Michael Bay and I have a long and strange history together.
I've been a hard critic of his work over the years, but there are films of his I like, and films I don't. I think we've gradually reached a place where he knows that I walk into each of his movies open to the experience, and that in the end, I want to enjoy what I watch. I do not dismiss or dislike movies lightly. And, along those same lines, I do not just hand out knee-jerk praise.
As you'll see at the start of this interview, we both appreciate the other one's position on this, and I find it a pleasure to sit down with Bay even when I'm not a fan of his current film. When I did enjoy the film as much as I enjoyed "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," it just makes the conversation work even more. I saw Bay earlier this year at a preview event for "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" that was thrown specifically to show us some of the action and some of the early finished 3D shots, and he seemed genuinely curious about people's reaction to the first stuff we saw. The same was true in Moscow. He was excited to get the feedback and start talking about it.
Michael Bay and I have a long and strange history together.
Let's start with this: for the first time since "Avatar," I am going to recommend that you find the biggest and best 3D theater you can find and buy yourself a ticket, because "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," especially seen in IMAX 3D, is an overwhelming sensory experience. The sound mix alone is more exciting than anything in the billion-dollar-bore of "Pirates 4." This is gigantic action we've never seen before, and Bay's reaction to shooting and cutting his film for 3D is to get better at what he does. It raised his game, and as a result, I feel like we just saw a dare thrown down by one of Hollywood's biggest action specialists: "Top this."
Just for reference, here are links to my reviews of "Transformers" and "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen." That should give you an idea of what I carried into the theater with me when I sat down to see the new film. And if you don't feel like reading both of those pieces, I'll sum it up quickly: I think the first film is a lot of fun, and I think the second film is a big mess with some remarkable visuals. They've both got their problems, with the second film basically serving to magnify all the first film's issues to a disturbing degree.
"Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" is easily the best film in the series, and there's a solid hour-long action sequence in Chicago that uses everything Bay's ever done before, but all blended into one exhausting push to save one girl in the midst of a war involving two planets. It's the personal story on an apocalyptic scale that Bay loves to try to tell, and that other guys like Emmerich and Cameron and even Spielberg love to do. And this is the best version of it that Bay's made so far.
Peter Falk was a giant.
Not in stature, of course. One of the things that made him interesting on film was his perpetually rumpled appearance, the way he looked like life had put its thumb on him at some point and pressed down hard. But in terms of the mark he left on television and film, he was a giant, and one clear sign of that is the way different age groups will mourn him for different films, and the way his career managed to change and mutate over the years, always for the best.
I am absolutely a fan of "Columbo," his best-known role. I own every single episode on DVD, and I watched them all again as Universal was putting them out. It's a formula show, no doubt, but I love the way the series would play with that formula, and I loved Falk. Watching him verbally spar with the smug bad guy each week, watching him lay out his nice, neat little verbal traps, that's one of the textbook definitions of comfort viewing. Sure, I knew where the show was going every week. Every single viewer did. But the pleasure came from watching Falk get there. It was about the details, the way he sketched in his home life through descriptions of Mrs. Columbo and the way he would always seem a little more scattered and frazzled than he really was. It was a charming show, and Falk was the reason it worked.
I met Chris Weitz briefly over a decade ago when, after the "Detroit Rock City" premiere, he and his brother Paul gave Harry Knowles and I a ride to our hotel through Westwood. At that point, they were the "American Pie" guys and little else, and the years since have seen both of the Weitz brothers try many different things without really ever creating a singular identity for themselves as filmmakers.
For Chris, the high watermark so far has been "About A Boy," the 2002 film he made starring Hugh Grant and a young Nicolas Hoult. I love that film. I love the performances, and I especially love the way it seems to take its time and leave a lot of room for raw humanity, in no hurry to get to the clever concept or the big twist. It's a simple film, direct and real. Since then, "The Golden Compass" and "Twilight: New Moon" both felt like detours that did nothing for Weitz as a filmmaker, but I understand the freedom that a hit like "New Moon" buys for you as a director, and it looks to me like Weitz cashed that freedom in on his new film, and it may be the best choice he's ever made.
John Lasseter has always been the face of Pixar for me.
I love that he's been so front-and-center since the early days of the company, and as we discuss in this interview, it's led to some interesting responses from children who now recognize Lasseter completely and immediately.
He's a busy man by any standards, and it felt to me like it was important to him to actually be hands-on and directing again, even if it's just one movie every decade or so. The world of "Cars" is probably the most personal of all the Pixar worlds, and so I set aside my skeptical adult screenwriter hat for a while and, instead of trying to put Lasseter on the defensive about the internal logic of the world, I decided just to try to understand his enthusiasm for the world and the characters.
When I wrote my piece last week about how mystifyingly bad the teaser poster for "John Carter" is, for some reason, it seemed to particularly upset George "Formerly Of Latino Review" Roush. He called me out about it on Twitter, and then wrote his own piece in which he savagely mocked me while completely missing the point of what I wrote.
I hadn't seen the new "Brave" poster when he brought it to my attention last night on Twitter, once again bringing up my reaction to "John Carter," and the fact that he would even compare the two points out just how much he missed the boat on what I said last week. The problem with the "John Carter" poster is that it says nothing about the film. At all. And even a teaser poster has an obligation to tease. Give me something. Mood. Setting. A look or a feel that suggests what I might be getting from your film. You have to assume with every single piece of marketing released for a film that someone who will see that trailer or poster or TV spot has no idea what your movie is, and that might be your only opportunity to make an impression on them. By that standard, "John Carter" is as complete a failure as I've seen from a teaser poster.
But "Brave"? Well, this is how you do it.
The idea that Warren Beatty is writing, producing, starring in, and directing a film again makes me very happy.
And the idea that it's finally going to be his Howard Hughes movie? Well, color me ecstatic, because this one's been simmering for a while.
I'm not sure what place Warren Beatty holds in our pop culture at this point, if any. I think his place in film history is secure, no doubt about it. He's proven himself to be a gifted and smart collaborator many times over, and as we get closer to the release of his Howard Hughes film, we'll probably do a special series here at the blog to look back at Beatty's career and make the case for why he is one of the greats of his generation.
But in terms of modern current pop culture? If you were to ask 100 people under the age of 30 about Warren Beatty, what comes to mind for them? How well do they know his work, if at all? "Dick Tracy" was his last hit of any significance, and that was 21 years ago. His last film, "Town and Country," was an epic bomb, one of the most expensive money-losers ever made when you consider budget to return, and even that was a decade ago. How many teenagers today even remember that "Love Affair" or "Bulworth" or "Bugsy" came out? That's all that they could even have been aware of in their lifetime.
Just before we started rolling on this interview, I asked Eddie Izzard how things were going, and how he and Owen Wilson were enjoying their press day for "Cars 2."
He fixed me with a bleary gaze and, with surprising bluntness, replied, "We are both dead behind the eyes today."
Now, I certainly don't think things were as bad as that, but it's good to remember that there is a toll that these things can take on you when you're grinding out about 100 interviews a day for three days in a row sitting outside in the beginning heat of an LA summer. No matter how pampered you are by the studio that's hosting the event, when those interview lights are all directed at you all day long and you're doing your best to not look like they're sucking your very essence out of you, it can be real work.
Jake Kasdan's "Bad Teacher" does not always connect with every joke, and there's one character in particular that seems to have been abandoned by the screenwriters midstream, but when the film works, it contains some wicked belly laughs, and I'll give Cameron Diaz credit for this: she seems delighted to play a total asshole.
And why not? There's something liberating about playing someone who is absolutely unrepentantly awful. Elizabeth Halsey is not a reluctant educator who wakes up to her gifts over the course of the film. She's not someone who loves kids but is afraid to show it. She's not a good person who is misunderstood. She's selfish and a little bit stupid and completely superficial, and she sees her teaching job as, at best, an inconvenience, and at worst, a form of torture. She does not love her students… in fact, she can barely stomach them. She has one goal in life after being dumped by the man of her financial dreams: get a tit job so she can hook a big fish. She figures that's all she's missing, and she's willing to do a year of penance in public high school to get there.
Who would have guessed that the most fun I'd have at the "Cars 2" press day would be with Larry The Cable Guy?
I'm no snob. I don't spend my time sneering at Larry or at his audience. I am perfectly happy accepting that not all entertainment is manufactured for me, and that not every audience is going to want the same things I want. I think some critics find it necessary to dismiss anything they don't personally enjoy, but that's silly. Nobody is the ideal audience for everything.
When I was getting settled in, just before the cameras rolled, I asked Larry if he would ever make the same sort of professional switch that Dwayne Johnson did when he stopped going by "The Rock" and just became "Dwayne Johnson" on a full-time basis, and Larry responded with a quick and confident, "Nope."