Tom Hanks. Julia Roberts. Big-ass movie stars.
I mean, not to put to blunt a point on it, but that's what they are. They are major proven durable movie stars, the classic box-office-tested definition of the term. They've opened more movies than most actors will ever appear in, and they've aged successfully, finding new ways to repurpose what it is they do in the first place, and how they do it. They've had to constantly reinvent to some extent just to survive. It's something you either do or don't master, and to have the careers they've had, you master it.
For Hanks, part of that reinvention was the way he gradually moved into writing, directing, and producing. I think he's got a really interesting track record that reveals a lot about his interests. He's fascinated by WWII, the space race, pop music, Greeks, Mormons, Maurice Sendak, and, evidently, Neil Gaiman. So, you know… that's pretty easily summed up. Or, wait, maybe Hanks is one of those guys who is using his awesome clout for some actual good in this business, showing some real taste in what he helps bring to the screen.
Tom Hanks. Julia Roberts. Big-ass movie stars.
I did not expect to find myself in the position of sticking up for Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
I thought, after seeing "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," that she would charm people in the role. She is, no question at all, a professional model, and she carries herself in every second of that film like she knows that Michael Bay is shooting everyone in the movie (and her in particular) like cars in a car commercial, and she doesn't have a problem with that.
But she has more than that going on. She's not just Hot POA #2 for the franchise. At least, not in my opinion. I think what she does well in the film is create a sense that she knows what effect she has on men in general, and she chooses loyalty to one person in particular and means it. She makes you believe that the unlikeliest relationship of the summer actually means something. She's invested completely, and she plays Carly as sweet, not as a man-eater.
The only time I've interviewed Shia LaBeouf, it was during the publicity push for the second season of "Project: Greenlight," and he was still a dewy-eyed Disney kid, freshly scrubbed and more forthcoming than he should have been. I instantly liked him, and I've rooted for him as he's carved out a place for himself in pop culture over the last half-decade or so.
Sitting down with him in Moscow for "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," I was struck by what a different person he is in almost every way now. I still see the same innate comic timing, that same ability to open up and project, but I also see someone who has lived a lot of very hard adult life in the time between our sit-downs. LaBeouf has played a lot of young man leading roles, and we've seen him play a lot of milestones onscreen and off. This movie feels like the close of a chapter in his cinematic development, and I'm very curious to see where he goes from here.
We discussed the way he's grown up with Michael Bay right there, yelling at him and blowing up the background, and we also talked about his new co-star, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and what she brought to the dynamic that's been building for three movies now.
Even before I walked into the room to interview Cedric The Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson together, I could tell it was going to be a wild one.Â You could hear laughter all the way down the hall from where they were, and every interviewer who walked out seemed greatly entertained.
Even as I was settling in and they were retouching both of the actors with a bit of make-up, they were constantly taking shots back and forth at each other, and you could sense just how in tune they were.
Personally, I have ridiculous amounts of affection for Henson, who has been a welcome presence in film since I first noticed her in "Hustle & Flow."Â There's a warmth to the work she does onscreen that I find really appealing, and in person, she was just as charming.
There are so many movies that I saw when I was young that I have not seen since that I almost wonder if it's fair to say that I've seen them. I remember what I remember about them, but I also saw them at an age where my memory can't be completely trusted. I have my versions of those films bouncing around somewhere inside me, and I've learned over the years that if I particularly treasure something I saw when very young, it might not be a good idea to revisit it. There's a disappointment that kicks in when you realize a film just isn't what you remembered. It's happened to me many times, and the genre where it seems to be most true is horror.
What scared an eight-year-old me is not the same as what scares a forty-one-year-old me. I'm scared now by the idea of something happening to my children or my marriage or my health, of something going catastrophically wrong, of lingering pain. I'm scared of the basic things that keep many people up at night. I'm not scared of monsters or mysterious beasties. I remember that feeling, though, when I was young and afraid of things under my bed or in my closet, things with sharp teeth and rough hands. And there were movies I saw at that age with monsters I could barely look at, monsters that grew in my post-movie imagination, only half-seen when on-screen.
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.
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.