Friday, June 29, 2007

'Transformers": UPDATE

Just saw the film last night at a press screening. Unfortunately, the studio has imposed a July 3 review moratorium, and since I don't want to lose my preview privileges, I will comply. (Actually, since Dirty Harry over at Libertas gave me a shout-out yesterday, I kinda want to give him first dibs on a review anyway.)

As to the politics of the thing, Transformers is definitely right of center. Or at least goes out of its way not to kick Red State America in the teeth. The credits even thank "the men and women of the armed forces" along with the Pentagon, other government agencies and a few dozen U.S. military bases that double as shooting locations. When's the last time you saw that in a mainstream release?

That said, it's hard to take this movie seriously. The movie dares you to try and is fully prepared to mock you for seeing it as anything other than what it's intended to be -- the ultimate, noisiest, insanely entertaining ride you've had at the movies in years, a mission it fully accomplishes. (Honestly, the last film at which I can recall people standing and cheering during the screening was Red Dawn as a kid. Granted, preview audiences are easier to please than the regular crowd.)

The movie looks amazing, is frequently hilarious... (Yikes, dangerously close to becoming a review here.) Um, suffice it to say, there's a scene at one point that has the Secretary of Defense blasting away with a vintage shotgun at Johnny Five from Short Circuit deep in the bowels of the Hoover Dam. If you can't read that sentence without rolling your eyes and pining for the "serious filmmaker" pretensions behind something like The Good German, this flick is not for you. And by the way, you're an idiot.

Monday, June 25, 2007

'Transformers' colors don't run?

Early word on Transformers has it that the film may sit well with those of us on the political right.

From Variety:

“…Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers in Qatar have been attacked by a helicopter that transforms itself into one nasty robot, destroying everything in its path while an offshoot downloads top-secret files from the computers. Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight, doing a Southern version of Donald Rumsfeld) calls an emergency conference to analyze the data ("This is way too smart for the Iranians"), but one of the small robots has already hacked into Air Force One's computer…"

Jon Voight has been outspoken in his support for the War on Terror, so it's no surprise he'd be in a film that apparently is very sympathetic to the military.

It's also a Michael Bay film. So what if he has a reputation as a raving tyrant on set? Bay's company took part in a panel discussion at the Liberty Film Festival a couple years ago. I couldn't make that session, but I'm glad to hear that the rumors about Hollywood's biggest action director being on our side may be true.

"…More than any of Bay's earlier blockbusters, including "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon," "Transformers" has an oddly Reagan-era feel, at times resembling an Air Force recruitment commercial. Soldiers, led by Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson), are as much heroes as [protagonist] Sam, fighting to rid the world not only of authoritarian regimes -- there's frequent speculation that Russia or China is involved, proving the Cold War hasn't ended -- but also secret government programs. Ethnic stereotypes abound, and there's a none-too-subtle jab at the Spanish-as-an-equal-language lobby. "Freedom is the right of all sentient human beings," intones Optimus, sounding more appropriately President Bush circa 2007.
The last time this kind of buzz surrounded a movie, we were talking about 300. And we all know how that one did.
And if the buzz is accurate, expect this one to rule the box office uncontested when the final receipts are tallied for '07. Then again, Bay's woefully underrated "The Island" flopped not long ago. Granted, liberal critics uniformly damned that pro-life pic with abysmal reviews it did not deserve, and that doesn't seem to be the case here.

Avoid the lines. Get your tickets now.

(Thanks to Mike Rinaldi for the heads-up on this one!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Movie Review: Evan Almighty

If environmentalism is the religion of liberals -- complete with end-times prophecies, carbon offset indulgences for “sins” and Al Gore’s scriptures on hotel nightstands -- the Church of Green can now boast its own Noah account in Evan Almighty.

The crazy thing is, many orthodox Christians can lay claim to Universal's biblical comic epic too.

Yes, in terms of its worldview, Evan Almighty might be the oddest bird caught on film since that seagull Randy Johnson obliterated with a fastball a few years ago.

On the one hand, it’s a by-the-numbers, mostly liberal message movie that elevates urban sprawl to the 8th Deadly Sin. Think "Jonah and the Whale" re-told as "Free Willy."

On the other hand, it’s predicated on the freestanding premise God is real, loves His creatures and demands their service in a universe He fully controls.

Steve Carell ("The Office," 40 Year Old Virgin) reprises his supporting role as news anchor Evan Baxter from Bruce Almighty. Recently elected to congress on a "change the world" slogan, Evan moves into a massive new housing development for the super rich in Virginia with his wife Joan (Joan of ARK, get it?) and three sons.

Overwhelmed by the task, he prays God will show him how to make good on his campaign promise. In the film's funniest sequence, God shows up -- again and again and again -- to hammer home His reply that Evan is to hammer up a massive ark, on-load the animals He'll send, and prepare for a second flood intended to wipe the once pristine valley clean of the encroaching works of man.

In a plot lifted directly from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the increasingly driven neo-Noah throws himself into the mission from God, to the horror of his coworkers, ridicule of his constituents and abandonment by his wife.

The subplot, lifted directly from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, involves Evan being used by a senior congressman to launch a bill allowing residential construction in our national parks.

When it works, which is more often than not, the film has Steve Carell to thank.

The endearing dopiness that drives his "Office" persona powers the subplot -- essentially a series of sequences in which he morphs from GQ congressman to Geico Caveman to Gandalf the Burlap in a matter of days, all the while dodging all creatures great and small as they track him two-by-two around the beltway. (The very thought of Jim Carrey hamming it up past the punchline in this role makes me cringe.)

Carell's other mode, the pie-eyed earnestness that barely salvaged 40 Year Old Virgin, delivers the A-storyline, a funny, family friendly, cynicism-free affair that almost makes "Leave it to Beaver" seem sordid in comparison.

This movie is clearly post-Passion of the Christ. The questionable premise and morally iffy gags that put Bruce Almighty beyond the reach of many Christians has been replaced by a genuine attempt at affirming our faith.

That said, it's largely the shiny happy "seeker sensitive" version of Christianity presented. Easy on the fire and brimstone, extra rainbow please.

God all but apologizes for the big misunderstanding last time he flooded earth. Forget all that "wrath" talk. Really it was all about bringing folks closer: Noah's family coming together on a nautical family project, the animals arriving all two-by-two and cozy-like, etc.

"Ark," in fact, turns out to be an acronym for "Act of Random Kindness."

Nor, it seems, is Jehovah concerned for His glory first and foremost. He does everything because He loves us and wants us to be in communion with Him. That happens to be a major debate in the church today, actually. And in this respect, Evan Almighty is more Joel Osteen than St. Augustine.

Then again, Christians of every stripe will warm to the unprecedented depiction of a man standing before the unbelieving world, compelled by God to play the holy fool. Much like the original Noah must have done. Sure, Paul Scofield did it in 1966's A Man for All Seasons, but here, smack dab in the middle of a 2001 summer blockbuster comedy? Fairly unusual.

I'll leave it at that. As comedy, it has its moments despite running out of gas a bit early. As spectacle, it delivers a nice ride in the third act. (Can't wait to see a historical epic on the original Noah now.) As theology... Eh. Not so much.

Bottom line, how this film floats your boat will depend on the degree to which you hold your political and doctrinal standards close. Either way, the debate to come as this one hits screens should be interesting.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Batman gets new wheels

And you thought the new Batmobile looked funky? Take a gander at the "Batpod."

The studio unveiled Bruce Wayne's latest off-road experience (in this case, a literal crotch-rocket) to the press today, including a live appearance on the Today Show. Video here. All a bit of a high-octane teaser for the upcoming "The Dark Knight," part two in the Christopher Nolan-directed rebirth of the Batman franchise.

They're staying mum on what this thing does, but you can bet 1) it isn't street legal, and 2) you won't get any backsass parking it wherever you darn well please.

This also gives me a chance to post another past review here on the new blog.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bush-a-palooza 2007!!

Maybe Iraq was a good idea after all.

President Bush's popularity is at an all-time high, his poll numbers approaching 110% approval for his job performance and decision to fight in Iraq... Not here, of course, but in Albania. A Muslim nation. One of the poorest in the region.

Bush was a total rock star as he worked the crowd in Tirana, mobbed by youth straining for high fives, teenage girls screaming his name, old ladies kissing his cheek.
"...[Albania] has just issued three postage stamps bearing Bush's likeness, and a street in front of the parliament building has been renamed for him. At a mosque in the center of town, Uncle Sam hats were stacked in the prayer room..."
All because Bush and a line of American presidents going back to Woodrow Wilson have steadfastly stood for the right of self-governance for the former Soviet Bloc country.

And these huddled masses see Iraq the way Bush does.
" '...USA have the right and responsibility for all the world to protect the freedom,' said Ilir Lamce, 37, a financial analyst who was among those waiting for Bush, expressing the views of many.

'This is the right war.' Sami Berisha, who drove seven hours from Kosovo to see Bush, said he could not understand anyone who would take part in a protest against the president. 'I think these are crazy people,' he said,' because democracy begins in America.' "
So let me get this straight. A nation struggling for freedom thinks Bush is the greatest thing since the wheel, but here at home, a nation that takes it's freedom for granted thinks he's the worst thing since Hitler?

I posted so many photos here because I'm sure it's the last time we'll see the Prez feelin' the love in a long time. At least until the next time he visits Albania, Poland, Ukraine, Kuwait, etc. -- you know, countries that actually know what they're talking about when it comes to tyranny and oppression.

More photos here. Read 'em and weep Harry Reid.

Belgians waffle

Another one bites the dust

This just in from Belgium, a nation in splinters over lack of a common tongue.

But wait, I thought diversity and lack of a single national language could only strengthen a nation. Every Democrat and a few Republicans currently running for president just told us so during their respective debates. No?

Also interesting here, though hardly the major shift France or even Germany are experiencing today, is the fact another Euro Socialist just went bye-bye. (Hit the road, Jacques. And don'tcha come back no more, no more, no more, no more...!)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

'Indy 4' not enough to lure Connery back

How is this not fun??

In case you missed the news today, Sean Connery will not be returning for 'Indy 4.'

"I thought long and hard about it, and if anything could have pulled me out of retirement it would have been an 'Indiana Jones' film,'' says the 76-year-old actor currently having too much "fun" out of the industry to be sucked back in, even for a landmark picture like this. Too bad. The man has plenty of mileage in him yet.

But take a look at the rest of the cast. Not too shabby, apart from the terrifying rumors of Kate Capshaw returning. (Any involvement beyond fetching coffee for the real actors is not acceptable.) Ray Winstone is a phenomenal talent who's been in the moving pictures forever now without the true break-through role he deserves. Check him out here in a brilliant piece of film called The Proposition to see what I mean (beware the violence). And I'd pay to watch Kate Blanchett in a dog food commercial. Now, as the new Indy Girl adventure babe? Sign. Me. Up.

Yes, my hopes are getting dangerously high for this one, even with out Connery in the mix.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

'Jericho' fans say nuts to CBS cancellation plans

Back for more Skeet shootin' next season

After network plans to can 'Jericho' were announced, fans of the post-apocalyptic show starring Skeet Ulrich went nuclear themselves, mounting a clever campaign based on the season-finale theme. The long and the short of it is, CBS now says the show will return, seven episodes for the time being, as a mid-season replacement in the fall.

This is good news. The show started strong despite weak writing early on, lost its focus altogether soon after, then rebounded nicely on all levels last season. The loss of Gerald McRaney's character was a bummer, but the war between towns was heating up too nicely to leave us all hanging, which has been the fate for fans of too many network shows not performing to expectations in recent years.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Worst Album Covers Ever

Requires no setup. Just click here and prepare for good times.

Top Ten Signs Fidel Castro Is Fully Recovered

10. Every morning, 45 minutes of torture, followed by 45 minutes of cardio

9. His coat is shiny and his nose is wet

8. Organized six guerillas to rob Mick Jagger's apartment

7. His 1959 Chrysler Imperial was spotted at IHOP

6. In NFL draft, was picked before Brady Quinn

5. Recently pimped out his MySpace

4. Returned to favorite hobbies of his youth like tennis and kidnapping

3. Tried to get on Late Show Impressionist Week 2 doing Pacino in "Scarface"

2. He's put on 30 pounds, he's wearing fatigues, he's spewing propaganda... Wait, that's Rosie O'Donnell

1. Hasn't had a "Cuban Missile Crisis" in some time, if you know what I mean.

-- Late Night With David Letterman, CBS-TV

Monday, June 4, 2007

Democrat debate

"Let me share with all y'all somethin' I've never shared with nobody before!"

John Greenleaf Whittier said: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"

Apparently John Greenleaf Whittier didn't see the Democrat debate last night. Because...

"The War on Terror war is a political slogan, a bumper sticker, that's all it is." (John Edwards)


"Bill Clinton is needed in the Middle East." (Bill Richardson)

...are some sad, funny, yet pee-your-pants scary words.

I'm sure there were more, but I was in and out of the room when it was live and our DVR missed chunks early and later on.

I did catch Dennis Kucinich's open call for Socialism in health care, Chris Dodd flipping out every five minutes in a Ron Paul-like bid to be noticed, and a rousing debate on what the Democrat field considers the biggest challenge facing America -- discrimination against gays in the military. Because were losing way too many Arabic translators through "don't ask, don't tell," said Clinton.

Quite the Twilight Zone situation when Joe Biden is the least insane dude in the room -- Hillary included. (No insult. Hillary's testosterone levels are five times John Edwards', and she'd be the first to tell you.) Though I did enjoy Biden's tales of riding along with every military unit in action from Tora Bora to Baghdad. I half expected to hear about the time he road a MOAB bomb rodeo-style into Afghanistan like Slim Pickens.

I actually feel really good about 2008 after seeing this titanic display of disconnect with reality. I just don't see America falling for it. We're suckers, but God help us if we're this dumb. As down as I am on empty-suit John McCain, even he comes off genuine after this.

P.S. -- John Edwards is running neck and neck with Hillary for "Most Likely to Irreparably Damage the Country" after this news last week. Because anyone who can creep out John Kerry is bad medicine.

I'll quote The New Republic's article to make it credible to my liberal readers. Speaking is Bob Shrum, "the famed consultant to a string of Democratic presidential candidates, including Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004." From his forthcoming book, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner.
"[Kerry was] even queasier about Edwards after they met [to discuss teaming up for '04]. Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he'd never told anyone else--that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he'd do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade's ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before--and with the same preface, that he'd never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling, and he decided he couldn't pick Edwards unless he met with him again..."
Kerry, of course, was ultimately cool with having a nutter like Edwards aboard.

Republican debate is Tuesday night, 4 p.m. PST.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Elizabeth II

Now here's a "...Part II" I'll not complain about.

Can't believe this slipped by me, but the unlikely sequel to 1998's Oscar-winning period drama Elizabeth has a finalized title to go with its Oct. 12 opening date.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age has already run a test screening or two, and it appears the intrigue/thriller component of the original will take center stage this time, rolled into a romance between Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth and Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh.

Ordinarily I would cringe at the idea of cynical, post-modern filmmakers taking on the story of the great early Reformation struggle for freedom against the Catholic bid for world domination, but Elizabeth I (works out nicely, doesn't it?) was a satisfying piece of work as far as it went, and this story sounds even better -- assuming "the story of one woman's crusade to control love, crush enemies and secure her position as a beloved icon of the western world -- is merely the P.R. packaging I tend to believe it is.

Samantha Morton and Rhys Ifans are two more very good signs this will be worth waiting for.

Photos and a nice description of the film here.

Here's the press release issued today:

"...Dear Press,

Please note the official title of Universal Pictures’ historical thriller to be released on October 12 is ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. About the Film Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Molla, Abbie Cornish and Samantha Morton
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur Screenplay by: William Nicholson and Michael Hirst Reprising the roles they originated in seven-time Academy Award®-nominated Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush return for a gripping historical thriller laced with treachery and romance--The Golden Age.

Joining them in the epic is Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, a dashing seafarer and newfound temptation for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age finds Queen Elizabeth I (Oscar®-winner Cate Blanchett) facing bloodlust for her throne and familial betrayal. Growing keenly aware of the changing religious and political tides of late 16th century Europe, Elizabeth finds her rule openly challenged by the Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla)--with his powerful army and sea-dominating armada--determined to restore England to Catholicism.

Preparing to go to war to defend her empire, Elizabeth struggles to balance ancient royal duties with an unexpected vulnerability in her love for Raleigh. But he remains forbidden for a queen who has sworn body and soul to her country. Unable and unwilling to pursue her love, Elizabeth encourages her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish), to befriend Raleigh to keep him near. But this strategy forces Elizabeth to observe their growing intimacy.

As she charts her course abroad, her trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Academy Award® winner Geoffrey Rush), continues his masterful puppetry of Elizabeth's court at home--and her campaign to solidify absolute power. Through an intricate spy network, Walsingham uncovers an assassination plot that could topple the throne. But as he unmasks traitors that may include Elizabeth's own cousin Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), he unknowingly sets England up for destruction.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age tells the thrilling tale of an era...the story of one woman's crusade to control love, crush enemies and secure her position as a beloved icon of the western world."

Visions of Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk are dancing in my head. Please, oh please, let them come true.