transformers 2

As you’ll note below, I’ve given Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the latest prestige picture from visionary auteur Michael Bay, a generous grade. Yes, this movie is fucking stupid. If movies had IQs, Revenge of the Fallen would rate somewhere in what experts have called the “I Am Sam range.”

You see, Revenge of the Fallen is not as much an entertainment product as it is a bludgeoning, with big blunt instruments that go by the name of Autobots and Decepticons. Bay’s movie is stupid, but (being that he’s a genius at being stupid) he knows that. It works in his movie’s favor.

I won’t even really get into any particulars because there are no particulars to speak of. Basically, earth is the victim of another uprising by the Decepticon army, seeking to reanimate (or something) an old fallen leader of theirs, whose name, appropriately, is Fallen. Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, along with the Autobots, the American military (because really, what other military is there?), and a completely out of place John Turturro, band together to fight the fuckers. At some point Optimus Prime “dies” (this despite being a robot, and thus completely capable of repair), and is brought back to life by some kind of fucking pixie dust that LeBeouf found in an old robot gravesite. Great pyramids are destroyed, big metal things clang together, and Fox wanders for days in the desert without a shower, yet remains remarkably well made-up.

I’ve been joking that when I left my screening of Revenge of the Fallen, I lost 20 percent of my long-term memory and had been rendered illiterate. This is beyond hyperbolic, of course, but if any director could make that happen, it’s Bay. I think this is part of his mission statement.

Which is, perversely, why I feel the need to defend his movie to a certain degree. There’s a certain art in this kind of stupidity. I think of a movie like The Proposal (which, along with Wolverine and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, is part of a trifecta of unparalleled awfulness I’ve been privy to this summer). While I concede that this is kind of like comparing arsenic and cyanide, The Proposal is as awful as it is due to lack of ambition, and a willingness to slip right in to an existing paradigm without making any effort to advance the form. Bay’s film has no sense of comfort; it’s ambitious to a fault. Not intellectually, certainly, or aesthetically. But when Bay challenged fellow shitty auteur McG to a dick measuring contest, he’d given us the most appropriate metaphor for his filmmaking I can think of. Bay wants you to see everything that he’s packing, and he lets it all hang out; sometimes, though, its in the form of a pair of wrecking balls that hang off of a giant robot like Truck Nuts. The sheer BIG-ness of Revenge of the Fallen is its lone saving grace. It’s quite appropriate that it’s the most popular movie of the year.

Of course, it is important to remember that Bay’s film is fucking putrid. There is absolutely no depth of plot or character. There is no motivation for any action. It features two robots who are borderline racist characters (and “borderline” is being generous). Sometimes the perspective spins 360 degrees for an uncomfortable period of time. Shia LeBeouf is in it.

But is it the worst movie of the year, or even, the worst movie ever? Not even close. It’s the sequel to a movie based on a cartoon based on a line of action figures. What else would you expect?

Film: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd (the showing was delayed due to a break in at the theater the night before; though, to make it up to us, only one trailer screened before it: the preview for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen); digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 2
Rotten Tomatoes average: 19%

Next up: Whatever Works

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09. Check out the full list to date here.

terminator salvation

 Even by dumb action movie standards, Terminator Salvation is an extraordinarily stupid film. Maybe not as dumb or unnecessary as Wolverine, but not far behind on that scale. In fact, Wolverine provides a nice parallel to this fourth installment in the Terminator franchise. Both focus on their main character in a far different context than they’ve ever been seen before. Both follow in the wake of unnecessary adaptations that have diminished the value of their franchises. Both are mind numbingly stupid.

Salvation introduces Christian Bale (who had his infamous meltdown during filming) as a grown up John Connor, an officer in the resistance against the machines who are seeking to eradicate humanity. For a film series that has had its share of complicated timeline issues, Salvation doesn’t help in clearing up any discrepancies, instead focusing on a standalone story about an assault to be mounted against the machines’ Skynet headquarters. Connor’s young father (played by Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin) and a heretofore cryogenically frozen executed murderer (Sam Worthington) gather to join in the fight.

Still with me?

The problem with Salvation is that, through McG’s commitment to robot bombast (which is steadfast), the franchise loses the meta-commentary on human interaction with technology that was present in the original, and in the brilliant first sequel. This version’s machines are big and dumb, just like the humans. So who’s the good guy?

Film: Terminator Salvation
Director: McG
Stars: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Helena Bonham Carter

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, medium crowd; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 3
Rotten Tomatoes average: 33%

Next up: Land of the Lost

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09.

star trek

For any director, a reboot of the original 1960s Star Trek storyline would be a tall order. I’ve seen both Trekkies and Trekkies 2, and have attended a Trek convention, so, while I’m more of a casual enthusiast (meaning I’m familiar with the franchise’s mythology, while having actually consumed only a miniscule amount of its output), I can understand the way the obsessives operate. J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek could have easily had backlash written all over it.

Abrams, a director with only one prior feature to his credit (Cloverfield), would seem as a pretty dicey choice to reboot Trek. Until, of course, you consider that Abrams is responsible for Lost, a series whose fanbase is not altogether unlike Trek’s in terms of dedication, and the obsessive nitpicking that comes along with it.

Star Trek has a director with an understanding of his audience, a good sense of fun, and a knack for covering his bases in service of the franchise’s master plot. To borrow Leonard Maltin (or some such milquetoast asshole), Abrams’s Trek is a winner!

For starters, Abrams keeps the essence of the Star Trek spirit, while giving it the kind of high gloss 21st century sheen (complete with superfuturistic lens flares!) that the franchise deserves. He also sets a quick pace, full of bombastic action set pieces that would have been economically unfeasible in any previous Trek incarnation, but provide welcome entertainment that doesn’t detract from a cleverly plotted origin story.

That story diverts enough from the original series’s storyline to create a fresh start, while casually explaining away the differences with a “parallel universe” plotline that, while a bit hackneyed, is understandable, and provides a nice excuse to use Leonard Nimoy as “future Spock.”

The rest of the cast, led by young Spock Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine (whose take on Captain Kirk as a smarmy young military prodigy is revelatory), provide a new spin on these familiar characters, creating new quirks and nuances while remaining faithful to the original cast. Only Karl Urban’s McCoy and Anton Yelchin’s Chekhov verge on parody, but if pop cultural history has taught me nothing else, Star Trek and parody go hand in hand.

Which is one of the main reasons while the new film works as well as it does. For Abrams, making the film was more about balance than anything. He had to manage the expectations of a strong core audience, while playing up the fun and whimsy for the rest of us. While I can’t speak for the core (maybe the Onion was right after all), it looks to me that he pulled off the trick.

Film: Star Trek
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, Karl Urban, Winona Ryder

Viewing situation: Weekday late evening, small crowd; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 8
Rotten Tomatoes average: 95%

Next up: Up

>> Trekkies Bash New ‘Star Trek’ Film as Fun, Watchable [Onion News Network via YouTube]

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09.