Thu Oct 06 2016 21:51 Reviews Of Old Science Fiction Anthologies: 1972:
Just finished Donald A. Wollheim Presents The 1972 Annual World's Best SF, an old SF anthology with one of those funky 1970s Yves Tanguy-esque cover paintings, obtained, I believe, through Jed Hartman. While it's fresh in my mind I wanted to take note of my favorite stories from the book. If nothing else, it's sometimes useful for me to go back and remember stories that I really liked.
As you'd expect from a year's-best anthology all the stories in this book are pretty good by 1972 standards. I'd say the champion is probably "Real-Time World" by Christopher Priest, which is weird in a way I found really interesting. Has a PKD-like plot but written in a different style. Honorable mention to Joanna Russ's "Gleepsite", which is weird in almost the same way, and a lot shorter. R. A. Lafferty's "All Pieces of A River Shore" was my favorite story in the book all the way up to the last paragraph, which enraged me to the point that I've bumped it down to third place.
Runners-up: Paul Anderson's "A Little Knowledge" was slight but really fun to read. Larry Niven's "The Fourth Profession" (Hugo nominee!) combined the superb inventiveness characteristic of the very best SF with a very 1972 conception of the range of acceptable human behavior. The introduction to "The Fourth Profession" mentioned it was originally published in a Samuel Delany anthology series called Quark, which looks like it's got a lot of good stuff.
Now that I've started writing all this down, I'll conclude by mentioning that I recently read the September/October 2011 F&SF and my favorite story was "Aisle 1047", Jon Armstrong's goofy story of brand warfare.
Sat Oct 01 2016 22:19 September Film Roundup:
Ah, September, the month of cinematic disappointment. Wake me up when September ends. What's that you say? Well, just gimme like five more minutes.
- The Seven Samurai (1954): Okay, I've learned my lesson. No more Kurosawa films that take place prior to the Meiji Restoration. I think I've now seen all the big ones and although this one is clearly the best of the lot, it couldn't hold my attention for three hours. Some good scenes, but way too slow for me, and minus points for the blah romance subplot.
- Mikey and Nicky (1976): If you're like me, nothing I can say will talk you out of seeing an Elaine May crime drama starring Peter Falk, but a used DVD of this movie goes for a hundred fifty bucks, and what do you get? A pretty normal 1970s dramedy. I saw Mikey and Nicky at Metrograph for $15, a significant savings, and I don't regret spending the money, but it's the least good Elaine May movie I've seen.
Is it funny? Kind of. Is it awkward? Definitely. Does everything go wrong? Absolutely. It's interesting to see a woman's take on the 1970s small-time crooks immortalized by male directors like Sidney Lumet. But this isn't even May's best "Person A is person B's friend but also trying to kill them" movie. (That's A New Leaf.) It's the kind of movie that other people like more than I do.
There's only one Elaine May movie that I haven't seen (The Heartbreak Kid, DVD also $150 used) so I'll only have one more chance to say this in Film Roundup: The fact that May is still in movie jail over Ishtar is one of the great injustices of the film industry, especially because Ishtar is a really good, really funny movie.
- I saw a number of old Vitaphone shorts at Film Forum, but they were nothing to write blog about. However, there was also a really interesting talk from Alejandra Espasande, an archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, with a (kind of too long) clip show afterwards.
One of our New York traditions is a variety/clip show called "Kevin Geeks Out". We don't go very often because it starts at 9PM on Thursday in Brooklyn, but host Kevin Maher makes it a fun time with guests, games, etc.
As you might imagine, "Kevin Geeks Out" has a certain attitude towards the unlicensed projection of short motion picture clips in an intimate but definitely commercial setting, and the attitude of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is... at the other end of the spectrum. However, the two clip shows were very similar in tone. Where Kevin Maher might have told the story of the infiltration of vaudeville performers into Hollywood via appropriate clips taken from... various sources, Alejandra Espasande told the story through ephemera from the collection she manages: PSAs, newsreels, and especially movie trailers.
The Academy has a collection of about 65,000 film trailers, most of which came from a single dealer's collection. The most interesting bit of the evening was Espasande's remark that this dealer did a lot of business with people who were making documentaries, because it was easy to get movie footage via the movie's trailer, and almost impossible to get it from the movie itself!
She didn't go into detail on this, and there was no Q&A, so I have only speculation to go on. But I could see this making sense in the pre-1972 era, when copyright had to be registered and film collectors were underground. The studio wouldn't bother to copyright trailers, so they (and the footage within) would be public domain. However, this authoratative-seeming web page says:
A scene from a movie that also appears in a coming-attraction trailer can be regarded as enjoying the copyright protection of the movie, in cases where (as is common) the movie was copyrighted but the coming-attraction trailer was not.
And yet, this equally authoratative-seeming page says:
Many of these trailers also contained material that appeared to be from the movie but was actually shot directly for the trailer. That material, since it did not contain a copyright notice, would also fall into the public domain.
Your honor, IANAL. The defense rests.
- Speaking of unauthorized screenings, this month the Television Spotlight focuses on something that never aired on television: the 1995 pilot for the Robert Altman/Gary Trudeau collaboration "Killer App". I have no idea why we thought this would make a good introduction for me to the world of Robert Altman. It feels a lot like a Aaron Sorkin joint (or mushroom, I guess). There's the ensemble cast, the snappy dialogue, the interest in work and the workplace. But it's not a ripoff--this was made the same year as The American President, and Altman does this stuff all the time (or so I hear).
By 1990s television standards, this is an incredibly accurate look at the tech industry. The triumph, the entitlement, the douchiness, the desperation... it's all there. All the technobabble makes sense. It's really impressive. The only unrealistic element is the far-too-intelligent personal assistant AI. There's your product, folks! Put that thing on a 3 1/2" floppy and sell it! The spam filter alone is a decade ahead of its time!
I could point out other flaws but it's a pretty fun 50 minutes and the point is moot because those flaws ensured it didn't make it to series. Check it out--it's
Thu Sep 01 2016 23:45 August Film Roundup:
August was a month with a lot of writing and relatively little film-watching, but I've got a number of good selections for you.
- Three Days of the Condor (1975): Really solid Watergate-era thriller that holds up very well except for a certain Watergate-era naivete at the end; and the horrible, squicky, unrealistic romance subplot, which nearly ruins it. It's awful! A lot of 1970s films have squicky romance subplots, and you know I don't do this for everything, but I'm going to blame it on the proverbial male gaze. Like, compare this movie to A New Leaf (1971), a hilarious romcom about a man's attempt to romance/murder an innocent bystander. It's squicky and it works fine, it's funny and it serves the purposes of the movie, because the creepy dude isn't the hero. My point is a) there are movies that age well in this respect, even in the 1970s and b) I don't think it's a coincidence that A New Leaf is directed by a woman.
Anyway, this film has that one big problem but if that's not a deal-breaker for you, it's pretty exciting.
- The Last Arcade (2016): Documentary about a video arcade in Manhattan started out interesting like a normal documentary about something with a lot of history. Then the arcade shut down, the documentary started skipping forward in time to show what happens to the space and the people, and it got really interesting. There's a moment where the film sets up an easy villain, but the truth is more complicated than that framing will allow. Good stuff.
- The Wild Bunch (1969): This movie was a long watch for me since I think it makes its point in the first (awesome, disturbing, non-ASPCA-compliant) scene. There are some good bits afterwards but it never made it back to that level for me. Is it possible to get a full theatrical release for a fifteen-minute film? Asking for a friend.
- In & Out (1997): Sumana watched this movie in her youth and wanted me to see it. It's... all right? There were some good jokes. The fourth-wall-breaking motivational tape was a classic. We had an interesting discussion afterwards about how stereotypes have changed since 1997, and whether Tom Selleck's character really could have travelled from LA to the middle of Indiana in eight hours. It's an open question! Does he bring a camera crew, or does he hire local stringers? Does he have to finish the Oscars telecast before he can leave, or is he just there for the red carpet preshow?
Sorry to spoil the ending, but this film ends with the same trick used in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Misleading cinematography implies that you are watching two dudes about to get married, but no, that could never happen, it's just a pleasant/disturbing dream.
- Waiting (2015): What a sad movie. Pressed all my buttons. Variety would call it a "weepie". Then I couldn't call Sumana afterwards because she was asleep in a different time zone. Don't be like me! Watch Waiting responsibly, with someone you love.
I think this was the first Indian movie I've seen with serious curse words. Lots of swearing in this one. And waiting.
- Big Trouble in Little China (1986): If I was a movie director... I'd make lousy movies because I never went to film school. But my life had gone differently and I was now known as a good director, I'd like to be compared to John Carpenter. His films are full of love of genre, over-the-top action, and goofy practical effects. He's not as sophisticated as, say, Edgar Wright, but I'm not known for my sophistication either.
In my hypothetical life I'd like to be remembered for a They Live or The Thing but I'd settle for a Big Trouble in Little China. Mashing up American-style and Chinese-style action movies is a great idea, and although this movie doesn't rise to the comedy-horror level of a Ghostbusters or a Gremlins, it's a really fun experience. I didn't even have to use my 1980s racism cringe. I gotta say it was a good movie.
IMDB trivia confirms my suspicion that the first scene of this movie was added due to studio interference. It ruins the pacing of the movie, frames Kurt Russell as the hero when he's actually the sidekick, generally doesn't make sense, and you should just skip to the second scene. Also according to IMDB trivia, "At one point, the film was going to be a sequel to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension." Believable!
- Inquiring Nuns (1968): Inquiring nuns want to know! An adorable film about the nature of happiness and the nature of interviews. The two nuns are super engaging, trustworthy and effective in drawing out their interview subjects, but their presence heightens the artificiality of the experience to the point that I often wondered if the subjects were putting on a performance rather than seriously engaging with the question. Like the guy who ends up reciting a sappy poem he wrote. Gimme a break. Those nuns are too polite to give you the tough love you need!
Strong recommend overall. Includes vintage footage of the Mathematica exhibit. Don't miss the riveting scene where the two nuns interview another nun!
- This month let's shine the Television Spotlight on the 80s classic Macgyver. I'm talking about the original, not the reboot (which we haven't seen but the trailer doesn't look good). We've been watching a bit, focusing on the earlier seasons. It's a cheesy, cheesy show, but the character is fun and I have a hypothesis that Macgyver is the climax of 80s TV action.
See, Macgyver the character lives a thrill-a-minute life of danger, but he hates guns and never engages in gunplay. This is a formula designed for maximum broadcast-friendly excitement. You can't show someone getting shot in the face, but you can show someone being shot at and missed. And you can show as many explosions as you want: TV explosions throw everyone clear, so no one gets hurt and it doesn't count as violence. Now you got your formula: people shoot at Macgyver, he makes a bomb out of a car battery and toothpaste; there's a huge explosion, everyone goes home happy.
The AV Club's guide to Macgyver has been very helpful, though I think the author of that guide likes Murdoc way too much. It's not that Murdoc isn't a good villain, it's that he's someone else's villain. He's the Joker. The Joker puts a lot of effort into his capers. He needs to fight a super-square like Batman, someone with a lot of equipment and a plan for every contigency. Macgyver doesn't have a plan! He's the anti-Batman. It's like the Joker taking on Bugs Bunny. Bugs would just stretch out of the handcuffs and walk away. Anyway, there's a lot of good stuff in Macgyver as well as many cornily enjoyable takes on standard TV action plots.
Tue Aug 02 2016 19:07 July Film Roundup:
Rising global temperatures, political documentary series, and
blockbusters in franchises I care about ensure that I spend a lot of
time in air-conditioned theaters this summer. The result is a Film
Roundup for the ages! Specifically, ages 13 and up. (Sorry—COPPA
- Armageddon (1998): The film so bad it got its own Film Roundup Special.
- Blood Simple (1984): Looking back this movie feels like a
dry run for Fargo, but on its own terms it's really good, sort
of a twisted version of "Gift of the Magi". Saw it with Sarah and we
both enjoyed it a lot. Keeps the tension going to the penultimate
shot! Then you get one shot of resolution and leave the theater a
- Kung Fu Hustle (2004): Fun action film that keeps the
violence cartoonish to the point of showing people with Road
Runner-type rotating legs. It sure beats The Mermaid, although
no one thing was as funny as the police station scene in The
That said, I'm not really clear on who hustled whom or what the
hustle was. Perhaps I, the audience member, have been hustled?
- The Sound of a Flower (2015): Inspiring Korean drama of a
woman pansori performer who just wants to portray a Ghostbuster on
stage, but the rules of nineteenth-century Korean opera require that
Ghostbuster roles (plus all other roles) go to men. Will her
high-pitched singing break the glass [ceiling]? It's basically a
sports movie, so yes.
This was the consensus Asian Film Festival choice between me,
Sumana, and one of her friends; and as often happens with consensus
picks we were all kind of let down. Pansori is a genre that's not that
interesting to me, and although I'm not qualified to judge, according
to the programmer of the film festival, star Suzy Bae's pansori
singing isn't great.
- Antigone (2016): We made an unprecedented third excursion to a live theater event. This was a local theater production and it wasn't great. I'm interested in seeing other things in the same space, because it's relatively convenient and incredibly cheap compared to other theater options in New York.
- Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (2016): I liked
this documentary a lot because I came into the movie knowing
absolutely nothing about Norman Lear, and
learning about him from a short documentary was a lot more
entertaining than learning the same facts from Wikipedia.
Like, just as an example, Norman Lear wasn't just a successful TV
guy. At one point he was the producer of five of the top ten network
shows. He plowed his millions right back into television, producing a
special called "I Love Freedom" to push back against the religious
right, a special which featured Robin Williams playing the American
flag. He bought a copy of the Declaration of Independence and sent it
on a road trip in an attempt to inoculate people against
anti-American authoritarianism. And in the interviews he really opens
up and talks candidly about the darkest parts of himself. Compare
someone like Mel Brooks, who shows up in this movie and spends most of
his scene telling one really long joke. Really interesting show.
- Bob Roberts (1992): Tim Robbins film suffers from all the
problems you'd imagine from a political mockumentary made by a
stereotypical Hollywood liberal who writes, directs, stars and performs the folk song parodies. Seriously, watch Tanner '88 (below)
instead. Giancarlo Esposito does a good job with what he's
given. Sumana and I agree there there are several minutes of footage
after what really should be the last, creepy shot of the movie.
- Ghostbusters (2016): Really solid. I prefer the
worldbuilding in the original, but I find 2016's escalating gags
funnier than 1984's more situational humor. No reason you can't have
both. In fact, have them
Unlike a lot of modern action movies (see Star Trek: Beyond:
below), I could follow the action scenes even when they got
complicated. And looking forward, the end of this film gives me confidence the
sequel will avoid the
worst problem with Ghostbusters II (1989).
- Caucus (2013): This documentary about the 2012 Iowa
caucuses does what Bob Roberts was too self-righteous to do:
present a complex portrait of a man whose politics are awful (here,
Rick Santorum). This film is full of people you will hopefully never
have to care about, humiliating themselves to no purpose, but Santorum
is the standout.
He's got a couple great scenes, but the one that sticks out in my
mind has a frustrated Iowan throwing a big blob of generalized
resentment at Santorum, and he listens and sympathizes and probes
around the conspiracy theory for some normal conservative
sentiments he can agree with. It's a sign of how low the bar has been
moved since 2012, but I found that really touching. Rick Santorum
does the basic job of a politician.
- Chicago (2016): A fourth live theater production! We saw the all-female Takurazuka production. Sumana likes
Chicago and she also likes it when women play roles that are
the eternal birthright of men, so we dressed up (slightly) and headed
to Lincoln Center, where we we ran into our friends Mirabai and Kate,
also there to see Chicago! A pleasant surprise.
I'd never seen Chicago before, so seeing it in Japanese was
a nice stretch. Overall I would rate the musical as "okay". After the
show Takurazuka did a medley of their greatest hits, with elaborate
costumes and cross-dressing galore. As usual when we go out to a
live theater event, I'm unhappy with the cost, but Takurazuka did give
me the feeling of seeing something that I'd never be able to
experience any other way, so I'm glad we went.
Mirabai, a big Chicago fan, was not impressed by my trivia
tidbit: that according to IMDB ratings Chicago was the
155th-best movie of 2002, the worst performance of any Best
Picture winner. Maybe you'll be impressed! Who knows? Actually I'm a
little suspicious of this number; I did some spot checks on some well-known 2002 movies and the only
one I saw with a higher rating than Chicago was The
- Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004): Super enjoyable
documentary of the Shirley Chisholm campaign. Unlike most long-shot
presidential candidates, Chisholm had a good plan: to get some
delegates and use them as leverage to affect the party
platform. It's the plan Bernie Sanders started out and ended up
This is a fascinating film, partly due to the inclusion of tons of
candid footage from two contemporaneous films where people heard about
the Chisholm campaign and thought "I must follow them around!" but
never actually released a film. Caucus gives you the 'real'
candidates by showing the abrasive effect on their emotional defenses
of a grueling sequence of public events. These unfinished films
achieve 'reality' by going right into Chisholm's Congressional office
and convention hotel room. It helps that she's the same person in
private as in public. The scene where Chisholm is watching the
convention on TV, she picks up the phone and tells her delegates to
vote how they want—it's the kind of moment that's often
dramatized but that documentaries rarely have the camera running to
show you for real.
Director Shola Lynch showed up for a Q&A afterwards and mentioned
some fun trivia about Shirley Chisholm's initial congressional run, plus what
happened in 2004 when she took the film to Chisholm's Florida home to
screen it for her. Chisholm originally hadn't wanted to watch the
movie, didn't even have a VCR, but now she was sitting, watching, not
saying anything, and Lynch was getting really nervous, until a friend
called Chisholm's phone and she went off to answer it. Lynch overheard
(paraphrase of a paraphrase): "No, I'm busy! We're going to be late!
We're going to be late to the Early Bird Special! I'm watching the
most incredible film!"
- Star Trek: Beyond (2016): I'm not going to say "Trek is
back!" but... people who understand Trek are in charge again. There's
a decent story here, and I respect the fake-out where the villain from
a bad Trek movie (Ru'afo) turned out to be the villain from a good
Trek movie (Colonel West).
The Simon Pegg script does a lot to save this movie, at the cost of
making Scotty's relationship with Keenser ever weirder. Lots of cool
spaceship grunge—Star Trek finally stealing the best
thing about Star Wars. Nice character moments between Spock and
McCoy, some cleverness during the impossible-to-follow action
scenes. We old-school fans have to take our enjoyment where we can,
Oh yeah, I saw this movie in 3D (not my choice) and I totally
forgot about it the whole time I was writing this review, until just
now. It felt like a normal 2D movie. Don't know what that says about me
or the movie.
- And finally, it's time to shine the Television Spotlight on the
most authentic political mockumentary, Tanner '88 (1988). What
better way to introduce me to Robert Altman's work than to watch this
Garry Trudeau collaboration? It occupies the place where you'll find a
lot of middle-highbrow cinema, a space that used to baffle me, where
the attitude is humorous but there's not a lot of jokes per
se. Overall recommended, partly for entertainment value, partly for
its influence, partly for sheer cleverness.
Behind-the-scenes interview says that Altman had such a great time
doing Tanner '88 that he wanted to keep it going after Tanner's
inevitable loss. This is an attitude shared by many real presidential
candidates, but the amazing DNC episode is the highlight of the series
and it's good that HBO pulled the plug afterwards because you can
already feel it start to go downhill.
Sun Jul 10 2016 08:50 Film roundup Special #2:
- Armageddon (1998): The first hate-watch in Film Roundup history! I saw this movie when it came out, in a "friend has an extra ticket" scenario, and like the other movies I saw for free while in college (Very Bad Things, Mars Attacks!, The Phantom Menace), it's awful. But unlike those other movies, people didn't seem to notice that Armageddon was bad! It was the top-grossing film of 1998! It's in the Criterion Collection! (Albeit more as a "representative sample" pick than a "good movie" pick.) Where I saw a uniquely awful film, others saw only a cheesy summer blockbuster.
At the time, my hatred for Armageddon focused mainly on the many, many plot holes and scientific errors in the film. But that's a pretty superficial way to look at a movie. Silent Running has huge plot holes and it's a great sci-fi movie. When I saw Armageddon was showing at the museum, I knew I had to watch it again, eighteen years later, with more mature eyes, to try and see deep into the horror.
Well, it's still bad, and the plot holes and scientific errors are still at the core of its badness. The fundamental problem—pointed out by Ben Affleck during the filming of the movie—is that it would be easier to train astronauts to operate a drill than to train oil rig workers to operate in microgravity. This movie is two and a half hours long, and a lot of that time is devoted to making excuses for why, no, it makes more sense to bring in the oil rig workers.
A big part of this work is establishing that there will be normal Earth gravity throughout this movie. This is because it's 1998 and they can't shoot the whole film on a wire like Gravity, and the sets are too large to pull an Apollo 13. But this technological limitation also makes the plot semi-possible, because Earth gravity negates most of the skill differential between a trained astronaut and a trained oil rig operator.
The one good twist in this movie makes all this unsavory exposition pay off. It's about two hours in and, after seeing one space scene after another clearly shot in Earth gravity, you've forgotten that these people are supposed to be on an asteroid and not on a cheap sound stage. Then a character remembers that, despite appearances, the story has them in a low-gravity environment, and they can exploit this fact to get out of a tight spot. Eureka!
Another big part of the necessary work is introducing four more characters to a cast that's already got way too many characters, because not even Michael Bay can convince an audience that experience on an oil rig translates to skill in piloting space shuttles. So they have to bring in some astronauts after all. It's okay, though, these are the pilots, so they're Air Force jocks, not loathsome NASA nerds.
'Cause this movie hates nerds. Our heroes are nice people, by blockbuster standards, but they're all jocks, except for Rockhound, the creepy Steve Buscemi nerd, and Truman, who was a jock before a tragic accident left him settling for nerddom. I'm sure there's a good movie somewhere that hates nerds, but a) filmmaking is a technically sophisticated activity that demands precision, so on some level all directors are nerds, and b) it's a circle-squaring operation to celebrate a twentieth-century space program while hating on the nerds who build the hardware and keep everything running. In the far future when spacecraft are toys, like muscle cars, you can do it, but not in 1998. I mean, we tried it! NASA was on board and everything. A ton of money was poured into the concept. And we ended up with Armageddon. I see Interstellar (2015) as an attempt to fix this problem, but it swings too far in the other direction and veers into uncritical nerd worship.
The action scenes in Armageddon are illegible. There's a lot of hardware on screen but the effects haven't aged well. The cuts are too fast and there are too many characters. (For much of the movie the characters are split into two groups that don't interact but are filmed on the same sets!) That's why most of the action scenes are accompanied by frequent cuts to a map or readout, or accompanied by shouted measurements, just so we can understand what the hell is going on. It's like hearing "rising tension... rising tension!... moment of maximum tension!... whew, everything's fine!".
So, it's a bad movie, but the world is full of bad movies. What's special about this one? Something dark and horrifying about Armageddon's badness made me willing to watch it again—something I rarely do even to good movies—to figure out why exactly I hate it. Then I read the little flier they hand out at museum showings, and it clicked into place.
Here's the essay the museum chose for Armageddon. It's by Jeanine Basinger, who taught film to Michael Bay at Wesleyan. Just as Armageddon spends a lot of time trying to convince you that its plan is a good idea, this essay spends a lot of time trying to convince you that Michael Bay is a smart guy. His prize-winning student film "told its story clearly, but in a highly nonverbal manner. Bay was ahead of his age group, but he was also ahead of his time. He still is."
[Armageddon] is never confusing, never boring, and never less than a brilliant mixture of what movies are supposed to do: tell a good story, depict characters through active events, invoke an emotional response, and entertain simply and directly, without pretense.
That was written in 1999. Now it's 2016 and according to IMDB trivia many of the participants in Armageddon have backed off or disowned it. Ben Affleck mocks the movie in his DVD commentary. Michael Bay has called Armageddon his worst film, although I don't know if he did this before or after Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Billy Bob Thornton, Armageddon's most stalwart defender, is quoted as saying "It's not THAT bad..."
When reading that essay I was transported back, not to 1998, but to 2004. Because that essay reads like a National Review article from a Yale history professor who taught George W. Bush. That's the missing key. Armageddon is uniquely horrible because it serves as a prophetic microcosm of the forthcoming Bush administration.
It begins with the Twin Towers being destroyed. An incoherent response is carried out in a laughably incompetent way. The poindexters who think they know better than the tough-talking action hero get their comeuppance. After a brief period of triumphant flag-waving, the whole thing turns out to have been a huge disaster, and everyone involved backs away from it or pretends it didn't happen. The result is used as an object lesson in how not to do things. The best available defenses are "It's not THAT bad..." and "simply and directly, without pretense."
Michael Bay is absolutely a smart guy, but you don't have to be stupid to make a bad movie. I do think Armageddon belongs in the Criterion collection, but it should be experienced the way I've experienced it: initial, superficial hatred; followed by the realization that something can be an obvious disaster in the making, and happen anyway, to cheers and applause; then the sad hollow satisfaction of being proven right.
Because I'm all about celebrating the cinema, I'll close with the good things about Armageddon. The initial narration and the first scene are pretty exciting—Gravity ripped them off, so you know they're good. One joke made me laugh (Rockhound's parting shot to the loan shark). And finally, Steve Buscemi couldn't save the movie Armageddon, but when the actual 9/11 happened the former firefighter went back to his Little Italy firehouse and put in several days of volunteer work. The guy's a mensch.