Doug Dillaman joins Kailey and Dan to do three things — tell us about his feature film Jake which is screening in Auckland at the moment and arrives in Wellington next week; he helps us review the new Transformers: Age of Extinction which may or may not have made it to US$100m in box office on opening weekend; and we chat about the delightful animated French film Ernest and Celestine which finally opens around the country today.
Still hovering around some local cinemas — and the longest-delayed of all my outstanding reviews — Still Mine is a surprisingly effective Canadian drama about an elderly man (James Cromwell, 73 but playing a fit 89) determined to build a new house for his wife (Geneviéve Bujold) before her memory deserts her completely. Cromwell gives his character a softness which belies the usual ornery old dude clichés, even if his stubborn refusal to submit to the building code is the device on which the story hinges. Contains lots of shots of Cromwell’s heroic profile staring off into the New Brunswick distance.
Older people are, paradoxically, the only growing segment of the film audience in New Zealand so there’s often high quality fare around the tempt them. One of the best is the documentary Ping Pong, about competitors (genuine competitors at that) in the World Over 80s Table Tennis Championship in Inner Mongolia. Like any good documentary it assembles a great cast of characters and like all good sports movies it makes full use of the built-in drama of a knock-out tournament. Not just about the restorative power of exercise, it’s also about friendship and adventure. Inspiring, so help me.
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.
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?
Strange as it may seem but reviewers are people too and, like the rest of you ordinary folk, we have blind spots and mine is horror. Back when I was a civilian, I managed to avoid most of the iconic horror movies of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s for reasons (I’m sorry to say) of pure squeamishness. Imagine my, er, surprise then when I discovered that this week had two, possibly even four, horror films in it. Eek.
My only previous exposure to the Friday the 13th catalogue was a grainy pirate video in 1981 (with sound about ten seconds out of synch) so, with few preconceptions, I am pleased to report that the Michael Bay-produced remake is quite entertaining. Silly, of course, but entertaining.
The scene is present day Crystal Lake (scene of the hockey-masked ghoul named Jason’s camp counsellor-offing rampage in the original) and a group of gormless rich college kids are looking for laffs on Jason’s turf. You suspect it won’t end well for any of them and you are right. Director Marcus Nispel made the video for Cher’s “Walking in Memphis” so you can see how he could easily turn his hand to this sort of thing.
Above the proscenium arch at the Embassy theatre, on either side of the screen, there are two flashing red lights. They’ve been there ever since the Return of the King refurb and I thought they were something to do with the security system — motion sensors perhaps — but after watching Michael Bay’s Transformers on Friday night I got the idea that maybe they are eyes, you know, winking at us.
The Embassy as sentient sentinel — protecting us from evil, ready to transform at a moment’s notice into a giant robot with a really deep voice: as a vehicle for justice, its no more preposterous an idea than the muscle cars, hot rods, tanks and 18-wheelers featured in the film and it might explain that feeling of security I get sinking in to the leather seats.
In the film, Earth has become the battleground for two warring races of robots: the good guy Autobots and the not-so-much Decepticons. The cube that is the source of all their power is hidden somewhere here and the only clue is a pair of antique glasses in the possession of horny high school kid Shia LaBoeuf who the Autobots enlist to help. As you might expect with 30 metre tall robots, keeping their presence secret proves challenging and the attention of the authorities (including a very hammy John Turturro) is soon in full force.
Transformers is big and loud and mostly fun but the age of its target audience seems to change from scene to scene and the more-than-casual racism of the characterisations (every non-white character seems to be a buffoon or a coward or both) is a sour note, thankfully rare these days.
Equally white bread, but not quite as insulting, is the latest incarnation of the Nancy Drew stories about the famous teenage girl detective. This time Nancy is played by Julia Roberts’ niece (and creepy Eric’s daughter) Emma and while she’s got a little presence she doesn’t seem to totally know what she’s doing. It’s a fish-out-of-water story as Nancy leaves her small mid-western storybook town for the wilds of Los Angeles and anyone who has ever seen an episode of Scooby-Doo knows what’s going to happen next.
The ubiquitous James McAvoy (Last King of Scotland and Becoming Jane) plays Brian Jackson, a working class boy on his way to Bristol University in 1985, in Starter for 10. Determined to get the most out of the experience he trials for the University Challenge tv quiz team, getting a massive crush on the beautiful but shallow Eve in the process. His two best mates are played by two actors from The History Boys which, as they were set at the same time and much of the music is interchangeable, feels like you are watching a weird alternate universe at times. Recommended, but unchallenging.
Two minor entries from Europe to finish. Eden is a fable about a brilliant but lonely chef who falls for the unattainable waitress at his favourite café: Food porn with a surprisingly ugly twist at the end.
Colin Nutley’s Heartbreak Hotel is about two 40-something divorcées in Stockholm who strike up an unlikely friendship as they try and navigate the world of the newly-single. Heartbreak Hotel itself is the name of the nightclub they go to, a neon cocktail of the worst aspects of the Courtenay-Blair combination on a Wednesday night.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 4 July, 2007 (Eden and Heartbreak Hotel cut for space, Starter for 10 moved to the Picks section for the same reason).