Review: Transformer 2

The movie that almost everyone is looking out for this year, 'Transformers 2: The Revenge of the Fallen' arrived on Malaysian shores with tremendous euphoric greeting of Michael Bay’s (and Megan Fox’s) latest summer popcorn smash (GSC’s online booking website almost crashed from excessive demand!!). Transformers 2 was hoped to live through a life of a better sequel, i.e. Terminator 2, Aliens, Godfather 2, The Dark Knight) whereby the sequel was arguably a better version of the original. But alas, you may put some money on James Cameron or Christopher Nolan to deliver such a promise, but never Michael Bay. Free from the supervision and shackles of Steven Spielberg’s guiding hand in the first Transformers movie, this time around Michael Bay is let loose, and what a loose-cannon he is, and his unrestrained bayhem was unfortunately personified on screen for all to see.

No doubt bigger in every way (except where it is needed, i.e. the script), this film represents Michael Bay at his most undisciplined and ridiculous. Any reason and logic that can be associated to any fleeting likeness to a plot or script is thrown out the window with an adredelin-induced kick. Whatever words or sentences muttered by the actors serves no main reason whatsoever except to move from one big action scene to another, and in instances when there’s no action scenes, the words are simply fillers to entertain the viewers with mainly childish humor that would mainly perk the pre-teens and grown men that suffers from a serious case of 80’s nostalgia.

But almost everyone would have expected nothing less from Michael Bay, he is after all, Michael Bay, the great action conductor that brought us memorable popcorn fun in movies like Armageddon, Bad Boys I & II, The Rock, and of course the original Transformers. With Michael Bay, action is what he is all about and action he doesn’t fail to bring us with a big, loud bang. Armed with almost USD200 million of a war chest, he spends them without a care in the world and the special effects are certainly a USD200 million visual feast of a joyride for all to see. With more robots, bigger action sequences, more explosions and definitely more Megan Fox (I just have to throw that in), Transformers 2 is unquestionably an action opus that would make any action and robo junkie’s wet dream.

But speaking of action sequences, in general Transformers 2 suffers from an over-ambitious intent that leaves the overall movie composition feel like a one big expensive mess, in particular the last hour where it’s set in a Middle-Eastern desert. With almost an entire hour devoted to this piece of action scene, it becomes one long drawn out and untidy desert fight scene that has characters running amok from explosions igniting from anything that can be exploded, robots appearing and disappearing just as quickly from nowhere and the heavy participation of the military that made the movie feel like a half-commercial for the army, it all drags on and tires out, leaving any feeling of excitement sucked completely dry and what is left is a mindless and soulless MTV video clip glorifying Michael Bay’s crack-induced action flair (and Megan Fox running in all different manners possible in slow-mo).

A novelty of the first Transformers movie was the design of the robots, but in this sequel it has become a chore to watch. With the Decepticons’ similar chrome coloring and spiky designs, it all becomes somewhat confusing, especially in the desert action scene. With Michael Bay’s usual hyper-editing and extreme close-ups, it is often someone would confuse Megatron with Starscream, Scoponok with Soundwave and so on. When the action is on hyper mode, one would need to take a moment or two to recognize a specific robot or whether that robot is good or evil, but by that time when this realization is complete, one would already have missed a significant chunk of the action as the quick-fire editing moves things along at hyperspeed. Due to this, it is best to just not bother and simply watch the action. The result of this is that all the action becomes cold with no connection between the viewer and what is on screen whatsoever, and this contributes to the overwhelming disorganization and disorientation on screen.

Coming off best from this carnage is the comedic roles played by the side actors such as Ramon Rodriguez as Shia’s roommate as the web crazy oddball with a senseless energy. Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Shia’s parents almost stole the show with their comedic slack, especially during the scene when Shia was just checking into his new college. John Turturro returns and continuing what he did best in the first movie, and virtually saves the second half of Transformers 2 from over-induced action and tediousness, he picks up the comedic slack amidst all the sand-blasting and metal-clanging carnage by helping to leave a smile or two on our already sensory-overloaded faces.

Besides the robots, Megan Fox is certainly the next in line for the reason why hordes of boys are lining up at box-office for this movie. With the help of Michael Bay’s MTV flair for bringing out the best curves humanly possible from Megan, she simply remains as the sole person in the world at the moment to ooze testosterone –filled charm without uttering a single word. With that however, is how far Megan can go at present because besides her perfection in displaying her curves and looking so hot in slow-mo not seen since Pam Anderson in Baywatch, her acting abilities still has some way to go. She already seduced the masses with her good looks and now all she needs is a few good acting performances for her to be propelled to real super-stardom and not fall into the void of “all looks and no brains” category of an actress.

The bottom line is, as a mindless summer popcorn movie Transformers 2 will provide all the thrills but not the satisfaction associated with the first Transformers movie. The first Transformers movie enjoyed the novelty of a CGI spectacle not seen since Jurassic Park with the dinosaurs, or the Lord of the Rings with the fantastic creatures and battle scenes. But with Transformers 2, the novelty wears off, and it wore of thin and fast. As the movie moved along, the action becomes repetitive, the jokes became corny and the story is just non-existent, with the viewer simply waiting for the ‘next thing big’ to happen, but it never did. For all Michael Bay had achieved in the first Transformers movie, the sequel sadly falls into the category of “should have been much better” and it should really could have been much more better. Michael Bay made a mess of this movie, he was out of control and hopefully he knows it.

Reviewed by: Raymond Choy

Verdict: 7 / 10

Gary Chao, Back on Form

Have you heard Gary Cao Ge’s latest album yet? This lad from Sabah packs a velvet voice coupled with explosive vocals that propels him to a level at par, or even better with any international artiste, in my opinion. Already achieved international stardom in major Chinese markets like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and of course Malaysia, Gary keeps his super streak going with his latest effort, ‘Supermarket’ (previous albums were titled ‘Superman’ and ‘Super Sunshine’). To be honest, even though those ‘super’ albums were not so super, I was really looking forward to his latest album as always. His first breakthrough album ‘Blue’ remain as one of my all-time favorite album and it has and forever will be in the ‘loop’ mode on my iPod for many years already, and for many years still to come.

Now, his recently launched and his latest effort titled ‘Supermarket’, is a tremendous return to form. While his previous 2 albums were more playful and somewhat failed to serve as a convincing follow-up to his fantastic ‘Blue’ album, however this time around he returns to what he knows best, and returns to what made him excel, which are ballads. Track after track is easily likeable, and the more you listen to them, the more you tend to admire the depth of his songs. Depth, not just in his lyrics, but also his vocals. He boasts a voice many international artists would be proud to call it their own, and with already 4 albums under his belt, he possesses a collection of songs many artists would be envious, envious not just because they are hits, envious because they are songs that not many can imitate. For another artist to achieve a cacophony of vocals to match Gary is a tremendous challenge, and by achieving such a feat by someone would usually render him a protégé to almost certainly reach super-stardom. And that is why many upcoming artists look up to Gary, to strive to reach his level of talent.

Have a listen to Gary’s latest effort, titled ‘Ji Mo Xian Shan’ from his very latest album. It roughly means lonely man, and even if you don’t understand mandarin, the vocal of Gary mirrors the feeling of solitude and desolation of a person; the isolation simply reaches out and touches you. An amazing song, and an even more amazing vocals, he’s simply the personification of velvet soul.

From all the singers that I listen to, Gary’s the best I’ve ever heard, not just on recorded material but ‘live’ as well. His vocals do not differ much from recorded material, if not at all. Some singers sing brilliantly on CD, but when it come to ‘live’ performances, few can match Gary’s consistency. I was lucky enough to witness a performance of his many years back during a concert held by a major local radio station in Sunway Lagoon. Many singers from abroad were in attendance, so each performer had their limited time on stage. Although Gary sang only a total of 3 songs, he didn’t disappoint and it literally cemented by admiration for him. I never did get to witness a full concert from him before, but when the time comes, I will be there, God willing and finger’s crossing.

And on that note, do you know when I really got to know Gary? This is a true story, honestly. I still remember during his very early days, before when he was a superstar, I was in Sungai Wang and he was promoting his very first album ‘Blue’ at the main concourse area. Sungai Wang was packed as usual with the weekend crowd, but the queue for Gary’s signature was embarrassing compared to the other crowds there busy with better things to do like shopping. It was so bad, I honestly remember Gary literally got off from his chair at the main concourse area and started walking down towards the crowd shuffling past him that didn’t pay much attention to him. He had to get himself among the crowd to promote his CD. I asked my friend on what Gary was saying as he got near to him, and my friend replied that Gary was simply asking people to try out his album. During his early days, he had to literally look for followers. Many years passed, and look at him now. It makes you wonder how one must persevere in times of adversity and only then one can reach, and then appreciate, the times of victory.

And just to share with you, here's one of my all-time favorite Gary Chao song, titled 'Shi Jie Wei Yi De Ni'. Roughly meaning 'You are the only one', it's a simple song but it’s a simple song, but it’s simply about love, love from all walks of life in this world, because there’s always someone for somebody, it’s just a matter of time.

Ballad now, Gary Cao Ge.

Gone Gardening...

I’ve been passing by the 'Garden Café' in 1 Utama for so many times, and yet I didn’t get the chance to try it out. Well, during the weekend when me, SL and TK were in 1 Utama catching a movie, the chance finally came (and after walking around 1U new wing for God knows how long thinking of what to eat, trying to avoid the usual Nando’s, McD’s etc).

On the outside the place looks wonderful, nice concept and fresh. But once seated, I dunno, I got abit uncomfortable. Probably all those fake plastic flowery deco still isn’t as authentic as I thought. I always liked a cozy restaurant to dine, with lights down low and seats comfortable, y’know? But for this place…well…it’s quite the opposite. The lights are way bright (imitating sun light perhaps?), the seats are too up-tight and the place is too quiet. I mean, where’s the birds and the bees? Probably I had too high expectations…

As for the food? Well…we had this for dinner:

Garden Fish & Chips ordered by TK. Just original isn't it, TK?

Congee ordered by SL. At least this one had plenty of sides to munch on.

Garden Black Pepper Chicken Chop ordered by me. Nothing to shout about, but still 'boleh tahan' lah. But, it's hard to wrong with black pepper dishes isn't it?

As for the drinks, I had the Camomile tea. I think this place is more suited to tea/coffee drinking and than the food.

Iced Honey Lemon. Nice touch with the flower. But it's just plastic. Beh.

Plastic flowers and little garden ornaments are tastefully placed around the place. But if you look closely...everything you see has a price tag. Potong steam ahhhhh....

Kudos to them for having someone playing the piano once in a while for the diners.

So overall, is it worth it? Well, to be honest it's just an ideal place for photo-taking and provides a great opportunity to post nice food photos on everyone's own blog. Food wise, it's nothing special, just ordinary. I wouldn't be making reservations at this place any time soon though...

Salvation Denied

Watched 'Terminator Salvation' already?

Bottomline: much better than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines but still not as good as Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

I think people will like this film depending on what they are looking for. If you came for the action sequences to match any Michael Bay or Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, then this movie is right up your alley. It’s an action-vaganza of giant Terminators-that-shoots-out-smaller-Terminators smashing and exploding things all over the place, aerial dogfights ala Independence Day (Will Smith’s F-18 Hornet with an alien jet engaging each other in a canyon), bullets flying left and right and any direction physically possible, it’s all here in this 2 hour plus teenage fanboy’s greatest celluloid wet dream.

Unfortunately, if you came for fresh insight into the already-oh-so-tiring John Connor saviour-of-the-world and how he morphed from typical teenage John Connor to motherfucker radio-screaming-“WE ARE ALL DEAD!!!” John Connor, then be prepared to be disappointed. No new revelations are offered for this already exhausting story arc, as the only conclusion I can make to how he became the way he is, is a logic-defying loop where he just became a motherfucking John Connor. The actual story here is mainly on Marcus Wright, played with convincing badass-dry by Sam Worthington, and his journey of defying what it means to be a “man” out of a machine (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you watch this movie).

As for my opinion, the trailers kicked-ass, the momentum of excitement was all there leading to the launch of the movie, the premise of a post-Judgment Day movie was promising. But in the end, it just did not meet expectations. Maybe my expectations were too high, or the benchmark set my James Cameron in the previous Terminators was too monumental. But whatever the reason, the first two Terminator films remain as the un-paralleled classics and thus far, we still remain in wait for a Terminator movie to match the originals.

Nice try, but no cigar McG…

Reviewed by: Raymond Choy

Verdict: 7 / 10

Land of Paradise Lost...Lawas (Not)

I think 2 weekends ago, me and a colleague hopped over to Lawas, Sarawak. Why Lawas? Well, first of all I was dead bored with Labuan and second of all, Lawas was my colleague’s hometown which he had not visited since he was a kid. Lawas is not exactly the land of paradise lost in Borneo mind you. Just think of Ipoh without the traffic. And without the good food. DAMMIT. But the seafood was pretty good there anyway. And cheap beer as usual in these parts of the world (I really wonder how 1 can of beer can go as cheap as RM1 sometimes. And it’s a Heineken. Social contributions from good friends at the customs perhaps?).

Anyway, to get to Lawas, we had to take a 40 minute speedboat ride from Labuan to Menumbok. From there, hop onto a bus to Sepitang, passing by Beaufort. And viola, Lawas it is. Cost of transportation? Under RM50. Accommodation? Staying at this small town’s best hotel would be RM50 too. And it’s pretty decent mind you.

The best attraction in town? A Chinese temple. WHOOAAA!!! Oh well. Overall, it’s a good place and a good excuse to relax, unwind, and escape from the noisy Labuan bars and cheap discos scattered around Labuan. Oh, and it a good time to test out my shiny new Canon EOS 450D camera too, courtesy of SL as a B’day/X’mas present etc etc all roled into one (and by the way, I know you had a hand in choosing and shopping for the camera Maj. Thanks!) Still trying to get the hang of it tho, but…hopefully I’ll get there ;)

No, these are not the speedboats that we took to Menumbok...

Many towns, villages or even cities are divided by long winding rivers. To get across easily, locals use small boats, there's even a boat to carry motorbikes across!!!

The cost for crossing? 50 cents.

And off it goes!! These boats will ply back and forth from one riverside to another every 5 minutes...

From what I've heard, these back-up boats will operate all at once, at times 5 to 6 boats at a time, during peak periods. Even rivers have rush-hour traffic to transport folks from kampung areas to the towns and back.

But enough of the rivers, here's Lawas' main attraction, the Chinese Temple!!! Woohooooo!!!

While my colleague prayed, I just randomly took some photos as souvenirs...

The peace and tranquility of the interior is amazingly relaxing and serene…

I think it’s always good to pass on a prayer or two whenever we can…

So you prefer clear blue skies or cloudy days?

Impressive paintings covers all four walls. But I wonder what are the stories behind them?

Going around town, found a shop selling tropical fish. But not much fishes can be found, is there?

I find this kinda amusing. A police station in a kampung house? And a Kancil as a police car? Mat Selamat beware...

Pos Malaysia Beaufort. Know what Beaufort means? It's actually French. Beau = beautiful and Fort = Port.

The scene of Lawas town at the weekend. Soooo happening.

And that's it for Lawas, Sarawak. There's abit more on my facebook. See ya all!!!

From the Corner - A Musical Companion

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