Okay, that was un-called for (not really).
Anyway, what I'm naturally referring to is the wholly-expected (and probably well deserved) critical trashing of Michael Bay's latest opus Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a title so ironically cornball-serious that I wonder if it doesn't encapsulate the bizarre dichotomy of Bay's entire career: that is, the incredibly stone-faced high camp. The idea that a film maker could be so out-of-touch with reality that he treats his ridiculous scenarios as though they are anything but. What irritates me most about Bay's career is not that he makes dumb, crass, lowest-common-denominator movies aimed at mass-consumption (that is, quite honestly, a war I am tired of waging); it's that he makes said dumb, crass, lowest-common-denominator movies without a touch of class, grace, or wit--- it's just visual noise. Plus, Bay's pictorial rhythm is so choppy that his action sequences are downright incomprehensible, at best. It doesn't even go down smooth (incidentally, I Googled "big, loud, and dumb" and the first image hit I got was a poster for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The second image was Mr. Sham-Wow himself, Billy Mays*. Take that as you will).
Michael Bay uses his camera as a toy, not a tool. This is probably what made him the ideal choice for the first Transformers film--- a movie I legitimately enjoyed (Who but Michael Bay could get seriously emotionally involved in the odyssey of Happy Meals?). Bay turned down his crass, misogynistic teenage pandering 'humor' and allowed the film's breathless sense of spectacle and wonder to be its guiding force (the Spielberg touch, perhaps?). Plus, the film was grounded not just by its CGI--- which is legitimately some of the finest in modern day blockbusters--- but by a star-making turn by Shia LaBeouf, someone I never would have thought I might enjoy in a film. But there is such a lack of pretension from LaBeouf, a nerdy-yet-endearing charm, that he carries the film incredibly gracefully on his shoulders. He keeps the movie grounded and extremely enjoyable.
I so enjoyed the first Transfomers that I was legitimately looking forward to Bay's sequel, as much as one can look forward to these things. I wanted to take my little brother because, in spite of Bay's propensity for crass toilet-humor, there was little-to-none of that in the first Transformers, and my little brother had a helluva good time (he was born in '97, so he's more used to having his senses assaulted on a daily basis than I am). The first film may have had something of an edge--- that teenage 'tude that arises from its adherence to MTV-generation apathy (still gotta make it teeny-bopper friendly), but it was also an effective children's film, because it taps into that child-like wonder that we projected onto our toys as children; the idea that they're really capable of anything.
From what I've read, it sounds like Bay is up to his old tricks again with Transformers: ROTF (or as my main man Jim Emerson calls it: Transformers: ROTFL). Roger Ebert's hilariously scathing review details it more effectively than I can (considering, y'know, he's seen the movie in question):
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.
Aware that this movie opened in England seven hours before Chicago time and the morning papers would be on the streets, after writing the above I looked up the first reviews as a reality check. I was reassured: "Like watching paint dry while getting hit over the head with a frying pan!" (Bradshaw, Guardian); "Sums up everything that is most tedious, crass and despicable about modern Hollywood!" (Tookey, Daily Mail); "A giant, lumbering idiot of a movie!" (Edwards, Daily Mirror). The first American review, Todd Gilchrist of Cinematical, reported that Bay's "ambition runs a mile long and an inch deep," but, in a spirited defense, says "this must be the most movie I have ever experienced." He is bullish on the box office: it "feels destined to be the biggest movie of all time." It’s certainly the biggest something of all time."
What interests me less than Ebert's review (which feels very much like vintage Ebert--- this may be his most enjoyable trashing of a movie since his infamous review of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen back in '03) is that last paragraph, where he quoted other critical lambastings of Revenge of the Fallen. It amuses me to no end that many of the same critics who gave Star Trek a pass ("reignites a classic franchise with action, humor, a strong story, and brilliant visuals!") could cite any other film as being loud, dumb, and incoherent ("a noisy, underplotted, and overlong special effects extravaganza that lacks a human touch")--- just take a moment to soak in this positively delicious irony, which is so subtly farcical that it's almost Heller-esque. So Michael Bay's distinct brand of visual noise is bland, while Abrams' calculated blandness counts as visual imagination? What is it about Michael Bay's sensibility that makes him such an easy target?
What's always bothered me about a Michael Bay release is that it suddenly becomes open-season for critics. Suddenly, they call care about film's implications--- on the social, cultural, and even formal level. Suddenly, almost magically, they all have a refined aesthetic sense and care about a film's visual syntax--- as though these are important values to them when the director isn't Michael Bay. Where, I ask, were these mini-Bazins when two of the most visually imaginative blockbusters in recent memory--- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the Wachowski's Speed Racer--- were getting critically trashed? Why, they were taking part in the trashing of course, because a precious few critics legitimately think for themselves. And a new Michael Bay release is a chance to show off how clever they can be, how creatively they can rip a movie to shreds. ("a 150 minute waterboarding session!", "it carves out its own category of godawfulness", "smashes and bashes the senses") This public execution style of criticism is a large part of what puts people off to critics in the first place.
What I'm saying is these criticisms would mean more if they were put within a meaningful context--- the exact thing modern criticism lacks. A critic who ignores the visual incomprehensibility and inherent misogyny in product like Star Trek literally has no right to cite those things as flaws in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen--- no matter how true they are (and I don't doubt for a second that the movie is legitimately awful). My point is that critics will only take pot-shots if you're an easy, almost established target like Michael Bay, but they're less willing to cite a film's lack of imagination when it's helmed by Pixar, Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, or J.J. Abrams--- then your lack of imagination is praised as bold film making. Armond White (sorta) edifies in the NY Press (note the sarcasm, please):
"WHY WASTE SPLEEN on Michael Bay? He’s a real visionary—perhaps mindless in some ways (he’s never bothered filming a good script), but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more proof he has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement. Bay’s ability to shoot spectacle makes the Ridley-Tony-Jake Scott family look like cavemen.Who else could compose a sequence where characters (albeit robots) go from the bottom of the sea to another planet in one seamless, 30-second, dreamlike flow? That transition typifies the storytelling in this sequel to 2007’s Transformers."
Sorry, Armond, not only am I not 'wasting spleen' (whatever that means) on Mr. Bay, I am not wasting money on him. Reports have suggested that ROTF has taken in as much as 60 million in its first day in nationwide release. This simple statistic is more abominable than anything Bay could throw up on the screen. Yes, I know, I am an amateur 'critic' and it is my social duty to subject myself to the most unimaginable of cinematic tortures for the sake of the form--- but my reasoning for not paying to see this latest Transformers film is more than just principle, it's self-preservation.
In Hollywood, a ticket purchase is an endorsement. I don't have to explain the faulty reasoning of this principle to a thinking human being, but H-Wood sees human beings as nothing but demographics, and a ticket purchase is a vote for a film's ethics--- or lack thereof. Naturally, this logic doesn't take into factor the people who saw the film and didn't like it, who saw the film against their will, or who bought their ticket out of boredom. All that counts is that the ticket was purchased (Hollywood is, after all, bred by inclusive bratty little University shits who don't have an actual connection to anything resembling humanity-- only numbers). If we want these kinds of movies to stop being made (and who doesn't?), we need to purchase our tickets more carefully--- and critics need to break down their observations so that they have some relevance. Just flinging shit at a film and film maker, even one like Michael Bay, is just counter-productive.
Now, I'm not saying that all the negative reviews of Revenge of the Fallen are just senseless mud slinging, I'm just saying that for the most part they sure are. But the sad thing about criticism is how the herd-mentality has become the guiding force, and so many critics figure that their observations are such a given that it's not worth the time to flesh them out. "Of course Michael Bay makes crass-entertainment, so I shouldn't have to flesh out why this film is crass. It should be obvious enough." They have better things to do than, ya know, their job.
So, I am not purchasing a ticket. I am not saying it's okay to make this kind of movie. I don't want an opinion on it. I don't need an opinion on it. I don't really give a rat's ass. I'm still so behind on my watching (my class and work schedule of late has left little time for the finer things in life) that I don't think spending over 3 hours in a movie theater so I can watch Revenge of the Fallen is a good use of my time, money, or derriere. I have better things to do, like watching paint dry while I'm getting waterboarded, at the same time someone hits my head with a frying pan and rapes my eyeballs.
*6/28, 1:40 P.M.: I have just found out about Billy Mays' death at the age of 49. Needless to say, this makes me feel like a real heel. I hope my joke was not a contributing factor. Rest in peace, Mr. Mays, you made our whites whiter than we could have ever hoped for.