21 June 2017

From Transormers To Transformographagizers

Okay, listen - we need to get something out the way right now - this blog's fate is and always will be intrinsically intertwined with Michael Bay's Transformers franchise. I never thought I'd write that. Ever. Amazingly, this franchise predates this blog, going ten years strong now, but one of my first articles ever was an exceedingly long impression of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and then another one when I saw the film a second time in IMAX. For a little behind the scenes info, for some reason my Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) impressions are the #2 all-time viewed post on this site. Hey, you tell me. Also Age of Extinction (2014) exists.

But in this one, Optimus chops off a bunch of heads!
I've written 26 posts with some reference to this terrible franchise, most notably recently an analysis of the series of bizarre Last Knight (2017) feminist trailers that continue to be inexplicable and incongruous with a franchise that obsessively oggled Megan Fox's car mechanic ass and continually throws glasses on hot women because they're also the smartest women in the world. That's a lot to take in. I ranked The Last Knight as #2 on my most anticipated Summer Movies. Am I totally off base and insane here? In a summer of continually dwindling returns, barring a few great exceptions, what makes another mindless and horribly stupid Transformers sequel stand out? That was so many links. Catch up.

For some reason, and this is likely totally in my head, I feel as if Transformers tends to own its stupidity better than other movies. King Arthur (2017) can't escape its self-seriousness amidst the sheer dumbness of using its Arthurian Legend mythology as a basis for blockbuster entertainment. Alien: Covenant (2017) can't escape the fact that it's just a lesser version of Alien (1979) with a hackneyed sprinkle of proto-Alien (Prometheus [2012]). Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) is so long-dead and played out without knowing it to be embarrassing. It keeps leeching off Johnny Depp's stardom, ironically without realizing that although it was the vehicle that propelled him into the stratosphere, it's now the reason why people are most sick of him.

How does Transformers escape these issues? Well, for the population at large I'd argue that it largely doesn't. Age of Extinction grossed substantially less dollars stateside than any other release, despite making 77% of its profit overseas to still crack a billion at the global box office. That was obviously a lot of Chinese pandering, which along the way became a poster child for the new international model of blockbuster filmmaking - sacrificing a coherent story for greater worldwide returns. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, this is a business after all, never more so than with this franchise.

And that's just it - I often think that a film fails or succeeds based on what it's trying to do. Transformers have never pretended to be anything other than an absurdly eye-rolling exercise in making money. They have no pretense whatsoever of being art of any kind. Its product placement borders on Josie and the Pussycats (2001)-levels to the point of parody. It ignores almost any kind of overarching story or plot progression between installments, favors flashy attention-grabbing visuals over a coherent style and heavily believes in sex, explosions, and robots that hide an intricate space age melodrama that could be explained or could not be. Videos like this are hilarious because their outrageous suggestions are only a shade more insane than what you're actually seeing on screen.

Let's look at this flick next to The Mummy (2017) from two weeks ago. Like Johnny Depp, Cruise's star ain't shining so bright no more, although to his credit, he's still fairly popular in the public consciousness. Still, he's terribly miscast. Transformers kind of works because these CGI robots will never get old. Has there ever been a more endearing CGI character than Optimus Prime? Sure you got Caesar in the newer Planet of the Apes movies (who is totally a better character), but he didn't pull off five movies in ten years, totaling over $4 billion by the time The Last Knight is done. When Mark Wahlberg gets old and weird they can find some new dumb human sidekick to slap in there - it clearly didn't bother anyone when Shia LaBeouf was trashed. None of that shit is why people watch these movies. Explosion! KER-KROOOOSSHH! Baysplosion!!!

This isn't just a mix you can throw together anywhere, though. Battleship (2013) failed because it didn't wear its stupidity on its sleeve enough. It's as if Transformers was humble enough to admit to itself, "Listen, these are giant films based on a crummy 80s television cartoon that was designed to sell toys. Let's embrace this completely moronic identity and have some damn fun with it." There is no shame to be found anywhere here. Why does Michael Bay keep making these films? He had Pain & Gain (2013) in there - a legitimately great, yet also completely bonkers film! Should we be grateful or saddened that this has taken 10 years of his life away from other insanely dumb movies? Transformers are five bullets and counting out of Bay's career. We could have had five other terrible films. Imagine a Michael Bay Cowboys & Aliens (2011) or Michael Bay's Edge of Tomorrow (2014). These are weird dreams.

So what about The Last Knight specifically? Oh, who cares. The story doesn't matter, and we already know it's something incomprehensible. I'll admit anger in what I perceive to be Diesel's bunging of the "Leader Gone Bad" 2017 trope in The Fate of the Furious (2017). I want to see Optimus Prime as a true blue evil sumbitch. Of course, that's not the only thing going on here by far. Weird little girl struggling to survive in a partially destroyed Chicago? Ancient Medieval Transformers? Mark Wahlberg returning as the inexplicably named Cade Yeager? Anthony Hopkins having literally no idea what's going on?! See, this is what it's all about. Take a great actor, who has no qualms whatsoever about spending his twilight years in trash after trash, who is so damn GAME for this stupid crap. I love how Hopkins has played old wizened characters for like thirty years now. You have to just give in to this level of ridiculousness that is so far beyond anything else Hollywood is doing this summer. This isn't a desperate cry for attention like Pirates of the Caribbean attempting another go at a dead franchise, this isn't a pathetic failed start to a terribly misguided shared universe that was doomed before it began. This is Transformers. They don't give a flying monkey fuck what you think of them because they've never made a good movie. There's no tainting of the franchise or argument against excess or "getting it back to its humble roots" or any of that crap. This is nuts and proud of it.

Age of Extinction wasn't actually even about saving the world or anything, come to think of it. The only destruction was that evil black alien robot bounty hunter using his magnetic pulse to try to suck up Optimus Prime. And Frasier just wanted to kill the Transformers for the sake of America. Oh, I guess there was that Galvatron bit, but he didn't really have a plot, just running amok and ruining Apple's image. Damn that's three plots right there. Any other film would be content to pick any single one, but Transformers doesn't even stop there! Cade Yeager and his failed farm / hot daughter, baby! I love it. I love it so much. It's not for everyone, though.

There's some cool shit here for diehards, though. We finally get Hot Rod on screen, who was probably notable enough to be in the original Transformers (2007), but has taken five movies to get to for some reason. We also get the return of Megatron, which I think is kind of lame, since Galvatron being insane is the single greatest part of The Transformers: The Movie (1986), and then throughout Season Two. I'm really just waiting for Unicron. It's taken them so damn long. I suppose we'll get that in Transformers 19 (2045) or whatever. Maybe we'll get Beast Wars then too. Let's finally get to what we're here for, that cultural, commercial, critical crap.

First, it's no secret where the critical consensus will land. Dark of the Moon may have been the most solid reviewed, but generally Transformers is seen as okay, then anything else has a tough time breaking 40% on RT. There's simply no way The Last Knight can or will ever be considered a good movie in a context-free, objective, filmmaking-perspective.

And uh...Lobsterfacemotron.
Commercially, it ought to do well, I'm thinking that it will have a similar Age of Extinction feel, where it doesn't do great stateside but cleans up overseas, although almost certainly to a lesser extent. The world is weary. Then again, it has next to no competition. Wonder Woman (2017) is still anyone's best bet in theaters, and although it will assuredly clear $300 million domestically (probably next week), it won't get to $400 million, and it's long enough in release for anticipation to burn off. The Mummy isn't threatening anyone, and last week's four films seemed to split everyone up pretty thoroughly, with all non-All Eyez on Me (2017) insanely underperforming. And I don't usually talk about last week's pictures here, I mean, that's old news, but damn, Rough Night (2017). What the hell happened? I may chalk this up to being another forgettable comedy with a terrible title, but how much must Kate McKinnon's talents be wasted until she becomes a movie star?

Looking into next week, there's not much to stand in The Last Knight's way. We got like, Baby Driver (2017) and The House (2017), but they won't really threaten the audiences that are going to see Transformers. After that I do think it'll run into trouble with Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), War of the Planet of the Apes (2017), and Dunkirk (2017) back to back to back, which will all assuredly make some bank.

Culturally, Transformers is here to stay. That's for sure. I don't know if The Last Knight will really have a lasting impact, Age of Extinction really didn't - it's all just kind of more shit at this point. Still, Dino-bots. Those are cool. I suppose a lot of the iconography of Extinction has stuck around, and some scenes are sweet, but there's literally nothing in the plot that stands out in my mind. This will be the same shit. I know it, you know it, Anthony Hopkins knows it. It's all good.

So there you go. You know I love writing about this schlocky dumb crap. Are you still into this decade-old franchise or ready to kick it to the scrapyard? For now, let's watch the trailer again:

See you around the playground, friendo.

19 June 2017

Summer Jam 2017 Week Six - LIVE from the Downtown Colosseum

We're getting into the thick of it now, people. We're quickly approaching the heart of Summer as we round through June. School is about to get out for many of the little bastard unloved children across the country and then, truly the Months of Sun may begin. Let's get sweaty, weird, and frisky!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Rich Friends" by Portugal. The Man

There's so much I love about this. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Glenn Howerton showing up with what he's been up to since apparently leaving the series, along with his wife appears in this video that's really unique advertisement-based storytelling. The song is also rad and riding this sudden Portugal. The Man wave, which in my head is always Foster the People on both sonic quality and name similarity. This is probably one of the best videos of the year, as the story gets more and more creative and dark as it progresses, all through pop-up ads. It's brilliant.

Bryne of the Brymes: "Sign of the Times" by Harry Styles

After a few weeks' absense, Harry is back with this underrated brooding gem which ain't really all that brooding, but looks it for some reason. I'm really struck by how un-Bieber this little prick is. He's actually not a prick at all, right? I don't know Harry Styles. Does he suck? I don't really care. I haven't listened to a single One Direction song ever, but this is killer and that's all that matters. It still feels like it's a bit of come and go in terms of Summer Jam-ness, but we'll see if it can keep crawling.

Kish Kish: "Swish Swish" by Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj

Katy seems everywhere right now, doesn't she? But not totally in a great light. I felt like Katy Perry could do no wrong for so long now it's all wrong. This jam has grown on me, though, and even though it doesn't totally seem like it's the dominating track Katy probably really wanted it to be (I'm not sure we'll ever get there again), and it's not charting all that well, it's still sticking around. If it's going to jump and become THE JAM, though, it's got some work to do.

Julia #1: "Uh-Huh" by Julia Michaels

This is slowly becoming my favourite track of 2017, and I was pumped to see at least a neon-soaked lyric video drop this week. Will we get proper single treatment and a real video any time soon? I can only hope that this clever, playful, and oddly melancholy song becomes a great summer jam. In non-me worlds, it definitely doesn't quite have traction yet, but it's got the potential to be a sexy dance jam for everyone.

Selena #1: "It Ain't Me" by Kygo, Selena Gomez

This still doesn't really feel like a Selena song, and that's probably because it's more a Kygo song with Gomez just lending her voice, but this track persisted this week. It's a pretty heartbreaking song, that's kind of fun to sing along to until you realize what you're jamming about. It's not all that summer-y when you get down to it, but it ought to hang out for a bit yet.

Julia #2: "Issues" by Julia Michaels

You may say it's crazy that half of this list is dominated by two artists, but dammit, I'm into it. "Issues" has been more consistent than a lot of songs I thought would make a run this summer, and although it may be tottering a bit, it could end up making a good run by just sticking around and gaining points each week where others have faltered. This is such a downer song after "Uh-Huh" though. Sucks listening back to back. I think this girl's got some talent, though, but "Issues" is probably a little too Ellie Goulding for her own good.

Nall That: "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan

Our one rock representative this week, even though this is totally not a rock song and that Imagine Dragons "Believer" crap came close. "Slow Hands" has been around for a minute but I really just clued in on it this week. It's got a solid beat with a lovely little git-box breakdown during the hook. It's got more potential than I gave it credit for, and it's actually a better song than you think when you first hear it. Still, I had to look up the name (for some reason, "Slow Hands" even though Niall says it 40 times, didn't stick in my brain), and for sure, what the hell kind of name is Niall anyway. Still, here we go.

Pants on Fire: "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

AKA Selena #2. This song did okay this week, but damn that video, which is so weird and kind of creepy and all the way insane. It's just what we needed. There's not many instantly memorable videos that drop like this anymore. I mean, what is going on here? It totally seems like Student Selena has a crush on Homeroom Selena, but maybe it's Phys Ed Teacher Selena, who is flirty with Homeroom Selena? But by the end it's like, Student Selena has a big lesbian crush on herself as Phys Ed Teacher Selena? There's one word here. Awesome. And I've said this before and have actively tried avoiding talking about it, but it's unmistakable. Selena Gomez is 24 years old but still looks like a fucking 12-year old. It's so much worse in this video. Even in a moustache. Still, this song rules.

Next week...

I meant to mention Run the Jewels "Legend Has It" from that Black Panther trailer, which is all sorts of awesome and may gain a few notes here. The #1 song in the country according to Billboard is "Despacito" which I have never consciously heard play in my life - that and Bieber's "I'm the One" with DJ Khaled seem to keep trying to happen, but just aren't in my world. Am I off the pulse listening to non-stop Julia Michaels? Stay tuned, listeners.

16 June 2017

Sharks, Cars, Girls, and Pac as Summer Rounds the Bend

Hello again, folks - a lovely Summer Friday is upon us and we have an absurd amount of films dropping today. Chances are that your best bet is still Wonder Woman (2017), but really there should be something for everyone today. Music fans, comedy fans, animation fans, shark fans - we got all the major genres covered. Let's roll out from least notable to most notable today as we examine cultural, critical, and commercial potentials for everything:

Shipp does look super-like Pac tho
First up is All Eyez on Me (2017), the long-awaited Tupac biopic, which lands with almost no hype at all. It seems bizarre in the wake of Straight Outta Compton (2015), which is definitely the only reason this was made, but for some reason doesn't feel nearly as timely or as investing, despite Tupac Shakur being a decently beloved rapper and another notch in 90s nostalgia for us to feed. This might simply be because it's apparently a total shit film that follows really standard biopic tropes, even if Demetrius Shipp, Jr in the lead role is spectacular.

It makes me recall more the Biggie biopic Notorious (2009), which is so obscure you forgot it existed, much less came out eight years ago. This feels just like something that has been on the periphery for a while without much belief that it was actually getting made. Now I'm struggling with how Straight Outta Compton became such a game changer. Maybe it was the still-pretty-popular Dr. Dre and Ice Cube putting their full weight behind it? Maybe it was the fact that NWA themselves were such innovators in the rap game, or that Straight Outta Compton was the first epic rap group biopic, which was actually legitimately solid. All Eyez on Me feels essentially derivative.

That's a shame because Tupac's dual acting / rapping career (which got started at virtually the same time - in fact, Juice [1992] predates his biggest singles) is endlessly fascinating. He's also hands down one of the greatest rappers who's ever lived. In the end, the cultural effect seems like a drop in the pond, and critically it's getting drubbed. Commercially it might do okay - even Notorious made $20 million its opening weekend, but I don't think it will be the smash that Straight Outta Compton was.

Oh no! Sharks!
Moving on we got 47 Meters Down (2017), the Mandy Moore Shark Cage movie we've always been waiting for. This is totally jumping off the success of last year's The Shallows (2016) with Blake Lively, which got a lot of points for being original, if not still pretty stupid, and tension-filled, if not pretty exploitative. That even premiered around the same time, which was also around the same time as JAWS (1975) forty-two years ago. Sharks in June are like Star Wars in May. Or now December.

By all means, advance reviews are that 47 Meters Down does what The Shallows and even JAWS failed to do - get right to the shark attack and get to it damn fast. I'm okay with this. This is what Shark Attack fans always dream about. I get the impression that this is exactly as good as you'd expect it to be, with a solid mix of schlock and genuine terror to make it enjoyable. As far as the Shark genre goes, you have these films, all the other Jaws movies, Deep Blue Sea (1999), Open Water (2003), Sharknado (2013), and wait...shit...so much more. It is the original blockbuster genre, after all.

Mandy Moore's stock is actually rising after This is Us and La La Land (2016), even if the La La Land Mandy Moore is a different Mandy Moore. It didn't seem to matter much for Blake Lively last year, as long as she's hot. Hey, this is how America works, people. The marketing hasn't been nearly as cool as last year's Shallows - in fact, that trailer was way cooler than the movie turned out to be. It will probably do okay, although we're not exactly horror-starved with It Comes At Night (2017) dropping last week. That film has already disappointed a lot of horror fans, though, and 47 Meters Down is certainly a different, specific sort of creature feature. It's also PG-13, which means lots of little kids can get in and be scared of big mean sharks. It'll likely do just fine, now that I'm thinking about it.

Culturally, The Shallows did actually penetrate culture and make a memorable impression, even if it ended up being kind of lame. I at least remember how it ended. That's more I can say for its competition, Independence Day: Resurgence (2017), whose name I had to look up. If 47 Meters Down is solid, it could break through, if not, then it'll just be another Shark Attack 3 (2002). While its Rotten Tomatoes isn't good at all (51% right now), it's actually a notch above All Eyez on Me and Rough Night (2017), and right below Cars 3 (2017). So, no matter what you're getting a meh movie this weekend - if you're a shark guy, then go for it.

Weekend at Scarlett's
Moving right along, next we have Rough Night - the Scarlett Johansson Very Bad Things (1998) rip-off Bachelorette movie, which looks like the greatest comedy ever if it wasn't derivative of like four great comedies in the past. I mean, this just Bridesmaids (2011) with less heart and a modern cast, right? Or is it more just the straight female Hangover (2009) remake that Bridesmaids really wasn't?

I don't mean to be totally deriding because this cast is a fucking dream, even if I still think this is the second-worst Scarlett Johansson casting of 2017. Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon need to be movie stars, and their supporting turns here could propel them to the spotlight, which is what I've been hoping to happen to McKinnon since Sisters (2015). To be fair, a lot of the jokes in the trailers and commercials have landed pretty well, and like all comedies, if the movie is just funny, it'll rise to the top. If it can't, it'll spin in purgatory with Bad Moms (2016), Masterminds (2016), and Office Christmas Party (2016) that we don't care about.

Critically it's already been not great, which isn't a good prospect for a comedy's legs. Despite the fact that a film only needs to be funny, if it's going to last it helps if it's actually full of clever writing. Comedy is inherently subversive, if a film's just going through the motions there's not a lot there. With all this crap, though, there's still some high anticipation with the coming together of every great rising comedy star there is right now, and I still want to see it for what this mix of SNL, Idiotsitter, Broad City, and uh...The Avengers (2012) can do on the big screen together. Without a ton of comedic competition around it could do well financially, but there's also enough general competition right now to divert attention.

HAHAHA, what?!
Finally, we come to Cars 3. The advertising for this movie has been completely insane, and you've got to wonder if that has to do with the fucking terrible cultural reputation of the Cars franchise as "that one where Pixar sold out for merchandising profits." That's totally true. Cars 3 seems like it's layering on maudlin serious dark heavy overtones, which is absolutely nuts. Why not double down on what has worked for Cars before, the stupidest of all Pixar's kid-friendly properties?

It's pretty clear that the studio is upset about Cars 2 (2011) universally ranked as their worst film, both critically, almost financially, and in Oscar nominations (at zero). Nothing is really going to help the clear direction of the studio, though, who seems to have shifted towards returning to the well, perverting old characters rather than all that constant innovation that they did so well for so long. There's no hiding Finding Dory (2016), along with sequels to The Incredibles (2004), and the worst offender, an upcoming Toy Story 4 (2019), which threatens to unravel all the great closure from Toy Story 3 (2010). It all points to not a great point in the studio's history, although we're also only two years removed from Inside Out (2015), which spits in the face of all this criticism and is at least in the Top 3 of anything they've done.

Culturally this feels incredibly derivative. There's just not a lot of reason to be invested in this. If it's about finality, it's basically the Cars version of Toy Story 3. If it's about selling toys (the other big Cars theme), then it's just another installment in the crappy franchise. I'd really like to know more about the Cars world. How does any of it work? How do they have kids? Why do they have car doors for passengers? What happened to the humans? How big are these stadiums? What happened to all the stairs? Why are there tractor-cows? Are you born into whatever role you have in life based on your car make and model? What kind of insane society is this?!

This ought to win the weekend - you know that The Mummy (2017) isn't going to give any real competition. Still, I don't think anticipation is all that high, and it's not going to be a mondo Pixar movie like in years past. No one "wants to know how Cars ends". It'll do just fine, but you've got to think that out of all these four random movies dropping this week, none is going to be crazily successful. The weekend as a whole will probably be fine just because there's so many options to attract a wide range of people, but I don't see any one film doing great. Wonder Woman it is.

Which will you pick this weekend?
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