Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

 I am a male human.  I am twenty-two years old.  I am a sci-fi geek.  As a kid, I watched my share of Transformers cartoons.  I am, for all intents and purposes, the primary target audience for Michael Bay's Transformers movies.  And yet, I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to take Revenge of the Fallen seriously or if it's the biggest, most expensive and mind-numbing practical joke of the year.

One thing is certain: this film is definitely not a misfire.  Michael Bay and his three writers knew exactly what they were doing when they put this film together.  Revenge of the Fallen is a film that takes everything ridiculous, overblown and aggravating about the previous film and amplifies it tenfold.  For lack of a better comparison, it's Michael Bay's version of Crank 2.  Despite being a blatant ripoff of Independence Day, 2007's Transformers was at the very least coherent.  The sequel is far too scatterbrained and schizophrenic to even concentrate on one plot thread, let alone a dozen.

The film opens in Shanghai, with the Autobots working with a military team called NEST to hunt down rogue Decepticons.  Despite being a little hard to follow, this is a great concept for the film to start on, but the whole thing just goes downhill from there.  Meanwhile, after killing Megatron with the All Spark at the end of the first movie, Sam Witwicky (Still Shia LaBeouf, still annoying) is off to college, but not before discovering a sliver of the All Spark in his sweater, which imprints Cybertronian hieroglyphics onto his brain.  A Decepticon named The Fallen then arrives on Earth in search of the Matrix of Leadership, which he plans to use to destroy the sun (I guess).  The only one who knows it's location?  Yup.  Sam. 

That is literally the shortest plot description I can give you without simply saying "The Decepticons want something and the Autobots have to stop them from getting it."  Actually, that's all this movie is.  It's a fetch quest.  How Michael Bay managed to turn such a simple premise into 150 minutes is beyond me.  Of course, the plot doesn't really matter.  We're paying to see giant robots fighting, and by God that's exactly what Bay gives us.  What seems like the entire last hour of the film is dedicated to a battle in and around the Pyramids of Giza, and while it's definitely intricate and an amazing feat of special effects work, it makes practically zero narrative sense.

Entire plot threads are introduced only to be abandoned or twisted inside out thirty minutes later.  Characters die early in the film, only to be brought back at the zero hour.  Other characters seem motivated entirely by whims or hair-brained notions of their importance to the plot, others serve seemingly no purpose other than to maintain continuity, and still others show up for brief cameos, when I'm fairly certain they were killed off in the last film.

Thinking about Revenge of the Fallen for too long will almost certainly give you a headache, if the screening didn't do that for you already.  Failing that, the comic relief will drive you insane.  Not because it's hilarious, but rather because it's not and there's far, far too much of it.  In particular, two Autobots named Mudflap and Skids.  Of all the CG robots in this movie, they're the only two that actually resemble cartoon characters, and they're 100% walking, talking racial epithets of the worst kind.  Between those two and Sam's mother, this film features three of the absolute worst characters to show up in a film this year, possibly this decade.

Dogs humping dogs, robots humping people, robots speaking jive, robots walking with canes, people visiting robot heaven, John Turturro's ass.  Oh, and robot testicles.  Indeed, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen truly has it all.  Every visual excess that you could possibly want in a summer blockbuster is right here, lovingly captured on film for all eternity.  If I have anything positive to say about the movie, it's that Michael Bay does, indeed, know how to make a film look good.  For every horribly stupid gag or plot point that Bay throws at us, we at least get to see what we paid for.  Giant robots kicking the crap out of each other.  But, ya know, sometimes that's just not enough.

The only reason I would possibly recommend seeing this would be to see how gloriously stupid the film truly is.

madmad  2 little angry faces out of 5.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Moving Out

Hey gang,

I guess I should probably let everyone out there know that Front Row Center is officially switching over to an account over at

Over the past week or two, we've been tinkering with that site, and think we've finally got it where we want it.  There, we've got a blog, forums, video gallery, photo gallery, and a whole lot more.  It's pretty exciting.

So please, go check out our new site at

Oh, also, we're still looking for another writer or two.  If anybody's interested, just email us at and we'll let you know what we're looking for.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Review: Up

The question of whether or not the new film from Pixar Animation Studios is any good is a moot one.  Of course it's good.  So far, Pixar's track record is ten for ten.  The debate rages on about Cars and A Bug's Life, but nobody will argue that they aren't at least well-crafted, if certainly not instant classics.  At this point, the question with Pete Docter's Up is instead how good is it?

Up shares a lot in common with Monsters, Inc., Docter's previous film, both in general quality and the way in which it tugs at the heartstrings.  Like Ratatouille and WALL-E before it, Up deals in a more sophisticated range of emotions that will almost certainly hit adults like a sledgehammer.  At the same time, the film balances its emotional weight with some truly weird humor and all sorts of sight gags that'll keep the kids laughing.

The film opens with perhaps one of the best montages ever put to film.  We follow an adventurous young boy named Carl as he meets his new best friend, an equally adventurous girl named Ellie.  From there, we watch the two plan for an adventure, only to give in to the slow march of time and the realities of life. After Ellie dies, urban construction threatens to take Carl's house, so rather than be put in a nursing home, Carl vows to take the trip he and Ellie always dreamed about: to Paradise Falls in South America.  From there, you've seen the trailers.  Carl and a stowaway boy scout named Russell fly off to South America in Carl's house, fitted with hundreds of balloons.

From there, not only does the plot get kinda strange, it also starts to fall apart a bit.  The journey that Carl and Russell take is never in question.  They go to South America, make an unexpected friend, meet an unexpected villian, and hijinks ensue.  Up's greatest strength lies in its ability to mine unexpected depth from characters in such wacky circumstances.  Without going into too many spoilers, Carl becomes a sort of father-figure to two characters, Russell and a talking dog named Dug.  That dichotomy of mentor/protege is what drives the second half of the story (not to mention the presence of talking dogs).

However, interesting though all that might be, the plot itself can't evenly support such weirdness.  I guess you could call the narrative a series of curveballs, because the plot does go exactly where you think it'll go, but the surprise is in how much time the film spends on any one part of the story.  Personally, I thought Carl's journey to Paradise Falls would be the driving force of the movie.  Instead, he and Russell make it there fairly quickly.  There was never any question that it would happen, but the way the film gets from point A to point B is a bit maddening.  I'm glad that my expectations were warped somewhat; I guess what I'm saying is that there has to have been a better way of pulling that off.

All narrative clunkiness aside, Up is a fantastic piece of animation.  If you don't leave the theater quoting Dug or the other dogs, you'll be marveling at the artistry behind Carl Fredrickson's facial stubble, or at the very least talking about how cute the short before the film, "Partly Cloudy", was.  It's wonderful to finally have a film this summer to rave about, however mildly.  Compared to some of the in-your-face explosionfests so far this summer, Up is a welcome hour and a half of fresh air.  (Heh.)

4 stars ( smilesmilesmilesmile ) out of five.