I skipped the movie diary last week because I skipped the movies. There was nothing all that thrilling in the theaters so I decided to save my cash. But this week I ventured back out to the multiplex. Here’s what I saw:
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Someone needs to tell Michael Bay that a gorgeous face and rockin bod a star does not necessarily make. We’ve had beautiful women become great stars. Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welch. But what they all had in common was personality and charisma. I don’t even think a talent for acting is crucial, but an actor should have some life in his or her eyes. Though she is something of an improvement over the vacuous Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is just another cardboard cutout meant to approximate a pre-teen fantasy of a woman and is something of an insult to the thousands of beautiful young women who actually have some acting chops. Everything about her reeks of phony sexiness the likes of which would be hard to even find in the best porn movies. It seems though that Bay recognized the criticism of, not just feminists, but anyone with an intellect unclouded by hormones, that Megan Fox’s character in the second film was an insulting, helpless, damsel-in-distress with little brain or wit but plenty of masturbatory appeal. This time around Ms. Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly is a successful curator (I think) who steps up more than once to save herself and others. That’s cute and all but characters keep telling us how brilliant, competent, and hardworking she is without ever showing her being any of them, as though Bay and his writers just inserted a few lines to cover their collective sexist asses. But Bay’s childish sexuality and misogynism rear their ugly heads time and again, making his attempts to give Carly depth fraudulent. One especially groan-worthy moment: When Patrick Dempsey is describing the curves of a classic car as Bay’s camera slowly pans down Carly’s tight miniskirt clad body.
And I have gone on this rant actually having – surprisingly – somewhat enjoyed the picture. Sure it’s goofy and mindless, but it doesn’t have pretensions of anything other than a flashy good time. Bay balances Shia LaBeouf’s and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s shortcomings with solid supporting performances from Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, and John Turtorro (though I’m not sure what John Malkovich was doing in this). Is this a great movie? Of course not. It’s two and a half hours of explosions and shootings and CGIed Transformers with silly voices who spout off nonsensical clichés about freedom. (As far as I could tell, it looked like they were fighting for their lives, not freedom. That’s a very different proposition.) But I found myself enjoying the goofiness. It isn’t a movie I recommend whole-heartedly, but if you enjoy these sorts of things it certainly is better than the two pieces of trash that came before it. (Rating ***)
I wanted to like Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne. I mean it’s just so well meaning and it’s full of likeable actors playing likeable characters, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Hanks was dipping his creative toes in waters he just doesn’t understand. I’m not going to go so far as to call him a rich Hollywood elite placating his liberal conscience by playing a working class stiff, though those charges feel unsettlingly accurate. I’m not sure what Tom Hanks knows about modern working class Americans (I guess he hasn’t been one since his Bosom Buddies and Family Ties days circa 1980-1984), but this movie doesn’t suggest a deep understanding of the current economic woes of so many un- and underemployed Americans. It tells the story of Larry Crowne, a fifteen year veteran of a WalMart-esque megastore who is fired because he doesn’t have a college degree. (This immediately rang false to me. Why not give a long-time valued employee a chance to go to college before summarily sacking him?) This throws Crowne into a funk and leaves him unable to afford the mortgage on the house he bought with his now ex-wife, though I’m not sure how anyone who works retail – even semi-management – could afford to buy a house in a pristine neighborhood in Southern California, even with a second income. So Larry decides to go to college and earn his degree so no one can fire him for not being educated again, though I think it’s usually one doesn’t get hired for being undereducated, not fired.
The premise is cute and fuzzy, but if Larry doesn’t have a job, how does he afford college? Yes, community colleges are cheaper, but they still cost money – more every day thanks to phony-baloney corporate hack politicians who won’t raise taxes. But we aren’t supposed to ask too many questions because Larry needs to go to college to change his life – new friends, new ideas, a new outlook on life, and, most improbably, a new romance with his speech professor. Julia Roberts plays Prof. Mercy Tainot who is stuck in a dead end job and a dead end relationship. For some reason she is attracted to Larry, but I sure couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t buy that she would have been charmed by this affable dufus at all; she’s much too smart and not that desperate. I liked both Hanks’ and Roberts’ performances when they weren’t together, but they don’t have much chemistry when they finally did share the screen. If Hanks and Roberts had connected I could have forgiven the economic fantasy-land the script lives in (I’m still not sure how one character is able to drop out of community college and open a vintage clothing store), but Larry Crowne falls short both as a comment on the state of the U.S. economy and as a light romantic comedy. (Rating **1/2)
If you go to see Horrible Bosses you will be treated to one joke and that one joke isn’t even followed through to its punchline. What happens when three longtime friends decide to kill their bosses who have been torturing and abusing them? Well, if you expect them to actually kill them, you might want to check out some braver comedies about murderous protagonists like Kind Hearts and Coronets or Michael Caine’s A Shock to the System (or read the devilishly funny book The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester). The friends Nick, Dale, and Kurt (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) are incompetent to a frustrating degree and I guess that is supposed to be the gag. They are too dumb to actually kill their bosses, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that when they find a lot of cocaine in the house of one of the bosses, all they have to do is call the police. Or another of the bosses is taken care of nicely at the end with an incriminating video. No killing necessary and, truthfully, a much funnier concept: How do we beat our bosses at their own game? That movie could have been much funnier and smarter than this silliness about killing them (and not even having the guts to go through with it). What fun would it have been to watch a male version of Nine to Five instead of this uninspired murder fantasy.
The only laughs come from Kevin Spacey as Jason Bateman’s sadistic boss and Jennifer Aniston as a horny dentist who needs a sexual harassment seminar. (Colin Farrell is the only dud; he’s just too rotten and isn’t given as much screen time.) Both relish their roles and have a great time playing them up, but the story isn’t smart or edgy enough to do them justice. (Rating **)