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Guys, guys, the new Hobbit movie, “The Battle of Five Armies” is pretty bad…

I’ll do my best to refrain from spoilers, even though you know, how can you really spoil a movie that’s about a book that is older than I am (and I’m no spring chicken-cluck! cluck!)?

First off, let me just say how much I loved, loved, loved, the first three LOTR movies. They are my “comfort food” of movies; I watch them when I’m sick- and they’re perfect. They are so long that by the time I finish watching all three of the extended versions, I’m well on my way to recovery. (I sleep for all the Treebeard sequences, and wake up to watch Aragorn and Legolas running beautifully through Middle Earth).

Count me among the skeptics when I doubted that the prequels would be able to deliver what the original trilogy did for sheer entertainment. And you know, skepticism rewarded! But at least the first two managed to hold together a semblance of something familiar and loved. I made allowances because frankly, I just wanted to see more of Middle Earth. Like going to a once favorite restaurant that has gone downhill. But hey, the breadsticks are still good!

Well, sad to say, the breadsticks are stale by this last, and one hopes, final glimpse of Middle Earth.

The good news; I thought the actors really did a great job. It’s easy to overlook this, because these types of movies are about spectacle. It’s even more amazing considering the frequent lack of physical sets or other actors to play against (more on the obviousness of this later).  However, it’s unfortunate that they were emoting such big emotions, because I had already completely forgotten what they were upset about. I wonder if it’s even possible for those of us who didn’t have the book engraved into long term memory to care. The only thing I remembered about the previous movie; The Desolation of Smaug, was that there was a big dragon. Arkenstone? What’s an Arkenstone? Who’s that? Why is she upset? Why is he crying? What’s going on?

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, turned me into my mom while watching it.

For those of you just looking for a VFX spectacle, well… Here’s the thing,  it would have been nice for some visual consistency. The original movies had a lot of actual sets and more real actors. While I understand the desire to green screen a lot of backgrounds (more flexibility, and a lot of extra details), when these shots are juxtaposed next to natural shots of the actors walking in the beautiful outdoors, it shows. The green screened shots are stylized in lighting and tone. The outdoor ones, are not. There’s an odd gloss to the former that made me think of “Sky Captains, World of Tomorrow”. It’s not terrible, but it’s a really different look. If they had all the VFX shots labled as “Bilbo Baggins’ Dream Sequence”, I might have been okay with it.

Overall, this movie just feels hectic. Look over there elves! Now dwarves! Now people! Now, really odd slapstick! Children in peril! Wait, I can’t keep track, who, what?

Towards the end, Peter Jackson had thrown so many showy moments at the audience, I felt like he was trolling us.

[SPOILER ALERT}

This will make perfect sense after you've watched the movie.

This will make perfect sense after you’ve watched the movie.

My recommendation is that if you really need a new LOTR fix, watch the really great publicity that was done for this movie’s release. Stephen Colbert interviewed Smaug, and also wrote a lovely article in Entertainment Weekly about the entire franchise.

And SNL did a great LOTR, “The Office” mashup, that’s been making the rounds.

But I know you’re still going to go see it. So for a management of expectations scale, it’s still not Transformers bad.

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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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Hebrew slang through geek filters

What I heard:

“Sababa!”

Roughly translated, it means “cool”, “fine”, “I’m okay with that.”

What I thought I heard:

“Sebulba”

Roughly translated, it means… character from the pod race sequence in “Star Wars, Episode One” who was not sababa.

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More bad movies

May I present…

Hmm, does this poster look familiar to anyone? Oh yeah!

Moby Dick (1851) is a novel written by Herman Melville. For many, including the professor who taught my American literature class, it is the quintessential novel. I did not like it, but it is written in such a way that it can be used as a metaphor for almost any topic. It was the Swiss army knife of books, invaluable when writing an English paper.

With “Moby Dick”, you can tie in:

1) man vs. nature

2) brotherhood

3) the ever-popular Christ figure

4) the quixotic quest

5) racism

In fact, the only literary theme that was difficult to discuss within the context of “Moby Dick” was feminism and motherhood, as there are no females in the book. However, the sex of the white whale is never mentioned, so some adventurous readers say that the whale is female and Captain Ahab has mother issues.

English lit class. Only art class was more subjective.

This is how I picture the movie pitch went down;

WRITER WHO STUDIED MELVILLE IN COLLEGE: I would like to make an adaptation of Moby Dick!

STUDIO EXEC: Great, monster movie, it’s like “Jaws!” But how about we set it in modern day?

WWSMIC: Oookay…

STUDIO EXEC: And we make Captain Ahab a woman! How about the sidekick from “Xena: Warrior Princess”? Cult show in the 90’s!

WWSMIC: … [pauses for his soul to die]

Voila! The end product being something with which I’m sure no one involved was happy.

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All crazed religious characters must be played by Paul Bettany

At least, this is what I’ve managed to glean from recent Hollywood offerings.

See, this is him in “Da Vinci Code”, where he plays a crazed, intense, albino, monk.

And here he is in “Legion”, where he plays a crazed, intense, angel. I don’t think he’s  an albino here, because it’s sunny in this movie and that would just be distracting as a plot device. (“Gee, I sure hope in between battling Satan’s minions he put on some sunscreen.”)

Also…those weapons look very poorly photoshopped in there. Perhaps that is to show that all weapons are like cardboard when faced with divine might?

No?

Ok, moving on!

 “Priest”.   A crazed, intense, vampire-killing priest (who may or may not be albino). In 3D!

I’m going to say that going from angel to priest is something of a demotion. He should talk to his agent.

The first time I remember seeing this actor in a movie was when he played a figment of Russell Crowe’s psychotic breakdown in “A Beautiful Mind”.

It’s been ten years since I’ve seen that movie, but  I’m almost POSITIVE it was like this:

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The Beauty of the Bad Movie

Watching lousy movies for fun is part of a long tradition of reveling in bad art.  Before movies,  there were those who enjoyed snarking at overwrought novels, plays, and paintings. I’ll bet back in prehistoric days,there was an early man who looked at a cave wall, and said:

“Grog’s painting of sabertooth attack  lack subtlety. So bad…is good! HAHA!”  (After which he was clubbed to death, because prehistoric artists not only lacked subtlety, but  impulse control as well, due to underdeveloped frontal lobes.)

Anyway…

There are a few ground rules in properly enjoying a bad movie.

1)The movie cannot be self-consciously bad. The more obliviously sincere, the better; schadenfreude being an essential part of the enjoyment.

2) Talk is permitted, in fact, mandatory. But it should be about the movie, not about, say the  current political situation.

3) Appropriately bad food must be served.  I suggest this,  (I’ve mentioned this cheese sauce in  a previous post. I assure you, it is terrible for you.  Cut down the amount of cornstarch suggested in the recipe, it gets too thick otherwise)

With these rules in mind,  my friends and I watched the Cher and Christina Aguilera masterwork, “Burlesque”

Holy Christmas! It was fantastic! Every cliche developed since the beginning of film-making  was relentlessly shoe-horned into place,  Blonde protagonist, brunette rival, sassy gay sidekick played by Stanley Tucci , jaded mother figure who both inspires and becomes inspired by plucky orphaned heroine! All covered with copious amounts of glitter for that sense of glamour!

In case the viewers ever became uncertain about how to calibrate their emotional response to a scene, there were helpful lighting cues! For example, blue light = sadness!  Also, you could tell when a character was coming up with  a plan because he or she would make the “thoughtful author pose”  You know, this one.

Originally, the plan had been to watch “The Tourist” but that movie was not yet available. Besides, no matter how bad “The Tourist” is, I would be distracted from enjoying the awful because of the elegance and beauty of the clothes.

There is no danger of such distractions with “Burlesque”; pasties and stripper heels have never been my thing.

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