Monday Morning Critic – Michael Bay & Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

With the third and final Transformers film hitting theaters this week, the one thing I’ve been gearing up for is one of the best reasons to read film critics: Michael Bay Hate Season.

Like him or not, Michael Bay makes film interesting for guys like me because of the sheer amplitude of hate he inspires from hardcore film fans and critics. Bay to the film crowd is a combination of Satan and the Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl performance. According to the masses he’s usually the reason why film is in decline and why people don’t know a good film from a bad one. Transformers is the signifier of a Hollywood in decline and without Bay’s big, money-making blockbuster we’d be living in an era with 10 Citizen Kane quality films a year. If American audiences were exposed to higher forms of films people would reject Transformers and the ilk and art house films would make billions.

Or at least that’s the bit I tend to hear.

It’s kind of annoying after a while to hear the same insults and degrading remarks about Bay, albeit phrased differently, for making the films he does. I’ve always that if Bay made a prestige picture and didn’t put his name on it he’d get better reviews than he would otherwise, mainly because he’s got that anti-Scorsese thing going. Anything he does, no matter how good, will never get the consideration it deserves because Bay will never be a critical darling.

Scorsese could make a film about Michael Vick lionizing him for his dog-fighting efforts starring the guy from The Room and I bet Roger Ebert would slap that sucker with four stars and put it in his Top 10 of the year. Bay could’ve made Goodfellas and it wouldn’t be considered a modern classic because of Bay’s name alone. It’s the downside of playing to the masses and shucking it all the way for making money as opposed to making art for its own sake. Some directors get that sort of pass, with people automatically elevating their films because of the name on it, even if they’re really not all that good.

That bugs the piss out of me because I don’t think Bay gets a fair shake. Hence for a bit of a contrarian viewpoint this week as I present the following:

Kubryk’s 13 Reasons to Like Michael Bay …
or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blockbuster

13. He did The Rock and Bad Boys … cut him some slack

Roman Polanski is called every superlative you can after four decades of making crap films because he did Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. Bay did The Rock, with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage deciding to try and out act each other while trying to stop Ed Harris from killing some innocents. It was brilliant and the dude never gets a pass for anything merely based on his early work. Plenty of other directors do as well and it’s bothersome.

Think about it for a while; James f’n Bond and the guy from Con Air get into an acting duel while Michael Biehn and a throwaway actor from L.A Law are given big roles, amongst others. Cage also can’t swear and has to act like a dork on purpose, as opposed to merely doing it accidentally like he usually does. And yet it was one of the best action films of the ‘90s and perhaps one of the best films of the decade, period. So we should give him some slack for a craptastic Transformers film in the same way Scorsese gets a pass for The Aviator and every other ham fisted attempt at winning an Oscar amongst others.

12. A Michael Bay flick is an event

One of the things Bay has managed to do is make every film he does seem important. His name carries weight in getting out audiences. It feels like something special is happening when he releases a film, from the advertising to the trailers to the theatre experience itself. Not too many directors still have that air about them and Bay is one of them. Say what you want about his films quality but when he releases a film it’s not like he’s Woody Allen or Gus Van Sant, where the art houses get antsy but no one else does. Everyone recognizes that “a Michael Bay film” means something in the same way Christopher Nolan releasing a film means something.

11. He told Jerry Bruckheimer to shove it … and then out-Bruckheimer’d him

If Michael Bay never walks away from Bruckheimer to set up his own shingle he remains the Scottie Pippen to Bruckheimer’s Michael Jordan. He’s always the hired gun, the guy with whom Bruckheimer’s touch always works. On his own, producing films as well as making them, Bay has crafted his own legacy as a mogul of sorts.

His touch carries weight.

Bruckheimer keeps finding guys to direct films in the way Bay did, almost interchanging them, and Bay has become a brand almost unto himself. Any guy that walks away from the biggest producer in modern film, and grows to larger heights, you have to respect. It doesn’t take much to stay with the same people and churn out hits regularly; it takes something to do it on your own.

10. Explosions are never boring, which is why Michael Bay uses them as plot devices

As much as we all want to turn our noses up during big action sequences and act like we’re too cool for school, there’s something awesome about an explosion. Michael Bay understands this and I think that’s why something blows up in every film he makes. There’s something cool about big-ass explosions on the big screen that can’t be replicated. Hell, he could remake When Harry Met Sally and you know he’d insert a scene where Harry battles terrorists and blows something up. And you know what?

That’d be awesome.

9. No Qualms with Hiring Actors without Proven Drawing Power or Credibility

One thing Bay really never gets credit for is that he’s managed to make stars on a regular basis with his big films. Shia LaBeouf may be ruining ‘80s pop culture, one film at a time, but without being in the Transformers series he’d be the poor man’s Elijah Wood in the indie scene. He’s Michael Angarano but with a higher profile because of Bay.

That same film also gave new life to a handful of others: Megan Fox would be Brian Austin Green’s hot-ass girlfriend and Josh Duhamel would be the guy from Las Vegas who James Caan made look like a chump on a weekly basis. He helped establish Will Smith as a box office star and breathed life into Martin Lawrence’s film career with Bad Boys. You can do this with the rest of his films, too, but give the guy credit. He doesn’t need to be like Steven Soderbergh and get big time, uber-famous actors to work for scale to make a film that people want to watch.

Even in the films he produces he’s that way as well; Bay has no qualms with grabbing unknown talent and giving them a break. It may be cheaper to do so but a guy with his pull could get bigger casts if he wanted to. Plenty of big time actors make their debuts in Bay films … in 10 years, when a handful become bigger stars, we can trace their roots back to his remake of a Friday the 13th or another horror film remake with his handprints on it.

8. He’s an action director who knows how to make a good hero and a better villain

One of the things that’s been lost over the years in action films are heroes we can love and villains we can hate. You can’t watch one of Bay’s films and have any sympathy for the villain or not really like the hero. It may be simplistic, as some prefer more nuanced characters, but having clearly drawn lines of good and evil isn’t a bad thing. If the Decipticons in a Transformers film had angst and whatnot about killing and taking things over, and Optimus Prime and the gang were all mean, the film wouldn’t work on any level.

The fact that Megatron wants to rule everything and has no qualms killing innocents is kind of fun in a way because bad guys ought to act like bad guys. Bay understands this intrinsically and goes forth doing it.

7. His films make tons of money …. consistently

Everyone always gives him gruff for making films that are intended to be more commercially viable than critical darlings and to this I say … so what? Not every director can be a Woody Allen or a Kevin Smith and survive on that fringe, with small budgets and a core audience that comes out early and often like a dead Chicagoan in a close election. Some directors have to make money for studios to continue making films and niche, art house films aren’t going to do it. Yeah Bay may have $200 million to make and market a film, but he also double that return in profit. How many films get made every year that wouldn’t because Bay’s films make money and thus help fund them?

More than anyone will admit.

The thing with spending $200 million on a picture regularly is that you also have to make that huge nut every time out. Michael Bay can’t afford to have a film that misfires massively and loses a ton of cash because he’s playing with big numbers. Kevin Smith films make money, albeit not much, but he’s never given a budget comparable to the GDP of a small country to play with either. It’s easy to make money with a film when you have a small budget to make back. It’s tougher when you have an epic budget and Bay does it every time out and then some.

6. The crowds for his films boost up box office revenues for other flicks

Another dirty secret no one wants to admit is that while teenage boys come out for a Transformers film, one imagines that not every parent is going to see it with them. It’s the blockbuster effect, which smaller films that are geared for a higher age bracket (or are counter-programming) will see a boost with people looking for alternative fare from the big fanboy films. The fact that everyone else can get a bump from him means a lot.

5. Michael Bay delivers what he promises every single time

One of the things I hate is when a film’s trailer hypes a film as something that it isn’t. It’s annoying going in expecting to see one thing and it turns into something else. And that’s kind of the beauty of a Michael Bay film: he delivers what he says. It’s why some people were livid at the showing of The American with George Clooney that I was at; it was hyped as an action thriller when it’s a quiet piece with some action. Michael Bay says “I’m going to blow stuff up, throw some hot girls in there and you’ll laugh” and then goes out and does it.

4. Michael Bay’s a decent guy

He may be a lot of things, including a pain in the ass to work with, but Michael Bay’s a good human being. How do you know? When Megan Fox went on her tirade about how he’s a dictator on set, his crew wrote an open letter in his defense. If they’d have remained silent it would’ve said something, or if other actors joined in the fun, but the fact that people came out en masse and defended him says something. That he may be a tyrant on the set but at his heart he’s a decent human being. For a Hollywood director that usually implies not raping anyone, so it is not like we are discussing a real high standard for behavior, but it says something when people defend you from an untalented starlet who owes her fame to Michael Bay winds up on the other side of the firing squad.

3. He’s a good human being … which you can’t say about a lot of people

Roman Polanski has gotten a bit rapey in the past and people do the “but he’s an artist” in defense of him. Michael Bay hasn’t and people hate him. You don’t hear rumors of Bay getting frisky with the extras or of studio payoffs to keep a scandal out of the news. When you don’t have a story that goes “and then Michael decided to get a little stabby and we had to hire these guys to keep it out of the news” then that is a deciding factor in your favor. Besides … he’s also a pretty good guy. Why?

Because no one has stories of him being a toolbox like many other directors … and he acts like a pretty good guy for the most part.

The only reason why anyone cares about Lars Von Trier is because he says controversial things and makes bad films. People act as if his films are good in that snooty way that lets them think they understand something about his work that us rubes don’t. It’s elitist crap, a lot like hearing someone discuss in public about how they’re a “socialist” when you know it’s only because he’s never worked a day in his life and seems popular.

Let’s face it: getting water-boarded has nothing on being forced to watch one of Von Trier’s films. I’d rather watch his films than hear him speak but let’s face it; Michael Bay’s films might not have a high trajectory BUT any time he speaks you know immediately he’s a good guy. You hear Von Trier speak and you know immediately he pleasures himself to Holocaust films.

2. He makes beautiful women look significantly more attractive

Some directors seem to enjoy making a beautiful woman look ugly or at least frumpy. It’s something kind of sexist to me that a beautiful woman can be made to look average because a director wants to maintain this allusion that a Bridget Moynihan or a Michelle Monaghan can live next door and it is perfectly normal. Plenty of directors like to sell the illusion of the good looking girl next door by toning down their hotness to more palatable levels.

I think there’s some resentment from being rejected in high school by hot girls lingering there but that’s just me.

Case in point: Melissa Leo. She catapulted to fame looking ugly and you could almost say that she won an Oscar for uglying it up in the same way Christian Bale could be accused of winning one because he lost a lot of weight. Every fan of her films saw her at the most recent Oscars and went “damn” collectively because she has that Helen Mirren ability to continually look stunning despite growing older. Plenty directors see this and go “I’d love to see that attractive woman look as ugly as the girls I settled for in high school” as some sort of perverse pleasure.

Michael Bay says “screw that noise” and makes a hot woman look hot.

How else do you explain Megan Fox in both Transformers films looking way too beautiful for a toolbox like the guy who ruined the last Indiana Jones film? Say what you want about women being sexualized in a Michael Bay flick but an entire generation of 13 year old boys went through puberty early because Bay made Megan Fox look like the most beautiful woman in the world. Only a guy who loves women and the female form could really do that. In a way he’s a bigger feminist than Gloria Steinem. She may have fought for the right to vote but he’s given them the right to look insanely hot. You could almost say that’s way more important because voting’s overrated in many aspects to some people.

Hotness may be fleeting but if you’re in a Michael Bay film you know you’re going to look like the most beautiful woman you can be.

1. Michael Bay may have aped True Lies …. but everyone else is aping him

Michael Bay’s directorial style is directly copied from James Cameron, specifically True Lies. Every film he’s done uses the same sort of cues and overall plot structure, as well as style, which Cameron did with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Arnold taking on terrorists. It’s the one thing I’ve always noticed but here’s the thing.

Everyone has copied Bay’s copy that it’s now known as the “Michael Bay Style.”

Look at films like Con Air, et al, from the Bruckheimer shingle. If you didn’t know any better there’s dozens of films you’d think Bay directed because everyone is aping his style. It’s the way summer blockbusters are made these days as Prince of Persia, et al, shares things in common with the Michael Bay Style of film-making. Hell, you could argue that Joe Carnahan has just made grittier versions of the same type of film that’s made Bay famous. Look at the opening shots of The A-Team and compare them to The Rock; lots of the same composition shots and the way he (Carnahan) did wide, scenic landscape shots are things Bay does fairly regularly.

Michael Bay’s style and the way he shoots a film, et al, are now copied en masse by anyone trying to make a blockbuster. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The Enforcer

I don’t know where I picked this up, probably on some sort of sale from a Best Buy, but it is a Hong Kong action flick in a crime setting with Jet Li. So it can’t suck all that much, right?

The Enforcer, originally released as My Father is a Hero, stars Li as an undercover cop assigned to bring down Po Kwang (Yu Rongguang). His wife’s dying and his kid is really kick ass at kung fu, though, so he has that going for him too. When another cop blows his cover, he has to take on Kwang one on one in the end to protect it all.

It’s a fairly predictable crime film with action elements, enough to keep it interesting, but this isn’t brilliance. There are better films in the genre from both Hong Kong and Jet Li to be had before this one. It’s entertaining but it’s not brilliant or even all that good. But it’s slightly above “perfectly acceptable crap” and that’s not a bad place.

Very slight recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – More evil robots try to take over the world.

See it – Michael Bay makes killer trailers and this one is no different.

Monte Carlo – Some tween singer who’s schtooping Justin Bieber does an identity switch or something.

Skip it – Yeah … file this in with another one of the tween queens trying to be a movie star like Miley Cyrus, et al.

Larry Crowne – Tom Hanks goes back to college. Julia Roberts is his professor. Shenanigans ensue.

See it – I haven’t seen Tom Hanks star in a small comedy in ages. Usually he’s in a prestige picture or a blockbuster because he’s Tom F’n Hanks. I’m curious to see what he does when he can let loose without massive expectations.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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