Thursday, April 26, 2007

Park

Drive is dead. It is sad. I did what I could, but apparently this blog can't make a hit out of a show. I was hoping against hope that it would at least last for one season, producing enough episodes for a satisfying DVD set. But apparently only six were produced, and we'll be lucky if Fox ever bothers to air the last two. At first they said they'd burn them off Fridays in May, and now they're saying maybe over the summer, but that sounds like bullshit--wait that long and even the fans won't remember to watch it, so why bother?

Watching promos for Drive, I didn't exactly expect it to be a hit, so I'm not that surprised by the early cancellation. I thought it would be easy to watch for a few episodes and wave goodbye. But I never expected to fall this hard for it. These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion. Farewell, Drive. You didn't last, but you were loved.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bwa Ha Ha

Hey, you! Yes, you, the one with the big dreams, the lack of talent or drive, and the laughable ignorance of how show business works! Want to pay money to marginally successful screenwriters to make a useless, unmarketable screenplay out of your terrible idea? Now you can!

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is good. It's smart, and funny, and manages the same tongue-in-cheek spoofy yet dry tone that made Shaun of the Dead so great. Also back are the loud, fast close-ups that play mundane moments as high excitement--though here they function as action bombast instead of fake scare moments. And unthreatening-looking Simon Pegg is hilarious as a stone-faced, by-the-book hardass.

The movie spends a lot of time on set-up--all of which gets paid off, but it still makes for a pace that's a bit too slow. It flags more than Shaun of the Dead, and while it's very funny, the laughs aren't quite as dense. It's also less thematically resonant, which is fine--not every movie has to say something, and perhaps it's unfair to compare everything to Shaun of the Dead--but still, the result is less satisfying.

My main nitpick might not be the movie's fault so much as the fault of reviews and marketing. But it's billed as a take on the action genre, and it isn't, entirely. American action-cop movies are seldom about serial killers. Dirty Harry was, I guess, but most action-cop movies are about schemes--villains stealing something or taking over some place in the service of some Big Evil Plot that is soon to take effect.

In Hot Fuzz, there's a lot of talk about action movie tropes, but the action really only kicks in during the third act. Prior to that point, the movie, with its series of gruesome murders, feels more like a take on a thriller or horror movie. Much of the movie seems to draw on the same genre spoofed in Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-rabbit, which also featured sinister doings in a sleepy English village obsessed with a local competition--but wasn't that a horror spoof? It's possible that the intent is to play off of English rural murder mysteries in the Agatha Christie tradition, and I didn't get it. Or maybe it's just that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost enjoy coming up with comically gory deaths and didn't want to give it up just because they weren't making a zombie movie.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Movie Theater

Just saw this on IMDb:

Landmark Theater To Shut Down

The landmark National Theater in Westwood, the site of countless Hollywood premieres since it opened in 1970, is shutting down after tonight (Thursday), Daily Variety reported today, citing a theater employee. The National is operated by the Mann Theaters chain, which announced last year that it would not renew its lease due to rising rental costs but later signed a short extension. The company did not confirm the closing. The National, which seats 1,112, represented what Variety described as "a dying breed of single-screen cinemas in an age of megaplexes."


The headline is confusing, since there is a whole theater chain called Landmark, but this is kind of sad. I think I know the theater it's referring to, if it opened in 1970. The theater is a definite relic of its era--it clearly hasn't been updated or even refurbished since its opening. The result is that it's somewhat dingy looking, but it's also wholly unique. It's got a sort of rounded facade with big windows, the sort of thing that was the wave of the future then. The carpeting and upholstery is all orange and yellow, now dirty with age. But as the news blurb notes, the most striking feature is the size of the theater. One screen, and the room is huge. If there weren't chairs you could play professional football in there. And it's not like new theaters with the stadium seating--there's a slight slope, then an angle back up as you approach the screen, so it averages out to being fairly level. The sheer amount of space was impressive.

I saw Dukes of Hazzard and Team America there, both at off-peak showtimes, and of course the theater was never close to full. It's not surprising that the place was not profitable enough. Unlike the other old Westwood single screen theaters, it doesn't hearken back to a 1930s how-could-you-ever-think-of-touching-this-theater golden age. No, it just looks like a harder-to-romanticize 1970s out-of-date-but-not-out-of-date-enough dumpy theater.

Anyway, I thought it was cool.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Drive On

Watched episodes 2 and 3 of Drive. By the end of episode 3, Nathan Fillion drives a classic Dodge Challenger and a hot girl bounty hunter in a Mustang has made a brief appearance. It's like this show has a direct line to the pleasure centers of my brain.

Apparently Tim Minear, the creator of the show, was a major force on Firefly as well. I expected this show to satisfy on the level of a guilty pleasure, but the storytelling is sharp, the mysteries are intriguing, and the characters are rich. Even the minor characters are coming into their own. With the exception of the soldier's wife, who so far seems brittle and annoying, and the black women, who have had little time to make an impression, all the characters offer shades of complexity and feeling that make you want to spend time with them, to learn more.

This show is fucking brilliant. Treat yourself to the episodes so far here. Even the online streaming video player works better than I expected.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Drive

Wow.

Drive is really good, you guys. Honestly, I didn't dare hope, but Drive is really, really good.

This may be a little premature. I've only watched one of last night's two premiere episodes, and haven't even gone near the third episode, from tonight.

But based on that one episode, wow. Drive is really good.

If Lost is just the scripted drama version of Survivor (and it is--literally, that's where the idea began), Drive is the scripted drama equivalent of The Amazing Race.

It may be benefiting somewhat from lowered expectations; watch any of the ads for it, and its thin, laughable premise--strangers participate in a mysterious, illegal underground cross-country road race--promises a good time, but that's no guarantee the show would deliver.

So far, it has. The show is sort of ridiculous, of course, but--appropriately enough--it moves. From the get-go, right from the silly intro voice-over ("As long as there have been cars, there have been races..."), you are moving, constantly moving, and here are a bunch of people you will get to know on the way.

It helps that our main viewer surrogate is Firefly's charismatic Nathan Fillion. It's doubtful his character here will ever be as well-drawn as Firefly's Mal Reynolds, but he brings the same level of magnetism. His tortured, driven (pardon the pun) tough-guy with a twinge of humor is as compelling to watch as ever.

We also get Melanie Lynskey, of Two and a Half Men, as a new mom on the run. As in Two and a Half Men and her twisted guest role on The Shield, Lynskey excels at playing women who are sweet and innocuous on the outside but who are probably dangerously crazy just below the surface.

Another subplot, in which a recently released ex-con teams up with his half-brother to stick it to their rich, politically ambitious father, is also pretty engaging in a pulpy sort of way.

A few other characters are around who have yet to make much of an impression, but these three leads are our anchors, and they pull us breathlessly through the hour, Fillion and Lynskey especially. They are introduced quickly and effectively. Fillion's missing wife and Lynskey's possibly sinister husband tell us all we need to know--the stakes are high and they are desperate. Sure, it's silly, but it's all so fast. Simple, clear: here's the people, here's the race, go. Like Run Lola Run.

In a way, Drive is an excellent case study in the screenwriting lesson that the most important thing you can do is to take a character, give them a problem and a goal, and turn them loose. So far, Drive has that and not much else. But it sustains it perfectly, and that pared-down energy is what makes it so wonderful. Besides, we can always pick up the rest on the road.

I love it. I only wish it weren't on against How I Met Your Mother. When HIMYM starts playing new episodes again, Monday nights are going to get complicated.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Grinding To A Halt

I'm really enjoying the various autopsies of Grindhouse buzzing around the Internet this week. I did sort of want to see it myself, though my love of trashy, over-the-top action violence found itself wrestling with my aversion to horror and gory violence. But I'm happy to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude at Quentin Tarantino's expense.

Surrounded by hype and people who wanted to see Grindhouse, it was easy to believe it was going to be a success, but in retrospect it is a movie whose failure is easy to understand. Long running time, confusing and unappealing concept, Easter weekend release date... take your pick of explanations; they're all probably right to some extent. My own theory is that people don't like things that are bad in a tongue-in-cheek way; they see a chick with a gun for a leg, and instead of thinking, that's hilariously ridiculous and wonderfully stupid, they just think, that's ridiculous and stupid.

But the knee-jerk film geek reaction--blaming mainstream America's poor taste for the failure of a movie--now has people taking the ironic position that Americans are too stupid and lowbrow to embrace a purposely trashy, violent and debased movie that makes it a mission to have no redeeming value whatsoever. But regardless of whether most moviegoers grasped the movie's hip irony, most of them probably wouldn't care either way. Ironically bad is still bad, and if people's tastes don't run that way, it doesn't make them dumb. For an audience member to choose not to be disgusted is still a legitimate choice, even if Quentin Tarantino's name is on the thing.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So That's How You Sell Gum

Bazooka Joe's amazingly grating website has nothing on their signature comics, but plenty on their new song and dance craze!

At work we have a gum basket on our writers room table, so that after lunch we can choose from a variety of daring flavors to freshen our breath. Adam kicked it off by buying a bunch of gum one weekend and bringing in a large basket to put it all in. We have no more free soda in our new office so we have to have something fun.

The obvious result of putting a wide variety of gum on the table is that we end up chewing gum all day long. Gum lost its flavor? Why waste your time? Get a new piece! With the latest round of gum additions, we've branched out from the latest in pill-wrapped ice gum into fun and nostalgic bubble gum.

Hence the Bazooka Joe. The gum is worse than you remember, then you chew it and it's better than you thought it would be, then it gets old and it's pretty much what you'd expect. The comics, which were full-color (or at least 3-color) when I was a kid, are now monochromatic blue. Today Sarah got one that went something like this:

Mort: Bazooka Joe, how do you balance homework and skateboarding?

Reveal Bazooka Joe is riding a skateboard while holding a book open with one hand.

Bazooka Joe:
It ain't easy!



An even better one that I got last week had Bazooka Joe complaining to Mort that he would have to have a chaperone on his date.

Mort: Uh-oh, who? Your Mom? Your Dad?

Bazooka Joe: Worse!

Reveal a dog with a chauffeur's cap, twirling a keychain and winking at the reader!

Dog (thought balloon): Maybe I can get them to go by the dog run!




Wow! Just wow. We all know how rough those dog chaperones are, right? Always dragging us to dog runs. He'll be lucky if he even gets close to that girl! Bazooka Joe's parents are strict, all right.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Live Free Or Drive Hard



There's a new full length trailer out for the brilliantly titled Live Free or Die Hard, or Die Hard 4.0, as it's called in less fortunate countries around the world. Click here for a nice clear Quicktime version. It's definitely better than the paltry teaser, but the money shot is still Willis and Long ducking between two cars as a third hurtles at them. Incidentally, I think this trailer may feature more cars being tossed in the air than any other trailer in film history.

Here is what we can see:

- There is a set piece in which McClane drives a police car and is attacked by a guy in a helicopter, before diving out of the car and launching it through a toll booth into the helicopter, destroying it.

- There is another set piece in which McClane climbs onto a truck, tosses out the driver, and crashes through traffic as a fighter jet attacks him and destroys a freeway. Somehow McClane jumps on top of the jet, then jumps off the jet from an impossible height down to the ruined freeway, sliding out of range just as the exploding jet falls on the freeway behind him.

- McClane's daughter from the first movie has grown up and been taken hostage. She looked about 4 in 1988, so why does she look about 16 now?

- The usually engaging Timothy Olyphant is a bland, clean-cut villain with no discernible distinguishing qualities. What, no German accents this time? How do we know he's evil? I hope there is more to this character than what we see here. Hapa hottie Maggie Q from M:i:iii looks to be on the evil side too, and pays for it with a ride on McClane's hood.

- Kevin Smith is in it? What the fuck?! And he has one of those stupid command centers with all the screens like people only have in movies even though it's his own amateur setup in his massive basement. Somehow the corny flashes of computer screens and their animated layers of unreadable code pointlessly watermarked on top of maps as circles spin for no reason takes me out of the movie's reality more than ten flying cars.

Anyway, the action and stunts here are pretty spectacular, and all the car stuff is clear and high-energy. But why does the trailer as a whole make the movie feel so generic?

As I've said before, I didn't mind that Die Hard With a Vengeance abandoned the claustrophobic feel of the franchise. Die Hard 2 tried to replicate the claustrophobia with such poor results that it only made sense to go the other direction. This sequel takes that one step further--McClane saves America! That, I'm fine with. I don't think that's the issue with this trailer.

The problem, I think, is that there's no emphasis on character. the trailer trusts us to recognize McClane as an iconic action hero, but offers very little of what makes him distinctive. The fun of McClane is his put-upon attitude. Yeah, yeah, he dies hard, he never gives up, but the fun part is that, like a normal person, he'd rather be somewhere else. As an unusually perceptive YouTube commenter pointed out, McClane here is all swagger, and that's only half the character.

More importantly, this trailer still tells us very little about what the hell the movie's about--if you know it's about a hacker attack on America's infrastructure, it's not because the trailer told you--and it neglects to answer the most nagging question: What does it have to do with McClane? He's a reluctant hero, in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at the skyscraper and the airport because of his wife. In the third movie, he was forced into it by a villain bent on revenge. So when there's a nationwide crisis, why is that the job of some New York cop? (Yeah, they take his daughter, but that appears to be after he gets in their way.) With only a vague sense of plot and character, there's no meaningful context for all the action we're seeing.

So does McClane really spend the entire movie driving?

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