Posts Tagged 'alien invasions'

My Top 5 Concerns Going Into THE AVENGERS

The Avengers is now but 2 Fridays away, after 4 years of buildup through 5 other superhero movies. One of the most unique and challenging attempts in history at a cinematic merger is complete. That fact alone makes this a really big deal. Nothing like this has been attempted before in the hundred-plus years people have been making movies. I always had serious doubts this movie would even happen, let alone come together this smoothly. Now that it’s here, despite my excitement and trust in the talented people involved, I’m still a little hesitant to believe it will work. Or at least work the way I want it to (that’s a big caveat there).

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Review-a-palooza: COWBOYS & ALIENS & CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.


I loved this friggin movie. Loved it. It had gotten pretty solid reviews, but I don’t believe any of that stuff this year until I see it with my own eyes. Well, Crazy, Stupid, Love. delivers the goods. And guys, don’t dismiss it because of the title. I’ve already recommended the film to a few male co-workers and been quickly rebuked because of the title. Stop it. Grow up. It is well-written, funny, authentic, superbly shot and directed, and features a solid soundtrack. However, that all pales in comparison to the film’s best asset, and that’s its sublime [but whitewashed] cast. I should’ve realized with a cast this good that the script had to have been at least somewhat legit. I’m looking through Steve Carell‘s filmography, and yup, this is easily his best role since The 40-Year Old Virgin, which came out in 2005. It’s tougher than it looks to pull off the range this character demands. There’s real drama, real sadness, and real comedy. The guy comes across as an actual human being, as opposed to the live-action cartoon characters Carell usually plays. He’s funny without being goofy or over-the-top. And he’s subdued. Carell’s comedy is typically very loud and in your face. It’s the complete opposite here. You believe him as a loser, you believe him as a broken man, you believe him as a father, and you are even made to believe him as a ladies man after his character gets a serious style and personality makeover. Amazing work, I thought. I’m sure he won’t make it into the top 5 when it’s all said and done, but I put him on my ‘to be considered’ list for Best Actor. That’s how good he is, folks.


Next up is the impeccable Julianne Moore as Carell’s wife, whose admitted affair with the Kevin Bacon character kick starts their marital strife. Julianne Moore can do anything, it’s as simple as that. Between this, her brilliant work last year in The Kids Are All Right, and her work in the underrated Chloe, Moore is on quite a hot streak. Her character commits the ultimate marital sin, and yet because of the script, her performance, and the obvious mutual breakdown in the love between her and Carell, you don’t hate her. Again, not an easy acting task. The scenes between her and Carell are each spectacular in their own way. Bacon plays a supporting role, but does so with great skill and gets a few really good moments despite his minimal screen time. This is also yet another excellent link in the chain if you’re playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.


The last person I’ll shine the spotlight on is the phenomenal Ryan Gosling, who I seriously need to consider putting on my top 10 list of best working actors. He doesn’t always choose parts that would let you call him one, but the dude is a movie star, no doubt about it. The guy is spewing charisma in this movie. The scenes where he is changing Carell’s appearance and showing him how to talk to women are magical. This character is a model example of the old adage “Men want to be him and women want to be with him.” I love the nuance of his performance, just the looks and gestures he makes that take a really good performance and make it great. His bromance/mentor chemistry with Steve Carell is just as convincing as his romantic chemistry with Emma Stone. Gosling just has that It thing, that presence that the best movie stars always have. He can do any genre, play any part. Frankly, I wish he would get some of the roles that are offered by default to Leonardo DiCaprio, because as good as he is in all these smaller movies (Blue Valentine, Half Nelson), he’s just as good in mainstream studio films (The Notebook, Fracture). I’m actually shocked he hasn’t worked with more A-list directors. Actually, now that I look, he hasn’t really worked with any. What gives? Mr. Scorsese, Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Nolan, Mr. Eastwood, Mr. Coen & Mr. Coen, etc., get with the fuckin program.


A bedroom scene that doesn’t make you want to vomit.

Every supporting role is similarly well cast. I loved veteran character actors John Carroll Lynch & Beth Littleford as the parents of the 17-year old babysitter who has a crush on Carell. Marisa Tomei is the only one whose character seems a bit unrealistic, but she’s so good and so funny that you can look past it. Even Josh Groban, of all people, comes out of nowhere and delivers a solid little performance in his big screen acting debut. The performances of the kids are also fantastic. There’s Joey King as Carell & Moore’s young daughter, Jonah Bobo (great name!!) as their love-struck 13-year old son, and Analeigh Tipton as the kids’ babysitter. There was a lot for almost everyone to do, which is incredibly rare. It’s a true ensemble, which I always prefer to star vehicles. The only problem with the cast is that with one exception (Liza Lapira as Emma Stone’s wise-cracking Asian friend), it’s entirely white people, and I promised to point that out, and I’ll do so now, even for a movie I admire. I’m not sure any of the individual performances will hang around to earn Biggie nominations at the end of the year, but if I don’t end up giving this film a Best Ensemble nomination, this will have turned out to be a spectacular year for that category.

Aside from the cast, the thing I liked most about the film was the script, and how that script was unafraid to confront certain situations, both amongst adults and teenagers, and the fact that it does so with a PG-13 rating is nothing short of astonishing. It takes an honest look at adultery, how a separated couple handles their kids, and it even deals with teenage sexting/nudity in a way that is at once unsettling but also undoubtedly true to life in today’s twisted world. I appreciate and respect that. Most movies choose to play it safe and pander as opposed to challenging the audience in any way to form their own opinions. There’s even a pretty big plot twist, rare indeed for a romance. There’s a confrontation scene near the end of the movie that is borderline classic, because of the near-perfect execution by the actors and filmmakers. This movie will have you smiling throughout, whether you want to or not, both from the humor and because you’ll like these characters so much.


I don’t want to wrap up without mentioning who the filmmakers I keep complimenting are. The film was written by Dan Fogelman, who is known mostly for working on kids movies (Cars, Fred Claus and last year’s Tangled). It was directed by the duo of Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, whose most popular credit may be that they wrote Bad Santa, but they most recently wrote and directed last year’s semi-controversial Jim CarreyEwan McGregor flick, I Love You Philip Morris. I look forward to seeing more from all of these guys down the road.

The only semi-major issue I had with the movie is that it never quite settles on a tone. It is at parts straight comedy, at parts straight drama, at parts melodrama, and it ends with some sap (though still funny and somewhat daring) that’s normally reserved for soul-draining romantic comedies. That said, there’s almost no sentimentality but for a few moments at the end. Other than that, it probably came across like this is now one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s not quite that, but I do genuinely love it, and because it’s only the 7th movie this year I can strongly recommend (you didn’t ask, but the others so far are Hanna, The Lincoln Lawyer, Win Win, Fast Five, X-Men: First Class and Harry Potter 7-b), I got a little extra enthusiastic. Forgive me. It’s been a bad year, but this would be a damn fine movie in any year. Go see it. Pretty please. And by pretty please I mean NOW! It’s an excellent date movie, or just go with whoever you’d go see any other comedy with. Again, gentlemen, don’t be afraid because of the title. Don’t be ignant. Girls, just drag the motherfucker out if you have to. You’ll love it, and he’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (PG-13, 118 minutes)

8/10 (IMDb), 4/5 stars


I enjoyed Cowboys & Aliens more than I thought I would (the advance buzz and reviews were decidedly mediocre-to-negative), but I didn’t love it. It’s solid enough, but there isn’t much great about it, and there’s also nothing innovative about it other than the concept of aliens in the old west. As it stands, it’s a typical PG-13 summer alien invasion movie. The visual effects are above average, the stunts are really good, and the alien creature effects are pretty cool. It’s a very good looking movie and it flows well, but it does lack the heart & soul that takes a movie from “like” to “love”. That criticism is valid. The movie doesn’t do anything new with the western genre or the alien invasion formula. That said, I love westerns and I love alien invasions (though they’ve officially been played out), so with those two genres combined and the pedigree involved, there was no chance I wasn’t giving this movie a chance in theaters.

This project took about 14 years to develop from concept to graphic novel to a movie finally being released. I won’t bore you with the details (which you can find here), but such a long development period usually doesn’t bode well for the final product, though I think this turned out surprisingly well for a project that had so many hands in the kitchen. There are no fewer than 6 credited writers, which explains why the movie is pretty safe and doesn’t feel like anyone’s singular vision. It also seems like there are as many producers as cast members. IMDb lists 16 different producers, executive producers and co-producers. I’m fairly certain there was only one director (Jon Favreau), although 2 other directors (Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard) are credited as producers. Have you gone cross-eyed yet? Favreau is a capable enough director, and seems to be one of the cooler people in Hollywood, but I still think he’d be better off doing smaller movies and comedies as opposed to huge summer blockbusters. I for one am happy he’s not returning to direct Iron Man 3 (he’s off that franchise primarily because Marvel and Paramount forced him to turn Iron Man 2 in an extended Avengers trailer rather than an Iron Man story).

The cast is full of good names, and the performances are solid, but the script doesn’t give anyone the material to really stand out. That’s par for the course now on most summer movies, where the aliens, monsters and other computer-generated creations get most of the focus. We already knew Daniel Craig was a solid leading man (Bond 23 next year!), but I’m much more interested to see what he does in Dragon Tattoo in December than I was in anything he did here. Harrison Ford was pretty good, too, and it’s always good to see him, even if he has De Niro/Pacino Syndrome and isn’t really trying anymore. Here he did give a bit of an effort. I certainly enjoyed watching him more in this movie than I did in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Holy Shit What a Waste of Time. Wait a minute…how often does Harrison Ford work? Around the mothafuckin clock, son! Anywho, there are a bunch of other actors I really like in the movie (Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, and Adam Beach), and it’s always nice to look at Olivia Wilde, even if she is fast becoming the most overexposed actress in Hollywood. And the dog! The dog gives a wonderful performance, too. Don’t forget the dog.


OH HAI THAR!

The one member of the crew I’ll single out for praise is Matthew Libatique for his damned fine cinematography. Libatique shot both Iron Man movies for Favreau and was Oscar-nominated for his work last year on Black Swan. There a lot of gorgeous, classic-looking western vistas (the film was shot in New Mexico), but he did a particularly great job in the nighttime and darkened interiors, which are very hard to shoot on film without massive, conspicuous studio lights. The scene in the center of town when the aliens first attack is especially great from a lighting standpoint (though admittedly, it seems as though they shot that on a soundstage, where you can more easily control the lighting). They managed to shoot their low light scenes without assistance from big lighting rigs, which I was extremely happy to see. One of my biggest peeves in movies are exterior night scenes where you can clearly tell there’s a HUGE studio light just off camera (it’s usually hidden behind a tree) shining a glaring white light onto a darkened street or forest or whatever. I HATE that. It’s so friggin unnatural, but audiences have been trained to accept them. I have never accepted them. To me, they’re as obtrusive and inappropriate as a boom mic showing on screen. So that’s my “dark exterior/studio light” rant.

But yeah, the movie looks great. As an aside, kudos to Jon Favreau for supposedly resisting studio pressure to shoot the movie in 3D. He reportedly insisted they shoot the movie on film (shooting in 3D usually requires using digital cameras) and not converting to 3D in postproduction (a process that is becoming increasingly ridiculed). Bravo, sir.

As far as the aliens go, I thought they were pretty cool. They don’t have a revolutionary design, but they are a bit different from some recent aliens, and they did look cool in closeup. Kudos again to Favreau, who made sure they used prosthetics whenever possible, instead of relying on CGI 100% of the time. I wasn’t a huge fan of the alien ships or their technology (really, they came to earth to mine gold?), but the creatures themselves were pretty good. My only big problem is that in the final battle sequence, it’s unclear what can and can’t kill them. Sometimes several bullets and arrows can’t kill or even slow down one alien, but a single knife stab to the chest from a child kills another. Other times, one spear can kill them, other times multiple gunshot wounds in quick succession kill them. A little consistency would have been nice.

The film has its issues, but I’ll say that it is worth seeing in theaters. If you don’t have a big TV and surround sound, you’ll be missing out if the first time you see it is at home.

Cowboys & Aliens (PG-13, 118 minutes)
7/10 (IMDb), 3/5 stars


Nice bracelet, brah.

-Before we go, I need to make a TV recommendation. HBO Documentaries recently debuted a fantastic new film called There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. I saw the title on my cable guide and was intrigued, so I looked at the description (“Diane Schuler and seven other people die after the woman drives in the wrong direction on a parkway.”) and my interest was piqued. First off, 8 people dying in one car accident? That’s fucked up. You usually don’t hear that unless a bus was involved. And what would make this accident so interesting as to merit a documentary about it? After that brief description alone, I immediately thought those two things, so I decided to watch the first few minutes. That “first few minutes” ended up being the entire 105-minute film. I couldn’t turn it off. It is a riveting piece of human drama.

Basically, this otherwise stable woman went off the grid while driving her two kids (son, 5 and daughter, 2) and her brother’s 3 kids (all daughters, 8, 7 and 5) home from a campground. Something goes wrong during that trip, and she ends up obliviously driving full speed the wrong way on a highway, eventually causing a massive 3-car collision that killed all the children but her son, as well as 3 men (ages 81, 49, 74) in another vehicle. The film shows as many details as are available about the crash, but the mystery is in the fact that investigators can’t confirm with certainty what actually caused Schuler to become intoxicated or otherwise lose control of her faculties, despite most of the evidence pointing in one direction (the autopsy revealed her blood alcohol level was almost 3 times the legal limit, and she had traces of marijuana in her system).

The controversy in the case derives from the fact that after the accident, her husband Daniel and sister-in-law Barbara have been very public in fighting the autopsy results and have insisted that Diane would not drive drunk. They did interviews on many major news outlets (clips of which are shown in the doc), hired their own investigators, and are even fighting a legal battle to exhume Diane’s body to do a second autopsy. Both Oprah and Dr. Phil each did an entire show on the case. I guess Law & Order also did a “ripped from the headlines” episode using pretty much the exact set of circumstances. What’s most fascinating about the piece is watching this husband and sister-in-law fight every piece of evidence showing Diane was probably drunk or high, or both. I’m no psychologist, and even I have no hesitation saying that I’ve never seen two human beings in such denial. It really is stunning to observe. The husband insists she somehow had a stroke or other “medical issue” (a term they both repeat over and over again), which caused her to lose focus. The documentary also shows the families of the other victims, and how some of them are offended by the continued public denials of Schuler’s family.

On top of the spellbinding human interest angles, the film is superbly crafted by director/producer Liz Garbus. Actually, now that I think about it, pound-for-pound this is probably the best movie I’ve seen in 2011. If you have HBO and DVR (or HBO GO), I beg you to seek this out and watch it now while it’s still in heavy rotation.

Apparently, this accident was a huge news story when it occurred in July 2009, but I can’t recall hearing or reading about it, or maybe I did and dismissed it as another car accident story. The accident has its own extensive Wikipedia page (which is a fascinating read itself) and inspired a documentary, so I clearly wasn’t paying attention.

Here’s a quick trailer:


And HERE is the official page for the film on HBO.com.

BONUS: Warner Bros. just released the first image from the upcoming Zack Snyder-directed, Christopher Nolan-producer Superman reboot Man of Steel, featuring your new British Superman, Henry Cavill. I think he looks pretty damn good in costume. This was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012, but it was recently pushed back to June of 2013, which is sad, but it gives them almost another full year to work on it, which is good. Check out the flippin sweet full-size image HERE.

BONUS BONUS: Warner Bros. also released the first official picture of Anne Hathaway in costume as Catwoman. Find a good full-sized look HERE. Note that they went for practicality over sexiness, which is exactly what we should’ve expected from Nolan’s Batmovies. I like it, but now there are rumors that there might also be a sexy time costume as well. If there is, it’d be the first time Chris Nolan went down that road, so we’ll see. What I’m most curious about when I look at that photo is why she’s riding Batman’s bike. Is she not a villain in the movie? I dunno. I’m actually surprised by how many set pictures and spy video has come out from the Dark Knight Rises set. In my view, there’s been too much. It seems like every exterior scene they’ve shot in Pittsburgh has been photographed or captured in detail on video, including what look to be a couple of pivotal action scenes. I won’t even link to the set pics or video, and I’m probably gonna stop looking at it myself going forward. If you want to be spoiled, you can seek it out yourself.

Epic Review for an Epic Fail: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

A Film

Well, that’s the last time I put a Michael Bay movie as my “most anticipated movie of the year.” Lesson finally learned. Movie gods, I surrender! I used to be a Michael Bay defender. No more. The man has no desire to stretch his limits, and despite admitting his mistakes from Revenge of the Fallen, he learns nothing from them in his execution of this film. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a 2 hour, 37 minute hyperventilating mess. I’m actually hesitant to even say that it was better than Revenge of the Fallen. I’m not sure that it is. I am sure of this; Michael Bay is the most immature filmmaker on the planet. I’m sick of his visual “style” (which is simply moving the camera in every single shot and shooting every exterior during magic hour so that white people’s skin is yellowy orange instead of pale). He doesn’t care about making movies that stand the test of time. He cares about making movies that make a lot of money, and that’s it. But hey! He’s immensely successful at doing what he wants to do, so who am I to judge? Unfortunately, that success not only means he gets to continue making big expensive movies the same way over and over again, but it has also made him one of the most arrogant and stubborn filmmakers in Hollywood. Arrogant to the point where now nobody can tell him to his face how stupid some of the shit he’s doing is. He has no financial incentive to change, and that’s precisely what it would take for him to change. Back to the aforementioned question, I’m one of his paying customers, so I get to judge all I fucking want. And today is Judgment Day.

Dark of the Moon has no heart and no soul whatsoever. At least the first Transformers movie had some of both. This one is cold and crude, devoid of any intelligence, and lacking any characters, robot or human, that the audience can embrace.

A bit of a disclaimer here: The reason I’ve been so passionate about Bay and his team getting these movies right (I’ve been very outspoken about it since the day they announced the first Transformers in 2006) is because this is the one geek franchise (that didn’t start as a live-action movie or TV show, like Star Wars/Trek) I can legitimately say I grew up with. I never read comic books as a kid, so when Hollywood screws up something like Green Lantern, I don’t really care, because I was never invested in those characters before seeing the movie. I used to watch the Transformers cartoons every day, and I had more Transformers toys than any other kind of toy (Legos were a close second). In fact, my most prized youthful possession was probably that massive, battery-powered Trypticon toy [PIC]. I worshipped Transformers as a kid, and as such it means a lot to the kid in me to see it brought to life the right way on the big screen. This isn’t me being anal for the sake of being anal or because I have a grudge against Michael Bay. I have a personal history with a lot of these characters, and I think most of them have been handled poorly in these movies. The exceptions (for the most part- none of them have been handled perfectly) would be Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Megatron and Starscream. Long before Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg brought these alien robots into theaters, it was always one of my goals to one day write and direct a live-action Transformers movie myself. And I do mean long before. I was a teenager when I first came up with that idea. Funny enough, I also desperately wanted to remake War of the Worlds, too. So thank you, Mr. Spielberg, for stealing two of my dream projects from me. Just know that when I get heated about this stuff, it’s coming from an honest place. I’m not expecting The Godfather from these movies, but I assure you, Transformers movies infused with heart and soul and humanity are a possibility.


One of these things is not like the other.

There are people like me, who have come out of these last two Transformers movies immensely disappointed, and there are the people who go in and claim to not care that these movies are soulless and utterly incompetent. It’s the old “just show me some giant alien robots fighting each other” defense. These people (and I know several of them) apparently don’t expect that those fights be exciting, or memorable, or well-choreographed, or, I dunno, comprehensible in any way. Sorry, but I can’t turn my brain OFF when I go into a movie I desperately want to be awesome. I’m not gonna excuse shitty storytelling just because there’s a lot of nonsensical action. I also require that the action be good. The next time I hear someone excuse this movie by calling it a “ride”, I’m gonna rip out my armpit hair and feed it to them. If Michael Bay and the studio want to make a Transformers ride at Disneyland, go ahead and do it. Putting 3D glasses on does not turn shitty, mindless action into a “ride”. This is being advertised as a movie, which is what it’s supposed to be. Movies have stories and plot structures that are supposed to make sense. Forgive me for refusing to let go of that expectation.

The good news is, despite the fact that I keep hearing (from sources I trust) that this is the best live-action 3D since Avatar, I don’t have to shell out 12 bucks to go see it again in 3D, because the movie is bad, and I don’t want to see it again, in 3D, 2D or otherwise. I don’t see good movies in 3D, so why would I see this in 3D? My New Year’s resolution of No 3D in 2011 is still intact, and this was the most serious threat to that resolution of any 2011 movie I can think of. Viva 2D!

Not that it’s a big deal, but we will be getting into some minor spoilers during this review. Oh, fuck it…the Autobots win! The Autobots win! Good prevails! And Sam gets to keep his British supermodel girlfriend! There, I ruined it. Now can we proceed?

WHAT I LIKED

-I still find Shia LaBeouf likable in the Sam role, but hopefully this is the last summer action movie he does for a long time. The kid is too talented to be wasting his time with this stuff anymore. It’s time for him and his agent to start making better career choices going forward. For now, Shia can rest comfortably, knowing that no man has ever screamed as often as he does in this movie. No, really, he screams a lot. Girls who get cast in future horror movies should look at this performance for inspiration.

Sam’s big character struggle in this movie is that he’s angry that he can’t find a job where he “matters”. No, I’m not kidding. He can’t find a job, and he’s very upset that he can’t openly brag that he saved the world from the Decepticons twice. THAT is Shakespearean depth, people. That’s literature shit right there. No fear! He doesn’t really have to worry about money, anyway. He’s got a British supermodel girlfriend who’s paying his rent, so he doesn’t have to face the real world, or the economy that most of us in the real world have to deal with every day. Woe is Sam.

-I like that they finally gave Optimus his trailer, and that when it transforms, it becomes his armory. Very cool. As always, they make the first Optimus Prime transformation count. The problem is we only see the trailer in action once, at the beginning of the movie, and only briefly. They really should have done just one scene where Prime transforms, and the trailer mysteriously floats away and vanishes, like it always did in the cartoons.

-I liked that Sam’s parents were only in the movie for a couple of scenes. The mom in particular was so goddamn annoying in the second movie that I never wanted to see her again. They’re both cartoons again here, but they’re only in a couple of scenes, so the effects are mitigated. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these two weren’t anywhere close to this obnoxious in the first movie, right? They were almost normal? Really, it’s not even the dad (played by Kevin Dunn, who I usually like) so much as the mom (Julie White), who can’t utter a single line of normal dialogue. It’s joke after insult after joke after awkward sexual reference after SHUT THE FUCK UP, LADY.

-I like the idea of Leonard Nimoy voicing a Transformer. I did not like the execution of that idea in this movie. Sentinel Prime is a muddled character with unclear motives (so of course he ends up being the main villain), and I didn’t like his character design at all. Unmemorable, to say the least.

-I would love to have been in the room while Michael Bay directed the Bill O’Reilly cameo scene. Wow. Talk about two dominant personalities.

-I like that this is probably the last Transformers movie Michael Bay will ever direct. You’ll not destroy my childhood any further, sir.

-I like the conceit at the beginning of the movie about the secret mission behind the original moon landing, but I don’t think it was executed particularly well. That was like 6 minutes without an explosion, and you could sense Bay’s patience running out as the title card came up. Also, the CG work trying to alter and recreate John F. Kennedy‘s face was pretty bad.

Now that I think of it, doesn’t this re-write the entire history they established in the first movie? In this one, we first came into contact with the Transformers in 1969, but in the original movie, none of them showed up on Earth until they were looking for the Cube. Then, in Revenge of the Fallen, it’s revealed that the Primes were on Earth thousands of years ago. Which is it?! I have to LOL at the whole thing. Seriously, watch the intro to this movie and the intro to the 2007 movie. Dark of the Moon pretty much ignores everything that happened in the first one. Continuity is for pussies!

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

The script. Need I say more? Well, I’m not going to. The script is terrible. If I talk about it in depth, my own ability to write a screenplay will decrease. Eat shit, Ehren Kruger, you hack. You haven’t done anything worth a damn since you adapted The Ring…9 years ago.

-Despite the fact that dozens of human actors appear in the movie, there are hardly any human characters to be found. Almost every woman you see onscreen is a lingerie model, and every male is a wise-cracking spasmatic. Then you’ve got John Turturro‘s sidekick Dutch, played by Alan Tudyck, who is, I dunno, a flamboyantly gay German ex-intelligence officer? He had to be one of the strangest movie characters of all-time. Bay just can’t help himself. No person or situation can be straightforward. How about that stupid bit with the Latina girl in the office, where she’s wearing a tight half-shirt with her tits hanging out while the super nerdy guy scolds her for her attire. And she’s wearing all white, and all the guys are wearing white shirts in this ultra-modern all-white room? What the fuck? I don’t know what movie that scene belonged in, but it did not belong in this one. If you cut out idiotic scenes like that, you’d trim 5 minutes off the run time, easy.

-The Rosie Huntington-Whitely character, Carly. I mean, COME ON! Aside from men wanting to have intercourse with her, what are audiences supposed to find appealing about her as a person, or as a love interest for Sam? Why can’t Sam have a normal looking girlfriend? Why can’t ANYTHING be normal in a Michael Bay movie? Does he not fucking understand that if Sam had even an above average looking girlfriend, people would like her a lot more? No, it has to be one of the hottest females alive. Women can’t root for a supermodel, and men don’t believe a supermodel would date this character. That’s a big fuckin conundrum. That is…if you’re not Michael Bay, and you take things like logic into consideration. Nobody UPGRADES from Megan Fox to Rosie Huntington-Whitely. That’s absurd even by movie logic. You don’t make that upgrade unless you’re famous or incredibly wealthy, or both. Even then, it’s a stretch.

Put it this way, in REAL LIFE, Brad Pitt went from Jennifer Aniston to Angelina Jolie. But in doing so, Pitt had to take on Jolie’s 43 adopted kids as his own. Justin Timberlake couldn’t pull off what Sam does here, and he was with Britney Spears and Jessica Biel in their primes. Shia LaBeouf’s character in these movies outclasses Brad Pitt and Justin Timberlake in real life. That is riotously funny.

I guess if Bay doesn’t have a supermodel on set at all times, he can’t function. Maybe that’s his reasoning. For the record, I didn’t give a shit that they got rid of Fox, because she was mostly an empty character. If, after two movies, your only real character trait is that you’re good with cars, then it’s not gonna be tough for me to miss you when you’re gone. But at least in the first movie, Sam had to chase the hot girl. He had to win her over through deed and circumstance, so it wasn’t totally ridiculous when he finally got her. The scene in this movie where Sam first meets Carly at the goddamn White House is off-the-walls unbelievable. Obviously, in Michael Bay’s White House, every foreign ambassador has a supermodel assistant who is ready to leave her promising career behind and move to D.C. to support an American civilian she just met. I’m sure that happens all the time in the real world.

Given enough movies, I think Sam could give Wilt Chamberlain a run for his money. Really, Sam Witwicky belongs in the Lothario Hall of Fame.

However, all of that said, I thought Rosie H-W did a good enough job with what she was given, considering it was her first acting role. The key words there were “with what she was given.” You can’t tell if someone’s a good actor by watching a Michael Bay movie.


Sure, she’s mildly attractive.

-Like all Bay films, there’s all the usual military porn, but it dawned on me how differently Bay treats certain military characters. He clearly respects soldiers and their commanders, but I guess he doesn’t think much of National Security Advisors (see Revenge of the Fallen) or, in this case, National Intelligence Directors (check out that Wikipedia link to see what this job entails in the real world). I love Frances McDormand, but her character is such a fucking clown here that it’s not even POSSIBLE to take her seriously.

-They wasted Shockwave here like they wasted Devastator in the last movie. Shockwave is supposed to be the Decepticons’ best tactician and second-in-command only to Megatron. Here, he’s…I don’t know how the fuck to describe him. He rides around inside a giant robot…anaconda? So strange. Apparently he drives this giant thing, and of course, it appears anywhere in the world he needs to be at the snap of a finger. We first see it in Chernobyl in Russia, and then when he finally reappears, it’s in Chicago. (I was under the impression that Shockwave was gonna be the primary villain in this movie. Clearly, I was misinformed.) So I guess this giant robosnake dug its way across the globe (and swam across the ocean), showing up in Chicago just in time to fight the Autobots at the end of the flick. Convenient. By the way, I love how it screams, too. It has no discernable face or eyes, but the front “mouth” part of it screeches, even when Shockwave isn’t inside it. Very interesting. And speaking of talking (speaking of talking?), when he first appears in Russia, Shockwave pops out of his driver’s pod/seat/thingie, just to say “Optimus!”, and then he and the snake give up and leave without a fight. That was cute; pop out to say hi real quick, and then leave. How courteous. Wait, no, that was stupid, but what’s more stupid is that anytime you see Shockwave for the rest of the movie, he can no longer speak English. He just grunts and mumbles, walking around the city looking for Autobots like a dunce. Then they kill him off like a bitch, and he barely puts up a fight. I hated it. This is not the Shockwave I know, and though the effects were cool, he was completely wasted as a character and villain. There was no need to call him Shockwave. They should have just called him Slithermumble or some shit like that. Or Serpentor. Wait, that name’s taken.


Sorry, bro.

-I was more than a little peeved by the way they magically reintroduce Soundwave. In the second movie, I thought it was cool and fitting that he was a satellite, intercepting military communications and hacking into U.S. satellites to eavesdrop and gain information. That was one of 3.5 things in that movie that made sense. In this one, for some reason product placement purposes, he’s now a brand new $200,000 Mercedes sports car instead. HUH?! But oh goodie, he retained his Doctor Octopus tentacles! So yeah, I’m pissed off that they fucked up my two favorite individual Decepticons. Unacceptable.

Speaking of conspicuous product placement, Bay has long been the king of it. Did you happen to notice the 39,384 Lenovo LCD computer monitors in the office Sam works at? Did you notice the baffling closeup of a Cisco router? Or Sam’s mom taking a swig of a Bud Light can (immediately after being served a s’more by her husband! Gross!)?

-The Ken Jeong cameo. Sorry, it was just too much, and the Ken Jeong bandwagon is already full, Mr. Bay. Moreover, his shtick as the over-the-top Asian guy is wearing thin. Either way, a Ken Jeong character in a Michael Bay movie is even more insane than you could possibly have imagined. If Jeong’s intensity in the Hangover movies is an 8, they dialed him up to a 10 for this. His character here is so ridiculous that, like almost everyone else, you can barely call him human. He’s more like a crazed chimp. He struts around the office being paranoid and ultra-awkward, mumbling under his breath, and also keeps two pistols under his desk. You know, just in case. Then, he accosts Sam in a bathroom stall and screams conspiracy theories at him. I mean, he seriously may as well have had a tail and been hanging upside down from the ceilings. It wouldn’t have appeared any stranger than this Jerry Wang character already is. Then, for the grand finale, Laserbeak throws him out of his office window, and the movie treats his death like high comedy! Nobody in the office really cares, and John Malkovich‘s boss character (another cartoon character) immediately starts making jokes about it. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried, people. At the midnight show I went to, 90% of the audience was roaring in laughter when he died, but even the annoying 17-year old who was sitting next to me (and chewing gum with his mouth open the entire fucking movie) was intelligent enough to say out loud, “I don’t think that’s supposed to be funny.” Only, apparently it was supposed to be funny. Sigh.

Speaking of Malkovich, have you ever seen a more inconsistent accent? It was like someone had a child sitting on the floor behind the camera, and that child had an on/off button for Malkovich’s goofy New York accent and just kept bashing it repeatedly.


Too. Much.

-What the fuck is this apartment palace that Sam & Carly are living in? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that absurd characters are living in an absurd apartment, but holy shit. This place seemed to be bigger than the entire house the Witwickys lived in in the first movie. The main living area is so expansive in this place that at one point in the movie, Bumblebee is in the room STANDING UP and moving around. I don’t know the Washington D.C. area very well, but I challenge someone that does to find me where this apartment could actually exist. It’s got a massive spiral staircase, a huge chandelier, and a freight elevator. Because people often park their cars inside their apartments in big cities. That’s common, right? We’re made to understand that Carly is paying for the place herself (poor Sam can’t find a job), and maybe I missed where this was explained, but I’m not quite sure how she could afford it by herself.

-It was kinda dumb the way Tyrese re-enters the picture, was it not? The Autobots are about to be shipped off into space via NASA shuttle, and HEY! There’s Tyrese working as…one of the guys who walks behind the giant shuttle platform? Huh? Okay, then when Sam wants to get to Chicago, Tyrese and his boys are only too happy to take him. Then they apparently drive from Houston or Florida (wherever that shuttle was) to Chicago overnight (or instantaneously if you follow the editing), and of course require no rest before they join the battle. What was even funnier was when they finally do get to the outskirts of the city, after all that traveling, Tyrese takes one look at the devastation, and in all seriousness declares, “We’re not goin in there!” WHAT?! You just drove a thousand miles, dude! And now you want to puss out? Ridiculously bad writing.

And now to the action scenes…

-Due to the way Bay’s team designed these characters, when they’re fighting in closeup you can barely tell what’s going on, because so many of these robots have similar colors and/or the same spikey gray features. This makes the one-on-one fight scenes unintelligible and uninteresting.

The overkill on the slow-motion action shots. Basically, every time this happens, it’s pure audience manipulation. It’s Bay telling you, “This is the awesome part! Cheer wildly when it’s over!” He tries to tell me when I should be impressed instead of letting it happen naturally. This is certainly not a new technique, but when you tell me “This is the awesome part!” 20 friggin times, they all get less awesome due to saturation, and it’s hard to top yourself 20 times within one movie, even if that movie is 157 minutes long. Quick, tell me the best slow-mo shot in this movie! You couldn’t do it off the top of your head, because there were so many of them. You have to pick and choose your money shots. More importantly, the last thing Michael Bay’s action scenes need are an infusion of Zack Snyder.

-There was an awful lot of unnecessary spitting and drooling by the Transformers in this movie. It seemed every time one of them got punched or fell to the ground, there was some form of liquid spewing from their mouths. And it was usually in slow motion, like you’d see in a boxing movie. That was probably at least $250,000 in effects shots they could have saved or spent elsewhere.

The whole concept of the space pillars/teleporters. Ehh, just didn’t work for me, especially when Sentinel uses his 5 rods to teleport the Decepticons off the moon and into D.C. Let’s break this down, in case you didn’t notice just how dumb it was. So the Decepticons have had spaceships and extra soldiers chillin’ underground on the moon for several decades, but they needed a teleporter to get them down to Earth? Huh? Umm…WHY NOT JUST STUFF THEM ALL INTO THOSE GIANT SPACESHIPS AND BRING THEM DOWN WHENEVER THE HELL YOU WANTED!?!? Why didn’t Megatron think of this in either of the first two movies? Did he not know he had an army on standby the whole time? I guess these teleporters also act as alarm clocks for the 200 Decepticons who were hibernating on the moon. What happened to the Transformers being launched down to Earth inside those meteors like in the first movie? There I go bringing common sense into the equation again. Sorry.

-I wasn’t impressed by the final 45+ minute battle in Chicago, either. Sorry, just wasn’t. But this is what most of the film’s fans are saying is worth their hard-earned money and time. Raise your standards, people. It wasn’t that impressive. It wasn’t. You have a bunch of random bad guys that we don’t care about (Sentinel and Megatron are just chillin on the top of a tower while everyone else does the dirty work) mostly shooting missiles into buildings. WOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!! For what purpose though, we’ll never know. Unless you live in Chicago, you don’t have an emotional investment in seeing your favorite skyscrapers destroyed. Occasionally, they kill some random humans, and the effects are pretty good, but none of the main characters even come close to death. Also, because there’s nothing groundbreaking being done here effects-wise, I was never awed by it. This isn’t like the first time you saw the alien invasion sequence in Independence Day. There were cooler spaceships in Independence Day, and much cooler, scarier alien weapons technology in District 9.

Was I supposed to be blown away by the soldiers jumping out of the planes in chutesuits? It was cool, but they used those in the damn Tomb Raider sequel, and I saw a much cooler feature story on people who base jump with those on 60 Minutes a couple years ago.

And what was with the War of the Worlds weapons the Decepticons were using? They were blasting humans with these lasers that left behind only the humans’ skulls and clothes. Umm, why just the skulls and not the rest of their bones? I digress. In general, I don’t like the Transformers’ guns in this movie. There’s no impact or violence or intensity to them, they just make these cute little popping, “pew pew!” sounds that I can make with my mouth. When they hit something with them, all you see are sparks. There’s no real impact damage. They’re not scary or loud or intimidating at all.

Am I missing anything? What else was there that was so fucking spectacular to some of you?

I have a question for the “I loved it because it’s huge alien robots fighting each other!” set; did you love the hour and 45 minutes the giant alien robots weren’t fighting, too? If not, what were you doing during these parts of the movie? Smiling with glee at the shitty humor and subhuman characters? Did you find the rest of the movie a “ride”, too? Or did you really find these action sequences so exciting that you can dismiss the rest of the movie, which is undeniably awful. Seriously, if you think I’m overreacting, how do you excuse the parts of the movie that didn’t have any action? Because that was most of the movie.

-I won’t even bother bashing the Patrick Dempsey character or the whole thing where certain humans were conspiring with the Decepticons. It wasn’t interesting enough to even mock.

NITPICKS

-It was kinda gross that Megatron walks around the whole movie with the right side of his brain exposed. They can bring all these new Decepticons to Earth between the two movies (how they snuck Shockwave down I have no idea), but Megatron can’t get his head repaired?

-It’s cool that he’s in the movie, but Laserbeak doesn’t talk, dude. And he’s certainly not some maniacal, trash-talking schemer. Aye vai.

-Optimus Prime carries this massive sword on him and various other projectile weapons, right? So why, after killing Shockwave’s anaconda, does he get tangled up in a bunch of construction cables for like an hour? And he has to get cut down by his little “wrecker” Autobot buddies? Lame.

-I’m no astrologist (or geologist or physicist, whatever field of study applies), but wouldn’t suddenly teleporting Cybertron into orbit have significant effects on Earth’s gravity? Or the tides? Or my bowel movements? Just sayin.

Other than that, I fuckin LOVED this movie!

To wrap things up, I’m just glad this will be the last Transformers movie for a good while. Yeah, they’ll probably try to “reboot” it 5-10 years from now with another director and a new cast (the series has made too much money for them to just say OK, it’s over, that was nice while it lasted), but we’ll worry about that in 5-10 years. There’s no indication what Michael Bay’s next movie is going to be, but let’s just assume it’ll come out in June, cost a lot of money, have no real people in it, and feature a lot of explosions. Does it really matter what the title is or what it’s about?

I doubt anyone else will do this, but I wish I had the time to take the DVDs of all 3 Transformers movies, and create a 10-minute montage of all the stupid, random, gratuitous, unnecessary shit, just to show how absurd Michael Bay’s view of the world is (on the off chance I didn’t just make it abundantly clear). And again, I used to be the biggest Michael Bay defender out there. My assumption was that at some point he would mature as a filmmaker. At some point, I thought he would see all these movies being made by better, more competent directors (say, Christopher Nolan for one) and say, “Hey, I’d like to do something like THAT one day.” I’ve waited long enough for that day to come, and it hasn’t. Sadly, it seems as though he doesn’t have that desire, because he’s too obsessed with box office grosses, and making a different kind of movie might mean taking a creative risk that could result in fewer tickets being sold. God forbid. I’ve been defending Bay since Pearl Harbor, for 10 years now, but I’m done. I’m spent. Let him go make $200 million PG-13 summer movies for the rest of his career if that’s all he aspires to. If he doesn’t want more for himself (creatively), why should I? Fuck’m.

In the final equation, the 2007 Transformers is the only one in this series that’s on my love list. Even still, the best Transformers movie ever made came out in 1986, and it was animated. After what we’ve seen these past 4 years, it seems that animated may be the way these characters should stay.

Until next time! I can’t wait to be disappointed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in a couple weeks. Too pessimistic?

FUN READING:
GQ recently published a lengthy compilation of quotes from Michael Bay’s actors, producers, writers, friends and other collaborators, all giving their brief and various opinions of the man and his work. Very amusing/interesting read. [Blow Up: The Oral History of Michael Bay]

Here’s some telling quotes from Bay himself, straight from the article:

On making a different style of film for Pearl Harbor: “I don’t change my style for anybody. Pussies do that.”

On critics: “It’s funny with them. You are making entertainment. People get so angry about it.”

On deciding whether or not to make a third Transformers movie: “I’m not going to sit in my house by myself—what am I going to do? Leading the fat cat life—I don’t want to do that. I’d rather go back in the trenches.”

Still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen: Robot Chicken’s BAYSPLOSIONS trailer:


If this isn’t the quintessential Michael Bay photo,
I don’t know what is.

Fun fact: I wrote “Michael Bay” or “Bay” 35 times in this review.

IN OTHER MOVIE NEWS:

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is nearing a $1 billion global gross. It will be the 8th movie ever to accomplish this. Do you understand how depressing that is? Worldwide, it’s going to outgross The Dark Knight (though TDK still has it crushed by more than 2:1 in U.S. grosses). Note to self: for huge international grosses, have your movie take place outside the United States.

-A couple of highly anticipated trailers finally debuted this week, one for Steven Spielberg‘s new Oscar-bait movie, War Horse, and the other for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. I think each is exciting in its own way. Watch em, and I’ve got comments after each. As always, I recommend switching the video quality to at least 720p HD.

Will you look at that photography? Holy shit. At least visually, we know Spielberg has lost nothing off his fast ball as he’s aged. On my Most Anticipated Movies of 2011 list, I put this at #3, so I’m very happy to finally see a trailer for it. Spielberg hasn’t made a great film since Munich in 2005, and actually hasn’t directed anything since that horrid 4th Indiana Jones in ’08. Nothing would please me more than for this to be the best movie of 2011. And let’s face it, this year it won’t take much to be the best movie of the year. If nothing else, it shows that there’s still some hope left for the fall/winter lineup. Like I said on that previous post, I think this story is right in Spielberg’s wheelhouse, and again I have to marvel at Janusz Kaminski‘s cinematography in this trailer. Wow. Strangely, this clip has gotten a lot of ignorant negative feedback on the internet, with people making various unfunny jokes about this’ll be the first time a horse wins Best Actor. The movie isn’t just about the horse, idiots, it’s about this young man trying to find the horse and return it home in the midst of World War I. If it were a fucking dog, I’m betting those same a-holes would find the idea utterly compelling. Would you rather watch an interesting story like this at Christmas, or go watch the 57th comic book movie of this dreadful year instead? Get a clue. This should be a damned fine movie.

I like it, but don’t love it. Yet. What immediately sticks out to me is a seemingly gratuitous use of CG in the stunt sequences. That Kremlin explosion at the beginning looks cringeworthy, but I’ll withhold judgment because I’m sure it’s not a completed effects shot. But really, you couldn’t have done that with a big model? Again we have the struggle these franchises face as they get into movies 4 and beyond, and that’s the desperate desire to up the ante. In this case, they thought blowing up Red Square would be a good idea, and then later in the trailer you’ve got a giant cloud of CG dust chasing Tom Cruise. This makes me kinda nervous. By the way, does anybody sprint in a movie with more intensity than Cruise? I love it. Despite the CG, there’s still a lot of cool hand-to-hand combat and a car chase, and I absolutely can’t wait to see this sequence in Dubai, where they actually had Cruise climbing around on the world’s tallest building. Just seeing that monstrosity on film is pretty awesome. I wonder how far away you’d have to put a camera to get the entire building in frame.

As previously noted, this is of course the live-action debut for director Brad Bird, who did the underrated Iron Giant as well as The Incredibles and Ratatouille for Pixar. If ever there were an animation director ready to take the next step, I’d say Bird would on that shortlist. Allegedly, this will also be the Mission: Impossible film that transitions Cruise out of the lead role, and in a perfect world for Paramount, the franchise will continue with Jeremy “I’ve been cast in everything” Renner. It’ll be interesting to see how that transition occurs. I’m also very happy to see Tom Wilkinson and the beautiful Paula Patton join the cast. Anyway, smart move to use an Eminem song over the trailer. Gotta get those kiddies’ attention.

One more shits and giggles:

I’m posting this review on July 3rd, 2011, which is the 15th anniversary of the release of Independence Day, one of the movies that changed my life as a youngen. It currently sits at #40 on my list of all-time favorite movies.

This teaser trailer first appeared in January of ’96, attached to a now-forgotten sci-fi horror movie called Screamers. After seeing the trailer, I found it difficult to concentrate on the actual movie I came to see, and that was the longest 7 month wait of my life.

We’ve seen about a dozen alien invasion movies and TV shows in the last year (with at least one more coming in Cowboys & Aliens), and I’d say none of them compare to the excitement I experienced watching iD4 that summer. The visual effects still hold up today, and in fact are more impressive than most of this year’s “blockbusters”. Put it this way, almost everything you see being destroyed on the ground is real. It’s either a model, a miniature, or a practical explosion. Now, almost all of it would be created in a computer, which is the completely wrong approach. Hollywood has changed a LOT since 1996. For instance, that summer you had maybe 6 big movies. Nowadays, every single week there’s a new $150-250 million event movie cramming its way into theaters, and as a result, very few stand out anymore. Whereas in 1996, the biggest movies that summer were the first Mission: Impossible, The Rock (back when Michael Bay movies were good), The Nutty ProfessoriD4 and Twister (another of my favorites).

1996 was the first summer that I worked at a movie theater, and I remember this was the first movie I went to an employee screening for, which was quite a new experience at the time. Seeing a huge movie the night before everyone else could! Holy shit! I saw it at least 5 more times after it came out. I also vividly remember sneaking away from the concession stand and watching the alien attack sequence just about every time it was happening (I even had the timing down perfectly- it occurs about 45 minutes into the movie). I’d come back from watching it, and people would be like, “Where did you go!?” I’d always say the bathroom or something like that. Let’s just say I had a lot of 10-minute bathroom breaks. I must have watched that sequence 50 times the first few weeks it was out.

Independence Day grossed $306 million that year, back when $300 million put you among the highest grossers of all-time. Put in perspective, that 306 would be $544 million today. I would really love to watch this movie on the big screen again. Can someone over at Fox get on that? They should have put it out just for this weekend to celebrate the 15th anniversary. I’d have thought of that if I were a studio boss, but I’m not a studio boss, am I?

I don’t have any recommended listening to wrap things up, because I haven’t had time recently to listen to anything new. Feel free to give me some recommendations. If you managed to read all 6,000 words of this review, I applaud you and appreciate you. Good evening.


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