Invasion of the Bee Girls

JULIE ZORN:  All right, you might as well know. We went to dinner at the Flamingo Bar and Grill. And by about 10:00 we were playing footsies under the table and having dessert like the good old days. And then we went to the hotel.  And then it happened.

AGENT AGAR: What happened?

JULIE ZORN:  We balled, and we balled, and we balled until he dropped dead.

AGENT AGAR:Touché. Let's go to lunch!

It took me a while to scrub my mind after the rape-fest that was Nude Nuns with Big Guns, and yet for some reason, I still wanted to dive right back into a sexploitation flick. Maybe I just wanted to see one done right. Who knows?

Maybe I just like boobs. Yeah, it's probably that.

Moving along.

Mixing Mad Science and Sex is never a bad thing in my book. What could go wrong?  I mean other than creating an army of sex-crazed killer bee-women. Psychotic sex-crazed-Stepford's aside, you've got nothing to worry about. Following a formula startlingly similar to a sexualized version of Jaws (1975), the film's story unfolds as a group of horny scientists are killed through "sexual exhaustion" until a curfew and forced abstinence is put in place. However, much like for Sarah Palin's children, the abstinence plan works about as well as you would think and the deaths continue until the movie switches gears into a classic 1950's monster movie complete with radiation and mutant bees.

And boobs.

Unlike our previously mentioned heavily armed Catholics, the film's level of misogyny never really rises above the traditional pat on the head of the self-assured male, who is then promptly seduced and killed by a killer bee-woman. Sure, the women here (either innocent and ignorant or seductive and murderous) are nothing more than sex objects, but that's the entire point; what with scenes carefully lit to hide the face but reveal the breasts and buttocks. It's easy to see what the main selling point of the film was (hint: It's not the compound EYES).

But is it any fun?

And the answer is absolutely.

From the opening notes of the insect-rific fa-la-la score by Charles Bernstein, to the closing momentous destruction of the film's doomsday device, there is never a moment where you won't marvel at the cheap 70's take on a b-grade sci-fi monster flick.

Besides, there's bees and boobs.

Raid: Redemption, The

Just how high is an action movie's bar set that when we see a guy take a shot to the face from a steel chair, it fails to impress us?

Dear lord, bless us this day when you sent forth a review copy of The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian action flick by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans. I have often said that the measurable standard of how great an action movie (more specifically, a martial arts picture) is by how often the audience winces and goes, "Ouch!" As I sit here, hands flying across the keys of the keyboard, I'm still remembering some of the bone-crunching stunts of the film and the sounds of a group of hardened and jaded action fans all cringing with a mixture of empathetic pain and excitement.

With a plot taken straight from a video game, the story follows an elite group of police who, uh, raid an apartment building held under the iron fist of a crime lord, who rents out space to other crime lords. By "elite group of police" I of course mean "a bunch of cannon fodder that got their idea of urban assault tactics from playing Rainbow Six: Las Vegas" There is a nice nod by the screenwriter in a blink-and-you-miss-it throwaway dialogue exchange that explains away the utter lack of tactical planning on the police's part with a variation on the "I'm not even supposed to be here today" line from Clerks (1994).

Needless to say, the assault goes all kinds of FUBAR and eventually we're left with one badass rookie and a building full of gangsters with assault rifles, machetes, and flying fists of furious...err...fury. As the hero dispatches generic villain after generic villain, the video game analogy continues in our heads as we start mentally imagining his health and power meters, all leading to the epic boss battle at the end.

There isn't much characterization on display here. Hell, most of the characters are named along the lines of "Machete Gangster #6". But complaining about lack of character development in a movie this intense would be a cardinal sin. The action is the character development, and this movie essentially the action equivalent of a Shakespeare soliloquy. You've got refrigerator bombs, hatchet fights, machete-fu, gun-fu, knee-fu, multiple elbows to the face, and a guy still kicking tons of ass with a piece of a florescent light bulb sticking out of his neck (who at one point made a kick so fast that we would have to rewind the film and watch in slow motion just to see it happen). In case you're wondering, he's The Raid's take on Caliban from The Tempest. Hamlet is the one who stuck the bulb in there in the first place.

Being an Indonesian action picture, there is a healthy disregard for the well-being of the stunt people on display during the course of the story. During the afore-mentioned fight with the steel chair, there are also a few choice shots involving a file cabinet that couldn't have been done by any other method than recklessly hurling a guy at said file cabinet...then crushing him with it. However, our audience was quite impressed with sheer number of medical professionals and massage therapists listed in the closing credits.

In a way, The Raid is a lot like Christmas...if Christmas involved a bowie knife to the knee.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

We should applaud filmmakers for successfully stepping outside of their comfort zone genre-wise.  Genre-hopping has created such memorable films as Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) (yes, he had done violent movies before but, no, this did not necessarily mean he could pull off a kung fu epic) and Martin Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  However, we should just as enthusiastically condemn directors who should know better than to mess with what works: Barry Levinson’s Sphere (1998), Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack (1996) (you remember, the uplifting comedy about progeria), and any time Kevin Smith decides to make a movie not specifically about New Jersey wiseasses.  So when I heard that one of Brian De Palma’s earliest films was a musical, the film critic in me proceeded with caution while the Schlock-Lover ran head-first, squealing manically into Phantom of the Paradise.

Singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper) has a simple dream: to become a famous singer. Song-writer Winslow Leach (William Finley) has a moderately simple dream: to write an epic cantata based on Christopher Marlowe’s Faust that will make him the belle of the NPR Ball.  Music producer extraordinaire Swan (Paul “I wrote ‘Rainbow Connection’” Williams) has a complicated dream: TO RULE OVER ALL OF POPULAR MUSIC WITH AN IRON FIST OF SPITE! When Swan hears Winslow’s cantata, he knows he’s got a hit on his hands.  The only thing standing in his way is Winslow.  So Swan does the only rational thing and sets into motion a series of events that leave Winslow a hideously disfigured, metal-mouthed creature that is hellbent on revenge!  And how best to get sweet, sweet revenge? By destroying Swan’s latest creation: a rock ‘n roll Xanadu called “The Paradise.”

Brian De Palma’s musical entry has to be seen to be believed.  It is a metatextual action/thriller/romance/revenge drama/horror/musical.  Granted, it is not a straight musical; no one bursts into song.  There just seem to be convenient reasons for characters to be performing songs that happen to speak to exactly what they are feeling at any given moment.  Mercifully, all of the songs are catchy since Paul Williams wrote them and all the performers can actually sing.  And you are going to need the soothing touchstone of musical to ground you through a film that switches its tone more often than a Frank Zappa concert.

Stylistically, the film bounces around references to earlier horror films like The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Psycho (1960), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Touch of Evil (1958), and the oeuvre of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funnicello.  I am not going to say that the lack of narrative clarity does not hurt the film.  I am going to ask how much that could possibly hurt your enjoyment of a film with a screechy, flamingly homosexual glam rocker named “Beef” (Gerrit Graham).  "Beef," people, "Beef!"

Bizarre musical productions, awkward romances between mismatched weirdos, and a surprising amount of violence and gore, maybe Phantom of the Paradise was a better indicator of Brian De Palma’s career than thought…

Nude Nuns with Big Guns

Before we begin, A statement: I both owe Joseph Guzman a debt of gratitude...and a punch in the groin.

While surfing around the interconnected web we call the internet, I stumbled across two things. One: The Cavalcade of Schlock website I'd left in other hands when I moved to New Mexico was now in such a state of disuse, it had actually gone offline for over a week and nobody noticed-and Two: I saw a low-budget sexploitation revenge flick called "Nude Nuns with Big Guns" on Netflix. When a higher power sends a notice as powerful as this, I get the message. After having seen NNWBG, I had to bring the Cavalcade website back, just to talk about it. So for that, Mr. Guzman, I thank you.

Before we get into the details, I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: Yes. The nuns are nude (as are every one of the other 23 women in the picture save three). Yes, two of them do in fact wield guns of the "big" variety. If there's one thing the film gets right, it's truth in advertising. Now to the story, such as there is:

Sister Sarah (Asun Ortega) embarks on a holy path of bloody vengeance (while nude) after being forced into the drug trade (while nude) and prostitution (while nude). Along the way, she rescues another nun (Aycil Yeltan who is also nude), who also happens to be her lover. Along the way she runs afoul of the ultra-rapey biker gang hired to provide muscle for the entire operation.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Robert Rodriguez should be blushing like a school girl. It's as if the director of this picture watched the Mariachi series and said to himself, "You know what these films are missing? Rape. Lots of rape. I can fix that!" and proceeded to do so-only without the kinetic energy, style, or story-telling ability. We've got all the Rodriguez Mariachi tropes on display, down to the gun in the guitar case. Now, I'm not against a good homage here and there, especially considering that much of what Rodriguez does is a tribute to the Grindhouse films of the 70's (like, say...Grindhouse), but he throws in a fun twist here and there. Not so here.

Complaining about misogyny in a sexploitation flick is like jumping in a pool and complaining it's damp, but there are limits. Limits to which this film barrels straight past and then decides, "you know what? Watching this dude rape a woman for five minutes was so much fun the first time, let's do it again, only this time let's have him rape a nun for four minutes of screen time!" The worst bit about this is that there is so much rape in the picture that it has its own musical motif on the soundtrack...which is a ripoff of Cherry Darling's theme from Planet Terror, a movie who's primary theme was one of female empowerment. I am focusing on the rape because a good sexploitation flick (or even nunsploitation-it's a thing, really it is) manages to somehow both exploit the female form while empowering it (see any 70's picture with Pam Grier). Here, the only strong female is Sister Sarah, and even she spends most of the picture being victimized. Not only that, her Mission from God is mostly explained away as insanity brought on by overdose, so the script even undercuts her.

All told, this movie managed to disappoint on all levels. It had sex without excitement, violence without energy, and plodded along miserably from point to point. If you really want to screen this, I'd recommend large doses of tequila and pairing it up with I Spit on Your Grave or Evil Breed: Legend of Samhain for one hell of a miserable evening.

Resident Evil: Extinction

When one gets to the third film of what could be a horror/sci-fi trilogy, certain gimmicks have to be introduced.  These include but are not limited to: the end of the world (the risk of or the actual), deserts or cute critters of some sort.  Not to be outdone, director Russell Mulcahy chocks Resident Evil: Extinction with all three!

The world is good and properly screwed by this third installment and Alice (Milla Jovovich) has taken up Leonard Smalls’ (Randall “Tex” Cobb in Raising Arizona (1987)) mantle as “the lone biker of the apocalypse.”  Hiding from the evil Umbrella Corporation for fear of their turning her into a weapon, hiding from her friends for fear that they will be used against her by Umbrella and hiding from the hordes of zombies, because, well, they smell bad, Alice is wandering around directionless.  Much like this movie.

It’s difficult to determine whether or not the lack of direction helps or hurts this movie.  If it were on purpose, Mulcahy may have been showing through the film the terror and nothingness that awaits us poor survivors of the zombie apocalypse: a life of scrounging for food and praying that there will be a point to any of it.  On the other hand, if it were not on purpose, it just goes to show that the filmmakers had no idea what to do with this installment and said “Screw it, put ‘em in the desert and release the crows!”  I go back and forth.

Don’t misunderstand, Extinction has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the sexiest pile of corpses I’ve ever seen. (Yeah, I said it.  Find a cuter corpse pit and we’ll talk.)  Building off the ending of Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Alice has gone full-Tetsuo (Akira 1988).  These powers come in hand when Claire Redfield’s (Ali Larter) convoy of survivors is attacked by a murder of zombie crows.  That’s right, zombie crows.  In one of the most metal moments in film history, Alice destroys them using her brain and fire.

Also, helping the film are above average zombie make-up and a heaping helping of Day of the Dead (1985) references.  After five years, the zombies are looking a little worse for wear and the effects team did a wonderful job of showing that decomposing flesh and the sun do not mix.  Meanwhile, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) works in an underground Umbrella facility with the foolish notion of domesticating the zombies into a viable workforce.  Care to guess how that goes?

Like most third films, Extinction does not stand well on its own.  However, within the series, it is not a bad installment and sets up a great ending that does actually continue into the fourth installment.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

In order to make a good horror movie sequel, the filmmakers must abide certain rules and conventions.  None of which are more important than the underlying rule: More.  And with More comes the equally important: Bigger.   Happily, for action/horror junkies like myself, Alexander Witt understood these rules and delivered the wonderfully over-the-top Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

Picking up from before the previous installment left off, Witt shows the audience how the Umbrella Corporation’s T-Virus spread and devastated Raccoon City leading up to Resident Evil’s (2002) climactic cliffhanger.  Joining (the finally named onscreen) Alice (Milla Jovovich) are a motley crew of actors that continue the first film’s tradition of English people pretending to be American including Sienna Guillory doing a disturbingly-accurate Jill Valentine impression, Oded Fehr being the man, Thomas Kretschman from the five year period in which he was the ONLY working creepy German in film, and Zach Ward playing a Russian…  Riiiiiight.

Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to rescue Umbrella scientist, Charles Ashford’s (Jared Harris) daughter from the quarantined Raccoon City, kill as many zombies as possible in the process, evade and/or stop Nemesis, a monosyllabic hulking monster who uses a minigun but only when he’s tired of using his rocket launcher, and, just so things are not too easy, escape an impending nuclear missile strike.

Witt and screenwriter/producer Paul W.S. Anderson like to pack as much as humanly possible into a sequel.  Luckily, they have more money to do so than the first film and they waste not one penny.  Right from the beginning, the scale of this sequel dwarfs the first film by focusing on an entire town, using primarily exterior shots to contrast the claustrophobic Hive, and inundates the audience with large action sequences.  Within the first eleven minutes, we get car crashes, zombie executions and delightfully ridiculous helicopter stunts.

And all that’s before Alice destroys three Licker monsters in a church with a motorcycle, bullets and sheer badassery.  Upping the ante from merely being tough, Alice now officially has superpowers!  You see the T-Virus, which at least kills everything and at most turns every human it infects into a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength, simply made Alice hotter, better, faster, and stronger.  One could cry foul but this clearly falls under the “ What’s Good for the Goose is not Good for the Main Character” clause of science fiction/horror writing.

Aside from the larger scale of the film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse exceeds as a sequel for its greater sense of fun, for lack of a better word.  Resident Evil was a very “serious” movie.  Apocalypse on the other hand cannot take itself too seriously if only because at different points Alice runs down a building with no thought to gravity and feels conflicted about destroying a her friend who has now mutated into a horrible creature.  It’s silly and Witt embraces this aspect by giving us gallows humor, creepy zombie children eating a grown woman, Grand Theft Auto references, and, because you’ve been good little boys and girls, Zombie Strippers.

Dead Snow

Young filmmakers have the burden of trying to create something new in the wake of more than 50 years worth of film.  One could argue that this is even more difficult when applied to the horror genre as one would think there could only be so many ways to dispatch your cast in interesting ways.  However, despite this burden, filmmakers like Norway’s Tommy Wirkola should not overtly list the films inspired his Dod Sno (Dead Snow) (like Friday the 13th (1980) and Evil Dead (1983))within the first 20 minutes for fear of not living up to the standard.  Luckily for the audience, after a rocky start, Wirkola does just that.

Six Norwegian medical students have traveled to a small cabin in mountains near Oksfjord (they don’t have woods in Norway) to relax, drink, play twister and engage in snowmobile-related shenanigans.  Everything goes swimmingly until a local camper relates the terrible history of the area during World War II.  Apparently, the local people were subjugated by the Nazis (shocking, I know) for three years and at the end of the war mustered the courage to chase the Nazis out of their village and into the mountains where they met an unknown end.  Our six students find out what happened to the Nazis the very next day when they are attacked by, you guessed it, Nazi Zombies!

Let’s take a moment and bask in the warm glow of such an incredible horror movie idea: NAZI ZOMBIES!  Gentle readers, we must admit certain truths about ourselves as a movie-going audience.  We love watching Nazis get brutally destroyed.  We love watching zombies get decapitated and dismembered as much if not more than the Nazis.  In Dod Sno, Wirkola has given us the horror movie equivalent of Reese’s Peanut Buttercups:  Two great tastes that taste great together!

Now, our six Norwegian medical students are essentially interchangeable.  They’re similar to the teens we’ve come to know and enjoy in most slasher films.  What separates them, however, is that each one is more hardcore than the last.  We’re talking “stitch up your own neck bite with no mirror and fishing line” hardcore.  Without revealing the manner in which they are dispatched, I will say that the will to win is strong in all of them:  if they’re going down, they’re taking as many Nazi Zombies as they can down with them.  And there are oh so many Nazi Zombies.

Gore-wise there is more than enough to satisfy.  The only problem is getting to it.  The first half of the film goes on entirely too long and alternates between being an advertisement for the Norwegian tourism bureau and an Ace of Base video.  (Yes, Ace of Base is Swedish but you get my point!)  Once the gore begins, it dominates the second half of the film with excellent use of bayonets, snowmobiles, chainsaws, lower intestines, grenades, molotov cocktails, and communism.   And just when you think you’ve seen everything, Wirkola escalates the situation.

What’s worse than Nazi Zombies?

SS Zombies

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Unlike its predecessors, the fourth installment of the surprisingly successful piratical franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, was inspired by a book. From what I have been able to glean from its Wikipedia page, Tim Powers’ 1987 novel On Stranger Tides appears to have only a few elements in common with the movie that took its name: the Fountain of Youth, daughter issues, Blackbeard, and pirates.

What? Hollywood taking a book, scuttling what doesn’t work for them, and going where they want with it? Outrageous!

All right, who am I kidding? They do it all of the time.

To say that I had high hopes for this movie would be a lie. I’m not expecting Oscar-bait, I just want entertainment. I don’t expect preaching or under-utilizing a fantastic actor. I suppose I ought to explain by going into the typically convoluted plot.

When last we saw Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), he was on a dingy bound for the Fountain of Youth. Now, he’s impersonating a judge in order to free his favorite first mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally). Things don’t go as planned (assuming he ever plans anything) and he is brought before England’s King George II (Richard Griffiths).  His orders? Find the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish. This reunites Jack with his old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a state-sanctioned privateer who is sporting a stylish peg leg. Jack declines and escapes only to run into Angelica (Penélope Cruise), an old flame and apparent daughter of Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

Jack ends up on Blackbeard’s ship where we meet boring missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin). Blackbeard is a formidable pirate captain with a magic sword that makes a ship’s ropes turn into, for lack of a better word, tentacles. Honestly, I think that was a silly gimmick. He seems like the kind of guy who could do that just with a well-placed glare (if he needed to do that at all!). Hell, the guy is played by Ian McShane. That man is a god among men who makes you feel all freaked out and melty at the same time when he says that he’s a bad man (maybe that’s just me). It’s a damn shame that they gave him so little to work with. It’s a freakin’ crime against nature!

Speaking of crimes against nature, I get that Disney felt it necessary to include a love plot. Did they have to pick random missionary guy as their male romantic lead? He preached, got shirtless, and bored me to tears. I didn’t even remember that his character had a name until I looked it up. When I actually want your romantic lead to die, you’ve failed. I did appreciate the sexy mermaid Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), though, and look forward to seeing her grace other films. So, there’s a win.

All in all, as fun as it was, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides lacked energy and the sparkle that made the other films so fun. I hope, if they plan to continue the franchise, that they take a break, think about what made the first three so fun, and try to make a movie worthy of their legacy.

Resident Evil

Remember the days before Alien vs. Predator (2004) premiered in theaters?  You know, the days when it was not a requirement to hate Paul W.S. Anderson; but rather, a life choice similar in gravity to deciding one’s career, underwear preference and toilet paper roll position.  Once again, we here at the Cavalcade of Schlock ask you to journey with us back to simpler times when all we knew from Anderson was the terrifying Event Horizon (1997) and the greatest Enter the Dragon (1973) remake, Mortal Kombat (1996) and take a look at the first installment of the Resident Evil series.

Milla Jovovich stars as the aptly unnamed, amnesiac protagonist, an employee of the evil Umbrella Corporation (Traveler’s Insurance, I’m looking at you!), the world’s leading developer for all things technological, pharmaceutical and Frankensteinian.  Jovovich is a security operative stuck dealing with hordes of zombies after a botched theft of Umbrella’s T-Virus and an artificial intelligence-controlled security system kill everyone in Umbrella’s underground lab.  Luckily, Jovovich is not alone.  Joining her amidst an assortment of cookie-cutter paramilitary types are the always-annoying Michelle Rodriguez and the always under-used Colin Salmon.

Anderson does an excellent job of getting the action started early and maintaining that momentum throughout the course of the film.  (Also, starting with a semi-nude Jovovich doesn’t hurt.)  However, Anderson is hindered by a low-budget.  Get ready for a lot of shots that either look like the interior of every office building in which you have ever worked or else some unidentifiable void.  What should be atmospheric and/or a creepy technological installation comes across at best Syfy Saturday fodder and at worst an Uwe Boll film.  Compare this with Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis (2005) and tell me if there’s much of a difference.

While the action is fairly non-stop, the bulk of the action is based around classics of  video game logic: the “go here to get something over there working,”  the “find the artifact,” and the old standby “OHMYGOD WHY WON’T YOU DIE?”  Adding to the video-game-en-scène are a heavily techno-inspired Marilyn Manson soundtrack, awkward/fixed camera angles, random piano blares, and frequent looks at the “map screen.”  While these may seem like detractors, I found these homages enriched the film if only because Anderson did not randomly inject actual screen shots of the game into the film like other German-directed video game films (House of the Dead (2003))

My only real complaint is that 90% of the film is not scary.  If you have seen any zombie movie before, you’ve seen all the scares, jumps, and pop outs in this film.

[SPOILER] However, the ending sequence from the exit of the Hive to the final shot are truly scary.  If only because the sequence pops out of nowhere and tonally feels like nothing else in the film. [END SPOILER]

But, if you’re looking for a soild horror/action film, you could do worse than join the world's skinniest action star for 90 minutes of zombie ass-kicking.  That and the end shot is absolute gold.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

If you’ve stumbled onto this website by accident and have somehow been unable to pick up on the obvious, we here at the Cavalcade love a bad movie.  In fact, we meet every month to just rip a movie apart for four hours.  It’s surprisingly cathartic.  In 2009, when director Michael Bay unleashed the cinematic equivalent of the baby from Eraserhead (1977) known as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (RotF), we started chomping at the bit for the third installment.  The third movie in any Sci-Fi/Fantasy series is always the worst and considering just how awful RotF was, DotM would probably be the worst movie since Ed Wood conned his way onto a film set.  So you can imagine our surprise when we report that DotM is actually….good?

Years have past since the events of RotF and the Autobots and Sam (Shia Labeouf) are busy trying to make their way in the world.   However, since something has to happen or there is no movie (and even worse, no merchandising rights) the Decepticons start playing their old tricks again, revealing a secret withheld from the Autobots.  As it turns out, the entire space race was actually to find a crashed Autobot ship on the moon; as opposed to the betterment of mankind (and the crushing of Communism).  This sets off a chain of events that could legitimately end world.  I cannot go into further details for fear of revealing spoilers as there is so much plot in this movie.

If you’ve just finished laughing hysterically, I will say it again: there is an actual plot in a Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay.  I would not have believed it had I not seen it myself; but I did and I do.  Granted, it is a “We have to prevent DOOM!” plot, but it is solid. A leads to B, which in turn leads to C-as opposed to RotF: wherein A lead to B lead to HIDEOUS RACISM and testicle jokes.  It is almost as if Bay and the writers watched RotF, made notes as to where they went wrong and did the exact opposite for DotM.  This includes keeping the story moving forward at all times, explaining what the hell is going on, presenting the Transformers as actual characters, balancing the action and the talking, and cutting any and all superfluous characters.

This leads into an even scarier admission: I even enjoyed the humans in this film.  Whereas in the previous installments everyone was basically a caricature, here they are characters.  Sam Witwicky is dealing with trying to get his first job out of college, and speaking as someone looking for work in this economy, I can identify with this character.  Bay gives every character on screen something real to do that advances the story, even the previously annoying Wheelie and Brains.

Make no mistake: this is still a Michael Bay film.  There are more than enough explosions, boobs, slow motion, low angles, and military advertising for the film to meet Mr. Bay’s demands that “everything be awesome!”  However, he also decided to make his most solid picture since The Rock (1996), and for that we reluctantly thank him for making a movie that we will only be able to make fun of half as much as we had hoped.