Entry for July 23, 2007: Transformers, Skyland

On Wednesday, 18 July 2007, I postponed my regular D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: Holy Steel" teleconferencing game to meet co-worker Brian F. and Thomas K.Y. for "Transformers." I rarely go out in the middle of the workweek, but the theater was close, and the timing worked out.

I thought that the live-action/computer-animated movie was one of the better action flicks of this summer. A fan of the 1980s cartoons, Brian liked it a bit more than I did, and I think Thomas liked it a bit less than either of us.

The humor and plot — involving an alien invasion and plucky Earthlings tangling with a government conspiracy before fighting back — were derivative of other disaster movies, such as "Independence Day." Less overtly apocalyptic than "Live Free or Die Hard [4]," the giant robots of "Transformers" were spectacular, and it was difficult not to sympathize with the heroic characters and attractive cast.

The fight choreography could have been cleaner, in my opinion, and the robots themselves seemed overdesigned, with more parts and mass than their automotive disguises would indicate. Still, I'd give "Transformers" a 7 or 8 out of 10.

Speaking of movie ratings, at the request of several friends, here are my revised ratings of this year's movies so far, in the form of stars, a numerical grade, and a letter grade:

-"Pan's Labyrinth" (modern fantasy) ****, 8/10, A-
-"Ghost Rider" (comic book horror) ***, 8/10, B+
-"300" (comic book sword & sandals) **, 7/10, B-
-"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (comic book heroes) ***, 8/10, B+
-"Spider-Man 3" (comic book superhero) **, 7/10, B-
-"Shrek the Third" (comedic fantasy) **, 7/10, B-
-"Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End" (swashbuckling horror) **, 7/10, B-
-"Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (comic book superheroes) ***, 8/10, B+
-"Ratatouille" (computer-animated comedy) ****, 8/10, B+
-"Harry Potter [5] and the Order of the Phoenix" (fantasy) ***, 8/10, A-
-"Live Free or Die Hard [4]" (action) **, 7/10, B-
-"Transformers" (giant robot action) ***, 8/10, B+

Thus, my favorites so far this year have been "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Ratatouille," with "Ghost Rider," "TMNT," and "FF2" getting honorable mentions. Granted, I'm predisposed to like the movies that I choose to pay $10 to see in the theater, but for every disappointment ("Spider-Man 3"), I hope to find a pleasant surprise ("Transformers"). Yes, most of these are science fiction, fantasy, and superhero flicks, since I see relatively few mainstream dramas or comedies.

On Saturday, July 21, Janice and I dropped off three boxes of used books at our local library, went for a brief hike in the Blue Hills Reservation, and watched "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which she hadn't yet seen.

As I've mentioned before, our television channel lineup has expanded slightly with changing to Verizon FiOS. Among them is Nicktoons, sibling to Nickelodeon, home of favorites such as "The Real Adventures of Jimmy Neutron" and "Avatar: the Last Airbender." This past weekend, I caught a few episodes of the French computer-animated "Skyland," which is about rebels against an oppressive state in a future world where Earth has fragmented into floating islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyland

Sky pirates are a staple of fantasy (AD&D2 "Spelljammer"), pulp (see "The Phantom" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" movies), cartoons (Disney's "Tale Spin"), and science fiction ("Flash Gordon" and "Treasure Planet"), as well as a favorite of mine. While the rotoscope-style animation (based on motion capture) and bright colors are a bit tiring on the eyes, "Skyland" has good characters, a plot reminiscent of "Firefly/Serenity," and an interesting setting, where technology and psionics uneasily coexist.

I would still recommend the subtle "Avatar" or spoofy "Jimmy Neutron" first, but "Skyland" and the plethora of other animation I've discovered on Nicktoons, Funimation ("Galaxy Railways"), and Boomerang ("Justice League") are worth checking out. I'll try to post my summer television ratings soon.

Speaking of anime, the "Highlander: Vengeance" direct-to-DVD movie has gotten mixed reviews: http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=17964 I'm a fan of the first modern fantasy movie ("There can be only one!") and of the television series, but I probably won't go out of my way for this part of the franchise. On a related note, co-worker Ken G. has blogged about planned sequels to "Tron," "ReBoot," and the "Indiana Jones" films at Showbits.net. Let's hope that these are good!

Next time: Steve A.L. and family's visit, more gaming, and politics!

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