How does one calculate the success of a director? Though not mutually exclusive, critical acclaim and box office returns are usually the measuring sticks when it comes to Hollywood filmmaking.
One film director who has become known for financial triumphs, but who has become a bit of a pariah with critics, is Michael Bay. His movies typify giant Hollywood blockbusters, but in terms of artistry and substance, he’s been found more-than-slightly lacking in a myriad of reviews over the years.
We are well aware of how most critics feel about Bay, whose latest Pain & Gain arrives in theaters this week, as a filmmaker. But where does he stand with the theater-going public? His movies continue to make serious coin, so obviously he still has an audience, but we decided to poll both fans and detractors alike to better understand where Bay’s reputation stands.
There were those who were rather effusive with their love for Bay. “Michael is a genius,” says Chris Todd of Austin, Texas. “He has a understanding of visuals that few directors do, I really believe he's top tier on that regard.” Todd acknowledges that the location in which Bay’s films are seen makes a tremendous difference. “What makes him great is that he's one of the few guys left today who makes films for the big screen. He has no interest in the home experience really. It's all about the theater. And that's why his work loses a lot of power once it's viewed at home.”
His visual prowess also proved a major draw for fan Jenni Lee. “I love his panorama shots,” she says, “hands down the bomb scene from Pearl Harbor is one of the most gut wrenching scenes in history, not only because you know what happens when it hits, but because if the way it was shot. He also knows how to film explosions in an epic way.” Lee went on to note that his visuals prove to be the ultimate mitigating factor when considering his faults. “At the end of the day I will always go to a theater to see his movies and at least give it a shot because at a minimum I know I will at least get to see something that is visually stunning.”
However, even those who counted themselves Bay fans could not deny his shortcomings. Biostatistician Ryan Machtmes suggests that maximizing enjoyment of Bay’s work means clearly defining one’s expectations. “Truthfully, I watch his movies because they're just that: [movies],” he says. “No, I don't go to his movies expecting art, but sometimes a movie is just a movie, an escape into the fantastic and a way to just watch something and be entertained by it for purposes of relaxation and unplugging my otherwise always-on brain.”
Still others maintain that Bay’s appeal is a function of his time. “He came to power as the resurgence of the indie film crowd began to wane,” says fan Craig Dougherty. “After the minimalist early 90's that birthed [Steven] Soderbergh, [Kevin] Smith, [Richard] Linklater, and [Quentin] Tarantino, I think the general audience was itching to return to the big budget action genre.” Dougherty further argues that Bay doesn’t ever aim “to neglect emotion or substance, he [just] chooses to focus on delivering that message through high octane action rather than story and character development. He's the purest definition of a movie director currently working in Hollywood, and I can respect that moniker.”
But again, Bay has cultivated a legion of hecklers over the years who are just as vocal, if not moreso. “Michael Bay is the most frustrating filmmaker,” asserts Anthony Donovan Stokes, “because he has an endless amount of resources, and completely squanders them on aesthetics instead of actually storytelling.” Mikus Duncis adds, “he has a lot of untapped potential and indulges himself way too much.” Duncis also echoed oft-heard criticisms of both the length and poor comedy of Bay’s films. “His films are way too long and have an absurdly large amount of unfunny, offensive supporting characters and the story is always somehow muddled. If he could learn how to make a straight up 90-minute action films with a bare-bones minimal plot and no comic relief, I think he would be known for making great, fun and fast paced action.”
Some have argued that Bay’s offenses run even deeper, and that he is in fact a detriment to film. “I think Michael Bay's biggest crime as a filmmaker is that he perpetuates cynicism in numerous aspects of the movie-going experience,” contends Patrick Girts, “his films are very well made products, but they rarely respect the audiences watching them.” Most damning of all, Girts points out, is that “despite that lack of respect, [Bay’s movies] make money hand over fist. More studios are adopting this model, and quality storytelling pays the price.”
Surprisingly, no matter the side of the fence polled people happened to fall, many of them had ready-made associations locked and loaded.
“The man is like your cheesy bachelor uncle. He's loud, curses and drinks a lot, always has some new skeeze he calls a girlfriend with him, and is definitely not someone you want to hang out with long term, but he brings over all the cool fireworks on the 4th of July and let you have some of his beer one time so he's alright,” says Tony Rex Bowler, Houston.
“Michael Bay is like a student of the culinary arts,” says Jose Antonio Rivera of New York City. “He knows the ingredients, he knows the recipe, but when it comes to actually making the food, he pulls it out before it's fully cooked. He sprinkles his films with a dash of style to cover up the fact that it's undercooked and then proceeds to tell you how ‘good’ it is.”
Jordan Worth Cobb of Conway, Arkansas calls Bay “a painter,” but backhands him by suggesting that he “goes for what's easy and doesn't try.” Anthony Donovan Stokes, Manassas, Virginia is even less kind. “[Bay] is a ten-year-old boy in a fifty-year-old man’s body. A really dumb, impatient, perverted, hyperbolic, defensive 10 year old.”
Inversely, Ryan Timothy of Brace, Montreal compares Bay to his contemporaries and gives the Armageddondirector the advantage. “I know Zack Snyder has the image of a teenager with a camera, but Bay was, still and will probably always be that guy for me,’ Timothy says.
But for every fan, there’s a naysayer. “He seems to be a living example of what would happen if you gave a frat dude a very technical understanding of film and millions of dollars and told him to make a movie,” says Stephan Krosecz of Cypress, Texas. “The only difference is you'd find a lot more kegs of crappy beer, Gatorade, and Mountain Dew on set.”
It seems the relationship between Michael Bay and movie consumers is no less complicated now than it was when he first appeared on the scene in the mid-90s. Bay fan T.C. De Witt may have summed it up best when he said, “aficionados of film consider him a hack and a disease to the art of filmmaking, but he doesn't make art movies; he doesn't make intelligent movies. He makes the movies he loves with the stuff he loves. That passion, even if it's shallow to most, should be admired.” Further putting things in perspective, Angela Behm reminds us that “for all the hate [Bay] may garner, at least he's not Uwe Boll.”
More: Michael Bay: 'I Will Apologize For 'Armageddon'''Pain & Gain' And 9 Comedies Inspired By Horrific EventsSee Wahlberg & Johnson at the 'Pain & Gain' Premiere
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Britney Spears' husband Kevin Federline is making his acting debut as a thug on TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
The 28-year-old dancer, whose first album, Playing with Fire, is set to be released in October, began shooting the role last week. It is due to be shown on TV later this year.
Federline says, "This is pretty much my first time acting. It's the first time I've actually had a speaking role.
"I was doing stuff for the Teen Choice Awards and got the call while we were rehearsing and I p**sed in my pants! I was excited right off the bat. It's the only show that I really, really watch."
Federline will play an arrogant teen in the episode, who harasses investigators Nick Stokes (George Eads) and Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) on a job.
He has previously starred with wife Spears in their own reality show, Britney & Kevin: Chaotic, which aired in 2005.
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Box office figures were Served this Super Bowl weekend.
The youthful hip-hop dance film You Got Served, starring the defunct boy band B2K, took the top spot with $16 million*, knocking last week's champ, the Ashton Kutcher thriller The Butterfly Effect, down to the third spot with $9.9 million.
"[You Got Served] is one of those movies that flies beneath the radar, then suddenly, it's at No. 1," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press. "It just shows when you go after that teen audience, it's an audience that definitely has power."
Second place belonged to the raucous romantic comedy Along Came Polly, which took in a decent $10 million, while the regal The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King came in fourth with $5.2 million.
Rounding out the top five was another newcomer, the SAT heist flick The Perfect Score with $5 million, while the other heist flick opening this week, The Big Bounce, failed to make it to the top 10, scraping by with a measly $3.3 million.
With the Academy Award nominations announced on Tues. Jan. 27, the box office also saw a few familiar faces return in re-release, including Best Picture nominees Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which earned $2.3 million in 1,118 theaters, and Lost in Translation, which grossed $2.1 million in 632 theaters. Both joined Mystic River, which expanded last week. The indie drama Monster, which stars Best Actress nominee Charlize Theron, also saw a 49 percent jump, with a healthy $3 million in 668 theaters.
The overall Super Bowl weekend figures of $75.2 million, were slightly down, 5.93 percent, from the same Super Bowl weekend last year (which came a week earlier), at $79.9 million.
THE TOP TEN
Screen Gems' PG-13 rated hip-hoppin' You Got Served opened in the No. 1 slot with an ESTIMATED $16 million, which comes somewhat as a surprise since it only opened in 1,933 theaters. Still, its $8,277 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week.
The former boy band B2K hits the big screen as an urban dance crew competing for a big cash prize.
Directed by Chris Stokes, it stars Marques Houston, Omarion, Jarell "J-Booq" Houston and Dreux "Lil Fizz" Frederic.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Along Came Polly stayed in second place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10 million (-38%) in 3,052 theaters (+57 theaters; $3,300 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.7 million.
Directed by John Hamburg, it stars Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Debra Messing.
Last week's champ, New Line Cinema's R rated supernatural drama The Butterfly Effect, dropped to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.9 million (-42%) in 2,605 theaters (unchanged; $3,820 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.4 million.
Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, it stars Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Elden Henson and Ethan Suplee.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King actually moved up a spot to fourth in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-22%) at 2,556 theaters (-302 theaters; $2,338 per theater). Its cume is approximately $345.2 million.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated dramedy The Perfect Score opened in fifth place, scoring $5 million in 2,208 theaters with a $2,264 per theater average.
A group of high school seniors conspire to steal the answers to the SAT test.
Directed by Brian Robbins, it stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen, Bryan Greenberg and Leonardo Nam.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish dropped two notches to fourth place in its eighth week with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-35%) in 2,280 theaters (-158 theaters; $2,018 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.3 million.
Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Lohman.
Miramax Films' R rated Civil War drama Cold Mountain held on to seventh place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-9%) at 2,500 theaters (-302; $1,813 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $78.8 million.
Directed by Anthony Minghella, it stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger.
Dropping considerably, DreamWorks' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! came in at No. 8 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-39%) in 2,808 theaters (+97; $1,603 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.4 million.
Directed by Robert Luketic, it stars Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel and Topher Grace.
Warner Bros.' dramatic R rated Mystic River moved up a spot to ninth place since expanding to more theaters last week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (+31%) at 1,370 theaters (+43 theaters; $3,215 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.8 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen rounded out the top 10 in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-36%) in 2,396 theaters (-416 theaters; $1,711 per theater). Its cume is approximately $127.8 million.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff and Tom Welling.
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated Hawaiian heist caper The Big Bounce didn't have much spring in its step in its opening weekend, taking in an ESTIMATED $3.3 million in 2,304 theaters with a $1,439 per theater average.
Directed by George Armitage, it stars Owen Wilson, Charlie Sheen, Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster and Gary Sinise.
This week, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $75.2 million, down 8.75 percent from last week's $82.4 million, as well as down 19.65 percent from last year's $93.6 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's PG-13 rated The Recruit debuted at the No. 1 spot with $16.3 million at 2,376 theaters with a $6,861 per theater average; New Line Cinema's R rated horror sequel Final Destination 2 opened in second with $16 million in 2,834 theaters with a $5,652 per theater average; and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated actioner Biker Boyz premiered in third with $10 million in 1,766 theaters with a $5,723 per theater average.