John Turturro

The Big Lebowski radio, tonight!

I will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This Week On Visions In Sound – The 20th Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski – Drop in to see what condition your condition is in this week as this week we celebrate the 20th of the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. We will also be live on Facebook!

I’m a bit of a fan of both the movie and its excellent soundtrack.  My movie review can be found here.  Check out my cool Lebowski ID and swag!

 

 

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Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers (2007)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment. With all apologies to the regular music readers, I decided to post my reviews of the first three Transformers movies, in reverse order.  That’s the only way I could have saved the best for last!

Click here for Dark of the Moon.
And here for Revenge of the Fallen.


TRANSFORMERS (2007 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

J. from Resurrection Songs requested quite some time ago that I post this review.  I decided that the only way to post my review of this movie, the first of the loathed “Bayverse” Transformers film, was to do it legit.  I wrote up a review for my journal almost 10 years ago that has never been seen by anybody.  Back then, I actually liked the movie, and the first is still the best of the series.  Let’s look at this thing from the perspective of “then”.  Things seemed wide open!  Whatever was wrong with the movie could be fixed in the next one, right?

How wrong we were.  Read on!


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Date: 2007/07/23

TRANSFORMERS: Not actually much more than meets the eye!

I hate Michael Bay. Period. I hated him when I saw Armageddon, easily the worst excuse for science fiction I’d ever seen. I maintain that anyone seeing that movie is dumber for doing so. It kills brain cells like a shot of Absinthe, straight up. I was predisposed to hating Transformers since Michael Bay directed it, but surprisingly I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it either; it was infinitely flawed. But what I liked in the film, the stuff that they nailed perfectly, was killer.

So what did they mess up so badly that I was cringing? What did they get right? Where did they surprise me?

I am with most people who hated the robots speaking and acting “contemporary”. These are aliens after all, so why Optimus would say “My bad!” when stepping in a flower bed, or why Jazz would talk like Bill Cosby acting hip-hop, I have no idea. Bumblebee “peeing” on John Turturro irked me too. For the record, “peeing” occured twice in this masterpiece of film: Once when Bumblebee unloaded on Turturro’s Agent Simmons, and once when a puppy dog urinated on Ironhide’s foot. (I did like it when he said, “That’s going to rust!” though.) This kind of thing was stupid, juvenile, and out of place even as comedy relief. Granted we’re talking about a movie based on a toy line, but the kids who played with those toys are grown up and have kids of their own now. I would like to think that piss jokes in a science fiction movie are a little passe now. (Although I do own Jackass 1 and Number 2, so call me a hypocrite.)

The storyline was a little weak. The “Allspark” that the Transformers are seeking is nothing more than a McGuffin to drive the plot. Apparently in the hands of Megatron it can do infinite harm, in the hands of the Autobots, it can heal their homeworld of Cybertron. However, in the end, it’s just a box that robots chase each other around for, like a colossal game of Cybertron Football.

The human character of Sam Witwicky as played by Speilberg’s new protege Shia LaBouf was really funny. I don’t know if he had much more dimension than that, though. He’s an awkward teen who wants to get the girl, any girl, but Megan Fox just happens to be available at the right time. When Shia is ready to protect the Allspark with his life (“No sacrifice, no victory!”) it comes a little bit out of left field considering that he rarely showed any motivation beyond getting the girl and staying alive. However, his honest, humourous delivery will make him a star one day. This kid has yet to show what he can do. I am sure he will under Speilberg in Indy 4*. As for Megan “the” Fox, she did little other than live up to her name. She did that very well. However, she didn’t really generate any other feelings in the audience. Lots of gratuitous skin shots.

Bernie Mac had some funny lines, totally over the top. But that’s why they hired a guy like Bernie Mac to play a used car salesman. John Turturro was OK, but you can tell he just phoned in his performance. John Voight, give the man some credit, looked like he was trying. Shame his part was so generic. All the soldiers in the film were pretty much just Michael Bay Soldiers…the same, every film, every time.

The robots had no characters, aside from Optimus and Bumblebee. They could have been fleshed out a lot more, but at least they felt like characters. Megatron was completely wasted, just a really big, mean, bad guy. You couldn’t even tell it was Hugo Weaving voicing him. Peter Cullen did a great job as Optimus, of course. I’m glad about that casting choice.

There were many nods to the past. Most of the characters still transformed into similar forms. Optimus looked amazing. Bumblebee was pefect as a Camaro. Frenzy was no longer a cassette tape, but the basic gist of the robot was the same. Brawl (misnamed “Devastator” in the subtitles…will this be fixed on the DVD version?**) was still a tank. Starscream was no longer an F-15 Eagle, but now a F-22 Raptor…killer update! Scorponok looked amazing in scorpion mode, but had no character to speak of and wasn’t seen in robot mode at all. Shame, that. He was once one of the deepest characters of the old Marvel series.

There was even some dialogue from the past: Optimus says, “One shall live, and one shall fall!”, the same words he said before Megatron killed him in the 1986 Transformers movie. However, twice the words “more than meets the eye” were uttered, making everyone in the audience groan. (It was just as bad as James Cromwell saying, “And you guys are astronauts, on some kind of star trek?” in Star Trek: First Contact.)

There were many nods to the creators. “This is way better than Armageddon!” one character says, with Michael Bay’s penis firmly in mouth. Someone mentioned E.T. in honour of Señor Spielbergo. There were also a small number of original series Star Trek soundbites, since the same dudes who wrote this are also working on Star Trek XI, an original series-era movie.*** (Interestingly, Michael Bay’s cousin Susan is married to Leonard Nimoy.)  Some of these things were cool, some were not.

Michael Bay’s directing, as always, was suck-ass. Just for fun I watched Team America a few days before going to see Transformers. All that stuff that is made fun of in that film was in Transformers, in spades! As soon as we hit the desert in Qatar, there’s a piece of “Arabic” music that sounded right out of Team America. All the slow-mo shots interspersed with high-speed action, all the cheesy dialogue, all those over-dramatic camera angles and lighting effects…Michael Bay threw in the kitchen sink, every trick he knew.

I think the coolest thing about Transformers was that it opens up wide what can happen in 2 and 3 (Peter Cullen, Megan Fox, and Shia LaBouf have signed on for two more). Michael Bay isn’t necessarily doing the sequels, so maybe someone with a lighter hand can take over. Slow things down a bit. Let us actually see the robots. The action was mostly so fast and white-washed with explosions and debris that you couldn’t see the robots.

Speaking of the robots, much has been made of their look: People whine that Optimus shouldn’t have flames, the Megatron should transform into a gun, that Bumblebee should have been a VW Beetle. I say, stop whining. These robots look amazing. I’m sure Megatron will look different in the next film anyway.**^

Speaking of the next film: Storywise, it’s already been said that the Dinobots, Constructicons and Soundwave are potential characters for the sequel, opening up story possibilities big time. I’d like to see Grimlock and Optimus clash over leadership direction a little bit like in the old Marvel series. Megatron and Starscream too…their conflict was hinted at. The ending was left wide open for sequels. (Why did the stupid humans believe that Megatron could be disposed of in such an easy way? Foolhardy!)

So there you go. Go get a Coke and a huge tub of popcorn. Enjoy and most importantly, enjoy discussing afterwards with all your geek and nerd friends like I am.

3/5 stars

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*He did not.  

**It was not. Even though Bay introduced the actual character of Devastator in the next film.

***2009’s Star Trek.

**^He did look different, but not any better.

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment.  Apologies to the regular music readers, I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order.  Because fuck these movies.

Click here for Dark of the Moon.


Scan_20160423TRANSFORMERS – Revenge of the Fallen (2009 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

This is a movie to make you say “wow”!  Not because it’s great, or the because the CGI effects are any good (they’re not) — just because Transformers 2 mucks things up even more than the first one did.

For example, the robot dialogue is geared towards kiddies, just like the old cartoon was. Then, mixed in the middle of all that kiddie dialogue, is Megan Fox wearing a tank top, then Megan Fox wearing leather chaps, then Megan Fox stripping off those chaps…just who is this movie for? It’s either geared for kids with no consideration at all for throwing all this sexual imagery at you, or it’s geared for adults (males) and really dumbed down.

All that could be forgivable if this movie had a plot, or characters, or even decent visuals. The effects were so bad; clearly the crew only had so much time and budget to finish. So when you see a robot called “The Doctor” manipulate Sam’s (Shia Labouf) face, it looks like something out of Roger Rabbit, or Star Wars Episode I. When robots are getting blown apart, you see little pieces of junk flying off them, but they don’t look real at all — it looks like little cartoon pieces of junk. Everything looks completely fake, except the explosions. Those look real (because they were real) and there are a lot of them, because BOOM Michael Bay BOOM!

So many opportunities here are squandered. The death of a beloved character has no emotion to it; even the pathetic 1986 cartoon movie had more emotion to the scene in question. The Fallen — one of the all time great Transformers villains — is just another bad guy, not the awe inspiring menace he should be. And don’t get me started on the hip-hop-bots. Why does Devastator have genitalia again? Was that really necessary?  Like the prior film, the humour was awfully juvenile — Sam’s parents are more annoying than ever, especially his mother (who gets high accidentally) and his roommate is one character that either should never have been written, or killed off in Act 2.

There are some minor shining lights in this movie. John Turturro, as Simmons, is better and funnier than before. There are also lots more robots — dozens. I couldn’t keep them straight!

However that is part of Michael Bay’s problem. His design team makes the robots essentially all look the same, particularly the Decepticons. There are a group of “protoform” Decepticons who arrive on Earth. Since they are “protoforms”, they are actually all identical with the exact same design. Budget wise, you can see how using the same animation model for a whole bunch of ‘Cons makes sense.  Visually, it reduced the film to an onscreen mess of flying shit.  Oh sure, there were Constructicons, and Insecticons…so what?   They didn’t do anything important.  The humans, in fact, do all the thinking, talking, leading, and everything else in this movie. The plot only moves forward when the puny humans decide to do something.  That isn’t what the original Marvel series envisioned by Bob Budianski and Simon Furman was about. That isn’t even what the cartoon was about. Transformers is about the robots, and yes, they should have some characterization! If the comic book did, surely they can do it in a multi-million dollar movie. But no; either nobody thought to write interesting characters for classic robots like Sideswipe, Arcee, and Ratchet, or they just didn’t have the time to do them properly. Sad.

Plot holes big enough to drive a Peterbilt truck through:

1. A bunch of mini-bots attack Sam in his kitchen, requiring Bumblebee to barely save him. Two minutes later, Sam is telling Bee that he’s all grown up and doesn’t need his protection anymore. Then, just 20 minutes later, Sam does need protection and Bee comes to save Sam from a Decepticon Pretender…but doesn’t actually do anything! He lets the Pretender into the car, and then he just plays annoying songs on his radio and sprays the Pretender with lubricant instead of…I dunno…driving off? Seriously.

2. The tomb of the Primes! Woah!  But…as Jetfire explains it, the original Primes sacrificed themselves to create a tomb out of their bodies. Then he continues to exposit, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen.” Well, maybe they shouldn’t have sacrificed themselves?

3. The tomb that they sacrificed their bodies to create doesn’t actually do anything. It’s opened with one simple blast.

4. And yes, “Only a Prime can defeat the Fallen,” according to Jetfire.  We are not sure why.  When the two finally clash they just have a normal-type robot brawl. Nothing special here that any other ‘bot couldn’t do, and Prime needed all of Jetfire’s parts (seriously!) to help him do it!

Since people are going to buy this movie no matter what I say, I’ll draw this review to a close.  I have only scratched the surface of the issues with Revenge of the Fallen.  Proceed at your own risk.  This is a turd.

2/5 energon cubes

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Transformers – Dark of the Moon (2011)

Old review from the archives dug up for your enjoyment.  Apologies to the regular music readers, but I’ve decided to post my reviews for the first three Transformers movies…but in reverse order.  Because fuck these movies.


Scan_20160421TRANSFORMERS – Dark of the Moon (2011 Paramount)

Directed by Michael Bay

As I sat there finishing the third Transformers movie, I thought to myself, “Does Michael Bay ever take himself seriously?” I mean, the dialogue here is so juvenile and stupid, the characters are more one-dimensional than ever (how is that even possible?), and every inch of film is so stupidly overblown, it’s beyond ridiculous. It’s like giving very expensive movie making equipment to a child with a Bart Simpson streak.  Welcome to the Bay-verse, where one can walk away from a flaming car wreck with no injuries, and no idea what the hell the story is!

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the discovery of Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy and Autobot mentor to Optimus) on our moon by Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apollo 11. Sentinel has something (yet another “McGuffin” in this series – a generic object that the protagonists and antagonists seek) that can save Cybertron (again). But there’s more than meets the eye and things are not always what they seem! Funny though how Earth always seems to be the epicentre of all Transformers plots and schemes.  Are we a magnet for alien assholes?

Though it is the worst of the first three in the series, Dark of the Moon was a marginal improvement in some minor ways.  Many of the most annoying characters (Sam’s annoying parents, the hip-hop-bots) are toned down in movie #3.  The plot is still a confounding mess in a universe that defies all logic and physics.  It’s all there to support a massive end battle that takes up almost half of the movie. Is that battle spectacular to watch? Oh, sure, I guess so.  Can it hold your attention? No. After about half of the end battle had transpired, I was begging for this movie to please just fucking end.

I have to say though, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is an upgrade over Megan Fox. Something about British accents. Bad British acting always trumps bad American acting.  The cast is rounding out by Frances McDormand (also wasted here), John Malkovich (criminally wasted), Patrick Dempsey (meh) and of course John Turturro who always should have more screen time.

A thudding end to a disappointing trilogy.

1.5/5 stars

Oh, and by the by — no special features!  On the Blu-ray!  You suck, Bay!

MOVIE REVIEW: The Big Lebowski (1998)

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THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen)

10th Anniversary Limited “Bowling Ball” Edition

Way out west there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Jeff Lebowski.

Okay sir, you’re a Lebowski, I’m a Lebowski, that’s terrific, I’m very busy so what can I do for you?  Well, I’m gonna tell you about this movie.  First of all, for the rockers who read LeBrain’s blog, rest assured, there is a music connection.  And that’s the killer soundtrack.  From Captain Beefheart, to Bob Dylan (the incredible “The Man In Me”), Elvis Costello, CCR, the Gipsy Kings (“Hotel California”), Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, and even the fuckin’ Eagles, this movie is loaded with solid tunes.  There are even appearances by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Aimee Mann, and Flea!  (Yes, that Flea.)

Ahh, who am I kidding? If you’re a fan, you don’t need me to sell you on this movie. Hence, I shall review this movie in two parts: For fans, and for non-fans. Dudes and Un-dudes.

DUDISM

FOR DUDES:

The new “bowling ball” edition of Lebowski is awesome. Finally we’re given the special features that we’ve been asking for, for years! No audio commentary track, but the Coens and the Dude himself will give you some insight to the film and its characters. After two disappointing editions, this is so overdue. Two discs, featurettes, that weird intro, Lebowskifest, an interactive map of Los Angeles, it’s all here. Most of your questions will be answered, but of course not all…some mystery must always remain. Plus the bowling ball just looks cool. I have mine on my entertainment centre, and it’s a conversation starter. “What is that bowling ball doing there?” It’s sturdy and it houses the DVDs in two slip cases. Life does not stop and start at your convenience, so be sure to pick this up and enjoy while you can, it’s limited edition.

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FOR UN-DUDES:

One important thing about this film that I must stress is, don’t try to understand the plot on first viewing. It’s every bit as stupifying to the first time viewer as it is to Jeffrey Lebowski. Just enjoy. My feeling (and this is just my feeling) is that The Dude himself (Jeff Bridges) doesn’t know what the heck is going on, so neither should you. The plot is not complicated, but your thinking about it might be very uptight. I don’t necessarily recommend that you stick to a strict drug regimen to keep you mind limber, but having a few white Russians might help.

The Dude (the laziest man in Los Angeles) is unemployed (or “a bum” to some) and spends most of his time having acid flashbacks and bowling with Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). One day his home is broken into by two thugs looking for money. They have mistaken The Dude for a millionaire with the same given name: Jeff Lebowski. During this break-in, Wu micturates on The Dude’s rug. That rug really tied the room together. Walter tells The Dude to try to take up the rug issue with the other Jeff Lebowski, the millionaire (David Huddleston). And this is where our adventure begins.

An amazing soundtrack backs a hilariously confusing movie about a guy in way over his head. There are a lot of facets, a lot of ins and outs, a lot of interested parties and strands to keep in Duder’s head. Along the way you will meet The Stranger (Sam Elliot), Brant (Philip Seymore Hoffman), Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid) and a group of nihilists lead by Peter Stormare. Things are complicated by the appearance of Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), a kidnapping, and a ransom note. Can The Dude recover the million dollars? All he wants is a finder’s fee. Perferably in cash. He has to check with his accountant on this, but he’s worried about being put in a higher tax, uhh, you know. All this with next round-robin of the bowling tournament starting. And The Jesus (John Turturro) is ready to take them down next Wednesday, baby.

Brilliantly written, brilliantly directed, brilliantly performed. Yes, you should be confused the first time you view it. By second, third, and fourth watch, those stands in Duder’s head come together, supported by musical cues (listen for CCR), odd bits of dialogue (“Johnson”) and other clues.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. You too will become a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever, and perhaps even an obsessive fan, dressing up and going to Lebowskifests. You never know. At the very least you might just find a new enjoyment of white Russians. Just don’t run out of non-dairy creamer. Is there a Ralph’s around?

5/5 stars