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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Yes, it’s better than the last Transformers movie, but that doesn’t keep Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon from being the most obnoxious, noisy, tedious, ugly waste of film this year. In its own peculiar way, I suppose that’s something of an accomplishment. In that same vein, we should pay honor to such other improbable feats as finding an underwear model—Rosie Huntington-Whiteley—who makes the fired Megan Fox look like an accomplished actress, and note Shia LaBeouf’s seemingly effortless ability to get worse with every movie. Much more disturbing, however, is the fact that the American public has already shelled out $162 million to have its senses bombarded and its intelligence insulted, while the rest of the world has shelled out an additional $210 million. Mindblowing!
Of course, the idea that Mr. Bay’s latest mess of excess is better than the previous one isn’t predicated on what it has, but rather on what it doesn’t have. The lack of jive-talking comedy-relief robots is a plus, but this isn’t to suggest any actual improvement has taken place. And the addition of Ms. Huntington-Whiteley and Mr. LaBeouf’s increasingly incomprehensible “acting style” may make those omissions pretty much a wash. Apparently, it’s supposed to be disturbing that Bay has recycled footage from The Island (2005). I find it more alarming that anyone knew The Island well enough to notice.
So what do you get for your investment? Well, apart from a great deal of noisy CGI “spectacle” involving giant robots beating each other up and causing massive digital destruction, there’s a sort of a plot that might make sense if you’re careful not to examine it. Seems that the entire space program of the 1960s was due to a desire to find out what crashed on the moon—conveniently, the dark side of the moon. This, of course, turns out to be an Autobot (those are the good robots) ship with a mysterious cargo and the big cheese Autobot Sentinel Prime (given voice by Leonard Nimoy apparently channeling John Huston). We know he’s the oldest and wisest bot because he has a stringy bot beard. (Is anyone over 12 still reading this?)
While he’s being jump-started by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), the head Decepticon Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) has lumbered back into business. He appears to be missing half of his brain, but is still functional and still bent on world domination. There’s duplicity afoot, too—not to mention a lot of pointless digressions (why is the John Malkovich character even in this thing?)—in both human and autobot agencies. None of this should surprise anyone, but in case it might, I’ll leave you to discover it on your own.
All this nonsense is leading up to an endless bout of rock-‘em sock-‘em robot action that devastates Chicago, while an evil plan so scientifically idiotic that Roland Emmerich might have questioned its believability unfolds. It’s the sort of thing that will doubtless appeal to those who like to use phrases involving “check your brain at the door and enjoy the carnage” to justify the onscreen silliness. And no doubt that’s the concept that will be used to defend this rubbish—along with “you’re taking this too seriously.” But really, if a movie insists on frittering away over two-and-a-half hours of my time, yeah, I’m going to insist on something more than “stuff blows up neat.” Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

Footloose

Hollywood has gotten so full of remakes that, like a bloated tick, it can initially look unappealing before you realize that it might just be part of the natural order of things.
If you’re like me, the thought of going to see a Footloose remake will immediately make your stomach turn. Let’s face it, who could be better in the lead role than Kevin Bacon? So after forcing myself to watch the remake, I can honestly say that there is nothing new or different or even advance in the filmmaking process. Truthfully, there is not a shred of the new Footloose that couldn’t have been shot in 1984 – and indeed, it was.
Though there is a part of me that acknowledges that a retread of “Footloose” might actually be necessary. After all, I don’t expect any teenager to watch the 1984 film without rolling his or her eyes and wondering why they’re watching some old dude dancing to crappy pop synthesized music from 30 years before.
In this sense, the 2011 version of “Footloose” is exactly what a remake is supposed to be. It’s not there to throw into the cinemas because you have a lack of ideas. Rather, it’s put there to bring the story to a new generation.
The plot, character and delivery are pretty much the same as the original. This was not a venture to put a new spin on the film, unless you consider country covers of the original songs to be a new spin. But even this makes sense in context because the story takes place in Georgia rather than Utah, as the original had.
So, we’ve seen this before… a scrappy teen comes to a small town that has made underage dancing as illegal as underage drinking. It stems from a tragic accident in which three teens were killed on a ride home from a keg party. Hoping to liberate the town and get everyone’s funk on, the teen tries to repeal the law and allow the senior of the high school to have an end-of-the-year dance.
Like the original move, this film pushes all the necessary buttons. The cast is pretty decent, though no one is quite the standout that Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow were in 1984. Sorry, Julianne Hough.  I don’t think Hough has the star power, and with her annoying voice that simultaneously channels Jennifer Tilly and Joey Lauren Adams, her post-“Dancing with the Stars” fame will be short-lived.

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

Moneyball

Co-screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s baseball variation on The Social Network, Moneyball focuses on another outsider-rebel-wunderkind determined to upend traditional social and business paradigms through technological innovation via the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s franchise. Based on Michael Lewis’ book (and co-written by Steven Zaillian), and playing fast and loose with facts and contextual information, Bennett Miller’s film charts Beane’s efforts – after losing to the Yankees in the 2001 playoffs, and then losing his top three players to free agency because of strict budgetary concerns – to compensate for his club’s inability to spend like the league’s big boys by using statistical analysis to pinpoint unheralded players with potential. That idea comes courtesy of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a fictional variation on Paul DePodesta, who champions Bill James’ sabermetric approach to player evaluation, looking at key numbers (like on-base percentage) and ignoring more famous calculations like home runs and RBIs, a shift that angers Beane’s old-school scouts and leads to talk-radio ridicule until, lo and behold, the approach begins to pay dividends. Despite some moments with his daughter and doubts about his course of action, Beane remains throughout a two-dimensional figure, but a charismatic and decidedly human Pitt nonetheless embodies him with engaging verve, and Hill exhibits a droll understatement that helps enliven what amounts to a rather standard underdog-makes-good fable. For a film about insurgency from within, it’s disappointing that director Miller treats his material like conventional Oscar bait, but his stewardship is shrewd and light on its feet, and his integration of real-life footage into the proceedings is deft. Moreover, while it never strays far from its path, and more or less wastes Philip Seymour Hoffman in the limited role of A’s manager Art Howe, Moneyball manages the not-inconsiderable feat of transforming its true-life story into a feel-good fairy tale while also – courtesy of a sobering postscript – recognizing that sometimes, happily-ever-after is more complicated than uplifting Hollywood films can manage.

Will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

Trespass

Trespass starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman is a home invasion film that grabs you by the throat only letting go long enough for you to wipe the sweat from your brow.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, Trespass has high expectations to deliver,  and it does. The Cage Kidman chemistry is a force to reckon with, along with Liana Liberato’s role as their rebellious daughter which is a perfect fit. In an echo of the lunatic performances at which Cage once excelled, he plays Kyle, a wheeling-dealing diamond broker struggling to pay for his family’s exorbitant lifestyle. So preoccupied with work he barely notices pleas for intimacy from wife Sarah (Nicole Kidman), he’s seconds away from hearing a portentous “we need to talk” when thieves con their way into his home.
The entire film is a fun thrill ride, although it gets very campy at times. It starts with the bumpy familial relationship between Kyle (Nicolas Cage), Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and Avery (Liana Liberato). Eventually it segues into Avery’s escape into crazy teenage party, a run-in with a predatory teenage dirt bag and an assault.
The film experience was especially awesome in the second half where it took unexpected, yet palatable twists that upped the film’s overall experience a few notches undoubtedly. One hostile situation in particular was extremely intense and so riveting you can’t take your eyes off the screen. The film is good at allowing the viewer to really feel the mounting anticipation.  If most of the film’s torments and turnarounds are factory-issue, there’s enough guilty pleasure here to hold the attention of most viewers for whom Trespass sounds like fun, with a couple of quirky surprises delivered by Cage. After all, how often do you hear a guy with a gun to his head ask “Do you know anything about the etymology of the word ‘diamond’?” Trespass is in theaters on October 14, 2011 and available on DVD or Blu-ray November 1, 2011.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is either a triumph of artistic film or a boat load of cinematic crap. You will have to decide which one for yourself.
This shameless film by writer/director Terrence Malick has generated some Oscars buzz, but what you take from it will depend almost entirely on what you bring into it.
The story centers on a family in 1950s Texas, particularly Jack (Hunter McCracken), the eldest of three sons, and his questioning of life’s meaning. Jack’s father (Brad Pitt) represents “nature”, with a confident, controlling, survivalist attitude. Jack’s mother (Jessica Chastain) represents “grace”, a gentle, nurturing presence that finally finds strength by hardship she and the family endure.
But don’t think for a minute there is anything resembling a traditional narrative film here. There is very little dialogue and the story skips back and forth through time. The upside is the production has a sense of visual poetry about it. And in this way it is an incredibly beautiful film. The imagery is opulent and effortlessly blends the real with dream sequences, creating an almost hypnotic stream-of-consciousness vision on screen.
An extended sequence showing the formation of our solar system, the origins of life and the sudden extinction of dinosaurs, is particularly stunning and serves to put the relatively minor tribulations of individual human lives into perspective. Themes of searching for meaning and becoming what we hate in order to survive are rich in this film and you could spend months teasing it apart and discussing it.
But in a way, this is also the film’s major flaw. It’s so cluttered and overstuffed with often obscure symbolism that it nearly ends up meaning nothing at all. There is an overall feeling of being jerked out of the moment in order to acknowledge some new piece of self-conscious imagery. Less in this case would have been more.  In addition, Sean Penn’s scenes as an adult Jack never really integrate with the rest of the film.
The sheer depth and breadth of the concepts Malick explores make it a truly ambitious film but it almost feels like it was constructed for the express purpose of being analyzed by university film professors. It isn’t quite pretentious but it has a deliberate abstractness that pushes it perilously close. If you approach The Tree of Life as the art-piece, there is a wealth of poetic beauty and deeper meaning to find.
One word of warning, if you’re expecting a conventional movie with a conventional story you’ll be gravely disappointed.

Currently available on Blu-Ray at Amazon.