Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011)

Starring Shia LeBeouf, Josh Duhamel and Patrick Dempsey
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Michael Bay
Rated PG-13 - Intense, prolonged violence, language
Running Time: 154 minutes

And Michael Bay wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. 

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" opens in the early 1960s as we discover an Autobot ship, the Ark, commanded by the leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), has crash-landed on Earth's moon.  The space race of the 1960s was borne out of a need for the United States, in the midst of the Cold War, to reach the moon first and explore the wreckage.

Fast forward to the present, and we find Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) has graduated college after saving the world twice and is now attempting to find a job.  What he really wants to do is work with the Autobots, hunting down and destroying the remaining Decepticons on Earth.  But, alas, he is not a government agent and can't do that.  He lives with his girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Rose Huntington-Whitely), the lovely assistant to the exceedingly wealthy Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey). 

Meanwhile, around the world, human agents of the Decepticons are being assassinated as Megatron's (Hugo Weaving) plan is finally ready to be put in motion.  When the Autobots discover the truth about the human moon landing, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) travels to the moon and discovers the body of Sentinel Prime kept in stasis.  Revived, Sentinel informs Optimus that he has carried with him devices capable of creating a matter teleportation bridge, supposedly the key to revitalizing their dead homeworld of Cybertron. 

Unbeknownst to the Autobots, retrieving and reviving Sentinel Prime was Megatron's plan all along, for Sentinel had betrayed the Autobots.  He wasn't leaving Cybertron all those years ago to keep the matter bridge technology from falling into Decepticon hands... he was defecting.  Now the Decepticons have annexed our world, planning to use the six billion humans as slave labor to rebuild Cybertron to its former glory using the matter bridge.  Now Sam, Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel), Epps (Tyrese), the rest of their elite military squad and the surviving Autobots are all that stand between the Decepticons and Earth's annihilation.

I have in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, championed infamous director Michael Bay's series of "Transformers" films, based on the hugely popular Hasbro line of shape-shifting toys and the 1980s animated TV series. Bay has steadfastly refused to give in to the base wants of hardcore fans, those who simply want to see that old cartoon back up on the screen, but made with glossy CGI.  Instead, he has plowed forward like the Hollywood bulldozer that he is, reshaping "Transformers" from something boys loved as kids and nerds hold dear as adults into glossy, bombastic summer spectacle that general audiences eat up.

Sure, the scripts for these films are less than Oscar-worthy (far less).  Sure, the humor is mostly juvenile and, sure, the excitement comes not from heady ideas or great characters but from presenting progressively more massive action sequences of robotic destruction.  Each time, fans of the toys and the cartoons whine and moan about the rape of their childhoods, never understanding that what they want on the screen would never sell on the scale of these pictures.  Michael Bay has stripped "Transformers" of its Saturday morning cartoonishness and turned it into three blockbusters reviled by critics as audiences plunk down thick wads of cash to eat up.

I understand exactly how people want these movies to look and feel, with the robots as the absolute star of the show and not a single human in sight.  What people have consistently failed to understand is that Michael Bay refuses to treat the robots that way.  Instead, he shoots his movies like he would any other... and just happens to have giant robots mixed into the frame.  The climactic action sequence of the first film was awesome and genius because the robots were mixed into the chaos instead of standing out amidst it.  That way of thinking, along with the perfect CG effects work from George Lucas' always-incredible Industrial Light & Magic workshop, made "Transformers" into an amazing show of surreality. 

For "Dark of the Moon," Bay has employed the technicians that crafted James Cameron's 3D billion-dollar powerhouse to come in and thoroughly demolish the city of Chicago.  Because of the limitations of the 3D camera rigs, Bay is forced to steady his shots and cut between them a little slower.  This has the added side effect of making the apocalpytic goings on in the back half of the film seem larger, more epic.  Indeed, the first "Transformers" film seems almost small and quaint by comparison.  But it also makes things more obvious.  You're more aware that you're watching large CG robots instead of watching all that mixed chaos. 

But, there is a lot of chaos.  The entire back half of the film deals with Sam, the soldiers and the Autobots attempting to infiltrate Chicago, which has been cordoned off by Decepticon forces.  Sequence after breathless sequence is thrown at us, with nary a moment to rest.  The effect is almost numbing, but Bay manages to sell the feeling of desperation in the characters.  Never in either of the two previous "Transformers" did things ever feel so hopeless, that the bad guys were so close to winning.  The fact that "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is able to accomplish this pretty well makes it the best movie of the three.  The fact that it actually has a story to tell, albeit a flawed one (but what did you expect?) pretty well makes it the best movie of the three.

And the fact that Michael Bay has finally delivered his master class in awesome.  There are logic problems in this movie, yes.  There are lines of painfully expository dialogue that gifted actors struggle to deliver.  There are jokes that fall flat.  There are far too many characters for its own good. 

But "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is fucking awesome.  The action in Chicago is huge, and epic.  The city is positively demolished.  The body count is massive.  But Bay takes all this chaos and crafts several truly excellent sequences.  Lennox's men infiltrating the city by diving out of their crashing planes while wearing suits that pretty much enable them to fly is the definition of cool.  Sam and Epps trying to escape a skyscraper being systematically demolished by Decepticons is a lot of fun.  Finally, in this film, the humans aren't so completely out of their league in fighting the Decepticons.  Lennox's NEST team has the training and the equipment to take out the bad guys, and Bay briefly lets them loose in the last act.  Even Sam gets his chance to kill a Decepticon!

"Dark of the Moon" introduces a number of new characters, most of whom are disposable, but serve their purpose well enough.  British model Rose Huntington-Whitely is a better actress than Megan Fox, but she's still basically just there to look real pretty.  You know exactly what her role is (and likely why she was cast) in her first scene.  I'm sure that looks fantastic in 3D.  Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand also joins the cast as the United States Secretary of Defense, getting to play a hardass government type, while John Malkovich is clearly having a lot of fun as Sam's bizarre corporate overlord.  Alan Tudyk also appears as Dutch, assistant to shifty, egotistical Agent Simmons.

The new robots joining the fray include Dino (Francesco Quinn), a red Ferrari, Sideswipe (James Remar), a Corvette, Que (George Coe) an Autobot scientist, and the Wreckers (John DiMaggio and Ron Bottitta), heavily armed NASCAR racers.  For the Decepticons, Shockwave (Frank Welker), who can control a massive, tentacled digging creature, Laserbeak (Keith Szarabajka), and the Dreads - three black Chevy Suburbans.  The Decepticon ship, a massive purple spacecraft, is never named but I'm positive it's supposed to be Astrotrain. 

Leonard Nimoy, who previously portrayed the villain Galvatron in the 1980s animated movie, once again makes a great villain for the franchise with Sentinel Prime.  Nimoy has always had one of the greatest voices in Hollywood.  You can tell listening to him now that he's, well, he's 80 years old.  But he can still manage to growl out some anger and intensity when he needs to.  It's great to hear Nimoy interacting with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime.  If only Hugo Weaving was finally given the chance to shine as Optimus' nemesis, Megatron.  One of the failings of these films is the lack of any real, meaty moments between Optimus and Megatron.  "Dark of the Moon" handles Megatron in an intriguing fashion, but he still feels like a minor character instead of the ultimate evil Decepticon that he's supposed to be.

John Turturro reprises his role as the shifty, egotistical Agent Simmons.  Kevin Dunn and Julie White also appear once more in a couple of scenes as Sam's parents, mostly for comic relief.  Thankfully, they don't stick around long enough to become annoying as they did in the second film.  In fact, none of the characters do.  Probably the benefit of having so many is that few of them are even allowed to outstay their welcome, since the film has already moved on. 

"Dark of the Moon" is a long film at 154 minutes.  Many will undoubtedly check out by the time the 90 minute mark rolls around, not caring about the thin characters or the juvenile humor.  The movie drags in a couple of parts, but once it comes time for Chicago to burn to the ground, the film comes alive once more and stays that way.  The film could probably stand to lose fifteen or twenty minutes, since it's not like this is a film totally beholden to its story, for the sake of pacing.  Some of the characters could go, funny though they may be.  Sam's parents really serve no purpose, nor does John Malkovich's Bruce Brazos.  Their scenes are funny and peppy, but all they really do besides provide the laughs is make the movie longer.

Michael Bay and Shia LeBeouf have both stated that they're done with "Transformers," regardless of how much money "Dark of the Moon" makes.  Whether this is true remains to be seen, but at the same time, "Dark of the Moon" also closes out the franchise pretty well.  I'm hard pressed to think of what could be done to top it or to even go further with it, considering the events that occur in the film's finale.  Beyond that, what could Michael Bay do now that he's torn a major city to shreds?  Bay has delivered the biggest, baddest, rockin'est action sequences of a career built on flashy, ludicrous mayhem.  It might honestly be all downhill from here for this master of disaster.

So there it all is.  You either get Michael Bay's "Transformers," or you don't.  I get them.  And I love them.  Your mileage, understandably, will vary.  Many, many people hate this franchise.  Many, many people will hate "Dark of the Moon."  I don't.  Giant honking robots from outer space kicking the crap out of each other is all I've ever wanted from this series, and it continues to deliver in spades.  It's not the TV series.  It's not the toys.  It's "Transformers." 

Roll out.

See Also
Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Let The Right One In" (2008)

Starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, and Patrik Rydmark
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Rated R - Violence, language, gore
Running Time: 114 minutes

Let The Right One InYoung Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is bullied at school, constantly called a piggy and pushed around.  He'll walk home in the snow from school in shorts because the bullies put his pants in the toilet during gym class.  He has no real friends, no one to defend him.  He's being raised by his mother, occasionally visiting his father in another town. 

One evening, a man and a young girl move into the apartment next door.  The girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson) informs Oskar that they can't be friends.  But soon enough, the two have grown close.  She tells Oskar that if he ever wants to be free of the bullies, he has to fight back.  One day, he does, sending the bully to the ER in the process. 

Meanwhile, the truth slowly begins to unravel: Eli is a vampire.  The man everyone thinks is her father is actually a servant who goes out to fetch blood for her.  She is very, very old.  But her servant, Hakan (Per Ragnar), has failed twice to bring her the blood she needs.  And so Eli is getting very, very hungry...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Daredevil: Director's Cut" (2004)

Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Jon Favreau
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 124 Minutes

Daredevil - The Director's Cut [Blu-ray]2003's "Daredevil" was something of a misfire for the now-booming industry of comic book superhero adaptations.  Starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, the film was notoriously cut to pieces in post-production and though it was financially successful, the film was disliked by critics and savaged by fans.  Not long after, however, the director's cut of the film was announced for DVD, a version that would restore some thirty minutes worth of footage to the movie.

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) is a lawyer in New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.  But Murdock is no ordinary lawyer: he's also blind.  An accident as a child led to Murdock being splashed in the face with a radioactive chemical.  The chemical took his sight, but his other senses increased to superhuman levels.  He can hear, smell, and feel far more than any other human can... and those senses also combine to give him a kind of "radar" sense that allows him to "see" the world around him.  Murdock uses his superhuman senses to fight crime at night as the vigilante Daredevil.

Murdock and his law partner, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Jon Favrea) take on the case of one Dante Jackson (Coolio) who is suspected of murdering a prostitute.  Investigating the case further, Murdock and Nelson begin to unravel a vast criminal conspiracy that leads toward Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), the notorious Kingpin of Crime.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Harry Brown" (2009)

Starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed Miles
Written by Gary Young
Directed by Daniel Barber
Rated R - Language, violence, drug use
Running Time: 103 Minutes

Harry Brown [Blu-ray]Harry Brown (Michael Caine) lives a solitary life just outside of London in an apartment complex that is slowly devolving into a violent cesspool.  Every day, Harry walks from his apartment to visit his dying wife in the hospital.  On his way, he passes a pedestrian subway, covered in graffiti and full of rowdy street gangs. 

After the death of his wife, Harry spends most of his time drinking and playing chess with his friend Leonard (David Bradley) at a local bar.  One day, Leonard tells Harry that he's afraid of what their neighborhood has become.  The gangs are out of control, and the police are nowhere to be found.  Not long after, Leonard winds up dead - stabbed to death with his own knife he carried for protection against the gangs.

With his wife and his best friend gone, and the police unable to crack the gangs, Harry decides to take matters into his own hands.  He purchases a gun, and starts on a plan to clean up the neighborhood and get revenge on the men who killed Leonard.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Knight and Day" (2010)

Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Peter Sarsgaard
Written by Patrick O'Neill
Directed by James Mangold
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language

Knight and Day (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo+ Digital Copy)Oh, Tom Cruise... How difficult it is these days to watch your movies.  After Cruise's personal life suffered something of a meltdown, it's hard to separate Tom Cruise the man from Tom Cruise the actor.  But the truth is that when Cruise is really on, he totally owns the screen.

In "Knight and Day," Cruise plays Roy Miller a secret agent who bumps into hapless June Havens (Cameron Diaz) at the airport before their flight to Boston.  Unfortunately for June, the plane happens to be filled with CIA assassins trying to kill Miller.  They attack when June goes to the bathroom, forcing Miller to kill essentially the entire compliment of the plane, including both of the pilots.  June, obviously, freaks out when she discovers this upon returning from the bathroom.  Miller attempts to land the plane, but ends up crashing it in a field.

The next morning, June awakens in her apartment in Boston, with no idea how she got there.  She goes to a fitting for a dress for her sister's wedding (Maggie Grace), but there encounters another group of agents, this time led by Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) who insists that they're simply going to take June to a safe location.  Miller arrives just in time, rescuing June after a frantic car chase along I-93 in Boston.  But June, freaking out and not knowing who to trust, runs from Miller and finds her old boyfriend, Rodney (Marc Blucas).  Miller finds her once again, shooting Rodney in the leg and pretending to take June hostage for all the security cameras.

Miller reveals to June that Fitzgerald has gone rogue and framed Miller for stealing an experimental prototype battery the size of a AA Duracell that could power a small city all on its own.  Miller and June must locate the young genius that created the battery and get him to safety in order to clear Miller's name and expose Fitzgerald, who plans to sell the battery to an arms dealer named Antonio (Jordi Molia).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Resident Evil: Afterlife" (2010)

Starring Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller
Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Rated R - Violence, gore, language
Running Time: 97 Minutes

Resident Evil: Afterlife [Blu-ray]Y'know, Paul Anderson's original "Mortal Kombat" film was dumb, goofy fun... pretty much what one would expect out of a film based on a videogame known more for its ridiculous gore and production design than it's gameplay mechanics.  But his forays into other properties like "Alien vs Predator" and the increasingly godawful "Resident Evil" series are just the flat out terrible moderately-budgeted features.

In the fourth installment of "Resident Evil," Alice (Milla Jovovich), armed with an army of clones of herself, assaults the underground headquarters of the Umbrella Corporation in Tokyo four years after the zombie apocalypse.  Unfortunately, their target, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), escapes and sets off an explosion that kills all the clones.  But the original Alice manages to escape, and thinks that she's killed Wesker in a plane crash after he injects her with something that supposedly removes her superhuman abilities.  She decides to head to the supposed safe zone of Arcadia, flying to a set of coordinates that only leads her to an airfield full of empty planes and a beach where she is attacked by her friend Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who seems to be under some kind of mind control.

After breaking Claire out of the mind control, the two of them fly to Los Angeles where they see a sign calling for help on the top of a large prison complex.  They land their plane and meet several survivors, including a former NBA superstar Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), film producer Bennett (Kim Coates), aspiring actress Crystal (Kacey Barnfield), Angel (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), Wendell (Fulvio Cecere) and Claire's brother Chris (Wentworth Miller).  The prison is surrounded by hordes of the undead, and Alice's plane only holds two.  Chris suggests the group use a military armored transport locked up in the prison's garage, and the group begins to make preparations to leave and head for Arcadia - which they now know is a ship just off the coast. 

Unfortunately, the undead manage to finally break into the prison.  To make matters worse, the engine has been removed from the transport, and the prison's armory on the lower levels have been flooded.  And because that's not enough, there's some kind of bizarre, huge, unkillable creature trying to break down the prison gates with a massive ax/hammer thing.  Don't know what that's about.

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' - Season Two (2000)

Starring Christopher Meloni, Mariska Hargitay and Richard Belzer
Created by Dick Wolf

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - The Second YearThe detectives of New York's Special Victims Unit are back.  Returning from the season one finale, the results of psychiatric interviews have led to some changes.  Detective Eliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) is on edge, having admitted that he sometimes fantasizes about killing perpetrators while Detective Monique Jefferies (Michelle Hurd) has been deemed a danger to herself, and is transferred out of the unit.  Replacing her is Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (Ice-T), who joins the unit from Vice.  Also joining the cast is Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) who helps the unit prosecute perpetrators.

Over the course of the season, the detectives of the SVU will take on another round of vicious sex crimes.  In the season opener, Stabler investigates a body found lit on fire at the beach.  Other episodes will see the detectives investigating the honor killing of the daughter of an Afghan diplomat, looking into a schoolyard shooting that points to a young boy, dirty cops, the alleged rape of a teenage girl at a swanky hotel opening gala, the murder of a prominent young gymnast who may have been molested by her trainer, and a desperate race against time to find the victim of a kidnapper/murderer who takes young girls and kills them after three days.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Killers" (2010)

Starring Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher and Tom Selleck
Written by Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin
Directed by Robert Luketic
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, sexual themes
Running Time: 100 Minutes

KillersIn a foul mood the other day, I needed something to watch that was light and fluffy and utterly disposable.  "Red" worked pretty well, "Killers"... not so much.

Jen (Katherine Heigl) finds herself on vacation in Nice, France, with her parents ... cleverly named Mr. and Mrs. Kornfeldt (Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara) in the aftermath of a breakup with her boyfriend.  There, she meets attractive nice-guy Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) and the two strike up a quick romance.  Jen thinks that Spencer is a consultant, but in reality he's a CIA hit man in Nice on a mission to kill some unnamed target.

Three years later, Spencer and Jen are married and living in a nice house in suburbia, USA.  Spencer has given up the life of violence and works at a small architecture firm, happily going about a quiet life of normal normal normal.  He goes to work, plays basketball with his friends, gets invited to block parties, etc.  Out of the blue, his old boss Holbrook (Martin Mull) contacts him with a new job.  When Spencer refuses, Holbrook puts a hit out on Spencer.  Suddenly the people Spencer thought were just friends and coworkers turn out to be plants to keep him in line, and those friends and coworkers are now out to kill him.

When Jen comes home unexpectedly, she finds Spencer locked in mortal combat with Henry (Rob Riggle), and discovers the truth about Spencer's past.  Now the two of them are on the run, under attack from every direction.  Oh, and Jen juuuust might be pregnant.

"Red" (2010)

Starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker and Karl Urban
Written by Jon and Erich Hoeber
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 111 Minutes

Red (Movie-Only Edition) [Blu-ray]Loosely based on the comic book of the same name, "Red" is a fun, light-weight action comedy.  Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has retired from his career in black ops, but finds that he doesn't really have much to do back in civilian life.  He's developed some kind of a crush on a customer service rep for the company handling his pension named Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).  But for some reason, Frank finds that he is suddenly a target when a team of commandos breaks into his home one night and tries to kill him.  Suspecting that it has something to do with Sarah, Frank travels to Kansas City and kidnaps her.

Soon, Frank has reunited with a number of his old compatriots including his mentor Joe (Morgan Freeman), conspiracy theorist Marvin (Jon Malkovich), and an assassin named Victoria (Helen Mirren).  They discover that the attempt on Frank's life is connected to the death of a reporter who has been digging into an incident in Guatemala decades earlier that both Frank and Marvin participated in.  Someone has been ordering the deaths of everyone involved in that mission, and the number of survivors is quickly dwindling. 

All the while, CIA up and comer William Cooper (Karl Urban) has been assigned to find Frank and Sarah and to take Frank out, whatever means necessary.  Cooper manages to stay one step behind Frank and his team at every turn, but even he begins to feel that something is not quite right with this mission. 

"Super 8" (2011)

Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler
Written and directed by JJ Abrams
Rated PG-13 - Language, sci-fi violence and mayhem
Running Time: 112 Minutes

If you put Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," "E.T." and "The Goonies" in a blender, you'd probably pour out JJ Abrams' "Super 8." 

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) lost his mother in an industrial accident at the local steel mill.  His father, Jack (Kyle Chandler), a sheriff's deputy blames local drunk Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard).  Joe spends most of his time with his friends, helping to make a zombie movie on a small super 8 film camera to enter into a local festival.  The group includes chubby director Charles (Riley Griffith), Preston (Zach Mills), Carey (Ryan Lee) and Martin (Gabriel Brasso).  Charles has managed to convince Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) to participate in the movie and to provide transportation for the group to a small train station where they intend to film a scene.

While there, a pickup truck driven by the kids' biology teacher, Mr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), drives onto the tracks and collides head-on with the train.  The train derails, cars flying left and right, explosions everywhere.  But afterward, the kids learn the awful truth: something was on that train - something the United States Air Force wants back.  As the military moves in on this small factory town, strange things begin to happen.  Local dogs begin to run away.  The sheriff disappears, along with other people.  Power outages become rampant, and machinery begins to disappear or malfunction all over town. 

Joe begins to develop a crush on Alice as the group decides to continue making their film, using the train crash and the military presence to increase their production value.  Jack, however, catches wind of Joe getting closer to Alice, and forbids it.  Meanwhile, the kids discover that they managed to capture some footage of whatever was on the train.  As the military clamps down on the town and begins to take drastic measures to contain the creature, the kids learn the truth about its nature.  And when it captures Alice, Joe vows to go into the quarantine zone to rescue her. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"X2: X-Men United" (2003)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan
Written by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter
Directed by Bryan Singer
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 133 minutes

X2: X-Men United [Blu-ray]"X2" is one of those rare sequels that surpasses the original in almost every way.  With a much bigger budget, more assured direction and a well-chosen cast of new characters, "X2" expands and improves upon the universe created in the first film. 

It begins not long after "X-Men."  Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has found the abandoned military base in Canada that Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) said might hold clues to his past.  But when he isn't able to find anything, he returns to New York to ask the professor for more help digging through his memories.  Meanwhile, a mutant with the ability to teleport himself from place to place, Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), breaks into the White House and brazenly assaults the President of the United States. Before he can kill the president, Nightcrawler is wounded by the Secret Service and escapes.

Worried that the government's response could prove disastrous for mutant-kind, Xavier tasks Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) with finding Nightcrawler before anyone else.  Unfortunately, Xavier's fears are about to be proven true: a black-ops military man named William Stryker (Brian Cox) convinces the president to authorize an assault on Xavier's mansion, which he terms a "mutant training facility."  He's gathered intel on the mansion by torturing the imprisoned Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellan), Xavier's old friend and nemesis, now called Magneto. 

Stryker's assault is brutal, and he captures a number of the mutants at the school, including Xavier and Cyclops (James Marsden).  Wolverine, Rogue (Anna Paquin), Bobby "Iceman" Drake (Shawn Ashmore) and John "Pyro" Allerdyce (Aaron Stanford) manage to escape.  Together along with Jean, Storm, Nightcrawler and eventually Magneto and the shapeshifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) they must stop Stryker's endgame, which goes farther than even the President realizes, and rescue Xavier and the other mutants before it's too late.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"X-Men" (2000)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan
Written by David Hayter
Directed by Bryan Singer
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 104 Minutes

X-Men [Blu-ray]Having so thoroughly enjoyed 2011's "First Class" prequel, I was eager to revisit the earlier films in the "X-Men" franchise.  2000's "X-Men" was the first film I ever saw in theatres four times, still a record to be broken (though I did match it with 2007's "Transformers").  It's a wonder that "X-Men" turned out as good and as popular as it did; films languishing so long in development hell usually fall flat on their faces when they finally hit screens, if at all.

The film opens in Poland, 1944 as a young boy is separated from his parents at a Nazi concentration camp.  (Sound familiar?)  The boy, Erik Lehnsherr, becomes distressed, and displays strange powers: the ability to control metals.  Decades later, a young girl named Marie (Anna Paquin) kisses her boyfriend, putting the poor sod in a coma.  She takes off, eventually making her way into Canada and coming across a bar in the middle of nowhere.  In this bar she meets Logan (Hugh Jackman), an amnesiac mutant who has razor sharp claws that can extend from his hands and the ability to heal almost any wound.  Soon enough, the two are attacked by a mutant named Sabretooth (Tyler Mane).

After being rescued, the two find themselves at the home of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who explains that Logan (aka Wolverine) is the target of Erik Lehnsherr, now called Magneto (Ian McKellan), for reasons unknown.  Logan meets the rest of the team: telekinetic Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), team leader Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden) who can shoot energy from his eyes, and Ororo Monro/Storm (Halle Berry) who can control the weather. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

'Stargate Universe' Season Two (2010)

Starring Robert Carlyle, Louis Ferreira and Brian J. Smith
Created by Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper

SGU: Stargate Universe - The Complete Final SeasonTelevision shows have to walk a certain razor's edge - A show with serialized storytelling and longrunning storylines runs the risk of getting canceled before it has the chance to tell the entire story.  'Stargate Universe' joins the sad pantheon of shows that won't get a proper resolution.

After the events of Season One, the crew of the Destiny finds their vessel hijacked by members of the Lucian Alliance.  Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira) and the rest of the Destiny crew are abandoned on a hostile planet, except for a few that managed to hide aboard Destiny.  After they manage to retake the ship, they find that they've landed smack dab in the middle of a new problem: The new galaxy Destiny has entered is populated by a fleet of alien drone ships programmed to seek out and destroy any technology not their own.  It seems that, ages ago, an alien race constructed these drones in a war against a vicious enemy.  When the war was over, the drones turned on their creators and have lain dormant ever since.

Now, with their ancient vessel slowly falling apart and supplies dwindling, the crew of Destiny must figure out a way to get past the legions of automated drones that stand between them and safe haven on the other side of the galaxy.  But at each turn, the drones prove a difficult and increasingly dangerous enemy, cutting off the Destiny from the supplies it most desperately needs.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"X-Men: First Class" (2011)

Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Kevin Bacon
Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stantz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, sexual themes
Running Time: 132 Minutes

Going into "X-Men: First Class" I was, understandably, quite worried. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was a flat-out terrible movie, and "X-Men: The Last Stand" was just about as terrible.  There were four "X-Men" movies, and only a 50% success rate.

Imagine the smile on my face, then, when "X-Men: First Class" turned out to be one of the best of the bunch, rivaling "X2: X-Men United" as champ of the franchise.

The film begins in Poland, 1944, as young Erik Lehnsherr and his family are being led into a Nazi concentration camp.  Erik is separated from his family and lashes out, his mutant powers manifesting - Erik can control metals and magnetic fields.  This garners the attention of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who demands that Erik demonstrate his powers once more.  When Erik fails to do so, Shaw murders Erik's mother, causing an outburst from Erik that destroys Shaw's laboratory.

Elsewhere, in New York, young Charles Xavier awakes and finds his mother in the kitchen - but it's not his mother.  Instead, it's a young shapeshifter named Raven who has broken into Xavier's home in search of food.  Xavier takes in the young girl, and years later the two have developed a loving brother-sister relationship.

Flash forward to the 1960s: Charles (James McAvoy) is now in England studying genetics.  His sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has tagged along, frustrated by having to hide her true appearance while her brother uses his gifts to score women at local bars.  Erik (Michael Fassbender), meanwhile, has grown into a vengeful man, tracking down Nazi war criminals and assassinating them wherever he finds them.  Elsewhere, Sebastian Shaw has begun maneuvering the military forces of the United States and the Soviet Union toward war, using his influence to convince the United States to place nuclear missiles in Turkey, and the Soviet Union to put their missiles on the island of Cuba, mere miles from Florida.

Charles is recruited by CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) to help her understand genetic mutation after she witnesses the special abilities of Shaw's cohorts Emma Frost (January Jones), 'Riptide' (Alex Gonzalez) and Azazel (Jason Flemng).  McTaggert and Charles join forces with a CIA paranormal division headed by 'The Man in Black' (Oliver Platt) to locate and recruit mutants to help stop Shaw's plans for worldwide destruction.  First among this group is, of course, Erik, who has finally located Shaw after decades of searching and is bent on revenge for the murder of his mother.  Soon enough, Charles and Erik are traveling the world recruiting mutants like Alex Summers (Lucas Till), Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Armando Muniz (Edi Gathegi), who all have special gifts and abilities that make them feared and hated.

"Fast and Furious" (2009)

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 107 minutes

Fast & Furious (2-Disc Special Edition) [Blu-ray]"New model.  Original parts."  That's the tagline that pretty perfectly sums up this fourth "Fast and Furious" movie. 

Several years after they started it all with the 'Point Break' knockoff, 'The Fast and the Furious', Paul Walker and Vin Diesel return for... well... 'Fast and Furious'. In the fourth flick in the hot-rodding franchise, Brian (Walker) is still on shaky ground after letting Dom (Diesel) escape at the end of the first film. Now he's part of an FBI task force attempting to take down a mysterious drug runner named Braga, and is making little progress. Meanwhile, Dom spends his days running heists in the Dominican Republic, trying to stay one step ahead of the law with his trusty gang of thieves, and his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

After hearing that the cops may be closer than he thinks, Dom leaves Letty and the gang, thinking that they'd be safer without him. Unfortunately, this proves a mistake - Letty is murdered, and Dom returns to the US looking for vengeance. Conveniently, it turns out that Letty was murdered by the same group of drug runners that Brian is trying to bust.

Begrudgingly, Dom and Brian team up once more, their old resentment flaring up more than a little bit, but both of them have their reasons for wanting to take down Braga.

"The Fast and the Furious" (2001)

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez
Written by Gary Scott Thompson
Directed by Rob Cohen
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 106 minutes

The Fast and the Furious [Blu-ray]There was a time, back in 2001, when I flat-out hated this movie.  Walking out of the theatre, I expressed my disappointment, to which my friend Brendan replied, "But the carrrrrrs, man!"  It's true; "The Fast and the Furious" is not a film with deep characterization or even a complex plot.  But on multiple viewings, what it does end up having is a lot of fun.

Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) is an undercover cop investigating a series of tractor trailer truck heists.  To do so, he's infiltrated the world of illegal street racing, hooking up with a crew run by Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel).  While his handlers are convinced that Dom's the man behind the heists, Brian isn't sure.  He thinks the thefts are the work of an Asian gang led by Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), who have a past beef with Dom. 

Brina also begins to fall for Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), causing problems with Dom's jealous friend Vince (Matt Schulze).  As Brian gets deeper and deeper into Dom's world, he begins to question his loyalties - is it to the police, and his mission, or to Dom and his friends?

"All-Star Superman" (2011)

Starring James Denton, Christina Hendricks and Anthony LaPaglia
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Sam Liu
Rated PG - Animated violence, language
Running Time: 76 minutes

All-Star Superman (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)There are two kinds of Superman stories that I really enjoy: His origins and his death.  Typically these are the two Superman stories that require the least amount of baggage.  That is, I don't have to have read the last 36 issues of any particular run of the comics in order to truly get what's going on.  With the big "Doomsday" arc of the mid-1990s, there was some of that, but for the most part it was actually quite a good place for new readers to jump on board, despite the fact that it was the death of Superman.

"All-Star Superman," by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, was one of my favorite Superman stories to hit the funny books in a long while.  Now Warner Animation and DC have seen fit to adapt it to their series of direct-to-DVD "DC Universe" movies.

Superman (James Denton) thwarts Lex Luthor's (Anthony LaPaglia) attempt to sabotage the first manned trip to the sun.  In the process, he's exposed to an overdose of the sun's yellow radiation that gives him his powers.  This, of course, was all part of Luthor's plan, as Superman learns that the overdose has increased his powers triple-fold, but is also slowly killing him.  With his end looming, Superman decides to get his affairs in order, which include revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks) and visiting his father's grave one last time. 

All the while, Luthor is plotting for a future without Superman.  But his plan could have disastrous consequences for the world when his ally, a living computer called Solaris, double crosses hi and plans to destroy the sun.  Will Superman have enough time to stop Luthor's plan and save the world from Solaris before he dies?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' - Season One (1999)

Starring Christopher Meloni, Mariska Hargitay and Richard Belzer
Created by Dick Wolf

Law & Order Special Victims Unit - The First YearSome TV shows go down easy, a kind of simple junk food, empty calories for the brain.  Some shows are incredibly complex, requiring you to watch every episode in order to grasp everything coming at you or that feature intense subject matter.  And then there are some shows that are a bizarre mixture of both. 

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is an episodic police procedural, meaning that the stories are mostly based around showing the solving of individual cases and don't feature much in the way of ongoing storylines or excessive character development.  The show focuses on the detectives of New York City's Special Victims Unit, which investigates sex crimes.  The primaries on most of the cases are Detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), a veteran and family man, and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), the daughter of a rape victim who joined up to get justice.  Other members of the team include Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer), a former Baltimore Homicide detective, Munch's young partner Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters) and Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd).  The team is led by Captain Don Cragen (Dann Florek), a man who must struggle with the politics of the New York Police Department, as well as his own status as a recovering alcoholic.

The SVU detectives tackle the worst and most depraved crimes in the city: rapes, molestations, slavery, child pornography and sex-related murders.  This often takes an intense toll on the personal lives of the detectives; sometimes it becomes too much for them to bear.