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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Teaser Poster)Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez, Isabel Lucas, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker and Eeyore

Directed by Michael Bay

SPOILER ALERT: These innocent-looking words may transform into evil, plot-revealing spoilers without further warning.

Michael Bay is often the object of much scorn and derision for directing films that favor style over substance, assaulting the audience with flashy special effects and booming soundtracks while seeming to eschew such things as character development and  coherent storytelling. In spite of this, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made thirty-seven bazillion dollars ((Net.)) over the course of its opening weekend.

Did I say “in spite of this”? I meant “because of this”.

The reason Michael Bay’s second Transformers movie made a metric ton of money despite reviews that are almost universally negative is simple: Michael Bay understands that the modern movie theater is tailor-made for big, explodey, in-your-face films featuring frenetic action and jaw-dropping special effects that push the audience right to the edge of sensory overload and keep it there for nearly two solid hours. Bay’s brand of filmmaking has all the elements that compel me (and millions of people like me) to step up to the ticket counter and plunk down eight or nine (or ten) of their hard-earned American dollars in exchange for a hundred and twenty or so minutes of larger-than-life, mind-numbing eye candy.

Mock me if you will. Call me a philistine. I’ll gladly cop to that charge. Why? Because when the theater shakes to the rafters each time Optimus Prime’s massive metal fist smashes into a Decepticon’s face it completely drowns out the sound of cell phones ringing. When a flaming meteor pummels a giant aircraft carrier, I can’t hear the people behind me—you know the ones; the couple who insist on maintaining a running narrative throughout the entire film—yeah, I can’t hear a word they’re saying, nor can I hear the baby crying off to my right. As an added bonus, those giant transforming robots beating the bolts out of each other in a fight sequence so fast-paced my eyes and brain can barely keep up renders me all but unable to even notice the jackass in the next row updating his Facebook status from his iPhone. It’s sheer bliss.

Compelling characters? Subtle, nuanced performances? Thought-provoking narrative? Please! That stuff has no place on a forty-foot-wide screen rendered in so much digital brilliance that I can count the sympathetic protagonist’s eyelashes as the camera zooms in for a close-up during his heart-wrenching, Oscar-worthy monologue. When I want to watch a film from a visionary director that provides some insight into the human condition—the sort of intellectually-stimulating high-brow cinema-as-art drivel I’ll be talking to my well-read friends about over chardonnay and canapés—I’ll buy the DVD and watch it at home. Where it’s quiet. Where no one is kicking the back of my chair. Where the only jackass with a cell phone is me.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a triumph of cinema-as-spectacle. That said, it is also an awful, awful movie. All that stuff about sacrificing ((Or just plain ignoring.)) a decent story in the drive to push action to the forefront; it’s all true. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a film that, like most everything Michael Bay has ever touched, makes me want to give him a high-five and then drive my knee into his tender, private bits.

The part of me that can switch off my critical brain and just enjoy the awesome sight of 40-foot-tall robots transforming into vehicles and then back into robots, all the while beating the ever-lovin’ hell out of each other doesn’t begrudge Bay one nickel of the admission price. The other part of me—the part that still geeks out over those transforming robots but cringes when one of those robots displays very obvious testicles or when the formerly-badass leader of the Decepticons is reduced to a groveling lickspittle at the feet of The Fallen or when the movie turns into Decoys 3: Alien Robot Seduction—that part howls for Michael Bay’s head on a pike.

Revenge of the Fallen obeys some bizarre, twisted balance that I will call Bay’s First Law, which can be simply stated as follows: For every moment of awesome, there must exist an equal and opposite moment of awful. ((Bay’s Second Law: An object, particularly a vehicle, at rest will disgorge its passengers in motion—slow-motion.))

Awesome Awful
Transforming robots. Come on, that’s right up there on the list of The Coolest Things Ever. Non-transforming robots. I’m looking at you, Ravage and The Fallen. Seriously, a robot that looks like a giant chrome kitty? Who the hell is that going to fool?
Robots in disguise. This might be a little redundant, but it bears repeating: robots that can transform into cars and planes and tanks and motorcycles are made of awesome! ((But I’m still annoyed that Optimus Prime has a mouth.)) Robots in disguise…as humans. No! No, no, no! A thousand times: no! Once you give Transformers the ability to assume non-mechanical disguises you ruin them forever! You need look only as far as the Dinobots to see ample evidence of this.
Devastator. What’s cooler than a car transforming into a giant robot? How about six or seven contruction vehicles combining to transform into a robot so big it can’t even stand upright? Devastator. What’s not cool about a robot made of seven construction vehicles? How about a pair of testicles made of wrecking balls, dangling between said robot’s legs despite the fact that none of the vehicles comprising the robot had a wrecking ball?
Jetfire. The SR-71 Blackbird may be the coolest plane in the history of aviation; the only way to make it cooler: transform it into a giant robot… …but not if that robot is my grandpa! He has a beard and a cane, for cryin’ out loud! Oh, and here’s something you probably didn’t see coming: he can teleport. Dude, if you can teleport, why do you need wheels or wings?
More Transformers. Revenge of the Fallen has a bunch of new Transformers, both Autobots and Decepticons. More giant transforming robots = more giant transforming robot fights. And that is cool. Yeah, but…two of those new ‘bots (Skids and Mudflap) are best described as racist caricatures, while Arcee, the only female Transfomer, ((Don’t try to think about why a Transformer ought to be female; your head may explode.)) is killed after only one line of dialog. Definitely not cool.

Then there are the humans, who exist solely to allow the budget some breathing room and to remind the audience that the Autobots have to watch where they step. Bay still drools over Mikaela (Megan Fox) with his camera, ((Megan Fox’s lipstick remains unsmudged whether she’s dry-humping a motorcycle or after two days of hauling her shapely backside across the deserts of Egypt, pursued by murderous Decepticons. Cover the Autobots in that same lip gloss and they’d be pretty much invincible.)) while Sam (Shia LeBeouf) remains the hapless, confused hero and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) provide much-unneeded comic relief.

Whether they be searching for the elusive Matrix or stumbling (literally) through a painfully-long drug joke on an unnamed college campus, anytime the humans occupy the screen without the titular transforming robots present they drain a little more of the awesome out of the movie. Thankfully, there’s enough left that I’m waiting for my next opportunity to sit in a multiplex auditorium and have my senses overloaded by all of Michael Bay’s transforming sound and fury; even if, at the end, it signifies nothing more than meets the eye.

Moviestuff: Crocs and Gators

My love of monster movies is well established, but giant alligators and crocodiles occupy a special place in my—well, not heart, but certainly the reptilian center of my cinematic brain. Even more so than sharks, snakes and spiders (the latter of which creep me right the hell out, regardless of size) I enjoy movies that feature ridiculously huge crocodilians running rampant and treating the human race like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But, you might be thinking, how many such films can there possibly be?

More than you might expect. The hastily-compiled list below contains a dozen of the finest man-eating reptile films from the past two and a half decades or so. I’ve seen nine of the twelve films and I hope to find and watch both Killer Crocodile, Killer Crocodile II and Krocodylus in the next couple of months. Yeah, I’m a bit of a completionist.

  • Alligator (1980). It’s not really fair to say that Alligator followed hot on the heels of the grandfather of all When Animals Attack movies, Jaws; in fact, this first true star of the sub-genre arrived between Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D. Where Jaws made viewers afraid to go into the water, Alligator (starring none other than Robert Forster) was a cautionary tale about flushing unwanted pets down the toilet. The beastie survives to become a crocodilian of unusual size by munching on hormonally-modified critters discarded by Science. As usual, when Science makes a mess, it’s up to the Robert Forsters of the world to play God’s janitor.
  • Killer Crocodile (1989). Alas, I’ve not seen Killer Crocodile, but it stars Richard Crenna’s son, Richard (Anthony) Crenna, so how bad could it be?
  • Killer Crocodile II (1990). The sequel, also starring Anthony Crenna, was shot back-to-back with the original, inspiring Peter Jackson to do the same when he shot the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • Alligator II: The Mutation (1991). Is eleven years too long to wait for a sequel? Maybe not if you’re an Indiana Jones fan; they’ve been waiting 19 years, but at least they get their leading man back. Not so for Alligator fans. Robert Forster does not reprise his gator-asploding role in The Mutation, instead it’s up to Joseph Bologna to kill the rampaging reptile. Is eleven years too long to wait for a sequel? When it’s as bad as Alligator II, absolutely.
  • Lake Placid (Amazon.com)Lake Placid (1999). Written by David E. Kelley (who created Ally McBeal and co-created Doogie Howser, M.D. with Steven Bochco) Lake Placid resurrected the giant crocodilian sub-genre, and just in time. Lake Placid is funny, ((Betty White (The Golden Girls) drops the f-bomb. That’s funny stuff, right there. Crass? Exploitative? Sure. But hilarious.)) scary, has several jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and doesn’t skimp on the special effects. Easily my favorite killer croc flick.
  • Krocodylus (2000). Also known as Blood Surf, this one apparently features double trouble: sharks and a giant saltwater crocodile. Sounds like Deep Blue Sea meets Lake Placid, but probably isn’t. Too bad.
  • Crocodile (2000). Okay, kids, I’m only going to say this once: do not steal the crocodile eggs. Got it? Good.
  • Crocodile 2: Death Roll (2002). When Martin Kove (Hard Time on Planet Earth, The Karate Kid) is the only person you recognize in a SciFi Saturday monsterfest, you’re not all that far from the bottom of the barrel. I don’t remember much about Crocodile 2, apart from a scene in which Kove and his bad guy buddies are eaten one by one at a pole shack in the middle of a swamp. Then again, what else do you really need to remember about a giant crocodile movie?
  • Dinocroc (2004). Science has yet to learn that messing around with prehistoric DNA and recreating giant, carnivorous critters is an inherently bad idea. The men and women in the white lab coats always seem surprised when their bloodthirsty creations are aggressive and hungry and strong (or clever) enough to escape. On the other hand, scientists are great appetizers. Alas, while Dinocroc borrowed the basic plot from Jurassic Park, the SciFi Channel appears to have been borrowed the special effects budget from The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends.
  • Supergator (2007). Science strikes again! This time, it’s Kelly McGillis in the lab coat and Brad Johnson (no relation) cleaning up the mess. Supergator is a sequel to Dinocroc in everything but name: same plot, same monster, same bad special effects.
  • Lake Placid 2 (2007). Brought to you by the SciFi Channel—the same folks who unleashed Mansquito and Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy on the world—the sequel lacks everything that made the original so entertaining. Standing in for the cantankerous, foul-mouthed Betty White is Frau Blücker herself, Cloris Leachman, who plays Betty’s crazy sister. Meanwhile, John Schneider (AKA Bo Duke, or Pa Kent for you young’uns) is the sheriff who must save his daughter and her friends (not all of them, mind you) from the giant crocs Cloris has been feeding in her backyard.
  • Primeval (Amazon.com)Primeval (2007). Inspired by actual events. That’s not the same thing as “based on a true story”, but it’s interesting to note that Gustave, the giant crocodile depicted in the film, really exists and is thought to be responsible for upwards of three hundred deaths on the banks of the Ruzizi River in Burundi, Africa. Primeval comes in a very close second on my list of top croc (and gator) movies. It’s not as funny as Lake Placid, but it’s beautifully shot, has some very nice special effects—Gustave is entirely computer-generated according to the “making of” feature on the DVD—and provides an interesting perspective on the origin of the beast. My major gripe: the girl goes back for the dog. Why do they always go back for the damn dog?

Gamestuff: No One Lives Forever 2

No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s WayNow that my office is 80% clean (pictures to follow soonish) and I actually feel comfortable spending time in it, I’ve been playing No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s WayNo One Lives Forever 2 borrows a bit from the Rambo and Dark Forces school of title generation. The full title of the first game is The Operative: No One Lives Forever, but everything pre-colon has been dropped for the sequel (much like Jedi Knight 2, which dropped the original Dark Forces name from the first two games in that series, or Rambo III which did away with First Blood).. Last night, I wrapped up the final two “chapters” of the game.

No One Lives Forever 2 and its predecessor (both developed by Monolith Productions) are first-person shooters that take place in the late 1960’s and feature Scottish superspy Cate “The Fox” Archer as an operative for the international anti-terrorism organization, UNITY. Thematically, the games are a cross between the FlintOur Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967), both starring James Coburn as freelance superspy, Derek Flint. and Austin Powers movies, spoofing the superspy genre made popular by Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The humor is brilliant, but doesn’t in any way detract from the core sneak-and-shoot mechanic of the game.

The “sneak” part of the mechanic isn’t quite up to the standards set by games like Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell and Looking Glass Studios’ Thief, but it’s certainly no slouch. In fact, the stealth implementation in NOLF 2 is considerably improved over its predecessor. That said, there are still occasions in which Cate should be hidden from her opponents and can still be spotted, which proves to be rather annoying.

The “shoot” aspect, on the other hand, is very satisfying. Throughout the game, Cate wields melee weapons (Japanese katanas, Indian tulwars and a stun gun disguised as a mascara kit) a variety of handguns, rifles, machine guns and shotguns, a crossbow (my personal favorite ranged weapon, featuring four different flavors of ammunition) and a host of superspy gadgets (most of which are disguised as items Cate might keep in her purse: lipstick, compact, perfume, etc.) and improvised weapons. The array of weapons available is dependent upon the mission but, apart from one or two stealth-heavy missions, The Fox is almost always well-armed and NOLF 2 is a very satisfying FPS.

The locations and opponents are nearly as varied as the weapons; H.A.R.M. (an evil organization whose acronym is never explained) operates around the globe and Cate is sent to Japan, Russia, India, a secret undersea submarine base and even Akron, Ohio to thwart their nefarious schemes. Along the way, the intrepid operative battles countless tommy-gun-toting mimes, female ninjas, H.A.R.M. thugsIn the original NOLF, the Indian H.A.R.M. thugs had some of the funniest dialog, often shouting “Do not be apprehensive about this apprehension!” when pursuing Cate and “Hard rain is falling!” when she shot at them. The thugs (Indian and otherwise) in NOLF 2 say things like “Oh, man! Now I’m bleeding!” when shot or “I’m not taking the blame for this” when they find one of their comrades dead or unconscious. and a few genetically-engineered super-soldiers (shades of Captain America!).

As varied as the locations are, they have one thing in common: they are all very, very pretty. Every stage of No One Lives Forever 2 is a work of art, both visually and aurally. The graphics are crisp and clean, the ambient noise subtle, and the background musicA special edition of The Operative: No One Lives Forever shipped with two CDs: the first contained the game and the second was a soundtrack disc. The soundtrack has a wonderful 1960s “feel”, much like the music from the Austin Powers movies. The soundtracks for NOLF and Homeworld (a real-time space sim) are tied at the top of my list of best video game music (with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault coming in second). sets the mood perfectly (especially the eerie theremin that plays when Cate is in H.A.R.M.’s underwater base).

Beautiful locations, fantastic soundtrack, engaging story and exciting gameplay all combine to make No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way an excellent gaming experience. Among single-player first-person shooters, I rank it behind only the original Deus Ex for bringing the fun.

Movie Review: Transformers

Transformers
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Transformers (2007)

Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Michael O’Neill, Kevin Dunn, Peter Cullen, Darius McCrary, Mark Ryan, Jess Harnell, Robert Foxworth, and Elrond Half-Elven.

Directed by Michael Bay.

Somewhere in the frozen northern wilderness, deep within a remote facility, a mechanical being has slumbered for countless years. His name is Optimus Prime, he is the leader of the noble Autobots, and he is probably in a box in the attic, almost certainly missing one of the blue fists that were stored in his passenger compartment when he made his awesome transformation from robot to flat-nosed Mack truck.

Though I dreamed of commanding massive armies of Autobots and their evil enemies, the Decepticons, I owned only two Transformers toys as a boy: Optimus Prime and Skywarp, a black and purple Decepticon who transformed into a fighter jet. Despite their lack of transforming teammates, Skywarp and Optimus Prime engaged in many an afternoon battle, often recruiting LEGO constructs and other toys to their causes.

Skywarp does not appear in the new Transformers movie, and Optimus Prime is now a long-nosed Peterbilt with kickin’ flame job. Also absent is Prime’s trailer; the classic toy tows a box trailer that transforms into a mobile Combat Deck containing Roller, a small scout vehicle resembling a Mars rover. In the movie, Optimus Prime is never seen towing a trailer of any kind.

[Note: Freedom from spoilers is the right of all sentient beings. The following contains plot details about Transformers that you might not wish revealed until after you’ve seen the movie.]

It was inevitable that the Transformers—even the iconic Optimus Prime—undergo another sort of transformation when Michael Bay brought them to the big screen. Unfortunately, diehard fanboys (myself included) are reluctant to look away from the red Tech Spec decoder filter through which we view the mid-1980s, and the slightest change—no matter how practical or necessary—is seen as sacrilege. When it was announced that Michael Bay would be directing Transformers, it was (if I may be allowed to mix my pop culture metaphors) as though a million voices suddenly cried out in anguish.

In all fairness to Mr. Bay, I think we overreacted a bit. True, Transformers has pretty much all of Bay’s trademark qualities—lots of explosions, plenty of slow motion, ((If you find yourself in a Michael Bay motion picture, you should be resigned to that fact that you will be getting in and/or out of a vehicle in slow motion at some point. As surely as Joanie loves Chachi, Michael Bay loves slow-motion vehicle ingress and egress.)) an overwrought love story—but it also has a satisfying number of “hell yeah” moments, excellent armaments, a sweeping sense of grandeur, and giant robots that transform into cars, jets, tanks and helicopters in the blink of an eye at a hundred miles per hour.

For centuries, the Transformers have been searching the universe for the Allspark, a cube with “the power to create worlds and fill them… with life.” Megatron, leader of the evil Decepticons, is also missing, and nearly forty years ago the Transformers first encountered humans in the far reaches of space, an encounter that ultimately led them to believe that both Megatron and the Allspark are on Earth. ((These events are described in Ghosts of Yesterday, the official prequel novel to the movie, but I don’t particularly recommend reading it.))

One of the biggest fears in the fanboy camp was that Michael Bay would make Transformers more about the human characters than the Transformers themselves. Whether Bay could reasonably be expected to make a movie in which the human point of view takes a backseat to a much, much taller perspective is a debate I happily leave to more diehard fans than myself. There’s no question that a pink, squishy homo sapiens named Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is the primary protagonist in Transformers, and while this opens the door to humans grabbing more screen time than the robots, it also allows for two very effective sequences in which first the Decepticons and then the Autobots reveal themselves.

Intending to search the United States military computer network for evidence that might reveal the location of Megatron and the Allspark, a Decepticon named Blackout disguises himself as a Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low helicopter and lands at a military installation in Qatar. Transforming into a towering robot, Blackout proceeds to kick almost every camouflaged ass in the vicinity. My only complaint about Blackout’s attack is that—when compared with his fast-moving, diving, dodging, spinning robot brethren—the Decepticon seemed more like a lumbering heavy mech from Battletech than a Transformer; the attack was impressive (I loved Blackout’s radial electromagnetic pulse weapon), but had a very different feel from the remainder of the action in the movie (which is not always a bad thing).

After the assault in Qatar, an Autobot scout named Bumblebee infiltrates a used car dealership disguised as a rusted yellow Chevrolet Camaro ((At the dealership, Bumblebee parks next to a classic Volkswagen Beetle, which was his vehicle form in the original iteration of the Transformers in 1984.)) and is purchased by young Sam Witwicky. Sam soon learns that his Camaro has some strange quirks, not the least of which is the fact that it drives itself and transforms into a giant robot.

Sam, like most humans, fears what he doesn’t understand; fleeing from his demonically-possessed car, the boy stumbles across a police car whose mission (as seen emblazoned on its rear quarter panel) is “to punish and enslave”. Sam soon learns that his Camaro isn’t the only giant robot on the planet when the Saleen-modified Ford Mustang police cruiser transforms into the Decepticon known as Barricade. What follows is a combination car chase and robot battle with rocking guitar riffs accentuating the screeching tires and metal-on-metal body blows. When the soundtrack kicked in, a voice in the back of my head shouted “Hell yeah!” and I couldn’t help but grin as the chase began.

Another such moment occurs after Mikaela (Megan Fox), Sam’s girlfriend-to-be asks why, if Bumblebee is such a bad ass, he disguises himself as a piece of crap beat up Camaro. Bumblebee responds by pulling over and ejecting both teenagers, leaving them apparently stranded. A moment later, the Autobot returns, and as the camera pans over the sleek, yellow lines of his new form—a prototype 2008/2009 Camaro—Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” fills the auditorium. ((“Battle Without Honor or Humanity” was used in trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. It is a very recognizable song, filled with cymbal crashes and bold trumpet, and especially apropos when Bumblebee’s yellow finish with bold black racing stripes is compared with the movie poster and DVD cover for Tarantino’s movie, both of which feature a field of yellow bisected by a thick black vertical line.))

Following Sam’s escape from Barricade, the remaining Autobots fall to Earth in their “protocomet” form and, after selecting their various forms—Ironhide (Jess Harnell), a black GMC Topkick ; Jazz (Darius McCrary), a silver Pontiac Solstice; Ratchet (Robert Foxworth), a yellow Hummer H2; and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), the aforementioned blue-and-red Peterbilt semi—reveal themselves to Sam.

The Autobots arrival, perhaps more than any other part of Transformers, induced a thrilling sense of nostalgia and is another of those “hell yeah” moments. Even Michael Bay patting himself on the back in the form of an excited boy remarking that the protocomets falling to Earth was “more awesome than Armageddon” did little to diminish the ineffable sensation of pure, unadulterated fanboy bliss I felt when Optimus Prime adopted the form of a passing semi-truck and then moments later transformed into the familiar, towering robot for the first time.

Then Optimus Prime spoke and my inner fanboy’s head exploded. Prime, as it turns out, is something of a Fanboy’s Paradox: we cheered at the news that Peter Cullen—who provided Prime’s voice in the first animated television series as well as the 1985 animated movie—would be reprising his role as the Autobot leader. Cullen’s voice is every bit as intrinsic to the character of Optimus Prime as is the distinctive design of the robot’s head and face… and that’s where the Paradox begins. The Optimus Prime of old has no mouth; a very distinct faceplate covers the lower half of his face. Bay’s Prime still has the faceplate, but it slides back to reveal—horror of horrors—robotic lips on robotic jaws!

I can only speculate as to the justification for this travesty, but I believe the intent was to make the character seem more human and give him the ability to emote. Whatever the reason, it just didn’t work for me. Did Darth Vader need a mouth to emote? No! It was all accomplished through body language (thank you, David Prowse) and excellent voice acting (thank you, James Earl Jones). Of all the changes that were made to the characters, this is the one that my inner fanboy refuses to accept; he cannot imagine any practical scenario that justifies slapping a mouth on Optimus Prime.

On the flip side of the mouth issue, we have Megatron, who was voiced not by Frank Welker, but by Hugo Weaving. This would have been an excellent casting choice but for one tiny little detail: Weaving’s voice has been electronically filtered to the point of being unrecognizable. It’s a shame, too, because Megatron would have benefited greatly if Weaving’s personality had been able to pierce through the heavy effects; a little of Agent Smith’s delightful scorn for humanity from The Matrix would have gone a long way to bring character to the Decepticon leader.

Moving right along…

Back in the desert of Qatar, it seems that several soldiers escaped Blackout’s assault on the military base. As they make their way across the scorching landscape in search of a phone, they are pursued by Scorponok, a scorpion-like Decepticon who burrows beneath the sand and attacks just as the soldiers reach a small village. Using a borrowed cellular phone, Sgt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) contacts the Pentagon and calls for air support as the remainder of the soldiers attempt to fend off Scorponok’s onslaught.

The Decepticon shrugs off the aerial assault until he finds himself at the receiving end of a barrage from a Lockheed AC-130H gunship, which circles high above and fires high-caliber incendiary rounds. The camera shot of the gunship banking over the village with its side-mounted guns blazing tickled my reptilian brain even as the thunderous report of the Howitzers rattled my ribcage. Bay may not be subtle, but he does big and loud very well.

Eventually, a Decepticon named Frenzy ((Frenzy is a small Decepticon who disguises himself as a CD boombox. A quick shot in one of the movie trailers shows the boombox beginning its transformation, which gave me a glimmer of false hope that Soundwave, one of my favorite Decepticons, would make an appearance. Frenzy is a poor substitute, usually coming off as a vulgar interpretation of Johnny Five from Short Circuit.)) locates Megatron and the Allspark and sends a message to his sneaky comrades—Starscream (Charlie Adler), a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor; Devastator, an M1 Abrams tank and Bonecrusher (Jimmie Wood), a Buffalo mine protected vehicle—all of whom have been quietly biding their time for most of the movie.

Frenzy successfully sabotages the cryogenic system that keeps Megatron (designated “Ice Man” by Sector 7, a top secret government agency) ((When Ice Man is revealed, the movie contradicts events that occur in Ghosts of Yesterday. In the novel, Sector 7 arranges a convoy to transport Ice Man from the Arctic Circle to Arizona in 1969, a convoy that is ambushed by Russians; in the film, a Sector Seven operative tells Secretary of State Keller (Jon Voight) that Ice Man was moved to the Arizona facility in 1935, shortly after Captain Archibald Witwicky (William Morgan Sheppard) accidentally stumbled across the frozen robot on an Arctic expedition.)) safely in stasis. With the assistance of Bumblebee, Sam removes the Allspark from beneath the Hoover Dam (where it has lain since President Herbert Hoover ordered the dam be built around it in 1931) and flees the awakening Decepticon leader.

Autobots and Decepticons clash in the fictional Mission City, where Megatron and Optimus Prime go head-to-head in a winner-take-all battle for the championship title. There are plenty of explosions and the property damage is impressive; twenty-foot-tall robots make big dents when they run into things like skyscrapers.

The sequence that stood out for me in the Mission City battle was not between Optimus Prime and Megatron, but between Starscream and the Air Force. When Sgt. Lennox and Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) call in aerial reinforcements, Starscream slips into the ranks of the incoming Air Force Raptors and wreaks incredible havoc, transforming from jet to robot and back again in mid-air while taking out one F-22 after another. By the time the Air Force pilots realize that one of the Raptors flying with them isn’t supposed to be there, it’s too late; Starscream (Megatron’s second-in-command and always a bit of a screwup in the animated television series) has decimated the fighters. Unfortunately, the sequence is over far too quickly, and Starscream—displaying his characteristic cowardice—disappears during the final battle.

For all its explosions, collateral damage, and aerial acrobatics, the battle in Mission City also highlights two of my major problems with Transformers: the robot design and the hyper-kinetic camera work. Both serve to make the action very difficult to follow.

When in their robot modes, most of the transformers look very… busy. There are a lot of sharp angles formed by hundreds of pointy pieces of metal, all of which tend to make one robot very much resemble another. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and (to a lesser extent) Ratchet stand out due to their distinctive coloring, but the remainder of the robots are silver and black and don’t have features that would help in distinguishing one from another.

The problem is exacerbated by camera shots that are shaky and a preponderance of quick jump cuts from one point in the action to another. The end result is certainly a battle between two or more giant robots, but it quickly becomes difficult to tell which robot is which, what exactly they are doing, and who (if anybody) is winning.

When Bay does allow his camera to linger, it is almost always on the exceptionally curvy Megan Fox. During Sam’s clumsy attempts to gain Mikaela’s affections, the camera doesn’t so much pan over Fox’s body as drool over it. As I’ve noted before, Michael Bay isn’t much for subtlety, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the final sequence of the movie, in which Sam and Mikaela are making out on Bumblebee’s hood while the other Autobots linger nearby like fuel-injected voyeurs, courtesy of Ford and General Motors. The scene is established by a blatant shot of Fox’s ample upper chassis that pans to reveal LeBeouf and the Camaro on which they both reclined. Subtle it wasn’t, but I was struck by a sudden desire to visit my local Chevrolet dealer.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Transformers. Granted, at times it seemed like Michael Bay couldn’t decide whether he was making a romantic teen comedy or the sequel to Black Hawk Down, but all things considered I was quite pleased with the final product (certainly enough to pick up the inevitable two-disc Platinum Deluxe Collector’s Edition DVD set ((Transforms into matching drink coasters!)) when it is released later this year). I don’t believe any irreparable damage has been done to my precious and fondest childhood memories, and I think the next time I visit my parents I may rescue Optimus Prime from his dusty cardboard containment cell so I can share some of those memories with my young apprentice in the near future. ((Okay, and I want to see if I can remember how to change him from semi-truck to robot and back.))

Bookstuff: Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday

Transformers: Ghosts of YesterdayTransformers: Ghosts of Yesterday by Alan Dean Foster is “[t]he story you must read—before Transformers rockets to the big screen!” Until I saw the book on the shelves of my local independent bookseller, I hadn’t been aware that there were prerequisites to seeing Michael Bay’s big screen treatment of my favorite childhood transforming-robot toys, ((I’m still waiting for the announcement that John McTiernan (Die Hard) will be directing the GoBots movie. Any day now…)) but I certainly didn’t want to show up at the theater bright-eyed with cash in hand only to be turned away at the box office due to my own ill-preparedness.

I think Paramount and Dreamworks dropped the ball on this; in all the Transformers pre-release hype—trailers, GM and Burger King tie-in commercials—there’s not a single indication that the audience needs to read a book before they can watch the movie. I can only imagine the scene that will play out over and over, all across the country (if not the world) tomorrow evening:

“One for Transformers, please.”

“Have you read Ghosts of Yesterday?”

“What?”

Ghosts of Yesterday; it’s the official prequel to the blockbuster film. Have you read it?”

“No, I—”

“Sorry, no one sees the movie until they read the book. Next, please!”

“Wait a minute! I want to see Transformers!”

“Sorry, kid. Rules is rules. You gotta read the book. Step aside, please. Don’t make me call security.”

The real tragedy is that Ghosts of Yesterday isn’t an especially good book. The story revolves around a top-secret space mission that coincides with the 1969 launch of Apollo 11, the not-at-all-secret space mission that first put a man on the moon. ((You know, if you believe in that sort of thing.)) While the world watches Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin make their historic voyage to a Hollywood soundstage Earth’s only satellite, a secret government agency known as Sector Seven covertly launches Ghost One, an experimental spaceship derived from alien technology. The source of the technology is “The Ice Man”, a giant mechanoid being, one of two alien artifacts held in secret by the United States government.

During its maiden voyage, Ghost One encounters an unexpected phenomenon on the far side of the sun: a wormhole that transports the ship and its crew to an unknown area of outer space, where they encounter two warring factions of sentient mechanical beings who have been exploring the vast reaches of the universe in search of a lucrative merchandising deal.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the powers-that-be decide to move The Ice Man from the frozen Arctic wastes to balmy Arizona, where there’s absolutely no chance he’ll thaw and wreak havoc on humanity; I mean, just put that thought right out of your head, it’s all perfectly safe. Unfortunately, it’s 1969, and no one’s thought to end the Cold War just yet. The Russians, perhaps a little annoyed that we’re about to beat them to a soundstage in Hollywood the moon, arrange for a little accident en route to Arizona.

It’s not a terrible story, but it felt empty to me. Maybe Transformers—perfectly suited to toys and comic books and animated television series—just don’t translate well to the realm of pure prose. Foster makes almost no effort to describe the giant robots, other than to say that they’re giant robots. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that if you’re reading the book you know what a Transformer looks like so there’s no point in wasting words describing them. And while the story certainly sets the stage for the movie, it really doesn’t accomplish much of anything else. The human characters, for the most part, are just sketches with little opportunity for any true development; of the Transformers themselves, only the Decepticon Starscream and the Autobots Optimus Prime and Bumblebee get much in the way of “face time”, but they’re in constant battle with one another and the only part of their characters that really comes across is the fact that they’d like to destroy their enemies.

I’m glad I read the book, if only because now I’ll be able to stride proudly up to the box office and say, “One for Transformers, please, my good ticketmonger! I have completed the required reading and am fully prepared to enjoy an evening of motion picture entertainment!”

Netstuff: Stranger Things premieres with “Sacred Cow”

Stranger Things is the brainchild of writer/director Earl Newton. With the help of some very talented people, Earl has created a free monthly television series that can be downloaded with software like Democracy and iTunes and viewed on your PC, iPod, or other media player.

Each month, Stranger Things will present a 30-minute story “about ordinary people stumbling into the secret worlds of the demons, aliens, shamans, and angels. The stories expose the bizarre and the extraordinary things happening all around us, everyday.”

The first episode, “Sacred Cow”, is based on an original story by Scott Sigler, author of the podcast novels Earthcore, Ancestor, Infection and The Rookie. In the realm of podcast novels, Sigler is arguably king; he was recently featured in a New York Times online article ((Newman, Andrew Adam. “Authors Find Their Voice, and Audience, in PodcastsNew York Times 1 March 2007. 1 March 2007)) about Podiobooks.com, where his first three novels are available as free, serialized downloads. If you’re the type who prefers ink-and-paper novels, Earthcore is available in paperback and Ancestor is slated to be released in paperback next month.

Gordo Gordon (David Chancellor) is an autistic genius who has been in the care of Father Ralph Antonini (Elliot Stegall) for the past twenty years. When Gordo learns of research proving that prayer causes specific chemical changes in the brain, he creates a device that can “see” and record the flow of energy created when the parishioners in Fr. Antonini’s church pray during mass.

When Gordo discovers that the prayer energy is focused upward by the high, pointed ceiling in the church, his quest to discover where the energy goes uncovers a horrible truth that could undermine the faith of billions around the world.

“Sacred Cow” is an excellent debut for Stranger Things, showcasing the level of quality that Newton and company can deliver. From a disturbing story to fantastic special effects, an eerie theme song by cellist Zoe Keating and solid performances by the cast, the show’s production value rivals that of most anything found on network television today. I’ll definitely be tuning in next month for the second episode, titled “Discontent”, about a man whose wife wants him to clone her dead mother.

Movie Review: Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider (DVD)Ghost Rider (2007)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Donal Logue, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Laurence Bruels, Daniel Frederiksen, Mathew Wilkinson, Brett Cullen, Matt Long, Raquel Alessi and General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

If you had asked me two years ago who I thought should be cast as Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider’s stunt-cycling alter ego, Nicolas Cage would not have been high on the list of possibilities. For starters, Cage’s hair(piece) is the wrong color. True to his name, the comic book Blaze has fiery orange hair. Unfortunately, the only actor I know of whose hair even approaches orange is Carrot Top (and yes, I’m being generous with the word “actor” here). Apart from being uncommon, orange hair just isn’t going to look right outside the pages of a comic book.You might not think that hair color is all that important when it comes to casting a superhero (much less his alter ego), but ask yourself if you’d want to see Bruce Wayne as a redhead or a blond Clark Kent.

Denis Leary has what I consider to be a reasonable real-life approximation of Johnny Blaze’s hair, both in terms of color and style.When Blaze first appeared in 1972, he was definitely a product of the time, and his hair was a bit longer than Leary’s, but I still think the styles are reasonably similar. Alas, like Nicolas Cage, Denis Leary is at least fifteen years too old to play Johnny Blaze, regardless of how appropriate his coiffure might be.

Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider
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Too old or not, right hair color and style or not, Nicolas Cage is Johnny Blaze on the big screen, though not right away. When Ghost Rider begins, Matt Long plays a much younger Blaze, a carnival stunt cyclist who sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) in order to cure his father’s cancer. Barton Blaze (Brett Cullen) is cured, all right, but Mephistopheles arranges for the elder Blaze to die in an incredibly lame motorcycle crash the very next day. Yeah, Mephistopheles is a bit of a bastard, but that’s what you get for trucking with demons.

After his father’s death, Johnny runs away from everything, including his sweetheart, Roxann Simpson (Raquel Alessi). Blaze crashes his motorcycle at a crossroads where he meets Mephistopheles, who — apart from having a name that’s a pain in the ass to type — informs the young man that he will be called upon to serve the demon sometime in the future.

Years later, Johnny has become a world-renowned stunt cyclist and Roxann has become Eva Mendes. Roxann has also become a television reporter whose wardrobe consists almost entirely of low-cut, cleavage-revealing outfits that also happen to hug her shapely derrière. Roxann re-enters Johnny’s life as he is preparing to attempt a record-setting 300-foot motorcycle jump in a packed arena. Though Blaze does not normally give interviews, he makes an exception for his childhood sweetheart, possibly because she is enticingly back lit, wearing a very, very tight-fitting dress and just happens to pose like a runway model whenever the camera is on her.

Meanwhile, at a bar in the middle of the desert, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the demonic son of Mephistopheles, kills a bunch of badass bikers and summons his entourage of fallen angels. Blackheart intends to retrieve a contract that the original Old West Ghost Rider stole from Mephistopheles a hundred and fifty years ago.

Mephistopheles learns of his wayward son’s plan and decides to intervene; he pays a visit to Johnny Blaze and calls forth Ghost Rider, transforming the stunt cyclist into a fiery-skulled Spirit of Vengeance and his motorcycle into a supernaturally-fast, flaming chopper.

While Ghost Rider battles Blackheart, Johnny Blaze struggles to gain control over the Spirit of Vengeance and turn his curse into a force for good. He is aided by the mysterious Caretaker (Sam Elliott), who has extensive knowledge of the Ghost Rider legend, not to mention some of the most manly facial hair ever seen in the history of motion pictures.I believe that Sam Elliott may be the only human being who could actually grow hair on his eyeballs if he wanted to. As the Caretaker, Elliott sports a beard that climbs so far up his cheekbones that it very nearly flows into his eyebrows. The Caretaker tells Johnny that if Blackheart successfully retrieves the contract of San Venganza, the demon could bring about Hell on Earth.

Ghost Rider is the rock and roll superhero movie. Nicolas Cage may not be the ideal Johnny Blaze and Eva Mendez may be little more than eye candy but when the sun sets and the Spirit of Vengeance awakens, the soundtrack cranks up to eleven and the visuals tear up the screen. The special effects are extravagant without being cheesy, the action is unapologetically over the top and there are flames everywhere.

On the incredibly arbitrary 27-point KJToo rating system, I give Ghost Rider a very respectable 22.

Rocking Out: 9
Ghost Rider (Score) @ Amazon.comAustralian rock band Spiderbait provides an excellent cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” that plays in one scene when the Old West Ghost Rider gallops across the desert alongside the motorcycling modern-day Ghost Rider. The song — which plays again over the ending credits — is an obvious choice for the movie, but the Spiderbait cover keeps with the hard rocking mood. At present, only the score for the movie is available on CD, but I would imagine that Spiderbait’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” will soon be available on either a soundtrack disc for the movie or on one of the band’s future releases.

Hell’s Angels: 7
At the bar in the desert, Blackheart summons the Nephilim, three fallen angels who take the form three of the four elements: Gressil (Laurence Breuls), earth; Abigor (Mathew Wilkenson), air; and Wallow (Daniel Frederiksen), water. Each of the Nephilim is realized very nicely, and one of my favorite special effects in the movie is the ever-dripping Wallow wiping his left eye away with one finger, only to have it reappear a second later. Ghost Rider (who represents fire, the fourth element) faces the Nephilim in combat one at a time through the course of the movie. They would have scored higher if they hadn’t been so easy to defeat.

Fuego del Corazón: 6
Perhaps love makes the world go ’round, but it has an opposite effect on Ghost Rider; thanks to some painfully bad acting and a lack of chemistry between Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, the love story sucks energy out of the movie. Any time the two strike up a conversation, it is stiff, awkward and artificial. Roxann lacks depth and consistently comes across as a pretty, pretty twit, which doesn’t do anything help build a believable love story with real impact to the plot as a whole.

Moviestuff: Shatner DVD Club Mini-reviews (Part the First)

To commemorate the closing of the William Shatner DVD club, I watched four WSDVDC movies over the weekend: Thomas in Love, The Lathe of Heaven, Black Cadillac and Soulkeeper. I enjoyed them all, for different reasons:

  1. Thomas in Love is something of an experimental film, as the story unfolds entirely on the monitor of the title character, who has not left his apartment (or had visitors) for eight years and communicates entirely by videophone. It may sound gimmicky, but the premise works well and leads up to a satisfying (if somewhat predictable) climax. I use “climax” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, as much of Thomas in Love involves the difficulties inherent in a sexual relationship with an agoraphobic who is deathly afraid of coming into contact with other human beings.
  2. The Lathe of Heaven, based on the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, tells the story of George Orr, a man whose dreams become reality, and Doctor Haber, a psychiatrist whose attempts to use George’s “effective dreaming” to solve all of mankind’s problems turn result in one calamity after another. This version was originally broadcast by PBS in 1980 and was not available for purchase until 2000. While the movie itself (particularly in terms of special effects) is definitely dated, the story still stands up very well. One of the extras on the DVD is Bill Moyers interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, which is definitely worth watching. The movie made me want to read the book, and I consider that a compliment.
  3. I didn’t have high expectations of Black Cadillac, especially since Randy Quaid receives top billing. It’s not that I don’t like Randy Quaid — he was hilarious in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — he’s just not an actor I associate with the suspense and/or thriller genres. Despite my initial trepidation, Black Cadillac is actually pretty good. Based on an actual incident from writer director John Murlowski’s mis-spent youth, the story follows three friends as they are menaced by a black 1957 Cadillac El Dorado. I think “inspired by actual events” would probably have been a more accurate description, as Murlowski admits that the movie veers sharply away from reality when the reasons behind this apparent case of road rage are revealed. The movie is suprisingly dialog-heavy, which leads to some good character development and results in some flawed-yet-sympathetic protagonists. Murlowski uses the El Dorado very effectively, without descending into rampant cheesiness. Sympathetic protagonists + effective antagonist – cheese = good movie.
  4. Soulkeeper was positively wretched. It had an interesting premise — the amulet worn by Lazarus absorbed some of Jesus’ power when Lazarus was resurrected — that was all but obliterated by some truly awful acting (Brad Dourif’s accent was especially ridiculous) and some of the worst outdoor sets I’ve seen since Plan 9 From Outer Space). The trick to enjoying Soulkeeper is pretending that you are Tom Servo or Crow T. Robot while you watch it.

Television: Requiem for a Daywalker

The interesting thing about Blade: The Series is that—apart from two episodes—the show wasn’t really about the main character. If you’ve not seen the series and spoilers are the holy symbol that burns your flesh, you may wish to retreat to your coffin at this time.

For those unfamiliar with the Blade franchise, the basic conceit is that vampires live among us in secret, fighting amongst themselves and infiltrating every aspect of the human world. Though humanity remains largely ignorant of the existence of these nocturnal predators, those few who are aware are separated into two groups: hunters, who seek to destroy all vampires, and familiars, who have allied themselves with the bloodsuckers in the hopes of one day earning eternal life.

Blade was born into this world shortly after his mother was bitten by a vampire. As a result, he is half-human and half-vampire, possessing “all of their powers and none of their weaknesses.” Blade has super-human strength and reflexes and is able to move around in daylight because the sun’s rays are not harmful to him; this has led to vampires giving him the name Daywalker. Blade’s powers come with a price, however: like his vampire half-brethren, Blade is compelled to feed on blood, an urge he quashes by regularly injecting himself with a special serum.

Blade: The Series is a spin-off of the popular movie trilogy starring Wesley Snipes. Rapper Kirk “Sticky” Jones had a mighty big trench coat to fill when he took up the title role for the small screen, but as I mentioned earlier, Blade: The Series wasn’t really about Blade at all.

The cast of Blade: Jessica Gower, Neil Jackson, Kirk Jones, Jill Wagner and Nelson Lee
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The series’ major protagonist is actually Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), who returns home to Detroit after a tour in Iraq to find that her brother, Zack, has been killed. The police seem convinced that Zack was involved in some sort of gang, but Krista learns the hard way that the true culprits were vampires. Shortly after discovering that her brother was a familiar, Krista is turned by Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), perhaps the most powerful and influential vampire in the city and one major horndog. All seems lost for Krista until she is approached by Blade, who offers her an alternative to the bloodsucking lifestyle to which Van Sciver and his associates have become very accustomed.

Krista begins to inject herself with Blade’s serum to stave off the bloodthirst and becomes Blade’s agent within the House of Chthon, one of the twelve vampire factions that are constantly at war with one another. The information Krista feeds Blade ultimately leads to a major confrontation between the Daywalker and Van Sciver, who engineers a major coup at a secret vampire conclave in Toronto.

Much of Blade: The Series revolves around Krista, her difficulty in fighting off the ever more intense vampiric urges, her struggle to hide her true nature and intentions from Van Sciver (who has the major hots for her), and the cat-fighting with Chase (Jessica Gower), another shapely vampire who is none too thrilled with Marcus’ new obsession.

The first season of Blade: The Series—which wrapped up a few weeks ago—will apparently be the only season. A few days ago, Jill Wagner announced that SpikeTV would not be picking the series up for another season. A day after Wagner’s announcement, SpikeTV issued a press release confirming that Blade would not be returning to the small screen in the foreseeable future.

I’m not surprised that Blade: The Series has been canceled, but I am a little disappointed; the show was actually pretty good. I’m a fan of the basic premise of vampires living in secret among us, exerting political influence through a network of human pawns and aligning themselves in factions that constantly jockey for positions of power. Also fascinating is the caste system among the legions of undead: purebloods (those who were born vampires) look down on their half-blood brethren (who were once human, but have been turned), and at least one house has been exiled by the others for inciting a civil war.

Political intrigue and infighting aside, Blade: The Series had a pretty solid storyarc through the first season. Krista played a pivotal part in nearly every event that occurred from the pilot to the finale, but the focus on her storyline (not to mention Marcus’ machinations) may have prevented Blade himself from developing as much as he should have. As a result, Blade doesn’t seem to change much throughout the course of the story.

The most frustrating aspect of the series’ cancellation is that the final episode apparently ran a few minutes longer than an hours. I say “apparently” based on the fact that the TiVo recording abruptly ended during a conversation between Krista and Marcus, just as Marcus was about to reveal how he had located Blade’s secret base. Dammit!

Shatner DVD Club: Three Months

For my birthday this year, Laura bought me a membership in the William Shatner DVD Club. Since then I’ve received the following DVDs in the mail:

  • Immortel (2004) – This French film — directed by Enki Bilal, who also created the comics upon which the movie is based — is an interesting blend of live-action and computer-generated characters set against an almost entirely computer-generated backdrop. In the year 2095, the ancient Egyptian gods have reappeared in a pyramid hovering over New York City. The hawk-headed god Horus is being judged by Anubis and Set, and has seven days to… well, that would be telling. The story is bizarre, but nothing compared to the visuals, which range from stunning to jarring. Settings and vehicles are stylistic and work well, but most of the computer-generated characters just don’t mesh with their live-action counterparts.
  • Falcon Down (2000) – This bonus DVD was shipped with Immortel. Pilot Hank Thomas (Dale Midkiff) is recruited by Maj. Robert Carson (William Shatner) to steal a top secret plane and microwave weapon before both can be sold to the Chinese military. As techno-thrillers go, it’s no Hunt For Red October, but it’s got some decent aerial sequences and special effects. The story has a few twists and turns, but nothing truly surprising. There’s some docuentary-style footage that really doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the plot, and the movie would have been fine (if shorter) without it.
  • Close Your Eyes (2002) – Also known as Doctor Sleep, this one is a supernatural thriller in which hypnotherapist Michael Strother (Goran Visnjic) has a vision of a young girl who escaped from a serial killer. Together with policewoman Janet Losey (Shirley Henderson, who plays Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films), Michael follows the trail of the killer, who believes he has unlocked the key to immortality. Close Your Eyes is a fairly competent and gritty thriller, with a decent story that delves into the supernatural without going overboard.
  • Ginger Snaps (2000) – I haven’t watched the DVD yet, but I saw Ginger Snaps on The Independent Film Channel a few months ago. Unfortunately, I also saw the sequel, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed, around the same time and I remember very little about the original. The story involves a teenage girl who, after being bitten by “something” in the woods, begins to undergo a transformation that’s almost as bad as going through puberty. I’ll do a mini-review after I’ve had a chance to watch the DVD.

I should be receiving another movie from the club in the next week or so. It will most likely be Butterfly Effect (starring Ashton Kutcher), the Japanese disaster film Virus, or it2i2, an independent film that has been described by the London Times as “The Da Vinci Code meets The Matrix, only with a lower budget.”