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Richter's Pick: This Week's New Movies

Transformers
Explosions and robot battles are making most of the noise on the big screens this week.
There are alternatives in the new films, though, including sex, strident pessimism and economic meltdown.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN: How many times have we seen this? An unlikely movie becomes a big hit, makes a pile of money and the inevitable sequel is bloated with excess. Director Michael Bay, no stranger to excess at the best of times, simply has too many resources to play with. The film is like some 5-year-old’s bedroom fuelled by fantasy. There are more toys than you can possibly play with, non-stop action and recurrent explosions in lovingly- photographed bursts. What it doesn’t have is much of a story that we can connect with, not a human one anyway. The original film, two years ago, had a nascent romance to hold the film together. The actors, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, are back but their young love is now a much-reduced sub-plot. The main action is the civil war still raging within a race of extra-terrestrials who can shape-shift from common vehicles to robots. (The film was financed by Hasbro, the company that makes the Transformers toys, and had the co-operation of the U.S. military). The battles start early and hardly ever stop. The best of them look great. Overall, though, they become repetitive and hard to follow because it’s often hard to tell the sides apart. Even the rare slow scenes are hyperactive. A simple conversation between Shia and Megan has the camera swirling around their heads. Interesting, though. It does slow down a few other times to show her in near cheesecake poses. (Opened June 24 at theatres all over).

WHATEVER WORKS: Back in his beloved New York after four films in Europe, Woody Allen finds this old script in a bottom drawer where it’s been since the 1970s. He hadn’t filmed it because the man he wrote it for, Zero Mostel, had died. Now, the truth is out. This is second-rate Woody. Partly it’s because Larry David, best known from TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, is mostly unpleasant in the lead role. He rails about the uselessness of life and insists that only he can really understand that. Mostel or even Allen himself would have put much more humor into that portrayal. The main problem, though, is the story line. The old grouch in the film takes up with a teenager freshly arrived from the south and even marries her. That she would be romantically interested in him is preposterous. It’s also uncomfortable considering Woody Allen’s own life history and remember that back in 1979, in his film “Manhattan” , Woody was dating a 17-year-old. This script allows him to espouse a self-serving philosophy, the gist of which is, when it comes to promoting love, use “whatever works”. On the plus side, there are many funny lines and a charming performance by Evan Rachel Wood) as the ingenuous teen. (5th Avenue Cinema).

TOKYO SONATA: Movies are rarely as up to date as this, or as emotionally powerful. That it comes from a director known for Japanese horror films is all the more remarkable. Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made a quiet study of a family under pressure when the father loses his job. The company can save money by shifting his work to China. He keeps up appearances, though, and pretends to go to work, leading to some sardonic scenes at a job search office and escalating disappointment. An old friend in the same predicament goes to even greater pains to save face. They meet in a free food line. Meanwhile, the family is splintering. While the mother struggles to keep the peace, a son wants to join the American army. A younger son is getting in trouble at school and secretly paying for piano lessons. For all the grave story content the film is not downbeat but lightened now and then with humor and most of the time with a bright colorful look. The acting is first-rate and a mood-changing third act becomes almost surreal. Playing at the VanCity Theatre. (Late on Friday, one of the director’s best-known horror films, “Cure”, will also be shown.)
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