The Austin Chronicle

In Praise of Michael Bay

By Richard Whittaker, April 19, 2013, 9:28am, Picture in Picture

If you love films, it's cool to say you hate Michael Bay. C'mon, Transformers? Transformers 2? Those shitty Platinum Dunes horror remakes? But this weekend, as the Alamo Drafthouse holds its Baymaggedon marathon, Greg MacLennan has a message for the haters: You love his movies too.

MacLennan has created the four-movie marathon as a tribute to one of the most commercially successful directors of the modern era. With Sunday screenings in Austin, Denver, Houston, and Kansas City, there'll be all the slo-mo magazine drops, overblown Hans Zimmer scores, borrowed U.S. military equipment and swirling standing hero shots you can handle. MacLennan knows everyone can just leave their pretensions at the door. Bay may make cinematic cheeseburgers but, if you want cheeseburgers, no one cooks them better. MacLennan says, "Those guys who say they hate Michael Bay, I want to knock down their door, I want to run into their house, look at their DVD and Blu-ray collections, because I swear, every single person that hates Michael Bay has Michael Bay movies."

I admit, I've taken the odd pot shot at the old Bayster (I once described Transformers 2 as "like getting smashed in the face with a DayGlo hub cap for two and a half hours"). But if Nicolas Cage flagging down jets with shipping flares after stabbing himself in the heart with an atropine injection doesn't get you roaring then in the aisles, then check your pulse. MacLennan said, "Man, I love The Rock. It was when Nicolas Cage started delivering these lines that wouldn't work from anyone else, but Nicolas Cage makes it work. He says, 'It's you, you're the Rocket Man' and hits the detonator switch and the rocket flies into this guy.'"

MacLennan happily admits to watching Armaggedon, The Rock, and Bad Boys 2 on opening day (in fact, he watched Bruce Willis save the Earth twice), but gets that people really, really hate Bay. He said, "Part of its stems from the fact that he's the only blockbuster filmmaker that people can connect a particular kind of filmmaking with. He has a unique style, a unique vision where you can instantly say, 'Oh, that's a Michael Bay movie.' People latch onto that and say think blockbuster movies are Michael Bay, and so they lump so much of their hatred onto him, because he is the greatest blockbuster filmmaker. He is the guy that has the resonance within our culture."

Bay's also made action heroes from the most unexpected of actors. Remember when Will Smith was a chirpy rapper with a sitcom? Or even how Cage was bouncing between critically acclaimed bummers like Leaving Las Vegas and immemorable comedies such as Guarding Tess? Hell, do you even remember Guarding Tess? No, but you do remember him getting Sean Connery back into ass-kicking mode on Alacatraz. MacLennan says: "The way (Bay) captures an actor, and the way he challenges them, is that he makes heroes out of everyday actors. There's something inspiring about that, because it really gives you this belief in this everyman. You don't think that the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is the toughest guy in the room until Michael Bay tells you he is."

This weekend's four-film marathon celebrates all the bombast, but MacLennan is keeping the full lineup secret. All he's saying is that there will be three classic Baygasms, a special Drafthouse menu, plus an exclusive preview screening of Bay's new R-rate satired Pain & Gain. Like Joss Whedon squeezed in Much Ado About Nothing between his entries into The Avengers franchise, Bay directed his latest small-scale passion project in before rebooting his own Transformers series. OK, so most small passion projects don't have Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Mark Wahlberg in full action mode, but this is the surreal true tale of the Sun Gym Gang. An incompetent bunch of body builders turned inept gangsters, their muscle-headed story seems like pure Bay, but with Bay subverting his own Bayisms. MacLennan said, "I think people are going, 'Oh, wait, Michael Bay still has this 1,000 percent inside of him, and he was just refining his process and becoming more unapologetic.'"

In MacLennan's world view, Bay is like Terry Gilliam: Neither grew up, it's just that they have different toys. And Bay still really, really loves his army men. MacLennan argues he's the only director that can make an explosion more, well, explosive. He said, "An explosion is the most kinetic thing that can happen in the world, and what he does with a camera can make it more exciting."

Love him or hate him, Bay has been rocking his own style for two decades For MacLennan, Bay is "the Tony Scott of the '90s. Tony Scott was just like, 'What are all the tricks that I can do? How many film stocks I can use? How many cameras can I have shooting the same thing at the same time, and capture the most dynamic and kinetic and exciting thing." And, best of all, he's utterly unapologetic about it. MacLennan says, "In the credits to Bad Boys 2, he puts his own name on the screen with a burning cross. He's just saying, 'Fuck you, man, this is what I do.'"

Alamo Drafthouse presents Baymageddon, April 21, 2pm, Alamo Ritz. Tickets available now.

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