Transformers: Dark of the Moon had the best teaser trailer of the year: a brilliantly suspenseful recreation of the first Moon landing and the Apollo 11 crew’s discovery of a crashed alien spacecraft on the hidden side. It was two and a half minutes of superb cinema and I allowed myself a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this third Transformers movie might not be the total disaster that the other two have been.
Well, I have been to the Dark Side now and can report that all that hope was tragically misplaced. Transformers 3 is as stupid and out of control as all the others. Even considering the franchise’s negligible commitment to its own tortured internal logic the film is an utter shambles.
Since Revenge of the Fallen (and the big battle at the pyramids) the Autobots have been taken under the wing of Uncle Sam. Their enemies, the Decepticons, have been defeated and now they help keep the peace here on Earth. It turns out that mysterious moon discovery was also from the Autobot home world of Cybertron and we have inexplicably kept it a secret from our new giant metal buddies even though they are our mates. Autobot leader Optimus Prime gets all huffy about it but they bring the package back anyway only to discover that the spaceship contains Prime’s old mate Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) who escaped Cybertron with a time travel technology that could (inexplicably) save their planet and their species.
Meanwhile, inexplicably, Megatron and his Decepticon buddies are nursing their wounds in the Kalahari Desert waiting for the opportunity to strike back and the human hero of the first two films, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) is unemployed but (inexplicably) in a relationship with a hot English diplomat played by the talentless Rosie Huntington-Whitely.
The last Transformers movie suffered greatly from the effects of the writers’ strike and this one at least gives the impression that someone sat a typewriter for more than 40 minutes but director Michael Bay simply has no control, no restraint, so it’s just too full of stuff. Apple’s Steve Jobs once said that we are defined by what we say “no” to. Bay can’t say “no” to anything. A typical example: there’s a delightful nod to Mr. Nimoy and his better-known franchise early in the film but near the end the Star Trek link is hammered home in a terribly unsubtle way — just in case you DIDN’T GET IT THE FIRST TIME.
In case you think I’m just a hater there a few of reasons why watching T:DOTM wasn’t a complete waste of time — there are some lovely shots of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre; the 3D is a great advert for the technology and … no, that’s it, I’m out.
While film lovers have been poring over the Festival brochure (all over town by now) and wondering how to play the “will it come back” lottery, one of last year’s treasures has finally done just that — come back. Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist is an utterly charming animated film about a French stage magician who travels further and further north in search of gigs, eventually finding himself in Scotland with a young companion who believes his magic is real.
Almost completely wordless yet full of wit, The Illusionist is a magical 80 minutes in the cinema. From an unproduced original script by the legend Jacques Tati, Chomet has honoured not just the master but also his adopted home city of Edinburgh.
Fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo might be interested to see The Girl herself, Noomi Rapace, in a more down to earth Swedish drama called Beyond which is playing at a few locations around town. Rapace plays a mother of two who is surprised to receive a phone call from her own dying mother — surprised because she hasn’t talked to her for years. Successfully ignoring the unwelcome approach she is therefore ropeable when she comes home to find her husband packing for a road trip to visit “Grandma”.
Directed by acclaimed actor and Bergman alumni Pernilla August, Beyond should be well-acted and is. It’s a pretty tough watch though, as we back-and-forth between Rapace’s present and her exceedingly difficult childhood with drunken Finn father and doormat mother.
Also a tough watch but for drearily different reasons is Summer Coda, an Aussie indie that fails to register a single sincere moment (at least for the hour that I gave it before giving up in favour of real life). Rachael Taylor (coincidentally from the first Transformers movie) plays Heidi, returning to her Mildura birthplace after the death of her estranged father. She meets a handsome stranger (Alex Dimitriades) on the road and then stops off at his orange grove on her way back. That’s pretty much it for the hour I watched.
Finally, an extremely interesting Czech film called Kawasaki’s Rose, about truth and reconciliation after the fall of communism. Acclaimed psychiatrist Pavel (Martin Huba) is about to get an award for his dissident efforts at bringing down the government but a documentary crew profiling him discovers that he might have a few secrets buried in the Secret Police files. A wee bit contrived but still thought-provoking.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 6 July, 2011.