Talk to Me(7/27/2007)


            Being a radio DJ is one of the great fantasies I suspect most people have; being able to decide what people listen to and being able to tell the people what they may or may not want to hear.  Being given a soapbox to communicate with an entire city is something that is extremely appealing.  The truth of radio broadcasting is probably a lot less glamorous than this fantasy, after all most DJs don’t even pick the songs they play, but the idea is still worth fantasizing about.  Talk to Me is about one of those radio personalities that keep this dream alive, in act he might be partly responsible for that dream’s existance.
            The film tells the true story of Ralph “Petey” Green (Don Cheadle), a Washington D.C. DJ in the mid-sixties who was started his DJ career by playing records over the PA system of the prison he was sentenced to spend ten years of his life.  After his parole Green went to Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) the programming director at WOL, a fledgling D.C. R&B station, who was the brother of one of Green’s fellow inmates.  Hughes is initially horrified at the notion of putting this profane convict on the air, but is eventually won over by Green’s streetwise personality and believes this personality will help regain the station’s African-American audience.  E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen), the station’s owner, is eventually convinced to give Green a chance.  Green quickly becomes a counter-culture sensation and must come to terms with his potential fame.
            Petey Green was the right man at the right time for WOL.  Green first started broadcasting in 1966, America was divided and people were fed up with the establishment.  This was the perfect environment for a rebel like Green.  Green’s predecessor was a mild mannered and fake sounding and inoffensive personality whose show was clearly targeted at an older white demographic.  Green had the audacity to simply say what was on his mind in his own flamboyant way.  He was willing to get under people’s skin, he was the original shock-jock.  Green would open his show by saying “I’ll tell it to the hot, I’ll tell it to the cold. I’ll tell it to the young, I’ll tell it to the old. I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’. This is Petey Greene’s Washington.”  Green spoke to the black community at a time when it desperately needed an authentic voice.  Green was broadcasting the night news broke of Martin Luther King’s assassination and helped calm the city with his broadcast and at a James Brown concert the next night.
            The main attraction here, by far, is the excellent performance by Don Cheadle.  This may just be the best performance yet from this reliable character actor.  The role allows him to have certain pathos while still being a very comical entity.  Green is electrifying whenever he’s on the air and it’s easy to see why a city was captivated by his outrageous personality.  Cheadle talks and acts much differently in the movie than he does in reality, the actor disappears into the role.  The supporting cast is also solid, Ejiofor is solid as Green’s friend and business partner.  Taraji P. Henson make a definite impression as Green’s long term girlfriend Vernell Watson and Martin Sheen is memorable as the stations older white owner.  Cedric the Entertainer also makes as surprise addition to the ensemble as late night DJ “Nighthawk” Bob Terry.
            The movie’s problem however is that it works better as a comedic romp through the radio industry than it does as a biographical drama.  The movie begins to fall apart in its third act when it falls back on traditional biopic patterns.  Petey Green had a personality that is very fun to watch but his life simply didn’t have the same gravitas as figures like Malcolm X and Gandhi, and he really can’t support the kind of heavyweight importance the movie places on him in the third act.  Green’s disinterest in fame and somewhat rocky friendship with Hughes isn’t an entirely awful plot development; it simply isn’t as interesting or dramatic as the type of material that was featured in biopics of people like the above mentioned figures or even of someone like Johnny Cash.  After Green has achieved success as a DJ the movie runs out of places to go and suddenly tries to cover a good twenty years in a short amount of time even though the preceding movie seemed to cover a only two or three.  
            Despite the film’s third act problems, the sheer joy of the movies first two thirds or so should not be understated.  Every word that comes out of Petey Green’s mouth feels like a very memorable quote.  This flamboyant figure is very fun to watch especially as portrayed by Don Cheadle who is giving Oscar caliber work here.  Talk to Me is so good for so long and Cheadle is so great that the movie is still worth seeing despite its problems; just don’t expect it to stand up next to other, better, biopics. 
*** out of four

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DVD Catch Up: The Host(7/26/2007)


            There are distinct differences between horror movies and monster movies.  Some monster movies are indeed horror movies, but many are a genre unto themselves.  Movies like Ron Underwood’s Tremors, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and David Croenberg’s The Fly have all told great stories that happened to have large dangerous monsters at their centers.   The genre has been around since early B-movies of the Godzilla vein, but the granddaddy of most modern Monster movies is almost certainly Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.  As everyone (and I mean everyone) already knows, Jaws was effective because of how little of the shark was shown. Most filmmakers studied that film and reused the trick for their own monster movies.  After thirty years of this it’s nice to see a film like The Host that completely ignores this trick and is willing to just show a monster doing its thing.

            The film begins with and American scientist ordering his South Korean assistant to dump large quantities of formaldehyde into the Han River.  Predictably this results in the creation of a mutated amphibian monster the size of a semi-truck.  This creature announces itself to the world when it begins a violent attack at the riverside.  At the riverside during the attack are Park Gang-du (Kang-ho Song) and his daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko).  Toward the end of the attack the monster captures Hyun-seo and hides her in his sewer lair for some reason.  The American government reveals that one of their officers present at the river attack had become infected with a virus, as such Park Gang-du, his father (Hie-bong Byeon), his brother (Hae-il Park) and  his sister (Du-na Bae) are all detained and quarantined.  This quirky and often dysfunctional family must work together to escape custody and save Hyun-seo before the monster gets hungry again.

            The monster in The Host is fairly well designed; It looks a bit too venerable but has enough of a menacing presence to make the attack scenes work.  The special effects are pretty good by the standards of non-hollywood cinema, it is clear they were working with a budget here.  The monster doesn’t look like much compared with a Hollywood production, but they’re good enough to not be distracting during the creature scenes. 

            There are a number of political undertones in the script, but it is fairly simple minded and at many times feels like little more than xenophobia.  The United States is blamed for pretty much everything that goes wrong in the movie: an American dumps the chemicals that create the monster, The United States military is blamed for starting a virus scare, and the United States begins dropping a chemical called “Agent Yellow” on the city for no apparent reason.  This simple minded Anti-Americanism works to add a sense of intelligence to this potentially mindless script but it hardly stands up to the level of a serious political movie.
            The human characters in The Host are amusing.  The father, Park Gang-du, is a bit of a slacker, and his father works pretty well as a family patriarch.   Gang-du’s sister is an Olympic archer (for reasons that will be very obvious to anyone familiar with this genre) while his brother seems to be a fairly generic badass.  None of these characters are overly complex or even particularly interesting, but they aren’t transparently weak either.  They are humorous enough though, and they provide a good human perspective to the story.  The characters don’t stand out but they are good enough.
            “Good enough” actually applies to most of the movie’s many aspects.  The film tries to be a lot of things; it tries to be a monster movie, a political movie, and a film about a dysfunctional family.  The film succeeds moderately well at all of these things; it’s a jack of all trades and a master of none.  The Host will please fans of the genre and those looking for something different in their sci-fi action, but it will probably not blow anyone away.

*** out of four.

Rescue Dawn(7/21/2007)


            The German auteur Werner Herzog is a better icon than he is a director.  His technical skill as a filmmaker is shaky at best and his stories are hardly groundbreaking literature.  Its is instead Herzog’s personality, filtered through a camera lens, that makes his films so intriguing.  Herzog is a crazy ambitious filmmaker and he makes crazy ambitious films.  His characters are as larger than life as the man who created them.  When he’s not busy chronicling these people he makes points about the harshness of nature, a force he avoids romanticizing at all costs.  Herzog’s last film, the popular documentary Grizzly Man, combined Herzog’s views of nature with a real life figure of Herzogian vision and madness.  In his new feature film, Rescue Dawn, Herzog again makes his statement about nature, but for the first time he gets to do it with a major studio budget. 

            The film tells the true story of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a German born American citizen who joined the navy a year before the Vietnam war in order to continue his interest in aviation.  On a secret bombing mission to Laos Dengler’s plane was shot down and he was placed in a Laotian prisoner of war camp deep in enemy territory.  At this camp he meets a handful of Asian prisoners and two Americans, Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) and Eugene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies).  Duane seems fairly stable, but Eugene seems to have been driven insane by his years of imprisonment, he’s grown long hair and generally acts a lot like Dennis Hopper at the end of Apocalypse Now.  Dieter however has a very positive outlook; he knows he needs to escape.  Dieter encourages the rest of the prisoners to escape, but in the jungles of Laos prisons don’t end at the gate.

            Dieter Dengler’s story was first told in Werner Herzog’s 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a work that has been praised by some, but remains unseen by me.  Since the documentary was released Dieter Dengler died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 63.  Dieter’s story is ultimately a story of triumph with an uplifting ending.  It’s easy to picture a much different movie had this been put in the hands of a more conventional Hollywood filmmaker.  What we could have gotten was a cross between Top Gun and The Great Escape instead we’ve gotten a far less marketable and much more thoroughly Herzog piece of work. 

            The movie has two distinct halves with what are essentially a prologue and an epilogue book ending them.  This is not an overly traditional structure, but it works for the story.  After a brief opening on the ship Dieter is stationed on, the film goes straight into its first half; the POW camp.  The POW camp seems thoroughly grim, but it isn’t much more shocking than anything we’ve seen before.  The prison does not seem as hellish as something like Midnight Express, but this gives it an extra feeling of authenticity, after all just because they’re the enemy there’s no reason to believe the Laotian’s are monsters.  The environment is bad enough to make you want the escape successful without going over the top. 

            The second part details Dieter and Duane’s struggle for survival out in the jungle.  Herzog’s view of nature is in full swing here.  The film tries to feel like an adventure film, Denglers trek through a harsh environment is never romanticized.  It is in fact humanity that overcomes the obstacles; nature does not help Dengler at any point.  This second part is actually stronger than the first part; this half is what really makes the film worth seeing.

            Christian Bale has proven himself to be one of the best actors of his generation; here he expands his pallet even further.  Bale has made a name for himself playing depressed, brooding characters like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, the Magician who takes his job too seriously in The Prestige, or the freakishly skinny title character in The Machinist.  Dieter Dengler however is neither depressed nor brooding, his positive outlook is essential in fact because that’s what compels him to escape.  Bale straangly decides not to bother with Dengler’s German accent, but otherwise completely pulls off the role.  Bale does not dominate however as Steve Zahn is also solid as Dengler’s prison comrade Duane Martin.  Jeremy Davies is also appropriately creepy as Eugene DeBruin from Eugene, Oregon. 

            One should not mistake Rescue Dawn for a depressing ride through hellish experiences, it is ultimately a story of human perseverance against the odds and it does end with a well earned catharsis.  What’s interesting is that this story has all the elements of a typical Hollywood movie, and these are all muted by a strong willed filmmaker who isn’t whoreing his movie for optimum audience pleasing appeal.  What’s particularly noteworthy is that the eventual triumph at the end feels all the more sweet because it doesn’t feel like the result of Hollywood trickery and manipulation, instead it feels like authentic triumph as a result of an authentic story. 

            Herzog’s technical filmmaking skill is a lot better here than it has been on many of his previous fiction films.  The cinematography is nice, the editing works, the sets seem real, and reportedly the shoot went pretty smoothly.  MGM provided Herzog with a ten million dollar budget, much more money than Herzog has ever worked with.  Still, this is an unmistakable work of Herzog filmmaking, budget or no budget.  There are many memorable scenes, most particularly a scene where Dengler hunts a snake, and a scene where Dengler is almost saved by a helicopter.

            Dieter Dengler’s story was worth telling and worth hearing.  At the end of the day the most interesting thing about Rescue Dawn is just how different it could have been in other people’s hands.  Herzog brings all the usual themes of his work to the projects with less of the drawbacks.  It isn’t a masterpiece at all, but it will defiantly please fans of Herzog and more casual audiences who want to hear Dieter Dengler’s amazing story.

***1/2 out of four



            We’ve all seen people like him, a man standing with an open guitar case in front of him as he plays his heart out while uninterested pedestrians walk by on their way to more important things.  There’s no way the few coins donated by generous the occasional passersby can support anyone; one wonders what drives these street musicians to their spots day in and day out.  Once, the new film from the unknown Irish director John Carney has answered that question, I may never see one of these street corner bards the same way again.
            The film’s unnamed male protagonist (Glen Hansard) sings and plays guitar on the streets of Dublin whenever he isn’t working at his father’s vacuum repair shop.  While performing one of his own songs one night he meets an unnamed Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová).  The Girl is also a struggling musician who must go to a music shop in order to play a piano.  Most of the guy’s songs were inspired by a girlfriend who had run off to London, leaving him heartbroken.  The girl, who’s younger than the guy, has a baby and lives with her mother, she has a husband back in the Czech republic with whom she has separated and may never return to.  The guy and girl form a platonic bond that never quite turns into a romance.  The two eventually start collaborating musically, with good results.  The guy finally decides to move to London in search of a record deal and possibly to reunite with his estranged girlfriend.  Before he goes however he invites the girl to work with him on some studio demos over the weekend before his departure.
            Once has been described as a musical, but I strongly hesitate to use that genre as a descriptor.  This is not a movie where people burst into song spontaneously for no reason other than to shoehorn in a “number”.  This is also not a big budget spectacle, it was made for $150,000 on the streets of Dublin and is shot naturalistically without trying to revel in its low-budget the way a pretentious director like Lars Von Trier would.  The songs in the film are usually played in their entirety, but are started for realistic reasons by characters who are musicians.  The film is far more intimate and down to earth than a large budget musical like Chicago.
            The music in the movie is acoustic pop in the vein of Tracy Chapman, the kind of thing that would be played by a “singer-songwriter” (a phrase I’m not a fan of).  This is not the kind of music I normally enjoy.  I prefer heavier music, in fact as I write this I’m listening to a Nine Inch Nails CD. With that said I thoroughly enjoyed the music in Once.  The music is well written and aesthetically enjoyable on its own, but I don’t think I’d like it as much outside the context of the film.  The film is what really made me love this music, knowing what’s going on in the performer’s lives while seeing the passion in their performances made the music really gel perfectly.  Some songs and performances do work better than others, “Falling Slowly” and “When Your Minds Made Up” both stand out significantly more than anything else in the movie, but I wouldn’t call any of the songs bad, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if we are hearing some of the music from this movie on Oscar night.
            Both of the leads are played by professional musicians rather than professional actors.  Glen Hansard was the lead singer for the Irish rock band The Frames in which director John Carney once played bass.  Markéta Irglová is a solo musician who had worked with Hansard earlier.  The lack of acting experience doesn’t really seem to be a problem here.  Both are convincing in their parts.  Neither are really forced to play overly challenging scenes, they certainly aren’t being very showy, but they do their jobs.  Hansard does generally seem to be working harder than Irglová, but any problems are more than made up for by what the two bring to their musical performances.  In my review of Black Snake Moan I felt that Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t really sing that well, but the way he acted made it seem like he could.  The actors here really can sing and it shows, both movies have good music, but these performers didn’t have to try as hard. 
            The story here is simple but elegant.  There’s nothing groundbreaking about this script, but the execution is so good it doesn’t matter.  The viewer truly begins to know the guy and girl by the end of the film and empathize with their feelings.  The film does all this without any of the emotional manipulation and falseness of a Hollywood romance.  The film is slightly reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s excellent Before Sunrise.  The viewer watches as these two people are together for a while before the real world pulls them apart.  The film also has a nice sub-plot between the guy and his blue collar father (Bill Hodnett) who initially seems fairly indifferent about his son’s musical endeavors.  The film accomplishes everything it sets out to do and delivers a great emotional pay off at the end while keeping to its realistic, down to earth roots.  Once does all of this in a brief eighty-five minutes and leaves the viewer wanting more.  
            Once made its debut at Sundance where it won the World Cinema Audience Award for a dramatic film.  The film has become a critical darling since then and has earned nearly unanimously positive reviews while being a box office hit at art house theaters.  In many ways the film is this year’s Half Nelson: an indie that comes like a breath of fresh air in a market littered with over the top Hollywood action movies.  I was worried that the critical response this movie had gotten was simply the result of such a poor summer environment but it wasn’t.  This is a truly engaging movie that deserves the praise its been getting.  The film is a great intimate story set in the real world that made me appreciate music I’m usually not into.  This movie is far more than just the cure for the summer movie blues.
**** out of four



            Michael Bay is one of the most loved and hated filmmakers out of Hollywood.  Critics have nothing but distain for the man, the only movie he’s ever made to gain a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes was his sophomore effort The Rock.   Audiences however seem to love him, only two of his movies have failed to break one hundred million at the box office and two of them have broken two hundred million, and those are just domestic numbers.  Bay makes empty Hollywood action movies with cheesy scripts, terrible acting from otherwise solid actors, and excellent technical skill.  As Jeanine Basinger once described him: “[Bay is a] master of movement, light, color, and shape—and also of chaos, razzle-dazzle, and explosion.”  However all this talent is wasted because the guy seems entirely oblivious to the fact that he’s always working with poor clichéd scripts and he couldn’t direct an actor if his life depended on it.  Bay’s new film Transformers is in no way a change in pace for Bay.  The film is essentially Armageddon with robots, its so full of clichés and bad writing that it often distracts the viewer from the fact that this movie bears a ridiculous concept that could only be taken seriously by a ten year old or Michael Bay.

            I’ll admit I’m not this movie’s target audience, but it boggles the mind to determine what that audience is.  The film is quite violent in that PG-13 kind of way and contains a number of not-so subtle sexual innuendos.  If this is family viewing they might a well toss Armageddon into the pantheon of Disney classics.  At the same time the film is far to silly, cartoonish, and cheesy as to insult the intelligence of any adult.  I’ve never seen a single episode of the cartoon this is based on, and I’ve owned one of the toys the cartoon was created to market.  Needless to say, I saw little to be exited about in this adaptation.

            The film opens with a cheesy voice over that seems to have no place in a movie made in 2007.  The voiceover is mostly cryptic and sets up that there is some sort of battle to come between good and evil alien forces that will occur on earth.  This voiceover seemed to confirm my fears that this movie would be nothing more than cheesy 80’s children’s fare awkwardly packaged for 21st century teenagers.  The film then cuts to Qatar, which is in the middle east according to the title card conveniently put on screen in case you’re too stupid to know where Qatar is.  What then transpired was an action sequence so cool that it even had a cynic like me interested.  A helicopter landed in a Qatar military base and preceded to “transform” into a robot which, according to Wikipedia, is named Blackout.  The Robot then uses a combination of very interesting weapons to decimate all the U.S. troops.  This impressive combination of pyrotechnics and CGI was undeniably cool, and this excellence in visual effects is maintained throughout the entire film.  However when the story begins so do the problems.

Bay’s first mistake was to place the film so largely from the perspective of teenagers who have no earthly business taking part in a major national security incident of this nature.  The main character is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), a suburban high school student who is finally being given a new car by his father.   Forced to choose between a number of old and worn cars at a sleazy used car dealership, Sam chooses a classic Camaro, which he doesn’t know was a transforming alien robot that drove itself to the dealership in order to be picked out by Sam.  The Autobots (heroic transforming robots) need Sam because his grandfather was an arctic explorer who discovered the frozen remains of the Decepticon (evil transforming robots) leader Megatron, who somehow imprinted some kind of homing device onto his glasses that detects the Allspark (which may as well be called “The MacGuffin Machine”) even when its been relocated to Nevada, and since these glasses have been passed on to Sam finding him is essential to the fate of the world.  Carefully consider that sentence and you will understand how hard screenwriters had to work to make a marketable teenager into the star of this movie.  Sam is joined by Mikaela (Megan Fox), who severs no purpose to the plot other then to be hot.  It turns out that Sam’s new Camaro is the Autobot Bumblebee, who communicates by picking convenient songs on the car radio to fit a situation. One wonders why the Autobots would send the one member of their team who is incapable of explaining the situation to Sam if he’s so important, a lot of screen time would have been cut if another autobot like Optimus Prime had just knocked on the kid’s door and said “the glasses or your life!”  One also wonders why the autobots and the U.S. military continues to waste their valuable time on this kid once the glasses (and with them the one minor tie he has to the story) are handed over.

            Meanwhile the people who are actually supposed to be dealing with problems like this are worried about the strange threat that has presented itself in Qatar.  The Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight), sends in the air force into Qatar to save the survivors of the opening sequence who are now being attacked by a scorpion robot.  Among these survivors are Sergeants Lennox and Epps (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) two completely under-developed characters who are only slightly more important to the story than Mikaela.  The air force learns through this encounter that humans do indeed possess some weapons that are effective against transformers, this is the full extent of the importance of this action sequence on the plot. 

            Meanwhile, in the most gratuitous sub-plot in this tangled mess of a story, three young hackers are brought in by the pentagon to deal with the threat these giant robots pose and the mysterious sounds that were recorded from the first attack.  This sub-plot goes nowhere and is almost entirely abandoned in the last third of the movie. 

            The movie starts off all right, the skeleton of a passable disaster film can be seen in the build up while the robots are still have a certain mystery, before they come out in the open, start talking to humans, and the movie devolves into the cartoon it is.  For the first half of the movie there is a lot of comedic relief which generate laughs with hit-or-miss success.  It’s once the Autobots reveal themselves to Sam that the movie goes awry.  In many ways I think the movie would have been better if it had eliminated the Autobots and played out as a fight between the evil Decepticons and the military.  I think there would have been at least some dignity in that, because the Autobots are boring characters that are even more one note than the human characters.  The Decepticons are also more interesting looking robots than the Autobots, but few of them are introduced until the final battle, and most them have little screentime even then.  The Decepticon’s lack of screen time actually works in the movie’s favor since they don’t ware out their welcome like the good Autobots.

            The performances in here range from awful to not-that-bad.  The least embaracing performance comes from Shia LaBeouf.  It’s a testament to how good LaBeouf is that he doesn’t embarace himself when delivering poor lines like when he “introduces” special opps agents to the giant robot that is destroying their car “Gentlemen… let me introduce you to my friend: Optimus Prime!”  Jon Voight is a respected veteran actor who should have learned his lesson about playing authority figures in Michael Bay movies for his insanely bad turn as FDR in Pearl Harbor.  As I’ve stated before the Mikaela character was written for no reason other than to bring a fine looking ass into the movie, and in turn Megan Fox was cast only for her fine ass, and in turn gives a howlingly bad performance.  Why, in this age of internet porn, do people still pay theatrical prices to see hot looking women?  Meagan Foxes performance destroys almost any of the remaining good qualities of all the scenes she’s in.  The most bizarre performance however comes from John Turturro, an actor I once respected but who is more and more proving to be fairly one note.  Turturro’s character is played almost entirely for laughs and is consistently cringe inducing.  He’s completely out of place and stops the movie in its tracks.

            The script is littered with loose ends and plot holes big enough to drive Megatron through.  Long story short: The MacGuffian Machine (excuse me “The Allspark”) ends up in a secret location under the Hoover Dam.  How the government managed to move a robot and a cube the size of a house from the north pole to Nevada in complete secrecy and then build a dam over it is a mystery, but that’s beside the point.  Once the glasses (AKA Macguffian 2) lead robots to the Hoover dam (instead of the North Pole where the glasses were actually imprinted) it is decided that the MacGuffian machine will be moved to Los Angeles and hidden.  Why they are bringing this to a city where the ensuing battle almost certainly kills thousands of civilians when they could just as easily battle it out in the desert is beyond me.  I guess they did it because Michael Bay didn’t think a desert fight would look cool enough.  It also boggles the mind why they take the more than four hours trip to Los Angeles instead of the nearby Las Vegas is also a mystery.  Also a mystery is how they managed to out run the Decepticons who have three aircraft that could have easily outflanked all of the good guys. These are just the plot holes in one five minute period of the movie, the number of holes in the entire movie may be countless.

            Now I’ll get to the part of the movie that will attract most of its audience, the special effects.  The effects are awesome, the robots look very real and fit into the universe extremely well. The movie may rival the Star Wars prequels for most effects shots.  The action is also pretty respectable, there are explosions galore in this movie and some interesting twists on the concept of the car chase.  The movie will deliver good eye candy for those willing to overlook the many, many, many problems the movie has on all other levels.  I for one didn’t think that was enough. 

            Before you jump on me with the whole “it’s a popcorn movie, it doesn’t have to be ‘good’” argument, let me say this:  I don’t see why popcorn movies need to only be about special effects.  There have been too many good popcorn movies made in the last decade for that excuse to hold water for me.  Take Steven Spielberg’s 2002 masterpiece Minority Report as the critic’s exhibit A.  Minority Report had a lot of very exiting action scenes and beautiful special effects, more than enough eye candy to satisfy anyone looking for that, yet it was also intelligent, thoughtful, well made, well written, and powerful.  Now look at exhibit B: The ever popular 1999 action film The MatrixThe Matrix had breathtaking action scenes, academy award winning visual effects, and also a brilliant script with enough philosophical insights to impress Harvard philosophy professor Cornel West.  When movies like these are able to be solid all around movies while still being fun eye candy, I see no reason to give lackluster action films like Transformers a free pass.

            I’ll begrudgingly give Transformers two stars for its solid visual effects, the handful of jokes that work, and Shia LaBeouf’s performance.  I think I’m being more than generous in giving it that much.

** out of four