Warring robots on the rampage
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.
left; Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Moss in