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Nothing epitomizes the summer movie season like a big, blustering, CGI-saturated blockbuster about giant, battling, alien robots. This installment stars Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, a down-on-his-luck robotics engineer and single father living in “Texas, U.S.A.” (as a caption conveniently informs those viewers uncertain which country Texas occupies). Cade and his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), get swept up in military-industrial machinations and even intergalactic warfare when he discovers the wreck of a truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime.

Inconveniently, CIA eminence grise Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is secretly rounding up all the Transformers he can find and delivering these to military contractor KSI, headed by arrogant weenie Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), the idea being to corner the technology and create a totally automated U.S. military. Meanwhile, Attinger’s robot co-conspirator Lockdown, along with new creation Galvatron, may not be the controllable assets Joyce and Attinger confidently believe these to be.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is exactly the explosion-packed, lightning-paced action extravaganza fans are expecting, with quite a few close shaves, noisy weapons exotica, nasty, slime-spewing creatures, and one particularly suspenseful moment with characters inching their way along cables suspended high in the air while harried by Lockdown’s robotic hell-hounds. Younger audiences are sure to be in awe. The film’s themes are, however, more adult than juvenile, and parents may be concerned to know that Age of Extinction contains several frightening incidents and one especially noteworthy death scene, that of comic relief slacker Lucas (T.J. Miller), that is too graphically disturbing to be appropriate for children. The film runs a little overlong, and the ending, reminiscent of Prometheus (2012), has Optimus Prime setting out on a new adventure and so setting up the inevitable next installment of the popular toy adaptation franchise.

4 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Transformers: Age of Extinction is:

8. Anti-torture. “This is worse than waterboarding,” robot Brains complains at being shocked by an electric jolt.

7. Pro-serfdom. Tessa aspires to do her part to inflate the American college bubble by applying for financial aid to go to university. The film attempts to milk sympathy from a rejection letter.

6. New age, lending credence to the idea that Earth was once visited by ancient aliens.

5. Corporate, featuring prominent product placement for Victoria’s Secret, Oreo, Giorgio Armani, and Red Bull.

4. Anti-slavery (i.e., pro-yawn). Negroid-voiced Transformer Brains exults at being “free at last!” Lucas, objecting to partner Cade’s cutthroat business practices, also alludes to slavery.

3. Capitalist, offering a sympathetic portrait of the struggling small business owner in Cade. Early scenes of the hero’s domestic existence convey a definite impression of an America in economic decline.

2. Pro-miscegenation. Joyce falls for the head executive of his company’s China branch (Bingbing Li).

1. Antiwar, anti-state, and anti-cronyism. Attinger, head of CIA black ops and military contractor KSI’s best customer, expects to take a seven-figure salary with the company after leaving government “service”. Since the Battle of Chicago, a cataclysmic 9/11-like event in which America was attacked by Decepticons and defended by the Autobots, a paranoid police state has taken hold, with Decepticons and Autobots alike being hunted down and neutralized by the fearmongering CIA. Transformers: Age of Extinction also gives a timely illustration of federal authoritarian overreach when CIA agents, with no warrant and no regard for human dignity or life, raid Cade’s property and threaten to murder his daughter. The movie expresses Americans’ discomfort over the advent of drones, as well.

 

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“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 13,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours,” reads a message following The Heat‘s end credits, as if in apology or as an excuse for what the viewer has just experienced. Sure, that montage of McCarthy and Bullock bonding as they hip-shake to Deee Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” might have been a little pathetic and painful for you to sit through, but by purchasing that ticket, you were making a difference in the life of an underprivileged Hollywood union schlub. The product of those hundreds of thousands of schlub hours, sad to say, would appear to be something significantly less than the sum of these thousands of toilers’ efforts.

Sandra Bullock stars as anal retentive FBI agent Ashburn, who, in the course of trying to nail a Boston drug kingpin – and The Heat, make no mistake, is set in Boston solely for the opportunity this provides of including a gaggle of superfluous characters with easily ridiculed accents – is thrust into an unwelcome partnership with local slob policewoman Mullins, played with irascible gusto and admirable comic timing by husky comedienne Melissa McCarthy. The fitful joy of the film – and despite its ultimate mediocrity, there are occasional laughs to be had – derives from the epic clash of the pair’s diametrically opposed personalities.

The boring displays of womanly courage, physical might, and weapons prowess; the endless, prideless parade of wimpy and contemptible men; the open, obsessively unabashed discussions of anatomy; the entertainment-deficient moments of earnestness and emotional searching; and, last but not least, some execrable slapstick – all of these are to be expected in a film of this type; but what finally puts the damper on The Heat is its unwieldy length and uneven pacing, with the movie overstaying its lukewarm welcome by at least 40 draggy minutes. If there is a reason to endure The Heat, however, it is easily Melissa McCarthy, who, as big, jiggly, probably smelly ball of charisma Mullins, should fill a screen of any size with little difficulty.

2.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Heat is:

13. Anti-Slav. As in Pain and Gain and A Good Day to Die Hard, the Slavic female is an exotic, shady, kinky, inferior creature.

12. Anti-Christian. “That’s one of the better Jesus-sports-themed paintings I’ve seen,” Ashburn observes uncomfortably, indicating a kitschy picture in the Mullins family’s home.

11. Anti-white male. An insecure, misogynistic, loud-mouthed albino (Dan Bakkedahl) says it all.

10. Pro-gay. Lesbians cavort on a dance floor.

9. Racism-skeptical. The albino’s whining about the heroines’ “albino prejudice” parodies race hustlers’ constant harping about whites’ racial insensitivity. (Either that, or it mocks whites’ complaints of reverse racism.) “Don’t play that race bullshit card with me,” Mullins gripes in a bizarre encounter with a black man (“Spoken Reasons”, a.k.a. John A. Baker, Jr.) who accuses her of racism after she hurls a watermelon at him. Unfortunately, given the convoluted nature of this film’s moral universe, Mullins may receive a pass to balk at hackneyed victimologies only because she has already taken the litmus test and desegregated her vagina (see no. 5).

8. Drug-ambivalent. Ashburn and Mullins bond over drinks and enjoy a rowdy evening; but the hangover and the knowledge of how she behaved kills Ashburn’s buzz the following morning. A peaceable pot smoker (Reasons) minds his own business until hassled by Mullins, while her brother (Michael Rapaport) gets into more serious trouble through hard drugs. About regular old tobacco, Mullins recommends quitting because she “had a great aunt who lost most of her teeth to smoking.”

7. Multiculturalist. Federal agents contributing to the law enforcement effort include blacks, whites, and Hispanics. Even street gangs and organized crime are multiracial concerns.

6. Anti-family/anti-marriage. The Mullins family is of course grotesque and dysfunctional. Mullins, unsuitable for marriage or motherhood, gives vent to a petty resentment toward America’s ex-normalcy when she catches a family man in the act of cruising for hookers and tortures him before trying to ruin his marriage by phoning the man’s wife to tell her about it. The wife, appraised of the situation, encourages Mullins in further cruelty.

5. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation. Ashburn and fellow agent Levy (Marlon Wayans) engage in the obligatory interracial flirtation, while “Nine out of ten guys I fuck are black guys,” Mullins boasts.

4. Obesity-tolerant. Given that 64% of American women are now overweight, it is only natural that Hollywood, with an eye to satisfying changing demographics, should give the heavyweights movie stars of their own. Now fat women not only have characters with whom they can identify, but ones who reassure them that slovenliness is desirable. Whereas overweight women in movies and television previously filled the roles of matronly types (e.g., Hattie McDaniel or Frances Bavier) or bitchy hags (Roseanne in the Barr phase of her career), obese actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson represent a new mutant feminist temptress and fat pride pin-up ideal. Mullins, McCarthy’s character in The Heat, is more than once supplicated by ex-boyfriends, who follow her around like wounded puppies, salivating at the thought of another shot at a hop on the paunch. Her girth more than once makes things difficult for her, but that’s just the part of the price she has to pay for being a sexy bitch (cf. nos. 1 and 2).

3. Basically statist. The Heat would appear to be confused about the value of the various government agencies it portrays and the usefulness of their endeavors to the public these agencies purport to serve. At no point in all of the movie’s mayhem is there any indication, civic-minded lip service and back-patting notwithstanding, that FBI or DEA agents have accomplished anything for taxpayers by pursuing the endless War on Drugs. But the one man who dares to refer to his status as a taxpayer (“I pay taxes, so fuck the government”) is then immediately obliterated by a car bomb, so let that be a lesson to you.

Never mind that different federal agencies, even as depicted in The Heat, are mutually hostile and interfere with each other’s overlapping investigations. Nor should the viewer allow the fact that one of the federal agents is revealed to be in cahoots with the mob to reflect on the collective integrity of America’s civil servants. (USPS personnel are, however, represented rather poorly, with a post office hag in a bar mumbling, “Eat my fuckin’ Irish ass.”)

“When bad shit happens in my neighborhood, I get a little passionate about it,” Mullins proclaims, with unintentional humor deriving from the fact that much of the “bad shit” and violence that occurs in her neighborhood is of her own doing. At times, police work just seems to be an excuse for an officer to let off steam by harassing and physically abusing the common citizen. The most sinister aspect of The Heat‘s concept of law enforcement is that police brutality is treated so casually, normalized, in fact, as something perhaps lovably eccentric but wholesomely populist in its appeal. After all, “if you’re not in trouble, you’re not doin’ your job.”

2. Pro-castration. The Heat delights in depicting male suffering and humiliation. Mullins plays Russian roulette with a criminal’s dick and Ashburn shoots another offender twice in the crotch, with a seething hostility toward men’s genitalia permeating the film. Women determine the terms of their interactions with the men, who are left to beg for attention or mercy, as when Levy pitifully propositions Ashburn, “If you’re gonna boss me around, you could at least buy me dinner first.” It is this appalling exemplar of the sensitive man, however, who has the best shot at winning Ashburn’s affection (cf. nos. 1 and 4).

1. Feminist. Mullins makes repeated, obsessive references to testicles, including testicles for women, and is given to saying disgusting things like, “I’m balls-deep in boredom.” Tough but sensitive women in manface: this is The Heat‘s neurotic essence. But, “You go, girl!” the viewer presumably is expected to cheer at this spectacle of degeneracy – no matter how repulsive the heroines may be as they swagger around in men’s wear, ape masculine traits, shout at men, beat them up, and picturesquely point and shoot their government-issue penises.

Whatever screenwriter Katie Dippold’s intentions, however, her script has much to say about how unhappy women have made themselves by buying into the feminist fraud. Chief among the hallucinations propagated by the feminists is the idea that a woman, having paradoxically actualized her femaleness by disposing of her femininity, can somehow retain her worth as a woman rather than as the ersatz man she has chosen to become. “I’m a lady,” claims a deluded Mullins, giving voice to this untenable view. Ashburn’s careerism ended her marriage and she admits to being lonely. Her sleuthing skills may be Monk-like, but “being a woman in this field is hard. Men are just so intimidated by me.” Most men naturally find her mannishness unappealing. “Hard to believe she’s single,” a coworker observes sarcastically. There is a reason why Ashburn’s only romantic prospect at the end is a total weenie, and an African one at that, who expects her to pay for his meals in exchange for his company. But is it because white men are “intimidated” by her, or that they are simply disgusted by what she and her type have become? (cf. nos. 2 and 4)

Arnold Schwarzenegger has substandard luck with would-be blockbusters titled Last.  1993’s Last Action Hero, released a mere two years after the megahit Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is widely regarded as marking not only the end of Schwarzenegger’s reign at the box office and in audiences’ hearts and minds, but the demise of the larger-than-life 80s action film itself.  Now, in 2013, comes The Last Stand, a lively outing that ought to mark the muscleman’s triumphant return to action adoration, but which, alas, as it turns out, is just another relative flop.

Combining elements of High Noon and Vanishing Point, The Last Stand, with its southwestern flavor, brings Schwarzenegger full-circle in a way, considering that one of his earliest roles was in the western comedy The Villain.  Here Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens (sic), Sheriff of Sommerton County, Arizona, on America’s southern border.  His sleepy rural community is about to get more than its usual share of excitement when escaped drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) hatches a plan to use Owens’s own unsuspecting town of Sommerton Junction as the end point of a sure-fire escape route to Mexico.  Making matters more difficult for federal and local authorities is the fact that Cortez is driving a futuristic and seemingly unstoppable thousand-horsepower Corvette.

The Last Stand is an unapologetically lightweight, nostalgic, high-testosterone crowd-pleaser, but no less pleasing for its lack of originality or depth.  Lukewarm box office notwithstanding, an Arnold Schwarzenegger gunplay-and-explosions vehicle – even a second-tier, self-consciously geriatric one – is something of a national treasure.  Schwarzenegger’s acting gives little evidence of having improved during his years in government, and may in fact have gotten worse; but nothing can mitigate the thrill of seeing this man in heroic action.

While he probably deserves a more iconic or physically imposing foe than lanky Eduardo Noriega or weird Peter Stormare (winner of this year’s Most Awkward American Accent Award), the supporting cast does much to enhance Schwarzenegger’s presence through humorous contrasts.  Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville are especially noteworthy in the comic relief department, and Forest Whitaker turns in an intensely invested performance as harried G-Man John Bannister.  The only thing The Last Stand may be missing is Schwarzenegger’s leading lady, as deputy Jaimie Alexander is too young to be the appropriate recipient of anything but his paternal affection.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Last Stand is:

6. Anti-drug.  Drug dealers, in the finest tradition of 80s action films, are the bad guys.

5. Pro-military.  An Iraq veteran ex-Marine is a key figure in the hometown defense.

4. Immigration-ambivalent.  Americans are reminded of their perilously porous border with Mexico when Cortez points out the irony of Owens trying to prevent him from returning to his own country when 12,000 Mexicans cross in the opposite direction every day.  “You make us immigrants look bad,” Owens tells Cortez.  It is unclear whether by saying “us immigrants” he identifies with the 12,000 mentioned by Cortez or only with the law-abiding variety.

3. Multiculturalist.  The Last Stand celebrates the contributions to law enforcement of blacks, Hispanics, women, Austrians, Asians, and dweebs.  Cortez, though the villain of the piece, represents Mexicans positively as a criminal mastermind and expert race car driver.

2. Pro-liberty/pro-gun.  Eccentric gun collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) provides the firepower that allows the sheriff and his deputies to defend themselves against Cortez’s private army.  Notably, Dinkum offers a very useful “Nazi killer” machine gun he has kept in working order against the wishes of the government.  Elderly citizen Mrs. Salazar (Lois Geary) picks off one of Cortez’s mercenaries with her personal firearm.  Farmer Harry Dean Stanton is also admirable in attempting to defend his property with a shotgun.

1. Localist/traditionalist.  Sommerton Junction is a friendly, wholesome, peaceful place rather than the usual rustic nest of hateful Hollywood hicks.  FBI agent John Bannister underestimates the competence of the local sheriff’s department (significantly, an Arizona sheriff’s department).  He is humbled when Owens does his job for him and when the FBI is found to have been compromised by internal corruption.

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