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Michael Bay: How Music Videos Transformed into Blockbusters

Michael Bay is a director who people love to hate. Whether your name is Mark Kermode or you've come to despise the Transformers series for its extreme, over the top, guns-blazing and near-pornographic display of alien robot carnage, it must be said – Michael Bay doesn't do himself any favours. Recently he admitted that he should have taken the advice of Steven Spielberg who said that he shouldn't make too many Transformers movies. The franchise has come to serve as an ode to a beloved '80s animated TV series about the Autobots and Decepticons, who battle for ultimate control of the earth, hiding in plain sight from humans in the form of vehicles and aircraft. While there have been a few winners, including Transformers and Bumblebee, the rest of the series has paled in comparison, with one of the worst sequels of all-time in Transformers 2.

Bay came up through the ranks based on a slew of big budget music videos for artists such as Meatloaf, Tina Turner and The Divinyls. This helps explain the Michael Bay experience, which is characterised by short bursts of intense audiovisual extravaganza. Music videos have traditionally been quite loose on storytelling, character and dialogue giving the director a great deal of freedom, there to manage egos and siphon the best possible performances from artists who are much more comfortable with music than acting. Creating spectacle from a radio-friendly few minutes, there's room for panache and crafting something that doesn't have to make complete sense or live within the realm of possibility even. This is why Michael Bay's films are big, characterised by eye-popping visuals, over-the-top performances in constant pursuit of the elusive "money shot".

Michael Bay: How Music Videos Transformed into Blockbusters

Having blooded himself on action films such as Bad Boys and The Rock, Bay's bombastic and loud, colourful style seemed like a perfect match for the Transformers series. Pairing his ability to ground larger-than-life visions with the charm of Shia LaBeouf and sex appeal of Megan Fox, the original Transformers set the standard for the series, unfortunately never equalled. Much like Bumblebee's spin-off success, the secret to compelling such a ridiculous premise was in the slow reveal. In both instances, Bumblebee emerges from the shadows slow enough for the audience to be immersed in the world without completely leaving their senses in a matter of seconds. If Transformers had simply fast-forwarded to an alien robot city destruction in The Avengers start-with-a-climax style, it would have lost audiences bar the Transformers fans who bought tickets to see all of the sequels. When it comes to science fiction, the 80/20 rule is golden, meaning that for these films to work they typically require a ratio of reality versus unreality that allows a slow immersion into the realm of the Transformers versus the Star Wars 20/80 formula where much of the action takes place in an otherworldly realm that harks back to familiar things that offer some grounding.

At the time, the action overload made full use of the theatre experience with an impactful display of visuals set against visceral sound design. The stand-off takes place deep enough into the film that you get a real chance to care for the characters and a better opportunity to suspend disbelief. Blending action, comedy and sci-fi, the balance in the first Transformers movie made it much easier to roll with it, especially with Sam Witwicky as our guide.

Capturing the nostalgic feelings around one's first car, a young adult's attempts to "be cool" and matching them with a vehicle that converted Knight Rider's appeal into a mechanised Robotech-esque warrior, it's easy to see how this strange series captured the imagination of many kids and still holds a special place in their hearts now after they've transformed into adults.

After the runaway success of the original movie, Bay was compelled to adopt the rinse-and-repeat approach somehow managing to "get the keys" to Optimus Prime after a dismal second installation. As much as you could hate his approach to film, which almost seems anti-cinematic in its dedication to all things blockbuster, we are living in a world where gaudy spectacle trumps artful finesse. Maybe it's always been this way. While there is certainly an art to creating a Marvel or DC superhero blockbuster, a Fast and the Furious box office juggernaut or a Disney-Pixar animated epic, this mainstream appeal is the reason directors like Michael Bay will continue to have a foothold.

Acting like a kid in a toy store, there are enough viewers who live vicariously through his self-indulgence and magpie sensibilities to sustain him. We do need directors who dream big, don't take things too seriously and just want to make cool movies to help counterbalance and necessitate the other end of the spectrum. Even if just to fuel enough pundits who want to evoke change and shift the spotlight for auteurs who have something to say beyond "HELL YEAH". While he may have his army of detractors, creating visual extravaganzas that activate several senses is the kind of popcorn excitement that seems to satisfy most moviegoing audiences and necessitates the size and power of the movie theatre.

So as much as it pains some cinephiles to have the likes of Michael Bay in the world, he is in fact a major proponent of keeping cinemas alive with his big-screen sensibilities and box office draw. The director knows how to weather the blows, bouncing back like a jack-in-the-box to our surprise and dismay. It just seems unfortunate that he isn't able to channel his passion into more films like 13 Hours, Pain and Gain and now Ambulance, which show a slightly more mature and controlled filmmaker at work.

 
Unpacking 'Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story'


True crime documentaries seek to delve into the darkness of the human psyche, re-investigate a crime to stoke renewed interest, analyse fresh evidence with retrospective wisdom to reveal compelling new insights or offer a comprehensive overview of much-publicised or long forgotten crime. In the case of Hannah Cornelius, a Stellenbosch student whose murder made world headlines, the goal seems to be more in line with the idea of delivering a comprehensive overview. Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story is written and directed by crime journalist, Anthony Molyneaux, who says the documentary "intends to honour her memory and highlight the difficulties rehabilitating criminals inside South African prisons".

Last Blue Ride

The story of two hijacked Stellenbosch students was followed by millions of South Africans, who were alarmed by the senseless brutality and eager to see justice take its course. Hannah Cornelius became the face of the incident much like Laura Palmer did in Twin Peaks but it's her surviving friend, Cheslin Marsh, whose traumatic night found him bundled into the boot before being stoned in the middle of nowhere and left for dead. A resilient yet vulnerable Marsh is a key interviewee, who relays Hannah's character and the events of the night from his limited perspective. A family friend offers some insights from the Cornelius side with her father and autistic brother the only remaining members of their home after her grandmother's passing and her mother's disappearance, all within the space of two years. Many marriages struggle to endure the loss of a child under normal circumstances. However, when one's pride and joy is taken away in such a violent, disturbing and public manner - the consequences can lead to even more tragedy.

This is what makes Last Blue Ride such a tricky documentary. Having only taken place 5 years ago with the ongoing gender-based violence crisis, you can understand the sensitivity around the crime's re-emergence as well-publicised as it was. Add the tragedy's far-reaching implications for the family and you can understand why no direct family members feature in Last Blue Ride. As one of the criminals says, it's already happened - there's no going back. This is what makes Last Blue Ride powerful yet awkward, wanting to cover the crime without becoming as lurid as many other documentary films within the canon of true crime.

Avoiding sensationalism and paying respects to the survivors, this documentary serves as more of a true crime overview than a retrospective investigation. Yet, there's an awkwardness in wanting to capitalise on a sensational story but then chronicling it from some distance. This respectful air makes it safe, shying away from presenting the heinous details of the rape and murder using the victim's image and tragic story as a way to usher in criticism around rehabilitation in South Africa's overburdened prison system. While Molyneaux's open statement helps explain the film, the true crime documentary is primarily sold on the name and recognisable face of Hannah Cornelius.

Last Blue Ride

Leaning heavily on CCTV footage and a map to show the movements of the stolen vehicle and its occupants, Last Blue Ride pieces together the events of that fateful night. The strange and mysterious title refers to the distinct and iconic blue Citi Golf, which was hijacked outside student apartments in the early hours of the morning. Following this, we get an aerial view of their many stop-offs and crimes over the hellish 11-hour ordeal. The spontaneity and rawness of the actual footage does what news stories can't, relaying the blue Citi Golf's drive through the Stellenbosch region with an overarching doom to what are a young woman's final hours.

Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story does serve as a tribute to Cornelius, whose youth and model looks constantly remind us why this tragic story became so easy to circulate. At one point, someone describes her as Reeva Steenkamp-ish to connect the dots with another high profile murder case. The 21-year-old had a promising future, an unknowingly beautiful person whose life was cut short by a brazen and senseless crime. While we cycle through many photos of the late Cornelius, it comes as some relief that her friend Cheslin Marsh is still with us today despite some scars and a loss of hearing in one ear. Interviewees reiterate that while Hannah's bright light and independent spirit shone through, this spotlight could have fallen on many other women who suffer equally violent and tragic deaths.

The first half of Last Blue Ride chronicles the night's events and crimes, getting special insights from interviewees and presenting CCTV footage to piece the puzzle together. While Hannah's name is in the title, the documentary shifts focus in the second half, moving over to the names and faces of the accused. As they find themselves in court, the focus sharpens as their gang affiliations come to light and the documentary zooms in on South Africa's failing prison system with an 87% repeat offence rate. Being members of the 26 and 28 numbers gangs, the political ecosystem of prisons means these criminals are simply shifting into a regimented power structure with an established ranking in jail. Unable to get work and kickstart their lives after serving time in the outside world, it becomes clear how repeat offences and a brazen attitude amount to near-invincibility when there are simply two states of being.

This switcheroo is directly related to the first part of the documentary, but skews matters as the filmmakers attempt to understand the motivations of the criminals and point the finger at the state's failings. While this detour is timely and fascinating, there's enough material to justify a broader investigation and standalone documentary without overshadowing the victim in the process. This scattershot focus makes it seem as though the film had to be salvaged from a different version or rescued from some fundamental problems. Perhaps key interviewees pulled out or there was a last minute change in direction or funding, either way it just comes across as a hybridisation.

Incorporating this prison system aspect makes it seem like an add-on to stretch out Last Blue Ride into a feature film. Coming in at 58 minutes, it's still quite short and provides an overview rather than a deep dive. This is a pity because the safe and relatively lightweight treatment seems content to avoid key interviews, tough questions or a detective's hat re-examination. Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story does offer a compilation of important points, behind-the-scenes footage and serves as a thought-provoking retrospective, but seems to come up short in a bid to necessitate itself.

Last Blue Ride: The Hannah Cornelius Story tries to blend several perspectives in its retelling, largely compelled by the spontaneity of the real footage, dramatisation and heartbreaking interviews. Offering a good overview of the story from the hijacking to sentencing, it's at its most powerful in the courtroom in the presence of emotive testimonies and in the face of hardened criminality. Swathed in timely themes around crime and punishment within the context of GBV, these emotional outbursts help the true crime documentary land a gut punch.

 
10 Living Proof Life Lessons from The Sparks Brothers


The Sparks Brothers is a music documentary about Russell and Ron Mael, whose rock band ambitions have kept them in the music business with 25 studio albums, 300 tracks and 50 years. It's a remarkable accomplishment, which has lead them from high profile live TV performances to the dizzying stunt of performing all 25 of their albums live over just as many days. Having seen them perform in Top of the Pops in 1979 at the age of 5, director Edgar Wright has been a lifelong fan and is perfectly poised to drive this documentary chronicle of the Sparks story.

The documentary features photos, concert footage, TV archival content and interviews with the likes of Beck, Mike Myers and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Having black and white interviews with playful titles for the interviewees, The Sparks Brothers tries to capture the essence of the band in the tone of the documentary. A playful seriousness and cult notoriety has kept the duo enigmatic, elusive and niche to the point of obscure in-the-know fame. Referenced in a Paul McCartney music video and influencing a great many performance artists including filmmakers, comedians and musicians, their efforts have been noted but their dues are now only being paid now 50 years into the game.

The Sparks Brothers should be an inspiration to all artists in whichever art form. Their lessons may seem like platitudes in the grand scheme of things but are testament to the enduring spirit of The Sparks Brothers. Here are several things we can learn from the long-running duo.

1. "Stay True to Yourself"

The Sparks Brothers have never compromised on their music, been afraid of the public eye or given up creative control. Their music has always been niche, struggling to find an audience in the United States they moved across the pond to the United Kingdom. Possibly taking a note from Dadaism, their art carries a subversive yet playful sense of humour, a proponent of their trademark performance elements and stage personas. Having been associated with cinema in curating their sound, performance and mood, they're used to directing themselves and steering their own course. Attached to several films and big name directors over the years, they struggled to find the right synergy, timing and project - but their perseverance paid off. While the Beatles were a major influence and styles evolved over time across appearance and sound, Russell and Ron stuck to their trademark elements.

The Sparks Brothers documentary

2. "Keep Going..."

Many musicians start a band and expect to make it within a few years of touring and recording. Unfortunately, in most cases bands and recording artists don't make it overnight. Keeping a group of people together and on the same path is a miracle in itself. In many industries its the behind-the-scenes work that goes unnoticed until a perfect storm of timing, luck and diligence finally pay off. The Sparks Brothers serve as living proof that through the highs and lows you may never be "discovered" but hard work has a cumulative effect.

3. "Love What You Do"

The Sparks Brothers have amassed a modest degree of fame and fortune over the last 5 decades. While this may have been an ambition, it wasn't a driving force behind their music. Art for art's sake has made the duo timeless in their own way, bowing to trends in each age yet managing to hover above it all simultaneously. Making music that challenges the listener seems to have been a motivation, to stay at the cutting edge with lyrics and sound that pushed boundaries and comfort levels with album art that undermined and poked fun at the establishment. While they've endeavoured to not work a day in their lives, it's come from their undying passion for the art.

4. "Never Give Up"

If The Sparks Brothers were able to stick to their guns for 5 decades and keep the flame alive, there's no reason why we can't follow their good example. You can always try to justify your excuses with paper walls but when you think about it you will find a way for the things that truly matter. The music industry has been slow to change and favours certain formulas over others but Sparks proves there's a place for anyone who's dedicated to the craft and willing to stick it out.

5. "Family Matters"

Ron and Russell look similar to the point that you wonder if they are twins. Their personal styles make them distinct, iconic and difficult not to recognise - especially when together. Yet they're a few years apart with Ron being slightly older than Russell. As brothers they're bonded by blood, yet their symbiotic relationship has made them equally essential to the group's longevity. Jokingly undercutting one another as the true frontman of Sparks, their yes/no spirit means they're both equally important with Russell as the lead singer and Ron as pianist and lyricist.

6. "Patience Young Grasshopper"

Sparks may never have got off the ground if it wasn't for the legendary Todd Rundgren, whose influence was immense in their early days. He believed in the band and threw his weight behind promoting them, which led to a many opportunities. While you may never find a champion, Russell and Ron kept going even when their music wasn't deemed radio-friendly enough. They could have caved and accepted day job fates but kept pushing the dream in spite of suffering a number of failures along the way.

7. "Critics Are People Too"

They say no one ever built a statue to a critic and while Roger Ebert is one guy who may be entitled to be the exception, if you're serious about your craft, you've got to be able to take criticism. You don't have to listen or adjust to everyone's comments. It's about taking the good from the bad and seeing the process as constructive. Being a cult rock act, The Sparks Brothers have never felt the pressure to appease fans or critics. Carving their own path, they've been an inspiration to other bands who often face arrested development in the face of fan pressure to stick to a certain era or become a traveling greatest hits jukebox.

Sparks Brothers Wedding

8. "Don't Be Afraid of Change"

The Sparks Brothers have managed to stick around for decades. The brothers may have aged but they've managed to stay relevant. Adjusting their sound based on the technology of the time, remaining experimental and cutting edge in their adoption of elements and open to the possibility of venturing into other art forms they've been adaptive and flexible to their environment, reflecting without necessarily adopting. Their fearless attitude comes with the willingness to accept certain sacrifices but their dedication to their art has propelled their rollercoaster ride in the good and bad times.

9. "Be Content In Every Moment"

When you fail and get up again, you can become invincible to the weight of expectations you've put upon yourself. Knowing you'll be fine, land on your feet and keep going means you can progress without hesitation and restriction. The Sparks Brothers seem to love what they do so much they'd do it for free. Untethering themselves from the grip of fame, fortune and the rat race means they can operate on their own terms, free from the trappings and vices of society. The Mael brothers embody this experimental verve where there's always a safety net, content with their wild life experiences and their lot whether they win or lose.

10. "Pursue and Enjoy Your Freedom"

The Sparks Brothers wrote a song called Everybody's Stupid. Ron's look has been compared with Charlie Chaplin and Hitler. They've never been tied down by what people think. They've stuck within the music recording and touring business by releasing albums, a natural outpouring of any music artist who's able to continue doing so and an established way of making a living off the music. As much as they've bowed to this convention, their journeys have been experimental and orientated around freedom of expression. From posing as a married couple, presenting a kidnapping situation as an album cover concept, doing a seemingly impossible 25 album performance and spawning lyrics that poke fun at the establishment - they've remained edgy in their satirical commentary, art and pursuit of freedom.

 
Four of the Best Movies of 2021


2021 was the year that cinema came back as people packed movie theatres all over again. However, there was still the threat of COVID-19, which prompted many movies to be concurrently released across streaming platforms. While many blockbuster release dates were pushed back with some still in waiting, the industry is underway again, boosted by the return of top-tier films.

As things opened up again, the film industry experienced a welcome renaissance in 2021 because of a chaotic 2020. Being reluctant to release following some of the poor box office returns of films playing during lockdown conditions, things have gradually improved. Being a return to form with a year filled with many amazing movies, here are several highlights with some of the best films 2021 had to offer.

Cinema 2021

King Richard

Behind the sports that you love to watch and bet on with King Kaka and Sportsbet.io, there's always a good story. King Richard is about Richard Williams and his family that includes tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. This is a biographical sports drama that follows the life of the titular Richard, played by Will Smith, as he helped his two daughters reach the pinnacle of their tennis careers.

However, as the family portrait sports drama suggests - their journey was not easy because they also had to deal with many issues in their lives. A major issue they had to endure all their lives was their struggle against racial discrimination and inequality. This was an insightful study into race, class, sports, and celebrity status and the film delivered on all fronts.

The Power of the Dog

As a film that thrives on subtext with subtle story beats, The Power of the Dog is a powerful undertaking filled with fantastic performances and beautiful technical work. This beautiful film is directed by Jane Campion, who showcases stories from the early 1900s that still have raw emotional power and value in the modern world.

This is not your typical ‘cowboy’ movie because it deals with many timely and important themes. The Power of the Dog was released on Netflix, which like Roma gave more people an opportunity to see true cinema, the work of an established auteur and stunning production values. Leading the awards tally this year, The Power of the Dog deserves all of its accolades because it performs on all levels.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

It's difficult to build a comprehensive universe for a movie franchise, something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done in spades. Following in the wake of Into the Spider-verse, this Tom Holland starring sequel had a few tricks up its sleeve... and not just webbing. Based on its retrospective casting, No Way Home proves once again that nostalgia is a powerful tool. The latest Spider-Man series reboot has prided itself on full entertainment value and Spider-Man: No Way Home delivers - one of the best superhero movie experiences to date, which many believe was unlucky not to get nominated for Best Picture.

Spider-Man is one of the most famous comic book characters in the world, appealing to old fans and creating new ones too. Being one of the highest-grossing films ever and bringing audiences back to cinemas in their droves, just proves that Spider-Man is here to stay. The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow and it looks like Spider-Man will be the main focal point, reflecting his pivotal role in the comics.

CODA

CODA stands for 'Child of Deaf Adults' and is the title of this important film that offers a sensitive reflection on disabilities and the people who deal with them. The drama journeys with 17-year-old Ruby, the only hearing member of a family from Massachusetts, who works to keep the family's fishing business afloat while navigating her teens.

Director Sian Heder tackles and showcases this difficult topic in a heartfelt film based on the French film La Famille Bélier. CODA released on Apple TV+ where it's currently available for streaming. While many didn't get a chance to see CODA, it's Best Picture selection and strong word-of-mouth should give this dark horse more coverage.

These are just some of the fantastic movies that 2021 had to offer. If you’re looking for more top-tier films, you should check out 2021’s catalogue because it is filled with fantastic movies from January to December. You can watch them while you’re on a break from playing games with King Kaka and Sportsbet.io casino.

 
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