Monday, January 5, 2015

Defeating Michael Bay

Up until this year, I've been a passive defender of Michael Bay's films.  I understood what they brought to the table in terms of entertainment.  There'd be plenty of exciting shots.  Plenty of explosions and flames viewed through an abundance of spinning camera moves.  I enjoyed them for what they were and argued with other cinephiles about it.

When Transformers was released in 2007, I was downright giddy.  Not because it was Bay directing, but because I was a Transformers kid growing up.  Bad acting and unnecessary slow-mo shots of Megan Fox be damned, I was all in.  Why not?  I liked both Bad Boys films.  I love The Rock.  Give me my hero-angle shot looking up (and circling, of course) at Optimus Prime fighting Decepticons and it's all good.

Over the course of the first three films, the optimism waned but I was still invested in each movie when it came out.  Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen was pretty terrible from a story standpoint.  It made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  However, it gave us the best Optimus scene in any of the four films:

I won't bore you with all the super-dork details, but the gist is Bay's Optimus was a sociopath and homicidal.  Even so, this scene was the closest we got to seeing "our" Optimus.  Little nuggets of sentimentality like this popped up here and there in the first three movies.  There were enough crumbs sprinkled into the mess to feed my rants of justification to those who would speak ill of the films.

Then the fourth film arrived this year along with another Michael Bay-produced take on a childhood favorite, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It was an assault on my personal nostalgia.  It felt like both Bay and Jonathan Liebesman, the director of TMNT, were daring us GenXers to try and find something to like about the movies.  They were aggressively awful.  I mean, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

It was so bad in fact, that I was slapped into realizing how defending any of the films (including the previous ones) was such a misguided attempt at accepting a bad version of something I cherished.

This past Sunday, when the Islanders lost to the Edmonton Oilers (the NHL's current worst team), my reaction started off in that long-used excuse zone.

"Without those two terrible mistakes that gifted goals to the Oilers, they might have won."

"Scrivens stole that game for them.  The Oilers weren't even that good."

"I wasn't wearing my older Islander hat.  This new one doesn't have the good vibes yet."

"I wasn't drunk enough."

It didn't take long to give up on that whole train of thought.  As I've chronicled through this blog, our thinking as Isles fans has changed this year.  Fifteen minutes after the game, I felt most of the #IslesTwitter universe had properly moved on.  The great Arthur Staple of Newsday put it best:

What I did think about was how that type of game, the textbook "playing-down-to-the-worst-team" performance, has elicited three distinct types of reaction between this year, last year and all those prior seasons.  This year was a simple shrug.  Two (or more) seasons ago it would've been the excuse Baysplosion.  Then there was the 2013-2014 season.

Last year was the most disappointing season I've had as an Islanders fan in a decade.  The team had made the playoffs that past spring (albeit in a shortened season) and had a great series against the perennial powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins (boom, alteration).  Losing the series was heartbreaking but man, the optimism juices were flowing.  Then Garth Snow took those happy feelings, placed them on his desk and let them sit there, unaddressed and slowly wilting, for the entire summer.

We're waiting, Garth...
He made no moves to improve the roster.  Truth be told, he made things worse by trading away one of his best prospects at the draft for a 3rd/4th line grinder.  When the team started the year playing rather mediocre hockey, the excuse robots were at DefCon 1 quicker than usual.  Snow figured doing nothing didn't work in the offseason, so he traded for Thomas Vanek and gave away one of the team's future first round draft picks.  Not only was the fanbase panicking, it seemed the GM was also.  Nothing worked.  The team continued into its November freefall and all hope was lost by Christmas.  It infuriated me as a fan so much that the luster of the 2013 playoffs was scraped away and any excuse-making I did made me hate myself even more.

The 2013-2014 Islanders were the Transformers 4/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of the team's recent history.  They made me stop defending Islanders management and players.  Even as the following offseason progressed and Snow made more and more roster moves, it was hard to know if the team was actually improving or if we'd simply witness another spectacularly exciting Baysplosion trying to cover a terrible narrative.

Now that it seems we've made our way out of this fiery Bayverse of Islander history, it's clearer to me how much of a shitshow not just last year was, but a vast majority of the last decade.  That sounds silly.  How could I not see how bad things were?  I think I did, but I was always at the ready with an excuse for it.  By the turn of the calendar from 2014 to 2015, I'd run out of those excuses.  Garth and the Isles had peeled all away from me.

When the credits rolled on Transformers: Age Of Extinction (and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for that matter), I had nothing to say.  I had just witnessed Optimus Prime punching out Grimlock and riding him into battle like he was Prime's personal gimp.  It was the last straw.  It was the Michael Bay equivalent of Garth signing Radek Martinek to fill out the defense corps.

"Really?  This is what's happening?"

Had things gone south again this year, it would've been impossible to muster up any new defense for continuing to be a fan.  Of course, I'd still actually be a fan, but I know I'd have devolved into one of those full-on cynics who are incapable of any sort of optimism.  Think Randy Quaid in Major League.

So far, this Islander team has played well enough that even when they lose a game to the worst team in the league, no excuses are required.  A year ago, I hated how they stole them from me.  Now, I'm happy to not need them any more.


For the record, my favorite director is David Fincher.  A guy who makes moves about how cynical and masochistic people are inside.  I like to think a long-time, optimistic fan suffering through last year's Islanders is one way a person becomes that way.  Let's all hope that this new Islander team is moving towards a happier ending like Panic Room (where the good in people prevails) instead of, oh, almost all of his other movies where ambiguity reigns.


For an amazing breakdown of "Bayhem", checkout this video by Tony Zhou.  If you like geeky movie talk about stuff like editing, direction, lighting and other technical aspects, his YouTube channel is fantastic.

1 comment:

  1. Snow simply followed the basic way of building a team, from the net and out. Halak could have been a bit of a risky move since his play behind the Blues D may have influenced his numbers. But, it proved to be a good acquisition. Then acquiring the defense. And, I also like the fact that he stick with Capuano.

    I get annoyed with rebuilding teams going through too many coaching changes. That is one thing that I was not too fond of Tallon as he let go of DeBoer, then Dineen. But, i guess it has worked out so far.

    The Isle's are once again a respectable team. A team that has skill, depth, character, and an identity that is led by Tavares.