“Transformers: Whatever,” “The Wall,” “Despicable Me 3,” “Dean,” “Lowriders”

By | November 20, 2017

A grab bag of Summer 2017’s also-rans, but don’t worry folks, later today they’ll be no less than 10 other movie reviews of films currently in theaters…

Transformers: The Last Knight…Have you ever wished that a “Transformers” film could be longer, make less sense, feature Anthony Hopkins in one of his most pitifully slumming it roles, have more Chinese product placement, and include an elaborate backstory featuring olden-day knights and nazis? No? Well, I guess this film is truly for no one then…Grade: D [These movies will never be good until Michael Bay is replaced with someone who knows a “Transformers” movie should be 90 minutes long, and feature simple plots about evil robots vs. good ones, and then them smashing into each other like mechanical versions of Godzilla and King Kong.]

The Wall…A movie I enjoyed more than I was expecting to given its relatively muted box office and critical response. In it, an American soldier (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, here impressing with his best performance yet after an overrated turn in “Nocturnal Animals”) is pinned behind a wall with a devious Iraqi sniper trying furiously to get at him. The unseen Iraqi sniper (voiced by Laith Nakli as the faux-polite, menancingly passive aggressive offshored call center worker from hell) is one of the year’s best villains, as psychologically astute as Hannibal Lecter with the marksmanship of Bullseye. It’s a testament to how much you care about these characters that the twist ending feels more like a cynical gut punch than a refreshingly realistic outcome for a war time movie. Grade: B+

Lowriders…I can honestly say I’ve never thought much about L.A.’s lowrider car culture (a mash-up of Mexican traditions and American prosperity and excess), and so the movie is definitely showing me something new. I just wish it were something I was a little more interested in seeing. Sure, plenty of reviews have criticized the film’s “superficial exploration of a deep-rooted Hispanic subculture” and pretended they would’ve enjoyed a film about lowrider cars if it were better presented. False. Sometimes, you just have to admit that there’s guys (or girls) that go nuts for classic cars with custom paint jobs and hydraulics, and there’s people that don’t, or will probably get a little bored by the details as they surely would not seek out a documentary about this same subject. Eva Longoria has a nicely stripped-down anti-glamour here (as does “Supergirl”‘s nearly unrecognizable Melissa Benoist), and Demian Bichir has some of the old soul he displayed in the far superior “A Better Life” (a film that did make me choke up during its emotional scenes, where this one didn’t), but all-in-all your enjoyment probably will boil down to how hard you gasp at seeing a restored Chevy with the Virgin Mary painted on the front of it. Grade: C+ (but I fully admit it’ll be a must-see for car nuts).

Dean…This movie was written and directed by star Demetri Martin, and you’ll probably figure that out pretty fast even if you don’t know that already, because it’s doubtful Martin would be given a role like this if he didn’t create it for himself. But whatever limitations he may have as an actor are more than compensated for by a finely observed script that pokes fun at L.A. phoniness in a new way (I’m still laughing at a scene Martin’s character has at a “hip” L.A. agency) and a New York supremacist’s hatred of L.A. like an L.A.-bashing woman Martin encounters on a plane. The extended takedown of a delusional L.A. actress (the terrific Briga Heelan, dangerous in how little she’s really hearing anyone around her) who wants Martin’s character to be turned on by her, so she can feel outraged by it may seem especially relevant at a time every celebrity man (even an uber-mensch like Al Franken) is being called out. But it’s the subtle, observational scenes about grief—featuring a solid Kevin Kline or mysterious Gillian Jacobs—that make this film a bit more substantial than you might think. Grade: A-

Despicable Me 3…I’ve never really liked any of the “Despicable” movies, but maybe I’m not supposed to. This film caters pretty exclusively to kids—who are the target audience and will probably love it—but that still doesn’t excuse an over-abundance of unnecessary subplots (there’s a unicorn hunt and unrequited pre-teen crush that feels like they belong in different movies or abandoned ideas from the second film) and this movie not fully utilizing the series’s best villain: Trey Parker’s Balthazar Brat, a faded child star brought low by puberty and determined to make Hollywood pay for it. This glib film is so ready to bust Balthazar that it completely ignores a theme Pixar would’ve been smart enough to exploit: the sadness of growing up and how too many kids are thrown away by the adult world. Grade: C+

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