28 March 2017

2017 Final Four! We're Still Doing This!

It just never stops, huh?

You, the people, voted and here we go:

Sam Jackson or Peter Venkman?

Rey or Jet Li?

These are some wild match-ups - who will earn the right to move on to the 2017 March Badassness Championships?! Get yer votes in herrrr!!

26 March 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight, Bastion of Feminism

We need to discuss some trailers again. Normally we'd wait until the actual release date of these films to rip apart their cultural standing, and I've never been one to really care about hype or news, but there seems to be a weird gap here we need to discuss. While most of the Internet points their eyes towards Justice League (2017), which I could give or take (although this is clearly the Year of Jason Mamoa), there is another prominent trailer out there that is mystifying to me. That of course is Transformers: The Last Knight (2017):

This blog's history with Michael Bay's Transformers franchise is long and storied. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) was the first film ever reviewed here, which is all kinds of insane. Needless to say, there is a strong love-hate relationship there. Each of these films are unambiguously awful, but Bay really does bad cinema better than any other terrible director out there. I'd watch Bay over Emmerich, Cohen, McG, Ratner, or even a Burton at this point. There's something about his complete lack of shame, confidence in his own terrible work, and of course, an uncanny eye for rhythm and momentum that makes his horrible pieces of art stand out slightly over his contemporaries.

For some reason, Transformers has taken up the greater part of the last ten years of Michael Bay's life. It's perhaps an indication of the atrocious quality of his films that he's actually cranked out seven films in the past ten years, five of which are Transformers, the others being Pain & Gain (2013) and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016). Despite these "small" films, he's more preoccupied with the $200 million+ budgeted tentpoles, which have by now gotten comfortable with crossing the billion dollar mark worldwide, even if Age of Extinction (2014) had a relatively colder reception stateside.

It would seem then, that the momentum of this franchise has been depleted. Have crowds finally gotten over this mindless clanging of guns and metal? While it had a slew of ridiculous problems, Age of Extinction did finally introduce Galvatron and Dinobots, which are huge items to check off in Transformers lore. In fact, I still think that the general evil copying plot informed Logan (2017) a great deal. Chew on that.

I have always appreciated this franchise's ability to create each of its entries individually, without much continuity in between. Every film is a stand-alone story, which would seem to fly in the face of modern blockbuster theory, which places greater emphasis on inter-connectivity and shared universes. Well, ultimately people don't actually care about that - they care about being entertained at the cinema. These movies have largely been pretty damn entertaining. Each one introduces a new thing, and that's been cool. We really need some Unicron, which is the last big absence, but maybe that's what Transformers 6 (2018) and Transformers 7 (2019) are for. Oh who knows.

But let's get into this trailer, because that's what you're all here for. What the hell is this shit. This is like half-trailer / half-inspirational Nike commercial. The underlying message is a positive, if not cliched feminist mantra and it's pretty cool. This is from the franchise that gave us this shot, right? The one that has only hot chicks, especially the three women in Age of Extinction (Mark Wahlberg's hot daughter, the hot scientist who has no purpose, and the hot Chinese actress meant to increase Chinese ticket sales). Maybe Transformers will turn itself around and become this great girl power franchise. That's awesome. But I'm pretty suspicious. Again, Bay is terrible. He's the best at being terrible, but still terrible, especially when exploring male gaze on film.

And what is this talking to the camera thing? It's kind of novel, but just feels misplaced. I don't know what's going on this movie. A bunch of kids up to no good while palling around with Mark Wahlberg? Maybe that will be awesome, actually. For now I'm mystified. We don't have any great piece of lore to be pumped up seeing on screen. We do have Optimus Prime going rogue, though, which will follow in Dom Toretto's upcoming evil footsteps in The Fate of the Furious (2017). I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. Why isn't anyone else talking about this? Is it just that I'm such a devotee to these awful franchises that I'm the only one who puts a critical lens to this insanity? Likely so.

Anyway, I'm cheering for The Last Knight. Hopefully it'll turn out cool. I think the soft reboot is genius in that it gets away from the continuity requirements in modern blockbusters and just kind of makes its own movie. And Hot Rod! We get Hot Rod, I guess. And Megatron is back, even if pure Galvatron is one of the greatest 80s cartoon villains ever, both in Transformers: The Movie (1986) and how progressively more insane he became on the television show.

There's a lot of other notable trailers out there, both that we've seen and that we're lacking. Do you kind of feel like Disney just decided they can probably save a few million dollars in marketing by just relying on their own supreme word of mouth at this point? We haven't seen dickhole from Thor: Ragnarok (2017) or Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017). How will The Last Knight do against The Last Jedi? See, Transformers is everything.

Keep it real and fight like a girl. Buy Nike.

24 March 2017

Power Rangers, Life, and CHiPs Add Up for A Terrible, Terrible Weekend

Amazingly, we're keeping this weekly column rolling. March 2017 has been a pretty decent cinematic experience. We've gotten three pretty stellar films, the last of which has really lit up the Box Office, the former two have done okay. Still, all three major releases have had a lot of word of mouth, a lot of positive buzz, and a lot of fun to roll into the spritely summer season.

That all comes crashing to a halt this week with an onslaught of garbage that will burn like an endless tire fire on the face of society. So that's probably hyperbole, and on paper you can trace where these films came from to a T, and that's in part why they won't succeed. Studios don't seem to understand that audiences respond more to innovation than to copies of innovation, and yet that's been de rigueur for the entire history of cinema. Let's start with the first, biggest name out there: Power Rangers (2017).
Also starring Bryan Cranston!

I watched an extreme amount of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers in the 90s - the cheap Japanese import that slapped American faces on a Saved by the Bell setting, then cut into pre-existing stock footage of robots fighting monsters. It was all exhilarating. Goldar. Rita Repulsa. Lord Zedd. Billy the nerd. It's all there. Bulk and Skull? These were timeless characters. Since those early days there has been so many different iterations of Power Rangers. What is that, about 24 different permutations in the past twenty four years? I have long since not kept up with its insanity. I made it through the Ninjazords, which is apparently only Season 3, and maybe a bit of Power Rangers Turbo, but that was too much. I was probably 11 or 12 when it became too much of a burden.

And that's just it - Power Rangers really is explicitly a little kid's show, which yeah, is kind of weird considering it's all about ninja and robot fighting, but it gets a little extreme even for pre-teens to get into. That being said, it's been around for little kids for like twenty years, which means it ought to have built up a huge base of nostalgia for multiple generations of bastards every few years. At the same time, though, I have no real fond memories of the show nor any desire to see it back up on the big screen.

This isn't the first time that the world at large has attempted a redux of Power Rangers. Adi Shankar had a notable entry, as forced as it was. See, while that gritty application works in a universe like Judge Dredd, it becomes an exercise in shock value crashing into playful nostalgia for Power Rangers, which is really weird. Even Tommy, the best one, thinks so. The current Power Rangers seems to update itself to current teen drama (fitting, if MMPR was a kung fu adaptation of Saved by the Bell, that Power Rangers is a kung fu adaptation of a CW teen drama), which is what I've been saying for weeks now. It's another major reason why I don't really care about seeing it.

That's a problem. Who does this film want to appeal to? I am the exact prime audience - the original MMPR crowd who should want to go back and see these idiots on the big screen again. And yet I super don't care. In the realms of Pop Culture power I think studios may be overestimating Power Rangers' cache, yet the decades of successful toys and television may say otherwise. Then again, current kids watching the shows probably aren't interested in this. I have no idea who this is for.

As for the people involved, I'm glad we finally got a non-black guy playing the Black Ranger. He's the Blue Ranger, Billy, who is also apparently austistic. Some part of me always knew it. And instead of an Asian playing the Yellow Ranger we have Becky G playing an Asian Character. Or maybe she's not Asian necessarily. Trini Kwan. Probably hispanic. She's apparently gay, though, which is sweet. And we get a bonus Asian playing the Black Ranger. Or maybe he's the only Asian. At any rate, there is plenty of diversity to circle around the straight white dude playing their leader. I'm not actually one to really complain about this stuff all the time, but between this and the barest possible but heavily over-hyped Beauty and the Beast (2017) homo scenes it's really just more lip service without any actual change.

All in all, critical, commercial, and cultural potential is grim for this. It could make a few bucks as people realize that they saw the better version of Beauty and the Beast in 1991, but I think that will keep rolling for a while. Power Rangers would likely have to clear about $80 or $90 million to hit #1 this weekend, which just doesn't feel like will happen. Let's move on.
General movie title principle: Shouldn't take me
multiple Google image search attempts

Next up we have LIFE (2017), which is a terribly vague one-word title that doesn't distinguish it from shit. It's actually the eighth movie named "Life" which is pretty dumb. You could have called it Attack of the Space Goo! (2017) and I'm sure no one would be upset. That's a great title. The best Life is definitely the 1999 Eddie Murphy / Martin Short vehicle. I wouldn't mind just watching that again.

Anyway, Life 2017 is about Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynold discovering some space goo and then it attacking everyone. That's about as far as I can figure it. Props to original sci-fi, of course, and after I just railed on Power Rangers for being a misguided nostalgic exercise in bringing back a too-recent property that nobody wants, it's kind of nice to see what Life has in store. Of course, the film looks like a pretty dumb version of Alien (1979), Sunshine (2007), and Gravity (2013) all mixed together in a briny mess. People need to stop going into space. Space sucks. Trump USA!!

In all actuality, there is a bit of intrigue here. Marketing material hasn't shown much of the alien goo monster, which could be a good or bad thing. There's perhaps a bit more behind the curtain than we think. I can sense a bit of late acceptance of this film, after some people actually have to see it and be interested in it and spread the word that the marketing can'd deliver. It just looks like there's something else there. Or maybe there's not. You don't know. Apparently it actually sucks even more than I think it might.

More importantly, I kinda doubt you even knew that Life was coming out this weekend. Do you care? Is it important to your...life? No. Nobody cares. There's no reason to see this movie. It's the complete definition of white noise that's dropped because other space crap like Gravity and Interstellar (2014) and Passengers (2016) has done well lately. All of those films had some kind of pedigree, though. This is like Mission to Mars (2000), or something, although even that had that sweet Tim Robbins face freeze scene. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal will get his face froze. Clearly I'm just not into this.

I am curious, though, about post-Deadpool (2016) Ryan Reynolds. Or should I say in-between Deadpools Ryan Reynolds? Can he act? I still think he did a great job in Adventureland (2009) for playing an exact Ryan Reynolds time, but framed by another's point of view to expose how much of a dick he is. And there's uh...damn Ryan Reynolds has been in a lot of terrible movies. Why do we love him so much? Just Friends (2005)? There are other notables in the cast, the biggest rising name is probably Rebecca Ferguson, who despite the Internet's eternal claims otherwise, I never thought was that great.
Again, Google.

Then we have CHiPs (2017). This is so obviously an attempt to latch on to the fun revamping goodwill of 21 Jump Street (2012) that it blows my mind. This is amazing an all-out effort by Dax Shepard, who writes, directs, and stars. I'm weirdly a Dax Shepard fan of the one-two punch of Brothers Justice (2010) and Hit and Run (2012), which is the first time that sentence has ever been written on the Internet. He also wrote, directed, and starred in those, which means that CHiPs might be good for me personally. Still, I get that he's kind of a jag, even if casting himself and the eternally underrated Michael Peña is pretty inspired. The difference of course, is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller tend to wring a lot of greatness out of terrible properties, and the Tatum / Hill chemistry turned out to be unpredictably incredible. CHiPs still has to prove all that.

And since we had one bout of "no one cares about Power Rangers" and one bout of "this is original but sucks" we should add that definitely no one cares about CHiPs" but then again, no one cared about 21 Jump Street, either. The proof of its success there is how good it was and how much it didn't care about its source material other than its premise. I mean, they killed Johnny Depp for fuck's sake. I suppose that's just it - nostaglic, gritty, fluffy, franchise revival, nothing really matters if the movie is actually good, so is the infuriating capitalization of CHiPs any good?

The first trailer was not. It seemed filled with the kinds of sophomoric jokes that were cool in the 90s but not so much now. Lots of homophobia and marginalized women. Not great, although we haven't seen nearly any articles written in outrage online. Truly no one cares about CHiPs or thinks anyone will go watch it. It's apparently not a danger to society at all. Or maybe it's actually all good. I can't tell anymore.

I also can't tell whether or not Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have a good marriage or not. I don't understand this furniture fight. I kind of don't care at all. As long as she's crushing Frozen (2013) residuals I don't think they should separate, though. Frozen money is a bit more than Let's Go to Prison (2006) money.

What's most amazing about this whole thing is that it took five years for studios to crank out their old show revivals. Now, we've had movies based on old TV shows since forever. A Very Brady Sequel (1996) remains one of my favourite films of all time, and that is no joke at all. However, it seems as if the TV show films of 2017 are getting that 21 Jump Street treatment of becoming explicit action comedies with big stars and big tentpole promotion. The other major drop of course being Baywatch (2017), which looks even more Jump Street-esque than CHiPs, along with the benefit of starring the world's most likable current action star. What's to become with all these old shows being brought back to the big screen? Well, as long as Life sucks, we're just inches away from a Big Bad Beetleborgs movie. We can dream.

What are you watching this weekend?
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