Friday, June 26, 2009

A few thoughts on the summer movie season so far...

Last Tuesday night (or really, really early Wednesday morning depending on how you look at it), I dropped by the Gateway with a couple of friends to see a midnight showing of the new Transformers movie. The whole place was teeming with teenagers, which is especially strange when you consider that the original Transformers TV show aired about a decade before any of them were born. Seriously, I think I was the oldest person in the theater by several years.

Anyway, with "Revenge of the Fallen" under my belt, I figured it was high time I make a few observations on the last few movies I've seen...assuming I can still remember what I saw.

Star Trek: Still Nerdy, but Much Better for You

It's pretty obvious that this year's "Star Trek" reboot was a studio attempt to revitalize the franchise and transition it from an exclusive cult audience (the convention folks) to a more mainstream audience (people who would probably have more fun at a convention then they realize), without offending the aforementioned cult audience. To do so, the Star Trek Gods brought in Mr. "Lost," J.J. Abrams, and turned him loose on Kirk, Spock and the crew. The result was bittersweet for me: a fun movie that definitely injected new life in the "Star Trek" universe, but also showed me how good the "Star Wars" prequels could have been.

The total package was more than effective, with a fun story, energetic characters, and special effects that enhanced the movie instead of dominating it. Best of all, the film paid homage to the original series without coming off like it was ripping out a series of in-jokes to alienate the non-Trekkies (see Sulu's fencing background and the wheelchair for Captain Christopher Pike). But all that aside, once the dust clears, the best "Trek" movie is still "Wrath of Khan", on the strength of story and the performance of Ricardo Montalban.

Terminator Salvation: Now With 50% Less Time-Traveling Killer Robots

I think the biggest draw to this summer's new "Terminator" movie (also a franchise reboot) was all the publicity about Christian Bale's infamous on-set meltdown. That's too bad, because the new movie is fantastic, albeit a drastic departure for the original formula:

1. Terminator arrives in past to kill important human ancestor
2. Important human ancestor fights back
3. Important human ancestor destroys terminator through aid of other time-traveling helper

This time around, the action takes place in the future dystopia all the other movies were setting up, though the whole time continuum theme is still in play, as the bad robots are trying to kill the guy who will eventually go back in time and father the child that will grow up into the human resistance leader that in time goes on to overthrow the bad robot regime and restore earthly dominance to the human race. Still with me? I didn't think so. That's OK, the movie's still pretty cool. Go see it. Christian Bale needs your support.

Side Note: The Governator does make an appearance, and thanks to some strategic shadows, we are spared the sight of his Eco-Friendly Naughty Bits.

The Brothers Bloom: Funny Movie About Con Men

I'm not really sure when this one came out; I just know that I saw it with my new roommate and one of his ex-roommates (also my friend-it wasn't an awkward thing) at the Broadway Centre Theater in Salt Lake a couple of weeks ago. Since the Broadway is famous for being Salt Lake's prime spot for watching obscure art house stuff that isn't named The Tower, I don't know if "Brothers Bloom" came out two weeks ago or two years ago. With indie flicks, you just can't tell. The Tower, for example, has regular midnight screenings of older cult classics-I saw both "Rubin and Ed" and "Holy Grail" there years ago-so it's very possible that "Brothers Bloom" actually came out some time in the mid 1970's, in which case Rachel Weitz is really aging well.

Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to Jail: Insightful Social Commentary

Sorry, bad joke. I didn't really go see this one.

Transformers: The Revenge of Michael Bay

OK, so here is what I learned from the new Transformers movie:

1. Acting in a Michael Bay movie is really easy. 50% of the time you just have to look good while running in slow motion while something dramatic flies over your head.

2. The best way to airbrush the gas tank on a motorcycle is to climb on top of the bike in tiny shorts and paint upside-down. Somehow I think the Megan Fox character was inspired by whoever it was that decided to cast Denise Richards as a Daisy Duke-wearing Nuclear Physicist in one of those bad 90's James Bond movies.

3. Sight gags about dogs humping each other are hilarious. In fact, they are so hilarious they should be repeated. Then if you really want comedy gold, you recycle the same joke substituting a dog-like robot and a human leg. Because really, the zenith of cinematic humor is a dog who can't control his humping.

4. Today's teen audience really does love jokes about humping dogs. They also think it's hilarious when a middle aged woman eats marijuana brownies and drops the S-bomb a lot.

5. I went to college too early. Modern college campuses are populated exclusively by hundreds of extremely hot female co-ed's who dress like runway models (or ho-bags, your choice) and all dance in choreographed unison at swank fraternity parties with high-end lighting systems.

6. Michael Bay is concerned with (some of) the laws of physics. Anyone who watched the original cartoon will remember that several Transformers were fond of changing from three-story killer robots into much smaller objects, such as Megatron turning into a hand gun and Soundwave turning into a boom box. Not so in the movies. Big robot stays big when he transforms, and little robot stays little when he transforms. Though as I think of it, Bumblebee is about two stories high when he transforms out of Camaro-mode. But that's beside the point. Bumblebee is supposed to be a VW Bug anyway.

7. I am an out-of-touch movie snob who is officially too old to relate to his younger peers. This is more of a confirmation than a revelation. There is a part of me that hopes someday Michael Bay will reveal that the bulk of his work was an intentional effort to parody our cultural instinct to swallow up our media in massive chunks of lowest-common-denominator eye candy, special effects, and fart jokes. It's the same part of me that was waiting for Michael Jackson to hold a press conference and rip his face off, revealing the 1984 version of Michael underneath, along with the announcement that everything that has taken place since 1985 was an elaborate publicity stunt designed to hype his REAL new album, which would be every bit as good as "Thriller."

But we know how those kind of wishes turn out.

If Bay did have a socio-experimental drive behind his methods instead of a financial one, it might not make me feel better about the future of the human race, but at least I might feel a little less guilty about enjoying his stuff. Because as ridiculous as it may sound, we can all use some eye candy, special effects, and fart jokes. It's just the transparent packaging of them that bugs me. And in Bay's case, that's why I usually wind up leaving the theater shaking my head instead of pumping my fist.