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by Bill Gibron

23 Jun 2009

At this point in his career, Michael Bay has one of two options. He can toss aside all his wannabe Spielberg shtick, lower the gig-normous size of his budgets, and deliver a small, carefully constructed comedy/drama about authentic characters in real world situations. He can tone down the bravado and actually dig deep into the psyche of another human being for once, without all the fireworks and falderal. Or he can just keep blowing shit up. Looking at his recent example of trumped up testosterone as talent, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, he may not have a future in superficial pyrotechnics after all. Sloppy, incomprehensible, and louder than a dozen megaton bombs, this senseless shoot ‘em up is all bark and only negligible entertainment bite. When it comes to retro-nuclear bombast, we expect more from Bay. This time, however, he goes way too far.

It’s been two years since Sam Witwicky uncovered the existence of alien robots on planet Earth, and while the Autobots have agreed to help the US military with their containment and clean-up crusade, the dwindling Decepticons have been plotting ways to resurrect their beloved leader Megatron from a watery ocean grave. Help comes in the metal persona of The Fallen, an ancient being whose been looking to destroy the planet for centuries. Locked in his extraterrestrial orbit, he needs a piece of the All Spark to start his sun-killing conquest. While he tries to attend college, Sam becomes an unwitting cerebral storage unit for the cube’s considerable knowledge. This also makes he, and his cross-country gal pal Mikaela prime targets for the evil entities from another world. Hoping to avoid the Decepticons, Sam relies on Optimus Prime and the government to keep him safe. When they both fail him, it’s off to find former Sector 7 Agent Simmons. With his help, he might be able to find the long lost Matrix, resurrect his hero, and save mankind once again.

If you ever wondered what a movie would look like geared toward the underdeveloped brain of a gestating zygote, if you think elements like plot, characterization, and logic just get in the way of your mandatory (over)dose of eye candy, then Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the insipid illustration you’ve been waiting for. This is junk as justification, the mandatory sequel that feels less like a follow-up and more like a purposeful attempt to wipe the previous film off the face of the Earth. Within its incessantly long running time (as another critic pointed out, just 10 minutes under 2001) and overreliance on special effects is a philosophy so wrongheaded, so antithetical to what we believe is decent popcorn entertainment, that it practically asks to be smacked around. While it’s doubtful, here’s hoping the general public wises up to this waste of time and opens up a can of flopsweat whoop-ass on this atrocious turd. 

There are so many things wrong with this movie that to discuss them at length would be pointless. Instead, a Hall of Shame checklist is probably more effective. In no particular order, we get: humping dogs; crying robots; pot brownies; robot slobber; tired tech geeks; female Terminator-lite; American Chopper, Megan Fox style; machine scrotums; John Turturro as a tortured mama’s boy; Prime gods; yet another ineffectual DC bureaucrat; Borscht Belt level jokes; indistinguishable desert mayhem; wussed out BMOC; and the most racially insensitive sidekick characters ever in the history of cinematic spectacle (take that, Jar-Jar George). That’s right, someone decided to invite Leroy and Skillet to the 2009 PC party, and these despicable little examples of big budget bigotry make the famed Dolemite comedy team look like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by comparison. It’s not just the jive-talk and cultural clichés (gold teeth? On a machine?). Buried within the ebonics is a litany of inflammatory ethnic fallacies that do nothing but denigrate and defile.

Even the action scenes, Bay’s purported strong point, are (rare) hit and miss. The movie starts out strapping, a city crushing cruise through Shanghai establishing the entire Autobots/Army connection. But things go rapidly downhill as we spend way too much time with Shia LaBeouf’s sitcom slapstick family. They make Jerry Lewis look subtle. Another stellar sequence set in a surrounding forest pays off in some edge of the seat thrills. But toward the middle, when Bay and his scriptwriting rejects have to basically tie in twenty differing narrative threads, the life is literally sucked out of the film. It’s at this point where the director starts channeling his previous canon, lifting moments from Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and Bad Boys, as if dealing with giant battling robots was just not enough. Indeed, what Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen needs is more Robot Jox like stand-offs. We come to a film like this to actually SEE the machine on machine spectacle, not try and interpret it from inside a blur of editing and extreme close-up conniptions.

This is not to say that this seemingly unnecessary sequel won’t placate the faithful. Anyone with an actual jones for bigger and badder Transformer travails will feel their wavering attention spans rewarded. This is all polish and presentation, plasticized cheese painted in the grandest of studio supported patinas. It’s all go, Go, GO!!! There is never a moment to catch one’s breath, to drink in the proposed grandeur of man and massive shapeshifting alien machine co-existing and artfully interacting. There is no sense of scope, no awe-inspiring concept of the epic or the magical. Instead, we are stuck inside Bay’s adolescent fantasies, a place where all women are willing, all guys are dork champions, and all evil is vanquished by that most simplistic of moves - the convoluted script rewrite. Nothing makes sense here, but that’s not important for true fans of this material. They just want Bay to blow shit up - and blow it he does.

For some, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen remains critic proof. It’s the kind of hotwired celluloid crack that keeps the mainstream mesmerized by its pre-natal tendencies for colorful shapes and shiny objects. It’s like a rotten carrot covered in glitter being dangled in front of a dead mule - somehow, it makes sense, but on closer inspection, it’s kind of cruel…and definitely insane. With the amount of money waiting overseas for an easy to translate slice of hackwork Americana, we will most likely be seeing another alien gearhead grudge match a few summers from now. If the Go-Bots are indeed the K-Mart of Transformers, then this film translation of the toy is its Dollar Store sales pitch. Michael Bay may never make that minor character study, but one thing is clear. In the history of half-baked blockbusters, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is raw and runny.

by PopMatters Staff

23 Jun 2009

Wheat
White Ink, Black Ink
(The Rebel Group)
Releasing: 21 July 2009 (US/UK)

SONG LIST
01 Half of the Time
02 Changes Is
03 My Warning Song
04 El Sincero
05 Living to Die
06 If Everything Falls
07 Music Is Drugs
08 Coke and Tanqueray
09 Two Mountains
10 I Want Less
11 Baby in My Way

Wheat
“Half of the Time” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

23 Jun 2009

More on conspiracy mongering. Coming up with conspiracy theories is a pathological way of dealing with too much information (which threatens to bury us, confront us with our utter insignificance), with often strikingly inventive and ingenious results. But perhaps more often, the results are pernicious and hateful, prompting deranged people to commit crimes in the name of their disturbed theories. If the hypothesis that conspiracies derive from stunted creative energy with no socially sanctioned outlet holds, would creating these theories provide an outlet for such people’s unstable pent-up energy, their alienation and feelings of powerlessness? Does it help them let off steam, defusing the danger they otherwise represent? Or do the theories necessarily harden them in their madness, providing justification to go further, to act, to murder a bunch of celebrities on Cielo Drive, or a guard at the Holocaust Museum. 

This article by Mark Oppenheimer, the first of a series, (via the Atlantic’s Ideas blog) promises to investigate what drives Holocaust deniers to reject history in favor of nebulous and despised conspiracy theories. The first installment contains this remarkable exchange between the author and Bradley Smith, a 79-year-old Holocaust denier.

Once we were both seated at the coffee shop, I tried to ask Smith about possible flaws in the works of great Holocaust historians.
“You’ve read all the standard accounts,” I asked, “like Lucy Dawidowicz and Raul Hilberg?”
“Yeah,” Smith said, “that’s what I started with, I read Hilberg. I didn’t read them very closely. Because I’m not really interested in the history of the period.”
I was a little shocked. “I mean, you read Lucy Dawidowicz’s book on the period? You read David Wyman?”
“Not thoroughly,” Smith said. “Wyman, I didn’t read. He came a bit too late.”
I was astounded. “But that’s kind of amazing, right? Because here are these classic works of Holocaust literature that purport to show it all and you say you haven’t read them closely. So you have read Arthur Butz, who’s a nobody in the field, closely, but you haven’t read the great titans in the field closely?” 
“You know what? I’m not interested in the story,” he replied. “Revisionists have written very detailed documents about the holes—”
“So what are you interested in?”
“In a free exchange of ideas.”
“But you aren’t interested in trying to find out which ideas are right?”
“Not particularly. You know what I’m really interested in? Every generation has its taboo, and I happen to be here with this taboo. I happen to be here with this one. And I can see how it’s exploited, and who benefits from the exploitation.”

Smith wants to reason backward to some crazy version of the “truth” by starting with the bad incentives of supposed “exploiters” of history, all while regarding history itself as insignificant. But if history doesn’t matter, what is even at stake? As he says, the “free exchange of ideas,” but what that really means is his freedom to be recognized as different in a culture that seems to encourage sameness and at times projects images of a homogeneous people all believing the same things. (“The Nazis were evil.” “Everybody loves the Beatles.”) It’s a grandiose way of signaling resistance to the normative culture of our time (to borrow a phrase Amitai Etzioni uses in this TNR article). What is at stake for him in his Holocaust denial is not history at all or even his urge to disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda. Rather, it’s nothing other than his own reputation as a stalwart nonconformist. Holocaust denial ends up seeming like the extreme version of hating Coldplay because they are popular.

by Thomas Britt

23 Jun 2009

Joe Walker of Breakfast at Sulimay’s fame interviews Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger about upcoming Fiery Furnaces album I’m Going Away. As is often the case with his interviews and reviews, Walker fits a history lesson or two into the conversation, which is intercut with songs from Widow City and the new album.

by PopMatters Staff

23 Jun 2009

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Bad Graphics Are Still Impressive in ‘Spirits of Xanadu’

// Moving Pixels

"Spirits of Xanadu wrings emotion and style out of its low fidelity graphics.

READ the article