Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Bigger, Louder, Messier

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The new Transformers movie, a.k.a. Transformers 3, a.k.a. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, is everything you would expect from it: loud, colorful, stupid and pathetic. All that presented in glorious 3D. It is a big and relatively long movie with a lot of everything. And by being so exorbitant it transcends its stupidity and turns it into a statement.

The movie's massiveness leaks in every scene. It starts with a totally unnecessary and messy sequence showing the inception and execution of the Apollo flight to the Moon. This sequence mixes documentary shots with staged scenes and serves as an extremely boring introduction. All the more boring considering how it is all told in the trailers already. It really is about time summer blockbusters leave Kennedy docu shots to rest. They were only semi-interesting the first one hundred times. Transformers: Dark of the Moon also has Buzz Aldrin (the second guy on the Moon) playing himself. Ain't that grand?

This intro sequence is quite symptomatic cause randomness is all over the movie. One part due to the laughable script. Scenes and characters consistently lack motivation. Stuff happens for the sake of it. Scene after scene, the Autobots come to save the day (and our heroes) after the forementioned heroes have struggled for 20 minutes of screen time while the Autobots have seemingly been relaxing around in the meantime. Boy, these Autobots certainly have a thing for dramatic entrance. Speaking of the dramatic, Transformers: Dark of the Moon sports an excess of lame pathos.

There is a horde of wacky supporting characters. Apparently Bay liked John Turturro so much from the first two Transformers movies that he now has him and a whole bunch of other weirdos, played by Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong. Having such actors playing these random wacko roles is so self-indulgent in its pointlessness that it is impressive. It is almost like if Bay was looking for some kind of artistic credibility by casting them. Oh well, we surely don't mind and here go our congrats for their fat paychecks.

Continuing the excessiveness is the large cast of new transformers (mostly Decepticons). There are more of them and they all lack the slightest bit of personality. This is an inherited problem from the first two movies, but worth mentioning anyway. From the Autobots only Optimus and Bumblebee have any distinctive personality. There are, of course, a bunch of smaller transformers which are probably inspired by the more recent George Lucas' works. At least, they can successfully rival his creations in their annoyance.

One thing you can't accuse Bay of is the lack of style. His style may be too obvious, or insultingly straight to the point of being cringe-worthy, but it is still there. It is interesting how his trademark slow motion shots and fast action cuts mix with the 3D environment. Fast cuts and 3D don't mix well in general (the eye needs time to accommodate spatial changes). Bay has slowed down a bit in this department. Action is still fast cut, but not to the point of the previous movies. The filmmakers have also utilized both on-set 3D image capture and post-processed 3D (for the slow motion scenes, of which there are plenty).

Now for the good stuff: hand-to-hand mech combat can't go old (too bad there is not much of it); the new girl is not a worse actress than Megan Fox (which doesn't say much, indeed); depending on your attitude, you may find the wackos mentioned above mildly amusing.

In conclusion, Transformers 3 is a glorious mess. It is a huge and noisy flick that you may find occasionally interesting if you are willing to not grumble over the boring, annoying and insultingly stupid parts (which is most of the movie anyway). It will also keep you informed of the way Hollywood is going to. So, yeah, that's something.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Wizz Air and Follow-Up: The Actual Experience

Let's follow up my unfavourable reviews of and websites with the actual experience both services offer. If you haven't read those reviews and you are not familiar with these companies, note that Wizz Air is a low cost airline company and offers a shuttle bus service. Both of them operate in Europe.

Wizz Air (
In addition to not having a user-friendly site, Wizz Air has also some room for improvements concerning their actual service. Contrary to many other big airline companies which advise you to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours in advance of your flight, Wizz Air want you to be at the airport just 40 minutes before the departure time of a particular flight. But when you arrive at the airport even much earlier than the aforementioned 40 minutes, you are unpleasantly surprised by the large queue of passengers waiting in front of the check-in desk and you become even more sick after seeing the enormous line of people waiting for security check. The reason appears to be that there are several Wizz Air flights in a short span of 10 minutes but nevertheless this does not comfort you at all.

When you finally pass through the check-in desk (after you've been waiting for nothing more than just leaving your luggage there), if you ask Wizz Air's employees how do they expect that all those people waiting for security check will manage to board their plane on time, the answer you receive is "once you're here, we will wait for you to board". Well, at least we won't miss our flight but the result is that at the announced departure time, the passengers have not reached further than the boarding gate. I suppose this happens every time so it is strange why Wizz Air do not change something.

Independently of the late departure, the pilots managed to overtake the delay and the plane arrived on time. I do not know if this is actually good or bad from a safety perspective if it is at expense of a higher than recommended speed. And while speaking of the pilots, the plane took off very smoothly and also the landing was Ok. Yes, there was something good at last. Another not so pleasant experience was the very short legroom on the plane but it was expected. And finally, not something mandatorily bad but somehow strange was that we had to walk from the boarding gate to the plane and vice versa at two of the airports. It was a new experience for me.
Concerning shuttle bus service there were not any unpleasant surprises. The buses arrived on time and reached their destinations promptly. The seats were comfortable (much more comfortable than the seats on the Wizz Air planes) and adjustable. Online reservations worked just fine and driving was safe. Frankly speaking, bus service was really good and offering a much better journey than the one you would expect after using their website.

To recapitulate: While shuttle service is far better than their site and there is nothing to be desired from their buses and drivers, Wizz Air have to make improvements not only concerning their web site but also in regard to their actual airline services. The flights seem safe and this is definitely the most important thing when speaking of airline carriers but there are other things that could be easily made better and that would offer Wizz Air's passengers a more pleasant and satisfying experience.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8 (2011): J.J. Abrams' Love Letter to Filmmaking

Super 8
Judging from the trailers of Super 8, many would think director J.J. Abrams wanted to create E.T. for the new generation. This is somewhat contradictory in itself considering the Super 8 movie is set in the late 70's. Even though it does refer to producer Steven Spielberg a lot, most notably to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it is also not a remake of these. So, in a way, Super 8 is probably more like a recreation of a childhood fantasy.

Unlike E.T., the alien creature does not take center stage until late in the movie. And this is for the best, because the alien is the weak part of this movie. Super 8 is at its best while focused on the children and keeping the extra-terrestrial in the background. The children themselves are excellent: in their childish determination to make a zombie flick and in their sense of exploration once things get serious. Performances are good throughout the children cast, with the kid in the main role deserving a special mention, considering this is his first film.

Super 8 has a nice 70's/80's feel to it (unlike the recent example of X-Men: First Class, which failed miserably in recreating the 60's). And this comes from both the atmosphere (songs, cars, scenery in general) and the way the movie itself is made. The film is shot with anamorphic lenses which is not a very popular choice as of late (Star Trek, the previous film of J.J. Abrams, was also shot anamorphic, so apparently he does have a thing for this format). The anamorphic artifacts (wide lens flare, vertical smear in out of focus areas, etc.) reinforce the old school feeling. So do the light and the mostly frivolous music as well as the dialogue and situations with a slight touch of non-realism and on the edge of over-the-topness.

Pretty much the only weak thing about Super 8 is that the movie loses some steam once the E.T. comes into the foreground. The creature's design does remind of the monster in Cloverfield a bit. And it is simply not very interesting, both visually and thematically. Luckily, this only happens at some time in the last third of the movie. Still, it is somewhat unfortunate, as a good ending would have made a remarkable film out of an already good movie.

So, in recap: an easy sci-fi recommendation. Super 8 might not be as good as its Spielberg inspirations but it does show what a summer blockbuster should be. Now lets see what Cowboys & Aliens has to offer in the extra-terrestrial department.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sliding Doors (1998): Avoid Big Expectations to Enjoy It

Sliding Doors
Sliding Doors is one of those movies you are not quite prepared for when you read their synopsis. A couple of days ago, I partially watched this film again catching it accidentally on TV more than a decade after its initial release and I immediately remembered my pleasant surprise from the movie in the late 90's. At the time, after reading Sliding Doors synopsis, I expected a completely uninteresting and boring film but in fact I was wrong. Of course, it's possible that the lack of any hope for a good experience has been also important for my final appreciation of the movie.

In an attempt to make another confusing synopsis, here is a brief summary of the movie. Sliding Doors is about a young woman who is just fired from her job. On her way home she tries to catch a subway train and from that point on, the movie forks. There are 2 parallel worlds: in one of them Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) catches her lover Jerry (John Lynch) with another woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in their bed and she tries to change her life including dating another man James (John Hannah); in the other universe, Helen continues her existence unaware of Jerry's cheating and not making radical changes.

It might sound not very interesting and honestly Sliding Doors is not a must see movie but if you approach it without any big expectations, chances are you'll find it entertaining. It's not the most realistic film but who would expect a believable movie given the premise above. There are enough funny moments to make you laugh and the use of various types of sliding doors throughout the movie adds to the experience. A smart decision of the moviemakers has been to present Helen with different hairstyles in both of the parallel worlds thus making it really easy to differentiate between them.

The performances of the main characters in Sliding Doors are good although the screenplay does not offer the cast many opportunities to show extraordinary acting abilities. Gwyneth Paltrow plays both Helens convincingly and she is beautiful in both of her impersonations. John Hannah is charming as James and his Scottish accent is fascinating. There is real on-screen chemistry between Hannah and Paltrow. Jeanne Tripplehorn is a nice match for a seductive and possessive woman while John Lynch makes us to believe that Jerry really does not know what he wants.

To be objective, Sliding Doors has its flaws. There is not much character development, the plot offers standard twists and solutions, and some of the events in the movie are probably more appropriate for a pure comedy or parody than for a film with elements of drama and romance. Nevertheless, I believe the main purpose of the movie has been to present an easily accessible and not too serious exploration of the completely various directions a single person's life could take depending on an almost insignificant everyday occurrence.

If you've ever thought what it might have been if you've left your car home instead of driving to your work or whatever other "what if" comes to your mind, you are in a good position to appreciate Sliding Doors.

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