2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, so I’m happy to say that the latest installment of Michael Bay’s robots-and-explosions saga is a major step up. Funny how that happens when you try to make a decent movie rather than a quick cash-in before a writer’s strike.
In the third (and presumably final) entry in the “Transformers” franchise, viewers see what Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his Autobot friends have been up to over the last few years. He’s now a college graduate with a hot British girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whitely, replacing Megan Fox), though he can’t seem to find a job. Weird, considering he helped save the world twice. You think the government would throw a cushy office job his way.
The alien robots he befriended in the first flick now travel around the world, helping America eliminate terrorists. Of course, that all changes when the Decepticons resurface, this time with possession of an all-powerful MacGuffin that would allow them to wipe out the Autobots and enslave humanity.
I went into “Dark of the Moon” with extremely low expectations due to being burned so badly last time around. However, Bay must’ve realized everything he did wrong, because some major course corrections happen here. The screenplay by Ehren Kruger makes sense (well, as much as a story about giant alien robots can) and you can actually tell what’s happening in the epic action sequences.
LaBeouf delivers the performance we’ve come to expect from him at this point, but he gets to close out a nice little character arc that was set up for him over three films. The rest of the cast is barely onscreen long enough to register, but there is some decent paycheck work from acting legends like John Turturro, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. The underrated Alan Tudyk shows up as the flick’s only decent comic relief, and Patrick Dempsey gets to show a side of his personality we’re not used to seeing.
Bay also made the smart decision to shoot the movie in 3D rather than converting it afterward. The 3D allows for some truly jaw-dropping visuals, and the director managed to work through some of the technique’s often-discussed drawbacks.
“Dark of the Moon” isn’t a great movie, but it’s a welcome recovery for the franchise. I hope the filmmakers are smart enough to quit while they’re ahead.
Critics haven’t been kind to Tom Hanks’ latest writing/directorial effort (his first since 1996’s “That Thing You Do!”), which is too bad. “Larry Crowne” is a charming little movie that simply wants to tell a modest, uplifting story. It’s a welcome relief in this summer filled with superheroes, remakes and sequels.
Hanks plays the titular character, an affable guy who doesn’t know what to do after he’s fired from his job at a Target-like department store. Because he joined the Navy right after high school, he never went to college and his career options are limited.
He decides to rectify the situation by taking some classes at a community college and finds himself a new life in the process. He makes friends with a bitter public speaking teacher (Julia Roberts) who’s at the end of a terrible marriage, as well as a bubbly student (the stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her moped-driving boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama). With their help, Larry is able to become a more optimistic and self-assured man than he was before.
There are no surprises in “Larry Crowne,” but that’s part of its appeal. Sometimes you just want to watch a movie about good things happening to a nice guy. Hanks’ embodiment of the character, in addition to the effect he has on the people around him, made me smile for 90 minutes and sent me out of the theater feeling a little bit better about the world. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Hanks continues to show promise as a writer (he co-wrote this one with Nia Vardalos) and director, but his biggest talent is finding the perfect actors for supporting roles. Nabbing Roberts is obviously a nice touch, but folks in the smaller roles make the movie greater than the sum of its parts.
Mbatha-Raw is endearing as heck; Valderrama is great at playing non-threateningly menacing; Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson are an ideal married couple; Bryan Cranston makes the most of a little screen time as Roberts’ loutish husband; and George Takei almost steals the movie as a hilariously deadpan economics professor.
I genuinely wish the Oscar-winning actor would use his clout to keep making movies like this instead of cashing in on “Da Vinci Code”-style franchises. And here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 15 years for his next behind-the-camera effort.