the beauty of a bad film

That beauty? The creativity of film critics reaching to new heights of metaphor and poetry in our attempts to encapsulate just how the experience of a bad film impacted us.

At the moment, that bad film that is inspiring so much cleverness is, of course, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I wish I’d come up with the way that Robert Ebert did, at Roger Ebert’s Journal, to sum up the massive testosterone orgy that the film is:

I didn’t have a stop watch, but it seemed to me the elephantine action scenes were pretty much spaced out evenly through the movie. There was no starting out slow and building up to a big climax. The movie is pretty much all climax. The Autobots® and Decepticons® must not have read the warning label on their Viagra. At last we see what a four-hour erection looks like.

Emphasis mine.
At the other end of the extreme, there’s Charlie Jane Anders at io9, who was moved to wax rhapsody and loooong on how “Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie”:

Since the days of Un Chien Andalou and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, filmmakers have reached beyond meaning. But with this summer’s biggest, loudest movie, Michael Bay takes us all the way inside Caligari’s cabinet. And once you enter, you can never emerge again. I saw this movie two days ago, and I’m still living inside it. Things are exploding wherever I look, household appliances are trying to kill me, and bizarre racial stereotypes are shouting at me.

Transformers: ROTF has mostly gotten pretty hideous reviews, but that’s because people don’t understand that this isn’t a movie, in the conventional sense. It’s an assault on the senses, a barrage of crazy imagery. Imagine that you went back in time to the late 1960s and found Terry Gilliam, fresh from doing his weird low-fi collage/animations for Monty Python. You proceeded to inject Gilliam with so many steroids his penis shrank to the size of a hair follicle, and you smushed a dozen tabs of LSD under his tongue. And then you gave him the GDP of a few sub-Saharan countries. Gilliam might have made a movie not unlike this one.

And the true genius of Transformers: ROTF is that Bay has put all of this excess of imagery and random ideas at the service of the most pandering movie genre there is: the summer movie. ROTF is like twenty summer movies, with unrelated storylines, smushed together into one crazy whole. You try in vain to understand how the pieces fit, you stare into the cracks between the narrative strands, until the cracks become chasms and the chasms become an abyss into which you stare until it looks deep into your own soul, and then you go insane. You. Do. Not. Leave. The Cabinet.

That’s a longer excerpt than I would normally post, yet it’s only a tiny percentage of Anders’ marveling at the film. Please do read the whole thing — it’s beautiful.

And feel free to post in comments whatever other brilliant bon mots describing Transformers 2 you may come across online (but please post only small excerpts, with credits and links to the originals).

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Sat, Jun 27, 2009 7:50pm

that’s funny

but it can be argue that “the dark knight” and “the return of the king” have several climaxes, one after another, and the ending of both is definitely not the biggest one

but regarding Transformers 2 I loved how the Manohla Harris from the new york times refer to it as “the cretinous “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” on the first sentence of the review, great word “cretinous”

you should be friends with her, the other snarky, female film critic from NY

Sat, Jun 27, 2009 11:44pm

Was it you or somebody else who came up with the phrase “military porn” for the Bay oeuvre, which emphasizes the fetishistic obsession with military technology? I mean, a healthy dose of “shit blowing up” is one thing, but deployment of air drones done in erotic slow-mo???

btw, posting on the original review that overall (me and mah friends saw it tonight)… the movie wasn’t THAT bad.

Sun, Jun 28, 2009 10:04pm

From your own review MaryAnn – would have included it all – it is fantastic in all it’s scathing hilarious glory – but here’s a snippet:

“I’m certain that someday it will be acknowledged that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is like the most totally awesome artifact ever of the end of the American empire. It’s so us, a preposterously perfect reflection of who we are: loud, obnoxious, sexist, racist, juvenile, unthinking, visceral, and violent… and in love with ourselves for it. And Michael Bay is the high priest of our self-engrossment. It’s not enough that we like blowing shit up: the blowing shit up must be transubstantiated into something religious by having, say, a ridiculously gorgeous girl humping a motorcycle, her face aglow in the golden hour of sunset as she watches the shit get blown up, her glossy lips parted just a little in orgasmic joy.”

Mon, Jun 29, 2009 2:50pm

Well, I thought it was kinda fun. Perhaps my expectations were sufficiently lowered by all the bad reviews, but I found myself wondering why people are hating it so much. It ran too long, the story was poorly conceived, and the action was a little hard to follow (not nearly as bad as the last 2 Bourne flicks by the way), but on the whole the movie was at least as good as Wolverine, Terminator Salvation, and The Taking of Pelham 123 remake. I’d actually rank it 2nd in that list.

Your action movie opinion are wickedly inconsistent lately, MaryAnn. There is nothing in the Transformers 2 plot that is any more ridiculous than the ham-fisted machinations of Pelham 123.

Mon, Jun 29, 2009 2:51pm

Also, when the hell did Roger Ebert turn into Harry Knowles?

Mon, Jun 29, 2009 3:45pm

There is nothing in the Transformers 2 plot that is any more ridiculous than the ham-fisted machinations of Pelham 123.

Whether or not that’s true (and I’d argue that it’s not true), a movie isn’t just about plot.

Your action movie opinion are wickedly inconsistent lately, MaryAnn.

Not at all. There are all my honest opinions. Would you prefer I lied about my reactions to movies so that my opinions don’t appear inconsistent?

Every movie is its own thing. For instance, much as I love Shia, and have enjoyed watching him in other movies that are stupid (like that *Rear Window* ripoff he did a few years ago), there was no Shia-pleasure to be had in this movie. Michael Bay doesn’t know how to use his star’s Shia-ism, and actively subverts it or ignores it in places. Yet I did find it enjoyable to watch Denzel in *Pelham,* no matter how preposterous other stuff around him may have been: Tony Scott knows enough to leave his star to do his thing. And Scott is — in my opinion — far more technically proficient when it comes to staging action sequences (no matter how ostensibly implausible those action sequences may be) than Bay is.

Mon, Jun 29, 2009 4:54pm

…a movie isn’t just about plot.

True enough, I guess, but without a believable plot all the other stuff is just window dressing. Coherent, organic, character-based plot points are the key to a good story — even if it’s a complete farce. The ridiculous, character-breaking end of Pelham 123 absolutely ruins the movie. It was like finding a toenail clipping in my last sip of coffee. Conversely, with movies like the Bourne films, a tight story will make up for the often unintelligible direction of Paul Greengrass.

In short, if I want to enjoy watching Tony Scott directing Denzel Washington, shouldn’t I just add Crimson Tide to my queue?

As to the consistency of your reviews, I’m not advocating that you either A) lie about your reactions, or B) agree with me (or anyone) 100% of the time. Instead, I’m trying to point out that most of your reviews of comedies and dramas show a solid, predictable thread, meaning I can nearly always tell whether or not I will enjoy them based on the text of your review. Action films, however, seem to engage you on a different intellectual (or emotional) level, which is a lot harder to navigate. Do you like Pelham because you like Denzel, and because it was shot on location in your hometown? Do you hate Transformers because Shia was woefully underutilized? And was Wolverine really great because Hugh Jackman was “authentic and honest“? Hmm… perhaps there is a thread here I hadn’t noticed!?!

Mostly kidding about that last bit :)

However, I would be very curious to see you re-review some of these films in a year or two, and see if they rate as well (or poorly) on the second viewing.

Keep up the great work. As always, it’s just as much fun to disagree as it is to agree with you. And isn’t that the whole point of the internet?

Tue, Jun 30, 2009 2:13pm

Other commenters — Have you seen this?

“The 9 Most Scathing Critical Responses to Transformers 2”

MayAnn’s is listed as #2. B)