firmly established that none of our main characters act anything like their counterparts, we get into the story proper.

Zuko storms into the Southern Water Tribe and demands them to bring him the Avatar, as he knows the beam in the sky has to do with him. Aang shows himself in order to protect them, and he's carted off. Sokka and Katara share some forced exposition that their mother was taken away during a Fire Nation raid years ago. This is another pointless change, as in the show their mother was killed in said raid. You might say they changed it to make it less dark for the kiddies, but that gets thrown out the window near the end when we see somebody get straight-up murdered on screen.

You know what, this review is already long as hell and I'm only through the first 10 minutes. I've gotta start letting the pointless changes slide unless they're absolutely pressing, otherwise I'll be writing a thesis here.

Anyway, Katara and Sokka's Grandmother tells them that she believes Aang is the Avatar, the only person capable of bending all four elements, whose spirit has been reincarnated for thousands of life-times, keeping balance among the four powers. She tells us that Aang must have been frozen in that ice-block for 100 years, as it's been that long since anyone's seen an Air Nomad, since the Fire Nation wiped them all out at the start of the war.

Meanwhile on the ship with Zuko and his uncle Iroh, they perform a test to see if Aang really is the Avatar that is so stupid I can't honestly tell you all the ways in which it makes no sense. BUT I WILL TRY

1. They use a candle flame, and pitcher of water, and a rock to test him. This is stupid.
2. When the flame blows towards him, the water puddles in front of him, and the rock moves in front of him, they believe he's the avatar. This looks stupid.
3. If this is meant to be an unconscious reaction to Aang's presence, shouldn't the snow have been constantly moving with him earlier?
4. If it's NOT unconscious, then that means Aang's just showing off, which would make him dumber than a sack of hammers.
5. None of the people involved can act.

God damn, I'm not even halfway through and this review is already too long.

In an incredibly boring "chase" scene, Aang escapes the ship and meets up with Katara and Sokka. They decide to go with him, since clearly the 5 minutes they've known him is more than enough to justify leaving their village and family. My guess is they were always weirded out that they were the only white people in the entire south pole. The village is probably glad to be rid of them too, what with Sokka constantly talking about his buddy Edward and that weird girl he dated.

Then they reach the Southern Air Temple, Aang's home, which he ran away from after finding out he was the Avatar because he couldn't handle the extreme pressure that comes with essentially being the Christ figure of an entire world and balancing the struggle and difficulties of an ever-changing and growing wor- What's that? They changed his motivation? You say he's now more concerned that he couldn't have a family, even though as he's been raised by and as a monk his whole life that shouldn't bother him in the least? Well fuck me sideways, never mind. It's not like having your characters have struggles and development would make your pile of shit movie at least a little tolerable.

So yadda yadda, Aang finds out he was frozen for 100 years, everybody he loved his dead and his entire way of life has been erased for over a century, and it's all his fault because he wanted to get married. He breaks down and goes into the spirit world where a terrible CGI dragon chews him out for being a fucking moron. Katara snaps him out of it and they move on without anything really being effected. Whoo.

So then we meet Admiral Zhao, played by a hilariously miscast Aasif Mandvi. He's supposed to serve as our final villain of the film, but for now he's just here to shove in all of Zuko's backstory in 30 seconds of dialogue. I've heard it said that if you're writing dialogue for ANYTHING and you use the phrase "as you know" you need to stop right there and make revisions to the story so that isn't necessary. Aasif here uses it so many times here that I lost count. It's a clumsily written mess of a scene and the only reason I don't want it to end is because what follows is the worst scene in the movie.

Do you know how terrifying it is to write that? The worst scene in a film of nothing but bad scenes. It's the Adolf Hitler of movie scenes. If you were a fan of the series, and you had somehow managed to hold onto any scrap of hope that there would be anything that could be even remotely passable, this scene is where you just fucking gave up and resigned yourself to rage and depression for the rest of the film.

Aang and Co. run into a young earthbender who's being chased by Fire Nation soldiers. They're all captured and brought to the prison where the soldiers have been holding all of the earthbenders. Do you know where this prison happens to be? If you guessed a metal rig out in the ocean far away from any rock or soil, you're clearly more intelligent than M. Night Shyamalan. Because in here, the Fire Nation decided to imprison the EARTHbenders in A FUCKING ROCK QUARRY. There are no words. And not only have the earthbenders not seemed to realize that they are LITERALLY SURROUNDED BY THE VERY ELEMENT THEY HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER, but it takes Aang actually telling them they are STANDING ON FUCKING ROCKS THAT THEY CAN CONTROL for them to finally start rebelling. What follows is the worst fight scene I've ever seen in a film. It's done in a single crane shot that exposes all of the idiots in the background just standing around waiting for their cue. And then...and then...

Just watch.

Let's move on.

So we then get a montage of Aang liberating various Earth Kingdom villages as the trio travels north towards the Northern Water Tribe where they hope to find a Waterbending teacher for Aang and Katara. Meanwhile we get a scene with Admiral Zhao meeting with Zuko's father, Firelord Ozai. And good god did the fuck up Ozai. Here's all we ever saw of Ozai in the first 2 seasons of the show:
Pictured: an intimidating villain
And here's what he looks like in the film:
Pictured: Ridiculous Campy Bullshit
Sort of loses the intimidating nature, doesn't it?

Anyway, Zhao tells Ozai that they're tracking the Avatar north, and that they know he's heading towards the Northern Water Tribe. The pair hatch a plan to capture the avatar using spies in the Earth Kingdom, as well as a full scale assault on the Water Tribe. We also get a flashback showing us Azula, who would become the main antagonist in the 2nd season, and again, the translation from cartoon to actress leaves a lot to be desired.
From this...
Man, the casting department didn't give two shits, did they?

Back with Aang and the 2 sacks of water and bone he calls his friends, we see Aang is having trouble dealing with the fact that he's the Avatar, and thus has to one day save the world. So he decides he should try to meditate and meet that kindly old dragon that called him a dumbass earlier and figures he needs to visit the Northern Air Temple that's nearby to do it. Sokka says it's a bad idea, and Katara says she'll try to talk him out of it. Cut to Aang leaving. Guess Katara's talk was so pointless even the film makers thought it was superfluous. That's saying something.

Aang arrives at the temple only to meet a kindly old stranger who says he's been waiting for him, and that he has a special place to show him in the temple.
Aang being the fucking moron he is in this crock of shit excuse for a film follows the man into an inner temple when, suddenly, out of nowhere, nobody in a million fucking years could have seen it coming, it turns out this was a trap set by Fire Nation. I mean really, who'd have thought you couldn't trust an old man you'd just met who just happened to have been sitting there in a temple of a culture not his own who said he'd been waiting for you. Just wow, who CAN ya trust these days?

So Zhao imprisons Aang, but this lasts all of about 5 seconds before Zuko, in an incredibly silly looking disguise, shows up and busts Aang out. This leads to another poorly shot fight scene where all the fire nation soldiers politely wait their turn and attack Aang one at a time. Eventually Aang and Zuko manage to escape, with Zuko getting knocked out and Zhao inexplicably knowing it was Zuko. Really, this scene was only in here as a phoned-in attempt to put a fan-favorite plot point in the story. There's nothing accomplished here, nothing is added to the story, the characters don't learn anything. It's just so strange too that a movie that so far has been so dedicated to telling fans of the show to suck it, with needless changes and rewrites, that it suddenly thinks it can get fans in again by putting the breakout scene in.

So our merry band of idiots finally make it to the Northern Water Tribe, where they are greeting by is that a giant penis on her head?
It is. That's clearly a penis. I don't mean to be crude but it is clear to all who can see that her hair looks like a penis with that shot and that lighting. Jesus Tap Dancing Christ, M. Night Shyamalan just spent the last hour trying to tell a serious story, and then he chooses THAT shot to put in the film? Game over man, game over.

Ugh. As I was saying, they are greeted by Princess Yue, who is leader of the Northern Tribe, and yet she is inexplicably not called "Queen Yue". I would complain about this stupidity, but I'm just glad they didn't have everybody call her Princess You. Then we get a voice-over from Katara telling the audience that Sokka and Yue became "good friends" very quickly, because it's not like good story telling would have us see these characters interact and build a relationship. ATTENTION MANOJ NELLIYATTU SHYAMALAN: NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN. PLEASE. YOU SUCK AT IT.

Anyway Katara, Mistress of telling us shit we should be seeing, also tells us that the Water Tribe is preparing for battle against the approaching Fire Nation, and that they have a plan to help keep the Firebenders' power low by extinguishing all the lanterns in the tribe when it comes time to fight. You see, for whatever reason, the film makers decided to make it so that Firebenders need a source for the Fire they bend, while in the show they created it themselves using Chi. I don't even care at this point. This stopped being Last Airbender a while ago for me. Still, we at least see the characters thinking strategically, taking what they know about the strengths of other benders and taking into account in their-
Man, those lanterns must be REALLY bright when they're lit.
Fuck it. Let's move on.

Zhao in the meantime tries to have Zuko assassinated by blowing up the prince's ship. This, for whatever reason, only manages to scratch his face a little. Which is still more noticeable than that fucking piddling ball of dollar store make-up they call a scar. Fuck I hate this. Hate. Hate. Hate. HATE.

So Zhao's forces attack the Water Tribe, Zuko sneaks in from under water and emerges miraculously dry. Zhoa reveals to Iroh that the plan is to sneak into the Spirit Oasis in the center of the Water Tribe and Kill the Moon Spirit that lives there, this will rob the Waterbenders of their bending as the Moon is the original source of waterbending. Aang has also gone to the Spirit Oasis, and is meditating in an attempt to contact that Dragon again and while he's zoned out Zuko shows up, beats Katara so quickly it's fucking shameful, and then drags Aang's limp body to a different building.

After the Dragon tells him to stop being a wimp, Aang awakens and attempts to get away from Zuko in one of the most embarrassingly dumb thing I've ever seen. Rather than a bending fight, or a martial arts fight, we get fucking cartoon antics. Aang actually hides from Zuko by STANDING BEHIND HIM. And when Zuko turns his head, AANG JUST LEANS TO THE SIDE TO STAY HIDDEN. This is stuff they pull in comedies precisely because it's absolutely ridiculous and anybody with 2 braincells to rub together knows it wouldn't work. This scene thankfully ends, with Katara finally managing to do something worth a damn by encasing Zuko in ice. They leave Zuko in order to get back to the fight going on outside, and then we get to see Zhao and Iroh just casually stroll their asses through the battlefield without even looking where they're going. Seriously.

They make it to the Oasis, Zhao prepares to kill the spirit that's in the form of a poorly rendered CGI fish, and Iroh tells him that hey, maybe destroying the moon isn't such a hot fucking idea when it comes to how the world works. Zhao, being the perpetual fucktard that he is, ignores this and stabs the fish, then runs off. This inspires Aang to finally join the battle, and so he rushes away to try and aid the now powerless waterbenders.

While Aang's off doing that, we see Iroh, Sokka, and Yue mourning the dead moon spirit, when Yue decides to sacrifice herself to bring the Moon Spirit back to life. Sokka protests, seeing as this is the only chance he's ever going to have of getting some considering they didn't include his other love interest in the final cut of the film. We are then treated to 2 of the outright dumbest lines in this film.

Yue: It's time we show the fire nation we believe in our beliefs as mush as they believe in theirs.
 and
Iroh: There are reason each of us are born.

Now the first line is stupid in an obvious way. This is just an outright poorly written line and anybody who knows how to write lines would write that line differently than the way that line was written. But the second one is dumb in a less obvious way, in that it's essentially implying that Yue was born to die because Aasif Mandvi would one day stab a fish. Can this movie end already?

Yue sacrifices herself, the moon comes back, the tide of the battle turns and the waterbenders start winning. Then Zuko runs into Zhao, and they prepare to fight. Finally, after 90 minutes of the Firebenders looking like complete fools with nothing intimidating about them in the slightest, we'll finally get to see a good old Agni Ki, plus it's a showdown that's been building up even in the movie. Clearly they're going to put forward at least a little effort into this one, right...

I don't know why I'm even surprised anymore. Iroh shows up, tells Zuko some bullshit about how he has to walk away from this fight or some shitfaced pathos that would fit better in a Rocky movie. Zuko leaves and instead, Zhao gets out-right drowned on screen by 4 random waterbenders who leave as quickly and anticlimactically as they arrived.
Fuck it. Let's end this. Aang gets to the front wall of the Water Tribe and raises a big wave of water, then just sort of holds it there for 5 minutes. This is apparently enough to make the firebenders surrender, and everybody bows to Aang. We get some set up for a sequel that, if there is any good in the universe at all, will never get made. Cue end credits and me getting this piece of trash out of my DVD player.

I mean just...WOW. Woooooooow. Everything bad you can do with an adaptation, no, more than that. Everything you can do wrong with a film in general, is done here. People have been joking about M. Night Shyamalan's slipping career for years now, but THIS is the bottom. The absolute fucking rock bottom. If Shaymalan is capable of making a worse film than this, I would actually like to see it, just because I want to see if it's fucking possible.

Fuck this movie with a god damned broom handle. Fuck M. Night Shymalan.

But at least there's one positive thing. This is no longer going to be the last installment in the Avatar: The Last Airbender fanchise. Next year, they're coming out with a 2 season spin-off series Avatar: The Legend of Korra and all signs point to it being the same level of quality as the show. So hopefully, if the creators continue to work with the Avatar universe with the same passion and hard work they've always shown, we'll be able to quietly shoo this atrocity under the rug.

Final Score: 0/10

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Devil" - Snark Review

It's no secret that M. Night Shyamalan isn't highly regarded these days. He's essentially been on a downward slope since the very beginning of his career. He started out with The Sixth Sense to huge critical acclaim, and followed it up with Unbreakable which, while not as big a critical darling as its predecessor was still widely praised for being a smart, original take on the superhero genre. It was also the first nail in the coffin of Shyamalan's infamous "Twist Ending" habit.

Things started really going downhill with the release of Signs which got more mixed reactions than his other films. At the time this was just seen as a bump in the road to most fans, after all everybody makes at least one bad film, right? Things just got worse with 2004's "The Village, which is where most former fans of Shymalan's work point to when asked where he went wrong. But the village was still met with some positive reviews, with the major problem being the weak and rather ludicrous twist at the end. Then came Lady in the Water, a self-indulgent modern fairy tail where Shyamalan wrote himself as a man whose writing will bring peace to the world. This is where people started officially saying his career was dead, that it couldn't possibly get worse than that.

Oh, how naive we were back then. Shyamalan began garnering a different type of audience in 2008 with the release of The Happening, a film so campy, ridiculous, poorly written and acted that Shymalan was from then on known as the director to look towards for So-Bad-It's-Good type films. Things would hit their apex 2 years later with the critically panned pile of rat filth known as The Last Airbender, a film that many have compared to the Holocaust of movies. The anti-Citizen Kane. For all of 2010, that film was THE film to point to as the bar for horrible movies. Critics would call a movie terrible, horrible, awful, and they would still say "Hey, at least it's not The Last Airbender." Nearly every critic put it as their #1 worst movie of the year. Also, it had penis hair:

You can't unsee it.


Why do I bring up Shymalan's long and storied descent into shittery? Because you need to understand the mindset going into this movie that, while written by Shyamalan, was not directed by him. This could mean only bad. You see, while the writing of his movies has steadily dropped in quality, Shyamalan has always managed to be a decent director, sometimes even brilliant. While this was never enough to rescue his more awful works, it's always meant you were going to have something good to look for amongst all the horse droppings.

But now, you have an M. Night Shyamalan story, with a relatively unknown director, no well know actors, and a story that is accurately summed up with the sentence "Five people get stuck in an elevator in a building, and one of the is The Devil." This has got to be hilarious! So without further ado, we shall go into the first part of the Night Trilogy.

We start off with a title screen with some random bible verse that's obviously only in there because it has the world "Devil" in it. This is a clear sign that the director doesn't know what the hell he's doing, so he stuck scripture in the front to make it seem like this is all an allusion to the bible, or religion, or some crap like that. This, combined with all the meaningless christian imagery in the promotional material and the mention of a road called Bethlehem Pike, makes it clear that these film makers are students of the Neon Genesis Evangelion school of religious iconography.

Significantly more subtle than Devil
Our establishing shots in the movie are of a city, only the cameraman was apparently drunk while they were filming those shots, because everything is upside down. Either that or the director wanted to remind everybody that he too saw the trailer for Inception. Then we're introduced to our narrator, who we later find out is a security guard in the building where the majority of the music takes place. He tells us how his mom used to read him bed time stories about the devil taking human form and killing people. Some might find this strange, but I can relate. I remember when I was younger and my mom would sing me to sleep with the wonderful tales of Lovecraft. Anyway, the narrator also tells us that in order for the Devil to do this, there has to be a suicide first. Why? Who knows, it's never explained, but I wont' complain because it gives us our first lol-worthy moment of the film. A janitor is outside an office building, sweeping the sidewalk, when somebody drops into frame from up above, lands smack dab on top of a truck with and audible *thunk* and the force of the impact causes the truck to roll forward into the street.


Oh god, it's Happening again...I apologize for that.

Desrcibing it doesn't do it justice.

This prompts Cop #1 and Cop #2 to show up and try and figure out if he jumped or was pushed, and we're told through some extremely forced expository dialogue that Cop #1 is in AA because of some tragedy in his past. Really, this is only set up for the inevitable twist at the end and mostly there for the writer to shove his poorly thought out pathos on the audience.

Next scene, we're introduced to the 5 "main" characters of this thing, where it's quickly established that they're all idiots who freak out at a moment's notice and are complete pricks to one another. They're given names, but they aren't really important until the very end so we'll go ahead and go by their most prevalent characteristics. We've got White Guy, Black Security Guard (BSG for short), Younger Woman, Old Woman, and Jew Fro. They get into an express elevator together to go to their respective floors, and half-way up the elevator gets stuck. These people being who they are, they all start acting like ants under a magnifying glass. Since it's not like elevators get stuck all the time and it's usually a simple fix. No, clearly they all need to start acting like chickens with their heads cut off and start acting like they're each about to be lynched by the other 4, which is exactly what they do.

We switch perspectives to the 2 security guards in the building, who see that the elevator is broken down. They talk to the 5 in the elevator through the emergency radio inside it, and tell them they'll have Dwight, the engineer, try and figure out what's wrong with the elevator and get them out. The security guards are Lustig and Ramirez. Ramirez is our narrator from earlier and he resumes his duty as our disembodied voice when Lustig tells him about the suicide in the building in order to inform us that the devil also will occasionally take an innocent's life in order to preserve his plans. This has the effect of spoiling Dwight's eventual death later on.

A note to screenwriters: DON'T SPOIL YOUR OWN FUCKING STORY. This movie was already too ridiculous to have any sense of tension or suspense, but if it had, that bit of superfluous bullshit would have wrecked any chance at it. All this ever accomplishes is to fuck up your narrative flow and turn the story into a waiting game. The audience is no longer worried or interested in the characters. Instead, they're now just waiting for the person to die. This does not an entertaining story make.

Anyway, Jew Fro apparently tries to grope Younger Woman, then starts bragging about how good of a mattress salesman he is. This manages to piss off everyone else and they start avoiding him. Then the lights go off for a few seconds and BSG practically pisses himself, since he's apparently claustrophobic. This goes fucking nowhere but I bring it up for completion's sake. Anyway, Jew Fro goes on to piss off BSG by calling him "bro". And BSG replies with the funniest line I've heard in a while. In a completely serious attempt to be intimidating he tells him:

"I'm not your bro. Now sit yo' creepy ass down."

This is definitely an M. Night Shymalan movie.

The lights flicker again and Younger Woman gets cut or bitten or something, and everybody blames Jew Fro. The guards see that somebody's been hurt and tell Cop #1 and Cop #2 about what's going on. Ramirez then tries to tell them that he saw an image of a face in the camera for a split-second when the lights flickered, and that this is evidence that the Devil is inside the elevator with them, and he's going to kill everyone in there. They don't believe him, and what follows cannot be described. Just watch:


That's right. His toast lands jelly side down, so that means the Devil is here. Jesus christ, what does this guy do in his life when little things go wrong? He gets a flat tire; DEVIL. He stubs his toe when walking to the bathroom in the night; IT'S THE FUCKING DEVIL. He misses a shot in skeeball; EL DIABLO, AYE AYE AYE.

Anyway, the lights go out in the elevator again and there's some scuffle. When the light returns, they find the mirror in the back of the elevator shattered, and Jew Fro dead next to it with a huge shard stabbed into his throat. This gets the police's attention and they start working on a way to get in there. Tensions rise as they try to figure out who's the killer, and security tape reveals that Old Woman stole somebody's wallet before she got on the elevator, Younger Woman only pretended to be groped by Jew Fro, and they discover BSG has been arrested multiple times for assault and that Jew Fro was being charged for running a ponzy scheme. Ramirez deduces that these crimes are the reason the Devil is killing them.

Yes, apparently some random man killing himself provided the chance for the Devil to take mortal form and lay down judgement upon an assortment of white collar criminals. Beelebub must be getting frail in his old age. C'mon man, what happened to raging war against God, and getting humanity banished from paradise? You're the embodiment of pain, torment and punishment, and you're taking time out of your busy schedule of torture and eternal horrors to take care of shit the Better Business Bureau would handle? Laaaaaaame.

The lights go off again (Anyone else noticing a pattern here? It's like somebody dies every time there's an exposition dump) and Dwight falls to his death trying to go down the elevator shaft. Also there are apparently bats in the shaft. This building really needs to inspect their equipment more often. And while that happens there's another scuffle and they find Old Woman dead, hung from some of the cable in the roof of the elevator.

"TERN ON TEH LIIIIIIITES!"
My question is why nobody asks how this was accomplished. Despite what they show you in television, dying by hanging usually takes a few minutes, and the lights were only out for about 30 seconds. There's also the question of why they would hang her rather than just slit her throat with the numerous large pieces of glass on the floor. And if they had strangled her and THEN hung her up there, how would they have managed to do that so quickly? This is the kind of bullshit that makes me gawk at how stupid film makers seem to think people are. We KNOW that something is wrong with how she died, which makes the twist at the end all the easier to see.

But for the 3 remaining characters there's no time to think rationally about all this. Instead they just start trying to blame each other for the deaths and yada yada yada I hate these people and want them to die. The cops find out that the security company is owned by Younger Woman's husband, who she was planning to divorce in order to get half his stuff. This leads them to believe that BSG was hired by the husband to kill Younger Woman, and had been killing the others to make it look like a serial killer.

But then, the lights go off AGAIN
and BSG dies!
And thus it's just Younger Woman and White Guy. Cop #1 has come to believe Ramirez' bullshit about Satanic Jelly or some shit, and thinks that White Guy, who's the only one who didn't sign in at the front desk, is the Devil in disguise. The lights go out again and Younger Woman is killed. So it looks like they were right. But then, White Guy's girlfriend shows up at the building and says he was here for a job interview!
Then, they discover that he DID sign in. You see, they had believed Old Woman had signed in under the name Jan Kowski, but as it turns out, White Guy's last name was Jankowski!
And it turns out Old Woman was the Devil all along!
The Devil then rises up and starts mocking White Guy for trying to say he's sorry for the bad things he's done in his past. This is where it's revealed that White Guy, several years ago, had been drunk driving and crashed into a car killing a woman and child. This turns out to have been Cop #1's family!
White Guy admits it, says there's no way he could ever atone for what he did, and asks the Devil to take his life in exchange for the others. The Devil then says that he's shown repentance, and thus leaves.
Apparently the Devil is fine killing innocent engineers just doing their fucking job, but drunk driving assholes who avoided punishment and kept it a secret for years are perfectly fine as long as the say they're really, really sorry man.

So White Guy gets arrested for the hit and run, Cop #1 has learned the magic of forgiveness, and Ramirez goes back to his day-to-day life of dousing himself in holy water every time the batteries fall out the bottom of the remote.

This movie is just...the perfect storm of so-bad-it's-good. The premise from the get go sound like a parody of a horror movie premise than anything anybody would ever seriously write. The actors are in way over their heads, and their static, serious delivery of the typical M. Night Shyamalan brand dialogue makes every minute of this film unintentionally hilarious. The cinematography is amateurish and poorly directed, with strange camera angles and effects used without any meaning or intention behind them. It's by no means a good movie, but it's ineptitude makes it incredibly entertaining, I'd recommend watching and riffing it with friends.

Final Score: 4/10

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Transformers" - Snark Review

A lot has been said about the Transformers film franchise. It's been both praised and despised by fans and non-fans alike, and it's easy to see why. The films are some of the most pandering, immature, lowest-common-denominator train-wrecks I've ever watched. I'm not a huge fan of action movies, but when they're done well they can be really really great, but the genre also tends to attract lazy film makers and studios that just want something with big explosions to shove on screens during the summer, and one of the biggest culprits of this in the past years is Transformers and it's 2 sequels.

It's fair to say that I didn't have high hopes when I first watched this movie. I'd never been a fan of Shia LaBeouf as an actor or Michael Bay as a director. But still, I'd been a fan of the Transformers: Armada show when I was younger and the effects looked well done from the trailers, they could still pull out something good, right? Well, I was partially right, at least for the first installment.

The biggest problem that hinders Transformers is that it lacks focus. We have numerous characters that each get their own sub-plots, a truckload of comic relief that isn't funny or needed, and as a whole very shallow characters. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I need to go through the story.

We start out with a voice-over from Optimus Prime that tells us of The Cube/Allspark, a mysterious relic that has the power to grant life and sentience to anything, which accounts for how the titular giant robots came to be. He also mentions a war between the 2 factions of their species that resulted in their world being left lifeless and the Allspark being lost in the void of space. The Allspark eventually landed on earth.

This is where we run into the first problem with the movie; Why couldn't it be about that story? We have an entire species coming into being, forming a planet-wide empire, splitting into factions and warring over the future of their civilization. This is a great scenario to make an action movie about, and yet it's glossed over in a 45 second speech and barely ever mentioned for the rest of the movie.

After that we're introduced to a group of U.S. Special Forces soldiers returning to a military base in Iraq. And here's where we meet what SHOULD have been our main characters. Unfortunately they're all underdeveloped in the film and if they're ever given names in it I can't remember them. It doesn't really matter since they don't amount to much, so I'm forced to name them by the biggest characteristics they're given in the film. We have, in order of importance form first to last, White Soldier, Black Soldier, Hispanic Soldier, and Bespectacled Soldier. We're also shown that White Soldier has a family back home, but that's only ever given 2 words of dialogue and 30 seconds of screen-time. Also, Hispanic Soldier has a tendency to start talking in spanish when he's talking, because we all know that there aren't any Hispanic Americans that are fluent and well-versed in English, right?

Anyway, these guys get to the base just in time for an unmanned helicopter to show up at the base, transform into a robot, blow shit up, and try to hack into the U.S. government's secret files. However they cut the hard line to the database and prevent Decepticon #1 (he's given a name later but it doesn't matter since he's only got about 5 minutes of total screen time, most of which is this scene) from getting hold of the information he needed. As revenge he sends his Scorpion-like sidekick robot to hunt them down.

Then we're treated to our REAL main characters, Sam played by Shia LaBeouf, and Makaela played by living blow-up doll Megan Fox. They're completely useless for 95% of the story and I hate them. Their segment of the movie somehow has the ability to take up a huge amount of screen time without actually adding anything to the narrative. But whatever. We start out with Sam going with his dad to buy his first car, where we meet our first offensive Black stereotype in the movie, played oddly enough by Bernie Mac. He plays a used car salesman who tries to cheat Sam into buying a lousy car, and lives with his mother who he calls Mammy. Not even making that up. (Rather sadly, this was the latest movie featuring Mac that came out before he died. I bring this because, while other movies he had been in came out post-humously, THIS was the film on his resume when he passed a way. Though at least that saved him from the sequel.).

After Same buys a beat-up Yellow and Black Camarro which we'll soon find out is the autobot Bumblebee, he and his superfluous friend go to a party where Sam's crush Makaela is there with her equally superfluous boyfriend who bullies Sam for all of 30 seconds. The boyfriend says he doesn't trust Makaela to drive his super snazy truck home, which causes her to walk off in a huff and leave him. He is never seen again. So glad his character was here. Sam ditches his friend, who is also never seen again, and gives Makaela and extremely awkward ride home that's meant to be funny, but is more grating than it is amusing. After making a terrible joke about how Sam's sure there is "more than meets the eye" to Makaela, we're introduced to Sam's parents.

I hate these characters more than any other in the film. They are the type of people that are so annoying, obnoxious, and stupid that I wish them to die in the most painful way humanly imaginable. And they NEVER. SHUT. UP. At all. There's constant banter between them that's MEANT to be funny, but again just ends up making me want to stab myself in the ears to make the pain go away.

Then we cut to Airforce one, where Soundwave, a small sneaky Decepticon, starts hacking into the network again. This alerts a group of NSA agents who have been trying to decode the signal used to hack into the military base's computers. The only NSA agent that has any importance is Blonde British Chick (BBC I like to call her) who tells the military higher-ups she thinks the hacking was done by some sort of organic computer, because a brain is the only thing powerful enough to get the the military's firewall so quickly. The film makers then decide that the plot is moving and too good a pace, so they pull the drag chute and take us back to Sam.

Bumblebee, deciding he's had enough of Sam's poor acting and unintelligible stammering, drives himself away, Sam sees this and, thinking somebody is stealing his car, chases after on a bike. When he finds Bumblebee, he sees him transform and send some message into the sky. Then the police show up and arrest Sam without seeing the giant yellow robot.

After some not-comedy relief at the police station involving drugs, Sam is let out and we cut back to the Soldiers. They've managed to just find a village that has a telephone when the Scorpion robot shows up and starts attacking them. Their guns are fairly useless against it, and both Bespectacled Soldier and Hispanic Soldier die in the ensuing fight. Meanwhile White Soldier, in an attempt to get in contact with the military and call for an airstrike, is prevented by...an indian IT stereotype asking him if he has a credit card. After another not-funny scene of them looking for a credit card in the middle of a firefight, they get the military to chase off Scorpionbot.

Then we switch over to BBC as she makes a copy of the information about the signal they're trying to decode in order to find out what information the Decepticons stole. She says there's only one hacker in the world who can crack it and, instead of telling the higher-ups this and having them bring him in, she instead illegally brings the information to him to have him decode it. We meet Hacker Guy here, and his main characteristics are that he's fat and black. That's about it. He's another stereotype that they try to use for humor, but it again doesn't work out at all. It comes off as more offensive than anything. Anyway, the FBI aren't complete morons and find out that BBC took the info, and they storm into the house and arrest the pair.

Back on Sam's side, Bumblebee returns to the house in car form, and Sam runs away from him and straight into the arms of Decepticon #2 and Soundwave, who ask him about a pair of glasses he'd posted on eBay. Makaela shows up too somehow because they needed some way to get her involved in the plot, and our two useless human characters are rescued by Bumblebee and we get a poorly edited chase scene before a short, unsatisfying fight between Bumblebee and Decepticon #2. Also, we see Shia LaBeouf in his boxers. Whyyyyyyyyyyyy???????

Then we watched the Autobots arrive on Earth, signaled by Bumblebee, and they each get their own short scene of them turning into some kind of vehicle. When one of them crashes into a pool outside a house, a little girl goes out to see and, as at hulking, silver robot larger than her house arises before her, she asks if he's the tooth fairy. Somebody got paid to write that. There is no justice in this world.

Then Sam meets the autobots and they explain that Megatron and the Decepticons want to get the Allspark and use it to destroy humans for...some reason. Racism maybe? I don't know. They tell him that the glasses he was selling, which belonged to his great-great-grandfather, contain the information regarding the location of the allspark that we blasted onto them when a discovery crew unearthed Megatron in the deep arctic. It's stupid and nothing but a convoluted reason to have Sam in the movie at all, and I don't believe it for a second.

Then, we reach what is, hand down, the worst scene in the film. Sam goes to his house, looking for the glasses in his room while the Transformers try to hide from his parents in their backyard. The mind boggles. Predictably one of them walks into the power lines and knocks out the power in the neighborhood. Sam's parents hear him talking to somebody and go to investigate. Makaela hides and Sam tries to get his parents to leave before they see the Autobots because...um...maybe...got me. There's no reason to try and keep the sentient robots that are trying to save humanity a secret. After Sam's mom starts asking him if he was masturbating, Makaela shows herself we're treated to more non-funny comedy. Watching a baby seal die would be funnier than these characters and their dialogue.

All of a sudden, a squad of government agents storm the house and arrest Sam and Makaela and confiscate the glasses. The man in charge of the operation, which is called Sector 7, is a huge asshole who threatens to keep Makaela's father, who we are told is in prison for stealing cars, imprisoned for life. The revelation that Makaela's dad was a criminal, is for some reason a big deal to Sam, who throws a whine-fest about it. When Makaela says that Sam is being a jerk about it, he immediately stops. Glad to know that was completely pointless too. The autobots show up, and free Sam and Makaela, and we're treated to Bumblebee, a robot, peeing "Lubricating fluid" on S7 guy's head. They're about to escape, but then more S7 agents arrive and capture Sam, Makaela, and Bumblebee.

Sam, Makaela, BBC, and Hacker Guy are taken to the headquarters of Sector 7, and meet Black Soldier and White Soldier, where they all see that the government has been keeping Megatron frozen in a cryogenic stasis. Why they didn't just destroy him is never given a reason. They also show them that they have the Allspark, and have been studying it's power for decades. The Autobots set out towards the headquarters, as do the Decepticons when Soundwave reports that they have Megatron. There's a scene following where Decepticon #3, in the form of a tank just drives off of a military base. Nobody reacts strangely to a god damned tank just running over a fence and leaving the base. Is everyone in this movie an idiot?

When the Decepticons attack the headquarters, the Military guys decide to take the allspark and go to a nearby city to have it picked up by helicopter and hidden again. That's right, instead of trying to fight off the enemies at a government headquarters filled with soldiers and guns, they want to take a convoy into a HIGHLY POPULATED CITY, and try and get it airlifted away. Despite the fact that there's tons and tons of empty land for them to do this in, they go to a city. The Autobots meet up with the Convoy on its way to the city, while BBC, S7 Guy, and Hacker Guy try to contact the military using an old radio system so they can call for air support to fight the Decepticons. How do they accomplish this? Hacker Guy "hotwires" a computer to send out morse code over the radio. Somewhere there is a Computer Science Major crying into their pillow.

So they get the air force sent in, but the Decepticons attack and Bumblebee is injured. Sam is told by Black Soldier to take the Allspark to the top of a building so the helicopters can come and pick it up. Because in the middle of a battle, the best way to take care of a crucial hand-off is to do it in the most conspicuous place imaginable. Meanwhile all the interchangeable Autobots are fighting all the interchangeable Decepticons until Megatron shows up and starts fighting Optimus. When Megatron attacks Sam to get the allspark, Sam nearly runs into a car full of teenage girls, who freak out that he might have dented the car. Sam trips, drops the Allspark on the ground, and accidentally activates it, causing the steering wheel of the aforementioned car, the Xbox that some guy on the street is carrying, and a nearby soda machine to come to life and start attacking people.

Let me count the ways in which this is completely nonsensical. 1. How did just dropping the Allspark cause it to do that? If it's that sensitive then it should have blown up with how much Same has been jostling it during this fight. Second, why was a guy just carrying an XBox in the middle of a warzone? Third, Why were those girls driving around town all leisurely when there is a GIGANTIC, EXPLOSIVE ROBOT BATTLE GOING ON NOT 100 FEET FROM WHERE THEY ARE, IN CLEAR VIEW OF ANYONE WHO ISN'T BLIND. Fourth, and most importantly, this is never brought up or mentioned again. We never see anything fix this, so I guess we can just assume that the steering-wheel robot killed all the people in the car, that man was strangled by his game console, and a bunch of people on the street got their heads caved in by a can of Mountain Dew.

After that bullcrap, Optimus saves Sam from falling after the oh so ever well planned "take the Allspark to the most visible part of the city and set off a signal flare" plan didn't work out, and then Optimus and Megatron fight. Or rather, Megatron kicks the crap out of Optimus until the military wounds him with an airstrike. Megatron's still going though, trying to to get the Allspark from Sam. To try and keep it out of Megatron's grasp, Optimus tells Sam to push the Allspark into his chest, which would destroy it along with him. Sam instead shoves it into Megatron's chest and kills him.

That's right. At the end of all of this, the person who takes Megatron down isn't Optimus Prime, or Bumblebee, or the other autobots, or even the military. The most powerful and evil robot in the universe is taken out by Shia Fucking LaBeouf.

Other stuff happens after that but it's all inconsequential and just there to set up for a sequel that somehow turned out even worse than this one, so I won't cover it.

If you couldn't tell, I REALLY hated this movie. Like, despised it. It's not funny, it's offensive, the writers had no clue how to tell a coherent and cohesive story, and the majority of the action scenes (also known as the only reason anybody watches a Michael Bay film) are short and rather underwhelming. The acting ranges from average to god-awful wooden (*cough*Megan Fox*cough*) and the characters are either completely devoid of personality or they're moronic imbeciles.

Final Score: 1/10