I begrudgingly admire Michael Bay. I don’t like the Transformers movies, which he directed from scripts by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci and Ehren Kruger, and I’m not convinced anyone else does either, but they look shiny, make loud noises and generate obscene amounts of revenue. With no incentive other than to reap billions of dollars from the box office, he’s hit upon the most impressive of magic formulas, directing enormously profitable blockbusters that no one can muster enough enthusiasm to admit they don’t really enjoy.
I’ve only seen the first two Transformers movies, and you couldn’t pay me enough to see any more. The first one has its moments, but by the second, all traces of fun and coherence have been tossed out in favor of some of the most technically complex, structurally massive, emotionally bankrupt action sequences ever realized on film. These films are immense achievements in technological fortitude – the battles are pitched at a scale worthy of the size of the title characters. Bay shoots these movies as spectacles of war, forgetting that genuinely satisfying war movies deal with people or ideas first and spectacle second, even if the two are fundamentally linked. Done right, substance-free spectacle can be as stirring as cinema gets. But as impressive as it is that Bay managed to construct “realistic” robots that convincingly appear to emerge from everyday machinery, this achievement means nothing without a sense of proportion, or narrative consequence, or emotional weight, or comedic skill, or even visual beauty.
This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I talked at length about one of 2013’s last movies and one of 2014’s first. It was a study in contradictions, with the excesses of debauchery followed by the simplicity of combat.
The Wolf of Wall Street has gotten lots of acclaim, as you would expect from a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese, but it hasn’t been immune to controversy, including allegations that it glorifies the despicable character at its center. Devin and I debated this issue and praised the movie’s performances even as we struggled to decide whether the movie is profound or merely compelling.
Lone Survivor is perched high atop this week’s box office, and it’s not hard to see why: established box-office draw Mark Wahlberg, solid supporting cast (Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana), respect and admiration for the American military. We talked about the movie’s grotesque highs and jingoistic lows.
Next week, we’re going to take a deep dive into the best movies of 2013, spurred by tomorrow’s Golden Globe Awards and this Thursday’s announcement of the Oscar nominations. Expect return visits from previous podcast topics like 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis plus our thoughts on other favorites like American Hustle, Nebraska, Her and Dallas Buyers Club.
We talked about several articles during this week’s show. Here’s a helpful list:
- Devin’s review of The Wolf of Wall Street
- Steven Perlberg’s Business Insider piece detailing bankers’ reactions to Wolf
- Devin’s article about Jordan Belfort’s American University visit
- My review of Lone Survivor
Until next week…thanks for listening!
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