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2017.07.10

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I know you (Sean in particular) hate recommendations, but you've been talking about America's wilful blindness to it's own problem for awhile now so you'll probably be into comparing the documentary Chicken People and its reviews/advertising. Almost by accident (as in the film-makers probably didn't set out to show it, but put it into the movie when it was clear), the film is about how horrible day to day life is for many Americans, while every review felt compelled to dress it up as a real "Best in Show" filled with quirky characters. It's pre-Trump blindness embodied in a film.

Also the brutal cynical Korean industrial disaster survival film, Tunnel, is a film I think Tucker will enjoy.

This might be just me, because I haven’t seen this talked about anywhere on the internet, but was the scene in ‘Wonder Woman’ where the undercover Chris Pine puts the moves on the evil female biochemist, Dr Poison, not the funniest thing in that film? Just the suggestion that the mental math he was doing went something along the lines of “this woman likes to make bioweapons that can kill millions of people, what can I say to make myself seem appealing to her?” and then the gears turn and he delivers a pickup line that goes something like (I’m paraphrasing heavily here): “girl, you know what I find sexy? Fire. Fire returns everything to its natural state: ash. Life is meaningless. Let’s fuck while the world burns.” And, what’s more, she buys it! At least until she mistakes Pine’s distracted surprise at seeing Wonder Woman in attendance at the ball for his wandering attention. This is all doubtlessly *not* the intended reading for this particular scene of the film, especially since I was the only one in a packed cinema who laughed in response, but I just like the idea of an undercover caper in a superhero film almost ending up with the "baddy" and the "goody" boning over the futility of existence…

Oh man--i totaly forgot about that scene, but yes, that scene fucking.ruled. I was actually disappointed (?!) that the scene ended there and even felt vaguely sorry for Dr Poison getting her feelings hurt, but then it jumped into other shit and got sucked into its conclusion vortex and totally forgot about it. Yes. You are correct. Funniest scene in the whole film.

By the way, I tend to agree with Abhay, Brody, and your and Sean’s opinion’s on Bay’s ‘Transformers’ films as being best observed as a collection of experimental film ideas. Sean’s summary of the latest film as being like 14 different films is pretty apt. There was a more consistently tendency towards slapstick this time around than what I’ve noticed previously but, as ever with Bay’s films, the intended humour always strikes me as oddball and out of place (the sociopathic robot butler launches himself out of a torpedo tube to go catch fish which he then karate kicks to death and turns into sushi?! ). Other than the weird humour element, I didn’t bother trying to track consistency of characterisation or the narrative logic of the plotting, I just let the movie wash over me as a progression of satisfying sensory experiences. My favourite such example being an early scene where Bumblebee launches himself into a circle of anti-transformers soldiers, splintering himself into pieces so that his individual components can attend to each soldier in unison. Bay chucks in a very brief aerial shot to establish the geometry of the environment that the combat will take place in and then he cuts to his much maligned rotational camera perspective to whirl around the combat, taking in the various details of soldiers being launched into the air, struck, or shot at by Bumblebee’s independently acting, separated limbs. The trope of Bay’s frequent turn to the spiralling camera, that seems to have receive some criticism from youtube movie essayists for being a vacuous aesthetic move, worked in the scene I’m referring to add an exciting degree of dimensionality to an action scene, the visual staging idea seeming to be the main reason for this scene’s existence.

The movie is full of other similarly visually interesting scenes, a lot of which are even more abstracted from the perception of action in the viewing pleasures they offer. For instance, the colour contrast between those slowly rolling, oversaturated orangey-yellow fireballs and their blue-tinged surroundings in the film’s opening scenes was mesmerising to look at in a way that completely distracted me from the depiction of violence those scenes were meant to be representing.

While I’ve long thought that a lot of these CGI-heavy big-budget films have tended towards a uniform visual effects aesthetic (or at least an aesthetic that is only cosmetically different from other such films, primacy being given to the maintenance of production and cost efficiencies in the construction of CGI shots over the uncertainty of trying to bring an original idea to fruition), I’ve noticed that some of these more recent films have tried to push the envelope in certain ways. For example: the ‘Dr Strange’ film employed a kaleidoscopic treatment of space, a fascination with fractal patterning, and an attendance to the treatment of temporal manipulation in its CGI effects; the seconds ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ film treated some of its effects sequences like live re-enactments of the production of a Jackson Pollock painting – splashes and strands of vibrant colours were speckled about the screen, in sometimes dense configurations, and were given an additional texture by the concomitant sound design; and in the recent ‘Spider-Man’ film, which featured mostly stock-standard Marvel Cinematic Universe CGI effects that mined video games for a lot of their ideas (a gravity gun from ‘Half-Life’ and a slicing gun from ‘Deadspace’ to name a few), the final battle takes place against a backdrop of stippled lights that constantly blink and alternate colours, giving the scene a sort of strobing lighting that mimics what’s seen on the Las Vegas strip but even more frenetic – kind of like the Vegas strip lighting had been transplanted into a nightclub setting and its oscillating energy modified upwards accordingly.

The trend that I’m claiming to see (if you can call it one) is that there has been an acknowledgement of the perceived blandness of big-budget CGI effects and some of the effects studios have begun employing more abstract techniques to build some visual interest into their commissioned shots. On the evidence of the latest ‘Transformers’, I think Bay is still way ahead of the curve in terms of inventiveness in his determination of the look and behaviour of the CGI in his films; there’s just a higher number of conceptual ideas per effects sequence in this film than what you see in the other ones I’ve quoted.
Sometimes I wonder, though, if the restlessness displayed in Bay’s approach to the visual aspects of his films is the same thing that drives the way his films feel like disjointed conglomerations of various story types. It’s as if he’s unable to settle down on a concerted direction, or even a consistent tone, and so a lot of his movies feel like these weird counterintuitive experiences to me. So, for instance, in this new ‘Transformers’ film, amongst all the world-ending action, we’ve got the interjection of a series of subplots, reminiscent of those seen in 90s-era romantic comedies, where the fantasy appears to be that, by quoting Arthur C. Clarke’s most widely known line about technology vs magic, a salt of the earth, get-his-hands-dirty beefcake can demonstrate his intellectual worth to Lara Croft and secure a mother for the daughter he’s been letting down but loves dearly. All those sequences were just weird and unintentionally (surely) funny to me.

I’ve lost track of where I was going with all this so, yeah, I’m just going to leave it there.

Come from the insightful analysis of Bay, stay for the discussions of small animal trapping and inventors.

One thing I noticed my 2nd time around watching Transformers 5 or 6 was Bay's dedication to inelegance in the fights.

I saw this quote from him where he said he and Tom Cruise could never work together because Tom likes his stunts to look well rehearsed and Bay likes his stunts to look sloppy.

Bay even takes that to action scenes with the Transformers. The giant dragon tumbles a bit when saving King Arthur's ass, there's the Grimlock rolling into the cops scene, the uber competent Optimus Prime bumps his head on a submarine when he starts fighting Bumblebee and then he kind of rolls through the dirt right before he chops 8 guys heads off.

It's just a weird thing that no one else does.

Leon, did you read the Chris Ready (Disaster Year 20xx) review Tucker mentioned? He suggests the fact that the movie never takes a breather is Bay's solution to the tonal consistency problem

Brad: thanks for reminding me to check out that Chris Ready review of Transformers. I just read it and, yeah, I think I felt a similar way about the forceful breathlessness of the film as he did. He also talks about Hopkins' role in assisting the film's absurd momentum and that's definitely something I picked up on while watching the film. Hopkins' deadpan commitment to the ridiculousness of what his character was doing and saying was a constant source of pleasure in my viewing.

As for the awkwardness of the action staging, the academics have already jumped on Bay's obsession with rotational movements: http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/michael-bay-dossier/michael-bay-machine-movement/ (I wouldn't bother reading much of that article by the way, it's far too dry and ventures into wankery when you could just as easily explain what he's doing by saying "he thinks it looks cool". This one on Bay's general aesthetic of excess is a lot more interesting: http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/michael-bay-dossier/cinema-of-michael-bay/)

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