Wednesday Movie Roundup: Michael Bay Edition

Some say Michael Bay is the devil, the man responsible for the death of cinema as we know it.

It seems the director behind such crass mainstream entertainments as The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and the Transformers films — the third of which, subtitled Dark of the Moon, opens today — has no shame when it comes to his particular brand of slam-bam cinema. Bay specializes in disaster movies, the kind of stories where nothing less than the entirety of civilization hangs in the balance. His CGI-driven, ADD-addled films revel in big explosions, big visual flourishes and big emotions. Subtle he is not. —-

Critics hate him, and Hollywood studios loves him — all of Bay’s films with the exception of The Island have eclipsed $100 million at the box office.

Ironically, I interviewed Bay when The Island, a futuristic thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, was about to open in July 2005. The director, now 47, was nervous about the film because it required more narrative nuance than he'd previously shown.

“You want to grow each time you go out, and I think it’s great how I really held back and wasn’t slam-bam thank you mam, like I normally do,” he said of The Island at the time. “I was biting my tongue. I was like, ‘God, I hope it works, I hope it works.’ ”

It didn't work.

While The Island remains his most intriguing/thought-provoking film, it couldn't help but devolve into a typically bombastic mess by its disjointed finale. Most critics panned it. Worse, audiences stayed away, resulting in the only box-office flop in Bay's career.

No doubt wounded by the experience, he crawled back into his zone of comfortability by taking on the glossy, effects-and-mayhem-driven Transformers films, each of which has gotten progressively more idiotic and overblown. (See tt stern-enzi's scathing review of the new one below.)

Of course, Bay long ago gave up trying to please his critics.

“I’m so used to them hating me that it’s like, ‘You know, I don’t think it matters anymore.’ It’d be nice if they did (like me), but you gotta make a movie for an audience, that’s just the way I look at it, especially a summertime movie.”

Elsewhere, the other three new releases open on Friday: a Sundance-pimped documentary about a gifted “Horse Whisperer,” a romantic comedy featuring a pair of Hollywood heavyweights and a frothy adventure about twentysomethings frolicking in Europe.

Opening films:

BUCK — Buck Brannaman, the subject of Cindy Meehl’s debut documentary Buck, has been branded a horse whisperer based on his ability to work with horses without resorting to the traditional means of “breaking” the animals. He calls his technique “starting.” For lack of a better, more marketable term, that indeed sums up what he teaches. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Mariemont Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: A

LARRY CROWNE — Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, both of whom have scaled back their acting workloads significantly since their 1990s heydays, team up for this romantic comedy about recently laid-off retail worker Larry Crowne (Hanks), a middle-aged guy who decides to go back to college where he meets a communications professor (Roberts) who is both cantankerous and irresistible. Hanks directs for the first time since That Thing You Do, which, believe it or not, was 15 years ago. He co-wrote the script with Nia Vardalos, whose main claim to fame remains My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B

MONTE CARLO — Selena Gomez tries to grow up a little (though her fling with Justin Bieber isn't helping) in this frothy adventure centering on a trio of recent college graduates (Gomez, Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy) who get a taste of the high life when, during a trip to Paris, they unexpectedly get transported to Monaco. Thomas Bezucha directs a cast that also includes Andie MacDowell and Catherine Tate. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON — After being subjected to a scathing critical bashing for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (including harsh words from Megan Fox, one of the movie’s stars), Michael Bay apparently dedicated himself to cleaning up his act for the final installment in his epic trilogy based on the Hasbro toy line and animated series from the 1980s. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: F