REVIEW: Pain & Gain

20 06 2017

Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” features characters who misinterpret “The Godfather,” “Scarface” … and “Pretty Woman.” So is it any surprise that the film on the whole has no idea what it’s talking about when it comes to the American Dream? The concept gets so much lip service throughout that it becomes bludgeoning. Most high school juniors could write something more insightful from their American history classes alone.

Its idea of upward mobility is really just commodity fetishism and capitalistic greed masking itself as aspiration. With their synthetic, steroid-enhanced hardbodies, the would-be Robin Hoods of South Beach feel like Reaganite heroes washed up in the wrong era. Some elements of stealing from an undeserving, coddled elite have resonance in a post-Occupy world; as one gym rat puts it, “I don’t just want everything you have, I want you not to have it.” But the political considerations feel ancillary at best.

“Pain & Gain” is at its best when Bay just embraces the physical comedy of his bulky Goliaths. Some decent humor arises from their ignorance and impotence – as “swoll” as Mark Wahlberg’s Daniel Lugo and Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle may be, their common sense as men is almost entirely absent. It’s too bad that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, rather than standing outside and sizing them, choose to drop to their level and assume their intelligence level. C+





REVIEW: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

12 01 2016

What happens when you send Bay to do a Bigelow’s job? You get “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an account of the 2012 siege of the Libyan embassy that proves both thrilling and frustrating.

Director Michael Bay honors the memory of the fallen and exalts the survivors in a way that recalls “Lone Survivor” or “Black Hawk Down.” When he turns his attention towards human beings and away from clanging clumps of pixels known as transformers, the man can sure craft a compelling action scene. Of course, his consistently shaky camera and manic editing patterns can result in some massive confusion, but he sustains the momentum of mounting dread for nearly two and a half hours. That’s no hack job.

But Bay falls short of Peter Berg, Ridley Scott and especially Kathryn Bigelow by painting in some questionably broad strokes. The expectation of any American war movie is that the troops are de facto heroes; to Bay’s credit, he has them earn their nobility rather than just assume the audience grants it to them. The titular “secret soldiers,” a paramilitary group of private defense contractors, act decisively to protect American interests. They are heroes for what they do, not simply for who they are.

Bay does not, however, grant the same level of thought to any other characters in the film. I’ll leave an analysis the sexist attitudes towards the lone female character present in Benghazi to thinkpieces on Jezebel, though I imagine Bay finds it progressive because he did not introduce her legs-first. (Credit on that joke goes to Kyle Buchanan at Vulture.) Anti-intellectual themes also run deep in the film’s veins, but I will again refrain from retaliating simply because I disagree.

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REVIEW: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

28 06 2011

 

Oh, Michael Bay, what on earth are we going to do with you?  The director’s latest venture, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” reminds me why I use his name metonymically to represent all that is wrong with modern Hollywood filmmaking.  I have come to believe that the director’s ambition is to make movies akin to hitting your head against a wall: that is, both should be experiences to kill a massive amount of brain cells.

To call the movie thinly plotted is a vast overstatement; it’s a jumble of events that gives Bay an excuse to blow stuff up.  In fact, using the word plot is insulting to the craft of writing.  If there was any sort of story to the movie, I couldn’t make it out amidst the deafening noisiness.  All I picked up on was some sort of Apollo 11 conspiracy that brings back more villainous Decepticons, thus allowing Bay to unleash the Autobots to fight them for prolonged periods of time while Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky runs around like he just escaped from an insane asylum and the new Megan Fox, Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitley, stands there looking hot while managing to still have a perfectly unscathed face amidst the disaster around her.

It’s hard to believe now that this series used to be good.  The first “Transformers,” which came out four years ago, was a fun mix of action, humor, and excitement.  Since it did so well at the box office, Bay seems to have assumed it was only because of the action and dialed down every other aspect of the series to make the one non-stop.  I don’t mind watching buildings explode or bullets fly, but it gets old when you get pounded by it ceaselessly.  For this reason, the first sequel “Revenge of the Fallen” was a total disaster and one of the worst movies released in 2009.

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Random Factoid #503

13 12 2010

If you check out my page listing reviews by letter grade, you’ll find that I often dislike movies vehemently.  I never lose my faith in the movies in the face of all these terrible movies, though I do wonder if the directors, producers, writer, and/or actors of these movies know when they are making something that it is total garbage.

Turns out, Michael Bay was man enough to admit “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was a failure.  It took him a year and a half to admit what bloggers and normal audiences have been saying, but it’s still nice to hear it from the man himself.  He said:

“We tried to learn from the second movie. On the second movie we got burned. We had a writers strike, we had to agree on a story in three weeks, and then we knew they were going on strike. It was a f***ed scenario all the way around; it wasn’t fair to the writer; it wasn’t fair to me; it wasn’t fair to anybody. It was still an entertaining movie, but I think we failed on certain aspects. What we did with this movie is I think we have a much better script, and we got back to basics. … It’s more serious. I got rid of the dorky comedy; I mean we’ve got two little characters, that’s it, but the dorkiness is not there. Dork-free Transformers. It’s much more serious. It’s still entertaining; it’s big looking.”

This is somewhat reassuring as I actually loved the first “Transformers” and still watch it every so often.  I wouldn’t say I’m hotly anticipating “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” but this is a small boost in its favor.

Although I will say, I can never forgive Michael Bay for scaring Megan Fox away from the movies.