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.

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the taking of pelham 1 2 3

I don’t think it gets any more baseline than this. I was all ready to give Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 a middling five-point review on my completely infallible ten-point scale. So when I checked to see the critical consensus, I was pleased to see it reviewed positively by exactly 50% of critics. Metacritic rates the film right near the middle as well, with a 55. Clearly I’m in agreement with the world that Pelham is the most average movie of ever.

You see it’s not all bad, and considering what Tony Scott is capable of (Man on Fire, Days of Thunder, blech), it’s a minor triumph in line with Crimson Tide, his most straightforward and best film to date. Pelham keeps it simple, with a pretty standard hostage situation, that develops into a nice battle of wits between Denzel Washington’s good guy MTA dispatcher and John Travolta’s business savvy domestic terrorist ringleader.

Of course Scott can’t stay completely out of his own way, and this is kind of Pelham’s Achilles heel. Not content with a story that essentially tells itself, Scott raises the volume. At times he can’t resist beating the audience into submission with bizarre visual trickery, and one of those action movie scores with the pounding beat and bassy strings that make sure you know something exciting is supposed to be happening. Scott also makes halfhearted attempts at commentaries on media sensationalism and the dangers of post 9/11 government bureaucracy, but both ideas predictably fall shallow, sacrificed before the god of blowing more shit up.

All of that’s a shame too, because Scott gets nice performances out of both Travolta and Washington, far from career bests, but exactly what you would expect out of two seasoned pros counting on a decent paycheck. Luis Guzman and James Gandolfini also provide welcome turns, Guzman as Travolta’s inside man, and Gandolfini as New York’s ineffectual mayor.

Pelham is the kind of movie that destined to be a staple on, like, USA Network in a few years. And that’s not all bad.

Film: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 5
Rotten Tomatoes average: 50%

Next up: The Proposal

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. 

In which one man attempts to view every summer blockbuster for the entire season, regardless of taste, genre, or Jewfros.

I was surprised when I left my matinee screening of You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, the latest shlockfest from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production house, that there was still an Israeli-Palestinian conflict going on. I thought if anyone could end that centuries-old madness in the Middle East, it would be Sandler. Sadly, I was wrong.

It’s not like Sandler and his co-screenwriters Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel didn’t try. It’s just that hairdressing and hackysack might not the ideal arenas in which to exemplify such a camaraderie.

Zohan is certainly the most satirical picture Sandler has made since he became a top box office draw after his Saturday Night Live stint. And it was a well-meaning effort indeed, masked as it is in a steady diet of dick jokes. Sandler’s title character is a top Israeli commando, who becomes disillusioned with the militaristic life and the trappings of a never ending conflict where both sides refuse to give any ground. So he escapes to New York City to follow his dream of becoming a hairdresser. There he begins to exercise his trade, falls for the Palestinian woman who owns his shop (newcomer Emmanuelle Chiriqui), and is hunted down by his nemesis from the old country (John Turturro). When Sandler comes to realize that an evil real estate tycoon (played by famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer) is using the deep-seeded resentment in a mixed Muslim/Jewish neighborhood to get the locals to default on their properties so Buffer can build a new mini-mall, Sandler unites the groups against a common enemy, proving that we can all just get along, after all. Especially when a plastic-faced Mariah Carey shows up to help.

That was a mouthful, but inside my run-on sentences lies a pretty straightforward and earnest plot full of dick jokes, fart jokes and gay jokes. Lots and lots of gay jokes. But I laughed a whole bunch. Out loud even, in spite of myself. 

There are probably hundreds of stupid comedies that are released every year, and I only ever see a handful of them. But from that sample, what I notice is that a great deal of the laughs (or intended laughs, anyway) are mean spirited, petty, and easy. Sandler’s comedy functions pretty well here because the jokes are mostly in good spirits. Whether this film carries any satirical weight is up for dispute, but I can’t deny that the writers truly mean well. The mean humor here is intended for the characters who really deserve it. Sandler’s affable personality allows his films that measure of good nature, even when some of the jokes fall flat. Juvenile as it may be, at least it’s all in fun. (I understand, and agree, that I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry can be seen as a huge exception to this rule, but even in that film Sandler’s character operated as an example of how not to behave.)

Sandler, like a lot of prominent comedians with a flurry of star vehicles to their credit, knows who his audience is. For the most part, he chooses to play to their ideals, and not their baser instincts.

Good on ya, Adam. I may not love your movies, but I can at least give you that.

A Note on Assholes

On a side note, I saw You Don’t Mess With the Zohan at a late Friday matinee that was sparsely attended. There were a few couples, a group of college age students, and what looked like a large family on an after school outing.

To that family, if you’re reading this you know how to read, please, when you go to the movies, act like you’ve fucking been there before. Adults, shut up. There is no excuse for talking through a movie. If you must talk (and god knows I understand that sometimes during a film, we simply must make a sarcastic comment to our neighbor), do it in a whisper. You are setting a bad example for your children, who will never learn proper theater etiquette with you around.

Also, four buckets of popcorn constitute an excessive amount of food for a six person party. Enjoy your type two diabetes.

Film: You Don’t Mess With the Zohan
Director: Dennis Dugan
Stars: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chiriqui, Rob Schneider, Michael Buffer, Nick Swardson

Viewing Situation: Weekday matinee, few attendees, assholes; digital projection
Rotten Tomatoes Average: 34%
My Grade (Out of 10): 6

Next Up: The Love Guru