After hits like Bad Boys and The Rock, as well as failures like The Island and Pearl Harbor, we all know that Michael Bay is better than any director alive at blowing things up and in the motion picture business this not an ignoble pursuit. What he can’t pull off are other important things like suspense, comedy or drama. There’s no doubt that it takes a special talent to sit in a room with the effects bods and say “sink that aircraft carrier – I’ll be back after lunch to see how you are getting on” but it isn’t really filmmaking in it’s purest sense.
Which bring us to his latest, monumental, effort, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in which a tiny sliver of the shiny magic cube from the first film is discovered by Shia LaBoeuf while he’s on his way to college. Somehow its magicky goodness rubs off on him, fills his mind with symbols, gives him special mental powers and alerts the remaining Decepticons up in space to its existence. Perhaps they could use it to restart their war with the Autobots, erase the human race and steal the power of the sun for themselves?
So they start blowing things up, the Autobots blow other things up and the US Military blows up most of what’s left. Pitched at a target market composed of thirteen-year-old boys (and those that wish they still were), this Transformers hovers comfortably between poor taste and outright objectionable content and yet it’s stupid juvenile energy is almost forgivable. Until I remember the comedy robots with the ghetto “blaccents” and the midget Egyptian border guard – it is riddled with type of cheap racism that would have been shot down by a director with principles.
Bride Flight is, evidently, one of the most expensive Dutch movies of all time and most of the budget looks like it was left behind in New Zealand. Which is nice. Set in those far off days when we used to hold parades to welcome immigrants to this country, this film focuses on a small group who arrived in Christchurch in 1953 and set out for exotic Greymouth (among other places) to start a new life among the ferns.
Featuring some lovely performances, swelling romance and a twist or two that befits a grand family saga, the film should impress all but the most churlish of New Zealand audiences. Geographically challenged (any prospective Dutch tourists to New Zealand expecting to see those flourishing pinot noir vineyards in the hills outside Wellington are destined for disappointment) but the tone and the production design are fine, Bride Flight is a satisfying Sunday morning at the pictures.
Another history lesson, though one that has arrived either too late or too early depending on your point of view, is Oliver Stone’s biography of the most recent US President: W. A superb cast brings the intellectual horrors of the last eight years vividly to life (Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney and Thandie Newton as Condi are particularly noteworthy) and Stone (perhaps aware of the parallels with his own somewhat tarnished history of addiction and wild-living) offers a nuanced and forgiving portrait of a man who history will judge as the worst. President. ever.
In present day New York, two 4th Grade school teachers form an unlikely friendship in Arranged, an insipid femme-friendly drama about women from different cultures relating to each other and the world outside. Rochel (Zoe Lister Jones) is an orthodox jew and her colleague Nasira (Francis Benhamou) is a muslim. They are both under pressure at home to submit to arranged betrothals – and neither is particularly happy about the options on offer.
Sadly, a good premise is delivered in overly simplistic fashion, as if the film is aimed at the 10-year-olds the two women teach.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 1 July, 2009.
Nature of conflict: Arranged is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work and consulting for now and then.
Notes on screening conditions: I gave Transformers the benefit of every doubt by watching it at a public screening at the Embassy where it presented very favourably, if a little soft in the focus. Bride Flight was in the delightful new Cinema 4 at the Lighthouse in Petone where one is serenaded by bird song instead of pre-show music. Lovely. W. was in the smallest Lighthouse auditorium, Cinema 3, and Arranged was a watermarked DVD courtesy of the distributor.