In the bombastic, pointless, endless and preordained blockbuster that is “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” there’s a scene early on where Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager does his “American Pickers” thing in a shuttered old movie house where the marquee reads, “Thanks for 79 great years!”
The crabby old-timer who used to run the theater grouses to Cade about the current state of cinema. “Sequels and remakes — bunch of crap.” He indicates a poster for Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado” and says, “I liked this one.”
I would have laughed, except I knew I was in for about 2 1/2 hours of giant talking robots fighting each other in the fourth entry of a multibillion-dollar franchise based on a toy line from the 1980s.
It’s no surprise “Transformers 4” racked up $100 million domestically in its opening weekend while garnering a pathetic 5 percent “Fresh” rating among Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes. That doesn’t mean critics are out of step with the public; it just means we loathe these movies, and some moviegoers know they’re in for an evening of mindless, soulless, visually appealing and ridiculous action, and they’re OK with that. For a certain percentage of moviegoers, all they’re looking for is escapism.
We’re at the halfway point of the year, and while there’s been no shortage of clunky garbage such as “T4,” hardly a week has gone by without the release of something worth seeing — even though many of those films played in far fewer theaters (or were released straight to video on demand) than the studio blockbusters.
The mid-term report card for 2014:
— Just about everyone hated it but me
The clear winner is “Transcendence.” Yes, it was loopy and ethereal and audacious, but I loved Johnny Depp’s from-the-grave virtual reality performance, and the visuals were stunning. I still think it’s a mind-blowing trip, and I hope it finds a second life on home video.
— Guaranteed Oscar nominee
Three words: “The Lego Movie.” I caught up with it recently and was dazzled by the pop art colors, the wonderful voice work and the multi-level storyline.
— Woody Allen award for casting hot babes as the love interests of ordinary guys
It’s a tie!
In “Chef,” Jon Favreau’s ex-wife is Sofia Vergara. And Scarlett Johansson plays the restaurant hostess with a crush on him.
In “Fading Gigolo,” Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone pay to hook up with John Turturro.
— Most entertaining action sequence
In “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” when Quicksilver does his thing in the prison breakout sequence, no matter what your age, you feel like a kid rediscovering the magic of movies. It’s an exhilarating, brilliantly executed piece of moviemaking.
— Best time-traveling dental work
Another tie! In both “Son of God” and “Noah,” the main characters have spectacularly white, perfect rows of teeth. It’s a miracle!
— Best performance by an actress
Shailene Woodley is heartbreaking, funny, smart, authentic and utterly natural in “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s worthy of an Oscar nomination.
— Best performance by an actor
Tom Hardy is literally inside an SUV, talking on the phone, for 99 percent of “Locke,” and it’s one of the most transfixing performances in recent memory.
— Trend that’s totally played out
The “secret scene” after the closing credits of every superhero movie. It’s not special if you do it all the time.
— Most entertaining comment about one of my reviews
A reader said he hadn’t actually seen “Noah,” but he still thought my review was blasphemous and he demanded I issue a full retraction. Yes, because that’s exactly how this works. You don’t see a movie, you hate my review of the movie, and I’ll take back the whole thing. Also, if you flap your arms and wish real hard, you can fly!
— Worst three movies of the year so far
“Blended” with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore was an infantile, hokey piece of giraffe droppings. “Winter’s Tale” was a migraine-inducing, utterly bizarre time-traveling love story that failed on every level. And “The Other Woman” treated its female characters and the audience with contempt.
— Best three movies of the year so far
“Under the Skin,” Jonathan Glazer’s challenging, artistically ambitious, polarizing and beautifully haunting alien-man fable; “Locke,” with Tom Hardy as a man whose life is forever changed by the decisions and phone calls he makes on a long drive; and “The Fault in Our Stars,” with that brilliant performance by Shailene Woodley in a film that really gets and respects young love.