Rhubarbs

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Posted in Uncategorized by H on July 18, 2011

There are movies that plumb the depths of humanity. Then there are movies that exhibit the depths humanity will go to make some money. Unfortunately, Transformers: Dark of the Moon falls under the latter.

Following in the footsteps of Transformers 2, the third installment can be described as nothing else but ‘crap’. Yet for the second movie, Michael Bay had excuses:  “The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks. I was prepping a movie for months where I only had 14 pages of some idea of what the movie was.” Well, okay Michael. You were apparently forced to make a movie with no script and fill in the story line afterwards. Perhaps that’s why Transformers 2 swept the awards season for worst movie of 2009.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bay seems to have tried the same method for Transformers 3. And why not, when Transformers 2 made over $800 million on its way to becoming the highest grossing movie of the year. Or perhaps it wasn’t from sheer laziness and greed; perhaps there was a secret writers’ strike that no one knew of. However which way you cut it, Transformers 3 is flat out terrible.

If by some happenstance you don’t know what the Transformers movies are about, here’s a quick summary: good alien robots and bad alien robots descend on Earth, lots of explosions happen, and Shia LaBeouf somehow saves the world and gets impossibly attractive women to fall in love with him even though he’s a sickeningly entitled underachiever who isn’t terribly brave, smart, strong, or charismatic. It would be hardly a spoiler to say that the third installment follows this formula, and with a budget rumors swirling between $200 and a ludicrous $400 million dollars, Dark of the Moon provides all the whizzes and bangs one would expect.

Yet, it also serves up a healthy platter of all the faults we’ve come to expect from the franchise: terrible writing, a nonsensical plot, and stale characters. Michael Bay even surprised us with the introduction of a new flaw for series: god-awful pacing. A large part of this movie was, to be honest, brutally boring. And that’s something I never expected from Mr. Bay.

Transformers 3 has perhaps the most simplified plot of the whole series: a bunch of alien ‘pillars’ landed on the moon, the pillars can teleport entire worlds, if the bad guys get their hands on them the entirety of human civilization will be turned into slaves. There’s not really any more detail or intricacy than that. Sounds, if not trite, at least a decent plot for a mindless action movie, right?

Well, it would be, but that doesn’t seem to be what the movie wants to be about. For the first half of the movie (and it is an exceedingly long 155 minute movie), the plot proceeds with less order and direction than a headless chicken. Thirty minutes in, all we’ve really seem is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) running between various yet equally pointless job interviews. Oh, and a bunch of extremely sexist shots of the new eye candy, Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Sam then lands a job, which seems even more pointless, save for the fact that it introduces John Malkovich as Sam’s boss, Bruce. Malkovich, who never entirely hits full stride, nonetheless steals every scene he’s in. Had the whole movie simply been Malkovich running around, it would have been infinitely more watchable. Alas, right at this point, everyone involved seems to remember that this is a movie about giant alien robots battling for world domination.

After some conspiracy theories about the Apollo moon missions, an appearance by Buzz Aldrin himself, an inexplicably pointless 15 minute tangent to Chernobyl, and the assassination of some random henchmen (including Ken Jeong, who banally plays the same character in every show/movie he does), things start blowing up. First, Washington D.C. (which is actually Chicago, someone having failed to inform Mr. Bay that D.C. doesn’t really have skyscrapers) gets attacked by some robots. At some point around here, Optimus Prime (the leader of the good robots) gives a speech so pathetically contrite that one can only assume the writers were being ironic in summoning every clichéd expression known to man. Then, rather inexplicably, Chicago (actually Chicago this time) blows up in about a minute. I guess we’re supposed to care. Except the only things in Chicago are the bad aliens, an evil Patrick Dempsey, and Sam’s girlfriend, whose face kind of looks like an alien anyways. And it happens so fast and on such a large scale that the CG graphics somehow look less impressive. So, no, we don’t care about Chicago blowing up. But apparently it does anyways.

At this point, the people we do actually care about arrive in Chicago. Except everything is already blown up. And the evil robots have magically become all powerful (one of them is apparently the size of a skyscraper). The good robots come, but for about half an hour of mindless action, they just kind of listlessly stroll around. Optimus Prime accidentally falls into some cable wires and doesn’t come back for a good 15 minutes, at which point he’s still stuck there are awaiting help. Bumblebee (another good robot) surrenders, hears that the bad robots are going to kill him and his other good robot friend, and just stands there even more impersonal than the giant pile of metal that he is. The bad guys almost teleport their home planet to Earth. A building with all the human characters in it gets eaten up by a giant robot.

Then, somehow, inexplicably, all the good guys realize that they shouldn’t suck as much. Optimus, upon being freed by some other robots, all of a sudden realizes that he carries an unstoppable giant sword that he promptly uses to cut through half a dozen bad robots. From this, I can only assume that either A) the bad robots are actually made out of delicate china, or B) those standard looking wires that had previously trapped him were actually made out of some futuristic super strong space age metal. Likewise, Bumblebee realizes, precisely a half second before he is shot, that he actually has a giant cannon attached to his forearm and proceeds to kill half a dozen bad robots with it.

Oh, and apparently the rest of the bad robots can be killed simply by running up to them with bombs and sticking them on their legs. Dammit, Shia. Why didn’t you think of that two hours ago? Then this movie would have only wasted half an hour of my time, rather than an appalling two and a half hours.

To reveal that the good guys win in the end is hardly a shocking spoiler. To reveal that this travesty of a movie has made nearly $800 million dollars worldwide is. So, there will likely be a Transformers 4, another half-assed movie to swindle your money, another boring impersonal movie featuring misogynistic/racist commentary by its director. You’d have to think that at this rate, either Transformers movies will become too dumb for humanity, or humanity will become too dumb for movies. I think it’s a 50-50 tossup.

**** I should note that I saw this not in 3D, but the standard 2D. I should also say that if you are relying on 3D to turn your movie from absolutely abysmal to watchable, you probably shouldn’t be making movies in the first place (see Clash of the Titans).

 

-J

Those Mad Men

Posted in Uncategorized by L on October 18, 2010

“Who’s Dick?”

“Well, that’s me.”

The big question that has permeated AMC’s Mad Men since the very beginning and which served as the opening line of season four was, “Who is Don Draper?” In fact the past two seasons have aimed to tackle that question.

But what is it about Mad Men? Most people don’t seem to know, as many wondered how a show so boring could be touted as being so good. But over four seasons, Mad Men has evolved from being painfully slow to becoming perhaps the supreme example of brilliant American television since The Sopranos.  There are still skeptics, but I would challenge anyone to argue otherwise after season four came to a close on Sunday evening.

Perhaps Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, envisioned this series in two parts. The first ended with season three, when the finale brought new beginnings for both Don Draper and the partners of the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

The second began with season four when audiences found themselves surrounded by a distinctive, more liberal nineteen-sixties with vibrant colors illuminating the usually drab advertising offices so familiar in previous seasons of the show. Everything seemed more alive, fresher, and more pointed. The voices of characters once silenced by mores now piercing like a howl in the night.

The writing was also fresher this season, sharper, and more willing to be frank about ideas and feelings. In one mid-season episode Roger Sterling embarrasses the whole agency by insulting Honda executives over imagined past grievances from World War II.

Although the focus of this season superficially seemed to be about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the struggles of those involved with the company to survive, I think one could more genuinely describe this season as one about women. Rather about the women. The apex of this being episode nine, “The Beautiful Girls”, ending with one of the most gorgeous scenes of television I’ve seen in a while, not by being overspent or overdramatic, but by its effortless ability to pierce at the heart.

And of course who can forget episode 7, “The Suitcase”, when Peggy finally explodes after Don makes her stay late to work on a Samsonite Ad, missing her birthday dinner with her boyfriend and family.

Before the finale to season four aired on Sunday, I thought Mad Men might provide us with a comma, or even a dark period. There was speculation that someone, Roger or even young Sally Draper, might commit suicide. I definitely thought there would be gloom surrounding the end to this season. But instead Matthew Weiner and his team gave us optimism, both for the agency, and more importantly for Don Draper.

In a time when American television aims to bewilder us by sensational finales, Mad Men intrigued us to continue on this journey with modesty. “Tomorrowland” was a very dapper ending for a dapper show, and I think audiences can look forward to discovering more about these people in their time.

 

L

 

The Incredible Adventure of Pixar

Posted in Uncategorized by L on October 22, 2009

I originally approached this piece with the assertion that Pixar’s The Incredibles is the best of Pixar’s films. However, upon reflection, I realized that none of Pixar’s films could be dubbed “the best”. Now that Pixar has produced ten films, we see a body of work that is represented in part by each individual film. Although The Incredibles is by far my favorite Pixar film, it is only one piece in the adventurous story of Pixar.

Pixar has produced ten films since 1995: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up.

The Incredibles, Pixar’s first film to have an entirely human cast, is not only good as an entertaining story of superheroes gone normal, but is brilliantly executed with a distinct style, and brought an unprecedented theme of darkness, including a villain killing “Supers” in a pursuit to build an indestructible robot. A sensational score and spot on cinematography and editing only adds to The Incredibles wonderful story of a family of “Supers”, trying to live their daily lives as normal people, all of the sudden forced to involve themselves in a family crisis.

On the surface The Incredibles may seem to be another fantastic adventure, but what it reveals is something much more incredible. As human beings we fill our lives with the mundane – work, school, homemaking. But every once in a while we are faced with opportunity sprung by good and bad things. It’s these opportunities are what define the adventure of our lives. This concept can be seen in every Pixar film, not just The Incredibles. As Pixar has matured, this theme has become stronger and more beautifully apparent, especially in their most recent film, Up. As Pixar’s tenth film, Up is a representation of the culmination of Pixar’s journey; it is a story about adventure itself, and life itself.

Pixar protagonists, introduced with opportunity, whether good or bad, create their own adventure. Woody in Toy Story got rid of Buzz Lightyear. Remy in Ratatouille helped Linguini. Wall-E in Wall-E stuck himself on a spaceship to follow his love. And a father named Bob Parr a.k.a. Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles decided to be incredible once again. It’s these moments in Pixar films that connect with our own lives that make these films so astonishing to watch and relive over and over again.

-L



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‘Up’ and Away

Posted in Uncategorized by H on October 22, 2009

While we now call Pixar’s productions ‘animated films’, I had always interpreted that as a euphemism for ‘extremely impressive cartoons’. Pixar arose out of Disney, and no matter how high it soared, it was always standing on the shoulders of works like The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Every time I discussed the ‘Best Pixar Movie’, something in the back of my mind always crept up and said “but it just isn’t as good Lion King.” Every movie, that is, until Up came out this year.

I’m not saying that Up is better than The Lion King. What I am saying is that, unlike every other Pixar movie, it doesn’t even cross my mind to judge Up in the same category. Every other Pixar movie follows the fantasy, mysticism, and wonder of Disney: toys that are alive, monsters, insects that talk, fish that talk, superheroes, rats that talk and cook, cars that talk, and robots that oddly enough, don’t talk. Yet, amazingly, Up arrives with human characters, and not even ones that are super strong or invisible or can bend like rubber bands. In fact, Up’s main protagonists are an elderly man named Carl Fredrickson, and a boy scout named Russell. Furthermore, the only things I found wildly unbelievable were the talking dog collars (which isn’t even that unrealistic) and how strong and agile the antagonist is given that he should be almost a centenarian.

The opening scene to Up was the best opening scene to any movie I have ever seen. I’ve yet to see a life portrayed so thoroughly, so intimately, so movingly and so fully in the entirety of any movie as I have in the first few minutes of Up. If it had been a short film that ended right there, Up would still probably be my favorite Pixar production. The film doesn’t use extravagant metaphors or talking animals to present themes of death, mortality, loneliness, and regret; rather, it hits the audience bluntly with them. In these first few minutes, I was genuinely startled to be confronted by completely ‘grown-up’ fears. And for the first time ever during a Pixar movie, the fact that I was watching animation didn’t even cross my mind.

The rest of the movie is just as masterful as the intro. Up is a story about life itself, not just some adventure. Unlike any other Pixar protagonist, Fredrickson is complicated, multi-faceted, and lost. While the plot is superficially driven by a flying house and a flamboyant bird, it’s really towed along by a lack of purpose. Fredrickson has no idea just what it is he really wants, or even that there’s anything left on this Earth for him to want. Yet, amazingly, what’s left by the emptiness is not a void, but an massive realm of possibility.

I’m not saying that I don’t love the other Pixar movies, or that they in any way aren’t great films. But Up is in a league of its own. Every other Pixar movie has ultimately been targeted at kids, with a few innuendos thrown in to equally entertain the adults. Yet, coming out of Up, it didn’t even cross my mind that I had seen a kids’ movie. The most I’ve ever left another Pixar movie with was a cheerful story and a few hours of incredible entertainment. After seeing Up, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, and I can count the number of other movies that’s true for on one hand.

Up

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