Shia LaBeouf

HowardCantour.com (2012, Shia LaBeouf)

Obviously Jim Gaffigan’s titular character in HowardCantour.com is supposed to be annoying, but is the film itself supposed to be annoying. The music is grating, trying to get the viewer agitated; LaBeouf’s direction is desperate as well. This short isn’t supposed to be pedestrian, so instead it’s tiresome.

There are a lot of problems. First, Gaffigan’s no good. He’s making fun of pretentious Internet critics, but apparently not the ones who mock LaBeouf’s big budget pictures. It’d be a lot more fun if the short were based on Armond White than some plagiarism of a Daniel Clowes comic.

As a director, LaBeouf hasn’t got anything particular about him. Except the annoying music and the slo-mo effects he uses to make the music more irritating.

Portia Doubleday is bad as one of Gaffigan’s sidekicks, but Thomas Lennon is fine as the other one.

Big names, some (fake?) controversy, bad film.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Shia LaBeouf; screenplay by LaBeouf, based on a comic by Daniel Clowes; director of photography, Matthew Irving; production designer, Chris Giammalvo; produced by Jeff Balis, T.J. Sakasegawa and Rhoades Rader.

Starring Jim Gaffigan (Howard Cantour), Thomas Lennon (Rocco Eppley), Portia Doubleday (Dakota) and Dito Montiel (Holly Pondyoke).


Bobby (2006, Emilio Estevez)

I knew Emilio Estevez directed Bobby, but I didn’t know he also wrote it. From the dialogue and the construction of conversations, I assumed it was a playwright. There’s a certain indulgence to the dialogue, which some actors utilize well (Anthony Hopkins) and some not (Elijah Wood).

Estevez’s an exceptionally confident filmmaker here. He changes the film’s premise in the final sequence, going from a Grand Hotel look at people in the hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot to an extremely topical, socially relevant picture about how little the world has improved between the shooting and the film’s production. He relies heavily on the audio of a Kennedy speech over the film’s action because there’s no other way it’d work. And it does work.

There are some great scenes in the film, particularly one between Demi Moore and Sharon Stone where the two former sex symbols discuss aging. Stone’s great throughout the film. Moore’s great in that scene (and okay in the rest).

Other great performances include Freddy Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Jacob Vargas, Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson, Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf. Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are both good, just not exceptional. Similarly, Christian Slater’s impressively slimy without being fantastic. Hopkins is outstanding. Only Wood and Ashton Kutcher are bad. Kutcher’s worse. Much worse.

The real acting star is Rodriguez.

Estevez gets great work from cinematographer Michael Barrett and composer Mark Isham.

Bobby is impressive work; with Estevez establishing himself as an ambitious, thoughtful, if not wholly successful, filmmaker.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Richard Chew; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Patti Podesta; produced by Edward Bass, Michel Litvak and Holly Wiersma; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Harry Belafonte (Nelson), Joy Bryant (Patricia), Nick Cannon (Dwayne), Emilio Estevez (Tim), Laurence Fishburne (Edward), Brian Geraghty (Jimmy), Heather Graham (Angela), Anthony Hopkins (John), Helen Hunt (Samantha), Joshua Jackson (Wade), David Krumholtz (Agent Phil), Ashton Kutcher (Fisher), Shia LaBeouf (Cooper), Lindsay Lohan (Diane), William H. Macy (Paul), Svetlana Metkina (Lenka), Demi Moore (Virginia), Freddy Rodríguez (Jose), Martin Sheen (Jack), Christian Slater (Daryl), Sharon Stone (Miriam Ebbers), Jacob Vargas (Miguel), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Susan) and Elijah Wood (William).


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009, Michael Bay)

I thought I could watch Transformers 2, or whatever it’s called, but I can’t. I made it through the first one, maybe because it followed some kind of traditional narrative structure, but the second one is unbearable. It’s just incompetently told. I’ll read plot details and they seem interesting, but there’s no way I’d ever make it to see them.

Bay’s got to be the most worthless director working today. His composition is so spectacular, his editing, while frantic, at least has a rhythm his imitators don’t have, but he apparently likes the dumbest scripts and has the dumbest ideas (his director’s cut to Pearl Harbor being a testament to his needing a firm producer).

The CG is great, but who cares? As such a long-time opponent of CG, it’s interesting I’ve gotten to the point where I can respect it, but it’s gotten so blasé it’s ineffective. Sure, the Transformers transforming is lifelike and all, but there’s no wonderment to it. Bay shoots the thing like the Transformers are the scale the viewer is supposed to be accustomed to, not the people affected by the action. It makes it silly and cartoonish.

The writing is particularly awful, whether the dialogue or the plotting.

The voice acting is bad. Peter Cullen apparently hasn’t done any real acting in thirty years–sorry, cartoons don’t count–and it sounds idiotic. The trailer guy would have been better. It doesn’t help the audio mix of the voice acting is crap.

It sucks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; director of photography, Ben Seresin; edited by Roger Barton, Tom Muldoon, Joel Negron and Paul Rubell; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Don Murphy; released by Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Josh Duhamel (Major Lennox), Tyrese Gibson (USAF Master Sergeant Epps), John Turturro (Agent Simmons), Ramon Rodriguez (Leo Spitz), Kevin Dunn (Ron Witwicky), Julie White (Judy Witwicky), Isabel Lucas (Alice), John Benjamin Hickey (Galloway), Matthew Marsden (Graham), Rainn Wilson (Professor Colan), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Hugo Weaving (Megatron).


Constantine (2005, Francis Lawrence)

Until the last minute, which introduces the idea Keanu Reeves is going to be narrating the film (which doesn’t start with him and has a number of scenes without him), I was going to say nice things about Constantine. I wasn’t even going to point out the son of the devil who’s coming to Earth is doing it through an illegal immigrant from Mexico. I wasn’t going to mention how Tilda Swinton seems to be the go to androgynous actor. I was even going to say something nice about the music, but the end credit music, which comes right after that lousy voiced over narration, it’s awful.

It’s definitely one of Reeves’s better performances. He never once comes across like Ted.

Rachel Weisz is terrible–I can’t believe she’s won an Oscar–but Shia LaBeouf is mildly amusing as the sidekick and Djimon Hounsou’s solid in a smaller part. Peter Stormare has a good cameo as Satan. Swinton’s awful.

Lawrence does a pretty good job directing, which I found odd since he did such an awful job with his Will Smith as a scientist movie–maybe that one was just too unbelievable. There’s some nice Panavision composition, but Lawrence shoots LA like it’s New York, which isn’t bad at all, but is peculiar–as compared to Sam Raimi, who shoots New York like LA.

The special effects are all right, the movie moves at a decent pace. It’s totally fine until the last minute, like I said, when it flops.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Lawrence; screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, based on a story by Brodbin and the DC Comics character created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Wayne Wahrman; music by Brian Tyler and Klaus Badelt; production designer, Naomi Shohan; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Erwin Stoff, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Akiva Goldsman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Constantine), Rachel Weisz (Angela Dodson), Shia LaBeouf (Chas), Tilda Swinton (Gabriel), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Father Hennessy), Djimon Hounsou (Midnite), Gavin Rossdale (Balthazar) and Peter Stormare (Satan).


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Steven Spielberg)

The biggest development, in terms of script, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might actually be George Lucas’s fingerprints. Between Last Crusade and this sequel, Lucas created the “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” television series and introduced the idea of canon to the series. As an example, in Crystal Skull, Harrison Ford tells Shia LeBeouf about an adventure from the television show. There’s also the character being part of every historical event (he was in the O.S.S. during World War II–that one isn’t so far-fetched–but he was also at Roswell in 1947–that one is sort of ludicrous, but maybe not). It adds a different tone to the film; all of a sudden, everything needs to be explained. For the first time in an Indiana Jones movie, there’s significant exposition to the character’s off-screen life.

Another development (talking about Crystal Skull traditionally seems impossible, so I’m not even going to try) has to do with how the film handles age. Even with cheesy (but unfortunately necessary) techniques to reference absent friends, the film’s approach is somewhat startling. With an action-packed opening, even with a couple asides to aging, it’s hard to remember Harrison Ford is older (especially with a long break between this film and the last). Then, gradually, it becomes clear how aging has affected the character. LeBeouf’s presence allows for these moments, especially in the scenes with he, Ford and Karen Allen. Even as LeBeouf takes a more central role in the last act, it’s still Ford’s show and Crystal Skull becomes the first franchise film I can remember where age is really a factor and not just lip service (with the obvious exception of Rocky Balboa). Clint Eastwood, for instance, never actually let his action heroes be old. In Crystal Skull, for the most part, the film doesn’t discuss aging.

The next two differences are about production, less abstract.

First is the film’s frequent references to other films. The series started reinventing old serials, then maintained that air without being as directly referential. In Crystal Skull, the references are a lot more neon. It opens with an American Graffiti homage. It’s discreet, only noticeable when thinking about Lucas’s involvement. There’s a major Naked Jungle reference. But what Spielberg does in Crystal Skull, what makes it noteworthy, is apply modern filmmaking mores to a historical era. He even gets away with positioning LeBeouf in a Marlon Brando reference–he makes it work. The most successful example of this application is the motorcycle chase. It’s a fantastic, Indiana Jones motorcycle chase set in a late 1950s college town. It’s fantastic. But the film’s also, tonally, supposed to fit in the 1950s, not just terms of setting, but also genre. Crystal Skull owes more, plot-wise, not so much in execution, to the science fiction films of the era than anything else. Spielberg doesn’t work particularly well with that aspect and does a lot better with the Red Scare elements.

Spielberg’s also working very different technically. With CG (I’ll get to it in a minute) mattes instead of painted ones, Janusz Kaminski shoots a Technicolor adventure. Crystal Skull‘s cinematography, from the usually pedestrian Kaminski, looks wonderful. It might even be the best photographed in the series. The CG is almost exclusively excellent. The much-publicized jungle fight looks great, for instance. Only one strangely matted, too cartoony jungle swinging scene looks bad (for whatever reason, CG has never achieved the acknowledgment of artifice, like rear projection and mattes have). What Spielberg does with the CG, creating fantastic visuals–in addition to the 1950s story trappings–furthers that Technicolor label. Spielberg’s acting sequences are still top-form.

The story does suffer from those elements though. Just from the title–Kingdom of the Crystal Skull–it’s clear this one isn’t as salient as the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail. The title itself is absent any mystery or excitement (…and the Lost City or …and the Golden City would have worked better). It’s a hard story to title, just because the film’s more about what the character learns about himself–never a series emphasis. Koepp’s script has some really good moments, but there are lots of missed opportunities. In the end, it’s not his fault. Koepp can’t fix Lucas’s broken story (just because one can make an Indiana Jones sci-fi movie doesn’t mean he or she should).

Ford’s good in the film, playing the aging well. But because of that cold, action opening, it takes a while to see how Ford is handling the character’s aging. Once it’s clear, it’s fine. Ray Winstone is wasted in his supporting role. The character’s a script necessity, nothing else, and Winstone can’t do anything with it. Similarly, John Hurt’s fine doing a simple role–the casting is another difference with this one, it’s interested in casting recognizable actors. Karen Allen’s good, has some great moments with Ford and LeBeouf. She and Ford’s chemistry from twenty-seven years ago picks up without a hitch (too bad Lucas didn’t let Spielberg put her in every movie, she and Ford would have done a great Nick and Nora). Jim Broadbent’s goofy little role is fine enough too, but the approach (he’s a stand-in for Denholm Elliott) is unimaginative.

I’m not surprised Cate Blanchett is excellent. I assumed she would be good, but I never had any idea how great she’d be. Her character’s got the worst character arc, but Blanchett handles it with aplomb. She relishes in the character’s scripting problems, turning them into advantages.

Here’s the surprise–Shia LeBeouf. Under Spielberg’s direction, LeBeouf turns in a good, solid performance in an impossible role. He handles the period acting well, he handles the action well. Only when Spielberg puts him in a scene out of an unproduced Jurassic Park cartoon does he stumble. It’s a movie star turn and something I never would have thought LeBeouf could achieve.

Another unfortunate difference, the last, is John Williams’s score. He uses themes from the first and third films (there’s not a single acknowledgement of Temple of Doom in the entire film) and uses the main theme as much as he can. He never gives Crystal Skull its own theme. It’s a lazy score, exactly the kind of bored score Williams has been turning in since… well, as Last Crusade is his last enthusiastic one, for eighteen years (with a couple exceptions, I’m sure).

The big problem with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, besides that title, is the ending. There’s a big-time rip-off of The X-Files and, even though it’s competently produced and so on, it’s just wrong. Lucas’s silly story catches up with the film. Then, all of sudden, Spielberg and company turn it around for the last scene and the close. They don’t just, belatedly (which is even referenced in dialogue) correct history, they also end it on a great cinematic smile.

Just like Temple of Doom, Lucas hurts the film. But this time, it’s not too much Lucas.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by David Koepp, based on a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Cate Blanchett (Irina Spalko), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Shia LaBeouf (Mutt Williams), Ray Winstone (Mac), John Hurt (Harold Oxley), Igor Jijikine (Dovchenko) and Jim Broadbent (Charles Stanforth).


Transformers (2007, Michael Bay)

Transformers features giant robots fighting each other. Such scenes look excellent, from a special effects standpoint. Depending on the specifics of the scene–how the giant robots are fighting, fists or guns, and whether or not there are humans involved–sometimes the scenes are very well directed. While Transformers does have a lot of action, the robot fight scenes are mostly reserved for the end… and then Bay either does well or poorly. He can’t compose a real–punching, kicking, scratching, biting–fight scene. If there aren’t guns and cars involved, while it looks cool with the CG, it’s a flacid.

Complaining about that particular defect of Bay’s direction of the movie is a little cheap, because there’s so many bigger complaints to make. To get them over with… Bay doesn’t really get interested in the Transformers themselves. They only have a handful of scenes with any attempt at characterization and only one of them goes well and it’s because it’s a comedy scene and Bay used to direct comedic commercials, so he does it well. He’s also more in love with his military story than Shia LaBeouf’s, taking to so far as to give Megan Fox’s stupidly written character a lot more emphasis. LaBeouf’s character is poorly written too, but Fox’s is worse. What else. Oh. It doesn’t look like Michael Bay. There’s no sensuality–did I really just say Bay has a sensuality to his style? He does: the overcooked thing. Transformers has maybe five or six of those Bay shots. The rest is style-less. The action scenes are great, the chase scenes are good, but there’s no personality. It’s like Bay didn’t want to get bad reviews for his fast cuts or something (Spielberg’s a hands-on executive producer when it comes to blockbusters… anyone else remember the rumor he added the T-Rex-sized ghost to The Haunting himself?).

Even Bay’s creative casting is gone. In his Bruckheimer days, Bay movies would be filled with recognizable faces. Not so with Transformers. I kept hoping for someone interesting, but no one popped up. Not well known actors in supporting roles (like Bernie Mac or Kevin Dunn), but recognizable character actors in small roles. Nothing along those lines here….

I thought it might be because the Transformers were going to be significant, but they aren’t (as characters, anyway… as giant robots fighting, they’re fine). The present action of the film takes place over three or four days, with the Transformers coming in the night before the last day. They’re hardly there, which is one of the script’s major problems. Though maybe not. It’s a problem, but the script is so bad, it’s difficult to make qualitative judgments. Even if the movie makes no sense, the Transformers don’t have to have terrible dialogue. But they do. The script hurries things along so much, flipping between LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel’s army story. LaBeouf is far from an acting giant, but the script really does him a disservice… it sets him up as a shallow jerk-wad. I heard one of the screenwriters compare it to E.T., but it’s like E.T. if the audience was supposed to hate Elliot (I’m sure it’s just Bay who dislikes LaBeouf’s character, since he doesn’t fit the Bay macho man mold).

I was hoping it’d be something like Jurassic Park or Twister, an effective summer blockbuster with some degree of wonderment at its content. It has none. Bay’s just not the right director for it, even though some of it looks really cool (but I think that credit belongs to ILM).

But, who knows? Maybe if Bay were working from a vaguely competent screenplay… But the Transformer based on Stripe (from Gremlins) was really funny.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on a story by John Rogers, Orci and Kurtzman; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Paul Rubell, Glen Scantlebury and Thomas A. Muldoon; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce; released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Tyrese Gibson (Technical Sergeant Epps), Josh Duhamel (Captain Lennox), Anthony Anderson (Glen Whitmann), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Rachael Taylor (Maggie Madsen), John Turturro (Agent Simmons) and Jon Voight (Defense Secretary John Keller).


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