summer movie catch ups

Since none of us seem to have time to hit the theaters anymore, I’ve been plowing through some summer movies I missed on DVD lately. Here’s a quick look at what’s out there:

Transformers: I really wanted to see this. Yup, I’m one of the dorks who grew up with Transformers. I had a whole bunch of them, had the comics, saw the original cartoon movie in the theater opening night in 1986 and reveled in the fact that its theme song, “You’ve Got the Touch” was featured in the hysterical Dirk-in-the-studio scene in “Boogie Nights” some 15 years later. Heck, I even played Transformers at recess in fourth grade. But there isn’t a chance in H-E-double hockey sticks I’d give hack director Michael Bay one dime of my money. Not now, not ever. So I didn’t. I can watch it now by justifying it as I pay a monthly fee to Blockbuster, and I didn’t technically order it on my queue, I got it as my free in-store return. So stick it Michael Bay!

Anyway, I was on board with this bad boy almost immediately, even though I actually felt like I wanted to hate it so that I can complain some more about Bay. But man, for the first 1:10 of the movie, this was bordering on classic, even though Aaron Pierce from 24 and Sucre from Prison Break both bite it in the first 20 minutes. That was disappointing. This was pure action, and even more surprisingly, I found Shia LeBeouf pretty dang charming and good. I’ve been avoiding this “it” kid like he was syphilis for the last couple months but since I’ll be seeing Indy 4 on opening night, I figured I might as well get it over with. He’s got something, I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but he’s got it.

So here I am, zooming along with Bumblebee and diggin’ Megan Fox like crazy when a funny thing happened — the Transformers started talking, and everything just seems to stop. They’re cracking jokes for 2-year-olds, explaining stuff that was already explained, and just ruining the whole thing. As if that weren’t enough, then John Turturro — esteemed indie actor John Turturro — comes in and just brings the whole thing to a dead halt, erasing any semblance of credibility the movie had just 10 minutes earlier. If Turturro isn’t crying himself to sleep every night thinking about his participation in this thing, he should be. That moment where he announced his authority, officially, is when I fell asleep and picked it up the next night. When I put it back on, just for good measure, we get some worthless characters from the grossly underused Anthony Anderson and Australian blond Rachael Taylor. And then it hits me — that first hour, where I literally forgot Michael Bay was the director, was an aberration. The real movie was the second 1:30, with beyond useless characters, dialogue a sixth-grader can write and more dizzying action than your eyes can take.

But benefit of the doubt: Trim a half-hour off this puppy, and you’ve got a good movie. As it stands, this is no better than average, and is only pulled out from below average for that first hour. C+

Rescue Dawn: There’s nothing worse than a movie marketed as the opposite of what it really is. When Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale as Lt. Dieter Dengler, was released, we were greeted with trailers of war scenes, gunfire and gritty action. Yeah, that’s all done in the first 10 minutes of the movie. But that’s a good thing, because what is left is another feather in Bale’s cap, a way of almost forcing people to start considering him as the best actor on the planet. It’s the true story of Dengler, caught behind enemy lines and stuffed into a POW camp with a couple others, including a 90-pound Jeremy Davies.

Classic comic relief sidekick Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!, Reality Bites) made the perfect choice for his first starring dramatic role, even possibly Oscar-worthy. His scenes with Bale are touching if not excruciating as a man so beaten down by the prison camp guards that his only advice to newcomer Bale is “keep your head down.”

It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, it has points where it drags for seemingly no good reason, but it is a very good movie that likely will be jockeying for position on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. A-

Knocked Up: It’s easy to like Judd Aptow. The guy is funny. The problem is, it’s just as easy to hate him and his formulaic story formation. He’s somewhere in the middle for me right now after Knocked Up, the waaaaayyyyyy too long one-night-stand gone bad. Or good? That’s for you to decide. I’m really disappointed about this one, and not quite sure if I’m ready to talk about it yet. Let’s just say C- and move on.

The Hoax: Remember when your mother told you, “One small lie just gets bigger and bigger”? That’s the point of this OK little-guy-gets-pushed-around-one-too-many-times Richard Gere flick about Clifford Irving, the man who claimed to have an authorized biography of Howard Hughes, but made the whole thing up. The problem is, Irving isn’t a little guy. He’s an accomplished but unsuccessful author, a pompous jerk with already questionable ethics and a nasty old habit of extravagantly paying for things he doesn’t have the money for. Those questionable ethics turn to mush when he hatches the scheme basically to call out Hughes, because he knows the hermit won’t speak in public to deny the interview ever took place. The all-star cast (Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis) is pretty good, but can’t seem to overcome the movie’s inherent flaw: There is no way any of us should be cheering for Gere, or hoping anything but a lengthy jail sentence is the final result of his nonsense. Yet thrice-Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) seems to think we all should, so he goes to great lengths to make Irving some kind of victim of his own shady self. Sell that stuff down the street. B-

Away From Her: One of the most painful and scary movies of the year — but one people really need to see. Adapted from a short story, revered thesp Julie Christie is a woman only in her early 60s but suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She and her husband try to avoid talking about it or even acknowleding its power over them until things get so bad that Christie gets lost in the snow in the couple’s country lodge. So she checks herself into a personal care home specializing in Alzheimer’s patients, and in one of the most powerful scenes you’ll see all your year, her husband Grant has to leave her there for a month with no contact. When he comes back, she has no memory of him, and has bonded with another (male) Alzheimer’s patient.

It’s as powerful as it is sometimes sloppy and long, and both Christie and Gordon Pinsent deserve award consideration. If this is what Alzheimer’s is like, then I might just have to put it in my living will to pull the plug once it starts. God bless anyone who has to go through it in the kind of depth that this movie takes it. Sarah Polley (Go) adapted the screenplay and directed, and while it’s sometimes unfocused, she makes up for it in emotional awareness that is palpable. Probably not Top 10 worthy, but in the second tier. B+

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