Film Friday: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ and ‘Larry Crowne’

by W. Andrew Powell
Bumblebee in Transformers: Dark of the Moon

New arrivals in theatres this weekend: Transformers: Dark of the Moon bashes its way onto 3D screens; Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts get romantic in Larry Crowne; plus a look at Monte Carlo starring Selena Gomez.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon [IMAX 3D]
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Director: Michael Bay

Rated: 8/10

If you survived the last Transformers movie, you’re either a diehard Transformers fan, or a very forgiving moviegoer. Either way, the next installment of this franchise is upon us and the good news is that it’s easily the best Transformers movie to date, even if the script is still laughably ridiculous.

Director Michael Bay helms the latest sequel alongside producer Steven Spielberg with Shia LaBeouf once again playing the part of the hopeless Sam Witwicky. This time out, Sam has moved on from his previous love and is now miraculously with the successful and sweet Carly, played by model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Sam is hunting for a job, and some sense of self-worth, as Carly tries to help him make something of himself. It’s not until he lands a job with maniacal boss Bruce Brazos, played by John Malkovich, that Sam stumbles into trouble as the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons heats up again with a secret concerning the moon landing in the sixties.

As it turns out, America was rushing to the moon to explore a crashed ship that was carrying cargo that could have won the Autobots the war on their home planet of Cybertron. Thanks to a quirk of fate, Optimus Prime, voiced once again by the great Peter Cullen, finds out all too late that this fact wasn’t shared with him, but at the same time Sam finds an even darker secret as the Decepticons spring a trap that threatens to flatten Chicago and the world.

Featuring dependable and sometimes hilarious performances by Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, and of course Kevin Dunn and Julie White, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of the most poorly written films to have such a big theatrical release in some time, aside from Transformers 2. That doesn’t change the fact that Dark of the Moon is still one of the best action movies to hit screens in a long time, and this film is by far the best eye-candy to hit screens since the original Transformers film.

Say what you will about the script and even some of the editing, but Bay’s Dark of the Moon is the perfect summer popcorn film and it is a special effects masterpiece. Bay perfectly blends live-action and digital special effects to make the smashing, exploding, 3D action leap off the screen, both literally and figuratively. While the film doesn’t harness 3D the way Avatar did, Dark of the Moon is still one of the first films since Avatar to actually make good use of the technology, which I’m willing to commend them for mastering the tricky effect.

The film could have used a script that didn’t feel like it was ripped out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and it could have used better dialogue at times, but if you’re into action films it’s all forgivable. As pulp action goes, this is the pulpiest.

Larry Crowne
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Director: Tom Hanks

If rampaging giant robots are not the kind of entertainment you want to watch this weekend, perhaps Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are more your style in their latest dramedy about a middle-aged man looking to start his life over at college.

Hanks plays the role of Larry, a man who has found himself drowning in his mortgage after he loses his job at a major corporation. Trying to fill his time, Larry goes back to college where he meets Mercedes, played by Julia Roberts, a teacher struggling with her own life.

Written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, and directed by Hanks, the film is your basic dramedy about middle-aged relationships in our silly, modern world. The problem is just that it missed the mark for most critics.

Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote, “This is film as comfort food, and even if it has very little nutritional value, its pleasantly bland texture will help keep you occupied until your next job interview or layoff notice.”

Most critics agreed with Long, but as Andrew O’Hehir of wrote, “At this point in their careers, Hanks and Roberts know a lot about how to make movies and how to reach audiences; these are relaxed and professional star performance, long on charm and short on theatrics.”

Monte Carlo
Starring: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Pierre Boulanger, Cory Monteith, Andie MacDowell, Brett Cullen
Director: Thomas Bezucha

For the teenage girls out there this weekend, Selena Gomez makes the leap onto the big screen with the comedy Monte Carlo about a group of girls who mistakenly have the ultimate adventure in Europe thanks to one look-a-like heiress.

Gomez plays Grace, a young girl on a trip to Paris when she is mistaken for the very rich and famous Cordelia Winthrop Scott, also played by Gomez. As things go quickly awry, Grace and her friends find themselves swept into a vacation in Monte Carlo where everyone believes Grace is Cordelia, and it seems too late to turn back now that all the fun has started.

Monte Carlo is probably going to amuse most young, teenage girls out there, but like Transformers, the critics were not amused by the film’s lackluster script.

“You take movies like this for what they are and for whom they’re intended,” wrote Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel, “But this script, this leaden direction ensures that even as the teen wish-fulfillment fantasy, complete with young women playing dress-up, Monte Carlo fails.”

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times commented, “It’s chirpy, it’s bright, there are pretty locations and lots happens. This is the kind of movie that can briefly hold the attention of a cat.”

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