Film Review: Spenser Confidential (dir by Peter Berg)


Spenser Confidential, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is the latest Mark Wahlberg/Peter Berg collaboration.

It’s a crime film and it’s set in Boston and it will probably remind you every other Boston-set crime film that you’ve ever seen.  It’s got all the usual ingredients.  People sing Sweet Caroline.  A fat gangster wears a tracksuit.  We get a long overhead shot of the streets of Southie and there’s a scene set in an Irish bar.  One of the film’s big scenes takes place at what appears to be a deserted racing track.  (I’ve never been to Boston but, just from the movies, I know that the city is basically made up of Harvard, Southie, and hundreds of deserted race tracks.)  The Red Sox get a shout-out.  And, of course, the movie stars Mr. Boston himself, Mark Wahlberg.  Seriously, if your Boston movie doesn’t feature Mark Wahlberg or an Affleck brother, it might as well just be a St. Louis movie.

In this one, Mark Wahlberg plays Spenser.  Spenser was a cop until a gangster in a tracksuit murdered someone from the neighborhood and the head of homicide tried to bury the case.  This led to an angry Spenser beating the man up in front of his own house.  Spenser was sent to prison, where he served five years as an ex-cop in the general population.  That’s right!  He wasn’t even put in protective custody but somehow, he survived.  Right before Spenser is released from prison, he’s attacked by a Neo-Nazi who is played by Post Malone.  It’s not really that relevant to the overall plot but it does give viewers a chance to say, “Wait a minute …. is that Post Malone?”

Anyway, once he gets out of prison, Spenser moves in with his mentor and former boxing coach, Henry Cimoli (Alan Arkin).  He also gets a new roommate, an aspiring MMA fighter named Hawk (Winston Duke).  After Captain Boylan,  the head of homicide — yes, the same guy that Spenser beat up five years ago, is decapitated by 20 sword-carrying assailants, Spenser is the number one suspect.  Fortunately, for Spenser, another cop commits suicide and it’s quickly announced that the cop who killed himself also killed Boylan.  It’s a murder/suicide!  So, Spenser’s off the hook and I guess the movie’s over, right?

Nope, it doesn’t work like that.  It turns out that Spenser has his doubts about the whole story and he wants to investigate because he has “a strong moral code.”  Unfortunately, as a convicted felon, Spenser is not allowed to become a private investigator.  So, Spenser and Hawk conduct an unofficial investigation, which largely amounts to talking to Spenser’s former partner, Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) and getting into a brawl while Sweet Caroline plays in the background.

It’s a Boston thing.

The mystery are the heart of the film pretty much leads exactly where you think it’s going to lead.  For a 2-hour crime thriller, there aren’t exactly a lot of twists and turns to be found in Spenser Confidential, which is a problem.  The mystery’s solution is so obvious that it’s hard not to resent the fact that Spenser is apparently too stupid to figure it out on his own.  There’s an extended scene where he gets attacked by a dog and you know what?  That would have never happened to any other movie detective because every other detective would have figured out who the murderer was long before getting attacked by that dog.

On the plus side, Peter Berg knows how to stage a fight scene and he also knows how to make the best use of Wahlberg’s mix of sensitivity and working class arrogance.  Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is let down by a script that doesn’t give them much to do.  Winston Duke is physically imposing as Hawk but he spends too much of the film standing around and waiting for Spenser to take the lead.  Alan Arkin appears to be having fun in the role of Henry but again, his character is underwritten.  About the only person, other than Wahlberg, who gets to make much of an impression is Iliza Shlesinger, who is cast as Spenser’s ex-girlfriend.  Shlesinger may be playing a stereotype (she’s loud, crude, and has a thick Boston accent) but she fully embraces the character and makes her seem like the only person in the film who actually has a life beyond what’s happening onscreen at any given moment.

Anyway, Spenser Confidential isn’t terrible as much as it’s just forgettable.  It’s a generic Boston crime film and you can probably safely watch it if you’re not looking for something to which you would actually have to pay attention.  Some of the action scenes are well-shot.  If you liked Mark Wahlberg in other films, you’ll probably like him in this.  Whether you enjoy it or not, you’ll probably forget about this film about an hour after watching it.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1990s


Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1990s.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

 An ensemble cast that was full of future stars, including future Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.  A killer soundtrack.  A script full of quotable lines.  Dazed and Confused seemed like it had everything necessary to score a Best Picture nomination and perhaps it would have if the film had been set in Los Angeles instead of the suburbs of Atlanta.  Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s classic was overlooked.

Casino (1995, dir by Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster film had all the glitz of Vegas and Joe Pesci to boot!  Despite being one Scorsese’s best, the Academy largely overlooked it, giving a nomination to Sharon Stone and otherwise ignoring the film.

Normal Life (1996, dir by John McNaughton)

Life, love, crime, and death in the suburbs!  John McNaughton’s sadly overlooked film featured award-worthy performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry and it definitely deserves to be better-known.  Unfortunately, the Academy overlooked this poignant true crime masterpiece.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson first made a splash with this look at the porn industry in the 70s and 80s.  Along the way, he made Mark Wahlberg a star and briefly rejuvenated the career of Burt Reynolds.  Though both Reynolds and Julianne Moore received nominations, the film itself went unnominated.  Oh well.  At least Dirk Diggler got to keep his award for best newcomer.

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Though the film was nominated for its screenplay, the Wes Anderson classic missed out on best picture  Even more surprisingly, Bill Murray was not nominated for his funny yet sad performance.  Murray would have to wait until 2003’s Lost In Translation to receive his first nomination.  Meanwhile, a Wes Anderson film would not be nominated for best picture until Grand Budapest Hotel achieved the honor in 2015.  (That same year, Boyhood became the first Richard Linklater film to be nominated.)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, dir by Gil Junger)

This wonderful take on Shakespeare not only introduced the world to Heath Ledger but it also proved that a teen comedy need not be stupid or misogynistic.  Because it was viewed as being a genre film (and a comedy to boot!), it didn’t get any love from the Academy but it continues to be loved by film watchers like me!

Up next, in an hour or so, the 2000s!

Film Review: The Basketball Diaries (dir by Scott Kalvert)


When exactly did Leonardo DiCaprio become a good actor?

That may seem like a strange question because, today, Leonardo DiCaprio is often and rightfully described as being one of the greatest actors around.  He regularly works with the best directors in Hollywood, including Martin Scorsese.  His performances in The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Revenant should be viewed by any aspiring actor.

And yet, it’s easy to forget that Leonardo DiCaprio has been around forever.  Long before he was Martin Scorsese’s go-to actor, he was appearing in movies like Critters 3.  He started his career when he was 14 years old and spent a few years appearing in commercials and sitcoms before making his film debut in 1991.  (He was 17 when he made his first movie but, as anyone who has seen any of his early movies can attest, he looked much younger.)  When you watch those early DiCaprio films, you’re left with the impression of an actor who had some talent but who definitely needed a strong director to guide him.  Watching those early DiCaprio films, it’s always somewhat amazing to see both how good and how bad DiCaprio could be, often in the same movie.  If a scene called for DiCaprio to be quiet and introspective, he was a wonder to behold.  But whenever a scene called for big dramatic moment or gesture, DiCaprio would often become that shrill kid who made you cringe in your high school drama class.  I think that part of the problem is that the young DiCaprio was often cast as a passionate artist and, when you’re a certain age, you tend to assume that being a passionate artist means that you spend a lot of time yelling.

Take a film like 1995’s The Basketball Diaries, for instance.  In this film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a real-life poet named Jim Carroll.  The film deals with Carroll’s teenage years, which were basically made up of going to Catholic school, writing poetry, playing basketball, committing petty crimes, and eventually getting hooked on heroin.  It’s pretty dramatic stuff and, with his face that’s somehow angelic and sardonic at the same time, the young DiCaprio certainly looks the part of a teenager who split his time between private school and the streets.  Though the young DiCaprio was way too scrawny to be believable as a star basketball player, he’s convincing in the scenes where he’s writing out his thoughts and his poems.

But then, Jim’s best friend (played by Michael Imperioli) dies of leukemia and a despondent Jim goes from pills and inhalants to heroin and both the film and DiCaprio’s performance quickly goes downhill.  Playing drug addiction (and, even worse, drug withdrawal) tends to bring out the worst instincts in even the best actors and that’s certainly the case with DiCaprio’s performance in The Basketball Diaries.  Suddenly, Leo is shaking and yelling in that shrill way that he used to do and, when he has gets emotional, he overplays the emotions to the extent that you can actually hear the snot being sorted back up his nostrils and you, as the viewer, start to get embarrassed for him.  As soon as Jim starts screaming at his mother (played by Lorraine Bracco), you really wish that the director or the writer or maybe the other actors had stepped in and said, “Leo …. dial it down a little.”  If you need proof that DiCaprio’s a far better actor today than he was in 1995, just compare Leo on drugs in The Basketball Diaries to Leo on drugs in The Wolf of Wall Street.

When The Basketball Diaries does work, it’s usually because of the actors around DiCaprio.  In one of his earliest roles, Mark Wahlberg has such an authentic presence that you kinda wish he and DiCaprio had switched roles.  (Yes, there was a time when Mark Wahlberg was a better actor than Leonardo DiCaprio.)  Bruno Kirby is chilling in a few cringey scenes as Jim’s basketball coach.  Ernie Hudson bring some welcome gravitas to the role of an ex-junkie who tries to help Jim straight out.  And then there’s poor Lorraine Bracco, bringing far more to the role of Jim’s underappreciated mother than was probably present in the script.

The Basketball Diaries is one of those films that seems profound when you’re like 15 and you come across it playing on TBS at like 2 in the morning.  Otherwise, it’s mostly interesting as evidence that, over the past 20 years, Leonardo DiCaprio has certainly grown as an actor.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Beautiful Boy, Mile 22, Juliet Naked, The Equalizer 2, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, King of Thieves, Assassination Nation, Mandy


Lisa already wrote about the new trailers for The Predator and Zoe.  Here are some of the other trailers that were released last week.

First up, there’s Beautiful Boy.  Based on the memoirs of both David Sheff and his son, Nic, this movie is based on the true story of David’s struggle to understand and deal with his son’s drug addiction.  It stars Oscar nominees Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, and Amy Ryan.  It will be released on October 12th by Amazon Studios, who are hoping that they’ll have the same success with this film that they had with Manchester By The Sea.

And now, to quote the poet Python, for something completely different.  Mile 22 is the latest action film from star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.  Mile 22 is due to be released on August 17th.

Also due to be released on August 17th is Juliet, Naked.  This Nick Hornby adaptation is about a rock star (Ethan Hawke) and the couple (Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd) who are obsessed with his music.  We can expect this one to inspire many comparisons to High Fidelity.

On July 20th, Denzel Washington returns as retired CIA assassin Robert McCall in The Equalizer 2.  In the sequel, he’s investigating the death of a friend from the first film.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is the latest fantasy film to be based on a children’s book.  It looks like a change of pace for director Eli Roth, if not star Jack Black, and is set to be released on September 21st.

Also based on a young adult novel is The Hate U Give.  Amanda Stenberg plays Starr, a young African-American woman who finds herself at the center of protest and controversy after she witnesses the fatal police shooting of her best friend.  The Hate U Give will be released on October 19th.

King of Thieves is the latest film from The Theory of Everything‘s director, James Marsh.  Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, and Ray Winstone are over-the-hill thieves.  (Didn’t Caine already do this in Going In Style?)  This British film does not yet have an American release date.

In Assassination Nation, the citizens of suburbia become outraged and violent when a data hack leads to all of their darkest secrets being exposed.  (This would never have happened if they had just taken part in the Annual Purge like they were supposed to.)  Assassination Nation will be released on September 21st.

Finally, in Mandy, Nicolas Cage plays a man who seeks revenge on the cultists and demons that killed the woman he loved.  Mandy will be released on September 14th.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Transformers: The Last Knight (dir by Michael Bay)


So, I’m just going to be honest here.

I did watch Transformers: The Last Knight.  I didn’t see it at the theaters, of course.  To date, I’ve only seen one Transformers movie on the big screen.  It was the fourth one and not only did I get motion sick but when I left the theater, I discovered that I was having trouble hearing.  Even though I watched Transformers: The Last Knight on a small screen, I still made sure to take some Dramamine beforehand.  That may have been a mistake because this movie somehow drags things out for 2 hours and 30 minutes.  That’s a lot of time to spend trying to stay awake while watching something that doesn’t even try to make sense.

So, yes, I did watch Transformers: The Last Knight but I’m not really sure what I watched.  I know that there was a lot of camera movement.  There was a lot of stuff blowing up.  Robots would fly into space.  Robots would return to Earth.  Robots turned into cars.  All of the robots spoke in these gravelly voices and half the time, I couldn’t really understand what they were saying.  Mark Wahlberg was around and he spent the entire movie with this kind of confused look on his face.  His Boston accent really came out whenever he had to deliver his dialogue.  One thing I’ve noticed about Wahlberg is that the less he cares about a movie, the more likely he is to go full Boston.  To be honest, if I just closed my eyes and listened to Wahlberg’s accent and tuned out all of the explosions and robot talk, I probably would have thought I was watching Manchester By The Sea.

Anthony Hopkins was also in the movie, playing a character who might as well have just been named “Esteemed British Person.”  It’s always fun to see Hopkins in a bad movie, just because he knows that his deserved reputation for being a great actor isn’t going to suffer no matter how much crap he appears in.  He always goes through these movies with a slightly bemused smirk on his face.  It’s almost as if he’s looking out at the audience and saying, “Laugh all you want.  I’ll still kick anyone’s ass when it comes to Shakespeare…”  Anyway, Hopkins is mostly around so that he can reveal that the Transformers have been on Earth since time began.  Why, they even saved King Arthur!

The plot has to do with a powerful staff that can be used to bring life back to the Transformers’s home planet.  The problem is that using the staff will also destroy all life on Earth or something like that.  So, of course, the good Transformers are trying to save Earth and the bad Transformers are like, “Fuck Earth, let’s blow stuff up.”  Or something like that.  The main good Transformer — Optimus Prime, I guess — gets brainwashed into becoming an evil Transformer.  Of course, since Anthony Hopkins is in the movie, the majority of the film takes place in England and that can only mean a trip to Stonehenge!

And…

Look, I’ve exhausted myself.  I’m not going to say that Transformers: The Last Knight is a terrible movie because, obviously, someone out there loves this stuff.  I mean, they’ve made five of these movies so someone has to be looking forward to them.  They’re not for me, though.

Some day, I hope Micheal Bay directs a Fifty Shades of Grey movie.  I look forward to watching Christian and Ana discuss consent while the world explodes behind them.

The National Board of Review names Manchester By The Sea the best of 2016!


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Oscar season has officially begun!

Earlier today, The National Board of Review named their picks for the best of the year.  They went with Manchester By The Sea and a whole lot of other films that I hope to finally get to see in December!

My favorite two winners?  Amy Adams for best actress and Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Animated Film.

A cavaet: Of the so-called “major” precursors, The National Board of Review is usually the one that seems to match up the least with the actual Oscar results.

Here are the winners!

Best Film:  Manchester by the Sea

Best Director:  Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Actor:  Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress:  Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay:  Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay:  Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, Silence

Best Animated Feature:  Kubo and the Two Strings
Breakthrough Performance (Male): Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Breakthrough Performance (Female): Royalty Hightower, The Fits

Best Directorial Debut:  Trey Edward Shults, Krisha

Best Foreign Language Film:  The Salesman

Best Documentary:  O.J.: Made in America

Best Ensemble:  Hidden Figures

Spotlight Award: Creative Collaboration of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg

NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Cameraperson

Top Films

Top 5 Foreign Language Films

  • Elle
  • The Handmaiden
  • Julieta
  • Land of Mine
  • Neruda

Top 5 Documentaries

  • De Palma
  • The Eagle Huntress
  • Gleason
  • Life, Animated
  • Miss Sharon Jones!

Top 10 Independent Films

  • 20th Century Women
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Creative Control
  • Eye in the Sky
  • The Fits
  • Green Room
  • Hello, My Name is Doris
  • Krisha
  • Morris from America
  • Sing Street

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Ted 2 Sucks!


Ted_2_posterWell, I think the title of this review pretty succinctly sums up my reaction to Seth McFarlane’s latest film, Ted 2.  Thanks for reading and have a good…

Oh, really?

Okay, I’ve been told that I have to try to think up at least 300 words to say about Ted 2.  Otherwise, in the eyes of Rotten Tomatoes, we’re not a legitimate film blog.

*sigh*

Okay.

Anyway, Ted 2 is the story of a talking teddy bear (voice by Seth McFarlane) who likes to smoke weed and … well, that’s about it.  He’s just gotten married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and they’re having trouble because Tami-Lynn wants a baby but Ted, being a teddy bear, doesn’t have any reproductive organs.  So, he and his friend John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to give Tom Brady a handjob so they can still his sperm.  But, it turns out, none of that was important because the state of Massachusetts claims that Ted is not even a person.  Instead, he’s just “property.”  So, now, John and Ted and their lawyer, Sam (Amanda Seyfried), are fighting the courts to win Ted his civil rights.  And then Giovanni Ribisi wants to kidnap Ted and Morgan Freeman shows up and says a few words.  And the film is narrated by Patrick Stewart because it’s funny to hear Patrick Stewart curse and…

Oh!  And Liam Neeson shows up.  He’s a customer at the store where Ted works as a cashier.  Liam wants to know if Trix are only for kids.  The joke here is that it’s Liam Neeson and he’s asking about cereal.  Ha ha.

Oh!  And there’s two guys who shows up at New York Comic Con so that they can beat up “nerds.”  During every scene set at Comic Con, they’re in the background beating people up and insulting them.  And the two guys are gay!  See, they’re bullies and they’re gay!  And they’re beating up random people at Comic Con, just because they can!  Hilarious, right?

Ted 2 spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Ted’s struggle to be recognized as a person is actually meant to be a metaphor for the American civil rights movement.  But, honestly, I get the feeling that McFarlane relates more to the bullies than he does to any oppressed minority.  As he previously proved with his TV shows and A Million Ways To Die In The West, McFarlane is only interested in going after easy targets.  He’s your typical white male hipster who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he can get away with telling racist jokes.

And, before anyone misunderstands, I wouldn’t mind McFarlane’s humor if it was at least funny or original.  But instead, it’s the same stupid jokes that he always tells.  Seth McFarlane’s comedic technique is to basically drag things out until viewers laugh from pure exhaustion.  Is it effective?  Well, there are people who continue to praise and defend him and Seth certainly has made a lot of money off of his act.  So, obviously, there are people who respond to this.  But to me, Seth McFarlane’s humor just feels lazy.

Ted 2 lasts 128 minutes.  That’s over two hours devoted to a concept that feels more appropriate for a five-minute skit.  Interesting enough, the first Ted was tolerable because it focused on Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny.  Ted was just a supporting character and he worked as a metaphor for Johnny’s struggle to choose between growing up or being a happy slacker.  (The first Ted was all about Johnny falling in love with Mila Kunis, whose character is rather cruelly dismissed at the start of Ted 2.)  In Ted 2, Ted is the central character and once you get over the fact that he’s a teddy bear who drops multiple F bombs, there’s really not much to the character.  It helps, of course, that we only have to listen to McFarlane.  We don’t have to look at his imminently punchable, oddly lineless face.  But, to be honest, even McFarlane’s voice has become grating.  It’s just so self-satisfied and smug.

I saw Ted 2 with the blogger also known as Jedadiah Leland.  Over the course of 128 hours minutes (it just felt like hours), we each laughed once.  Not surprisingly, both laughs were inspired by Wahlberg’s dumb-but-sweet performance.  Now, I will admit that the rest of the audience laughed a bit more than we did.  But still, there was a definite atmosphere of resignation in the theater.  You could literally hear the people thinking, “Oh, Ted just made a joke about black people.  Better laugh now so everyone knows that I get whatever the Hell this is supposed to be.  After all, those tickets weren’t free…”

What’s the word count now?

758?

Cool.

That’s enough words for me to say, “Ted 2 sucks!”

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #93: Boogie Nights (dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)


Boogie_nights_ver1The 1997 film Boogie Nights (which, amazingly enough, was not nominated for best picture) is a bit of an overwhelming film to review.  It’s a great film and, if you’re reading this review, you’ve probably seen Boogie Nights and you probably already know that it’s a great film.  And if you haven’t seen Boogie Nights, you really should because it’s a great film.  So, this review, in short, amounts to: Great film.

Boogie Nights takes place in the late 70s and the early 80s.  Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who works as a busboy, lives with his parents, and has a really big cock.  (Indeed, one of the film’s most famous lines is, “This is a giant cock.”)  When we first meet Eddie, he’s likable and cute in a dumb sort of way.  Then he meets adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and becomes a star.  At first, everything is great.  Eddie changes his name to Dirk Diggler and no longer has to deal with his abusive mother (a chilling Joanna Gleason).  Jack and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) become his new parents.  He gets a cool older brother in the form of actor Reed Rothschild (John C. Reilly, totally nailing the “People tell me that I look like Han Solo,” line).  He makes friends with other adult film actors, like the desperately unhip Buck (Don Cheadle), the free-spirited (and secretly very angry) Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and the poignantly insecure Jessie St. Vincent (Melora Walters).  He gets new admirers, like Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  He also gets addicted to cocaine.  And while Dirk falls from stardom, the adult film industry is taken over by gangsters like Floyd Gondolli (Philip Baker Hall) and self-styled artists like Jack Horner find themselves pushed to the side.

And you may have noticed that I mentioned a lot of actors in the paragraph above.  That’s because Boogie Nights is a true ensemble piece.  It’s full of great performances and memorable characters.  Along with everyone that I mentioned above, the cast also includes William H. Macy as cinematographer “Little Bill” Daggett.  From the minutes we first meet Little Bill, we get the feeling that he might be a little bit too uptight for pornography.  Maybe that’s because his wife — played by the inspiring sex positive feminist and veteran adult film star Nina Hartley — is constantly and publicly cheating on him.  Macy and Hartley do not have as much screen time as the rest of the cast but, ultimately, their characters are two of the most important in the film.

And then there’s Robert Ridgely, who is marvelously sleazy as the paternal but ultimately icky Col. James.  When we first meet the Colonel, he’s almost a humorous character.  But then, suddenly, there’s one chilling scene where he opens up to Jack Horner and we are forced to reconsider everything that we had previously assumed about both the Colonel and his business.

And how can we forget Luis Guzman, as a club owner who desperately wants to appear in one of Jack’s films?  Or Ricky Jay as a plain-spoken cameraman?  Or how about Thomas Jane, playing one of those tightly wound characters who you know is going to be trouble as soon as you see him?  And finally, nobody who has seen Boogie Nights will ever forget Alfred Molina, singing along to Sister Christian and running down the street, clad only in black bikini briefs and firing a shotgun.

But it’s not just the actors who make Boogie Nights a great film.  This was Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film and, under his direction, we feel as if we’ve been thrown straight into Dirk’s exciting and ultimately dangerous world.  When the film begins, the camera almost seems to glide, capturing the excitement of having everything that you could possibly want.  But, as things go downhill for Dirk, the camerawork gets more jittery and nervous.   A sequence where Anderson cuts back and forth between Jack trying to shoot a movie on video (as opposed to his beloved film) and Dirk nearly being beaten to death in a parking lot remains one of the best sequences that Anderson has ever directed.

And then there’s the music!  Oh my God!  The music!

And the dancing!

And the singing!

I’ll be the first admit that I have no idea whether or not Boogie Nights is a realistic portrait of the adult film industry in the 70s and 80s.  But ultimately, Boogie Nights is not about porn.  It’s about a group of outsiders who form their own little family.  At the end of the film, you’re happy that they all found each other.  You know that Dirk will probably continue to have problems in the future but you’re happy for him because, no matter what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future, you know that he’s found a family that will always love him.

As I mentioned at the start of this appreciation, Boogie Nights was not nominated for best picture.  Titanic was named the best picture of 1997.  As I’ve said before, I loved Titanic when I was 12.  But, nearly 18 years later, Boogie Nights is definitely the better picture.

It has stood the test of time.

 

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Transformers : Age Of Extinction”


transformers-age-of-extinction-poster

You can accuse Michael Bay of many things — overblown spectacle, formulaic hackery, using CGI as a massive crutch, general lack of anything resembling original vision — but false advertising ins’t among them : when you go see a Bay-directed flick, particularly a Bay-directed Transfomers flick, you know exactly  what you’re in for.

Oh, sure, his latest — Transformers : Age Of Extinction — alters the basic cosmetic trappings somewhat, most notably by banishing Shia LaBeouf to whatever hell for dead careers Megan Fox was earlier castigated to in favor of proven “action hero” star Mark Wahlberg, and yeah, Stanley Tucci is about the only major holdover (as far as human beings go) from previous entries in this series (look for more newcomers in the form of Kelsey Grammer and Nicola Peltz as Wahlberg’s daughter), but this is no reboot, by any stretch.

For one thing, the story continues directly on from the previous efforts, with the Transformers having been “driven underground,” so to speak, thanks to a government witch-hunt until no less than Optimus Prime himself is discovered and “resurrected” by Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager (there’s a focus-group-tested name if I’ve ever heard one) character, who —

Oh, fuck it. Does this even matter? Does even the most hard-core fan of this franchise — and that’s precisely what it is, a franchise — care what the plots of these films are about? If so, you have to feel a sort of pity for them, because Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (who was supposed to be the “next big thing” once upon a time for a few minutes there) clearly don’t. Every single “slow” or “quiet” scene is obviously just set-up to carry us into the next big CGI set piece, so we won’t waste our time here with a terribly detailed breakdown of the story. Sound fair?

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All in all, Transformers : Age Of Extinction is all about getting the job done, slapping the finished product up on the screen, and opening up those cash register drawers. In that respect — and that one only — you’ve gotta say “mission accomplished” here. This movie is making money hand over fist and evidently the public’s appetite for more and more robo-carnage is proving to be flat-out insatiable. We apparently love this shit.

The question I have is — who’s “we”? Like the ever-ephemeral “they” of “well, they say you should — ” and “they say it’s not good for you to —” fame, the target audience for these films eludes me. I don’t like ’em. Nobody I know likes ’em. Nobody whose reviews I read online likes ’em. Nobody anywhere seems to like ’em.

And yet there it is — an 87% CinemaScore rating and another sequel already germinating somewhere in the pipeline. How, exactly, does this happen?

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The short answer is — I don’t know. There’s obviously an appreciative audience for these things out there somewhere, but I can’t figure out where it is, beyond perhaps in junior high schoolyards. That’s not enough to explain the phenomenon, though. I know it’s purely anecdotal, but when I went to see this film, the theater had maybe 30 or 40 people in it, and the crowd remained silent throughout. No clapping and cheering. No gasping in awe. No chuckles at the limp one-liners. And yet it wasn’t a rapturous, devotional silence these folks were in the midst of — it was just a kind of “blah” sense of resignation. We were here. This was happening. Everything, apparently, was as it should be. Until the end credits rolled, and we all left to do whatever it is we were  supposed to do next.

And maybe that’s the genius and/or malevolence of what Bay and company have come up with here in a nutshell : Tranfromers movies, for all their empty-hearted and empty-headed spectacle, aren’t huge pop culture events anymore. But a lot of us — myself included — keep going to them because they’re supposed to be. And we’re supposed to be there for them. It’s almost like a kind of Orwellian mass conditioning going on : we’re told this is a big deal and, lemmings that we are, we don’t want to miss out on that. Final score : Michael Bay and Paramount Pictures 1, hope for humanity 0.

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Pessimistic? Sure. But is there any reason not to be? A family of four left the theater at exactly the same time I did and their car was parked right next to mine. We followed the same route for a few blocks (I wasn’t purposely tailing them, I promise!) — until they pulled into a McDonald’s. And that pretty much says it all right there.

Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction (Official)


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I know, I know, another Transformers extravaganza coming this summer. As if the last two wasn’t enough to swear me off the franchise. Well, guess what this one doesn’t have any of the actors from the first three and drops in a whole bunch of new ones to play war with the aforementioned robots who are more than meets the eye.

Instead of Shia LaBeouf in the lead role screaming like the most unheroic lead ever we get the manly man Mark Walhberg himself playing a Texas dad out to protect his daughter from the men in black while jump starting a rusted Optimus Prime on his spare time.

This fourth film looks to be a new start for the franchise that we all thought ended with a bang and a whimper with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but there were still more Transformers that never made it to the bigscreen and what better way to do that than make a fourth. So, it looks like fans finally get Grimlock and the Dinobots plus a Decepticon that looks to be Galvatron.

Again, I will be seeing this (it’s like the scifi blockbuster version of Saw) just for the fact that it doesn’t have Shia LaBeouf for people to listen to scream shrilly every two or three minutes. Plus, it has Optimus Prime wrestling and then riding Grimlock.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is ready to make our eyes explode on June 27, 2014.