Monthly Archives: July 2014

Part 2: Why you should rewatch “Gladiator” instead of watching the new Transformers movie. (Or, I think Michael Bay is hate-f**king us)

Now that I’ve made my impassioned plea that you rewatch a good, old movie instead of a new bad one, it’s only fair that I write a critique of the movie I’m asking you not to see.

Reread Part I , but add “the opposite of this” for all the positive parts.

In “Transformers 4”, there are no emotional moments that are earned, no lowest common denominator left unpandered to, no cliché remade to feel fresh.

No, the clichés in this movie feel old, moldy, and ridden with salmonella.

Is that slow moving American flag shot a hint about the nation in decline? Who cares?!? [EXPLOSIONS! BWWAAAAAMP!!]

Familial love, also a theme in “Gladiator”, is demonstrated by yelling variations of “You’re my baby and I WILL PROTECT YOU!” The whole endeavor is as subtle as a truck ad, which for as far as I could tell, was the only thing not being promoted in this movie. (But nice job on the Budweiser and Victoria Secrets product placements! Those were not obtrusive at all!)

While it would be easy to make fun of the actors in a movie like this, I don’t think that it would be fair. What is the point of trying to act in a spectacle like this? Everything is loud in this movie. So, so, so loud. The music, the effects. Stanley Tucci seemed completely aware of this, scaling up his acting to match, which is why he is the most fun to watch. Interestingly enough, he hammed up his expressions to the point that he would have been perfectly legible in a silent movie.

All this leads to the inevitable conclusion that Michael Bay actually hates his audience. Stay with me on this bit of theorizing. His time in Hollywood could not have possibly raised his opinion of humanity. So he must be deliberately making movies as terrible as they can be to validate his hatred for the public. And his audience never falls to disappoint him by consistently showing up.

He’s like that broke guy who complains that all women are golddiggers. But when he becomes rich, only targets the golddiggers. So every time they say “yes” to his proposition, he hates them because they prove to him that he was right about their shallowness, but he also proves that the only worthwhile thing about him is his money.

Moreover, now he’s known as the “guy who only dates golddiggers” so even if he wanted something else, those are the only people he can attract. No one shows up when he tries something different.

Likewise, with Michael Bay. For example, I heard that Bay’s smaller film “Pain and Gain” was pretty fun. Did I watch it? No. Because I, like many others, have been taught by past experience, that the Michael Bay brand meant a certain kind of product. So in the same way I don’t go to Burger King for fine dining, I don’t go to a Michael Bay movie for anything other than a noisy mess. Imagine if Burger King started advertising a $30 burger, promising quality ingredients. Would you go? You wouldn’t! Because it’s Burger King! You’d rather take your risk with the new, cute little place that opened up on the corner.

Does it mean I won’t ever go to Burger King ever again? Of course not. I will!

And feel bad afterward.

The thing is, Michael Bay must be spectacularly bored by now. There are only so many yachts, mansions, and golddiggers one can buy. So wouldn’t it be great if with his buckets of cash and connections to really good craftsmen (the vfx and camerawork are always well done), he sponsored better content, even if it’s not made by him?

That would be crazy right? Michael Bay starting a boutique film production house that makes good films? It could happen. After all, the robber barons of the Gilded Age rehabbed their legacy by building concert halls and schools. It’s like how a PBS show lists all the endowments that made the show possible. I doubt those people sponsored good and decent programs (social or otherwise) during their lifetimes. But that was so long ago, and now I get Masterpiece Theater and Frontline!

But it won’t happen. In a year or two, we will get “Transformers 5 – EVEN LOUDER!” And Michael Bay will blithely collect his completely superfluous paycheck, buying another god knows what/who with it. He’s been on record as saying he doesn’t care about criticism. And he’s right not to: it makes absolutely no difference to him; the audience keeps showing up regardless.

In this way he’s like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, sneering at us while we cheer “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!”

Except less cool. And uses robots.

(And for those of you noting the hypocrisy of my complaining about something that I went to see myself, it was a free screening. And even then, it wasn’t worth it. Save your money. If you must watch a new movie, Planet of the Apes was good. Edge of Tomorrow was good. Go see one of those!)

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Why You Should Rewatch “Gladiator” Instead of watching the New Transformers Movie. part I

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bombastic, popcorn summer movie. In fact as I’ve gotten older, my desire for escapist entertainment has risen in inverse proportion to the amount of news that I read. Perhaps because real life stories (despite the Internet commentaries to the contrary), require nuance to understand: real heroes and villains always occupy a gray zone because human beings are capable of acting with incredible selfishness and selflessness in one lifetime. There’s no time for that kind of navel gazing in an epic blockbuster! It’s only a couple of hours, not seventy odd years and decades if not centuries of contextual history!

Lately though, a popcorn movie has become synonymous with “noisy instead of fun.” Heroes and villains don’t have to have subtlety in these movies, but they also shouldn’t be so ridiculous that you only root or jeer at them on principle.

I’ve watched so many of these movies in the last few years, I was beginning to wonder if I had idealized the ones I had liked in the past. Perhaps nostalgia was clouding my judgement and they were always awful; I simply had bad taste back then. Sort of like how you can look back at some ex boyfriends and from the comfortable vantage point of the present, wonder why your standards had been so low.

So I decided to revisit one of my favorites, “Gladiator.” And unlike regrettable ex-boyfriends and fashion choices, this held up for me. It’s great!

“Gladiator” is not a subtle movie. After all, it’s a movie called “Gladiator” about a gladiator and names its hero Maximus and its villain Commodus, a Mel Brooks choice of character naming if there ever was one. But it overcomes what should have been unrelenting fondue-fest, and provides one of those soaring experiences that is positively cathartic.

The hero is unrelentingly good, and wonderfully played by Russell Crowe. It is so easy to overdo this kind of character to the point that he becomes caricature. But a combination of the pacing, and just the right amount of humor and pathos, makes it work. The action sequences are intercut with conversations about loyalty, family, honor, and loss. It is so well done that every battle feels charged with emotion instead of simply an exercise in fight choreography.

Equally good is Joaquin Phoenix as the villain. Some might have found his sneering, sniveling performance a bit too much, I thought he was the perfect foil. His character was an entitled brat, absent for the bloodshed and danger, yet demanding to be taken as seriously as those with tangible accomplishments. In his mind, he is always the victim, and those who refuse to give him his due, are the true villains. If any of you have ever spent time with the sociopathic man-children of Silicon Valley or Wall Street, you will be familiar with the type, and just be glad you’re not in Ancient Rome.

One of my biggest peeves with bad movies is how they don’t earn their dramatic moments. They cue the score, and the actor or actress does his or her mighty best to sell the moment with a grandiose speech; their “St. Crispian Day” moment. But nothing leading up to that has won me over, so there’s no empathetic rush of feeling. No, “YES! I will fight for England against insurmountable odds with my king, even though I’m American, a woman, and several hundred years too late!”

Instead, I watch the moment with “oh, this is his rally the troops speech. And then there will be explosions. Expensive, expensive explosions!”

“Gladiator” earns its speeches. Lines that would have been painfully cheesy if the build up had not preceded it, reinforce the themes. Joaquin Phoenix actually has a line where he essentially says the movie poster blurb, and yet, because of everything that has already happened, it works. It doesn’t feel like he’s trying to emphasize to a dazed and bored audience “Hey guys! This is the theme! Just in case you missed it!”

Also, since the movie was made in 2000, the use of Vfx feels careful, instead of gratuitous. I imagine this was due to technology constraints at the time, rather than a deliberate choice by the director, Ridley Scott. But considering how you don’t really miss it, I’d love to see Scott try to make his next movie using the constraints that were put upon him fourteen years ago. Because as much as I love vfx, it should be the seasoning, not the meat. Most artists don’t like to admit it, but we do work much better and more creatively with some constraints.

I’d also like to point out, that this was all done with nary a boob or gratuitous nude scene. And strangely enough, these scenes are not missed! To tangent slightly, I loves me some “Game Of Thrones’, and I don’t object to nudity in principle, but throwing it in there, just because you can, is incredibly lazy and just makes the directors come across as misogynistic fourteen year old boys, saying “look! boobies!”

Also, Hans Zimmer’s score? Really one of the best ever.

In my next post, I will discuss the opposite of the above experience.

Hint. Both characters have swords….and the similarities end there.

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