MOVIES: 'Transformers 3-D,' 'Beginners' and 'Larry Crowne'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON"
Take a packet of aspirin to the theater with you, along with a bottle of water if you don't want to dash out to the fountain, because the onset of a headache is inevitable.
Michael Bay's latest installment of his popular, action-intensive "Transformers" franchise is the first to be shot in 3-D. The teaser says the sci-fi plot revolves around the effects of a mysterious event from Earth's past that erupts into the present day, threatening to ignite a war so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save humanity. What that means is that the Autobots and Decepticons become involved in the dangerous 1969 space race between the U.S. and Russia because there's a secret Cybertronian spacecraft that's hidden on the Moon. Of course, job-hunting college grad Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) comes to the aid of his robotic friends. And with Megan Fox gone, Sam's girlfriend is now played by dazed-and-confused Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
Written by Ehren Kruger and directed by Michael Bay, it's an immersive, if hollow, CGI experience revolving around what's brought back by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who later appears himself. Determined to out-mug the cold, metallic machines are John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, John Turturro, Ken Jeong and Frances McDormand -- plus Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as government agents.
With Washington, D.C., almost demolished, the primary battle is set in Chicago, where buildings crumble and streets buckle as the landmark cityscape is decimated, strewn with human carnage. But at 154 minutes, all the noisy destruction gets tedious.
FYI: The "dark of the moon" is defined as a phrase of approximately three days when the light of the moon is obscured; it precedes a new moon and the beginning of a new lunar cycle. Symbolically, it's regarded as a time of stillness and contemplation, preparing for a new beginning.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is a deafening, exhausting 5, yet in this kind of shock-and-awe sensory spectacle, the toys always emerge triumphant.
"When it comes to relationships, we're all beginners," says writer/director Mike Mills ("Thumbsucker"), whose real-life father, Paul, acknowledged that he was homosexual only after his wife of 45 years passed away in 1999. Five years later, his father died of lung cancer at age 79, but not before visibly blossoming into a new, far happier person.
Mills recreates the evolution of his deeply personal relationship with his father in annotated, elliptical form, seamlessly utilizing flashbacks, in this whimsical, semi-autobiographical comedic drama. Ewan McGregor plays his alter-ego, Oliver Fields, a wry, emotionally-conflicted graphic artist, while Christopher Plummer is his widower father Hal, a retired Santa Barbara art museum curator, with Mary Page Keller as Georgia, his repressed Jewish mother.
As Oliver observes the ambiguity with bewildered bemusement, gleefully out-of-the closet Hal is determined to embrace and enjoy as much of the gay lifestyle as he can in the limited time he has left, including forming a romantic attachment with much younger Andy (Goran Visnjic).
When cancer eventually claims Hal, mourning Oliver inherits Arthur, a soulful Jack Russell terrier who understands 150 words of English and whose observant "thoughts" are subtitled. Shortly afterward, after meeting at a costume party, Oliver embarks on a romantic relationship with a vivacious, enigmatic French actress named Anna (Melanie Laurent), whose peripatetic career periodically takes her in and out of Los Angeles. Fortunately, their emotional conflicts, particularly about the issue of commitment, seem to mesh, at least for a while.
Intelligently written, beautifully photographed and creatively challenging, due to its slow, deliberate pacing, this bittersweet, contemporary love story becomes a celebration of expressive honesty, teaching not preaching. While Ewan McGregor ("The Ghost Writer") earnestly propels the story, the most memorable performance is elegantly, exuberantly delivered by Christopher Plummer, last seen as Leo Tolstoy, adroitly romping in bed with Helen Mirren in "The Last Station." And Melanie Laurent ("Inglourious Basterds") exudes a quirky, disarming charm.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Beginners" is an inventive, enriching 8, affirming that a disarmingly personal, empathetic remembrance has universal appeal.
Even though he was awarded Employee of the Month nine times, conscientious Larry Crowne (Hanks) loses his job at U-Mart (think Wal-Mart) because his lack of a college education prevents him from climbing up the corporate ladder. Divorced and deeply in debt, appeals to his local banker (Rita Wilson) fall on deaf ears. As his house goes into foreclosure, he sells everything, including his gas-guzzling SUV, and buys a motor scooter from tag-sale enthusiast neighbors (Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson), who suggest that he enroll at East Valley Community College.
Encouraged to take Speech 217 -- "The Art of Informal Remarks" -- at 8 a.m., he meets Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), an embittered English teacher who wears dark glasses to disguise her morning hangovers. Married to porn-loving deadbeat Dean (Brian Cranston), Mercedes starts mixing booze in the blender the minute she gets home. Although she's wary at first, Larry's earnest charm eventually wins her over. Meanwhile, he's also taking Economics 1, taught by George Takei ("Star Trek"), and making friends with free-spirited Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who's determined to give Larry a complete make-over, sparking jealousy from her biker boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama).
Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the bland, middle-aged Everyman, downsized and desperate after spending 20 years as a Navy cook, but beautiful Julia Roberts is not believable as a wife who's rejected just because her breasts aren't big enough. (Coincidentally, Cameron Diaz suffered this same fate in "Bad Teacher.")
So the primary problem rests with Hanks' and Nia Vardalos' ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") flaccid, overly generalized, feel-good script, which totally lacks drama, plus it's Hanks' first stab at directing since "That Thing You Do" (1996). Supposedly, Hanks and Roberts so enjoyed working together in "Charlie Wilson's War" that she signed on immediately.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Larry Crowne" is a schmaltzy 6. It's lightweight fluff that quickly fades.