Latest film reviews by Graham Young and Roz Laws.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D * * *
Cert 12A, 155 mins
Rarely in Hollywood history can a film with so many brilliant things going for it have ended up as such a spectacular misfire.
Even the title won’t really make sense to the brains of non-astronomers, while choosing to see this as a genuine silver screen event movie at Birmingham’s giant IMAX cinema won’t ease the physical pain of the excessive running time.
The central premise – that Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong was sent to the moon to recover an important Autobot artefact from a crashed Cybertronian space ship – is a delicious twist on the conspiracy theorists who like to argue that the moon landings never happened at all.
But that aspect is ignored when Presidents Kennedy and Nixon are respectively featured launching the Apollo programme and then congratulating the astronauts on their success. A crescent Earth viewed from the moon looks truly wondrous.
But the skeletal plot soon falls apart once the rival machines of the Autobots and Decepticons engage in yet more scarcely-fathomable and seemingly never-ending battles.
By now we’ve already discovered that, like so many of today’s graduates, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is struggling to find real work. Ending up in an office run by a brilliant bozo like Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich, ironing on his own excesses like a T-shirt transfer) cannot be good for traditional career prospects.
With Megan Fox’s character Mikaela Banes out of the series, Sam’s girlfriend is now called Carly and played by Plymouth-born, lip-pouting model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – she’s as short on acting talent as she is exceedingly long of leg.
Carly’s every line will leave you cringing, while it’s no surprise that after what seems like hours of mayhem, her jacket remains Antarctic-white.
Director Michael Bay certainly won’t care if this second sequel arrives on the back of another critical mauling.
After surviving Pearl Harbour exactly ten years ago, he’s commercially bulletproof.
Bay’s first two Transformers films both sit comfortably in the all-time top 50 worldwide hits, earning $1.5 billion of box office goodwill between them.
That’s enough cash to ensure the latest special effects, when they are special, are second to none.
Watching the robots running down a highway and tossing cars aside is outlandishly entertaining and such a wonderful illustration of precision-built, film-making engineering it was the first time I realised I still had a pulse.
Later, as Chicago’s buildings are damaged by relentless waves of kinetic violence, people slide down buildings, along the sloping floors inside or simply jump for their lives in ever more inventive, breathtakingly-filmed ways.
Osama Bin Laden would have loved it and even Avatar director James Cameron will be on the edge of his seat during the big bangs executively produced by the master of spectacle, Steven Spielberg.
These stunning, groundbreaking 3D sequences just have to be seen and could have made Dark of the Moon the greatest summer blockbuster action experience in the 20 years since Cameron’s Terminator 2.
Except that Transformers 3 has an uncomfortably soft-porn tinge for a 12A, it’s emotionally more bankrupt than any Greek bank and the DNA from one of Spock’s eyelashes would have given the plot more logic.
Resembling a cross between Seb Coe and Hugh Jackman, Patrick Dempsey is an enjoyable villain as Doyle.
But the quality supporting cast of John Turtorro, Frances McDormand, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson all have to play a considerable second fiddle to the metallic mayhem. GY.
The Conspirator * *
Robert Redford’s eighth directorial adventure arrives after three decades behind the camera.
On screen, he had one best actor Oscar nomination in 1974 for The Sting.
But he’s actually been nominated twice as a director, most recently for Quiz Show in 1995 having won an Oscar at the first attempt in 1981 for Ordinary People.
Now he’s chosen to illustrate one of the defining moments of the United States’ legal system.
Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) is charged with being a co-conspirator following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln towards the end of the American Civil War in 1865.
She is seen here as a hostage whose potential fate might suck in her own son, said to have been among the plotters who used to meet at her boarding house.
If the subject matter is admirable, The Conspirator is living tedium despite the supporting cast including Tom Wilkinson and Colm Meaney.
Lincoln’s assassination is badly handled with scant explanation, precious little emotion and barely any tension. Successive court room scenes stifle.
Atonement star James McAvoy tries his best as Frederick Aiken, a young lawyer (and future Washington Post city editor) thrust into the limelight with Surratt’s case which will pave the way for the right to trial by jury. Although he’s drawn to proving Surratt’s innocence as well as towards her daughter Anna (Evan Rachel Wood), it’s not enough to make this laboured story a compelling drama.
A vicious stabbing sequence and the nature of the hangings make this an uncomfortable watch at 12A, though it’s hard to imagine any child under 12 having the patience to stick with it in any case.
An opportunity to learn more about Lincoln’s life is lost for all ages. GY.
Larry Crowne * *
Cert 12A, 98 mins
If there was ever a golden example of stick to what you know best, then this is it.
Tom Hanks hasn’t won two acting Oscars for nothing, but a writer and director? Not so much.
He doesn’t indulge these whims too often. The last movie he directed was 1996’s That Thing You Do, but judging by Larry Crowne, I’d say he should stay away from those areas of filmmaking completely.
He’s co-written, produced and directed it and cast himself in the lead role alongside Julia Roberts, which ought to be a great combination as they are two watchable stars.
What a shame, then, that there’s so little chemistry between them – and that they’re not allowed to shine in a film which misfires badly on most fronts.
Hanks plays the title role, an amiable-enough character who, having served in the navy for 20 years, works in a huge cash and carry store.
He’s made redundant with the excuse that he can’t progress in the company because he doesn’t have enough qualifications.
So he enrols in his local community college, taking economics with professor George Takei and a communications class on ‘the art of informal remarks’ with Mercy Tainot (Roberts).
She’s jaded and cynical, not the most diligent of educators and unhappily married, though she’s so grumpy that I don’t really blame her husband for wanting to leave her.
She’s intrigued by the youthful enthusiasm of Larry, in turn fired up by his bossy classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who gives him an image overhaul, rechristens him Lance Corona and invites him to ride with her scooter gang.
The story is heavy-handed and often makes no sense. One minute Mercy is sober, the next ridiculously drunk.
Some lines are OK but others are clunky. Some characters are passable – I quite like Talia and British actress Mbatha-Raw, star of Spooks, Doctor Who and Bonekickers, out-acts Hanks and Roberts – but others, like Takei’s, are horribly misjudged. Is he really meant to be funny? Because he’s not.
It’s not a terrible film but it’s also not amusing, feelgood or moving.
Hardly a crowning achievement for Hanks, this is going to be a film he’s going to want to forget. Just like audiences will as soon as they leave the cinema. RL.