War­ring ro­bots on the ram­page

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM REVIEWS - Ed­die Cock­rell

Transformers: Age of Extinction (M) Na­tional re­lease The Last Im­pre­sario (M) Limited na­tional re­lease OU can­not stop tech­nol­ogy,” de­clares the Steve Jobs-ish Joshua Joyce (Stan­ley Tucci), the re­search and de­vel­op­ment mag­nate who morphs from a heavy to a good guy dur­ing the 167-minute run­ning time of In a film that winks know­ingly at the rel­a­tive ab­sur­dity of stretch­ing this fran­chise about gi­ant war­ring ro­bots, which can morph at will into cars, to four films (with more in the works), the line works just as well to ex­plain the con­tin­ued am­pli­fi­ca­tion of CGI ef­fects at the ex­pense of cred­i­ble hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.

The de­crease in the lat­ter will come as no sur­prise to de­trac­tors of di­rec­tor Michael Bay, who, sad to re­port, has yet to over­come his lack of ba­sic film­mak­ing skills. Char­ac­ters seen do­ing one thing are far away do­ing some­thing else in the very next shot. He’s much bet­ter at block­ing the ro­bot fights, which tells the viewer all they need to know about the rai­son d’etre of this loud, over­long and only in­ter­mit­tently in­spir­ing fran­chise.

That said, the first hour or so, which sets up the re­booted hu­man nar­ra­tive with an en­tirely new cast of char­ac­ters, has a promis­ing premise. Screen­writer Ehren Kruger, who wrote the pre­vi­ous two films, shows a gen­uine in­ter­est in char­ac­ter in­ter­ac­tion which, sadly, is soon enough overwhelmed by the ac­tion.

It has been years since the bat­tle of Chicago de­picted in the pre­vi­ous film, and in the in­terim Amer­ica has been seized by an in­tense ap­pre­hen­sion height­ened by the dis­ap­pear­ance of chief Au­to­bot Op­ti­mus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). In ru­ral Paris, Texas (nice movie ref­er­ence, that), ro­bot­ics en­gi­neer and strug­gling in­ven­tor Cade Yea­ger (Mark Wahlberg) finds the cab of a trailer truck on the stage of an aban­doned vin­tage movie theatre (more nice movie touches) and tows it home to the dis­may of the teenaged daugh­ter, Tessa (Ni­cola Peltz), he’s strug­gling to raise on his own.

The truck draws the at­ten­tion of de­ter­mined federal agent Harold At­tinger (Kelsey Gram­mer), who sends hench­man Savoy (Ti­tus Wel­liver) to re­trieve it. Mean­while, the ve­hi­cle turns out to be Op­ti­mus Prime him­self, and the chase is on.

In time, Cade dis­cov­ers At­tinger has hired Joyce’s firm to build its own ver­sion of the ro­bots, us­ing the sev­ered metal head of ri­val De­cep­ti­con leader Me­ga­tron to con­coct mu­tant DNA. The re­sult­ing show­downs lead Op­ti­mus Prime and his small band of Au­to­bots against the un­sta­ble mu­tants, lay­ing waste to parts of Chicago again and court­ing the in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence by shift­ing the ac­tion to main­land China and, for the cli­mac­tic show­down, to Hong Kong.

As sketchy as some of the hu­man char­ac­ters are (Chi­nese ac­tress Li Bing­bing is par­tic­u­larly un­der­used as Joyce’s re­gional man­ager), the dis­tinc­tive Au­to­bots, voiced by Robert Fox­worth, John Good­man, Ken Watan­abe, John DiMag­gio and Reno Wil­son, are com­puter an­i­mated with an im­pres­sive amount of de­tail and per­son­al­ity.

Wahlberg has the largest part by a good mar­gin, and de­liv­ers a se­ri­ous, phys­i­cal per­for­mance as a man torn be­tween pro­tect­ing his daugh­ter and cap­i­tal­is­ing on his close prox­im­ity to the ac­tion (“I’m so go­ing to patent this shit,” he en­thuses at one point). Tucci has all the good lines in a role that be­comes bless­edly more car­toon­ish as the film chugs along. Peltz and Gram­mer ful­fil their genre du­ties as scream queen and sin­is­ter heavy, re­spec­tively.

There has been a puz­zling yet dis­tinc­tive tonal shift in this new edi­tion. In pre­vi­ous en­tries, ter­ri­fied pedes­tri­ans were va­por­ised in the crossfire. There’s lit­tle or no hu­man toll to the car­nage de­picted here, though the lan­guage seems saltier this time around.

In the end, re­sis­tance is prob­a­bly fu­tile. The Transformers fran­chise has al­ready earned a global $US2.6 bil­lion and is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar in emerg­ing Asian mar­kets — led by main­land China, which ex­plains the lo­ca­tion. Tech­nol­ogy is in­deed un­stop­pable, though in the case of Transformers it threat­ens to can­cel out the hu­man fac­tor al­to­gether. THOSE who may dimly re­call pho­to­graphs of celebri­ties clus­tered around din­ing ta­bles and night­club couches in the days be­fore the in­ter­net prob­a­bly thought such in­su­lar com­pany was the height of priv­i­leged chic. Scot­tish-born stage and film pro­ducer Michael White felt the same way, which is why 50 ac­tors, ac­tresses, writ­ers, di­rec­tors, painters, mu­si­cians and oth­ers were happy to praise their friend on cam­era in di­rec­tor, writer, co-pro­ducer and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Gra­cie Otto’s warm-hearted, re­spect­ful and some­what melan­cholic doc­u­men­tary

The film’s tagline, “the most fa­mous per­son you’ve never heard of”, comes from ac­tress Greta Scac­chi, who co-starred in the White film pro­duc­tion White Mis­chief in 1987. It is a suc­cinct de­scrip­tion of a cer­tain type of long-lost celebrity uni­verse now di­luted by the 24-hour cy­cle of muck­rak­ing that passes for news.

Trust­ing her talk­ing heads to pro­pel White’s story for­ward, Otto tells of a shy and lonely boy who grew to take the Lon­don theatre scene by storm with con­tro­ver­sial pro­duc­tions such as Oh! Cal­cutta!, The Rocky Hor­ror Show and A Transformers: Age of Extinction,

Im­pre­sario, Cho­rus Line, and 1994’s She Loves Me. Branch­ing out into film, White’s pro­duc­ing cred­its in­clude Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show, My Din­ner with An­dre and Polyester.

All well and good: a pro­ducer pro­duces. What el­e­vates White’s story well above the po­si­tion it­self is his healthy ap­petite for life and those in it who cre­ate. A com­pul­sive pho­tog­ra­pher of those around him at din­ners and par­ties, he dis­plays thick photo al­bums with his dis­tinc­tive first-name an­no­ta­tions.

A film such as this rises or falls on the strength of those in­ter­viewed, and in this re­gard Otto, sis­ter of Miranda and daugh­ter of Barry, has as­sem­bled an im­pres­sive ros­ter of friends, com­peti­tors, cronies and exes. High-pro­file ad­mir­ers on hand to rem­i­nisce in­clude Anna Win­tour, John Cleese, Yoko Ono, Ju­lian Sands, Wal­lace Shawn and John Wa­ters.

White was also known for what’s re­ferred to as an “Aus­tralian con­tin­gent”, with Naomi Watts (an as­so­ciate pro­ducer here), Rachel Ward, Barry Humphries and long-time girl­friend Lyn­dall Hobbs among those who pop up to sing his praises.

Not un­til late in the film does Otto re­veal that White suf­fers from the ef­fects of strokes brought on in part by his re­fusal to rein in his vig­or­ous so­cial sched­ule.

“Michael’s never been old,” some­one says fondly, and his ex­cesses are touched on with var­i­ous de­grees of frank­ness: a long-time gam­bler, he also makes no se­cret of his fond­ness for beau­ti­ful women and drug use is hinted at with­out be­ing de­tailed.

The Last Im­pre­sario is about a life fully lived.

The Last

Show­down in

left; Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Moss in

be­low

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