Shia LaBeouf is Awesome

With his misunderstood He Will Not Divide Us project, a tribute to Hollywood’s most fascinating weirdo

It didn’t take long. Just a week into a four-year long campaign, Shia LaBeouf lost it…and it was amazing.

LaBeouf set up an art project encouraging people to chant, “He will not divide us” into a web cam in an act of solidarity against Donald Trump. It is quite possible Trump won’t last long in the Presidency, but no one was guessing the kid from “Transformers” and his web cam would outlast him.

As you might guess, Trump supporters and white nationalists have specifically targeted the project as a way of showing they won’t be divided either. They held up photos of Pepe the Frog, they came out to the camera and spoke coded white nationalist phrases like “1488” into the speaker, and they mass ordered pizzas for the gathering protesters that no one could afford. Maybe even more predictable though was that LaBeouf would let these trolls get to him.

On Day 3 LaBeouf was caught on video shouting down a Trump supporter. A crowd of people had gathered in front of LaBeouf’s art project outside the Museum of the Moving Image to voice their support. A bearded Shia was among them, wandering, smiling and bundled in a red felt hat and a jean jacket. He wasn’t leading the ritual but was a gleeful participant. Then in steps a dude blocking the camera and beginning to rattle off white-nationalist talking points. Shia doesn’t break in rhythm, but he quickly escalates, thrusting into the kid’s face and growing louder and louder, clearly rankled. A moment later when they’re off camera, one of the protesters steps forward and narrates, “Shia just shoved the shit out of some Trump supporter.” Days later, LaBeouf shoved another person. This guy asked if he could take a selfie with Shia, and when the two got on camera, the man instead said, “Hitler did nothing wrong.”

Guess who came off looking like the asshole in that situation? Despite the way the media reported it, this wasn’t proof of another failed stunt by Shia; it actually went off like gangbusters. Maybe LaBeouf shouldn’t have gotten aggressive, but he shouldn’t come off like some crazy person either; in fact, he’s kind of awesome. Continue reading “Shia LaBeouf is Awesome”

American Honey

Andrea Arnold’s youth odyssey and road trip across Middle America is one of the finest of the year.

american_honey_posterAndrea Arnold’s “American Honey” takes viewers on a remarkable odyssey of youth and Americana. It’s alternatively visionary, beautiful, ugly, celebratory and harrowing in its tour across country with a group of teenagers. Arnold (“Fish Tank“) sees them as strays looking for a home and finding it wherever they are, and watching their journey in this nearly three hour epic is absolutely rapturous.

Arnold’s Queen of Middle America is Star (the wonderful newcomer Sasha Lane), who opens the film fishing a discarded and rotting chicken out of a dumpster for a pair of kids’ dinner. Yum. “Are we invisible,” she screams at passing drivers refusing to accept them as hitchhikers. She’s not wrong, and it’s truly revelatory to see that there are kids who live and survive like this, operating in a whole other world apart from, not just people who live on the coasts and in big cities, but those who live within these small communities and see gems like Star as outcasts.

In the Target across from where Star tries to hitchhike, she spots a van blaring rap music and a teen mooning his ass out the window. Inside is Jake (Shia LaBeouf); they recognize each other, but it’s never explained from where. Jake has a rat tail braid down to his shoulders and wears suspenders and a dress shirt like an old-school mobster. He leaps onto a counter as a Rihanna song starts playing over the intercom. “We found love in a hopeless place,” a familiar anthem, but truly fitting here.

Star, a mixed-race girl with tattoos, a ratty tank top and dirty, unkempt dreadlocks, cares for two kids, but they’re not her own. With an invite from Jake and a job offer, she runs away from her responsibilities to join a traveling operation of selling magazines door to door. Her boss Krystal (Riley Keough) has little patience for anyone just looking for a joy ride. Star and about 10 other teens ride around in a cramped van, staying at motels along the road and selling magazines in a new town each week. They party hard, but they make their money, and if Star can’t keep up, she’ll be booted from the group. In one scene Krystal answers her motel door naked with an open man’s dress shirt, sizing up the newcomer with a DGAF look that shows she’s boss. Meanwhile the formerly fun loving and rowdy Jake has been reduced to Krystal’s pet, slathering moisturizer on her legs like a slave. Continue reading “American Honey”

Nymphomaniac

Lars von Trier’s two-part opus on sexuality is as explicit as you’d imagine.

Think of a kiss, maybe the first kiss you ever had, or the first kiss with your loved one: what was the most thrilling thing about it? The excitement doesn’t lie in the sloppy locking of lips or tongues, but in the anticipation, the closeness and the connection between the two parties. Viewed at its most mechanical, there’s nothing exciting at all about a first kiss.

The same can be true of sex, which has become tangled up with so many complex emotions, excitement not always being one of them. Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” created fanfare as a scandalous sex drama because von Trier has become equal parts auteur and “persona non grata”, but his two-part opus does the job of removing the romanticism from sex. In the most explicit ways and on the grandest scale possible, it uses sex only as a lens through which to understand broader ideas about the world, spirituality and humanity.

Volume 1 examines the mechanics of sex while contrasting it with the philosophy and beauty of the more mundane things in the world. Volume 2 dares us to change our lens yet again, equating the main character’s sexual escapades to the Stations of the Cross and making sex truly about a woman searching for fulfillment. The collective whole is provocative, perverse, bizarrely funny and highly explicit, and what’s so surprising and disappointing is how thoughtful and fresh Vol. 1 feels while Vol. 2 could not be more depressing, repulsive and torturous. Continue reading “Nymphomaniac”

Revisited: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” one of the worst movies ever made? I play fair and revisit it.

 

Recently, a fellow blogger started a blogathon and posed a challenge: write a bad review of a good movie or a good review of a bad movie.

To be mean to something good is more commonly known as trolling, which isn’t difficult at all. To write something good about a bad movie on the other hand did not mean to lie, but to play fair. If I was going to do so, I thought how great it would be to pick something not just bad, but monumentally awful. And if I picked the worst movie I’d ever seen, what could be a greater challenge?

So, with that said, is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” the worst movie I’ve ever seen?

I used to think so. More than many other film experiences, seeing the second “Transformers” was a watershed moment for me as a critic. Rarely had I seen a film that had such a strong disconnect between critics and fans, a 35 on Metacritic and yet $400 million domestically at the box office, the second highest of 2009. I had arguments with friends and family and got in trouble at work for ranting. I began using the expression “action extravaganza” liberally to describe it, a term I borrowed from a video game critic who used it to describe games like “Call of Duty” that were so intense and heavy handed in gritty, modern warfare that people foamed at the mouth.

Roger Ebert famously wrote that the film was so bloated that film classes would look back on it fondly as the end of an era, but hindsight has shown that CGI heavy blockbusters such as this have not disappeared.

Skids and Mudflap Transformers 2

In fact, the third movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” is possibly as bad, if not worse, despite a mild uptick in reviews. The plot became more convoluted, it takes more liberties with historical moments and landmarks, it turns Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf) into an egotistical prick, the fight scenes got even louder and bigger, and it even adds four minutes to its run time.

The only distinct difference is the lack of “ROTF”’s embarrassingly racist robot twins, two souped-up spitfires who slung hip hop epithets, fought constantly and could not read. But “DOTM” includes everything but the “black” robot, resorting to British and white-trash stereotypes instead.

“Revenge of the Fallen” has the place in history because it surprised us all. The action blockbusters of the 2000s seemed to grow to this point, a film that really was louder, busier and heavier than any that had come before. Only the previous year with “The Dark Knight,” it had felt as though the comic book genre really could be grandiose and brilliant at the same time, but “Transformers” sent the genre the other way in titanic fashion. Continue reading “Revisited: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

Lawless

There are enough movies about moonshining and the Prohibition Era as there were crime families getting rich off the swill. John Hillcoat’s “Lawless” is just another one of those burning cellar lights in the Virginia countryside, and it’s hard to see why this particular story is worth telling.

“Lawless” is a dusty, brown-looking film about the three Bondurant brothers in 1931 Virginia. The oldest brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) is a legend ‘round these parts because everyone believes he’s “indestructible.” He and his brothers make an honest living of dishonesty. Legendary gangsters roll in from Chicago with Tommy Guns, and they put up with it as part of their daily routine. Even the appearance of a ruthless federal officer (Guy Pearce) doesn’t seem to phase them, as they get richer, fall in love and live like kings.

It’s more of a character drama about people with different disciplines and convictions for violence than something with a stirring plot, but you wish they had more sense and purpose in life than to just start a blood war.

Hillcoat’s film is a super violent affair that glamorizes the bloodshed without pretense or reason. They slit throats, tar and feather bootleggers, cut off people’s testicles and walk blindly into gunfire, but the characters don’t act out of family values or morality, just a misguided sense of rage and maintaining a way of living. Continue reading “Lawless”

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is a mind-numbing, relentless, annoying, incoherent, bloated and overall poorly made film that only surpasses the abominable first sequel to this franchise possibly for the reason that it is less racist. This series’ enduring popularity is evidence that the blockbuster crowd has become no less robotic and drone like than the monstrosities on screen.

Michael Bay’s second “Transformers” film, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” left me immensely angry, with myself for having sat through it, with so many others for having enjoyed it and with Bay for having ever made it. I had never seen a film as long or as overstuffed, and it earned a place in bad movie history since.

Now here we are two years later. “Dark of the Moon” was not enraging but depressing in its repetition of the same scatterbrained sense of humor, inconceivable plot, cinematography that blatantly defied cinematic staples and worst of all, tedious, unmemorable, bombastic and endlessly long battle sequences. Continue reading “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Anyone who knows me knows I had severe doubts about “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” before going in, and despite my enjoyment of the first film, this one has Michael Bay to thank for that. But I checked my bias at the door and yet my first suspicion this would be a bad film was the Paramount logo. Sound effects punctuated every star that flew by (all 22), and I asked, “Is this really necessary?”

That’s the question I was asking throughout the whole movie. How much longer does this fight scene between hundreds of CGI creations have to drag on for? And how many more of them do we need? How many back stories and Macguffins do we need to understand that an evil alien race wants to destroy Earth purely for revenge (which, since it’s in the title, is fairly obvious already)? Why must it pander every stereotype, cliché and sex joke in the book before it thinks we’re entertained? Continue reading “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”