Movies -

Alternative titles, mini-reviews, and of course, rants!

So I was convinced to see Transformers.

You shouldn’t be, if you value your childhood memories even slightly.  There was a mild twinge of enjoyment at hearing Peter Cullen reprise the old Optimus Prime voice, but everything else, especially anything with real people in it (and that’s mostly what it was) stank on ice.  In the TV show, the Transformers were the main characters.  In this, they are just plot devices, including comic relief.  They are characters, but the story is entirely focused on the humans.  They even ruined the nostalgia factor, with copious, and I mean copious, amounts of crap like [Boy to Girl: “No, I don’t think you’re shallow… I think there’s more than meets the eye… to you.”  I wish I were kidding.

But the thing I can’t forgive Michael Bay for is that he ruined the Transformers themselves.  Not content to strip them of real character and turn them into comic relief set pieces, he had to destroy their appearance as well, all in the name of making them “grittier” (or perhaps just greasier in this case).  I can understand extreme detail, even beefing up their coolness to make them seem more realistic/menacing/whatever, but by adding gears and parts and everything including the kitchen sink to them, he made them almost look identical.  You could barely tell Megatron from Starscream, except that Megatron scared the shit out of everyone when he was around.  You know Bumblebee because he has yellow on him, Optimus for some red and blue, and Jazz because he is a jive-talkin’ black man robot.  Other than making Bumblebee the main boy’s pet robot, and building up a last second rivalry between Prime and Megatron, there was no character to any of them whatsoever.  “Oooh, there’s the big tank transformer!  He’s going to cause damage!”  And lo!  He does!

I did swear halfway through that I’d forgive Bay all his sins if he brought in the Dinobots, but alas….  The faux gravitas made me bury my head in my hands; the awful, truly awful attempts at comedy made me bury my head in my hands.  It was a big blockbuster action movie and I was actually bored.  My first words when it was over to the friend with whom I saw it were, “How can something so big budget be so bad?”

Then I remembered Pearl Harbor (24%).  And Armageddon (41%).  And The Island (40%), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (36%), and the unforgivable Bad Boys II (25%).  I never saw a one of them, but apparently with good reason.  And after Transformers, I’ll never watch a Michael Bay film again, ever.  If his name appears with the movie, I’ll write it off no matter how good people say it is (but I’m not holding my breath till that day).

Transformer’s one redeeming grace in my mind was that it set things up for potential sequels, leaving off a bit like how the main TV show ran — the Autobots living on earth and protecting humanity (and presumably the Decepticons can mount a comeback in any case).  If they put a different director on it and actually attempted to make a decent film, which I’m entirely convinced they never set out to do here, this movie will have set that up.  And that’s all it was worth.  It’s like Phantom Menace, but made in the correct order.

Oh, I’m not promising they’d be good.  By all theories of sequels they should actually be worse, and if they stick to the same formula they will be.  But if someone out there sees this for the crap that it was and tries to take it in a new direction, the core fiction of the Transformers franchise is still relatively, albeit Dinobot-lessly, intact.

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My summer weekends in Pensacola consist of more than just playing videogames. Oh, so much more! In the last month or so, I have been devouring whole television series in rapid succession, and have at last run out of recent and serialized dramatic fair to sate my senses.

If anyone has suggestions on a good series or two they can recommend, I promise I’ll return the favor. Why look, here is a short run-through of what I’ve been watching lately (all of which I can recommend to varying degrees):

24 (Season 6)
Jack Bauer and his fellow agents at CTU have provided some of the most powerful moments I have ever seen on TV. The latest season was a bit of a disappointment to many, myself included, but it was still exciting enough for me to always choose it first over Heroes a few channels down. The problem was not the events themselves, but the fact that viewers have seen the same formula for the past five years. Jack has trouble, Jack makes it through trouble, Jack escapes in the end to fight another day. It’s time to take the show in a new direction, or it won’t last much longer.

How can you screw up a fresh idea with talented cast and a dramatic take on post-9/11 fears? Heroes gets so much right in its setup, then meanders for the middle half of the show before fizzling in a thrilling but predictable conclusion. Its relative success virtually guarantees another season, but with an already bulging cast whose superpowers are known and tested, I’m not so sure a second venture into the world of Peter Petrelli and Hiro Nakamura will be very compelling.

Sopranos (Finale)
Everyone is talking about its controversial “non-ending,” and for what its worth, I don’t like it either. But the episodes leading up to it — everything after the long mid-season break they took — saw a return to the daring elements that made Tony’s mafia troubles so fascinating. At the show’s beginning, you didn’t know who was going to stay and who was headed to the meat grinder; but in the middle, you could be fairly sure to whom the writers had given halos. So when they wrap the show up, everyone, even Tony, is fair game again, and with stirring consequences.

Arrested Development
This is one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen, but you must see it from the beginning to truly appreciate how dysfunctional the Bluth family really is. The protagonist, Michael Bluth, is the only sane one among a cadre of embezzling parents, a magician older brother, a bi-curious never-nude brother-in-law, and a son that secretly lusts for his cousin. If you just see an episode here or there (as I initially did), the deadpan narrative and dry, laugh-track-less humor make it hard to jump right in. That might explain why Fox cut it short in its third season, despite being a brilliant and original show.

The Office
Going from Arrested Development to The Office felt like a serious fall from comedic grace, but that’s only because the first season is so atrocious. By attempting to mirror (sometimes line-for-line) its U.K. progenitor, it brought with it none of the original’s charm. I think the American writers realized that, and the second season was much improved. By year three, The Office stood on its own (the British version was only two seasons), and it really began to shine. Though I’d still take Michael Bluth over Michael Scott any day, the show more than redeemed itself and I’m eagerly looking forward to what’s coming next.

The Riches
I had to run out of comedies (Arrested, Office) and laughables (Heroes) sometime, and the plight of Eddie Izzard’s Wayne Malloy made for a perfect transition. At times deathly serious, the core plot is so ridiculously implausible, you can’t help but chuckle. Malloy and his family are American gypsies (which apparently really do exist), traveling around in RVs and congregating outside the confines of civilization. When a tragic car accident with a BMW (not their fault) leaves them with a dead husband and wife on their hands, the family does what any self-respecting gypsies would do. They go to their house to clean them out, only to discover the deceased couple was moving to a new place, has few friends, and looking for a new job (as an attorney, no less). Thus the Malloy’s become the Riches, and all manner of improbable hijinks ensues.

I missed Firefly when it originally aired, as it seems did most people. What a true shame, since it turned out to be thirteen of the finest episodes of television I have ever seen. Much in the vein of Cowboy Bebop, the show is a fusion of bleak, anti-Star Trek science fiction with thematic overtones, visually, aurally, and attitudinally, of a spaghetti Western. Malcolm Reynolds is a Han Solo-esque ne’er-do-well, captain of the Serenity, and guiding light for an eclectic crew, each it seems with a little more to them than meets the eye – a doctor and his little sister, surgically traumatized by the government; a level-headed priest who knows a little more than a priest should; a courtesan/escort who sweeps into Serenty’s ports of call to pleasure its men (and women). With production values that were nearly cinematic, and a cast so cohesive, it’s more than a little bittersweet to think what might have been.

The Tudors
I avoided this show as long as I could, since it seemed to be little more than “Henry VIII wasn’t just a fat old king… he had a lot of sex, too!” Surprisingly, after the initial shock of ever-present flesh in each episode, the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn grows surprising depth, and the political intrigue gains comprehensibility as the characters twist and turn, everyone trying to manipulate the monarch for their own ends. The first season ends after only ten episodes, with more promised, and just as with The Office, the show grows on you, and I am very much anticipating where it goes next (conveniently forgetting to mention that a short trip to Wikipedia will tell you exactly how it turns out).

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I’m kind of a girl when it comes to emotion-driven cinematography. Filmmakers pull at our heart strings, and I soak up every ounce of it. That’s not to say I seek out shows that squeeze at my insides, nor do I break into uncontrollable fits of bawling (only one film still holds that distinction). I just allow myself to become drawn into the cinematic world. When I was a kid, I used to come out of movies with adrenaline pumping, eager to extend the film into my own pretend world and act like the characters. By and large, videogames have failed to do that. Maybe it’s because I’m already acting out the characters while I play, but I think it’s a failing of the games themselves to push the same personal buttons as films.

This post isn’t about a movie, actually, but a TV show. If you have never seen it, Fox’s 24 is one of the most powerful works ever produced for television. It’s not perfect – the tech talk sometimes grates against my brain, and its cliffhanger approach to closing an episode borders on the formulaic – but it does so many other things right on so many levels, I have little trouble looking the other way. On the surface, it is an exciting, suspense-filled thriller, a gritty, made-for-TV James Bond. It has some extremely talented writers, and its structure fits perfectly into its episodic format. I am continuously amazed at their ability to turn the crisis level up a notch with each new season. The second season revolves around a nuclear attack on Los Angeles! I didn’t think it went higher than that (I was wrong). What drives this show, however, is its characters and the human drama that underpins the main story line. In a movie, its creators have only a brief time to develop the characters and make the viewers care about them, but a television show has over sixteen hours in a single season. You meet the characters, learn to care about them, and watch them almost as friends going through the often traumatic events of the show. For an “action show,” there is a surprising amount of love and comraderie, and it’s the endearing elements that complete 24’s success. The onscreen relationships strike personal chords, in odd ways, in your own real life ones – Jack’s relationship with his wife and daughter, Chloe’s awkward bluntness, Mason’s situation in Season 3 – and for me, at least, it all works. It’s driven by characters who love each other, love their countries, love their causes (even the heinous ones).

I know another medium that often spans far longer than sixteen hours, features action, suspense, and a dose or two of drama. 24 reminds me at times of Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy, and at first blush has much in common with them. But were I stranded on an electronic desert island and could choose only one, it would be hard to sell me any one of these over something like 24. People (often ones “in the know”) like to talk about how the videogame industry is in its infancy as an art form, and insomuch as I believe developers have not even begun to scratch the surface of the medium’s potential for depth and meaning, I agree. I think it’s a topic worth pondering… how to create a meaningful videogame… and I don’t believe we really have an answer yet. Too much character development at this point is done by pretending the gamer is a moviegoer, and the emotion is too concentrated on the thrill, the zany, and melodrama without cause.

There has to be a way to take the superficiality out of the videogame and replace it with depth, without losing sight of what it means to play a game in the first place…

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It’s been a while since I last posted, and while it isn’t entirely to blame (WoW and school are far worse offenders), I figured a recent project of mine deserved some mention.

The last month or so I have been translating the recent Square-Enix movie Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. A subpar fan translation came out almost concurrently with the movie in mid-September, and the official version will be out in just over a month, so the reason behind it was almost entirely to practice my Japanese.

I finished it completely yesterday and just for kicks threw it online along with some notes on the project and how I did it, so in the future I can try to improve. Some of it is my rambling about translation philosophy, so take a look if that sort of thing even remotely interests you. Cheers!

Unofficial Translation of FFVII Advent Children

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The title may be self-explanatory, but I think the expressive and adorable winner of the TISM Short Film Competition can explain it so much better! (also available in easier-to-digest Flash)

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When I first heard that the new Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith might be laden with political, anti-Bush messages, one part of me was inflamed at the thought of George Lucas (as though he couldn’t screw up his beloved series any more) lacing this final chapter with partisanship. The other part of me was saddened that, whether intentional or not, skeptics were looking for such messages in the midst of our beloved melodramatic space opera.

Personally, I had found little reason to quibble after I saw the film at the Arclight a few days after it was released. It contained some definite “political messages,” but it wasn’t a political film by any stretch, and given what I knew of George Lucas’ dislike of President Bush and how much he could have inserted, I cut my losses and dismissed the political klaxons in my head as paranoidly looking for windmills with which to tilt.

But oh, how wrong I was.

I since stumbled upon a leaked draft of the Ep III script, which is pretty authentic considering it was reported on at least a week before the film’s release. It is spot-on accurate for every line the film I can remember, but also includes numerous lines and entire scenes left out of the final version. I’m saddened to say the deleted parts leave little doubt that Lucas intended the political aspect of RotS to be a commentary on the Bush administration, the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq generally.

A couple of the more salient points include:

Regarding the Patriot Act:

PALPATINE: There are times when we must all endure adjustments to the constitution in the name of security.
ANAKIN: With all due respect, sir, the Council is in no mood for more constitutional amendments.
PALPATINE: Thank you, my friend, but in this case I have no choice . . . this war must be won.

  • These lines were cut from the scene when Palpatine informs Anakin he will be his personal representative on the Jedi Counsel. (as a side note, yes I am aware the Patriot Act is not a constitutional amendment)

Regarding Bush and Republicans generally:

  • When Palpatine has been disfigured and is announcing the Galactic Empire to the Senate (from which Padme’s now-famous quote, “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause,” stems), a few additional lines were deleted:

PALPATINE: In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society which I assure you will last for ten thousand years.
PALPATINE: (continuing) An empire that will continue to be ruled by this august body, and a sovereign ruler chosen for life . . .
PALPATINE: (continuing) An empire ruled by the majority . . . Ruled by a new constitution . . .

  • Maybe I’m reading too much into this one, but do I smell some Democrat minority angst here?

And let’s not forget the politically-charged that actually made it into the film:

PADME: What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?
. . .
PADME: Anakin, this war represents a failure to listen . . . Now, you’re closer to the Chancellor than anyone. Please, please ask him to stop the fighting and let diplomacy resume.

The final line, and the one that stuck in my craw from the moment I heard it, isn’t as much about current politics as modern philosophy, and I think is more dangerous and hair-raising than any of George’s whiney sour grapes lines:

OBI-WAN: Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic … to democracy.
ANAKIN: If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.
OBI-WAN: Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.

Anakin’s line here is arguably a jab at Bush’s 2001 comment regarding the war on terror (though in light of the deleted and other lines it seems increasingly likely). It’s Obi-Wan’s second line that bothers me – if only Sith Lords deal in absolutes, what do the good guys deal in? The logical answer seems to be the opposite, which would be moral relativism. Contrary to what the Jedi seem to espouse (ironically it is actually Palpatine that urges Anakin to take a look at the softer side of Sith, not merely that Sith = Evil), Obi-Wan’s message here seems to indicate that good and bad are relative ideas, and that strict or enforced morals are dangerous and oppressive. This is the school of thought that gives sympathy to terrorists and frames all political issues from homosexuality to abortion in terms of individual rights upon which we must not infringe. Why not? Because my morality may not be your morality, and who are you to impose your morality on me?

Fortunately, this brief homage to “no true good or evil” is easy missed, since it is so contrary to Star Wars’ consistent message of pure good (Jedi) and pure evil (Sith). Like Lucas’ abhorrent writing and abysmal directing, pointless partisan commentary serves no purpose other than to further denigrate an already beleaguered series. It’s fortunate that someone got to Lucas – as someone no doubt must have – and convinced him to remove some of the more shameless moments, references to some newfound “constitution,” etc., or Revenge of the Sith really would have been seen as a political movie with an unabashedly political message. Well done, George! You’ve successfully completed six episodes of the Star Wars saga without shattering the childhoods of thousands (despite your best efforts, I might add).

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