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Monthly Archives: February 2011

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Unknown movie review

With “Taken”, Liam Neeson was anointed as the new Harrison Ford, the grim unsmiling seeker of personal vengeance whose humorlessness is proof of his righteousness. It makes sense that Unknown rips off Ford classics like Frantic and The Fugitive, along with Neeson’s own Taken and the entire Bourne series.

Unknown was filmed to cash in on Taken’s success, but it can’t even decide if it’s an action movie or a thriller. In a plot lifted from a dozen movies, Neeson wanders around Europe in search of his memory and on the run from a generically evil corporation. The entire implausible story is just convoluted enough so that you won’t care about its ridiculousness, but there isn’t enough action to give you anything else to care about.

Unknown isn’t bad, it’s just bleakly mediocre. A thin copy of a copy of Hitchcock. A weak stab at doing Bourne. Where Taken felt fresh, this feels like the oldest movie in the book. The miscasting borders on the comic. A blank January Jones plays a human mannequin. Diane Kruger plays the world’s least plausible taxi driver. The final confrontation fizzles. Neeson is the only thing Unknown has going for it, but the movie has nothing to offer him except a few lines that even Bruce Willis would have winced at.

How Nokia and Bud Lite Showed Up on Star Trek

Wondering why James T. Kirk ordered Bud Lites in a bar or listened to the Beastie Boys on his Nokia car thingie? Looks like you can thank Roberto Orci for that (Along with blowing up Vulcan) and his commitment to shoving brands into a movie. Once upon a time the thought of having Spock smoking a spacecigar because a sponsor wanted him to was out of bounds. Now bring on the spacecigars.

Mr. Yospe was not a screenwriter, not a producer, not even a studio executive. No, Mr. Yospe was a lawyer with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. He was meeting with the writer-producer Roberto Orci, who co-wrote “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” to talk about how to include brands in “The 28th Amendment.”

The 28th Amendment, brought to you by Gordon Earplugs and Orion blindfolds. For when you’re stuck in a bad movie.

Deals like that mean lower-budget movies like “Up in the Air” can be made. They also mean movie viewers are increasingly paying to see more elaborately constructed advertising.

That is one reason that screenwriters’ groups like the Writers Guild of America-West have objected to the practice, and some writers are worried about further product placement.

“I think it’s lazy writing,” said Mary Gallagher, a screenwriter and instructor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

It’s not writing at all. It’s more advertising. Moviegoers see ads before a movie and during a movie. When it’s in a realistic context, that’s one thing. Kirk drinking a branded beer in the 20th century in Star Trek IV is one thing. Doing it in the 23rd is distracting and wrecks the movie’s reality.

While Mr. Yospe often writes dialogue, in the meeting with Mr. Orci, he was suggesting types of advertisers to include. (Mr. Orci’s father, Roberto Orci, who is president of the advertising agency Acento, and his staff joined the meeting to discuss how brands might help market the movie.)

Orci is really enthusiastic about this. So any movie he’s associated with is going to be covered in this crap. Unfortunately he’s producing the next Star Trek reboot which means crap advertising galore. In some better alternate universe, Orci joined his father in advertising. In this worse universe, he was responsible for a merchandising movie cashing in on Star Trek.

“You’ve written Gray has a Dodge Ram,” Mr. Yospe began, discussing a character. “Does it have to be a Dodge?’

“What’s wrong with Dodge? What have you got against Dodge?” said Mr. Orci, a soft-spoken 36-year-old.

The group began debating. In the script, Gray is described as “soldier-fit” but with “psychic damage.” Could someone like that drive, say, a Lincoln Navigator?

Can Kirk drive a Land Rover while ordering a Bud Lite? Can he use a Windows 7 phone? Can Microsoft pay for a logo on a shuttlecraft? Which brands will make into AbramsTrek2011? Stay tuned to find out!

Christopher Nolan Fails at Casting

So far we’ve got Anne Hathaway playing Catwoman in Nolan’s Batman 3 reboot. One of the stiffest actresses of her generation. Tom Hardy as Bane, a large angry Latino man on steroids. Nope. Rumors of Joseph Gordon Levitt as the Riddler, yes the minuscule Levitt as the Riddler.

But Nolan has miscast every Batman film. Christian Bale is a terrible Batman. Katie Holmes playing a top prosecutor in Batman Begins was silly. Cillian Murphy didn’t even register. He got lucky with the older actors, seasoned pros like Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson who redeemed the whole affair.

The casting for Dark Knight was still weak. Heath Ledger’s performance was average. If he hadn’t died tragically before the movie opening, that’s the way people would have seen it. Maggie Gyllenhaal was okay. Aaron Eckhart was great as the golden boy of hope, but terrible as Two Face. But it didn’t matter, because Dark Knight was a sprawling ensemble piece, in which even Bale and Ledger’s weak performances hardly registered against the epicness of it all. It’s like complaining about the acting in a Cecil B. DeMille film.

Can The Dark Knight Rises pull off the same trick? Nolan made another epic movie with Inception. He’ll probably do it again. But dragging along his Inception cast is a bad move. Nolan has miscast all the Batman movies and this looks to have the worst cast of them all.

RoboIrony Dies in America

Whether you view Robocop as a commentary on Dirty Harry and modern automation, or Verhoeven’s take on him as an American Jesus, most Americans think of him as a robot that killed people in cool ways. And so Detroit’s getting a Robocop statue.

A Robocop statue is probably the last thing Detroit needs. The movie was about the collapse of Detroit, corporate takeovers of urban centers, decay and crime so pervasive that people were willing to lose their souls to survive. So far we’ve got two out of three. If Rocky at least honored Philly’s working class tradition of perseverance, Robocop is a commentary and not a good one.

So why then? Because irony is dead. It used to be that irony was a closed book to dumb people. Now it’s a closed book even to smart people. Once irony became meta, people began doing stupid things and calling them ironic. And now everyone is stupid. It’s the real Twitter effect. A stupid idea gets taken up, whether it’s Snakes on a Plane or Donald Glover as Spider-Man or Betty White on Saturday Night Live or a Robocop statue for Detroit.

Maybe when this statue goes up, Robocop can get credit for killing irony in America.

The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt

The Devil’s Eye has a potentially interesting plot about a planet of 2 billion people about to be hit by a hypernova from a nearby star, The Devil's Eye Jack McDevittburied by among other things, an irritating narrator, Chase Kolpath, her boss, Alex Benedict, and a focus on horror that’s completely out of place and context once you’re told what the actual threat is.

There are so many things wrong with The Devil’s Eye that it’s hard to know where to start, and most of them begin and end with Jack McDevitt’s limitations as a writer. McDevitt is a talented writer who works within very narrow limits. The Devil’s Eye is supposed to take place thousands of years in the future, but its society is almost exactly like our own. And when he sets out to describe a superior intelligent alien race with telepathic abilities, the Mutes, they also turn out to be just like us.

McDevitt insists on writing stories set thousands of years in the future, yet he can never create a believable future society, alien or human. Thousands of years in the future, everyone still listens to music from the 50’s and watches Broadway musicals. When hardly anyone does that today. And the aliens, they have beaches, backyard barbecues and small town mayors.

Television is the one constant in McDevitt’s novels. Almost everyone, everywhere watches television, even if they call it HV. Even the telepathic mute aliens watch it, and their version of television becomes the pivotal element in the plot as Chase wins over the aliens with an interview with their version of Walter Cronkite on their version of 60 Minutes. I wish I was joking, but horrifyingly I’m not. The analogy is actually right there in the book.

Then there’s the other problem with The Devil’s Eye. Vicki Greene. By rights, this should have been Vicki Greene’s story. She’s the one who discovers what happened and takes a great risk to get the knowledge out to someone. Instead it’s Chase Kolpath’s and Alex Benedict’s story. And Chase is annoying, a one dimensional female character as drawn by a man. It’s not that McDevitt can’t write believable female characters who have depth, he did it in the Roadmakers. Even his Academy series has believable female characters. But with Chase Kolpath, he seems to have taken the advice of Jack Nicholson’s character on writing women in As Good As It Gets. Alex Benedict isn’t much better, a thin shell in search of a personality. If Chase is supposed to play Watson to Benedict’s Holmes, it fails on both levels.

Then there’s the horror element in The Devil’s Eye. It might have seemed like a good idea to McDevitt to tell the story that way from a horror angle, too bad he doesn’t seem to know what horror is. His excerpts from Vicki Greene’s novels either read like the excerpts from his usual archeology books or from really awful romance novels. At the end we’re told that Greene goes down as one of the literary giants of the age. If that’s so, the hypernova didn’t go far enough in destroying the entire galaxy. There’s no actual horror angle here, which makes a 100 or so pages of Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath touring haunted sites at odds with the rest of the book.

There’s a brief period in the middle half of the book that has Chase and Benedict on the run from the authorities who are trying to cover up the imminent death of most of their population that’s exciting and actually gets at the meat of The Devil’s Eye. What do you do when a planet of 2 billion is threatened with death. Except McDevitt mostly ignores the question and shifts the terrain from the rescue effort to the Mute planet. Then he throws in a shield that can stop the radiation and saves Salud Afar from any and all harm.

The Devil’s Eye might have been a better book with a different narrator and with a focus on the actual crisis.

Political Rabies

Forget political blogging, I don’t even read most blogs anymore. Why? Because Democrats and Republicans have decided to go insane and take everyone else with them. Yesterday I visited the blog of a well known Science Fiction writer and read an astoundingly stupid rant from an intelligent man. It doesn’t matter whether it was to the left or the right, they’re both crazy.

The one thing both sides agree on is that the other side is a bunch of evil morons brainwashed by evil billionaires Koch Brothers/George Soros. The other side is crazy, violent and dangerous and we need to prepare for the day when they try to kill us all. There are no words for this level of crazy and it’s being articulated by former disc jockeys and sports commentators and comedians who are suddenly experts on politics and broadcast by Viacom, FOX and Comcast.

It wasn’t this bad in 2003 at the height of the Iraq debate. People could still somehow have a conversation. It’s impossible now. Every topic is a fort. There are no more ideas, just attacks. Everyone is angry all the time and angry if you aren’t just as angry as they are. Liberals haven’t stopped being angry even after winning two elections and conservatives are angrier than the Clinton years. Comparing congressional procedures to terrorism is now normal. Screaming insults during the State of the Union is now normal. Both sides get egged on by their grass roots to get on in there and fight.

And somehow if we all scream at each other enough, call each other bigots, thugs, commies, nazis, murderers, fanatics and terrorists, one side will finally win. Or somehow the quiet majority will arise, put on earplugs and vote in elections by flipping a coin and leave them all choking on their impotent rage.

David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman As Bad As Expected

Bleeding Cool has a limited script review. Very limited. And yes it’s Ally McBeal with superpowers Between the ice cream sleepovers and the pining for Steve Rogers and Beyonce flavored action scenes, this will set back Wonder Woman to the 50’s.

Remember the girl power scene in the awful reboot of Bionic Woman. This sounds every bit as awkward. There’s even a “You go girl” mixed in there. It’s less about superheroes, more like another excuse for David E. Kelley to create a hideously dysfunctional female character who’s going to spend a lot of time being uncomfortable.

I don’t see a law firm or any obvious issue exploration, but I’m confident it’s there. It can’t not be, in a David E. Kelley project. If he can’t have people screaming at each over a current issue, then what would he write about. Do monkeys have souls? Is it ethical to buy products made by underpaid workers? Can an invisible plane be used to violate civil rights. All this and more.

CW Invests in Totally Original Pilots

Every CW Show Ever

It’s that time of the year again. When snow falls from the sky, squirrels go hungry and the CW orders pilots that make even hungry squirrels cry.

Heavenly, penned by Richard Hatem (Supernatural), that has a supernatural spin to it. Here’s the logline: “A dedicated young female attorney and a former angel, Dashiel Coffee, only recently turned human, tackle cases at her legal aid clinic — she saves clients’ butts while he saves their souls. As an angel, Dash never experienced feelings or emotions, and his ‘awakening’ is a big part of the series.”

Whoever is responsible for this needs to have their soul saved. Because this is actually the worst thing anyone has ever come up with that doesn’t star Snookie. Wait, this needs to star Snookie as the attorney. Then the gates of hell would actually open up and swallow Los Angeles. Or probably Vancouver.

But wait there’s more

Cooper and Stone, from CBS Studios, focuses on two smart, young female detectives on Chicago’s North Side, equally adept at discussing fashion, music, pop culture as they are solving homicides

Yes, but do they eat ice cream after they solve a case? And how is David E. Kelley not involved? Will there be a montage of Cooper and Stone trying out clothes while someone is being murdered. Also will the soundtrack be available for sale. How else will anyone be able to hear the same payola songs that play during the fashion/murder montage.

The network has ordered the pair’s Hart of Dixie, about a New York City doctor who inherits a medical practice in a small Southern town inhabited by an eclectic and eccentric group of characters.

I can’t wait to learn more about this strikingly original concept. Will there be a scene where a farmer tries to pay the New York City doctor with a pig? Because that scene has never been done before and it urgently needs to be shown on national television. Will there also be a girl dating a redneck jock whom the doctor falls for? Because that too has never been done before and urgently needs to be done again.

The CW. Where television goes to die. It’s a new slogan, try it out.

But somehow no one will film CrocCop. That’s an outrage.

Social Network vs King’s Speech

Yes the Weinsteins have done it again and there’s lots of anger in criticsville. The Social Network was supposed to win this one. Sony put enough money into the promotion. The Social Network was billed as a movie that defined a generation (even if that generation doesn’t think so and its biggest fans are middle-aged men who share that movie’s pitying sneer aimed at the digital generation). The King’s Speech is old. The Weinsteins are old. It was never even supposed to be a contender. Except.

The King’s Speech is likable. Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, a king dealing with a stuttering issue to be able to inspire a nation during a dark time. All likable. And more likable than Eisenberg coming down with Sorkin’s Tourette syndrome. More likable than Black Swan. A movie people walk away feeling good about. The anger and bitterness is out there. A case of the supposed to wins. Last year Avatar was supposed to win because it made a ton of money and pushed every movie into being 3D. It didn’t.

A year later, Avatar is already just a goofy reference. Its 3D heirs are flailing. A year from now, no one will care about King’s Speech vs Social Network. Neither movie is all that great. But King’s Speech is at least enjoyable, Social Network is spastic. Fincher’s filter tricks are old and annoying. Sorkin’s dialogue pretends to be about Facebook, but it’s Facebook the way he imagines it. It’s not a relevant movie, but a completely irrelevant movie.

The Oscars are about pride and money. The movies fighting it out are movies that drop out of sight as soon as the fighting is done. Crash vs Brokeback Mountain? When was the last time you watched either one.

Penny Arcade Trainwreck Still Going

Yes the dickwolves thing, it’s still on. And going strong. I wrote about it in August and thought it was long done and gone. Nope. To avoid restating the same points again, no one involved has learned anything in almost half a year.

I’m not surprised that Penny Arcade’s critics are still going strong. That’s their role. But Mike could have learned something. There was nothing wrong with the dickwolves comic, there was a lot wrong with his follow ups. Every time he tried to communicate that rape victims weren’t being made fun of, it got undercut with jokes about rape. And you really can’t do both. Or shouldn’t.

Penny Arcade tried to take a middle ground with Pax, and instead got stuck in between supporters who went straight for the rape jokes and critics who attacked them for not actually apologizing. The baseline never got dealt with and after half a year this obviously isn’t going away. And the only way to make it go away is to take a firm line one way or another, instead of making passive aggressive rape jokes while apologizing to anyone who’s upset.

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