Aisle of the Damned: 06/30/17- Robots in Disgrace

Bayformers: Robots in Disgrace

It’s finally happened. Transformers: The Last Knight is here to bludgeon you into submission with everything Michael Bay didn’t manage to say in the first 17 hours’ worth of Transformers movies. Who is still going to see these things? Well, Kent and Bryan, apparently, but mostly so you don’t have to.

Plus, we have more strange Sony tales and a stupefying Fantastic Four announcement to talk about, along with more news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Weird Al Yankovic- Dare to be Stupid

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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The things I do for this non-paying job…

I went and saw Tranformers: Age of Extinction. Or is it TransFOURmers? Because, you know, FOURTH MOVIE. Regardless, it pretty much puts the ‘stink’ in ‘extinction.’ It is, as with most of Michael Bay’s movies, designed to explode the head of anyone who has been in a sensory deprivation chamber. But hey, it’s not just loud. It’s also dumb!

The Transformers movies, especially when we’re talking about the sequels, are by and large the male Gen Y naval-gazing equivalent to Twilight. Anyone with any intellectual or cultural honesty at all has to admit that there is literally no value to them. Not even as fun. Because just they aren’t that fun. And yet they continue, against all sanity, to be huge hits that have racked up billions of dollars in revenue.

Eventually even explosions aren’t that great out of context and in the Transformers sequels, context is practically non-existent. It’s like on 30 Rock when they did the joke about NBC showing nothing but fireworks for a night of programming. Except there’s far less aesthetic value to the Transformers films. They’re boring. They’re poorly edited. They are insultingly ugly to look at. How is that fun? They don’t even work as camp, really. Though now I would like to make a movie about a guy getting ready for work filmed entirely in “Bay-Vision” so every shot is designed to look epic no matter how utterly mundane or stupid the action is.

[Camera pans left from under Bob. He is harshly lit in front of the sink brushing his teeth with a rightward motion in slo-mo. As this happens, we have a cup in the foreground with extra toothbrushes in it for a sense of scale and in the background, the door swings open, revealing his junior high-aged daughter (portrayed by a 28-year-old with fake boobs) in a negligee, dark, oily and glowing as though she’s just returned from rubbing herself down with 40-weight. A song by a past-its-prime buttrock band swells in the background.]

Bob: Theresa, I told you to cover yourself up!

[Camera moves around Theresa’s head in a 360 degree motion, in the background we have as many things happening as physically possible in a bathroom followed with a gut-wrenching plunge to a perfectly framed shot of her lacy boyshorts-swaddled ass on the right side and her father in the background to the left.]

Theresea: Gawd, daddy. What are you, the Tallybanned? Tee hee!

That’s about the level of substance you will get in Age of Extinction. And, like a X-Men comic book by Grant Morrisson, it decides to ignore any character precedent and just randomly throw personalities against the wall regardless of what sticks depending on the scene. I guess this is because Bay decided to make the Autobots all homicidal maniacs with a hankering for longpig. About the fifth time Optimus Prime says/shouts that he wants to kill humans, it becomes clear that these are not the characters that populated the 80s cartoon-cum-toy commercial. It’s not even the characters from the first three movies. And it definitely helps ruin the illusion of a kid-friendly franchise which has never really been true of the Bay movies, but has been sold as such by Paramount.

Extinction even squanders its biggest opportunity for fun by effectively wasting such a goofy, can’t miss concept as the Dino-bots on a ten minute action sequence that gives them little to do besides run into things and serve as Optimus Prime’s bitches. After he beats the crap out of them for their own good, of course.

Instead the bulk of the movie follows around the improbably named Texan, Cade Yeager, played in Happening mode by Mark Wahlberg. He is Texan (despite his New England accent) and the worst inventor in the history of the world. The Texan literally cannot build anything that works, even though most of his “inventions” are actually things that I’m pretty sure already existed in a much more refined form twenty years ago. Thankfully, he is able to be a Transformer doctor however, the same way a child who has cut open their teddy bear can magically perform open-heart surgery on a dog. Cade (the Texan) is obviously a terrible character, but he is eclipsed by “unfunny comic relief sidekick” and “teenage daughter who becomes less and less capable as the movie goes on.” Also Texans. Keep in mind, the amount of references I have made to the characters’ relationship to the state of Texas is still less obnoxious than how the movie beats you over the head with this information. Texas.

Later, we are inexplicably treated to “insufferable secret boyfriend/worst character I have ever seen in a movie,” who actually makes the dad character who obviously wants to have sex with his daughter seem like a wonderful romantic prospect in comparison. The guy carries around a laminated copy of a Texas statute that keeps him from being arrested for statutory rape. Obviously he’s every parent’s dream. He is apparently supposed to be Irish as Wahlberg keeps calling him Lucky Charms, which is fortunate because his accent is so all over the place that we would never know this otherwise.

These folks, through stupidity and convenience, become involved in a secret NSA plot to destroy all the Transformers, Autobot (good guys who want to kill humans) and Decepticons (bad guys who want to kill humans) alike. The reasoning isn’t terrible; Kelsey ‘Frasier’ Grammer, doing his best to bring gravitas to an impossible situation, is sick of the alien war that has wrought terrible devastation on the Earth, particularly America. To the film’s credit, that opinion is not completely unthinkable to anyone that hasn’t been told for three films that Optimus Prime is Robot Jesus. However, any possible moral grey area and questions about putting humanity in the middle of an intergalactic war that it shouldn’t be involved in are immediately forgotten through making the black-hat strike team a bunch of power-mad, thug buttholes. Their hobbies are long walks on the beach, ignoring people’s rights, threatening civilians and war profiteering. Because God forbid they actually present anything resembling a complicated idea when Bay can just make the bad guys Janine Garofalo’s idea of Haliburton. They are partnered up with a robot version of Xerxes from 300 who hates Optimus Prime… FOR SOME REASON… and Stanley Tucci, who is the other guy trying to save this movie, unfortunately by screaming through every nonsensical character change.

Tucci is a Steve Jobs-type who has figured out how the Transformers’ biology works and is trying to utilize that technology through the use of the metal they are made of, “Transformium.” This is still a less stupid name than Unobtanium, but just barely. He plays the role in a way that makes his work as Caesar in The Hunger Games seem incredibly nuanced and subtle.

There was a certain point when I thought the film was over because it felt like it had already been playing for three hours and everything was winding down. But it turns out there was still approximately a third to go as this was just the film picking up and inexplicably moving halfway across the world for the sole purpose of selling Chinese movie tickets. But that’s essentially what this film boils down to. It feels like the manatees in the idea tank from South Park pulling out balls with “commercially viable” ideas and then filming them without an inkling of a script. “OK, what have we got… Texas pandering, secret government agency, dinosaur robots, bad country music, changing an old-fashioned hero into a dark and gritty one, incest, obnoxious product placement, Chinese pandering, the destruction of Chicago… How’d that one get in there? It’s a leftover from last time. Oh well, why not… lots of graphic violence excused because it’s against robots and a girl named BingBing. Sounds good. We’ll fix it in post.”

And the worst part is, it’s working.

If you’re one of the people keeping this franchise viable, I’d love to know why. Why have you seen four of these in the theater? Why will you go see a fifth? And don’t say that it’s “dumb fun.” Because there are much better made fun movies with lots of bang bang which aren’t doing as well. Does nostalgia really have its hooks so deeply into people that they will completely ignore the contents of a so-called piece of entertainment if it has the right toy name on it? Because this is the fourth go-round. People have to know what they’re getting by now. And if this is what you want, I simply don’t understand you or your world view.

In the end, Optimus asks that when people see a star in the sky, they think of it as his soul. Tell you what, Optimus; instead, when I see a floater in the toilet that just won’t flush, I’m going to think of the Transformers franchise.

(One damn given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Lone Survivor

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Peter Berg loves him some military. Battleship was widely regarded as a pretty rah rah film towards men in uniform, even as one wondered whether the military would want to be involved in or even praised by it, given it was… well, the Battleship movie.

Lone Survivor, his latest effort, is certainly a step-up from that insane movie that actually sold itself on being from the same toy manufacturer behind Transformers. It’s a far more serious-minded film based on the memoirs of Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal that barely made it out of an extremely one-sided skirmish in Afghanistan. (I don’t think that’s a very big spoiler given the title.)

Besides, I couldn’t do a worse job of ruining the ending than the movie itself does. Indeed, it starts with not just one, but two of my biggest pet peeves. First, an opening documentary montage that does not have anything to do with the narrative but is only supposed to show some of the tough training that Seals go through. Second, one of the now most overused narrative devices in hour-long television, the “drop you into the dramatic moment and then flash back in time to make you wait to see how we got there.”

In the lead role of Luttrell, we have Mark Wahlberg. I’m still not sure how he has managed to become a movie star. He’s starred in one heck of a lot of awful films. In this one he mostly veers towards the bland side of his personality instead of the “angry and confused” expression that usually plagues him. He’s surrounded by some likable actors as his team. Taylor Kitsch, who I liked a lot in John Carter, heads up the outfit on their mission to snag a couple of Taliban leaders that are responsible for killing a lot of Marines. Rounding things out are Emile Hirsch (aka Speed Racer) and Ben Foster, who I still mostly remember from that old Disney show with Jewel Staite. They’re all bearded up like hillbillies and ready to kick some ass. Under the leadership of Eric Bana, they are dropped off to march across mountainous terrain that leaves them on their own when comms drop off.

After compromising themselves, they end up on the run from far superior numbers. This is when the generic Christian rock score eases off and the action begins. Is it graphic? I won’t say no. It falls somewhere between the fake-looking CGI spatter of The Expendables and under the extraordinarily gory finale of Rambo. Lots of headshots. Decent amounts of blood. Actually pretty seemingly accurate. The chase goes by pretty quickly, taking up the last half of the movie and the damage the men take is believably brutal. There is more than one occasion that will likely make you cringe as they get shot up, scraped and broken.

One thing I can praise the film for is its editing. Compared to other modern war films I’ve seen, it was far better at following the layout of the battles and actually giving the viewer a sense of where danger is coming from. It is still certainly more rapid-fire than I prefer, but at least we know where everything is.

In the end, I didn’t feel attached enough to the characters to really find it to be a great film, but I can’t say it’s a bad one by any stretch. It’s just an unremarkable but solid film that will definitely serve as a step up for the type of moviegoer that enjoys films like Behind Enemy Lines or Act of Valor.

(Three damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Ted

Mark Wahlberg will soon be yelling at the urinal.

The “man-child grows up” film is nothing new in Hollywood these days. There are two different ways the story usually plays out; either as a female fantasy about fixing a flawed guy or as a way of criticizing that fantasy. Ted manages to walk a particular tight-rope that allows both of these ideas, much the same way as Shaun of the Dead did. This is not to say that the films are the same, of course. There’s a big difference between Edgar Wright and the guy that created the TV show that won’t die. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy from Seth McFarlane, the basis for a lot of Fox’s now mediocre Sunday block.

The main gist of the story is that Bostonian John Bennett (the oft angry and confused Mark Wahlberg) was an unpopular child who, upon receiving a teddy bear one magical Christmas Day, gets his wish that his bear would come to life so they can be best friends forever. 25 years later, they’re a couple of foul-mouthed buddies who prefer to sit on the couch all day, watch Flash Gordon and get baked, if they have their druthers. The teddy bear is now Ted, a former celebrity who has faded into obscurity, but has never steered away from his main purpose of being John’s BFF. The problem with that is Lori, John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis), who wants him to get himself together and be responsible enough to… well, not skip-out from his mediocre job and get high all day.

The fortunate thing about what McFarlane does with the film is that he avoids the usual cliches by making Lori an actual three-dimensional character. She doesn’t want John to change everything about himself. She loves him for who he is and she understands the importance of Ted in John’s life. She just wants John to get his own life so they can move forward as a couple. Given John’s actions throughout the film, audience members are able to be highly sympathetic to her way of thinking. Without ruining any jokes, she’s given plenty of reasons to be upset with Ted’s place in John’s arrested development, though McFarlane is also smart enough to point out John’s own place in his self-destructive behavior.

Ted himself is surprisingly one of the better-rendered CGI characters that has come about. His interactions with John and others work very well for a special effect in the hands of a first-time live-action director. (That said, the look of the film is pretty darn pedestrian for the most part. Perhaps it’s due to his animation background, but a lot of it feels like the set-ups and filming are very static and front and center. As a comedy, that’s not necessarily an issue, but it is noteworthy.) In a lot of ways, Ted inevitably feels like a teddy bear version of Peter Griffin, albeit with a Boston accent instead of Rhode Island, let loose without a network censor. The good news is that back in the day before it’s initial cancellation, Family Guy was a pleasant enough diversion and this manages to skirt closer to the sweet-but-weird nature of those early efforts. There are a few odd pop-cultural cut-aways, but only one of them seems terribly out of place and even it manages not to overstay its welcome. (Some of the others benefit from being delivered by the always fantastic Patrick Stewart.) There are also some oddball plots that don’t necessarily go anywhere but do add to the humor and several cameos, mostly from his animated series’ voice cast (and Supergirl), that don’t over-do it.

One other thing noteworthy about the film is the music. While most TV comedies (and especially cartoons) have languished with canned music over the years, Family Guy has always benefitted from the orchestral scores of Walter Murphy and McFarlane is smart enough to port him over to his film work. Murphy’s work for the film absolutely elevates it and lends it a sense of class that it may not deserve, but certainly benefits from.

In the end, the film is a success because it will likely make you laugh. It may not be the best comedy of the year, and who knows if it will stand the test of time, but it is definitely a step up from what this kind of film usually is and it definitely works better than most special-effects comedies.

(Three and a half out of five stars)