Michael Bay: When he works and when he doesn’t

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Sweeping panoramas, low angle hero shots, slow motion rotations, fire work like explosions, product placement, women running in heels, these are just a few of Michael Bay’s favourite things. Every director (worth his or her salt) has their signatures. Their trademark styles and shots and motions that really stamp their name all over a motion picture. Michael Bay then, is really up there in these regards. Wether you love him or hate him, wether you think he’s only capable of making Transformer movies and put no stock in movies like The Rock or 13 hours, you can’t deny Michael Bay has style. And style is something we know, that people don’t always agree on, but no matter what, I think you’d be hard pressed to disagree with my argument for when Michael Bay works…and when he doesn’t.

What works:

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I know what you’re thinking, this list can’t be that long, but lets just see. Now Michael Bay got his start in directing music videos, and yes it shows, but, music videos are nothing if not entertaining, and one of the hallmark features of all the best Bay movies is that they are super entertaining. Theres one thing that makes or breaks all of Bay’s movies, and thats rules.

The Rules:

Every successful Michael Bay movie follows a few simple rules, and those rules keep those movies lean and mean, entertaining and upbeat. A perfect example of this, is his 1996 movie, The Rock. It follows one of his first rules, to have two lead, main, or co-main characters that are opposites of each other. The Rock pits a scientist in Nicolas Cage and and ex-con/government agent in Sean Connery. This allows him to ability to have believable action and expertise, but it also allows for the simultaneous use of humor that a fish out of water aspect, thats also believable. This “Dynamic Duo” rule as I’m going to call it, fits perfectly into the style of film making that Michael Bay excels the most at. We also see this continued in many of his other movies like Bad Boys, The Island and Armageddon.

The next rule I like to call the “10” rule. And by 10, I mean She a 10. It’s no mystery, that Michael Bay has a habit of hiring extremely attractive female co-stars to play along side his Dynamic Duo. Liv Tyler, Kate Beckinsale, Gabrielle Union, Scarlett Johansson, Megan Fox, and not to mention countless models turned actresses that he would call up to the big leagues. The real question here, is why does this work, and the reason is, with the exception of Megan Fox on my list, all of those ladies aren’t just stunning, they’re really good actors, and they allow for both great acting, as well as, allowing Bay to have his way with running in tight dresses (and in heels somehow), just being their looking really pretty, and giving one of his characters a super hot reason to want to win. And I know what you might be thinking, is this really something that should be in the pros section, labelled as one of his rules he should follow, doesn’t it exclude some other actresses that are amazing but might not fit his taste? Yes, it definitely does, but any excuse to have a great actress in a cast, is one I’m going to advocate for (and later in the cons I’ll talk about the other side of this coin).

The third rule I like to call, “Nothing like the real thing”. Nothing helps keep a Michael Bay movie on track and quality filled, like some kind of grounding in reality. Wether its being based on a true story, like 13 hours or Pain and Gain, or when he uses more practical effects than digital, like most of his movies not called Transformers. Having a tie or a hook to reality, almost forces Bay I think into making the better decisions, as opposed to when he has more freedom in his narratives. It also helps to eliminate smaller sub plots that are less essential to the over all plot, and help keep the movie moving at a better pace, with better story telling. Keeping his stunts and effects as real as possible also allows for him to create and keep a much greater sense of danger and suspense to his action scenes.

What doesn’t work:

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Now these are probably the sides of Michael Bay that a lot more people are familiar with, they are some of the go too reasons for hating on Bay and his movies. The real questions we should be asking here are why don’t they work, and why he keep returning to them? Here are Bay’s fail rules.

Rule number here is a big one, and one that he’s super famous for, and one that I like to call the “Explode all the things!” rule. We all know, if its Michael Bay, shits gonna explode, and that in itself isn’t the issue here. The issue is two fold, one are his use of seemingly only one type of explosion, what i like to call he fireworks bomb (where some real random firework like effects shoot out of anything that blows up), and the second is the frequency with which pretty much anything that a bullet hits goes up in a giant ball of fire. Those firework explosions always pull me out of the movie, because I’m always sitting there wondering what the hell would cause an explosion like that, and when EVERYTHING is exploding, the action itself gets so lost, confused and frantic that it loses its tension and desired affect.

Going off of the 10 rule from earlier, I had said it was a two sided coin, and it is. the real downside of the 10 rule can be seen in most of Bay’s more recent work, when the real change over to the genuine model turned stress instead of just great actress phase began. Transformers 1 is a great movie, and it stars Megan Fox, a woman not renowned for her acting, and that movie was very successful and so was the second installment she also stared in. Her being in those movies however, wasn’t the be all and end all proof that a movie could coast by on the looks if it cast, and this point was further proven by the revolving door of model actresses at would headline the future transformers movies, which have all made money, but received immense critical backlash, and all have been seemly getting worse and worse. This also goes against the reason I put this in the pros in the first place, and that was that it was allowing for roles for great actresses in blockbuster filming making. When the ONLY criteria of a female lead be “Hot according to Michael Bay”, then we have a problem.

Number three, is the “Bud Light” rule. We’ve all seen it, huge billboards in movies, only one car brand, some one literally stopping mid scene to open a beer that just spilled out of a truck full of those beers on a busy dangerous street to drink said beer on camera….Bay’s movies are filled with product placement. This rule like some of the others goes in the same camp of, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing until, and the until, is when someone does something ridiculous or out of character, just to have a freeze framable moment of them and said product on screen. Product placement isn’t a bad thing, and it can be done from the biggest to smallest of movies, its how you do it that matters, and over the last few years Bay has become more and more blatant and un-caring with his use of it. I know it helps keep budgets down, I know it might keep some producers and companies happy, but if the goal is the make a good movie, nothing should come in its way, especially not a paid for ad, that makes the audience feel like they’re still seeing the pre movie commercials.

Last but not least, this isn’t a rule, its just a piece of advice. For the love of God Michael Bay, branch out. In the last 10 years, Michael Bay has made 7 movies, 5 of which are Transformers movies, and his probably 2 best movies in that time, have been Pain and Gain, and 13 Hours. Both movies based on true stories, but movies with elements at least out of the typical action genre, both also following less of his don’ts, and more of his dos. I would love to see Michael Bay direct a horror movie, a thriller, sci-fi, fricking anything else at this point. Anything that would actually challenge him, and maybe he doesn’t want that challenge I don’t know. I just know right now the world loves to hate him, but some of favorite movies of all time are because of him, and hope he can get back to that Michael Bay, and maybe never step foot on a transformers set again in his life.

 

Trailer of the Week!

This weeks trailer of the week is:

Thank you for Your Service (Trailer #1)

This weeks trailer of the week is the new first trailer for Thank You for Your Service. Based on the book by David Finkel, and adapted for the screen by Jason Hall, Thank You for Your Service tells the story of the affects of post traumatic stress disorder, and the way it affects the lives of returning service men and women. The movie also directed by Hall of American Sniper fame stars Milles Teller and Haley Bennett in the title roles, but also sees the likes of Amy Schumer in smaller roles.

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The trailer also gives us a real good sense of the sense of tension and way in which PTSD creeps into your life and then just doesn’t leave. It also illustrates the great juxtaposition of the way these returning soldiers are seen as heroes, but they don’t see themselves as heroes, just comrades who had a shared experience. It looks to tell a heart wrenching, gutt punching type of story, but one that I think both needs to be told, and told well. Are you looking forward to Thank You for Your Service?

My Rating System

Ever since I started not just reviewing movies, but really just having strong opinions on them, one thing people would always bring up with me would be how could I give XY movie and so and so score, and this other movie a lesser score. Do you really think this movie is better than that movie? Cause thats what you’re telling me giving one an 8 and one a 7. And I always had to try and explain to people how my mental rating system really worked. Fast forward to now and my time reviewing movies “officially” and the same kind of question do emerge. So I thought it apropos to give a real and in-depth explanation of how my system works.

To start with I do use a traditional 1-10 rating scale, on which movies are rated 1 the lowest and 10 the highest. Outside of that however things get a little tricky. The standard 1-10 system I see as a bit stiff and restricting. What I do, is I use my 1-10 system and tie it specifically to that film, by that I mean my rating is basically me giving that movie a 1-10 where the 1 is the lowest based on that films potential and the 10 is the most. So what that does, is it tends to make movies that I think have less potential, have a higher chance of scoring a bit higher on the scale, because I thought that movie was maybe closer to its full potential, whereas a movie that has much more potential, might fall short. Let’s look at some examples:

Power Rangers (2017)

My review score 7 out of 10    Rotten Tomatoes combined critic score 5.1 out of 10

Now I don’t think Power Rangers was a game changer of a movie or anything like that, but other than the fact that I had a lot of fun watching the movie, I also felt like the movie did a lot to live up to it’s potential. If I were scoring it based solely on a universal 1-10 scale, I would have had to have given it a lower score when I would have compared that 7 out of 10 to other movies that I would have ranked a 7 also. That however, didn’t seem fair to me when I considered what the movie was and what it was indented to be, and as such, people might just have looked at that score and not see the movie, when I actually want them to see it.

Another factor is that I see the middle point of  my reviews as a 5, unlike many people who see the tipping, middle point as the 6. If i had to really break down my 1-10 I’d say scores of 1-3 are for the movies I like least, 3-5 are for movies I don’t think are good particularly but can have redeeming qualities. 5-7 are for movies that I like more than less, and how close to each side depends on the movies potential, and the things that they got right or wrong. 7-9 are for movies that I really like, and recommend, and while they can have flaws, they are totally more good than bad, have lots of good qualities, live up to a lot of their potential and are pretty entertaining. 10 is a score really reserved for movies that I think are the best of the best and deserve some rarified air to be able to stand on their own.

so hope this has been helpful and that you have a better idea of what my scoring system means from my reviews.

 

Cheers

Review : Transformers – The Last Knight

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“Humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth.”

Transformer 5 or which ever one this is, is one of the most convoluted, frenetic, chaotic, and all over the place movies I’ve seen in a long time. The story takes so many twist and turns, and jumps and leaps around its story and the globe, and is a mind numbing task trying to keep them all together. The story itself I kind of understood, but it literally goes a mile a minute, and gives you no reason to fall in line with it. It also doesn’t give you any real reason to feel for the characters and care when they were in dangerous situations. I mean there is a plot in here somewhere, but I also genuinely couldn’t care less by like 30 mins into it. There are also a lot of moments when the movie most certainly pauses for either dramatic or comedic effect, and they pretty much all fell flat, with a silent cinema audience. There were also so many different characters crammed into every nook and cranny of this movie that you never had any time to breathe. The cgi and visual effects are most definitely up to par and then some, everything on screen really does look good, especially the cars when they were zipping around the place, but I must say, I really don’t think I’m a fan of the current character designs of the transformers themselves. Each movie they have gotten more and more anthropomorphic, and I think it really takes away from making the characters stand out more. All in all, Transformers 5 is really a bit of a cluster fuck, and for something so full of things always happening, its actually kind of boring.

Review Score : 3 out of 10

Understanding Rotten Tomatoes

Launched in 1998, Rotten Tomatoes has become one of the largest websites in the world in the space of movies and movie reviews. But even with its 20 years in the business, many of us still don’t fully understand how the site and its metrics work, which isn’t a great thing. Over the last few years especially, the ability of Rotten Tomatoes to add to or take away from movie’s box office revenue has only increased, and seems to keep doing so. This increase in the “power” the website has on the average movie fan, is one I think is both good and bad. It’s great that audiences see it as a tool, that empowers them to avoid Hollywood’s less than best works, while in turn giving those films they deem deserving of, that extra boost. This power however, can be used unfairly, and it is especially used that way when its numbers are played against many peoples ignorance of the way the site really works. So how does it really work, and what do the numbers really mean?

To start with, the most fundamental thing to be understood about the site, is that it is an aggregator for reviews, and does not itself review anything. What that means, is that the site itself collects reviews from reviewers that it approves, and brings all those reviews to one place that is easy to find for anyone who’d like to see what these critics have to say. All of these reviews can be found along with some audience reviews on every movie that they score.

The second thing we have to discuss is the “Tomatometer”, which is where the site gets its famous percentage “scores” of films, only its not actually a score. As we stated earlier, this is an aggregator site, and the Tomatometer score is just that, its and aggregate of all the reviews the site recognizes, which it then converts to a simple and easy to see percentage out of 100. The way the site does this is two fold. First it must judge every review as either “Fresh” or “Rotten”. For a score to be granted a fresh, it must simply register as 60% or higher on its scale (3 or higher out of 5, 6 our higher out of 10 and so on). Conversely, any review that score 59% or less, is granted a Rotten. Now, once all the reviews are categorized as either fresh of rotten, they are all tallied together, and the ratio of fresh to rotten reviews is represented as a percentage, which represents the numbers we have grown accustomed to attaching to a films worth. Lets take two films to example.  The recent Wonder Woman movie currently has a Tomatometer score of 92% and is considered Certified Fresh (this just means it received over a certain of scored reviews). Many people may think, that this score means, the movie is 92 out of 100 in terms of reviews or in quality, but that isn’t the case. If we look at the break down from the critics, we see that the movie has had 298 official scored reviews, of which, 274 were considered fresh, or over 60%, and only 24 where considered rotten, or under 60%. So we can get a better understanding, that that 92% means that 92 out of every 100 critics, had a positive review of this movie, but if we look at their averaged review score, the movie is rated at 7.5 out of 10 based on all the reviews they tallied. 92% and 75% are not insanely off of each other, but you can imagine the headlines if this movie’s Tomatometer score was 75%. Our second example is The Mummy, which currently has a 16% rating. With 215 reviews, 34 of which were fresh and 181 rotten, we get our 16 out of ever 100 critics gave this movie a less than positive review, however, if again we look at the average review score we get a 4.2 out of 10. 42% is more than double 16%, and it certainly looks a hell of a lot better than 16%, no matter if each is still a failed grade.

So I hope we can see that while the Tomatometer and Rotten Tomatoes on a whole is a great and powerful tool, that we can have a better understanding of how it works, and why sometimes we should be less concerned with simply attaching a Tomatometer rating to a movies quality, and thats for better and for worse. Did you know how the Tomatometer and Rotten Tomatoes worked before, or is this all new information to you? Comment and let me know what you think about their system and how much power they should or shouldn’t have on audience opinion of movies.

 

Cheers.

Trailer of the Week!

This weeks trailer of the week goes to:

Detroit (trailer #2)

You might have thought our trailer of the week this week might have been another black centric movie, but as much as I love the Black Panther trailer, I think this Detroit trailer is really something special. Detroit is the next film from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow of Point Break (not that new one), The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty fame. Set to star a stellar, all be it young cast with the likes of John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jacob Latimore, Hannah Murray, and even the likes of Anthony Mackie, plus so many more, this movie looks to deliver some great performances.

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The story is of course based on true events, with a script penned by Mark Boal who has worked with Bigelow before on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark. It centers around a police raid that occurred in 1967 which then lead to some of the worst riots in American history, seeing even the National Guard being mobilized. I think this is going to be a really visceral and intense movie, made all the more difficult to watch knowing of how much truth lies behind its narrative. What do you think about the trailer? Does this movies look like something you’re going to want to see, or do you think it will be too much for you?

Review : The Mummy

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“An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.”

The Mummy, not to be confused with our beloved Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy from 1999. This Mummy is from 2017, and stars Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella in the titular role of “The Mummy” here. This movie also has the distinction of being the start (kind of) of the new Universal Studios “Dark Universe” of connected monster movies, that they plan to create using all the classic monster movie rites that they own. And in that vein, this movie does do well to set that universe up, and it does introduce many of the ideas and things that will return in the future. As a movie itself however, it isn’t as strong. The movie does have a good bit of action, and it is well done, especially during the none cgi stuff, which Tom Cruise of course is famous for. Sofia Boutella also does a pretty good job here, and she brought a real nice presence and a good physicality to the role also. She had to toe a line very often of sexy and scary, and she did a good job with that. Russell Crowe’s role here was also not bad, but it isn’t huge as its meant to really be a tease of the future more than anything else. All in all I do think that this movie has it moments, but overall it seems to fall kind of flat, and makes this movie much more interesting as a setup for the Dark Universe, than a new and compelling action, adventure movie.

Review Score : 6.5 out of 10