Saturday, August 18, 2007

Transform (and have a rolling good time).

I finally watched Transformer and if I have to describe it in a word, it will be satisfying. Not great, not even good, just satisfying.

In a nutshell, the Transformers, both good and evil are on earth, searching for the All-Spark, a mighty artifact of unknown origin from their planet Cybertron that crashed landed here on earth. Of course the origin is unknown. The filmmaker couldn't possibly find enough time to tell everything. Beside, it would means that they have to figure it out too. Back to the movie, the good Autobots, wanted it to rebuild their planet, which is ravaged by the long war between the two factions. The evil Decepticon, on the other hand, wished to use it to create an army to take over the world. The cube shaped thingy was featured in the animated series as well, although they are known as energon and are the source of energy for the Transformers. The Autobots don't seems to need them though as they never try to collect any.

Bumblebee, who was the heart of the team in the original Transformer animated series was chosen as the star Transformer in the film. Good choice here and though fans wondered about the change in Bumblebee (he was a VW Beetle originally and a sporty Camaro in the movie), it didn't take long before we love the new version. Beside, in one scene, he single-handedly took out the Decepticon's Barricade, something we will probably have a problem accepting if he was the kind-hearted mild mannered Beetle that he was. Easily the most likable robot in the whole of the movie (made us all want a Bumblebee), we were expected to feel really sad, maybe even shed a tears, when he was captured by the humans. We can see he is in pain but it was also obvious he is not really fighting back hard because he does not wants to hurt them. How touching but why is it I felt... nothing?

Seems as hard as he tried, Michael Bay is still not the heart type of director he aspired to be. But then again, I did not come to watch this movie to cry my heart out. I am in it for the action and the robot and the mayhem etc. On that matter at least , Bay delivered. From earlier on, Bay showed us how superior a Transformer is to even our most advanced technology when the Decepticon's Blackout, in guise of a combat helicopter effectively and easily wiped out an army base. The tricky part here is that we must remember that although each Transformer is able to take the form of an earthly automotive, they are not made out of the same material as the automotive itself but presumably of their own harder substance that cannot be found on earth. For instance, an Autobot who tranformed into a Proton Saga will still emerged unscathed in a collision with say, a Hummer. Therefore we may questioned on why the Autobots all chose to disguise as street vehicle when the Decepticon took the more combat ready form of war vehicles but in the end, it doesn't really matter because in their robots' form, it all boiled down to who is tougher and better skilled.

Having said that, I thought Starscream was the most combat-effective of all the Transformer featured in this film, rapidly changing his mode of attack as he switched from vehicle mode to robot mode and back. He also appeared to be the only one who can maintained his flight as a robot. Megatron who was a handgun in the original Transformer was given a major upgrade in the film. As an alien's fighter plane, he was the strongest of them all. I recalled in the the cartoon I watched as a kid that he was never stronger than Optimus Prime although he undeniably has greater firepower. Here, he totally overwhelmed Prime and at one time, transformed both his arm into a powerful cannon he used to blasted Prime. I thought that was a pretty clever referrence to the original Megatron. Prime too showed a darker side when he earlier transformed his arm into a blade he used to destroyed a Decepticon. It happened quite fast. I think he either decapitated his enemy of sliced his throat. That was the first mortality before we saw Megatron tore the Autobot's Jazz in two. Nobody ever get mortally wounded or fatally killed in the original cartoon series.

We however, have to accept a few suspension of the physics law if we were to enjoy the movie. In the scene where the Autobots are hiding from the humans, we saw them swinging and jumping around (like monkeys do) the support of a bridge without dealing any damage to it. And I lost count of how many times Sam fell but was caught by an Autobot without suffering any injury whatsoever. The Autobots know Tai Chi?

The robots, both the Autobots and Decepticons but especially the Decepticon was not given enough screen time that it was difficult to tell them apart sometimes, except for Prime and Bumblebee that truly stand out. Fans who want to know the robot better may be disappointed by this but it helps in the development of the story which I must say cleverly involved the human protagonist, Sam from the beginning to give both side of the Transformers reason to seek him out. It still, however, has more holes than any cheese you will find in Ratatouille. The ending was quite unexpected for me, though I was probably expecting Prime to die due to what happened in the animated movie.

All in all, we have a Transformer that is edgier than what we used to watched. The camera angle and special effect is engaging. The robots do not appeared geeky when they were transforming (and in fact they transformed a lot in the middle of an action). The babe in the movie is really hot. What is there not to like about the movie? Satisfying indeed.


Why don't all Transformer take the same form that Megatron took, seeing how strong and powerful that form is?
There is a giant robot scorpion. What on earth did that Decepticon scanned on exactly?
Why do all the new robots created from the energy of the All-Spark so hostile?
Bumblebee became Sam's new best friend. He make out with his new girlfriend on top of Bumblebee. Eeewwww.
Hey, Starscream is still alive and well at the end of the movie.
Many more stoopid questions I can't recall at the moment.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Film Workshop, 4 Aug 2007, Central Market

I went for a Film Workshop in Central Market this morning with Duncan and his sister Cordelia. Presented by Australian writer cum director cum actress Denise Roberts, I expected a talk on the steps and process of making a film. Instead, the speaker seems more interested in sharing her view on what makes a good script and movie. Which is actually fine with me because I am even more interested in that topic.
Her first topic was the importance of punctuality, especially since shooting usually runs on very tight schedule and any delay could potentially raise the budget by several hundred thousands of dollar. This short topic is probably directed at the few of us who did not arrived before 10 am. Ahem.
Also present to assist her in the workshop are two local actors. I have never see the girl before but the guy looked familiar (not to mention tall, dark and handsome too). They were given a simple script without any indication of what actually happened. The script basically goes like this; the guy asking the girl to stop doing something that is annoying him and the girl telling him to get lost.
Needless to say, the act was rather dry. Denise then explained to us the important of love or lack of love in a script as "love makes the world go round". Love which she also used as an acronym for Loading, Objective, Vulnerability and Empathy.
The second time the act was played out, she loaded the actors with a little background. The guy loves the girl and can't stand that she is addicted to drug. The girl loves the guy too but stronger than her love for him is her urge to get her regular fix.
That little background makes a world of different on how they actors acted out their role and how they delivered their lines. It is much better this time. Denise keeps adding more dimension to the scenario till she fill up on the rest of the acronym. Although audiences do not necessarily need to know the full background of the characters, it is important that the actors at least have a hint of it so the scenes may be acted out with more depth.
The workshop covered on pretty basic but important stuffs. Stuffs most movie buffs would probably already know though not necessarily apply when they write or attempt to write.
However, the problem with film as an art is that everything can be very objective and what works for one might not work for another. I can see Duncan shaking his head when she said the movie Fight Club was boring, pointless and she fell asleep at the same scene the 3 times that she tried to watch it. I saw the movie later of the day on DVD and I also beg to differ. It has a brilliant script and can be very deep. I am still digesting it as I write this.
I am also rather surprised that her style is very much inclined toward the Hollywood 3-Acts format with their mandatory positive message ending. This is a topic that drew some debate from the audiences with someone pointing out that a film with no message can be a message itself. Personally I felt that topic is more toward the Etiquette and Integrity of Filmmaking and does not necessarily make or break a film.
Denise also shared with us her experience as an actress in Australia and some difference between theater acting and filmed acting. One hint I very useful was how to protect the copyright of your script when you send one to a producer, short of registering a trademark for it.
Overall, a satisfying workshop I have no regret attending. Personally, the most important thing a film can achieve for me is to tell a story effectively.

p.s. I just thought of the movie Babel. A very good movie telling a story very effectively that ties up everything in the end but one which I can find no positve message from. It was just very real and very engaging.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Donnie Yen still got it.

No. Let me rephrase that.

Donnie Yen is better than he had ever been before.

I got a free pass to watch the first screening of Flashpoint in Malaysia. The movie started off with an interesting scene of Donnie Yen stepping into a kickboxing training gym to arrest a criminal hiding there. As he climbed into the ring, he was already taking off his coat and talking at the same time, getting ready for a fight. The said criminal fought back his arrest but of course he was no match for Donnie's Inspector Ma. One thing I noticed right away is Donnie using wrestling locking moves. Surprise surprise.

That essentially sums up his character in the movie. Tough as nail and as far as he is concerned, his duty is to arrest criminal. Period. If they want to resist arrest, then bring it on. Lets see who is tougher.

The storyline is nothing complicated. Three Vietnamese brothers making their mark in the Hong Kong triad society and Donnie trying to arrest them with the help of undercover cop Wilson, played by Louis Koo. As it turned out, the brothers found out about Wilson's real identity and attempted to kill him. As they were also too busy escaping at the same time, they did not finish the job and Wilson only ended up slightly crippled. Which is not so bad since he has a loving and beautiful girlfriend by his side (I still can't believe this babe is the last girl he thought of calling to celebrate his birthday).

Back to the story, the eldest of the three brothers was arrested and so the remaining two set out to kill all witnesses who will testify against him. I will leave out the details because I really come to see this movie for the action. And after a slow hour of storytelling, it finally begins.

The highlight was definitely the final fight between Donnie and the second brother of the trio played by Colin Chou. Donnie as the action director has certainly set a new standard here. I can't think of a better way to describe it other than fast and furious.

The two were equally matched in every sense although Donnie seems to made the first mistake by underestimating Colin. The upper hand kept switching between the two and was determined only by who managed to gain the momentum of the attack. But while Colin seems to displayed a strictly attack style of kickboxing, Donnie switched from kickboxing to judo to wrestling. Yes. Jackie Chan and Jet Li did that before as well but never to the degree that Donnie managed to achieved in this movie. He switched style so flawlessly, and executed each move so effectively that he seems like he been doing all these styles all his lives, unlike Jacky or Jet whom don't really divert much from the style they are familiar with and only managed to appeared dabbled into a new style to suit a particular movie.

We all know who will emerged the victor of course. But while the action is captivating, the plot left much to be desired. There were too many holes, like why the three brothers chose to go against the triad in Hong Kong. Or how the leaders of the triad could choose to testify against them without implicating themselves. There are more but why bother?

We are watching this to be thrilled by Donnie Yen martial art prowess and in that department, he did not fail to impress.