Shortly before this column appears online, I was sitting in a theater getting a slight jump on the public by seeing Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It was either see it at 10 a.m, or see it at midnight and while neither time greatly appeals to me, I make it a practice not to undertake 147 minute movies—that will be much nearer three hours by the time you factor in trailers—at midnight whenever possible.
It will surprise no one that I am not looking forward to Transformers with keen anticipation. I hated the first film and see nothing to indicate that this one will be appreciably different. Do I hear cries of “bias?” Well, yes, I’m biased. That happens when you’re going to see a sequel to a movie you found spectacularly obnoxious. I admit I am curious to see whether or not it’s true that Michael Bay has afforded one of the robots testicles. It seems improbable to me, but then again this is the guy who found rats that would copulate on cue and worked them into Bad Boys II (2003). That he didn’t have them explode is a miracle of restraint. That is probably the first and last time Bay has been accused of restraint.
While caring very little about the movie, I do find myself once again fascinated by the fans as they lie in wait on Rotten Tomatoes just waiting to go ballistic on any critic who dares find Transformers—a movie they’ve mostly not seen, mind you—less than terrific. There are some choice comments to be found. I particularly liked, “I guess if you are a movie critic, your continued income is based upon how valid and clever your reviews are.” Who would have thought?
And from the Home for the Functionally Illiterate we have, “dude..u thought Happening was good??? it says alot about ur taste in movies… just go back and review Moulan Rouge or Brockback Mountains..those movies suits u the best…thats for ur 2 cents but no thanks..i can’t believe someone is payin you to write crap.” (This one is based on the idea that you can discredit any critic if you can find some movie of debatable quality he or she has liked.) I won’t even try to make sense out of, “Go write some poetry or cry that a tree just got cut down ya hippie. If giant transforming robots bores you then you have no idea what your looking at and should stick with said poetry and tree hugging. Hippie.”
Far and away my favorite, though, is this pearl of wisdom—“How can you say that Transformers is boring? You clearly have no idea what movies are about!” So there.
It slightly surprises me that anyone is bothering to release anything else this week, but not only do we get Nick Cassavetes’ My Sister’s Keeper in general release and the Israeli drama Lemon Tree at the Fine Arts, but Focus Features is taking Sam Mendes’ Away We Go wider this week. That one you won’t find in the upcomers in the print edition of the Xpress because news of its appearance this week came long after the deadline. I admit to a certain fascination with the idea of Mendes making a comedy, but I can’t help having reservations about the results.
Of course, Easy Virtue (which, by the way, had its biggest opening in North Carolina in Asheville this past weekend), The Brothers Bloom and Up are still playing—and there are two shows of Anvil! (Friday and Saturday at 9:15 only at the Fine Arts) still to be caught before it takes its leave.
Notable DVD releases
As one of the handful of people who genuinely liked P.J. Hogan’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, I have to admit I’ll be adding this charming, whimsical and slightly fantasticated romantic comedy starring Isla Fisher and Hugh Dancy to my shelves. And if you didn’t see it in theaters, it’s at least worth a rental. Also worth a rental is Iain Softley’s much maligned—and far from perfect—Inkheart, though I’d probably draw the line at actually buying it.
Waltz with Bashir was a film I admired more than I liked and I have no desire to see it again, but since so few people locally went to see it in the theater, I’d recommend giving it a try at home—especially, if you’re in the market for something a little different. There just aren’t that many animated documentaries. And for those who think I’m elitist and don’t care about “normal” movies, I offer for your consideration Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981). Here we have a film I’m supposed to like for its profundity and insight and all that. Well, it actually rates as pretty close to the most mind-numbing two hours I’ve ever spent in a theater. If you want pretentious and dull, you can’t do any better than this.
Turner Classic Movies wraps up its “Great Directors” month with W.S. Van Dyke, Stanley Kubrick, Budd Boetticher, Federico Fellini, David Lean, Norman Jewison, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Sidney Lumet, Cecil B. DeMille, Robert Z. Leonard and Anthony Mann. Even though I find myself at odds with some of the choices—I’ve yet to be convinced that Boetticher is even interesting, let alone great, and the same goes for Anthony Mann, while Robert Z. Leonard seems pure studio craftsman with no discernible style of his own—this series continues to be a pretty nifty crash course. My only caveat is that it’s hardly a definitive list of great directors—merely a look in on some of the greats and quite a few of the significantly less than great.
It’s certainly nice to see W.S. Van Dyke on the roster. “Woody”—sometimes known as “One Take”—Van Dyke is an often overlooked filmmaker, because of his ability to crank out movies with almost alarming proficiency. He signed his name to 31 movies between 1931 and 1939. By the end of 1942, he’d made another 10, but was by then dying from cancer and committed suicide in early 1943. The sheer number of movies he made has caused him to be undervalued, as has the variety of genres he worked in—everything from documentaries to comedies to mysteries to operettas to soap operas to action/adventure to spectacles. He made the first Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan picture, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and all three of the 1930s “Thin Man” movies, not to mention the best of the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy movies. (If you look him up on the IMDb, you’ll find him listed as “uncredited” on some films, but this is because the IMBd seems unaware that in the 1930s, the phrase “A W.S. Van Dyke Production” was the equivalent of today’s “A film by W.S. Van Dyke.”)
TCM offers a day of Van Dyke movies on Wednesday, June 24 starting at 6 a.m. and including Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Naughty Marietta (1935), San Francisco (1936) and the first two “Thin Man” movies, The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936). They’re slick, they’re efficient, and they’re among some of the most entertaining movies you’ll find anywhere.
In a somewhat similar vein, we find one of the few other filmmakers who could retain his personality while working at the MGM factory—George Cukor. Cukor’s movies are less fast-paced than Van Dyke’s and he’s sometimes dismissed as a “woman’s director” (that’s code for “gay”), but take a look at some of Cukor’s best work on June 28. Among other notable titles, there’s Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield (1935), The Philadelphia Story (1940) and The Women (1939)—all rich works from Cukor’s MGM period.