Transformers: Dark of the Moon' aims to revive 3-D movies

LOS ANGELES — About five years ago, Shia LaBeouf stormed the offices of Michael Bay, planning to rip the director's head off. The actor, then 20, had just auditioned for Bay's action opus Transformers and thought he nailed it. Bay seemed delighted when LaBeouf ad-libbed lines as the two made up their own bot-dialogue.

Weeks passed, and no offer. Worse, word had spread among actors that Bay was using LaBeouf's lines to audition other actors. "I said, 'Dude, you're ripping me off,'" LaBeouf recalls. "He said he had other actors he liked, especially this guy in Canada. I was (furious)."
A few days later, Bay called LaBeouf to not only offer the part but to admit there was no other actor in the running. "He wanted to make sure I was in," LaBeouf says. "He played me a little, but he got what he needed."
What Bay needs today depends on who's talking about the most divisive director in Hollywood. Film critics, particularly, think the director of Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys needs an ego liposuction and a writing coach.
Actors, fans and even academicians believe he needs a break from the critical barrage. Whatever shortcomings Bay has as a dramatic filmmaker, they say, he makes up for in action — and profits.
"I don't know why people like to take so many shots," Bay says at a park bench on the Paramount Pictures lot, where he had just wrapped Transformers: Dark of the Moon. "I think the media does that with anyone who has success. I make movies that audiences like, that I'd want to see. That's all. It helps take off some of the pressure."
The pressure is on Bay, 46, and his third installment of the Hasbro toy franchise, which opens Tuesday in select IMAX and 3-D theaters and nationwide Wednesday.
Though just about everyone (including Bay) considers the picture a blockbuster shoo-in — some projections run as high as $500 million — Bay knows he's late to the 3-D game. And since 2009's 3-D spectacle Avatar became the biggest movie of all time at $701 million, Bay says, the game has gone downhill.
So he has taken it upon himself to revive the fad.
"There are many movies that have done it very badly," he says. "The studios have gone for quick profits and audiences are feeling (angry). People aren't taking the time and spending the money to do it right. I am."
Bringing 3-D into the light
No one is going to accuse Bay of being a spendthrift. While he denies reports that his film cost $400 million, he won't talk figures. He does acknowledge destroying 532 cars during filming.
"I don't comment on budgets," he says. "But I did tell Paramount that it was going to be expensive to shoot this in 3-D, and they were a little shocked at the price.
"But you really want to know how much this one costs? A movie ticket."
For all the bravado, Bay still is covering his bets. Last week, he sent a letter to more than 2,000 theater projectionists, urging them to set bulbs at their highest setting. (Bay has accused theater owners of keeping bulbs too dim to save on energy costs.)
"It is critical your projectors play to the brightness levels specified for the best results," he wrote on Paramount letterhead. "We are all in this together." He also took a passing swipe at previous 3-D movies, calling them "dark (and) dingy."
To entice exhibitors, Bay offered to ship extra-bright "Platinum 6" prints of the film to any theater that could project in 6-foot lamberts, the brightest possible luminance for current projectors. About 2,000 of the 3,900 theaters qualified for the deluxe prints, Paramount says.
(Check with your multiplex if you're particular about which print it's showing.)
Bay concedes he has done an about-face on 3-D, a format he once said did not fit with his "aggressive style" of filmmaking, namely, quick cuts and unrelenting action. The technology typically requires longer shots to give the eye time to react to its depth of field.
But when James Cameron invited him to the set of Avatar, Bay began to see possibilities.
"At first I thought, 'This isn't for me,'" he recalls. "The cameras were big, the sets were cold. It wasn't my style."
But he considers Cameron a godfather of sorts and was swayed by his plea. "He said, 'You need to do one. We need big movies in 3-D or it's not going to work.'"
Bay took nine months to study the technology, hired Cameron's staff for his film and bankrolled millions to construct portable cameras that he could take into Chicago, where the movie was shot.
He also changed his thinking. Known for films that can resemble music videos and Chevy commercials, Bay opted for longer tracking shots for Moon, which posits that robots have been feuding in the Milky Way since Neil Armstrong (in on the alien presence) took one giant leap for mankind.
Much of the old cast returns, including John Turturro and Tyrese Gibson (though Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces Megan Fox as the distressed lass).
And while directors such as Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee plan to employ 3-D to add visual nuance to their upcoming films, Bay believes Hollywood has it backward. What's missing, he says, is the leap-in-your-seat thrill of '50s 3-D pictures like Cat-Women of the Moon and Robot Monster.
"It's such an amazing technology, and it's been wasted," he says. "We did things that have never been done. I don't say this often, but this is a movie you should see in 3-D."
Bay’s style invites vitriol
Not everyone is holding their breath. Bay's style has earned him scorn since he was a boy, when he nearly burned down his Los Angeles home with his first movie.
Bay was about 10 when he made his first flick, an untitled Super 8 action romp involving his train set, a toy dinosaur and firecrackers he rigged along the tracks (he has always been nuts for pyrotechnics). A train derailment, though, set the curtains ablaze and attracted the fire department — and a grounding.
His grandfather, a Russian-born factory owner who manufactured denim, took Bay for a walk and suggested that when he was done with the movie silliness, "I could come home and help him stone-wash jeans," Bay says.
Bay never came home. After a stint as a 15-year-old intern for George Lucas, where he filed storyboards for Raiders of the Lost Ark, he attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut and majored in English and film.
"Even then it was clear that he was born to be a director of visually splendid but narratively challenged summer popcorn movies," says Jon Sherman, a former classmate and now an assistant professor of film at Kenyon College in Ohio.
As a brash college student, Bay employed large casts and special effects "when most of us were making pretentious, handheld black-and-white short films," Sherman says.
"Look, I've seen Pearl Harbor three times and I still don't understand the story," Sherman says of Bay's 2001 hit. "And I'm pretty familiar with the events it's based on. But every time I watch it, my jaw drops at Michael Bay's visual chops."
Bay's style has earned him an inordinate amount of vitriol. There's a website dedicated to besmirching him, and critics salivate at getting him in their cross hairs.
Of the second Transformers film, 2009's Revenge of the Fallen, Roger Ebert wrote: "If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together."
If Bay is fazed by the criticism, it doesn't show. He's even willing to join the cacophony against Transformers 2. Ask him why those talking toys needed a third film and he'll tell you: The second one stunk.
"Frankly, the writing wasn't there," he says. "We had a writers' strike, so the script wasn't where we wanted. It's the wrong way to make a movie."
Critics may debate whether Bay knows the right way, but there's no arguing he has tapped into public tastes more successfully than most directors. Bay's eight movies have averaged $187 million in the USA alone, and Revenge of the Fallen is the 11th biggest film on record at $402 million.
"Every other director I've worked with wants to give you the artistic meaning behind every scene," LaBeouf says. "But sometimes, you're just picking up your wallet and leaving the room. There's not some intelligentsia message.
"Michael gets that. There's no ping-pong table on his set. The money goes toward making the movie — one people want to see."
Not that the director needs a defender.
"You'll hear people say now, 'Oh, I don't want to see something in 3-D,'" Bay says. "That's wrong, because what they've seen is 3-D done poorly. Directors stage scenes improperly. This isn't going to be one of those movies."


Serena and Venus Williams play on less-prominent Court 2 at Wimbledon -- is it a sports and gender issue?

On Day 2 at Wimbledon, defending champion Serena Williams managed to defeat Aravane Rezai after much time off the tennis court dealing with blood clots in her lungs and injuries to her feet. On Wednesday, Venus Williams beat Kimiko Date-Krumm, returning to form after withdrawing from the Australian Open in January due to injury.

As blogged Monday, Serena (and now sister Venus) provided strong evidence that for top-tier athletes, mental toughness matters as much as, maybe even more than, a physical edge. Theirs are the sorts of stories that makes for great TV.
And yet, as Serena noted Thursday, the sisters have gotten placed on the smaller Court 2 once each thus far. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and other male tennis players always seem to be on Centre Court or Court 1, which are far more prominent venues. (Centre Court seats about 15,000; Court 1 seats more than 11,000; Court 2 seats a mere 4,000.) Are top male players being favored over the equivalent female stars?

Officials say no, but it may speak to the problem of women and sports coverage. A 2010 study coauthored by USC's Michael Messner found that after women's share of local TV sports news rose from 5% 1989 to its peak of 8.7% in 1999, coverage has plummeted to a paltry 1.6%.

Think even the Williams sisters' star power can't overcome such gender issues in sports, or that it's merely unfortunate coincidence? Post your thoughts below.


Greek Prime Minister to reshuffle cabinet

Greece's Prime Minister, struggling to ensure Parliamentary approval for a crucial austerity bill, said Wednesday he would reshuffle his Cabinet and seek a vote of confidence for his new government this week, after coalition talks with opposition parties failed.

George Papandreou has been struggling to contain an internal party revolt over the new austerity package that is the main condition for continued funding from an international bailout and avoiding a devastating default that would knock the global economy and undermine the future of the eurozone.
Mr. Papandreou's announcement came after hours of negotiations on a day when central Athens was rocked once more by anti-austerity riots and the debt-ridden country came under massive pressure from markets.

Wednesday's political maneuvering and violence on the streets of the Greek capital triggered a selloff in global financial markets as investors worried that a default in Greece could hurt banks in other countries in a chain reaction experts predicted would be catastrophic. Yields on the country's 10-year bonds reached new record highs, spiraling to 18.4 percent.

“Tomorrow I will form a new government and immediately afterwards I will ask for a vote of confidence from Parliament,” the Prime Minister said, adding that “The country is facing critical times.”

Mr. Papandreou and conservative party leader Antonis Samaras held their telephone negotiations Wednesday afternoon. The conservatives' conditions for participating in a potential grand coalition were that Mr. Papandreou leave his current position as Prime Minister, and the new government renegotiate the bailout agreement, an opposition party official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the negotiations.

Other opposition party officials publicly called for Mr. Papandreou's resignation.

Wednesday's talks “reached the point that there should be a government of national unity and that Mr. Papandreou should not remain Prime Minister, because he symbolizes the failure of the last 18 months,” senior conservative party official Panos Panagiotopoulos said on Mega TV.

Mr. Papandreou said that while he “clarified that my responsibility has no dependence on official posts,” such conditions were unacceptable.

“Before the meaningful issues were negotiated, conditions were made public that could not be accepted,” he said, adding that they would have kept “the country in a lingering state of instability and introversion, while the vital national issue remains dealing with the national debt.”

The emergency talks began as riot police clashed with thousands of youths in the main square outside Parliament. Police fired repeated volleys of tear gas to repel rioters hurling firebombs and ripped-up paving stones. A crowd of youths smashed the windows of a luxury hotel in the square. More than 60 people were injured, including 36 police.

The new austerity package, which runs two years beyond the current government's mandate to 2015, has sparked widespread protests and a revolt from within Mr. Papandreou's Socialist party. He saw his majority in the 300-seat Parliament reduced to five on Tuesday after one of his deputies rebelled and declared himself an independent. Another deputy has said he will not vote for the austerity package.

But the measures must be passed by Parliament before the end of the month if debt-ridden Greece is to continue receiving funding from its international bailout.


Lavoy Allen, LaceDarius Dunn sit on sidelines of Nets' workout with injuries

Lavoy Allen sat in street clothes on the sidelines at the Nets’ practice facility, left to watch the team’s draft prospects work out.
To get selected in the NBA Draft, he needs to answer a nagging question about his work ethic, but he could not provide any answers today, and he wasn’t the only one.
Of the six players originally scheduled to showcase themselves in East Rutherford, only two made it onto the floor. Two other players were called in as late additions.
Allen, a center from Temple, and Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn both missed the workout with sprained ankles. Georgia guard Travis Leslie was out due to turf toe, while Jereme Richmond, a guard who left Illinois after his freshman season, was scheduled to appear but did not.
Dunn and Allen had their NBA stock hurt by being on the sideline because the two borderline second-round picks need to impress. They both have question marks attached to their résumés.
Although he is the all-time leading scorer in Big 12 history, Dunn’s senior season got off to a rough start as he was suspended for the first three games due to an arrest for aggravated assault stemming from a domestic incident.
He was not indicted, but knows what to expect from the NBA decision-makers.
“That’s the main question,” Dunn said. “They probably ask me about basketball, but eventually I know that question is coming. I get it all the time.
“I tell them the same thing. I tell them that it happened and that’s over with and I’m willing to move forward and focus on basketball.”
General manager Billy King acknowledged that the Nets’ conversation with Dunn will include questions about that incident.
“Yeah, we’ll talk to him about that,” King said. “We do our background checks so we have a lot of information.”
While Dunn will still have the chance to put any fears to rest during an interview, Allen’s inability to work out was more consequential because of inquiries about his effort on the court.
“He’s got a lot of skill, but there are times when he didn’t always show it or play 100 percent,” King said. “But he’s got all the tools to play at this level and that’s up to him how much he wants it.”
Flashing a grin, Allen said he has become used to that line of questioning and thinks it may all be a case of misunderstanding.
“I hear that all the time, that’s one of the things I try to prove in these workouts,” Allen said.
“No matter who I’m working out against, I’m trying to be the best guy on the floor and show them I have a high motor. I think people get confused at the pace I play the game. I play at a little bit of a slower pace than most people, but I think I still perform well when I do play.
“When I’m out there playing, in my mind it feels like I’m going 100 miles per hour, but when I look on film I think, well it was kind of slow.”
Former Seton Hall guard Eniel Polynice and Northern Illinois center Sean Kowal were the last-minute replacements.
They participated alongside Xavier forward Jamel McLean and Northeastern guard Chaisson Allen.