Transformers 3: less than meets the eye

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th July 2011.

Like many movie goers this weekend, I took in a screening of the much anticipated Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Directed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Michael Bay (Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon), this 157 minute toy commercial was shot in 3D with the assistance of little known director, James Cameron. Mercifully, my session was in 2D. Whilst I was initially excited by the prospect of 3D cinema, I’m now over it completely. The glasses are uncomfortable and make me look like Buddy Holly pre-crash, plus I find the picture a little too dark and cannot follow the action.

The crazy thing about the Transformers sequels is that they are so unnecessarily complicated. I could not tell you what the storyline of the latest film is about. There’s plenty of running, explosions and shooting.  And not much of the movie takes place on the moon.

As a card carrying member of Generation X, I grew up playing with Transformers toys (I even had the opposition toy range, Machine Men or GoBots) and watching the cartoons. My dream Transformers movie would be the realisation of the battles that took place in my head and on the living room floor when I was a kid.

How about this for the perfect Transformers movie? Optimus Prime and the Autobots explore my mum’s kitchen in search of the Whisk of Power. The evil Megatron teams up with Skeletor and E.T. to locate the Egg Beater of Destiny in the second drawer down and the final battle takes place under the living room table. Chaos ensues until bedtime.

Seriously though, I’m struggling to recall anything that took place in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Nothing has stuck. The trailer certainly made a greater impression. How sad.

And what’s with the title? Did Pink Floyd deny Paramount and Hasbro the rights to their famous album name? If that’s the case, why go with the nonsensical “Dark of the Moon” then? I guess it doesn’t matter. Considering the film is a mess, they probably should have gone with Transformers: A Momentary Lapse of Reason instead.

My recommendation is that you by-pass this holiday’s crop of mediocrity. Jim Carrey’s Mr Popper’s Penguins looks pretty dire. By all reports The Green Lantern is terrible. Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Penguins Part Seven may be the only hope for filmgoers.

If you have pay TV, stay at home and enjoy some of the landmark shows about to kick off. Boardwalk Empire, a 12 part series set in Prohibition era Atlantic City, has just concluded and was absolutely amazing. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Steve Buscemi, this gripping series was television storytelling at its best.

The next instalment in the Dr Who spinoff, Torchwood, will debut next Saturday. Entitled Torchwood: Miracle Day, John Barrowman returns as Captain Jack Harkness in this ten part season which will explore what happens when the population of Earth stop dying.

Finally, the much anticipated Game of Thrones, another big budget series and starring Sean Bean, will debut on July 17. Based on the popular books by George R. R. Martin, the show follows “kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars and noblemen as they vie for power.” I can’t wait.

Some of the best storytelling is taking place on your idiot box. With toy companies now in the filmmaking business, why not stay home and have a big night in?

After-school ABC TV in the eighties rules

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16th November 2010.

Growing up in the eighties, I have vivid memories of racing home from the school bus every afternoon to make sure that I didn’t miss a moment of the ABC’s early evening programming. Now this was well before pay TV where kids (and stoners) have access to cartoons all day every day. There was only one timeslot each day for the latest Japanese anime series followed by an endlessly repeated BBC show.

I recently attempted to revisit some of my childhood favourites to see if they still held appeal. The results were disappointingly mixed. Perhaps I should’ve left my rose coloured glasses on.

At four thirty, my afternoon TV fest usually started with a dubbed Japanese cartoon. My favourite was Star Blazers, a space opera that focused on the journey of the starship Argo and its crew to Iscandar, a planet with the resources to save Earth from the evil blue skinned Gamilons. Star Blazers was one of the first animated series to have major storyline arcs and an episodic structure. In my head, the show ran for months and months. In reality there were three seasons with a total of seventy seven episodes.

I bought the season one box set this year. I made it through two episodes before the box was put on the shelf for eternity. The show is humourless and overly dramatic with terrible voice acting. Just add Kate Ritchie and you’d have Cops LAC.

Other animated shows from that timeslot include Astro Boy and Voltron. The latter was a daily toy commercial and it certainly worked on me. Between my brother and I, we had the complete set of lions that joined together to form Voltron, a giant robot warrior. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t try to prevent JFK’s assassination, I’d go back and tell my ten year old self to keep those Voltron (and Star Wars) toys in their boxes. Mint toys from that era are worth a fortune.

At around five o’clock, the BBC shows would start. Metal Mickey was a sitcom that starred a man in a giant robot costume. Every episode would end with a “hilarious” disaster where the very clumsy robot would accidentally smash through Styrofoam walls to blatantly canned laughter whilst the catchy theme jingle played. The show is available on DVD in the UK but after catching a few clips on YouTube, I decided against paying big bucks to watch an expressionless robot who occasionally says something funny. Insert your own Kate Ritchie joke here.

Doctor Who was on perpetual repeats in this slot too, usually from the Tom Baker era and in my mind, usually The Ark in Space story. You know, the one with the dodgy giant space caterpillars. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to sit through that one, but I’ll never look at bright green sleeping bags the same way again. I really enjoy the new Who, but I probably could live without another journey to the alien planet where the balsa wood walls shake every time you walk past them.

The Goodies and The Kenny Everett Video Show also usually aired just before Peter Russell-Clark’s Come and Get It, a five minute cooking show that signified the end of the kiddie programming for the evening. I still adore Tim, Graeme and Bill. I own several Goodies DVDs and could probably watch their exploits on repeat and find something new to laugh about each time. I’ll also perform the Funky Gibbon song on request.

The Kenny Everett show was an interesting choice. It’s a racy sketch comedy starring a gay comedian featuring the sexy and nubile Hot Gossip dancers. What perfect programming for kids. Actually, that might explain an awful lot about my sense of humour, and my dancing. I look forward to putting a few Kenny Everett DVDs on my Christmas wish list.

OK, so my tastes have changed a lot since then but at the time, these shows caught my imagination and probably influenced my growth, or lack of, somehow.