Yep, it’s that time of year again, kids. Summertime, when moviegoers get to trade in their tear-soaked hankies and wool sweaters for flip flops, a bucket of popcorn as big as a washing machine and a stupid, stupid grin. It may be hot outside, but inside the theater it’s cold enough to hang meat, even without the stiff, pressure-wave-driven breeze coming from the speakers every time something onscreen blows the hell up.
Which brings us to the biggest, stupidest, loudest movie so far this summer: “Transformers,” from director Michael Bay. A kind of perfect storm of neat cars, cool effects and big explosions — all revolving around a script so pointless and inconsequential to the action that it makes “Plan 9 from Outer Space” look like “Citizen Kane” — “Transformers” is the kind of movie cheeseball filmmakers like Bay keep around to sniff at in the depths of Oscar Season, just to remember why God allows them to exist on our corporeal plane. In short: It’s big, dumb fun.
The plot doesn’t matter much — it is, after all, based on a line of toys — but just in case you care, here goes: See, there are these two races of giant robots: the Autobots and the Decepticons. A long time ago they began fighting for control of their home planet — fought so hard, in fact, that they lost the one thing that kept their world intact: a giant, brass-plated Rubik’s Cube called the Allspark. Fast forward to a couple million years later, and we find that the Allspark wound up on Planet Earth (FDR found it in the 1930s and buried it under Hoover Dam, along with the cure for polio, the Ark of the Covenant and his plans to help the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor). Though it takes them awhile to get here, the two warring robot clans soon land on earth, where they take the shape of bad-ass cars, trucks, tanks, planes, helicopters, radios, cell phones and other machines in order to blend in and not draw the attention of the paparazzi. The Decepticons head off to destroy an Army base in Qatar in order to steal information on the whereabouts of a North Pole explorer who originally discovered their leader, Megatron, frozen in ice in the Arctic. The friendly Autobots, meanwhile, track down the explorer’s great-great-grandson, Sam (Shia LeBeouf). By disguising one of their number as Sam’s first car, a ragged-out Camaro, the Autobots are able to gain control of a kind of map that will lead them to the Allspark. From there, it’s a race against time, with Sam, his freakishly hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and the fate of the human world constantly in danger.
What more is there to say? Did I mention the GIANT FRICKIN’ ROBOTS? OK, now imagine them fighting to the death, in a city where everything is apparently made of gunpowder, paper towels and balsa wood. Getting the picture? Good. Here’s 30 bucks for a small popcorn and a Coke. Have a good time.
— David Koon
Some documentaries are about penguins, some are about greenhouse gases, some are about health insurance and some are about history or politics or foreign cultures. Then there are the small-scale yarns that happened right down the street from you, the stories that are at once too bizarre to believe and yet, for that very reason, are stories whose details you want to swallow by the fistful. Whether these films satisfy depends in large part on how successful they are at explaining just how it all could have happened.
“Crazy Love” is that kind of movie, and one that makes pretty good use of its remarkable and, yes, unbelievable story. Very little of that story is wasted, quite a lot scrutinized, but the bad news is that very little of that scrutiny will come close to satisfying your curiosity. Little of this story makes sense, and “Crazy Love” doesn’t press hard enough on the only question that matters: Why?
The idea is pitched as a love story, but it quickly descends into a cautionary tale of obsession and self-destruction. It’s the story of Burt Pugach, a young attorney in 1950s New York who falls for a girl named Linda, whom he courts and woos and promises the moon ... until he’s forced to admit that he’s married. Even worse? His wife will not grant him a divorce. Burt tries every lie and deceit he can muster to keep Linda around, but she finally gives Burt the boot and falls for another man.
Mired in his own paranoia and failure, Burt responds as any reasonable ex-boyfriend would: He stalks her, threatens her, and finally pays a couple of guys to burn her face with lye. A ring of the doorbell, a flick of the arm, and Linda is blinded and disfigured for life. Burt is ultimately convicted of the crime, of course, and spends nearly two decades in prison for it.
But then he gets out. And he starts pleading with her. And then — and this is the reason we’re talking about this movie now — she actually takes him back. She marries him. Why?
Answering that is, of course, why you’d want to buy a ticket, but it’s at precisely this moment that director Dan Klores hits the gas. Up to this point he’s taken his time building the suspense and letting the characters take on their own lives, but once Pugach is out of prison, the story devolves into not much more than a simple recitation of the facts: Burt gets out, friends set up a meeting between the two of them, she agrees to take him back.
Linda’s reasons seem pretty clear, but you’ll have to do your own amateur psychoanalysis to get them, as Klores has no interest in pressing her for the real answers. She professes love and forgiveness for what Pugach did, and Klores almost appears to be willing to believe her — perhaps because if she’s telling the truth, then this really is a crazy love story after all. But from this point on Linda’s portrayal takes on a breezy and pugnacious I’ll-stand-by-you two-dimensionality, and I’m not sure the film should get a pass on that point just because it’s a true story. There’s more going on here, something rooted in her psychology and the neighborhood culture, and Klores has missed the opportunity to find it.
It’s the film’s only major weakness, and the story itself is otherwise such a well-directed, well-edited popcorn-gobbler that you’ll have zero problems staying in your seat. It’s the sort of story you’ll be eager to bring up at parties, but when they ask you that all-important question — why — you’ll shrug, much as “Crazy Love” does.
— Matthew Reed