Transformers: Dos and Don’ts ahead of the release of Dark of the Moon

May 27, 2011

So, the third and final Michael Bay Transformers movie is almost upon us. As a man of a very particular age, i.e. a child of the 1980s, I look upon Bay’s two films to date and cry inside, a little. It’s not so much that he ruined the one cartoon/toy series that I held the dearest until I discovered girls; more that he tickled us gently with the first one, enough so we overlooked the significant alterations to characters (necessary, admittedly) and generally had an okay time, but then stood astride us all and took a dump on our faces come Revenge of the Fallen. Worst. Movie. Ever. (Probably.) Can Dark of the Moon make up for the solid-gold turd that was the last film? Let’s be fair, it’s unlikely. Though its trailer (watch it here, as I don’t think I can embed it) does at least make it evident that every last penny of Transformers budget in the DreamWorks coffers has been slung at it.

But what if you’ve not seen a Transformers movie before? Should you? Will it make any more sense of what’s sure to be a befuddling storyline? Here’s a few helpful Dos and Don’ts to set you straight on the previous three movies – yes, including the 1986 animated one.

Transformers the Movie 1986
Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Do: Watch for the voices – amongst the cast are at-the-time big-hitters like Robert Stack, Judd Nelson and Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy (who also voices a character in Dark of the Moon). Enjoy the animation, which at its best is astounding for purely hand-drawn work (yet, frustratingly, can also be awful). Be amazed at the makers’ decision to kill off swathes of fan-favourite characters in the first quarter of the film: see ya, Ironhide, Rachet, Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream and more (basically: we’ve got new toys to sell). Rock out to the cheesy soundtrack. Enjoy a breathless ten-minute sequence, just ten minutes into the film, in which more action takes place than in the whole of Bay’s two films to date.
Don’t: Expect the plot to make any sense whatsoever if you never watched the 1980s cartoon series that the film was tied to. Be surprised that the plot, such as it is, steals from several other sci-fi successes to precede the film, most noticeably Star Wars. Worry if you cry when Optimus Prime snuffs it – we all did, we all did. Get into arguments with super-nerds on the internet as to whether it’s better than the Bay versions/visions: such activity is not good for anyone’s health. Make a big deal out of the fact that it was Orson Welles’ final film role – if it didn’t say so in the credits, you’d never know it was him voicing the planet-sized villain, Unicron.

Transformers poster Bay 1
Transformers (2007)
Do: Enjoy the dialogue between central protagonist Sam’s parents – it’s some of the funniest, warmest material in any of Bay’s films. Marvel at the first on-screen transformation: the helicopter, Blackout, trashes a US military base in no little style. Laugh at the thing, as it’s clear that this isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously. Come away without worrying that you had no idea what was going on with Angelina Jolie’s dad and Barton Fink under the Hoover Dam – frankly, if it was action without Giant Transforming Robots involved, who cared?
Don’t: Lust after one of those Bumblebee Camaros, as the model used is a concept version (right? I have no idea about cars). Cry when Jazz dies – few even noticed. Get bogged down in trying to follow the story – what story there is gets stretched close to snapping point, and focusing on it will only reveal several holes in its fabric. Bother watching at all if the concept of alien robots that can take on the form of terrestrial vehicles is utterly ridiculous to you (I can understand that).

Revenge of the Fallen
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Do: Avoid, if possible. Unless drunk. Then it becomes unintentionally hilarious. Rather than simply offensive (see: The Twins).
Don’t: Worry too much. Michael Bay thought it was crap too, hence the tiniest of hopes that Dark of the Moon will be a massive improvement. And even if it’s not, at the end everything will explode so there’s no chance of a fourth installment.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is released on June 29. It might be alright. You never know.


Mercury Prize 2011: albums which are likely to contest it.

May 25, 2011

Metronomy

Lots of Pretty Brilliant British albums have come out since The xx shuffled away with the spoils at the 2010 Mercury bash. I’ve written a fairly comprehensive guide to a spread of them on the BBC Music Blog – including releases by Metronomy (pictured, up there), Katy B, Ghostpoet, PJ Harvey, Adele and loads more. Click these words to go and take a look.


Five things I have learned from spending five minutes (okay, a little more) with L.A. Noire.

May 23, 2011

LA Noire image

1. The facial animation is really something. Every little twitch is captured. Yes, I know that’s what we were promised. But to see it running before your eyes is something else. It’s a massive step forward for video game graphics.

2. The bodies, however, are not quite as special. There have been a few moments when the superb acting – for a video game, this is another significant progression, bettering Red Dead Redemption by some margin – has been awkwardly juxtaposed with clunky movements. They’re not bad at all – but are made to look ordinary by the facial work. Plus, some of the bodies seem too small for the heads in certain cut-scenes.

3. Chasing after crooks and beating them down is pretty easy. Granted, I have not progressed too far, but even for entry level fisticuffs, the couple of brawls I have been in have been beyond simple. Punch, duck, grab, throw. Plus the mechanics are fairly stiff – perhaps it’s just me but the responsiveness isn’t what it could be.

4. The storytelling is fantastic, and the cases superbly structured. I have already been hooked enough to want to know what happens next, at every turn. Every little clue, I want to sniff it out; every possible extra (newspapers: do pick them up), I want to tick it off. Cole is not the most engaging of protagonists so far – but there’s the suspicion that we’re going to learn a lot more about him, very soon.

5. I shouldn’t have agreed to play the game through with my wife. Not because I want her to miss out – but she is unlikely to want to play for more than an hour a day. I could quite easily play through for a good few hours at a time. This is going to be slow progress…


Forgotten Noughties #7: Adam Gnade, Run Hide Retreat Surrender

May 11, 2011

Adam Gnade - Run Hide Retreat Surrender

Adam Gnade
Run Hide Retreat Surrender

Loud + Clear, 2005

Sometimes I can’t write, my fingers frozen by what’s unfolding in my ears, even several spins down the line. That happened here: I struggled to review this record. I did find interviewing its San Diego-born maker easy, though – you can read the piece on Drowned in Sound HERE. Adam’s music – “talking songs”: spoken-word explorations of the heart and all its bruises, set to folk imbued with worn-down soul, wearing spit-shined shoes and drinking from whatever bottle the hand can grasp the quickest and tightest; disaffected, malformed, inspirational – really had no precedent in my head. Of course it did in The Wider World. But let’s not go there when we can sink, instead, into a record that to this day can leave me just a little shaken up. I should be grateful, I suppose. At least I can move now – apt, as Run Hide Retreat Surrender (commas, optional) is a collection inspired by movement, by travel, and all the experiences that one can encounter in the vast unknown of the USA.

Adam Gnade – Dance to the War

Adam Gnade – Shout the Battle Cry for Freedom


My pick of new album releases for April, 2011

May 11, 2011

Dutch Uncles - Cadenza

They’re published on the BBC Music Blog – click HERE to see what they are, listen to clips, watch videos and the like.

Album of the month is from Dutch Uncles – watch the title-track from their second LP (and first for Memphis Industries; pictured above), Cadenza, below.

A close second, the new album from Dark Dark Dark. I’ve been playing Wild Go a lot in the past week or so – it’s enjoying a second wind on my iPod. I’m hoping it’s not going to wear itself out too soon, as beside Wild Beast’s Smother (read about that HERE) it’s one of the most special, beautiful releases of 2011 so far. Watch the video to Wild Go (the title-track from said LP) below.

Just magical, isn’t it? (Yes, very.)


Wild Beasts – new album review and interview

May 11, 2011

Wild Beasts

I am a lucky, lucky man to be doing the job I do. Getting paid to write about an amazing record, and talk to one of its makers. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Read my review of Wild Beasts‘ new album, Smother, on the BBC.

Read my interview with frontman Hayden Thorpe on the BBC Music Blog.

So good. Probably my favourite album of the year so far. If it’s not in the Mercury shortlist when it’s announced in July, somebody’s made a mistake.