Transformers: Dark of the Moon Movie Review

I’ve already forgotten most of what I saw on the 3D theatre screen for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. But that’s okay, because it was fun while I was there.

The latest instalment in the Michael Bay robot-fighting franchise is as loud, puzzling and cheesy as the first two movies, but there was at least less reliance on a convoluted plot and more on getting to the action pieces – and let’s face it, that why we’re there, right?

The movie starts off with a re-imagining of why America started the Moon race back in the 60′s – they discovered a mysterious object had crashed on the dark side of the moon and had to get there before the Russians. Of course, the object is an alien spaceship that carried Cybertron citizens.

Cut to the present day, and Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky works in a mail room, has a hot girlfriend, and pines for a position busting caps with his friends, the Autobots. Through a bunch of plot devices that I’ve seriously already deleted from memory, he winds up gathering a few pals from the past two movies, including the always-entertaining John Turturro, to involve themselves in the latest Autobot/Decepticon conflict.

John Turturro has the right idea – he plays his character over the top, and other minor characters follow suit for consistency’s sake. Subtlety is not an option here. John Malkovich has an early role as Sam’s crazy boss, Ken Jeong plays essentially the same lunatic from the Hangover reskinned as a conspiracy theorist, and Frances McDormand does her best to keep a straight face as a director of… the Defence force? CIA? Doesn’t matter. Even Alan Tudyk, who I remember fondly from Firefly, hams up the part of an effeminate killing machine assistant to John Turturro. And let’s not forget ladies’ man Patrick Dempsey, playing a smooth, wealthy accountant type. Just because.

And then we get a couple of heavyweights who turned up just for the fun of it. Leonard Nimoy, who we actually see on a TV screen as Spock from an original Star Trek episode, voices a robot called Sentinel Prime, who was the Big Boss of the Autobots before Optimus. I chuckled a little because they seem to have made the robot’s face in Nimoy’s likeness, bulging nose included. Even the real Buzz Aldrin makes an appearance to chat to the Autobots, adding credence to the whole moon scenario.

The humans are here just to add, well, humanity to the movie, but their characters don’t succeed on any great level. The Autobots are fighting the Decepticons, just like in the last two movies, and a lot of stuff gets blown up, pushed over, demolished and it’s relentless. When you’re making films about shape-changing robots that will fight each other until the bitter end, what did you expect?

Some images do remain in my mind. The vision of red oil spilling out of dying robots as they are pulled apart by their enemies, to simulate blood spurting. A space shuttle blowing up just after launch, evoking memories of the Challenger disaster that are still clear from my childhood. The massive holes in skyscrapers that are eerily close to images of the World Trade Centre buildings after the 9/11 attacks. Megatron stumbling through the desert like a nomad, large billowing sheet covering his injured head, like a metallic Lawrence of Arabia.

My favourite scene? A mind-boggling, retina-scarring car chase that involves robots running, then transforming and racing on wheels, then spinning mid-air and transforming again, all the while acting out a UFC brawl. It epitomises everything that’s great about this movie, and indeed the trilogy. Michael Bay has managed to create visuals on the silver screen that, as kids playing with our Transformers in our bedrooms, could not even dream up. We have truly passed the point of CGI jarring the suspension of disbelief, and this latest Transformers film is the ultimate movie to display this.

Even though I really can’t explain the plot or the characters for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I do remember this: having an absolute ball watching my childhood fantasies come to life.

Cars 2 Movie Review – McQueen and Mater Go Global

I’m a big fan of the original Cars movie. The locals from Radiator Springs are all quirky and lovable, the characters so well-drawn that they’re both flawed and memorable. Thanks to my 3 year old son’s obsession with all things Cars-related, I’m as familiar with the 2006 animated hit as any adult could be.

So it was with a fair amount of anticipation that we settled into our seats at the cinema to watch Cars 2 today, along with a hundred other happily noisy kids and kids-at-heart. For the next one and a half hours, we were treated to amazing chase scenes, race sequences around the world, impressive and not-too-gimmicky 3D effects (more on that), and a plot that seemed to be the love child of James Bond and “Who Killed the Electric Car” – along with the addition of Michael Caine providing the voice of super-spy car Finn McMissile. However, I did feel something was missing – emotional investment in the characters.

Before you choke on your popcorn and cry out, “But dude, this is a kid’s animated movie about a racing car!”, consider this: the first Cars instalment was a very character-driven movie, deliberately slower than many of its animated counterparts, refusing to simply move from action sequence to action sequence, and the time spent in Radiator Springs is what anchored the hero’s journey from hot headed rookie to respectable and adulated race car star. The well-written plot was simple but profound enough for young kids to appreciate.

In Cars 2, thanks to a plot device that sends four-time Piston Cup winner Lightning McQueen and his best pal Mater to Japan, Italy and England (though not always together), I was dazzled by the spectacle of each set piece, but wondered if the target audience actually understood the motivations of each of the main players, for both heroes and villains. No matter, I suspect, as Mater’s high-jinx, McMissile’s spy gadgetry and McQueen’s battles on each race track would have drowned out many of the questions that may have been posed by the viewing youngsters.

The peripheral characters that rounded out and provided a back drop for much of the first movie are relegated to cameos in Cars 2. I found myself wanting to spend more time with them, but sadly the back drop of international intrigue and sabotage plotting didn’t really allow for these characters to do much more than react in the background. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in the future.

One thing I will mention about the technical aspects of 3D movie viewing is regarding movement on the cinema screen. During dialogue and fixed-camera action scenes, the 3D effect worked very well. However, once the (virtual, being animated) camera panned or moved across landscapes and virtual sets, even at a slow rate, all objects and surfaces became quite blurry. For this reason, I think Cars 2 would be just as good or maybe better on a quality 2D cinema screen, as the blur tended to jolt me out of the movie, almost to distraction.

That aside, the visuals are gorgeous. Pixar have mastered the art of creating cartoon worlds and characters that look real, but not as if they belong in this world. It keeps you grounded in the movie, and allows you to fully enjoy the visual candy. While watching Cars 2, I totally forgot that there wasn’t one single human being on screen. That level of suspension of disbelief is incredible considering there was a talking plane and one major character was so nervous he leaked oil down his trousers… I mean tyres.

If you’re looking for a movie that will deliver a couple of subtle life lessons, this isn’t the place. If you want to treat your kids to a high octane, loud and fast-paced racing flick with lots of explosions and good guys fighting bad guys, Cars 2 delivers in spades.

A Tron Fan’s Review of Tron:Legacy

I was a young kid when the first Tron movie came out, and it set my imagination alight. A PC at that stage was still technology out of the average person’s grasp, but the movie presented the processes and programs that resided inside computers in an exciting and, at the time, ground-breaking visual concept.

So here we are, 28 years later, with the sequel called Tron:Legacy, a movie that could have potentially addressed or referenced a lot of the technological and cultural developments happening right now – cloud-based operating systems, social networking, and artificial intelligence to name a few. Instead, I walked away from Tron:Legacy blown away by the visual effects, a benchmark-setting soundtrack, but no real sense of the journey that occurred between the opening scenes and the credits.

Most science fiction movies are in some way a thought experiment, reflecting today’s issues and approaching them in a futuristic or technologically advanced setting. Tron:Legacy doesn’t take the speculative approach, more content to take our breath away with brand new versions of light cycle races and Disk Arena competitions.

The moment I went from mature adult to quivering geeky mess.

The simplicity of the story is probably its weakest point. The narrative seems to serve no purpose other than for exposition of events that bring us to a certain point in the film, or creating plot devices to take us to the next impressive stunt/race/battle sequence. That said, those giddy moments were well appreciated in Imax 3D, although the 3D glasses seemed to be very sensitive; you needed to be looking straight at the screen without any head movement, otherwise the dreaded double lines around people and objects would appear and the 3D effect would dissolve.

In other words, this is science fiction porn at its best, the many long periods of dialogue and explanation simply assisting to get to the next neon money shot. There is a lot to be dazzled by here – the light cycles, the flying vehicles, even Kevin Flynn’s younger digital double. If nothing else, it’s a showcase of how far filmmakers can push the boundaries in creating worlds and the characters that inhabit them.

"You call it Botox, we call it Photoshop"

There is a lot of head-nodding and referencing of science fiction films that have come before it – the internal decor of Flynn’s virtual hideaway resembled the Victorian-era/white minimalist setting near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the externals of his hidden residence seemed to be inspired by a charcoal version of Superman’s Ice Fortress from the original movies. I’m sure I saw the latest Batmobile racing across the digital desert at one point as well. One of the flying battle scenes was almost completely lifted from the first Star Wars movie with Sam Flynn moving to the back of the flying vehicle to operate a gun turret. I half expected Kevin Flynn to channel Han Solo and yell out “Don’t get cocky!”

You can only imagine what the adult film industry will do with this.

Kevin Flynn himself is portrayed as a Buddhist-cum-Jedi Knight, spending his time meditating and speaking in laconic riddles until his son discovers his hideout and forces him into action. His ability to manipulate soldiers into providing needed equipment and vehicles harks back to the old Jedi mind tricks of Lucas lore.

You could tell this was a Disney movie, as much of the sexual chemistry between characters was toned way down and swearing was left out of the domain (sorry, bad pun) of the grid – it’s been a while since I heard the phrase “Son of a gun!”, but there it was in downtown Tronland.

"We're going to play virtual WHAT?"

The soundtrack is amazing. I have been listening to it in the car for a few days before tonight’s viewing, and its energy lifts the movie when the orchestra and electronica booms and flares. The Daft Punk compositions provide gravity and drama where the dialogue and action may not have been sufficient. I already regard it as pivotal and timeless, a work of audio art that can stand in isolation or accompanying the Tron:Legacy film.

Daft Punk simply ooze cool... having sci-fi soundtrack of the year doesn't hurt either.

My recommendation is to see this on the big screen in 3D if you enjoy sci-fi. There’s enough eye and ear candy to satisfy, even if the plot and overall story arc doesn’t really challenge the audience, or make any grand statements. It’s an unashamed and entertaining popcorn ride for the geek in all of us, especially those that grew up with Tron all those years ago.