For the Love of Spock


The Nimoys are all ears.

The Nimoys are all ears.

(2016) Documentary (Gravitas) Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy, Mel Nimoy, Sybil Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, William Shatner, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons, J.J. Abrams, Jason Alexander, Walter Koenig, Catherine Hicks, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Nicholas Meyer, D.C. Fontana, Amy Mainzer. Directed by Adam Nimoy

 

The character of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series was and is a cultural icon. Played by Leonard Nimoy, then a character actor who had never worked more than two weeks on the same project in his career, he was created at a time of great social upheaval and in many ways stood for rationality, logic and self-control in a time when just about everyone was about as emotional as one could get. He also stood for cultural tolerance, as he was best friends with a human which was a metaphor for the racial turmoil going on in the United States at the time (and sadly continues to this day).

Nimoy’s son Adam, a successful television director, wanted to do a documentary on the cultural phenomenon that is Spock and got his father’s blessing to do it. After a Kickstarter campaign netted the necessary funds, Adam conducted an interview with his father and started to talk to other members of the original series cast when his father suddenly passed away at age 83.

The focus of the film changed from Spock to Leonard Nimoy. It became a love letter from a son to his father. The two had a very rocky relationship at times, particularly when Adam’s drug use became an issue, which fueled displeasure from his father, an alcoholic. They went years without speaking, but eventually reconciled.

He tells his father’s story, glossing over his childhood and young adulthood and bringing him to his days in Trek. Much of  the movie focuses on his time as Spock and in between; on the rigors of fame and having to share his father with an adoring fan base. Early on, he and his sister Julie answered fan mail for their father. It was Adam who in the famous prank showed up on the set without his dad’s knowledge wearing Vulcan make-up (the footage is shown here).

Nimoy famously has had a loving relationship with the Trek community of both fans and the cast and crews of the various TV and film iterations; he also had a sometimes contentious relationship with Paramount, the studio that produced the series; his lawsuit to gain the cast royalties from merchandising was settled largely because the studio wanted to make motion pictures based on the show and Nimoy refused to sign for the film before the suit was settled. It was also at his insistence that George Takei and Nichelle Nichols were added to the animated series cast; he felt strongly that the diversity of the original show’s cast needed to be brought over to the animated show and even today both of those actors refer to the incident with great affection.

The younger Nimoy includes plenty of home movies as well as backstage footage from the show and films which for me personally was very nostalgic; I lived in Los Angeles at the time the show and the first movies were being filmed and I was reminded of that watching the film, bringing on in me a strong sense of comfort. It was an idyllic time and an idyllic place.

The movie does run a bit long in my opinion but love letters always tend to. Fans of the TV show and of Star Trek in general won’t mind; I think they’ll kind of prefer it that way. The interviews with the new cast add a bit of dimension in that all of them grew up with Star Trek even if they weren’t fans and those that were (such as Simon Pegg) were a bit awestruck working with Nimoy in his signature role. Fans like Jason Alexander and Jim Parsons talk about what the character meant to them but at the end of the day, it is his brother Mel who breaks down when talking about the terrible day when Leonard Nimoy passed away that gives us the greatest sense of what the man behind the Vulcan meant to us all.

The film closes with a tribute to Nimoy at the Burning Man festival shortly after he passed away and I swear that the flames on the tribute as, like the other temporary art installations at the festival, burned to the ground brought to mind the Federation emblem in the shape of the flames seemed to be the most cosmic of all the tributes. Spock lives but without Nimoy to give the character its essence (with all due respect to Zachary Quinto who plays Spock in the movie reboot franchise) it is mostly the idea of Spock that we have now – and that gives all of us comfort. Truly, this is a wonderful way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original show.

REASONS TO GO: Very much a love letter from a son to his father. It’s an interesting perspective on fame by the children of the famous. The backstage footage is pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some foul language but not a lot.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The movie was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: To Be Takei
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Milton’s Secret

To Be Takei


It's always a great day to be OK to be Takei!

It’s always a great day to be OK to be Takei!

(2014) Documentary (Starz Digital Media) George Takei, Brad Takei, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, John Cho, Daniel Inouye, Norman Mineta, Lea Salonga, Dan Savage, Howard Stern, Jay Kuo, Tom Ammiano, Eddie Paskey, Lorenzo Thorne, Telly Leung, Jimi Yamaichi. Directed by Jennifer R. Kroot

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that it must be great to be George Takei. Beloved Star Trek actor, Facebook sensation, activist and advocate for Japanese-Americans and the gay community, he has been described as America’s gay uncle and that might not be far from the truth.

But when you consider the things he’s been through – being imprisoned in two different internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the no less damaging prison that came from being a closeted actor throughout most of his career (he didn’t come out until 2005 and then in response to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of the gay marriage bill.

He has overcome some difficult, dark days but he has emerged on the other end with a disingenuous smile and a live and let live attitude that might lead some to underestimate how forceful and passionate he is for the causes he believes in. Even his feud with William Shatner doesn’t seem to be something he takes all that seriously; I get the sense he doesn’t feel any ill will towards the actor. Shatner, interviewed for the film, comes off as somewhat befuddled about the fuss and a bit standoffish – “I really don’t know the man,” he protests on several occasions.

Still, I don’t know if I could be as cheerful as Takei given his circumstances. What keeps him sane, I think, is his relationship with his husband Brad. Brad is kind of the sensible, detail-oriented one in the relationship. He takes George’s crazy schedule and makes it work. Sometimes he can be a bit of a nag, other times he can be a bit startled at George’s occasional penchant for oversharing, sometimes he can be a bit of a nit-picker. Still, the love that is there is obvious and deep.

In fact, watching the interaction between George and Brad made me think “That’s me and my wife!” There is really no difference in their relationship than my relationship with my wife other than that my relationship is with a woman and George Takei’s is with a man. They both drive each other crazy upon occasion but they both lean on and rely on each other – and there’s no doubt either man would take a bullet for the other, literally and figuratively. That’s how most good marriages work. People who are fuzzy about whether gay people should be married should watch these two gay people together. They are indeed, the prototypical gay married couple.

I did find that aspect of the documentary inspiring; I also found that the scenes of George’s activism with both Japanese-American causes as well as gay causes to be among the most interesting in the film which is something since I’m a proud Trekker and love the little insights that come in from the surviving members of the crew of the Enterprise. As a Trekker I might have wanted more on his era in Star Trek but the film critic in me acknowledges that would only appeal to a certain segment, myself included.

However, the film critic in me frowns on the way that Kroot bounces around in subject matter, from the internment to George’s early Hollywood years to his discovering he was gay in high school to his Facebook stardom to his relationship with his parents. I would have preferred something a little more linear in terms of telling Takei’s story, although something tells me that George himself isn’t the most linear of men.

A project close to Takei’s heart these days is Allegiance, a musical about the Japanese-American experience in the internment camps that Takei starred in (along with Salonga). The show is largely informed by Takei’s own experiences and shows a depth in his acting that he rarely gets a chance to display. The musical set records at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater and is expected to debut on Broadway during the upcoming season.

Takei himself makes a fascinating subject for a documentary and it’s high time that there was one made about him. There are some great archival photographs and such but I think the focus here is rightly on the relationship between George and Brad – which is clearly the central focus in George’s life – and on his activism. It is impressive that in his 70s George Takei has become much more of a cultural phenomenon than he was as a younger man, and continues to work an impressive schedule not only as an actor but with personal appearances as well as speaking engagements for his various causes. Takei is a national treasure and we should appreciate him as such.

REASONS TO GO: Takei is as interesting a person as you think he is and probably more so. Does a lot to further the cause of gay marriage.
REASONS TO STAY: The documentary jumps around from subject to subject in kind of a willy-nilly fashion. May not have enough Star Trek material for some Trekkers.
FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for family audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Takei was born with the first name of Hosato, but was called George by his father, an Anglophile (as his son later became) after the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before You Know It
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Skeleton Twins

New Releases for the Week of November 15, 2013


The Best Man Holiday

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY     

(Universal) Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Regina Hall, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun, Melissa de Souza. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

A group of college friends determine to reunite over the holidays in New York. Years after the hi-jinx that ensued at the wedding, they’ve moved on with their lives – some together, some not, However once they all get into the same state, old rivalries and relationships flare up yet again and threaten to make this a Christmas to remember.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Urban Holiday Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content and brief nudity)

Aftermath

(Menemsha) Maciej Stuhr, Ireneusz Czop, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Danuta Szarflarska. A Pole who has been living in Chicago for many years returns home to visit his younger brother. He discovers that his brother has been shunned and threatened by his neighbors. As he digs into the mysterious affair, he discovers a terrible secret that the town has been keeping and that he and his brother are part of. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

The Attack

(Cohen Media Group) Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem, Dvir Benedek. A surgeon in Tel Aviv of Palestinian descent has fully assimilated into Israeli society. When a suicide bomber detonates in a restaurant, he is one of those on the front lines taking care of the wounded. When he discovers his wife is among the fatalities, he is devastated but it becomes far worse when it becomes clear that she is suspected of being the bomber. Now he must take a journey into the dark side of his homeland to discover the truth about his wife. In doing so he will discover that he must question everything about his faith, his life and his dreams. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some violent images, language and brief sexuality)

Dallas Buyers Club

(Focus) Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn. Ron Woodruff was a party hearty Texas cowboy in the ‘80s who like many in that era found his lifestyle catching up to him – he was diagnosed with AIDS. In 1985, that was a death sentence. Not satisfied to lay down and die, he fought to get alternative treatments, both legal and not so much. Traveling the world, he embraces and becomes embraced by elements of society he once would have disdained and establishes a buying club meant to get the drugs desperately needed by the dying into their hands.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use)

The Europa Report

(Magnet) Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu. An manned expedition to Europa, a moon of Jupiter which scientists currently believe is the most likely place in the solar system to harbor life outside of Earth, loses contact with mission control. Their struggle to complete their mission will lead to the decision whether the increase of knowledge is worth the cost of human life. This was previously reviewed in Cinema365 here.

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie at Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and peril)

Great Expectations

(Main Street/Lionsgate) Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes. This is a lush new version of the classic Charles Dickens novel brought to life by one of the greatest living directors, Mike Newell. A young impoverished boy is lifted from the cruel streets of 19th century London and brought into a life of wealth and privilege, but this act of charity is not without its drawbacks.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Period Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence including disturbing images) 

Hava Nagila: The Movie

(International Film Circuit) Harry Belafonte, Leonard Nimoy, Connie Frances, Regina Spektor. The story of the iconic Hebrew folk song is examined with performances throughout the years by well-known stars. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Ram Leela

(Eros International) Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Richa Chadda, Supriya
Pathak
. The courtship of two young people from feuding families has consequences. Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, the movie’s released has been temporarily blocked as the title in Hindi refers to the god Rama and the vulgarity, violence and sex in the movie was insulting to Hindus. However, the producers are free to release it here and indeed they have, making this a rare Bollywood film that opens in the United States before it does in India.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

When Comedy Went to School

(International Film Circuit) Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Jerry Stiller, Mort Sahl. Once upon a time the Catskill Mountains and the resorts therein were premium vacation destinations for the Eastern Seaboard. Many of the resorts had nightclubs where stand-up comedians were routinely booked. This area became known as the Borscht belt as many comedians – primarily Jewish – honed their skills here and went on to become superstars. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Zaytoun

(Strand) Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Ali Suliman, Alice Taglioni. During the 1982 Lebanese Civil War, an Israeli fighter pilot is shot down and taken prisoner by a Palestinian refugee camp nearby. Although initially hating him, the young boy assigned to guard him yearns to see the homeland of his parents and is willing to make a deal; he’ll help the pilot escape in exchange for being taken to Israel so that he might plant an olive tree. Despite their mutual distrust, they form an unlikely friendship. This is playing at the Orlando Science Center as part of the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)

Star Trek Into Darkness


Alice Eve and Chris Pine try to out-blonde each other.

Alice Eve and Chris Pine try to out-blonde each other.

(2013) Science Fiction (Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Alice Eve, Peter Weller, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor, Amanda Foreman, Jay Scully, Jonathan H. Dixon, Aisha Hinds, Joseph Gatt, Deep Roy, Anjini Taneja Azhar. Directed by J.J. Abrams

The trouble with taking on an icon is that the bar is impossibly high. You’re not going to please everybody, particularly the diehard old guard fans of the franchise. The fever pitch of shrieking outrage usually begins with the second film in the reboot. J.J. Abrams knows that better than most; he has had his fingers in the hands of three beloved franchises – Mission: Impossible, Star Wars and Star Trek.

This is his second film in the reboot of the Trek franchise. The first got some grudging respect from the notoriously difficult-to-please Trek fandom who might very well turn their noses up if Gene Roddenberry were resurrected and turned up to direct a new Trek movie.

The new film starts out with a terrorist attack in London, ramps up with a conspiracy to militarize Starfleet’s science and exploration mission (think of NASA with missiles and bombs) and finishes up with the appearance of a familiar foe.

Normally I’m one to describe the plot in great detail, but I think I’m going to abstain this time – for one thing, I found that knowing little about what was to occur in the movie made it far more delightful. Knowledgeable Trekkers and those fairly familiar with the canon of the original series will find lots of references here, from Harry Mudd to Transwarp drive to tribbles. There is also a great deal of referencing one of the original series most popular episodes and most beloved films but not exactly as you might remember it.

Abrams has re-energized the franchise without a doubt. Part of the success of the reboot has to do with the casting – each of the choices are spot on. Pine in particular takes the essence of Captain Kirk created by William Shatner and loses some of the mannerisms that made the character a bit of a parody in later years. Pine understands the basics of the legendary Captain – the recklessness, the ego, the brilliant strategic mind and the penchant for womanizing, but takes out the quirks – the stunted speech patterns, the over-reaction reactions and the writers have kindly aided his cause by giving Kirk fewer pronouncements and more self-analysis.

Quinto also makes a terrific Spock, although I noticed in this movie that his jaw seemed a bit more set and he looked a little less like the original Spock in a lot of ways, but he does capture the constant war between the emotional human side and the cold, logical Vulcan in him. The trauma of Vulcan’s fate in the last film weighs heavily on him, although he doesn’t show it.

The relationship between Spock and Uhura is an interesting one, given that this is a recent invention. Zoe Saldana gives the character a little more action-orientation than Nichelle Nichols did in her day; I like also that the writers give her a lot more to do than being a glorified answering machine. She is much more a member of the team than she was in the original series, where much of the planning, decision making and risk taking was done by the male members of the crew. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Cho is a worthy successor to George Takei as Sulu. One of the great regrets I have when it comes to Star Trek is that we never really got to see too much of Sulu as Captain – in the couple of instances when we did see it Takei was amazing. Cho gets an opportunity to take command as Sulu and makes the most of it; I’m kind of hoping we see Cho in a spin-off someday.

Pegg is one of the world’s outstanding comic actors and while Scotty becomes more of a comic figure than he was in the original series (although depicted as a heavy drinker he had his share of drunk moments that James Doohan played beautifully) the main thrust of his character is his brilliance as an engineer and we get that from Pegg as well, although he is a bit more willful than the original Scotty and in one of the new film’s most underrated scenes stands right up to Kirk, something I don’t recall seeing the character ever do before but was a welcome moment here.

There are also “guest” characters; Greenwood as Pike is a bit of a mentor and a lot more of a father figure to Kirk. Alice Eve is gorgeous and plays her pivotal character as a lot more than you might guess from the surface – and the writers leave room for future glimpses of her character. Peter Weller, who had a couple of appearances on the Enterprise TV series, plays an admiral here whose character might remind long-time fans of an admiral who had a small but pivotal role in one of the last movies featuring the original crew.

That leads us to Benedict Cumberbatch whose character is…well, not who he appears to be. Fans of the original series will doubtlessly guess early on who he actually is but for now let us say that he is a brilliant adversary worthy of Kirk and Spock and whose appearance is done in what I believe is the proper way – coming into the series sideways, making the surprise all the more pleasant (although again savvy Trekkers will either know from Internet chatter who he is or guess based on the clues the filmmakers give us early on). Cumberbatch is an up-and-coming actor who looks to have a brilliant career ahead of him, and based on this film is already getting some scrutiny for some plum roles in franchise films. Before you know it this man is going to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Bet on it.

The stakes are higher here and the effects are as crazy good as they were in the last Star Trek film. I chose not to see it in 3D – who wants to see those annoying lens flares in 3D? – and I think that’s a wise choice. Some of the scenes are set in pretty dark places and the 3D glasses will only make it murkier. Besides, I didn’t get the sense that 3D would have added anything to the experience.

I liked the movie just a smidge less than the first one; what pleased me most is that the filmmakers are developing the characters in just the right way to set up more thoughtful episodes in the future. While there was some underlying commentary about the militarization of space, the usefulness of drones and of terrorism in general, this is still a little more action-oriented than fans of the original series may like but that does make the movie more palatable to non-fans. Oh, and you get to see Klingons too.

In my review of the first film I wondered if Abrams could repeat his successful reboot in the second film. The answer is a resounding yes. This is great entertainment not only for Trekkers but for general audiences as well, managing to thread the line nicely. Certainly this bodes well for the future of the franchise and with the 50th anniversary of Trek’s debut in 1966 only a few short years away, one can only be hopeful that there are a lot more places for the crew of the Enterprise to boldly go.

REASONS TO GO: Pine turning out to be an excellent Kirk and the rest of the supporting cast works well also. Nice effects, battle sequences and stunts.

REASONS TO STAY: The story is a little bit all over the place.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some pretty intense battle sequences in space as well as some pretty nifty fisticuffs.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Christopher Doohan, the son of the original Scotty (the late James Doohan), makes a cameo appearance as a transporter technician working alongside the current Scotty in the transporter room.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100; pretty impressive reviews for a Star Trek film.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avatar

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Russian Ark

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Think twice before hanging out with Shia LaBeouf; there are a lot of angry film critics out there.

(2011) Science Fiction (Paramount) Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Alan Tudyk, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Leonard Nimoy (voice), Tyrese Gibson, Buzz Aldrin, Elya Baskin, Peter Cullen (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice), Robert Foxworth (voice), James Remar (voice). Directed by Michael Bay

Nothing exceeds like excess, and by that criterion Transformers: Dark of the Moon exceeds all expectations.

Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) has saved the world – twice – and all he’s got to show for it is a lousy Ivy League education. He longs to make a difference once again but he can’t get any sort of job and has to settle for living on the largesse of his new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), a former British consulate employee now working as an assistant to billionaire Dylan (Dempsey).

To make matters worse, the unemployed Sam is being visited by his judgmental parents Ron (Dunn) and Judy (White). However, Sam manages to get a job in the mail room of a defense contractor run by the somewhat eccentric Bruce Brazos (Malkovich).

Sam would much rather be working with the Autobots in NEST, but the government wants him far away from Optimus Prime (Cullen) as he can be. Lennox (Duhamel) is nominally in charge of the Autobots who are helping the American government putting out small fires around the world; taking out an illegal Iranian nuclear plant and investigating a strange occurrence at Chernobyl, where Lennox discovers Autobot technology may have been responsible for the disaster there.

Optimus demands an explanation and finally supercilious CIA chief Mearing (McDormand) gives him one. Apparently, near the end of the civil war that drove the Autobots from Cybertron, an Autobot ship escaped from the planet carrying a secret weapon as well as its designer, Sentinel Prime (Nimoy), the leader of the Autobots before Optimus. That ship crash landed on our moon, prompting the space race of the 1960s.

The Autobots rocket up to the moon and retrieve both Sentinel and the remains of the weapon. As they return, Megatron (Weaving), brooding in the desert after two defeats at the hands of Optimus and Sam Witwicky, puts into motion an evil plan that involves murder, betrayal and plenty of nasty robots coming after Sam and his new girlfriend. The stakes are high as the entire human race could end up as slave labor in the New World Order as envisioned by Megatron – and the Earth itself a desiccated, dried-out husk as her resources are used in the insane rebuilding of Cybertron. Once again, Sam and Optimus must lead the allied human-Autobot forces if both races are to survive.

My son has said that the reason you go to a Transformers movie is to watch robots beating each other up, and he has a point. If that’s why you’re plunking down ten bucks plus to see the movie, you won’t be disappointed. Once the battle starts in earnest, which is about halfway through the nearly two and a half hour movie, it doesn’t let up. The robots just about level Chicago and it is done realistically and spectacularly.

In fact, it’s done so well there seems to be no reason for human participation at all. The first half of the movie is somewhat slow and talky, and the humans are no match in the slightest to the giant robots of Cybertron. It is very much like watching a movie about, say, the Battle of the Bulge from the point of view of an ant colony. All the humans really have to do is dodge falling debris and be blown up by robot plasma shots; when one of the lead characters looks like they’re about to buy it, an Autobot comes out of nowhere to save the day (usually Optimus).

In fact, once the battle starts, LaBeouf has very little to do other than look concerned for his girlfriend, and occasionally shout “OPTI-MUUUUUUUUUUS!!!!” and he does both pretty well. His twitchy persona fits right in with the Witwicky character and although he’s the focus for the first half of the movie, it does break down during the first hour or so as we watch Sam mostly feeling inadequate and sorry for himself. It gets old.

Other than that, Bay did upgrade the supporting cast some, adding McDormand and Malkovich, Oscar nominees both, to the cast and both of the veteran actors deliver, as does Turturro in the returning role of Simmons, the paranoid agent (who is now a bestselling author) as comedy relief. Alan Tudyk, who impressed so much on the “Firefly” series, gets a meaty role as a fey German assistant to Simmons with his own set of skills. He makes the best use of his limited screen time.

As far as adolescent chubby-inducement, Megan Fox is out and former Victoria’s Secret model Huntington-Whiteley is in, making her feature acting debut. Fox was never known for her acting skills but she at least has some; Huntington-Whiteley is there mainly to wear tight dresses, have the camera almost see up her skirt and be put in jeopardy so Sam can rescue her. At least Megan Fox’s character wasn’t nearly as useless.

Transformer fans can rejoice; this is easily the most spectacular movie of the series and for non-fans, this is the best of the lot. Check your brain at the door, get the extra-large tub of popcorn and soda, and bliss out in a dark theater for awhile. This is pure popcorn spectacle on a massive scale and the plot is merely window dressing to the special effects. That’s not always a bad thing.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of robots battling for those who like that kind of thing. Easily the most spectacular film of the series.

REASONS TO STAY: The beginning of the movie lags a bit. The human characters are stiffer than the robots. Humans no match for aliens whatsoever.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of mayhem and a few bad words, but it’s the scenes of destruction and robot death that might be a bit much for tykes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leonard Nimoy, voicing Sentinel Prime, utters the line “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in homage to a line spoken by Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

HOME OR THEATER: The spectacle demands the big movie theater screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

New Releases for the Week of July 1, 2011


TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

(DreamWorks) Shia LaBeouf, Rose Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Ken Jeong, Patrick Dempsey, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Tudyk. Directed by Michael Bay

Transformers liaison and now college student Sam Witwicky discovers a terrifying secret, one involving the Space Race and how much the government really knows about the Transformers and the Decepticons. All this leads to a final invasion of Earth by the Decepticons, one which even the Transformers can’t save us from.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, promos and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action, violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo)

Beginners

(Focus) Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic. A young man who has never had much ability to commit to a relationship must cope with the grief of his father’s recent passing. When he meets a girl who might be the key to his future, he flashes back to the last months of his father’s life to find the means to connect with another in his own life.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Delhi Belly

(UTV) Imran Khan, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Vir Das, Shenaz Treasurywala. A trio of flatmates in New Delhi all have their problems, from overbearing bosses to fiancées who may or may not be the one they want. They all have one problem in common however; a crime lord who has put them on his hit list, and we’re not talking Casey Kasem here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: NR

Larry Crowne

(Universal) Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Taraji P. Henson. Larry Crowne’s world has just come tumbling about his ears. Fired from his job at a big box retail outlet for not having a college education, he enrolls at a community college. Not only does he find his mind expanding, his life begins to expand as he comes out of his shell and falls for a beautiful teacher.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and some sexual content)

Monte Carlo

(20th Century Fox) Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Andie McDowell. A case of mistaken identity lands three high school graduates the vacation of a lifetime. Of course, they’re not about to tell anyone they’re not who everyone thinks they are…which leads to some uncomfortable situations and, hopefully, hilarity. Although I wouldn’t expect too much.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Tween Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG (for brief mild language)

Land of the Lost


Land of the Lost

Welcome to the cosmic trash heap.

(Universal) Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone, Matt Lauer, John Boylan, Brian Huskey, Leonard Nimoy (voice), Dennis McNicholas. Directed by Brad Silberling

The existence of parallel dimensions is a theory many well-known scientists are beginning to take seriously. As of yet, however, the theory is largely unproven, but what if there was a way to actually travel to a parallel universe?

Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is a scientist who thinks he has proven just that. His quantum…er, tachyon…oh hell, just call it a thingamajig and leave it at that…needs a little more financing to get properly tested and Marshall appears on the Today show with Matt Lauer (himself) to explain why the $500 million is so necessary. After Lauer reminds him that most credible scientists think he’s a lunatic, the two wind up getting into a wrestling match. Personally, I think Lauer could school Ferrell. He may be smaller, but you know he’d fight dirty.

The fallout from the Today show appearance is disastrous for Marshall. Already a laughingstock, the Today show footage is a YouTube sensation, and Marshall loses what little credibility he has left. He’s reduced to lecturing elementary school students on the wonders of science until he meets up with Holly Cantrell (Friel), a former Cambridge physics student who dared to find Marshall’s theories worthwhile. For this sin, she was cast out of Cambridge.

When she finds a fossil that appears to be hundreds of millions of years old – of a lighter imprint, she knows that Marshall’s theories are true. Marshall is further blown away when he discovers it’s his own lighter that she found.

Holly takes Rick to the area where she found the fossil, as well as several crystals that seem to be irradiated with tachyons or some such gobbledygook; the main thing is that the location is a cave that has been turned into a tourist trap by redneck fireworks salesman Will Stanton (McBride) who agrees to take the two on a tour of the cave on a yellow inflatable raft. As the tour passes one cheesy tableaux after another, the tachyon detector/ectoplasm reader/tricorder thingy begins to go nuts. Rick turns on his thingamajig, the earth begins to shake, the little stream turns into a raging torrent and the three of them are sucked into a whirlpool o’ doom.

Except that it turns out they aren’t so doomed after all. They wind up in a strange world with several moons, deserts and swamps co-existing side by side, and the detritus of our world in a sort of cosmic trash heap, with cruise ships, ice cream trucks, drive-in movie screens and hotel pools all left to rot away in the garbage dump of the universe.

Unfortunately, there are other things in this place – grumpy tyrannosaurs (who are sensitive about their walnut-sized brains), larcenous pteranodons, lizard people in tunics (whom, as Will sagely notes, you can never trust), and proto-humans with plenty of hair, one of whom named Chaka (Taccone) befriends them. They have also lost their trusty thingamajig so they are stranded there. Can they find their thingamajig so that they can activate the whosis and use its gobbledygook to get them home?

Sid and Marty Krofft, who produced the original television show on which this is based, act as producers so you have to assume that they signed off on all of the changes and updates to their somewhat campy creation (so we can’t make any grave-rolling jokes either). When this came out in the summer of 2009, Da Queen and I originally made plans to see it but the reviews were so uniformly bad that we decided not to.

That’ll teach us for listening to those damned humorless critics. There is actually a sense of whimsy to the movie that I found rather refreshing. There is a running joke about the thingamajig also playing songs from A Chorus Line throughout the movie, which seems to exasperate Will and Holly no end. The look of the movie is deliberately kitschy, not only in a nod to the original series but I think for the laugh factor as well. While some of the CGI creatures are effective, they don’t need to be quite so much here – that’s part of the movie’s charm.

Ferrell has made a career out of playing dumber-than-rocks characters – Ricky Bobby, Ron Burgundy and George W. Bush, among others – and he’s added another one to the list. Marshall spews out factoids on subjects he knows nothing about and it almost always comes back to bite him in the derriere. Ferrell is one of those guys that people either love or they hate. Those who get him swear by him and those who don’t avoid him like the plague.

Anna Friel is in my humble opinion one of the more underrated comic actresses working today, as her work on “Pushing Daisies” and this film show. While ladies like Katherine Heigl get a lot of the higher profile comic roles, Friel is at least as good. It’s a shame she hasn’t really had a big successful movie to bolster her career the way Heigl has had.

The humor is a little scattershot and true to a movie about a place that has a little bit of everything, so too does the script and in situations like that, some things will work and others won’t. However, when the humor works the movie is as funny as anything Ferrell has done in his career (except for maybe his Celebrity Jeopardy skits on SNL – “Your answer is Threeve. I’m sorry, that’s not a number and your wager is…Texas.”) and that’s saying something.

WHY RENT THIS: The art direction is marvelous and there are some pretty nice laughs here. Friel is a much underrated comic actress.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor misfires more often than it hits home. You get the impression Ferrell is trying too hard to be funny.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some scatological humor, some raunchy sexual humor and some drug references; might be a little too much for smaller children, particularly when it comes to the monsters but otherwise okay for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third version of the Sid and Marty Krofft kids show to be made; in addition to the original TV series and this, there was a second version of the TV show made in 1991 with Timothy Bottoms in the Ferrell role (although he was called “Tom Porter” in that version).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a “day in the life of” feature regarding co-star Danny McBride.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Karate Kid (2010)