I know you have missed the Viewing Diary the last few weeks, and that you have constantly been sitting at your computer, hitting refresh, and hoping that one materializes. Well, our long national nightmare has come to an end. After a couple busy weeks without much movie-watching, I return with looks at Transformers: Explosions in Financially Advantageous Locations, The Rover and Obvious Child. For the old stuff, how about some praise for A Hard Day’s Night? Those Beatles have had a rough go of it, haven’t they?
What to look for later this week: A review of Deliver Us From Evil, as well as a mid-year look at the best and worst movies I’ve seen so far in 2014. It should be fun! Or mildly diverting, at the very least!
There is one thing you cannot deny Michael Bay: he is a very good, perhaps great, composer of individual shots. This has been true almost his whole career, and that carries over into Transformers: Age of Extinction. For nearly three hours, the audience is pelted with moments that should be breathtaking, except Bay has no real idea how to make them breathtaking. Every shot in a Transformers film feels completely unrelated to the one before it, and this incoherence drags on for so long that none of the ostensibly “awesome” moments carry any weight. Strictly speaking, Age of Extinction is not the worst of the Transformers films, but it very well may be the most boring. Past installments have been juvenile, offensive, incoherent and endless, but at least it seemed like Bay was putting his heart into it. This, on the other hand, is a shoulder shrug of a film, and the blatant commercialism is even more omnipresent than before. This is a film where the streets can literally flood with flatteringly presented Bud Light cans, and when a Transformer crashes through a double-decker bus, the Victoria’s Secret logo on the side emerges completely unscathed.
Then there is the matter of the tacked-on third act that takes place in China, and there is no reason for this to happen except, well, $$$$$. (Not to mention that a good chunk of the scenes in China were actually filmed in Detroit. Yes, the one in Michigan.) What happens in this third act? Why, the exact same thing we’ve seen in every other Transformers movie: random shots of extras running away from pyrotechnics, with the eponymous robots clunkily CGI’d into the picture. The only one who seems mildly committed to the proceedings is Mark Wahlberg, who plays a poor Texas inventor who is forced overnight to become an action movie star. However, like every human character in the Transformers films, he gets little to do except recite embarrassing dialogue and occasionally look upward while the Transformers are having a conversation. He also has a 17-year-old daughter, and if you think that age keeps Bay’s camera from leering at her, you are dead wrong.
In short, I don’t like these movies very much. They are bad.
Robert Pattinson’s post-Twilight career choices seem designed mostly to scare off as many Edward Cullen fans as possible. First there was David Cronenberg’s inaccessible Cosmopolis, and now we have The Rover, the second film from Animal Kingdom director David Michôd. After the promise of that debut, The Rover winds up being a bit of a letdown, and it’s clearly the work of a filmmaker still trying to find out what he’s trying to say. Ultimately this one doesn’t say a whole lot, but it does a great job of creating a violent, unpleasant atmosphere. There are moments that are beautifully shot and edited, but they wind up feeling empty just because the film as a whole is a little too empty for its own good. There’s not too much of a plot here—Guy Pearce and Pattinson drive across post-apocalyptic Australia in search of the former’s car—and it never really gives you a reason to become invested in their journey until the final shot. It’s an effective final twist of the knife, and yet it doesn’t make up for preceding 100 minutes in which the audience was doing a lot of watching and grimacing, but not a whole lot of caring.
Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child is the kind of movie that lives and dies based on the central performance, and luckily Jenny Slate (Kroll Show, Saturday Night Live) is able to take a rather predictable plot and give it a recognizable human center. She plays comedian Donna Stern, who, in the wake of a breakup, winds up having a one-night stand that results in an unwanted pregnancy. She quickly decides on an abortion, and the film follows her as she deals with the days leading up to the operation, her family, and the fellow who unknowingly knocked her up (Jake Lacy). Obvious Child is not a particularly hilarious or memorable film, but it is a very effective one, and the final scene moved me in ways I didn’t think was possible based on all that came before. It’s one of those films that works well enough on its own, but also promises great things to come for all involved.
A Hard Day’s Night is one of those movies that could not have worked with anybody else at any other time, and I’m not sure it’s something anyone else would get away with if they were to give it a try today. This is a film that almost accidentally has become one of the most well-regarded musical films of all time, and that’s odd considering the project’s obvious commercial motivations and the vérité-ish black-and-white cinematography. It’s one of those movies that feels as though everyone involved is getting away with something, and thus the audience feels as though they’re in on it. It’s an infectious, exuberant film that may not be as fresh as it was when it was initially released, but it still feels wholly unique. It’s not only a movie about a day in the life of one of the biggest bands ever, but it’s also about the idea of that level of fame, showing how the band navigates from enclosed space to enclosed space in an attempt to avoid public detection. And then there are the wonderful musical numbers, which work because, well, they’re playing Beatles music. Even in 2014, A Hard Day’s Night is joyful in ways that few films could ever imagine.