Monday, July 16, 2007

A post in which I reappraise a relatively minor film for no apparent reason.

Ever since he dropped the giant, steaming turd known as Lady in the Water into the collective maw of the American moviegoing public, M. Night Shaymalan has been getting curb-stomped by critics everywhere. Not only have they poured Haterade all over his latest film, but they're going back and pointing out the flaws in his previous films that were easier to overlook when they came out and Shaymalan's monumental, delusional egotism wasn't common knowledge.

Instead of doing that, I'm going to publically revise my take on one of Shaymalan's movies, and we can all thank the USA Network for the opportunity.

When talk turns to Shaymalan (and really, when doesn't it around my house?), I usually point out that only really like one of his movies, Signs. When people complain about the stupid plot of that movie, I want to kick them in the nuts. Did they not SEE the Brazilian birthday party scene? or the scene in the cornfield? or the false climax before the real, dumb climax? Anyway, I saw Sixth Sense after I knew about the twist, so I can't judge that one fairly, and I always contended that Unbreakable isn't very good because the ponderous tone doesn't fit the material. Well, the aformentioned USA Network has been showing Unbreakable a lot lately, and while rewatching it I noticed something that is just so brilliantly poignant and suggestive that I can't stop thinking about it. It's more than enough for me to radically upgrade Unbreakable from my previous rating of "failure" to "good, interesting movie."

Re-watching Unbreakable, it finally hit me that the central conceit of the film: an ordinary man slowly realizes that he has superpowers, carries a crushingly sad implication. Bruce Willis's character spent forty-some years of his life with superhuman strength, superhuman healing ability, and superhuman intution, AND HE NEVER NOTICED! That isn't implausible, as some critics of this film have claimed, it's a commentary on the stunted imagination and nonexistent self-esteem of Willis's character. The dude can bench press an unlimited amount of weight, but until Samuel L. Jackson and his own son put the idea in his head, he never even, in his life, attempted to lift more than 250 pounds. Subconsciously, he had placed artificial limits on his own potential, assuming that he would never be able to do anything extraordinary in his life, and subsequently wasting his gifts for years. It's a powerful metaphor for the way mediocre lives are lived.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Trailer Park: 1-18-08

As much fun as it was to watch Michael Bay redefine his own shittiness as a human being while watching Transformers, the most exciting thing about going to the theater that night was seeing the "1-18-08" trailer beforehand. It was, without a doubt, the best movie trailer I have ever seen. It left me with fifteen inches of rock-hard movie boner for the film in question, even though the trailer doesn't tell you what the hell it's about (and, even after scouring the infotainment superhighway, I still don't even know the title). If I had more interweb acumen, or was less of a lazy shit, I'd link to a youtube clip of said trailer, but instead, I'll try to spin a "word picture" for the benefit of my billions of readers.

The trailer is a hand held digital video, ostensibly taken at a going-away party for a twentysomething hipster in Manhattan. There's about thirty seconds of filmed revelry before the lights start flickering and thunderous blasts shake the building. The camera goes to the roof of the building, where it records flaming projectiles crashing into surrounding buildings, as well as the sound of something huge and terrifying. The partygoers, and the cameraman, eventually spill out onto the street, just in time to see the head of the Statue of Liberty crash in front of them.

Simply put, them shits is cool This trailer is a veritable catalogue of awesomeness: verite camera work, digital video, and apocalyptic calamity recorded from the ground level. Before the trailer even ended, I knew I was going to see this movie...but there was no title given. Unfortunately, this film is being produced by J.J. Abrams, the creator of Lost, who is basically a hybird of X-Files creator Chris Carter and Thirtysomething's Ed Zwick. I've never seen Lost, but from what I gather, it's an impenetrable web of mythology and horse manure slowly spread over dozens of hours of television. Abrams and his cronies are pulling the same sort of enigmatic hint-giving with this movie as they are with their television show. There's apparently a web site that only shows a different still frame from the trailer every day, as well as some ancillary sites which just might provide clues to what the hell the movie is about. I'm worried that it's all some viral marketing campaign for Lost or some new Abrams TV project. If that's not the case, there's a strong chance that the amazing footage in the trailer won't even be in whatever movie this turns out to be. I never played MYST and the puzzle-solving parts of Resident Evil get on my nerves, so I don't think I'll be fliting from website to website trying to find out the "secret" of this movie. I'll probably just wait until the supposed release date, January 18th of next year, and find out. It is interesting to read some of the early speculation about the project, including the theory that this movie is Abram's take on the C'thulu Mythos. That's an intriguing idea, but I don't think going all Godzilla on a national monument is really the Ancient Ones' style.

In any event, there are some web sites featuring cryptic missives that are rumored to be connected to the film, more goddamn viral marketing, if you will, but J.J. Abrams himself has recently stated to ainitcoolnews that the sites have nothing to do with the movie...but he might well be full of shit. Anyway, check it out for yourself: is a clearinghouse of goofery. This shit mostly gives me a headache, but it might provide distraction from the dreary lives of some of you drones.

Friday, July 06, 2007


There are big, dumb action movies, and then there are Michael Bay action movies. Bay is evil incarnate to most serious cinephiles, as well he should be, but his films are still required viewing for any serious pop culture maven. That's not just because they tend to be blockbusters and become zeitgeist reference points, but because Bay's movies usually reach a pinnacle of delirious, audacious, almost zen stupidity that is absolutely riveting. As I stated in my review of Grindhouse, if I'm going to see some stupid, crazy shit, I want it to be as STUPID and as CRAZY as possible. Most of your generic action film directors, your Dominic Senas, your Antonie Fuquas, your Simon Wests, make big, stupid movies...but usually leave you with a sense of guilt and emptiness, like you wasted your time watching something that stupid and not even being seriously entertained. Michael Bay films usually aren't like that: you leave them shaking your head in wonder, a little giddy from the sheer, vertiginous extravagence on display, insulted by the director's clear lack of respect for your intelligence, but not feeling too much guilt. Bay movies are jaw dropping, and therefore entertaining, even though these "action movies" invariably feature awful action sequences, larded with gratitious slow motion, thunderously overbearing music, and frenetic editing that renders a lot of the action abstract. What makes Bay movies amazing to behold is the shit that Bay is compelled by unknown psychological motivations to include in between (and sometimes during) the joyless action scenes. And what makes Transformers so ass-kickingly fun to watch is that it is THE ur-text of the Michael Bay film. Every crazy, idiosyncratic Bay-ism that inevitable leave a viewer scratching his head is in evdience, and in more concentrated, ludicrious proportions than in any other Michael Bay film. Let's run down some of the hallmarks of the Bay oeuvre and point out how Transformers represents the Platonic ideal of each.

1. Lazy and/or ridiculous plotting. Sure, every Michael Bay movie has a stupid plot (even Pearl Harbor, based on a rather well known historical event, managed to shoe-horn in some stupid-ass shit), but Transformers reaches a height heretofore unknown by man before the opening credits have even started. Optimus Prime, in voiceover, opens the film with the line: "Before time began, there was... the cube. We know not where it comes from, only that it holds the power to create worlds and fill them... with life. That is how our race was born." This isn't just stupid and lazy, this is violently, confrontationally stupid and lazy. It drips with contempt for the audience. From the jump, the filmmakers are saying "Hey, all you pituitary retards who shelled out ten bucks a pop to watch computer generated robots beat each other up, if you're too goddamn stupid to display any taste when it comes to moviegoing, why the fuck should we expend any effort setting up a plausible, interesting or fleshed out rationale for this glorified car commercial? You want to see the big toys go boom, do you really care why they're going to go boom? I didn't think so. This shit with the eternal life cube is good enough for the likes of you." I admired the balls (or apathy) of this gambit, and it sent the message right from the start that this is a movie you should feel free to talk during. It also represents the most egregiously sloppy plot device in the Michael Bay canon.

2. Hysterical, screaming black people. Hey, white suburban teen with disposable income! Don't you remember how hilarious that hysterical, screaming black trolley car driver in The Rock was? How about the hysterical, screaming black hobo at the beginning of Armageddon? Well, if you liked those comical nubians, you'll LOVE Bernie Mac screaming hysterically, Anthony Anderson screaming hysterically, Anthony Anderson's cousin screaming hysterically, and, to top it off, Anthony Anderson's big momma screaming hysterically in Transformers. That's FOUR TIMES the hysterical, screaming black people as the usual Michael Bay movie, and that's not even counting the antics of Autobot Jazz, who speaks in circa-1996 ebonics, breakdances, and generally behaves like a CGI Al Jolson.

3. Product Placing. Obviously, this one isn't really a contest. Every a shot of one of the transformers in car form should have been accompanied by a small print disclaimer at the bottom of the screen: "Some features, like AC, satelliete radio, and turning-into-a-giant-robot, are not standard." I was wrong in the above entry, this isn't a glorified car commerical, it's just a car commerical.

4. Shots of people entering and exiting military vehicles in slow motion, accompanied by bombastic muscial cues. Once again, it's a blowout. I wonder how many hours of footage of Jon Voight stumbling out of a helicopter unjustly ended up on the cutting room floor.

5. Non Sequiter speeches about the importance of fighting for freedom. Sure, that oration by the president in Armageddon is an all-time great moment in mindless jingoism. A meteor was going to destroy earth: what the fuck does that have to do with defending American liberty? I will maintain that the dumb-ass freedom speech in Transformers is still dumber and a purer expression of the Michael Bay mindset. Sure, it's only a few lines long, but those lines are spoken by a GIANT INTERGALACTIC TRANSFORMING ROBOT! Case fucking closed.

So, all in all, Transformers features more concentrated Bay-ness per square foot of film than any other movie in history, and the result leaves you feeling drained, headachy, but absolutely entertained...although the less said about the ungodly bad rose garden scene, the better.

Score: 7.3