Sunday, July 6, 2014

More Than Meets the Eye?

I carried my popcorn bucket to two new films this holiday weekend - Michael Bay's latest installment of the Transformers franchise and Scott Derrickson's exorcism-in-New-York Deliver Us from Evil. Let's start with the one that's going to make bargeloads of money, an outcome that only encourages more of this sort of dreck - Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Disclaimer - nope, I haven't seen any of the other Transformers movies. I wasn't too worried that I wouldn't be able to follow the complex plotline, however. Look, I could snark my way through this, but let me boil it down. The first line of this swollen, bloated spectacle (2 hours, 45 minutes running time) is "Oh, shit" and that is indeed an accurate assessment. I was hoping for a loud, mindless, colorful summer movie - this is simply bad. And as a PG-13 rating for a movie based on kids' toys, children are going to go see this in droves. Let me explain, with just a small example, why I have a problem with that.

"Tessa" (played by the young and nubile Nicola Peltz, who showcases all the usual attributes sought after by actresses in a Michael Bay movie - click here for details!) is 17, the daughter of an overprotective father who comments on her revealing clothing, but never gets her to change into something more practical than tall wedges and shorts so short the pockets are longer than the hem. Tessa is involved with "Shane Dyson" (a character who thereby combines the names of an iconic Western hero and a vacuum cleaner. He is played by Jack Reynor, an actor of legitimate Irish descent who nevertheless has an Irish accent that slips and slides embarrassingly), who is established as being 20. When Dad (Mark Wahlberg) objects, since Tessa is a minor, Shane not only quotes the specific law that okays such a relationship in Texas - he pulls out a laminated card he apparently carries with him for just such an occasion! So how many teen girls does this guy mess around with? Tessa is a lamp, not a human - she exists to run around, get in trouble and need rescuing, and yell, "Dad!" a lot. The men don't really see her as anything else, either. As Shane puts it once, "I'm not here to help you rescue your daughter. You're here to help me rescue my girlfriend." Nice.

Oddly enough, another one of my anger moments triggered by this Kurosawa-length-but-nothing-else-like-that-master-of-film extra-large helping of garbage was the fawning treatment of China. Look, I know perfectly well that the Chinese market is HUGE in Hollywood financing and box office success. China wants 3D and IMAX movies, so that's what we produce. But this - gah! The American government is shown to be shadowy, corrupt, and willing to kill children while the Chinese government is benevolent and capable of dealing with all sorts of threats in an honorable and upright way. Right - tell that to the students who occupied Tiananmen Square.

Michael Bay elaborately doesn't care. He had a $100 million opening weekend, and he'll keep making this crap. Sigh. At least don't go see it.  Even the big "boomy" parts just weren't that good. Skip it.

As far as Deliver Us from Evil goes, it's a solid exorcism picture. It's not groundbreaking - you've seen all of this before - but the director, Scott Derrickson (who likes these sorts of films), has paid attention to the genre. You get some jump-worthy moments, some questions about the nature of evil and violence (and Latin!), and some reminders that some toys you just shouldn't give your kids (chief among them half-working jack-in-the-boxes, rolling plushie animal heads that go "ha ha hoo" and [number one and unchallenged champion] those creepy monkeys with cymbals). The marketing explains that the events of the film are "inspired by" the actual experiences of NYPD cop Ralph Sarchie, but not really. Well, let that one go. Enjoy the dangerous Bronx, where it rains all night, every night and Doors lyrics really DO have a sinister side. Also, the use of the bug carousel at the Bronx Zoo is just masterful. If you like exorcism horror pictures, you'll probably come out of Deliver Us perfectly happy.

You'll be happier than if you wasted three hours of your life in Bay's celebration of the smash cut, I can tell you that much.

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