1. Pirates Of The Caribbean At World’s End – From when Captain Barbossa (Geoffery Rush) comes down the steps at the end of Dead Man’s Chest, there was no doubt in my mind that At World’s End would be one of the best movies of the year. I didn’t ever question whether or not it could possibly equal the histrionics of the first two. I assumed it would surpass them. After all, they just made me excited to see Geoffery Rush and I didn’t think that was possible.
It’s not as if it was completely boring, though there were boughts of that. Mostly, it just doesn’t make any sense. There was a point maybe a quarter of the way through when I decided that was my fault. Like I wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t working hard enough to follow it. Which was at the time regrettable but also pretty exciting. To think that all of a sudden the Pirates franchise had decided we were willing to forgo some of the inherent spectacle for something more cerebral. And since that would come as a surprise, it wouldn’t be shocking that I could go forty-five minutes without realizing I was going to have to treat this one differently. To go after it rather than just letting it take me out to sea. But it wasn’t long before that excitement wore off and I was left with the conclusion that I hadn’t gotten anything wrong. That it was indeed the movie’s fault.
It’s clear Elliot & Rossio had a plan. Maybe even from the beginning. But certainly through these last two. To leave Jack Sparrow as he started, both in personality and situation was not only unexpected but handled well. It didn’t feel like a tacked on ending, which is doubly amazing considering the actual climax was fairly stupid. Still, the first two were so ridiculously incredible, constantly topping themselves with perfectly placed crowd-pleasing moments, that even the slightest stumble would have caused this one to fall a long way. And this was a lot worse than a stumble.
2. Spider-Man 3 – By now you know all about how idiotic this movie is. At least I hope you do. If you’re saying you don’t or that I’m just plain wrong, I feel I’m obligated to tell you that you are in denial. Just like the people that love Heroes and the Star Wars prequels. There is no other explanation. This is by far one of the dumbest (amnesia), laziest (meteors), non-sensical (dancing) movies to come along in a really long time.
At one point, I thought, “I can’t wait for Topher Grace to become Venom.” Reasoning, since Topher Grace is the one watchable character in this movie (besides Mageina Tovah’s Ursula, of course, but she has like two lines), the only one acting somewhat logically and being funny, that once he became relevant to the story, he might begin to redeem the movie as a whole. First of all, silly me for thinking anything could be relevant to the “story” of Spider-Man 3, but worse yet, when he does become Venom (by complete, indefensible and unmotivated coincidence by the way – there’s apparently only one church in New York City and every character with no prior established religious proclivities worships there in off peak hours) all trace of the character Topher Grace had been playing, is lost. And as such, any chance of Spider-Man 3 being any good at all.
3. Transformers – “I got what I wanted.” That’s probably the most oft used phrase in regard to those that claim they liked this movie. “I wanted fighting robots and that’s what I got.” So that’s enough for you? Your checklist is complete and you’re fine with that? Has it gotten that bad that that’s the extent to which your expectations can be stretched? Or are you really just that simple minded? I’m not saying I need some sort of multi-layered robots-as-Muslims allegory from a Transformers movie. In fact, I’m fairly satisfied with the plot. Hoover Dam as Area 51, Grampa Wickwicky as MacReady, incommunicado platoons, even superhackers that can interpret alien language. It’s all fine. Good even. (Except for the whole reverse engineering thing, which completely contradicts the given reason The Deceptacons want to conquer Earth or whatever.) Unfortunately, it’s all buried under a mountain of horrendous dialog and circular scenework.
We all know that Michael Bay isn’t going to concern himself with the script all that much. In fact, he’s probably going to mostly leave it in a drawer in his hotel room. And that’s fine too, because we can see why. You can’t let computer generated characters ad lib their way through a movie, so they’re left with the worst of it.
It started out good. For maybe twenty minutes. The first hint of disappointment was “Barricade,” the Deceptacon disguised as police car. Of course, that’s Prowl. Who isn’t a bad guy. But it’s coming after Bumblebee. It felt a little wrong, but it was an okay chase and I’m fully prepared for some of the things I know about this universe to change. I mean, Shia LaBouef’s name is Sam, not Spike. So already I’m acclimating. This is a little more intrusive, but it’s fine. I’ll get over it.
Then comes Soundwave. He’s not called that, he’s not called anything, but we all know that’s who this tiny CD player is supposed to be. It’s an update, and not even a very clever one considering CD players are kind of finished now too. But that’s okay. It means that there won’t be any Rumble or Ravage or Frenzy or Lazerbeak, but I understand that there will be sacrifices. There won’t be enough characters I know. And the ones that do show up won’t necessarily be the ones I know.
But then Soundwave talks. Like a gremlin. And thus commences the digging of the inescapeable hole. It’s not long before other talking Transformers are introduced, literally and lazily, by their leader Optimus Prime. I suppose I’m supposed to be blinded by the fact that he’s voiced by original actor Peter Cullen, which is admittedly awesome, but that fact does not act as some sort of concealer for the rest of his team. Regardless, it’s not how they sound that’s the problem (even the uncomfortable ebonics of Jazz.) It’s that they’re making terrible “jokes” (i.e. pop culture references), giving the finger, “urinating” on (the weird and awful) John Turturro and tip toeing around a yard.
It’s one thing to steal the plot from a underrated and underacheiving movie like Small Soldiers; you can get away with that. It’s not as if anyone thinks Michael Bay holds Joe Dante in any, never mind high, esteem. But to cast the actor (Kevin Dunn) who played the father to the teenaged protagonist in that movie as the father to the teenaged protagonist in your movie? That starts to get a little weird. Not to mention giving one of your creature characters the speech patterns of a like-minded creature character from one of Joe Dante’s earlier movies… well, now you’re heading into Dane Cook territory.
Still, I don’t mean to be one of these people that rolls their eyes at the mere mention of Michael Bay. It’s not enough to dismiss the quality (or lack thereof) of a thing based on his name alone. Besides the fact that The Rock and Bad Boys are among the greatest action movies ever made, there is something admirable about the way he sees things. The giant robot fights that figure to be the largest checkbox on the list of things you, America, wanted in a Transformers movie are dizzying and barely comprehensible images, but they’re still amazing. But only in that someone saw them that way and realized them, whether through the camera, the computer or, in this case, both. They are not amazing in the context of a movie that, I would imagine, wants me to understand what’s happening.
Besides, a passive admiration of the technique and an outstandingly relaxed lead performance (from Shia LaBouef, who I’ve probably praised enough, though I’m not entirely sure that’s possible) aren’t enough to overcome a succession of lame attempts to fill out your checklist. They know you have one. And as long as you do, they’re never going to risk deviating from it.
4. 300 – I never read the comic this was based on. And while I loved his Dawn Of The Dead, I wasn’t going to assume a Zack Snyder movie was a commodity I should be automatically excited about. All expectation came from the trailer. It is one of the best in a really long time. And without really telling you anything about the movie. Until just a few weeks before its release, I thought 300 referred to the year it took place, not the number of characters. But finding that out made absolutely no difference.
And it wasn’t misleading. It did turn out that the movie is pretty much endless computer-supported grunting and fight scenes. If said fight scenes had been comprehensible and didn’t drop in and out of slow motion a thousand times, that might have helped things. But by far the thing that hamstrung this movie was David Wenham. As far as I’m concerned, Leonidas picking Dilios of all people to go tell the Spartans’ story invalidates all the courageous kingly decisions he may have made before that. One actor shouldn’t be enough to bring down an entire movie, and certainly there are other factors, but this is one of the worst performances there’s ever been. And he’s the one telling us the story. So all his monotonous snarling gets transferred to the whole thing. And there was enough of that going on to begin with.
5. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story – When the writing credit comes up at the end of this movie (written by Judd Apatow & Jake Kasdan) I didn’t believe it. It’s not like I didn’t already know they were behind it. It’s not even as if I haven’t been critical of things they’ve done. But to have made something this terrible seems impossible. I would think that these two, of all people would become less and less commercially viable as their fame grew. That they would trend back toward what made Freaks & Geeks so wonderful (but also got it inevitably canceled.) But they’re moving completely in the opposite direction. There are still things in this that make you laugh as hard as anything in Knocked Up or The 40 Year Old Virgin, but they are few and far between. Mostly, it’s a lot closer to the Scary Movie offshoot movies than it is those though. Where those movies don’t bother making a joke but instead show you something you recognize and expect you to laugh, Walk Hard does make the effort of making a joke out of the thing you recognize and then keeps telling that same joke over and over.
I did like the guy in the front row of the theater I was in who wanted everyone to know that he wasn’t gay by making really loud disgusted sounds at anything even vaguely homosexual in the movie. And also at old people, though maybe he thinks that’s the same thing. He was fun. He also held up his cell phone during one of the protest songs. He’s clever and original and not even the tiniest bit gay.
6. – 10.
War – Jason Statham vs. Jet Li. We should still be talking about this. But you might not even know it ever happened and I envy that.
The Host – I should know better than to believe any hype surrounding any foreign movie. I think it might be equivalent to child actors, everyone is amazed that they can do anything that barely above average calls for exuberant praise.
Shrek The Third – Man do Antonio Banderas and the princesses do their best to save this movie. But man were they doomed from the start. Literally. The first half an hour is simply horrible.
Hot Fuzz – This should be my favorite movie ever made, never mind of the year. Why did it turn into a weird gorefest at the end? And of course that’s not the only problem.
The TV Set – I’m not sure why I expected anything out of Jake Kasdan. Unless it was whining about how unfair Hollywood is. Because then I wouldn’t have been disappointed at all.