Thoughts on Super 8

I finally got to see the movie Super 8 this past weekend.  It had been subject to a subdued viral marketing campaign, something akin to when Cloverfield came out a few years ago, but thankfully the payoff for Super 8 was much, much better.  I thought Super 8 was a fantastic movie.

Super 8 is a deliberately nostalgic movie, throwing back to the era of summer films with ensemble child casts (think Goonies or E.T.) and set in 1979, right smack in the middle of that era of summer movies.  It captures the awkwardness of childhood while showing the kids dealing with it and having an awesome, incredible adventure that you wish you too could have during your summer break.

The basic setup is that a group of kids filming a Super 8 movie during summer break witness the derailment of an Air Force train under mysterious circumstances.  After, strange things start happening around town which they end up getting caught up in.  Of course, this is just the basic premise of the plot, and ignores the character arcs that are the main driving force of this movie.

The young cast carries the movie, with the two leads (Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) displaying a good degree of nuance, and the supporting actors hitting their notes just right.  The adult characters have an arc that parallels the kids, and while the handling of this is not particularly subtle, neither is it heavy-handed or overbearing.  I would consider this to be a very classically-structured film, and that’s entirely okay.  It totally works.

The reviews for Super 8 were mostly positive, with a few complaining about the ending.  While the ending was not particularly surprising or clever, I do think it worked, and I’m not sure how it could have been different without compromising the feel of the film.  Super 8 is a movie that doesn’t try to pull any tricks on the viewer; it is exactly what it appears to be.  And that’s great, because it is done so well.  Super 8 is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.


Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm: Another Triumph!

Last night, I saw Jonathan Coulton (with Paul and Storm) for the third time.  As expected, it was a great show.

In general, I prefer the music of Coulton to Paul and Storm (though I like both quite a lot), but in the live shows, Paul and Storm are absolutely hilarious in their between-song banter.  Most of the stuff they had played in their previous shows, but that included favourites like “Nun Fight”, “Live”, and “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament” so it was much appreciated.  They also played a couple of songs I hadn’t heard before, and I very much enjoyed “Frogger! The Frogger Musical”.  By the end of the opening act, my jaw was aching from laughing so much.

Coulton took the stage after a short break, and basically played all of my favourite songs of his.  He also did a few I was less familiar with, although “Sunny Blue Day”, which I first heard at his last show in Toronto, is rapidly becoming another favourite.  An excellent set indeed.

About the only thing I’m unsure of  was the venue.  Previous shows were at the Lula Lounge, which didn’t have assigned seating, but had a friendly and comfortable atmosphere, and felt like a more intimate space.  In contrast, the Enwave Theatre was a bit bigger and a proper theatre, with a stage, balconies, and the like, but it felt… stodgier.  The staff enforced no food/drink/photography rules, when a quick search of YouTube will demonstrate that Coulton is not shy about letting fans record his shows.  And while everyone had a good view thanks to how the seating was arranged, the openness of the theatre space made it feel sort of empty.

(However, that may be an issue unique to me.  My seat was on the balcony nearest the stage—great view, but no one in front of or behind us.  So I didn’t get that feeling of being in a crowd at concert.  During the chorus to “Re: Your Brains” when the audience joins in, I wasn’t surrounded by a horde of singing zombies as I was at the Lula Lounge.  But even down below, the crowd seemed tamer than previous year’s shows.)

Anyway, an excellent show all around.  If you ever get the chance to see either Coulton or Paul and Storm, take it.

Thoughts on New Moon

So, as something of an act of penance for having taken her to see Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen over the summer, I went to see The Twilight Saga: New Moon with my girlfriend.  (In her defense, she says she wanted to see it for the fun of mocking it, but I am deeply suspect of her true motive.)  I have not read the books, nor have I seen the first movie, so everything I say must be taken in that context.

First, I’d like to offer an apology to Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.  I had thought that no two people could have less chemistry on screen than they did in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, however, have achieved new heights in visible disinterest in each other.  I can’t imagine any two people intoning “I love you” more apathetically than them.

Not that Stewart’s character, Bella, said much more than that.  Most of her dialogue consisted of “Please,”  “Don’t,” “Please don’t,” and “Don’t, please.”  She was completely and utterly useless throughout the entire movie.  When she was dumped, she moped for months.  MONTHS!  This was shown on screen in what felt like real time.  Then she starts leading on a guy who obviously has a crush on her, tries to kill herself a bunch of times so that she can remember her ex, and then runs off to Italy to save his unlife.   By showing up.  Not by doing anything active, god forbid, just by being there.

This movie was boring.  The pacing was slow, and I have no idea how the giant book it was based on still failed to provide any actual content for the movie.  All of the characters are completely stupid, and involved in self-destructive, abusive relationships with equally stupid people.  And nobody does anything—I haven’t seen so many characters going around and asking what they should do since The Matrix Reloaded.

Even the action was boring!  What could have been an awesome fight scene (where a werewolf pack hunted down what was apparently a recurring vampire villain from the first movie) became instead some running and later, a 1-second bit of flashback.

Leaving aside the ridiculous nature of the “world” of Twilight (sparkly, nigh-indestructible vampires with no meaningful consequences to becoming undead), this was more like a bad romantic comedy than a drama—minus any romance or comedy.  The way it was filmed did nothing to improve the source material either—the one scene of vampire Bella and Edward frolicking through the woods in Alice’s vision provoked laughter from everyone in attendance, whether they were buying into the rest of the material or not.

This was just not a good movie.  However, at least I went in with low expectations, and so I still came out less angry than after seeing Transformers 2.  It may have helped that the girlfriend bought the tickets, so I didn’t spend my own money on it.  But honestly, I can barely imagine that the fans of the books could enjoy this movie, much less anyone who has to take it on its own merits.  And still it did huge box office business.  It’s enough to make a guy cry.



I recently saw Zombieland, and was absolutely delighted with it.  It was short, but felt plenty long.  It had a Michael Cera-esque male lead that was not Michael Cera (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  And it was damn funny.

It’s the sort of ridiculous, over-the-top movie that I quite enjoy.  It takes most of the well-worn zombie-movie tropes and exploits them to the logical, silly extreme.  It is wall-to-wall funny, but poignant and sweet in places.  It also has a most excellent cameo appearance that I don’t want to ruin for anyone.

That said, while the movie is generally upbeat about life after the end of civilization as we know it, the happy ending is still kind of depressing, because we all know that, really, there’s no happy ending out there.  There’s just not dying and having friends.

One of the bits I did enjoy was Columbus (the male lead) explaining his rules for survival in Zombieland.  The rules themselves were both funny AND sensible, and reminded me of Gibbs’ Rules from NCIS.  Perhaps I’ll try to synthesize them all into my own personal set of rules for living.

Anyway, as long as you don’t mind violence and gore, this movie should entertain.

Thoughts on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Ack!  I’m about twenty posts behind here, regarding things I plan to blog about.  Surprisingly, I’ve not been blogging because I’ve actually been doing work.  But last Sunday I encountered a tragedy so great that it had to jump the queue and spill forth as soon as possible.

Against, perhaps, my better judgement, I went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, some trusty friends in tow.  I had found the last movie passably entertaining, if forgettable, in that it featured giant robots blowing stuff up, and Megan Fox was hot.  I didn’t find the first one very accurate to any of the various Transformers mythologies, or even all that sensible, but, like I said: giant robots blowing stuff up.

Clearly, I have pretty low standards when it comes to enjoying movies—especially summer blockbuster action movies.  And so, despite all the overwhelmingly negative reviews, I figured there was no way Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen could fail to be acceptably entertaining—after all, it featured more giant robots and bigger explosions.  I mean, any movie with robots and explosions has to entertain, right?

No.  No it does not.  This revalation was like discovering incontrovertible proof that there is no God.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was a boring, long, pointless movie that I cared absolutely nothing about.  Even Megan Fox couldn’t make this watchable.  It was like Michael Bay took a can opener, cracked open my skull, scooped out my brain, and took a dump so he could leave a steaming turd where it used to be.

Apart from the many plot problems, the movie just didn’t work on any level.  They introduced a boatload of additional Transformers, but it didn’t matter, because you couldn’t tell any of them apart, or even the difference between the Autobots and Decepticons.  All the action sequences with the robots were blurry, poorly choreographed, shaky-cam style affairs that meant you couldn’t really see what was going on.  So little time was spent with the characters that you didn’t care when they died, and, in fact, you hoped some of them stayed dead (but alas, no, they didn’t).  Comic relief was very poorly shoehorned into the movie, leaving it unfunny and awkward, and the supporting cast was entirely pointless.  I honestly cannot thing of a single redeeming quality of this movie.

Again, let me reiterate the generally low standards I have for movies.  I loved the near-universally panned Speed Racer (though I think that is a very misunderstood film).  I enjoyed the Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt movie The Tuxedo.  I even managed to enjoy the awful Jackie Chan flick The Medallion more than this.  Hell, American Pie Presents: Band Camp is on TV as I write this, and I’m enjoying that more than I enjoyed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I did not like this movie.

At all.

Thoughts on Star Trek

The new Star Trek movie has been heavily reviewed, lately, and has been winning almost-universal praise.  (It currently has a 95% fresh ratintg on Rotten Tomatoes, which is really, really good.)  I basically agree with all the praise.

The movie looks beautiful, the story is fast-paced and fun, and the casting is more solid that anyone could have hoped for.  Karl Urban is rock solid as McCoy, Zachary Quinto—surprisingly—does a good enough job as Spock to make me forget he is also Sylar, and Pine is actually okay as a cocky young Kirk with daddy issues.  The rest of the cast are also solid, although they received much less attention and development than the big three.  (We did get to see Sulu with a sword, which was most excellent.)

The action sequences were also very cool, if cut together a little too quickly and thus making it hard to follow at times.  Having a young cast and a budget for a stunt crew means the action can be more intense and fast-paced than in most of the Trek movies we’ve seen.  It all works together to provide an extremely fun and entertaining movie that sucks you in while you’re watching it. Star Trek is also, I think, accessible to new audiences, while rather cleverly showing a connection to the original series and its spin-offs in a way that explains and justifies the differences.

That said, it doesn’t hold up quite so well once you stop and think about it.  You don’t really notice in the theatre, because the pacing and action and visual excitement keep you off balance, but there are a number of issues that challenge the verisimilitude of the movie and problems with the nature of the story and the common sense of characters.

From here on in, things will get full of spoilers, so I’ve moved that behind the cut.  Before that, I’ll leave you with my mini-summary: Star Trek was a good, fun, summer movie, that I think almost anyone can enjoy on some level.

Continue reading Thoughts on Star Trek

Quick Thoughts on Monsters vs Aliens

I ended up seeing Monsters vs. Aliens quite by accident, when—while questing for movie gift cards—my girlfriend suggested we see a movie, since we were already there, and it was really the only thing of interest at that time that I hadn’t yet seen, and she had been kind of interested anyway.  (I am uncertain whether that was a clever plan on her part, banking on the fact that I’d rather do just about anything instead of go home to work.)

So we ended up seeing the movie—in 3D, no less—and it was okay.  The animation was fairly typical for a computer-animated movie, the script was reasonably funny (albeit laden with already-dated jokes and pop-culture references), and the voice actors was fine.  I was entertained.  The 3D did not give me a headache or hurt my eyes.  It doesn’t hold up well in comparison to anything from Pixar, but then, few movies do, and it’s not especially clever.  But it had its moments.

It’s not something you need to rush out and see, and I don’t think the 3D element was so awesome as to make it worth seeing in the theatre.  But, it’s an amusing enough movie, and will likely keep you entertained.

Thoughts on Fanboys

It was some weeks ago now, but the movie Fanboys—which I had seen trailers for over two years ago, and had been waiting for ever since—was finally released in Toronto.  (It apparently comes to DVD on May 19th, so this review may be somewhat timely after all.)

The movie is set in 1998, and focuses on a group of friends who are die-hard Star Wars fans.  When they discover one of them is terminally ill and won’t live long enough to see the release of The Phantom Menace, they decide to road trip to Skywalker Ranch and break in to see an early cut of the movie.  As you might expect, wackiness ensues.

The story has the trappings of a zany road-trip comedy, but has some slightly more mature character arcs than typical, dealing as it does with death, mortality, and growing up.  It also has plenty of slapstick humour, typical jokes about Trekkies and Star Wars fans, and cameo appearances by actors running the range from Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith, and Jason Mewes to Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, and William Shatner.

The movie has gotten fairly low ratings, but I really liked it.  I may, perhaps, identify a little too closely with the source material, being a die-hard Star Wars fan myself.  And like Hutch, one of the characters in the movie, I used to have a set of all-Rush mixtapes that were the only things to be played in my car.  If you like the classic Star Wars trilogy and know it well enough to get all the references to it, and if you like the slapstick Harold & Kumar/Superbad/American Pie-esque humour, you’ll probably like this movie.

Thoughts on Dragonball: Evolution

In the last few weeks, now that the girlfriend has been reliably returned from her travels, my movie-going has increased dramatically.  (It has also helped that they have started to put out non-serious films, and are slowly warming up for the summer movies.)

So, I took her to see Dragonball: Evolution, not because I had much hope of it being good, but because I’ve long been a fan of the manga and, to a lesser extent, the anime.  (I rather feel the anime dragged on far too long….)

I had very low expectations going in to this movie, and, thankfully, I was not disappointed.  It was surprisingly faithful to the major story elements from the source material, and was reasonably well-paced and coherent.  The cast was pretty good, too, although Justin Chatwin looked a little too wimpy to be convincing as bad-ass martial artist Goku.  Joon Park absolutely nailed the Yamcha character, though.

I suppose my biggest complaint is that the fighting looked too lightweight.  In the source material, the fighters are shattering boulders and mountains with their attacks, shaking the earth as they gather their power, and unleashing blinding energy attacks.  In the movie, however, the wire stunts made every movement look soft, and even the visual effects for the energy attacks looked wispy and insubstantial.

I know the movie hasn’t done especially well in North America, but they apparently have sequels in mind if it is successful enough.  I wonder whether they will ramp up the carnage as the fighters get stronger.

Anyway, I couldn’t really recommend this to a general audience, nor to a long-standing fan of the manga or anime.  Perhaps the best I can say is that if it happens to be on somewhere, it might reasonably entertain you, but I don’t think it’s worth seeking out.  And yet, I kind of liked it, and hope they make another.

I Watched Watchmen

I saw Watchmen earlier tonight, on my second attempt.  (I had not anticipated a Saturday matinee being sold out more than 45 minutes before showtime.  My mistake.)  I was not displeased.  I know that does not sound like a ringing endorsement, so let me clarify: the movie is really very good.  It doesn’t quite make it to excellent, but it was very, very good.

It’s been a few years since I read the graphic novel, so in some ways I was coming to the movie fresh, without remembering a lot of the details.  They also (naturally) had to cut a fair bit to fit the story into an (already long) movie, and they changed some details, to boot, so I feel comfortable in saying that the movie will be accessible to people who haven’t read the comics.

I’m sure there are a zillion plot summaries and descriptions out there already, so I won’t go into much detail.  (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you want no information on the content at all.)  I’ll just say that Watchmen is set in an alternate Earth’s 1985, with Richard Nixon still president and nuclear tensions with the Soviet Union at an all-time high.  There had been a team of superheroes — the Watchmen — that was effectively disbanded by the government passing the Keene Act, which outlawed their activities.  Only two — the Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan, who is the only hero with actual super powers — continued to work, under the auspices of the government.  The Comedian is killed in the opening moments of the movie, setting things into motion.

Now, I’ve heard some complaints of gratuitous violence in this movie, and honestly, I have no idea what the complaints are about.  While there was some unnecessary gore, there didn’t seem to me to be a gratuitious amount of action or violence.  But then, perhaps that’s just the kind of movie I normally watch.  I would agree that this movie is a little more harsh than other comic-based movies we’ve seen, but frankly, so is the source material.  This is a pretty bleak story.

I found two things about the movie a little jarring.  The choice in music — seemingly chosen to evoke the mid-eighties — just came across as a little odd or awkward.  However, the presence of Malin Akerman in the role of Laurie Jupiter disturbed me in perhaps a unique way, as I cannot see her as anyone other than Freakshow’s wife Liane from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle or Tess from 27 Dresses.  She did a fine job in the movie, but it just jarred me out of the narrative a bit.

So, my thoughts here have been all over the place.  Let me try to pull them together.

The movie was well done.  Despite some over-reliance on slow-motion action sequences, it is visually delightful, and has a solid cast.  The script is mostly successful at trimming a graphic novel often touted as “unfilmable” into something coherent and manageable.  I’m not entirely convinced that the changes they made to the ending are as effective as the original, but I’m willing to buy it in the context of the movie they’ve produced.

Perhaps the only real complaint I have is that it never swept me up enough to make me forget that I was watching a movie.  I could appreciate the structure, how the movie is essentially divided into three separate acts.  I enjoyed the visuals.  I appreciated the strong casting.  I noticed the odd musical choices.  Or the fact that there were too many endings.  I enjoyed it, but was always aware I was enjoying it.  Hence my feeling that it was just shy of excellent, though it was — as I said — very, very good, and well worth seeing.