28 July 2009

War of the Decades: 1989, 1999, 2009

My inspiration for this next article comes in a sort of round-about way. I was reading this article featured on IMDB today proclaiming 1984 to be a great year for movies and in the comments section, as people must argue with this kind of thing, some went for 1939, 1994 etc for a better year. This kind of thing is up for debate all the time around film sites like this. It's really pretty dumb, in my opinion to argue good movie years. Does one singular incredible film make an entire year an awesome movie year? I don't know. No one does. Stop debating it.

Anywho, the whole point is that it got me thinking, this guy clearly loves 1984 (in essence, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Spinal Tap, Bachelor Party, in his opinon), someone else loved 1994 (Forest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank), another said '74 (Chinatown, Godfather II, Blazing Saddles, Texas Chainsaw). Personally, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for 2004 (Spider-Man 2, Hellboy, Anchorman, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle are all personal favourites here. Not to mention Asskaban, my fav Harry Potter, thats just the tip o' the dick).

So, can it be possible that there are a series of good or similar movies that come out once a decade? We'll find out in our first WAR OF THE DECADES!!

For the first go around here, I've chosen the past three years ending in "9." Why? It's a handy twenty or ten year anniversary for most, and also a way to judge our current year. Also, the previous two years were big ones for shifts in cinema which heralded new trends in the following, which I'm curious if 2009 will live up to that hype. So, without further ado, I bring you...1989!


The combined force of "Batman," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Ghostbusters II" and "UHF" made the Summer of 1989 one of the first truly blockbuster seasons. "Batman" in particular ushered in an era of comic book franchise films that we are still suffering through today. Here is an article just dealing with "Batman" that is a must-read supplement to feel the full brunt of my point here. You may notice in that last list that all but two were sequels, and all but one were part of some of the greatest money-making franchises of all time. Add November's "Back to the Future Part II" into the mix, and you have the makings of a year not that unlike our own.

1989 paved the way for that style of movie to continue through the 90s, with the advent of many other franchise movies. Now, granted, there were of course always sequels, and Star Wars made the franchise possible years earlier, but '89 was the first year that had FOUR sequels in its Top Ten Highest Grossing, not including Batman, the first in its series. In comparison, '88 had ONE, '87 had ONE, '86 had TWO, only one of which came out in summer. The only comparable year is 1984, which had a staggering Top 6 movies that were all the first in line for sequels to come. 1989, and Batman in particular made the a big opening weekend a big deal. Some of these effects were not seen for a few years in the early 90s, but certainly by our time now, the opening weekend determines the entire fate of a movie. Of the top opening days of all time, 8 out of 10 came out in the past three years. 10 out of 10 in the past five years. This traces its earliest roots to 1989 and "Batman."

On a lesser scale, a few notable films and stars came out that would influence the next decade. Steven Soderbergh hit the map with "Sex, lies, and videotape," while Keanu Reeves gave his first whoas with "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." In addition, Brad Pitt got his first on screen rolls in "Cutting Class" and "Happy Together." James Cameron's use of CGI in "The Abyss" garnered an Academy Award for Special Effects, which helped legitimize CGI's usage in film, leading to more advanced, breathtaking use in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991) and "Jurassic Park" (1993). All this and Michael Moore directed his first documentary, "Roger & Me."

Needless to say, 1989 changed a lot of what film was in the 80s. Broader, more merchanidisable adventures such as "Batman" and "Back to the Future Part II" paved a way for action films out of swath of Rambos and Commandos that had dominated just a few years earlier. Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" (1988) also helped steer away from the muscled, perfect soldier into a more relatable, everyday hero that the 90s adored.


Most of my views on 1999 can be found here but I'll expand a bit for the purposes of this article. In addition to the flawed, spirituality-seeking protagonist that dominated the 2000s, 1999 ushered in new trends in cinema in different ways.

"The Phantom Menace," "Toy Story 2," and "The Matrix" were the first in a ton of early 2000s franchise trilogies that dominated the box office. "American Pie" reinvigorated the long-dormant Teen Sex Comedy that had come to a head in recent years. "Deep Blue Sea," "Wild Wild West" and "The Mummy" were very much the heralds of the intense, terrible CGI action movies that were everywhere in the early 2000s, while "Blue Streak" was a very 90s action comedy, perhaps the last of its kind.

Regarding the influence of horror, "The Sixth Sense" started the career of M. Night Shyamalan, for better or worse. "The Blair Witch Project" was the first of many movies to rely on viral marketing and hype that has been used both with success ("Cloverfield" 2008) and sheer failure ("Snakes on a Plane" 2006) in the past decade.


So, what's to come from 2009? Here are my predictions:

I think 2009 will always be remembered as a weird year at the box office. In the first winter/spring season the greatest successes were "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," "Taken," and "Fast and Furious." Are these really the movies we should think back on fondly when we think of this year? Damn I hope not.

The biggest studio influencers of 2009 will be "Watchmen" and "The Hangover," as two sides of the same coin. "Watchmen" proved the deathnell of the R-Rating for mainstream action movies. I don't consider it an exact commercial or critical failure, but it surely underperformed, especially (and ironically) in the fanboy community, basically because it stuck too closely to its source material. Before this becomes a review of Watchmen, let me get on a tangent here: I've been debating with multiple people the past few days about "Harry Potter and the Ass-Blood Prince" Book vs. Movie. I contend, usually to no avail, that they are two different mediums, impossible to compare, and that they both are great successes in their own mediums, because the film version did some things different that work better on film, the book did great things you can only do in written word. "Watchmen" will go down as studios giving a director great leeway to do his own thing trying to stay very close to source material and utterly failing. The R-Rating for anything outside of "Crank 2"-type movies will be dead for a while.

Likewise, the late 2000s, culminating in 2009 will see the ultimate rise of the R-Rated comedy. This has been boiling for a while, ever since "Wedding Crashers" (2005) and "Knocked Up" (2007), but "The Hangover" is currently the #4 Domestic Grossing movie of 2009 (It's also #1 R-Rated, followed by "Watchmen," which has almost half its gross). It's notable for doing this well and being a Non-Apatow movie, it's been a while since the funniest and most commercially successful movie of the year could stake that claim (since I dunno...2003 maybe?! "Old School" with Todd Phillips again haha). These movies, both for their success and failure with influence the next decade.

Other than that, the only major film that will always stick out to me at least, in 2009 was "Observe and Report." I've read a ton of reviews, and even the group I saw it with ranged from absolute love to a near-walk-out. I think if it ever finds a good cult audience its brand of pseudo-comedy, pseudo-intense thriller/psychological piece can be refined and made into some great films in the next few years.

So, without further ado, here's my predictions here for films that we will talk about when I have the Ten Year Anniversary of this post in 2019:

1. Wolverine/Star Trek; Terminator/Transformers -- the shift between good and bad and deliciously bad blockbusters.

2. Moon/District 9 -- Intriguing SciFi on tiny budgets, if District 9 does well, either among audiences or critics, there should be more small films like it to come, also giving Neill Blomkamp a career.

3. Inglourious Basterds -- This will either be Tarantino's return to form or his next shithole. Could influence where his career goes in the next decade.

4. Where the Wild Things Are/Fantastic Mr. Fox/A Christmas Carol --
New directions in animation, both CGI, stop-motion, and motion-capture. One major opinion I have is that the 2000s will always be known as the decade of really shitty CGI ("The Mummy Returns" [2001], "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" [2003], "Van Helsing" [2004]) while I'm hoping the 2010s will be known as the decade of really awesome CGI, or at least well-used CGI (in the vein of "Iron Man" [2008], "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" [2008], "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" [2009]).

5. Avatar -- incredible hype, apparently just blew away crowd at Comic Con, I have seen nothing major from it. Either way, Sam Worthington here and in good performance in "Terminator" may just establish him as the go-to action star of the next ten years.

6. Sherlock Holmes -- I'm going to say it here: The next ten years will be forever known as the DOWNEY DECADE. Starting in 2008, he has amassed lauded performances in "Iron Man," "Tropic Thunder," and "The Soloist," and coming up he's got Holmes, "Iron Man 2" and what's sure to be a shitload of Avengers movies. He's the man, career couldn't be going better right now. As long as he avoids cokes and hookers, I'm pumped for the DOWNEY DECADE.

So, that's that. Each year a tremendous influence on the following decade, as to which movie year comes out the best, I think I'm going to tend to side with 1999, but who knows what the last five months of 2009 will bring...Looking back there, I listed off quite a bit of highly anticipated films coming out. Who knows.

25 July 2009

First Impressions: Bruno

The name Bruno, alone should conjure an assortment of nasty filthy images to disturb and damage the soul for a lifetime. No need to dirty up that title.

Let's start off with a few things first here: I'm a huge Sacha Baron Cohen fan. I love Da Ali G show, love Indahouse, love his appearances in Talladega and Madagascar, even while disliking much of the latter. Then, there's Borat. I absolutely loved Borat, it's probably one of my top comedies of the last decade. Bruno, however, left something to be desired, I feel. The Spider-Man 3 Effect.

I couldn't exactly place my impressions until I read some other reviews online which more captured what I felt (here and here). The major problem is that Bruno really wasn't that funny. Borat had constant laugh out loud on the floor moments, Bruno had a good amount of laughs and jaw-dropping moments, but not really enough to sustain its material. Comedies float on their own from their humour. That's how a movie like "The Hangover" makes $242 million and counting. Now, I hate comparing Bruno to Borat, really, they're two different films from different years, but really, the comparison is inevitable.

Bruno on the whole, seemed rushed and forced (Please take the pun there). Cohen blows his wad early in a lot of scenes, and the whole movie ends up only being 76 minutes long. While Borat had a more focused goal of getting to California to force Pamela to marry him, Bruno was much vaguer, seeking only "to get famous." This seemed much more open ended, and to me it felt like an indiction more of our superficial, celebrity-obsessed culture than of homophobia. And while that shouldn't matter in a movie like this that is essentially sketches, Borat pulled off his locations he winds up in through this excuse, Bruno seemed much more random, going to the Middle East for some reason seemed very out of place, and only revealed Bruno's own ignorance rather than that of his subjects, which seems counter-productive to Cohen's goals.

As I mentioned, Cohen seems to be spoofing the culture of celebrity more than anything else. Bruno is a wannabe diva, evident from his inability to take criticism, his adoption of an "accessory" baby, and desire to help the new "in" charity. He succeeds in highlighting the superfluousness and vanity of celebrity culture, but does this not through any interviews (kind of in the kind of funny Paula Abdul scene), but more through his own thoughts and actions.

His double attack this time around seems to be getting at this hubris as well as exposing Southern American homophobia. And well, c'mon, getting drunk Alabamans to act homophobic is like shooting fish in a barrel. To some extent, Cohen really fishes for the reactions he wants, and there are only a few scenes that give really surprising reactions. Honestly, I can't believe a focus group disliked a pilot that featured a swinging male penis screaming "BRUUUNO!!" If not liking huge strange penises flying in your face is homophobic...well shit. Nation's screwed.

There were a handful of scenes that worked well, however, and I want to mention these here. They tended to be the scenes that were most "Borat-like" I feel. The first is the scene were he interviews prospective parents about casting their babies for some racy photo shoots. One of the few surprising scenes, no matter how hard he pushed (have your baby dressed as Hitler, strung up on crucifixes, around live hornets, etc), the parents were always eager for a shot at stardom. It worked because it didn't focus on Bruno's homosexuality, in fact, it didn't focus on Bruno at all. The scene worked because of surprisingly scary comments made from the interviewees desperate for their children to become stars, showing how deep the temptation of celebrity culture can penetrate. Borat in a few scenes (the Frat boys come to mind) knew to step back and let the jokes make themselves, which Bruno was able to do here.

A lot of Bruno interviews started with a decent premise, but then rushed into the worst possible territory instead of building trust and subtlety (I got this from another review, I think FilmSchoolRejects, I agree with 'em). Whereas, for instance, Borat's "Humour Coach" or the auto-dealership were allowed to gestate and pound out some rapid jokes, Bruno and Ron Paul or the Mossad agents went by rapid fire, with the same "gay" joke immediately ending the interview. The Dildo-Attack scene (which was a lot like the Borat car salesman agreeing with which SUV was best suited to "run down Jews") was one of the best scenes, mostly because Bruno was pretending to be straight. In fact, once he started trying to become straight and fight his urges he was able to coax some of the better reactions from his interviewees who would then agree with him that homosexuality was fundamentally wrong and needed to be fixed. This is Cohen's major thesis with Bruno, and pure gay shock (I imagine even most gays are turned off by pouring champagne bottles out of their ass) doesn't contribute to the unifying idea. Likewise, some of the interviews with the Reverends elicited the types of responses that were akin to Borat getting people to agree with him that Jews were evil.

So, my final impressions is that Bruno failed more than he hit the mark, although there are a fair amount of scenes that are exceptionally hilarious. I really wasn't shocked by too much in this movie, to be honest. I must watch too much hardcore pornos. The sex acts are wrong, but I hate to admit I've probably seen worse things done with people who aren't faking it. And I might be the only reviewer on the internet to admit this. C'mon. You've all seen this shit before. There's hardly any violence or swearing either, most of it coming form German gibberish, which also may have been me, but got really annoying after a while, too. At least Borat had subtitles for their gibberish.

First Impressions: Moon

I couldn't think of a really dirty title for Moon. I figured, as long as you're picturing a mooning buttocks, we should be all set.

I'm also trying to put into words the feelings I have after seeing a movie like this. Nothing to do with the plot or characters, just how to describe my let down expectations. I want to call it the "Spider-Man 3 Effect." I typify this as getting way to pumped up, or at least going in with pretty huge expectations, then when the actual film turns out to be not that good, you try to make some justification for it. I've had this experience with at least Terminator and Public Enemies this summer, while The Hangover and Transformers, for instance, met my expectations instead of coming up short.

Moon is a pretty neat film by all standards, but ultimately it wasn't a perfect Sci-Fi or great, innovative, mindfuck story as I was kind of pumping myself up for. Although considering that the story did not come close to my expectations may say something for its avoidance of the cliche in the genre it could have become. As is the norm of these First Impressions, Spoilers follow, baby.

First off, as must be said anywhere when mentioning this flick, Sam Rockwell is awesome. He's the man. Consistently and thoroughly. As virtually the only live human you see on screen at any given time, his performance is deep, emotional and nuanced. I don't usually pay that much attention to the acting really (pfft who needs acting) but it's pretty unavoidable in Moon. Now, that being said, here's the minutiae:

Let's start with my biggest problem with the movie, which was a lack of a pay-off for the really creepy Ghost Girl scenes towards the beginning. As the first of a few blatant "What the fuck..." moments, there's two flashes of a mysterious girl, both of which serve to distract the protagonist, Sam Bell, on both occasions leading to serious injuries. There's a lot of cool, if not cliched things that could have happened, is he going crazy, is the Moon haunted, who knows. But nothing really is ever mentioned of this chick again, so whatever.

My only guess is that this is the foreshadowing of his clone degeneration, which we quickly see on a physical standpoint. Perhaps the clones start to lose their minds prior to their physical composition, or just as an after-affect of the memory implants. Which of course leads me to another point that made this film more typical than I had anticipated. I guess Duncan Jones made it actually much less corny and ridiculous than it might have been. The doubling Sam isn't a ghost or from the future or anything, but rather simply, a clone.

What is cool is the fucked up shit and manipulation they put this guy through. "They" being the shady evil mega-corporation, of course. There's the usual garbage about what it means to be human, clone rights, 6th Day type stuff. The movie transcends some of this stuff, though, in its refusal to recline into what could be a typical action thriller, but maintains its classiness through supreme acting and impressive sets and effects for an extremely modest budget.

It's a journey of self more than anything else, though. Literally interacting with himself, Sam learns more about what kind of person he is, especially from his first few encounters where he (both of them) are naturally antagonistic towards each other. As Jerry Seinfeld says, "I can't be with someone like me. I hate myself!" ("The Invitations," S7;E24). The same rings true for a lot of Sam Bell. Once they start to understand each other (read, understand himself) they are able to work together and sympathize with each other (read, sympathize and forgive himself). Of course, neither is the original Sam Bell, who is implied to be at home with his daughter.

Arguably in this sense the clones have more feelings for themselves than the original did. The clones are capable of greater compassion than an actual human, which may only be natural that clones would have empathy for each other. On the other side though, the Evil Mega-Corporation may be humanitarian in their euthanasia for the degenerative clones, giving them what looks like a painless death when their bodies become frail and sick. Their deceptiveness, however, may not be without respute. The final thoughts of the movie is that the lying and treachery of corporations leading to the sacrifice of dozens of cloned humans is not worth the maintenance of global energy supplies. It seems like a weak message when put into those words, but that's why when you really think about it, it seems like a weaker movie that you don't want to accept as such. Damn the Spider-Man 3 Effect.

I don't think I can sum up my impressions much more than that. It's a fine movie, intelligent, great production values for a minuscule budget, great acting, but what could have been something about space madness or ghosts ends up grounded much more in reality than I think I wanted it to be. Which may probably be less campy and terrible, but I ended up slightly disappointed. It's like when you're watching a porno and the chick is smokin' hot in a tank top, but then she takes it off and she has some weird, off-center nipples or something. The tits are still big but you feel you just skimped off of perfection on something that seems like it would be easily fixed.

I have no idea if this review makes sense, but those are my thoughts.

23 July 2009

Posts about Nothing: Elaine Benes; The Double-Standard of Seinfeld Sexuality

It's been a bit of long time between my reported, "All-Out" Seinfeld posts, but there's still plenty about this sitcom we need to discuss. As guaranteed, I wanted to begin these "Posts about Nothing" by spiraling inwards from the outer members of the Fab Four, eventually resulting in an exhaustive study of Jerry himself. So, for the past few weeks I have been watching ep after ep with a keen eye towards Elaine and Sexuality. Now, it's clear that sex is huge in this show, every character has a huge amount of sex every episode, but there are a few moments that highlight Elaine more explicitly than the others, the reason being, namely, the status of her gender.

Let's start with a stray comment that Kramer makes in "The Pool Guy" (S7;E8). He says to her, she is "...a man's woman, you hate other women and they hate you." To this Elaine readily agrees. There is some evidence that Elaine has no girlfriends, and does not get along well with her own sex (Sue Ellen Mischke in "The Caddy" [S7;E12], her co-worker Sam in "The Summer of George" [S8;E22], co-worker Peggy in "The Apology" [S9;E9]). There are furthermore many examples of other characters seeing Elaine as promiscuous or at least highly sexual in nature, although every male in the show is definitely getting laid on a consistent basis. In addition, there are many instances throughout the show where Elaine's sexual feminine nature is on display. Let's get crackin'!

Firstly, the blatant scenarios. Nearly every other male character who listens finds themselves instantly heavily sexually attracted to Elaine upon hearing her dirty tape-recorded message in "The Tape" (S3;E8). As the only female positing around a group of boys, Elaine has the ability to dangle her sensuality for display on occasions like this for either her or her friend's amusement. Her most sexually confident streaks come in this episode as well as "The Mango" (S5,E1) in which her reveal to Jerry that she faked orgasm with him tears down his perceived masculinity and sexual prowess.

Her breasts are also heavily seen as objects of desire in a multitude of episodes, however, this comes as either to her advantage or disadvantage depending on circumstance. In "The Shoes" (S4;E16) her ample cleavage serves to show NBC President Russell Dalrymple how boobs can invade almost any man's line of sight, thus exonerating George from oggling his 15-year old daughter. Yes, I'm aware this shouldn't really be excusable, but hey, it's TV, baby. Likewise, her tats are on full display in "The Gum" (S7;E10), although on accident, through which she attracts the unwanted attention of her ex, Lloyd Braun. These are some great scenes in TV history, but nonetheless serve to use Elaine's gifts as a sexual object. The inverse does occur, however, in "The Pilot, Part 1" (S4;E23) in which Elaine is denied employment at Monk's (seemingly) because of her small breasts.

Now, I don't want to really seem extremely Pro-Feminist or anything, just at face value here, Elaine as a highly sexual character is highlighted many many times, which only works in the show because she is a woman. Much like how Kramer's "goofy" exploits work because his character is understood as eccentric, Elaine's sexual exploits work because she is a woman. Let's move on.

In any TV show, all the central characters have a set of base characteristics. Working from these basics, writers and actors can craft believable characters, hopefully without seeming too one-dimensional. For instance, one of George's base characteristics is that he is really cheap. If George were to suddenly pay an exuberant price on a pair of pants or something, this would seem out of character (at least, if he didn't have anything else to gain from it). Jerry is neat, Kramer is doofy, etc, but one of Elaine's base characteristics is that she has a lot of sex with a lot of different dudes.

In "The Package" (S8;E5), Elaine makes a comment about doctor's appointments that she is "easy." Jerry responds, "Why because you dress casual and sleep with a lot of guys?" This is one of many instances of other characters observing Elaine as a very loose woman. After her cleavage episode in "The Gum," Kramer notes to Lloyd Braun about her promiscuity. Her very casual talk about her diaphragm and expectation that Jerry's girlfriend, Marla shared the same experiences in "The Virgin" (S4;E10) gives some insight into her own sexual life as well as the sexual expectations she has of others. Her numerous exploits are again covered in "The Sponge" (S7;E9) in which she buys massive amounts of contraceptive, which is commented on by the Pharmacist in "The Finale, Part 2" (S9;E24) saying, "Sponges. I don't mean the kind you clean your tub with. They're for sex. Said she needed a whole case of them." The crowd makes disgusted moans, obviously embarrassing Elaine, thinking she is a sexual deviant.

There are a handful of other instances in the series that demonstrate how much sex Elaine is getting, but I'd like to highlight just two more subtle instances here. In "The Couch," (S6;E5) Elaine is adamantly Pro-Choice, to the extent of breaking up with her seemingly perfect, yet Anti-Abortion boyfriend. This indicates Elaine's feelings on if, for instance, she ever ran out of sponges. Also, in "the Abstinence" (S8;E9), Elaine goes without sex with her boyfriend in order to attempt to increase his intelligence, however, this serves to decrease Elaine's. This indicates the frequency of Elaine's promiscuity in that regularly she should be getting enough sex to keep her brain functional, being one of the smartest in the series. She even goes so far as to proposition Jerry for sex in this episode, her desperation grows so intensely.

As I'm reading through this, I realise that the only point I'm really trying to make here is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus mid-90s is real, real hot. Also, even though all the characters are constantly screwing, Elaine seems to get more than her fair share of derogation and objectification. Her character does not seem that phased, however, and seems to consistently not concern herself with her own shortcomings, or even considers her promiscuity to be a shortcoming. I'm not sure if I do, to be honest, now that I'm thinking about it here. It's tough. Sex is fun. Too much sex is slutty and negative for women, but a great accomplishment for men. I'm glad I could re-hash this old debate. Gotta love the Sein.

20 July 2009

Trends: The Mainstream Anti-Normalcy Films of 1999

At the end of the past century, The United States of America was at its political and economic peak of power, ready to crumble. I always consider movies to be a great insight into our collective cultural sub-conscious, and I believe this a breakdown in our cultural and power-hungry trends can be easily seen in a few landmark films of 1999, all of which share the same basic message of anti-suburbia, anti-white collar, anti-authority, which I, in the spirit of Warren G. Harding, collectively named "Anti-Normalcy." Considering it's the 10-year for a lot of these flicks, 2009 seemed a pretty good time to look back.

In an earlier post, I made the claim of a steep rise and fall of intense, epic Patriotism in film in the mid-to-early 90s. By 1999, however, there was a major shift, likely as a reaction to these sort of narrow-minded, jingoistic films. Instead, these handful of renegade films expressed the concern that something was very wrong with not necessarily our politics, but a society that kept people bored and agitated. This stems, or course from our very prosperity. We had no major concerns or problems in an economically wealthy and secure daily life, so these movies tend to inflate our propensity to spice things up a bit, seeking spiritual and domestic freedom in order to seek an interesting life over a bland one. So, without further ado, here are what I am calling the Four Anti-Normalcy Movies of 1999:

1. Office Space (February 19)

2. The Matrix (March 31)

3. American Beauty (October 1)

4. Fight Club (October 15)

I wanted to go through these film by film to examine how they express my point, but some of them seemed so similar, I wanted rather to highlight some of the similarities through a series of Four Common Plot Points. Here we go:

1. For Starters, Your Job and Life Sucks.
Each of these movies start off with the protagonist in a menial, white collar job, where they do not necessarily express open antagonism, but moreover seem extremely unsatisfied, yet do not know how to break free. They are spiritually devoid and ignorant. This is quite literal in the Matrix ("The wool that has been pulled over your eyes," etc), more grounded in Office Space (something as common yet dreary as TPS Reports), and possibly the protagonist, Peter Gibbons, who is most aware that something needs to change in his life (although still searching exactly how), the Narrator in Fight Club tries to find an outlet through support groups. American Beauty adds a few more layers in this respect, in that it is the only film of this quadrilogy to feature a main character who also has a wife and family. The rest, arguably, are basically angsty gen x-ers whining and dissatisfied with how normal their lives turned out. Lester Burnham in American Beauty, though, is more of an older, family man, who is trying to catch up to the spiritual liberation he sees that the younger generation has attained. His spiritual desolation comes not only from his boring job, but from his boring wife, his boring daughter, and his boring suburban home. The real message of the flick, though, is that none of these things are actually that boring, but their yearning to get some spice spirals out of control. But now I'm getting ahead of myself. All four movies establish that the lives of their protagonists suck, but are not necessarily physically painful or dangerous. They suck spiritually.

Each film after establishing the banality of everyday life then introduces an outside force that "awakens" or initially attempts to spiritually wash the bored protagonist. In Office Space, this is the Occupational Hypnotherapist, Dr. Swanson, who hypnotises Peter, but dies before he can take him out of hypnosis. In The Matrix again, this tends to be very literal, Neo takes the Red Pill, after which, he is freed from his stasis in the "fake" world of the Matrix. Fight Club again tends to complicate this, but with the same result. Tyler Durden only seems like an outside force affecting the Narrator, and for a while the premise holds identical to the Matrix and Office Space, but Durden is actually the same person as the Narrator. Thus, the Narrator actually frees himself, but like I said, the results are the same, and shit, he might as well be an outside force. American Beauty introduces Lester to Ricky Fitts and Marijuana, essentially giving him an outlet for his latent subversive tendencies. His descent is slower and not as literal as the other three films, but the point is that he does not initially seek spiritual purity, he is locked into what life has given him. Only through guidance and happenstance are these men free from the mundane they built around themselves.

Now, we can stop here for a sec and examine a few things. First of all, this is all capturing the trials of 25-40 year old white men at the end of the 20th Century (there's some leeway here, Samir from Office Space and many different races and genders from The Matrix, but the main protagonist is the same, young-to-middle-aged white men). So what does this mean? Basically, they are films highlighting the spiritual emptiness of men who society and culture have deemed to do things in a certain way, although this way is not proper for all people. It's a rebellious statement that runs through all four of these flicks, that the shallow and hollow mainstream culture cannot satisfy the desires of a good chunk of the population. Women and other races all of the same problem, of fitting into a stereotype or cultural standard and expectations, these four films merely highlight those of 30-yr old white men, and their standard of laying low, working white collar jobs, and having a nice home and family, white picket fence, all that shit. The simple statement is that there should be more uniqueness and individuality than that.

3. Wait a Minute, Waking up Sucks!
Beyond the initial bliss of achieving spiritual happiness, all the protagonists find that their new way of life heavily conflicts with the status quo, as well is should. Peter in Office Space is on the serendipitous end, finding that he can succeed by being more honest with himself, his co-workers and employers. His overconfidence, however, leads him to embark on a risky money-stealing and laundering scheme that costs him (temporarily, of course, c'mon, it's a comedy!) his girlfriend, friends, and freedom. Neo in The Matrix, after waking up finds a world much harsher than the ignorance of being in the Matrix. This is reflected through Cypher, who wishes to return to ignorant bliss within the walls of the Matrix, treachery which dooms most of the Nebuchadnezzar's crew. The Narrator in Fight Club, after having some fun fighting, also finds Tyler Durden's schemes and overconfidence spiraling violently out of control. As Tyler pleads with the Narrator to "just let go" of his life and fate, Tyler's control over the Narrator's destiny tightens. The last half of the film is essentially the Narrator working to win back his life after the momentary bliss of freedom and attempt at Messiahship blows up in his face. In American Beauty, Lester's obsession with freedom and working out to impress faking lusty underagers leads to the resentment and jealousy of Ricky's Marine Core Father. He also loses control of his own freedom and new found confidence.

4. Soooo, What Did We Learn Today?
In the end, all the characters tend to compromise their desires for excessive freedom, their need for spiritual fulfillment, and disdain for a normal life. This is where each movie tends to stray into different territory, depending on the message they wished to send. The end of Office Space finds Peter not with his dream of doing nothing, but rather at a more blue collar job that he enjoys doing (exercise and fresh air, baby), although at first glance it may seem like the choice between a construction worker and office worker would be redundant. Peter obviously goes for lower pay and lower social status in favour of greater job and spiritual satisfaction. Like I said, he is able to real in his love for doing nothing and find a middle ground, or third option - a job that makes him happy (this is the Awwww moment of this blog).

Neo in The Matrix ends up on a very different path. Whereas the Narrator and Tyler Durden failed in becoming a new Messiah, Neo (Overtly by Revolutions [2003]) is very much a Christ figure. His spiritual freedom continually escalates throughout the movie, and though it leads to deaths and pain, instead of reeling in his excess, he finds he needs to push through, until his freedom is quite literal at the end, bending the Matrix to his will and flying around like a birdie. There may yet be some medium ground, however, as his power only extends to within the Matrix itself, his need for freedom in the outside world still leaves him in tattered clothes and gruel for dinner. It ends up being ironic that he has near unlimited power in a system that their final goal is to destroy. So what seems like freedom in reality (damn, reality is subjective in The Matrix) he is powerless. Well...until the sequels.

The Narrator in Fight Club ends up rejecting a lot of Tyler Durden (read: his own) teachings, also attempting to find a middle ground; preserving his new spiritual independence but neglecting the violent and cult-like tendencies Project Mayhem has afforded him. Project Mayhem succeeds at the end, though the Narrator manages to kill his alter ego Tyler. This is the only film that ends with such enmity between pupil and teacher, and is also probably the most open-ended Anti-Normalcy Movie of 1999. It is clear that much of the common population is headed towards the same kind of what Tyler may have thought was spiritual fulfillment, but what may actually turn out to be chaos and anarchy, which might as well have been Durden's goal anyway. It is unclear what the Narrator would do in Tyler's New World, but it is clear that he has moved substantially enough away from the white collar spiritual void, but pulled himself in enough from the insanity of being a cult leader with split personalities.

The only one of these movies where the protagonist dies is American Beauty (Not Counting 'Dies more than Optimus Prime' Neo here). Arguably, American Beauty takes place in the most realistic world (other than Comedy weirdness, Sci-Fi Apocalypse, and Quirky, Green-tinted fighting movie), which bodes interesting things towards their approach to someone seeking spiritual cleanliness. In Lester's last moments, he also rejects the freedom he sought for himself, not bringing himself to do the nasty no-pants dance with jailbait Angela, as well as admiring a picture in his kitchen of his family and daughter, perhaps remembering and appreciating the good life he had. Well, oh well, you're dead now. The ultimate price for his wish to work out shirtless, smoke pot, then reject the approaches of the closeted gay Marine next door, I guess, but that's life in America for ya. His attempt for moderation comes too late, after driving away everyone in his life who he realises actually cared deeply for him and vice-versa. Oscar winner.

Honorary Mentions
There were a handful of other movies in 1999 that stressed some outside-of-the-box thinking and individuality, that did not necessarily follow the road to spiritual purity that I have listed above. Real quick, these include, in my opinon, "Man on the Moon," "Being John Malkovich," and "Rushmore." All of these involve protagonists that do not fit into the mold society crafted for them and feature them seeking some sort of personal destiny. None of them were necessarily ignorant white collars, though, nor were they all introduced to spiritual purity or find moderation.

Finally, a move that came out about nine years too late, but perfectly fits the mold of the 1999 Anti-Normalcy Movies is Wanted (2008). While the comic is a sweet, original look at a world of comics where a handful of Archetypal Supervillains have won against the heroes, the movie became essentially a showcase for outdated Anti-Normalcy rhetoric and super-cool gun and car scenes. It does follow precisely my formula, however, so it deserves some mention. Wesley Gibson has a shitty job, his girlfriend cheats on him, and he's basically a wiener. Angelina Jolie, through her hotness, introduces him into a new super-cool society where he has freedom to do much more than he thought he could. Shit goes bad, everybody dies and there's some ridiculous conspiracy, causing immense problems in his new world. Wesley rejects the new world's rules, forming his own (essentially a combo of Neo's unlimited freedom and Peter Gibbons acceptance of independent thought and action but rejection of complete nihilistic freedom. Wesley does not reject violence like the Narrator, in fact, he still revels in it, only rejecting what he realises to be the identical arbitrary rules of The Fraternity of Assassins).

Eager to hear your own thoughts, calling this post out as straight up bullshit, or even finding a better collective title than "Anti-Normalcy Movies." Also eager to hear any other movies that may follow this formula, as you can tell, there are a plethora of genres covered here, and none is necessarily perfect.

19 July 2009

First Impressions: Harry Potter and the Ass-Blood Prince

Wow almost two weeks there without a post damn that slipped away from me, although with no shortage of ideas mind you.

Let me start these impressions by saying firstly that I am by no means a fanatic or even consider myself a fan really of Potter at all. I've read a few pages out of the first book, found that I disliked reading, and haven't picked up another since. Prior to this past week I had seen the Sorcerer's Bone in theaters back in 2001, but other than that had not seen another movie in the franchise the whole way through.

I managed to severely catch up this past week, first with ABC Family Channel's Harry Potter Marathon last weekend (yes, I sat through nearly 11 hours of ABC Family programming and commercials...torture possibly worse than Voldemort's Cave Potion), and filled in the gaps with a few heavy doses of Wikipedia every night since. Also, have not seen O of the P yet, plan to this week, though. So I was feeling pretty confident going into the Ass-Blood Prince last night.

I won't say I was totally blown away, but I was pretty damn impressed. As someone relatively new to the quasi-complicated Pothead world, I felt fairly not-that-lost. The story flowed and a lot of the character actions made sense, which is basically my new standard for a good movie after watching fiascos like Terminator 4 and Transformers 2. That said, here were my first thoughts - Spoilers Abound!!

The weirdest thing about this flick is that the tone was slightly skewed throughout. Scenes tend to wander back and forth between this dire, end-of-magic-world, I guess, -type growing malice and unstoppable evil, and like, petty teen drama. It's really jarring sometimes, but ultimately it's pretty cool to see that these kids are living (or at least trying to) the lives of normal teenagers going through school. They deal with real problems and emotion, which is pretty rad. Against the insanely dangerous background of Hogwartz, though, sometimes it just gets redundant. But as Optimus Prime said, "Destiny rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing." You really get that feeling with some of Harry and Dumbledore's scenes. There's this sense that Harry might not want this "gift" or "fame" that he's been given, but Dumbledore's like "Look son, you ain't got a choice, boy." In as many words.

The idea of students knowing what is going on in their extremely dangerous everyday lives seems especially relevant with one of the most interesting characters, which is Draco Malfoy. He seems to be one of the only ones who consistently knows what is going on, and refuses to play petty drama games, instead being focused on the admittedly ridiculous task handed to him by Voldy, which is to snipe out Dumbledore. He's always got a scowl on his face, so so bitter, Drake. C'mon.

He's cool though in this building opposition he has to Harry. There's consistent dialog of Harry being "The Chosen One" with some great destiny to fulfill. Likewise, Malfoy is eager to be "chosen" by the Dark Lord Voldefart (I promise I'll stop these joke names pretty soon, let me revel in some more immaturity while I can) as someone who is special. Unfortunately, Malfoy pretty much sucks, so it doesn't quite work out.

In each of the films up to this point, it has always been Harry who has either fallen into some outrageous situation or given some task from Dumbledore or other analogous character to fulfill, and he, of course, pulls it off majestically. In HBP, Malfoy is chosen by Voldemort to do such a task as well, but whether from Malfoy's inner goodness and loyalty that he is struggling with (not unlike Snape, which may be a cause for him to take an Unbreakable Vow to protect him), or from sheer ineptitude and cowardice, Malfoy fails. Malfoy is an excellent counter to Harry, he's weak, he cries, he whines. He feels there is some justice he deserves to be given to him based on his family lineage and wealth, while Harry earns his praise and recognition in the Wizarding World through humility and actual talent.

This brings me to another point, can any of you ever imagine having Harry in class with you? You know that one really smart kid who always got all the accolades and everyone knew was going to an Ivy League school or something? Yeah, that dick. Harry is that dick at Hogwartz. You can tell when he perfects the Crawling Death-whatever potion (Of course, this was because he had the textbook of the Half-Blood Prince. Of COURSE HARRY gets the lucky textbook), that every other kid in that class was like "What the hell, Potter gets all the fame AND the best potion in class. Asshole." This makes me tend to identify with Malfoy some more. Why the hell does this nerd prick get all the attention and love. It's really NOT fair in a lot of ways, and this really fuels Malfoy's turn to the dark side. BUT he's got some depth in the fact that a part of him still loves Hogwartz and Dumbledore, you can tell the way he watches Bellatrix Lestrange wreck the eating hall, a little part of him dies, maybe remembering his first meal under the Sorting Hat or whatever. I think Malfoy's character and really, absolutely normal reaction to his perceived arrogance of Potter is the reason to watch this movie.

Harry on the luck potion was awesome. I was busting out when he just had a "feeling" about Hagrid's and it all worked out for him (kind of I guess). It was a well-done piece of writing with a good amount of coincidences that were just un-coincidental enough to be explained with a good pay-off. It kind of reminded me of the Time-Turner from the Prisoner of Asskaban, which was my favourite part of that flick, too. I get the impression that Rowling has a knack for presenting kind of goofy, seemingly stupid shit, that ends up meaning something and having that great payoff. Cheating and reading the ending and synopses of Deathly Swallows (Damn these names are easy to make dirty puns on), indicates that a lot of apparently arbitrary shit works out pretty cool and fulfilling, instead of corny with that groan-worthy moment.

My final major impression on my first viewing was a bit disturbing. After seeing the whole thing, I kind of got the impression that one of the messages of the flick was blindly following someone you kind of trust to be good, even if it's going behind the backs of friends, family, memories, everything. It's a very Machiavellian movie in a lot of ways, a lot of Patriot Act stuff going on here. Harry really, really blindly trusts Dumbledore, stooping low enough to attempt to trick professors/old friends about information, bending rules on Apparition to travel on secret field trips, there is a whole bunch of semi-nefarious shit like that which requires a lot of trust and loyalty given to a dude who seems to keep a shitload of secrets from Harry. The other movies are all like that, though, there's always instances of Harry spying on people, whether through his Invisibility Cloak or Marauder's Map or whatever. How the hell do they let a little kid get away with this stuff? Every arguably "good professor" (ie, Lupin, Mad-Eye, Dumbledore) seems to be pretty okay with letting Harry do just about whatever mischief he wants, somehow just "knowing" that things will work out. I tend to side with Snape a lot in situations like this, I mean, honestly, you're in a huge castle filled with monsters and witches and shit, stop sneaking around, asshole Potter.

Well, that's mostly it I think. Like just about every Potter movie, it's basically the school year rather than something that continually drives towards the main plot (Or Title, the Half-Blood Prince is barely mentioned, but I guess is actually pretty important when you find out who he is at the end), and so has a fair amount of tangents and other generally weird shit that happens instead of continually circling around one driving factor. Either way, I'm pretty pumped to catch up on Order of the Penis as well as both Deathly Swallows when they arrive in the next few years, from what I've heard, it's the best book by far, here's to it being the best flick as well!

06 July 2009

Trends: The Rise and Fall of American Film Patriotism; 1996-1998

With the Fourth of July this past weekend came the requisite viewing of the spectacular blockbuster of yesteryear, Independence Day (1996). Watching this thing again filled me with a pride and patriotism that I have not felt at the movies in years. If you don't choke up just a little at Bill Pullman's final speech and assault on the Saucer, get the hell out of my country, you're not a true American.

With this jingoism out of the way there, it got me thinking, especially with a few recent repeated viewings of Transformers 2 that there was a very small window of time in the mid-to-late 90s where these big, awesome action movies ruled. It's a tiny window in between the 80s bodybuilder/solitary man gun machismo-fests (see First Blood [1982], Robocop [1987], Commando [1985]) and the 2000s comic-book franchise-aganza (see X-Men [2000], Spider-Man [2002], Harry Potter [2001]). Very few of these films were franchised and virtually all of them remain not only pretty great stand alone movies, but watching them becomes an entire event. Sitting down for something like Armageddon (1998) or The Rock (1996) is a whole adventure in itself.

There's these handful of movies in this time that really reflect where America was in the world in its peak at the end of the 20th Century. This is from the time of the Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the attacks of September 11, 2001. This was a decade where the United States was essentially unchallenged in world dominance, and it shows through our films, especially those of Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, and to a lesser excess, McG and Paul W. S. Anderson. The prominence of American power and leadership on display here is astounding. There are three major films from this period which I believe highlight this trend the greatest, along with numerous supplemental films which I will also try to mention. Let's get started with the kick-off point and inspiration for this post:

1) Does England have a Fourth of July? Yes, but no INDEPENDENCE DAY
1996 - Independence Day is an incredible movie with some legendary CGI at the time as well as some of the greatest exploding National Monuments ever to be captured on film (take that, G.I. Joe!) Upon a more recent viewing, there's an extremely high level of badassery on constant display, as well as some broad humour that isn't in the spank-your-ass-after-fucking-it Michael Bay style. It is a globally unifying movie, although a globe that is clearly united under, if not subservient to an American influence. We call the shots, detonate the bomb, and let the rest of the world know how to take down the Alien Tentacly Bastards, and why shouldn't we? On display is the greatest technical and scientific intelligence, biggest bombs, and greatest fighter piloting in the world, unquestioned. I also love seeing a President who is willing to jump into a Fighter Jet to lead his men into battle, how could you not follow that kind of bravery. I mentioned before that Pullman's speech before the final battle is equally epic, and when this movie is over, you've got the feeling that this country can even withstand the attack from a foe as formidable, relentless, intelligent, and technologically advanced as the Aliens, whose planet, race, or history is never divulged. It's not unlike our underdog war against the Brits back in '76, the metaphor of which I could probably spend another post covering. Great, American-Made epic film, still one of the highest grossing of all time, ranks #6 all-time for all movies that didn't have a sequel (More stats: #8 movie made before the New Millennium, actual current position is #28, soon to be pushed down another notch by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. What does that say about current trends, eh?).

2) THE ROCK Goes Home and Fucks the Prom Queen
1996 - The Rock remains to this day Michael Bay's greatest movie. You go back and watch this and actually tend to think "Wait a minute...the continuity and plot in this, although inherently ridiculous, actually kind of makes sense." It's also the only good memorable role Sean Connery has had in the past 15 years (although to be fair, he's sort of retired), and also single-handily morphed Nic Cage from a quirky quasi-indie, Academy Award-winning actor into a fearless, moronic action star. Awesome. It's also one of the most militaristic movies ever made for something that is not explicitly about the military (again, Transformers 2 trying to take its spot...). If there's any debate on this, watch the scene where the Navy SEAL commandos break into the shower room on Alcatraz and debate with Gen. Hummel (Which consists of "ORDER YOUR MEN TO STAND DOWN!!!" "I CAN NOT GIVE THAT ORDER!!!" about seven times). This stands out among my picks here as dealing with U.S. domestic terrorism, admittedly citing that there may be something wrong with our overblown military-industrial complex that expects soldiers to die for their country, but will not acknowledge their deaths. It's an interesting predicament that fuels Hummel's motivation, but any doubt of Bay's true intentions of simply making the most awesome movie possible are put aside with the greatest climax shot of cinematic history -- Cage and the Jets. Hey, you'd fall on your knees too if you just stuck a 9-inch needle into your heart to prevent your skin from melting off due to a fraction of a second exposure to deadly VX Gas. It's epic. It stands alone. Shit blows up. A lot. The whole movie is analogous to the pride of the U.S.A. Breathtaking.

3) ARMAGEDDON: The Meaning of Heroes
1998 - I was in this Church Youth Group in high school, and one night we watched Armageddon to learn about the Meaning of Heroes and sacrifice. I learned nothing, but got to see France explode, so it turned out to be a good evening.

Like Independence Day, it turns out that when the world is in crisis, the United States of America will step up and save everyone with little need to debate with any other country or people and follow their own path to inevitably save the Earth. Russia's single support, Peter Stormare floating around MIR is a weird, crazy, incompetent cosmonaut. I mean, come on. We've got the best in the world up there and all Russia can muster is this crazy, sweaty, hairy guy? Everything's on display here, our secret bases, missions, and training that will turn a group of crude Oil Riggers into the greatest team of Experimental Astronauts in the Universe. America rules. It's big, it's loud, Aerosmith rocks it out, beautiful.

There are a few more entries into this genre of ultra-patriotic, serendipitously propaganda movies out there from this time period that I'll mention quickly here, although the Big Three are what really takes hold. There ends up not being much more than those, however, because of the shear time and epic scale of making films as a metaphor for the excessive pomposity and dominance of Late 20th Century America. So, here's a quick listing:

Air Force One (1997) - President is Harrison Ford, he kicks ass. Just like Truman.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) - By all means a fantastic movie, one of my all-time favourites, but undoubtedly Pro-American in a more conscious way than something like The Rock.

Face/Off (1997) and Con Air (1997) generally will round out this style of stand-alone, large explosion, Pro-American action films in my eyes, although lack some of the epic style and overt American praise of some of the others mentioned here. Both essentially deal with domestic terrorism and crime, and both have cops as both villains (dicks) and heroes (slightly less dicks). This is marginally dissimilar to Independence Day, and virtually every Michael Bay movie that captures one of the largest facets of this movement, the good guy Authority figure. In the movies feature above, either the Police, President, Military, or Government is seen as noble or in some other way using their power for the good of humanity. This is less apparent in modern Action films, where the police or military cannot be trusted, or is seen as the villain (Bourne Series [2002-07], Hulk Series [2003-08], Minority Report [2002]) or even movies that emphasize stealing or conning, which means avoiding/disabling authority figures to get a more important or selfish prize (Ocean's Series [2001-07] and National Treasure Series [2004-07]). Even films like The Dark Knight (2008) or Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) has good characters fighting against cops, supplanting their own authority and judgment over that of the establishment. The action films of 1996-98 tend more to trust Authority figures and deify their role in protecting us. You may take notice now that one of the movies I cited here is not part of a franchise, as well.

This is not to say that all modern movies tend to reject a higher American authority figure. Almost all the examples I could think of happened to be Michael Bay movies (Bad Boys II [2003], Transformers [2007] and of course, Transformers 2 [2009]), but the point remains that all these made money.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Trends," where we might examine where exactly this style of Action Movie died away (I'll give you a hint, it's The Matrix! [1999]) and the invaluable role that each Die Hard movie played in establishing its trend.

05 July 2009

Second Impressions: Transformers: Revenge of the Swollen

I had the privilege today of watching what is surely THE movie of Summer 2009 (great companion to Boom Boom Pow) in the majesty of IMAX.

Let me say, it is absolutely vital. This flick was made for the larger-than-life IMAX experience. Every explosion, every leg hump, every car rolling down the desert is crisp and even more intense. Waaayy better than the IMAX version of The Proposal.

That being said, on my second go-around of this ridiculous fiesta of a movie brought a few more things to my attention that I really wanted to get into, hence Round Two of my Impressions of this movie.

1) U.S. Military on Parade
There are so many shots of jets flying, Aircraft carriers floating, and soldiers and pilots running around that this might as well be a two and a half hour advertisement for the U.S. Armed Forces. I picked this up a little bit the first time around, but towards the second half of this movie, every other shot is a fighter or bomber plane soaring across the sky, or helicopters loaded with troops going somewhere, or something exploding. It's sick. Every awesome piece of U.S. Military hardware is on hugely prominent display, from tanks to subs to predator spy planes, it gets to be overwhelming. I'm going to tackle the lack of Patriotism in modern cinema as compared to mid-90s action films in a future post, but Michael Bay is still clearly the go-to guy for making heroes out of the U.S. Armed Forces and really pumping up their awesomeness. There's a lot of pride on display, you get the feeling that if these cats can find and dominate some Decepticons, how the fuck are we in the shit with Bin Laden and Iraq. Michael Bay needs to be appointed Secretary of Defense NOW.

2) Decepticon Whores
I avoided a lot of things in this movie that I thought were obviously dumb in my First Impressions, but it's clear that this needs some addressing. Where the fuck do the Decepticons get off jacking up some random bot with uber-babe syndrome and sicking her on lil' Shia. From the ass-tail probe to the five foot mountain ox tongue, everything about this chick is whack. First of all, no one could be that into Shia LaBeouf, especially after being asked to play Checkers at a Frat Party. Second, as soon as the bitch locates Shia, she should have sent word to Soundwave or better yet Starscream immediately, and they could have done the dirty deed. Or if they had some patience, could have let Scalpel chop up his brain during his sleep the next time he went to bed. There's practically no reason other than incompetant impatience for Whore-bot to attempt to seduce and infiltrate Shia's brain on her own at that time. Then again, maybe the Decepticons just rigged her extra-horny, which is fucked up enough on its own merits. Also, every part of her transforms except for her tongue. Why the hell is that her primary weapon. She likes licking some assholes in between missions, what the fuck. As you can tell, I'm upset. Let's please move on.

3) Parents and Balls
The parents in this movie are obviously insane, another terrible facet of the flick that I was trying to avoid, but really pounded me out on the second go-around. The mom is purely comical, but lacks any kind of tact or subtlety to get beyond a face-value knee-jerk reaction, which is more of a low-brow humour tactic than I usually prefer (I've been watching way too much Arrested Development recently, it's jacked up my standards). When the chips are down, though, she actually doesn't always act like a complete retard, and there is a nice reunion and genuine moment after their capture by Rampage (although really, this trap made no sense, if you find Shia just shoot him, don't tempt him with his parents) where they are doing their best to help their son, but really he needs to move on. A lot of love there. In general, this tends to be a shitty metaphor for a son moving on from his family in college and life, but it works for the moment, there's some real edge there.

Along with the style of humour Mom delivers, a major thing I picked up on in the second viewing was the sheer staggering amount of ball jokes. It is insane how much this movie caters to the 12-17 year old Adam Sandler fan. There are at least two occaisions of Transformers farting to humourous effect (one of the kitchen appliances and Jetfire), the attempts to make some of the bots use crude language to appear edgy (but of course, nothing too bad, it's PG-13 for the mass market people!), as well as a ton of simple testicle jokes (ball-tasing and Megan Fox-landing for Leo) and of course, the Giant Enemy Scrotum, the Decepticles. That really was too much, I mean, it not only really makes light of what should be an intense, pinnacle moment, but also makes the character of Devastator, who up to that point was this near-invincible, supremely powerful, deadly mindless villain, not to mention one of the most incredibly animated creatures ever put on to film, into a giant joke. It sucks and was completely unnecessary from a story or tonal standpoint. As you can tell, I'm upset again. What the hell else is there in this shitbag.

4) T & A and Funny Mexican Roommates
Real quick, the extra roommate or friends of Leo (whose name I did not pick up until the second viewing) are all moronic and not needed. Leo himself is purely comic relief, he does absolutely nothing in the movie and his character was barely needed at all. As I will approach in the next section, his character actually mostly filled in for the funny young guy character after Shia became serious and brooding after Optimus' death. Simmons is much more important, mostly for exposition, although I did like how they actually worked together instead of just being an antagonizing jerk (especially considering in this installment he had much more of a right to be an antagonizing jerk if he wanted to be).

I feel like this could take an entire post, but really, the Tits and Ass need to be addressed here somewhere. Megan Fox's introductory shot sums up the only reason her character is in his movie. It's a straight, up-ass jean short pan that completely only exists to sell her as a sexual object. Further than that, I noticed in the second huge IMAX viewing, that not only Megan, but almost every other chick on screen is smoking fantastically hot. Walking around the college campus every babe in the background is stacked and showing it. There is a ridiculous amount of Male Perspective where the camera only focuses on T & A, mostly Megan's in the center of the screen, but there were also some shots, namely when Shia is walking down the steps after his mental class breakdown, where the camera pans, but notably keeps this one busty chick in frame the entire time as other background students walk past it. It's insane if you can notice it and look for it. It's almost as if Bay is subliminally targeting his core audience of boys who just found out they get erections. This probably sounds more like a complaint than it actually is, but that's just because I have a dick, and it was loving those two hours so much. In all actuality, it's an incredibly sexist and racist film that astounds me to have come out in the year 2009.

5) Dwight Schrute is ROTF's Bernie Mac
Real quick here, Bernie Mac (obligatory R.I.P.) has such a bizarre cameo in Transformers, it always kind of bothered me. First of all, he's not really that famous to warrant a straight cameo (also he got decent billing), but he's also one of the most important characters; making the contact between Bumblebee and Shia. I always felt bad for him, the only thing he ever did wrong was be a good salesman and Bumblebee wrecked every car in his lot. C'mon! Going into Round 2, I was actually wondering what random funny person they might throw in for a weird, awkward, but necessary cameo.

Shit, Bay knocked it out of the park! Enter Rainn Wilson, Dwight Schrute himself as the Astronomy 101 professor, who similarly to Bernie Mac, makes some terrible awkward jokes (at his impendent pedophilic tendencies, not his blind 'Mammy') and is generally screwed over by the main characters, although less so by Shia who really only defies him in class, then proceeds to ruin his opening lecture. He also lets Shia access material that is vital to the story, like Bernie did in the first movie, namely, the Astronomy textbook that Shia reads in 32.6 seconds that gives him some information to solve the riddle that leads them to the Matrix of Leadership. This is a weird, weird parallel that I noticed the first time I saw the movie, but really sunk in the second time.

6) Shia's Redemption
Here's probably the most positive thing I noticed the second time here. About mid-way through the movie, actually, precisely after Optimus dies, Shia's character has a dramatic shift. He's no longer the cheeky, nerdy-unsure-of-himself yet witty-edgy teen, but this hardcore dramatic teen who is trying to prove his worth. The fight scene from an artistic and badass standpoint is beyond amazing, but it has another layer if you watch Shia. You realise that he really is completely powerless to help Optimus, yet Prime fights with incredible valour to try to save him. From this point on Shia is always trying to prove that he can do something, that Optimus didn't die in vain, whenever they reach a wall and the other characters give up, Shia refuses and leads them forward.

This is reflected when the Ancient Primes reward him with the Matrix of Leadership, in a way formally acknowledging that his life means something, that he can do something that's equally important or powerful as fighting off Grindor, Megatron, and Starscream simultaneously. Optimus sacrifices himself to save Shia, and likewise, Shia is willing to sacrifice almost everything, including his life (although he is saved from some weird Ancient Prime/Josh Duhamel CPR) to bring back Optimus'. It's pretty cool. The end scene of Shia and Optimus standing on the Aircraft Carrier is really showing that through their mutual trials, that they may stand as equals. The Autobot/Human equality factor is also highlighted numerous times, in the words of Tyrese, "If God made us in His image...who do you think made them?" There's also a lot of talk of shedding blood, sweat, and precious metal together, fighting for two years, making treaties and respecting each other, etc. Only Shia truly proves himself, however, and this is shown in the end scene of them standing in identical poses as equals.

That's about everything that's been buzzing in my head on my second viewing. I definitively realise that there really isn't that much to this movie at all, but there's a lot of cool things, a lot of incredibly dumb things, and either way, standing now at around $293 million and counting, should have a big fucking influence on our pop culture for some time to come. We'll see if I make it to the theater again for a third impression...

First Impressions: Pubic Enemies

Because there's nothing better than pube wars.

I had some high expectations going into this film this past week (wtf Tuesday premiere?) and I'd say that these were not met, but not exactly crushed. Public Enemies is a solid film, but nothing really absolutely outstanding. SPOILERS to follow, baby.

In many ways it's the exact opposite of a Michael Bay Extravaganza. The plotting is consistent and thorough, events happen sequentially and thoughtfully, it is well-acted and produced. The action is relatively tame, hardly any explosions or long dropping camera shots. It's a film with more honour and integrity than a big summer release is expected too anymore. It's subdued, brooding at times, and always knows that its stock should be a little higher than the fanboys clamouring for Wolverine.

That said, it really only meets the expectations for being "not a bad" movie. It certainly is not great or groundbreaking, and there are less "WOW" moments, or things that you've never seen before. The plot is not necessarily complicated, there are no major twists or turns or convolutions or insane revelations that force something meaningful through a charaded gap. It's simply a period gangster movie that by all means works well, but is not going to change your life.

There are, however, definite high points. The movie rests on Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, who in general, is awesome. Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent hired to hunt him down does a good job as well, but as is the trend with Bale lately, is more towards the weak link in the casting. I essentially saw the themes as a parallel look at these two men as they spiral out of control, more and more desperate to achieve their goals.

Dillinger is essentially an incredibly cocky asshole, a thorough American. His pride and hubris eventually cost him about everything in his life, and then his life itself. His arc as the world he has built around himself starts to crumble as the government tightens its grip on organized crime, is the most developed in the movie. Depp plays him pretty brilliantly as this man always yearning to break free from the confines other men have placed around him. He's almost very Jack Sparrow-esque in his motivations, although certainly not in his personality. There's less Verblinski-style cheeky humour, which rules. Dillinger is ruthless, but honourable and loyal to his friends. It takes a certain madness to do what he does for a living, but he is able to restrain it, which Mann does a great, if not obvious job of demonstrating alongside the manic Baby Face Nelson, who fights and kills without large reason or distinction. Basically, whenever Depp is on screen, something awesome is about to happen.

Purvis is Dillinger's Nemesis here, and I thought they could have developed his story a little further, although they round it out in the epilogue. He's continually torn with the idea of abusing Federal power to crack down on these violent scumbags, while trying to uphold the law and freedom. The only overt scene of him restraining interrogation or investigation tactics is a great scene when he stops another cop from beating the shit out of Dillinger's girl Billie (Marion Cotillard). I think a scene of Purvis quitting instead of mentioning it in the epilogue may have been more powerful, but I can see why the movie ended at the spot where it did. This was probably the most interesting aspect of the flick to me, with again, obvious observations on our own Era of Control and Surveillance, how far the FBI was willing to go to spy on people to seek justice. Whether it is eventually justified or not is up to debate, but when Purvis stops taking orders is when that storyline shines the most...which is not until the End Credits.

Dillinger's balls are absolutely huge in the film, which leads to a handful of the best scenes, namely, his occaisional public appearances, absolutely flirting with danger and how far he can push the world around him, even strolling into the room at the police station that is assigned to investigate him. He's the man, consistently and thoroughly, charismatic and endearing, which is almost solely due to Depp's portrayal.

One thing about this movie is that it's incredibly slow. I realise I may just be too used to the Cranks and Transformers infecting my reasonable brain, but I like to see scenes go by a bit quicker and get to the point with some more emphasis instead of lingering to squeeze every bit of meaning, leaving nothing for the audience to ponder about. It could have used to be ten minutes shorter, and I nearly never say that, hell I could have stood to see Spider-Man 3 go about a half-hour longer. A little tighter editing could have worked, but in the end, I tend to be more interested in the core character and story anyway.

It definately has a streak of inherent coolness, but not in a blatant in-your-face-it-explodes-Transformers 2 kind of way. It's a slick, smooth, and charming piece, as Dillinger says in the trailer, "I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars... and you. What else you need to know?"

That's the most honest American statement I've heard in movies in a long time.
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