Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third Transformers movie, set a new low for pointless, mindless, over-long, self-indulgent, merchandizing-driven action movies, even by the standards of director Michael Bay. It is hard to imagine 10-year-old boys, the target audience of the movie, not seeing through the creative bankruptcy of the production. It is a forlorn hope that this fourth iteration might be the last — it is subtitled Age of Extinction after all — but a fifth is already in pre-production. One can be thankful for the absence of Shia LaBeouf from this film, and Mark Wahlberg, the protagonist, is always a welcome screen presence. Wahlberg is Cade Yeager, an auto mechanic who makes a discovery that brings the Autobots, Decepticons and a paranoid government official down on him and his family. Kids in love with the Hasbro toys might get a buzz from seeing the hyper-realistic action of these popular figurines, and Nicola Peltz as Tessa, Cade’s daughter, will provide vicarious delights for slightly older children, otherwise known as fathers. At 157 minutes, Transformers 4 shows no sign of self-restraint, so be prepared to have your brain hammered into mush by this summer blockbuster.
Road trip buddy movie from Malaysia stemming from cross-cultural romance is nothing to shout about, particularly with rather lame performances from Ben Pfeiffer (Benji) and Joanne Yew (Bee), who feature as a young couple (he from the UK, she from Malaysia) who need to get the blessing of the curmudgeonly Uncle Chuan (Sai Peng Lee) for their upcoming nuptials. Inevitably, Uncle Chuan has little time for the white bread Benji, a man with a remarkable lack of cultural understanding. The conflict between the two men is inevitable, and its development largely predictable. Chuan insists that the future son-in-law must accompany him on a country-wide trip to deliver wedding invitations, and the two men set off by motorbike across Malaysia. Despite language barriers and initial animosity, the two come to realize that their priorities are essentially one and the same. In a mixture of English, Mandarin and Hoklo, the film has an innocence that is charming, making up for much of the technical shortcomings and providing some insight into the culture of Malaysian Chinese.
Intellectual sci-fi from director of the indie hit Primer, Shane Carruth does not have battling robots, star fleets or interstellar reptiles anywhere in sight. This is science fiction in its original meaning of art that seeks to explore the outer realms of human possibilities. It is serious, technically accomplished, well-acted and deeply annoying for its seemingly deliberate obscurity. Go with the flow of the director’s oblique storytelling technique, which is full of hints and possibilities, but never allows itself to be pinned down to a clearly defined narrative line. The film’s story might be about a young couple who become connected by a singular, mysterious experience, a form of hypnosis caused by body-snatching maggots that alienates them from everyone around them. If you like the idea, Upstream Color may work for you, but if you actually expect a story with a beginning, middle and end, you are likely to be banging your head against the seat in front of you 20 minutes into the film. And the director is not about to give you any help. An outstanding performance by Amy Seimetz establishes this young actress as someone to watch, but all the acting talent in the world is not going to make Upstream Color appealing to people who just want to relax in the cinema.
We Are the Best
A small film with a big heart, We Are the Best may not hit a lot of screens, but is undoubtedly the best bet for actual entertainment this week. Directed by Lukas Moodysson, based on a comic by his wife Coco Moodysson, this Swedish film is a coming-of-age drama about three girls in 1980s Stockholm who decide to form a punk band — despite having little musical talent, no instruments and flying in the face of the fact that punk, by this time, was well and truly dead. And you don’t even have to like punk, or even, for that matter, any style of contemporary popular music, to feel the vigorous pulse of this movie, which hits the spot in any discourse about the aimlessness of adolescence and the power of friendship. Moodysson, who was once deemed a “young master” by Ingmar Bergman, has had some ups and downs in his filmmaking career, and with We Are the Best, we have someone of enormous technical accomplishments taking on stale genre materials and making from it an unforgettable gem.
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
In the regular drumbeat of arrests of alleged Chinese spies, one case last month stood out. It did not involve the US or another rival of China, but Russia, whose security services accused a prominent arctic scientist of selling classified data on technologies for detecting submarines. Meanwhile a court in Kazakhstan in October convicted the Central Asia nation’s preeminent China specialist of espionage, a move widely interpreted at the time as a warning against increased meddling by the superpower next door. Both men maintain their innocence and if China is spying on Russia, Moscow is surely doing the same. Even so, the fact
A walk down Orchard Road shows just how badly the coronavirus pandemic has hit Singapore’s famed shopping strip. Gone are popular restaurants like Modesto’s, which shut last month after 23 years. Also missing are the queues of Chinese tourists outside Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Malls along the 2.4km stretch, once one of Asia’s top shopping meccas, are dotted with empty stores. On a recent midweek afternoon, the number of shop staff idly dusting shelves or playing with their mobile phones rather than greeting customers is notable. “It’s the worst crisis for Singapore and Orchard Road,” said Kiran Assodani, who has run her