It’s easy to laugh at ageing movie stars. Crumbs, when they make films like The Expendables they actively encourage us to make jokes about creaking joints and dicky hips. But let us pause for a moment and salute the longevity of one of the greatest movie stars there ever was, someone who was headlining box office smash hits when Arnold was still just pumping iron and Bruce was still at High School.
Robert Redford — the “Sundance Kid” — is 76 years old and in his new film, The Company You Keep, he does quite a bit of running around even though you can see he has the slightly uncertain gait of someone whose balance isn’t what it was. He rations out that million dollar smile pretty carefully too, as this is another of his serious politically-aware dramas — couched in the form of a thriller.
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.
Ah, the school holidays. The time when the big cinemas are more excited about the arrival of their jumbo popcorn containers than any of the films they are showing. Your correspondent spent the weekend surrounded by chomping, rustling and slurping fellow citizens so he could bring you this report from the frontline. It was brutal.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid purports to be about middle school and how to survive it but in fact it’s a rather charmless morality tale about being yourself. Little Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) thinks that to be popular he has to be cool but everything he tries turns to disaster while his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) effortlessly transcends his own dorkiness to win over the school. Enough kids have already got a kick out of Diary’s astute mix of life-lessons and gross-out humour that a sequel has already been announced.
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?
This week I’ve had my intelligence insulted by the very best. Steven Spielberg is credited as Executive Producer of Eagle Eye, but if he spent more than one meeting overseeing this crapitude I would be very surprised. Eagle Eye is designed to appeal to cro-magnons who still believe that computers are inherently malevolent self-perpetuating pseudo-organisms and that the US Dept of Defence would invent an all-powerful, surveillance super-computer that you can’t switch off at the wall. And fans of Shia LaBoeuf. Director D. J. Caruso (last year’s Disturbia) is confirmed as a name to avoid and Michael Jackson lookalike Michelle Monaghan has done (and will do) better than this (Gone Baby Gone).
In interviews, Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute in the American “Office”) has admitted that he is behind Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson whenever the choicest scripts are handed out, so what that says about The Rocker (his first leading role) I’m not sure. Wilson plays a Pete Best-like drummer, fired from the band he named (Vesuvius!) just before they shot to stardom in 1988. Twenty years and twenty dead-end jobs later, he gets a shot at redemption playing with his nephew’s high school band. Wilson really doesn’t have enough presence to carry the film but he’s likeable enough and there’s some nice supporting work from Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and the lovely Christina Applegate (who really deserves to be a much bigger star than she is).
One week on from the depressing Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, there’s even more misplaced girl power on display in The House Bunny. Scary Movie star Anna Faris gets to executive produce a vehicle for herself (written by Laurie Craig and Karen McCullah Lutz, the female screenwriting duo responsible for the possibly Nobel Prize-winning Legally Blonde) and with that power comes great responsibility, responsibility that she puts to good use setting back the cause of feminism nearly 40 years.
Almost-Playmate Shelley (Faris), kicked out of Hef’s mansion for being too old becomes sorority house mother to a bunch of “ugly” misfits (including Emma Stone from The Rocker and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s eldest daughter Rumer). It’s the lack of ambition that I find so disheartening, although it did contain my favourite line of the week: “Concentrate on the eyes girls, remember — the eyes are the nipples of the face.”
Roald Dahl’s daughter Lucy is another female screenwriter stuck in cliché hell. Her script for Wild Child could have resulted in passable entertainment, but is let down by poor direction and some odd post-production decisions. Last year’s Nancy Drew, Emma Roberts, plays the fish out of water, Malibu rich-chick, sent away to an English boarding school run by firm-but-fair Natasha Richardson. There she makes friends and enemies and falls in love with handsome Roddy, played by the worst actor I’ve ever seen get his name on a major film: Alex Pettyfer (remember the name, folks).
Most fun of the week can be found in Space Chimps, a boisterous CGI-animated comedy for kids (and those that might find WALL•E a little too emotionally demanding). Ripping a long at a great pace, it has plenty of gags per minute and benefits from having great voice-actors like Patrick Warburton and Kristin Chenoweth involved rather than big name stars slumming it. Recommended.
The Russo-Sino-Co-pro Mongol really deserves to be seen on a giant screen, as befitting the giant landscape and giant story. The first of a proposed trilogy telling the life story of Genghis Khan, this instalment follows the 12th century warlord from his own birth to the birth of an empire spanning half the known world. Uniting the tribes of Mongolia was a brutal business and there’s plenty of CGI blood splashing around as young Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) discovers his destiny.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 1 October 2008.