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Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (#110 of 7)

Summer of ‘88: Short Circuit 2

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Short Circuit 2</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Short Circuit 2</em>

Hollywood has rightfully made a big show of distancing itself from its blackface legacy, a tradition that stretched from the full-tilt racism of The Birth of a Nation all the way to Laurence Olivier’s 1965 version of Othello, not to mention the grotesque caricatures many black performers were forced to inhabit. But surprisingly little mention is made of brownface, the equally unpleasant practice of having white actors creep a few shades darker than usual, donning bronzer or maybe just getting a serious tan, in order to portray Latin, Native American, or Asian characters. Maybe it’s because it’s still going on to this day (seen recently in The Big Wedding and currently with Johnny Depp’s turn as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, although rarely in as baldly ill-advised fashion as in Short Circuit and it’s 1988 sequel, which finds Fisher Stevens going Sub-Continental as Indian robotics engineer Ben Jahveri, Quik-E-Mart accent, goofy mannerisms, and all. Putting aside the fact that most modern-day portrayals of Indians still haven’t moved very far beyond these rote stereotypical trappings, the film’s cartoon presentation of this character seems alien to an otherwise open-minded, tender movie, its kid-aimed messages on the fragility of life and the importance of acceptance backed up by surprisingly solid filmmaking.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

As long as there’s a Transformers film franchise, there’s a good chance Oscar nominations for special effects are going to be thrown at it like alien shrapnel. And since Michael Bay shows no signs of abandoning his clinking, clanking cash cow, expect this year’s nod for Transformers: Dark of the Moon to be the second of many (2009’s brain-melting Revenge of the Fallen was graciously snubbed in this category). But don’t expect it to be the one that tops the 2011 field, for while the Hasbro superbots demand attention on screen, the whole cacophonous series is considerably lacking in prestige, and odds are your average Academy member isn’t about to hand it his or her vote.

Hating the Player, Losing the Game: The Armond White Meta-Review

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Hating the Player, Losing the Game: The Armond White Meta-Review
Hating the Player, Losing the Game: The Armond White Meta-Review

When New York Press critic Armond White panned the universally admired Toy Story 3, the disapproval he expressed and the backlash it inspired were so “predictable” that they were, well, predicted. Bumping TS3 from its briefly “100% Fresh” standing at the critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, White’s piece (entitled “Bored Game”) channeled a steady stream of pissed off Pixar loyalists to the Press website. “Registered just to say I think you are a massive twat and I feel really sorry for you,” user woahreally weighed in. “Whoever ur boss is should be slapped for allowing you to publish this disaster of a review,” opined the inventively pseudonymed usuckballs.

The comments-section calls for White to be fired are occasionally hilarious in their venom and vulgarity, all the more so for being so spectacularly self-defeating—could the Press have mounted a more successful campaign to increase their web traffic and user registrations? And there’s the rub. White’s detractors accuse of him being a “contrarian,” someone who bucks the critical establishment and defies popular taste out of little more than cynical self-promotion and antisocial perversity. (This highly circulated chart of Armond’s pans and praises has been offered as definitive “proof” that his opinions are reflexively reactionary.) But if this is true, any principled stand against White paradoxically rewards and enables him. “Don’t feed the trolls,” as the saying goes.

Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

The sound category that more often rewards nuance probably deserves a little bit more consideration than I gave to sound editing (by my estimation an Avatar free spot) a few days ago. That said, scratch everything that isn’t a Best Picture nominee here right from the get-go. Too many scores to settle with this Avatar/Hurt Locker/Basterds three-way dominating all sorts of subheads down-ballot, and neither the Starship reboot nor the Optimus rehash even remotely flipped the template to the extent they’d have needed to in order to register among the three-headed Best Picture hydra. Of those three, Basterds is probably in the most precarious position, despite the roaring majesty of Mélanie Laurent playing a cinematic Carrie to the Nazi Party’s prom night. Ultimately, you have to dock Tarantino’s film a few ballots to take into account the voting demographic that thinks David Bowie ended up on the soundtrack by mistake.

Michael Bay Thinks You’re Stupid: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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Michael Bay Thinks You’re Stupid: <em>Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen</em>
Michael Bay Thinks You’re Stupid: <em>Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen</em>

It’s easy for critics and movie geeks to bash Michael Bay for making stupid movies. Quite frankly, there’s a lot of truth in Michael Bay’s assertions that he makes movies for “regular people.” And a large number of “regular” people, as well as film geeks and snobs, love stupid movies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a stupid movie, and when it comes to dumbed down action, Michael Bay is probably one of, if not THE best at creating a mindless action thriller and letting us revel in the testerone-filled orgy of explosions and chest thumping machismo that most of his fare offers. Hate the guy’s movies all you want, but it takes a respectable amount of chutzpah to pull off the immaculately idiotic Bad Boys II Cuba sequence with a straight face.

Tsunami of Shit: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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Tsunami of Shit: <em>Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen</em>
Tsunami of Shit: <em>Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen</em>

I’m sick of this notion that movie critics don’t like to have fun. Like any broad accusation, it’s pure cop-out, especially when founded on the basis of but a handful of films, as is usually the case. Though a minority opinion in my circles, I liked the first Transformers. It was big, loud, and dumb in that manner that recalls the childhood ambition of instilling life in one’s toys. More importantly, it stayed just behind the line of headache-inducing excess that stands as the starting point of this new film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is to its predecessor like a medieval torture chamber is to a playground, but that won’t keep many from swallowing it hook, line and sinker, quickly and indiscriminately. I can only hope that my feelings here are the general consensus—not just for critics, but for human beings. Few elements of Fallen are completely odious unto themselves, but rolled together it becomes a wave of inescapable proportions—a literal tsunami of shit.

Comics Column Special More Than Meets Few Eyes At All: The Legacy of the Transformers

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Comics Column Special—More Than Meets Few Eyes At All: The Legacy of the Transformers
Comics Column Special—More Than Meets Few Eyes At All: The Legacy of the Transformers

I was working on the next comics column, inspired by some of the welcome suggestions and comments to my last entry, when a special date snuck up on me. So do pardon my self-indulgence.

When I began this essay, it was Friday, May 8th, 2009, and Transformers celebrated 25 years of near-continuous presence in various media, from animated cartoons to live action films to, quite obviously, action figures for children and obsessed collectors. It was, actually, the comic book that was released first, with the intent to stir up interest in the new toyline. And with a sequel to Michael Bay’s spastic blockbuster film coming in a couple of weeks and the newest speciously-reasoned philosophy book recently released (surely the sign that you’ve hit the zeitgeist, right?), it’s a time of reflection for armchair pop culture theorists; what has led the property to endure—even, arguably, to flourish of late—when so many have fallen by the wayside? While critical reception to the film largely confirms the popular view that the property’s long-running fiction is little more than a facile toy commercial, is there anything buried there to hold onto?

Noted webcartoonist and longtime Transformers fan David Willis (Shortpacked!, Joyce and Walky!), in noting the anniversary date, proposed, “...perhaps being a marketing gimmick is part of Transformers’ longevity. It’s free to reinvent itself whenever it feels like it so as to keep itself viable…Star Trek had to sludge through forty years, at the end subsisting on nothing more than fumes, before it was allowed to reinvent itself top-to-bottom for a fresher audience.” And indeed, Transformers’ numerous iterations over the years found it trendsetting as often as it drew on nostalgia (the Emmy award-winning cartoon Beast Wars, for instance, was one of the earlier uses of fully-CG animation for a wide audience, debuting only about six months after Toy Story).