Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Once the Transformers were a cornerstone of 80s childhoods, and at some point, they became Michael Bay's behemoths of destruction, piles of metallic shards vaguely taking human shape while Industrial Light & Magic slammed them into each other for the glee of the movie-watching public.  With "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)" scuttling yet another childhood memory of aging nerds, I felt a trip through time needed to be made.

I needed to come back to the beginning of this story before the masturbation jokes, before the minstrel show droids, to 1986.  This was "The Transformers: The Movie" an animated feature created by the original studio behind the 1980s cartoon, the first chance children had to see Optimus Prime and their other mighty morphing friends on the big screen.  Tranformers purists view this film as the alternative to the Bay era, an electric-guitar filled spectacle of robot violence and major turning points for the transforming characters.  However, what they would not like to admit is just how similar this movie is to its three-hour cousins.  I can see elements of this movie inspiring Bay's new tetrology of automaton action.

Much like the Ninja Turtles, the Transformers were not born of pious intentions.  The 1980s were an innovative time in children's entertainment, when drooling toy companies watched greedily at the extraordinary profits George Lucas was raking in with his "Star Wars" products.  Suddenly movies did not have to just be movies, they could be entire brands, coming with scores of T-shirts and dolls and the odd flamethrower.*  It was only a matter of time before Saturday morning cartoons stopped being merely cartoons, and became half hour long commercials for the toys based on the characters within.  The old Transformers line (later renamed by a crafty Hasbro ad man "Generation 1") was an elaborate scheme to reach into your heart and wallet.  What would make a better vehicle to sell toys than a show about steel heroes that transformed into vehicles?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

A few years ago, it was announced that Michael Bay's production company, Platinum Dunes would break out of its usual forte of trampling over classic horror films with mindless remakes, and would instead jump into a new original project of:  trampling over an 80s cartoon with a mindless blockbuster reboot.  It was not long until this truly creative project had its original spec script leaked out to the public.  That was a bold new document proudly... copycatting the plot of the Michael Bay Transformers movies, essentially word for word.  Just cross out "robot" and put "turtles".  The Turtles were aliens, April O'Neil and Casey Jones were in highschool, and to accommodate Bay's military fetish, Shredder was a Colonel in the US Army involved in a dark evil conspiracy.

The Internet reacted probably in the most appropriate way, by rioting furiously from the safety of their deskchairs.  Thanks to production issues and negative public reaction, that old version of this movie was thrown exactly where it belonged, in the trash.  What has our victory gotten us?  Well, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" looks nothing like a Transformers movie, or even a Michael Bay movie.  The Turtles are mutants again, as the trailers were all to proud to point out, mocking the idea of alien ninjas*.  Instead of ripping off Transformers "Ninja Turtles" is exploring new ground by ripping off "The Amazing Spider-Man".

"Ninja Turtles" is the kind of bad movie so lazy that you cannot even find a way to laugh at its incompetence.  It is a passionless project that makes even the whorish merchandising and toyetic elements of the 80s cartoon seem principled and sincere.  Nobody cared one bit about the movie they making, nobody wanted to tell a compelling story, nobody wanted to make exciting action scenes, nobody even wanted to make a tone-appropriate movie for the children.  It is a movie that nobody actually wanted to make, but made anyway because there were hundreds of millions of dollars on the table to be horded.  The only positive I can give "TMNT" is that it is not actively the worst movie of 2014 as I feared it would be.

There's a quote to put on your DVD box art:  "Not quite the worst movie of the year. -Blue Highwind".

Friday, August 15, 2014

Boyhood

The sad fact is that ultimately 99% of movies will ultimately make almost no impressions on the world.  Yeah, somebody put a lot of time and work into a movie such as "Hercules".  But it will never be anything more than a silly movie about a man with huge muscles doing nothing that a million other silly movies about men with muscles have not done before.  Hours of entertainment have passed, leaving you with a lighter wallet, a belly full of popcorn, and absolutely no thoughts or enlightenment of any kind.

When you do have a movie that actually does succeed in expanding your view of your life, the universe, and everything else, it makes all those other movies so much harder to sit through.  So goddamn you, Richard Linklater, for making a friggin' fantastic movie, "Boyhood", which has left me staring down at my own life and measuring every small moment of day.  This means that the moments I'll waste watching the Michael Bay produced "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" reboot are going to be so much harder.  Yeah, it is hard enough to watch a bad movie, but to know there are true works of art playing just in the other auditorium, that is the absolute definition of torture.  Somebody lock up Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman for Crimes Against Humanity.

"Boyhood" is at once both the most critically-lauded movie of 2014 and a hidden gem from 2012.  Richard Linklater created the movie over the course of twelve years, beginning production when his star, Ellar Cotraine (who is currently unknown but will not remain so for long) was six-years-old and over a massive production cycle, finished when the boy had grown to age eighteen.  Many dramas feature coming of age stories, but must simulate the character's growth by switching actors.  Linklater instead waited every few years for Cotraine to reach the age necessary to play the character of Mason Jr. for the movie.  Cotraine grows with his character, and the movie develops along with its star.  It makes for a fascinating experiment in real time filmmaking, creating a movie that travels across time itself to document life itself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Freelancin': Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

I saw this movie.  Let's discuss it.


Honestly, it was a lot of fun. Vegeta was there, Goku was there, Bulma was there. It was a proper Dragon Ball Z movie, something that the world has been desperately missing.  Glad to see these guys back in action.  Good time at the movies.

Spec Ops: The Line

Let us check in on the status of the War on Terror, shall we?  In ten years we've gone from merrily dropping ordinance on Iraq with a proud patriotic bounce in our step while whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy, to now bombing Mesopotamia all over again - but this time we really feel awful about it.  The high we got from crusading against terrorism has long worn off and now we're left with this awful national hangover and a ruined Middle East.  Today President Obama looks less like the leader of the free world than a sad little man trying to plug up every leaking hole before the dam finally collapses.  We killed Bin Laden, we liberated Iraq from tyranny, we destroyed Al Qaeada's networks, and yet terror reigns more free than ever before.  Every strike of our mighty red white and blue hammer of freedom only shattered the Middle East more and more.

I do not know how the War on Terror will finally be judged in the history books, whether students of the future will see the early 21st century as more a tragedy or a farce, but this will be a frightening time of introspection.  The United States did not like when it was shown its own conqueror nature after Vietnam*, I doubt it will like what it learns from Iraq either.  It is easy to live with simple illusions - they're friendly roommates always accommodating to one's ego.   It is much harder to live with the truth who isn't going to coddle you and will get your goddamn share of the electric bill, one way or another.

If there is any one piece of media that most appropriately sums up the current state of the world, it would a little video game called "Spec Ops: The Line".  "The Line" belongs to a series of very boring squad-based modern military shooters, each one as generic and artistically meaningless as the last.  That is, until the final game, a huge release timed to compete with such brilliant commentaries on modern warfare as "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare", perhaps the dumbest series of video games of our time (yet fantastic popular).  Adolescent and adolescent-minded gamers just wanted to release their pent up masculinity into some Terrorists, they did not want a long sermon about the failure of American foreign policy as represented by an "Apolcalypse Now" homage set in the ruins of Dubai.  "Spec Ops: The Line" essentially killed its own franchise by doing something new and incredible.  But forgetting mere sales, "The Line" represents a new frontier in gaming storytelling, and a dark warning for those yearning for another jaunt through the Fertile Crescent.