It’s summertime and the movies are awful. This year is not only no exception, it’s the worst year for movies I can remember. So it comes as no surprise that the summertime releases so far are as woeful as they have been. I’ll take them one at a time.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
A sequel to the 2007 movie with the same cast and director, this is a movie about machines who act as people. There are some good machines (one is a pet) and lots of bad machines. Directed by Michael Bay (who looked like he was actually developing into a thinking director with “The Island”) and starring Shia LaBeouf, the only good thing about it is that it’s 45 minutes shorter than the first one. That’s no panacea, though. The first one was 3-1/4 hours! Sitting through this 2-1/2 hour monument to CGI is still too daunting to contemplate unless you just love special effects.
Run Time: 1 hr. 22 min.
Sitting through “Brüno” (not for children), however makes sitting through “Transformers” seem like a breath of fresh air. Sacha Baron Cohen is a pornographer disguised as a social commentating maker of mockumentaries. In his first, the monumentally unfunny “Borat,” what he presented was intellectual pornography. In “Brüno” he is a sexual pornographer. This film goes from one disgusting scene to another, which is the point. Cohen isn’t funny; he’s outrageous. He wants to make his viewers uncomfortable. I saw it on opening day and the theater was jam-packed. People were rolling in the aisles. But what was it that was making them laugh? Well, one typical scene that had them guffawing was of a penis twirling like a propeller. Does that sound funny? No? Then why were people laughing? My surmise is that when people are in a crowd and see something on the screen that shocks and embarrasses them and makes them uncomfortable, they laugh. It’s as if they are saying, “Hey, I get this. I’m so comfortable with it that I can laugh at it.” “Brüno” is certainly shocking. In the days of the Code, it never would have seen the light of day. It’s loaded with full frontal male nudity, and lots and lots of explicit scenes of homosexual anal intercourse and other things involving the anus. I can’t understand why it’s not rated NC-17. Even if you do find this type of thing humorous, at some point the shock and awe just becomes tedious. If this doesn’t come across as derogatory to gay people, I can’t imagine what would.
I Love You Beth Cooper
Run Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
“I Love You, Beth Cooper” (not for children) is intended as a teen comedy. Dennis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is valedictorian at his high school graduation and the title of the film is the topic of his speech. Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) is the head cheerleader after whom he lusts. Beth and two friends, Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm), come to a “party” at Dennis’s house, but it’s only Dennis and his friend, Jack (Rich Munsch). What follows is nothing if not predictable, but contains nothing humorous. There are lots of reasons why this doesn’t work, beginning with the direction of Chris Columbus and the writing of Larry Doyle (who also wrote the novel), but one thing that turned me off right at the start was that all three girls look like cheap hookers, not high school hotties. Columbus should have spent some time looking at how “Mean Girls” was cast before he set out on this path. Worse, it presents high school teenagers as totally devoid of sexual morality. In fact, it encourages premarital teenaged sex, showing it as mere entertainment without commitment, responsibility, or consequences. Completely lacking of a premise, this is an excruciating and irresponsible waste of time.
But all is not lost for discriminating moviegoers! Finally, we come to the most surprising film of the four, “Year One.” In the first place, the title is a misnomer. One would think that a film entitled “Year One” would be like “One Million Years B.C.” a story about Neanderthals. But this is Biblical. So then one might think of Adam and Eve. But the mistake is in thinking that anything here makes sense, because the characters, while Biblical, ignore chronology. It has Abraham (the always enjoyable Hank Azaria) fathering Cain and Abel. In Biblical fact, Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Oh, well, not to worry. The devious Cain (a hilarious David Cross, whose performance comes close to stealing the film), kills his brother and goes on the lam with stars Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera). They eventually end up in Gomorrah, which is run by the high priest (Oliver Platt). Zed and Oh are ostensibly looking for two girls. Even though it is all silly and ridiculous, it is cleverly directed by Harold Ramis (who also wrote along with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg). Zed, Oh and Cain are modern men in a Biblical setting. In the hands of some of the prosaic purveyors of aseptic comedies abounding in Hollywood today, this would undoubtedly have been awful. But with Black at the top of his game, Cera playing off him to great effect, and a talented supporting cast and director, this is imaginatively whimsical and surprisingly enjoyable.