Sunday, August 29, 2010

Critical Thinking: Caddyshack (1980)

Critical Thinking is a column where I review something I've just watched (usually something I like). No other reason. It doesn't really need a name but I gave it one anyway, since it's different from Cheap Thrills, and I hear things on blogs should have names.

In 2008, Harold Ramis directed Year One, an agonizingly unfunny road picture awkwardly set in a mixture of the Stone Age and also the Roman Empire, which features an all-star cast of comedians in small bits but instead gets constantly sidetracked on horribly unfunny detours, like Oliver Platt's disgustingly over-the-top character (I forget who or what the character was, but I don't want to look it up, either). It's a terrible movie with the occasional, brief bit of brightness from one of many great people that are in it, but as a whole it never has any momentum or focus.

In that way, it's just like Caddyshack.

Don't get me wrong. Year One is way, way worse (and nobody eats a piece of shit in Caddyshack, like Jack Black does in Year One). Still, having just watched the brand new Blu-Ray of Caddyshack (my second time seeing the film), I still have a hard time understanding why the film is considered a comedy classic.

The primary problem with Caddyshack is that it gathers four actors who all bring very specific personalities to the table. Chevy Chase is his usual sarcastic self, quietly mocking everyone to their face. Ted Knight goes incredibly over the top, utilizing every muscle in his face to transition between extreme expressions of emotion. Rodney Dangerfield does classic gag schtick with his entire body, like a Looney Tunes cartoon got in a car accident with a nightclub stand-up act.

Then there's Bill Murray, who, as much as I love him -- and I really do -- gives a painfully broad performance as Carl Spackler, a demented, hobo-like groundskeeper with a weird speech impediment. I can't imagine any other comedian in the world could give the performance that Murray gives in this movie and have people think it wasn't awful, but as far as I can tell, Spackler is one of Murray's most enduring and famous roles.

Maybe one of these people could've carried a movie. I might've even liked Carl if Carl was the only person the film was concerned with. Squashing the four of them into a single movie with even more characters is a different story. Ramis, who was directing for the first time on Caddyshack, seems entirely unconcerned that his stars are all dropping in from different planets, and whenever more than one of them is in a room together, the movie loses its comedic footing, which is made all the more disappointing because, man, I want to see a really funny scene with Bill Murray and Chevy Chase acting opposite each other. The moment they're in the same room, my heart took a leap. The men who gave the world Peter Venkman and Irwin Fletcher, on screen at the same time! It's like the comedy version of Heat! (The pair's off-screen rivalry only adds to the tension.) Sadly, the scene is a misfire in my book. I was more enthralled by the big reunion in The Expendables just recently, and I hated that movie.

Adding insult to injury, none of these characters strike me as particularly well-written. Chase has a dearth of great lines, and when Chase does his usual bit and doesn't have good lines, he basically comes off like a smarmy asshole. Every once in awhile, he has a good joke (the "no steering wheel" pantomime is great), but he seems adrift and unengaged, like he's wandering through the movie as opposed to starring in it. Dangerfield is hit and miss, as not all of his routines translate as well as they could to the big screen, and Knight gets one note to play over and over. Murray's lines are probably better than the others, but the lisp or whatever he's doing just ruins them for me. Bill's brother Brian Doyle-Murray gets better lines as caddy management ("Pick up that blood!").

Caddyshack does have two saving graces. Well, maybe two and a half. The first two are Michael O'Keefe and Cindy Morgan, who are both charming and engaging as supposed hero Danny Noonan and the sexy Lacey Underall. Morgan doesn't have to do much but stand around and look beautiful, which she does with ease, but Morgan deepens the impression with a playful, bemused attitude that makes her almost impossibly endearing. O'Keefe makes for an appealing main character, but the movie sidelines him too often to invest much in his story, which is a shame; I think Caddyshack might be more deserving of its acclaim if there were more of O'Keefe and his conflict in the film (co-screenwriters Ramis, Doug Kenney and Doyle-Murray don't introduce any tangible stakes until the last 20 minutes). As for "half", Ramis' direction works wonders in the scenes where the actors aren't the primary focus: the impromptu swimming ballet and subsequent "doody" scene are worth a chuckle, and the golf course exploding at the end of the movie would have been the perfect end to a better movie. Alas, Caddyshack is not that movie: pretty much any other comedy from the 1980's starring any one of these guys is funnier and better constructed than this "shot-in-the-dark" mush.

The Blu-Ray comes with a lengthy episode of "Bio" on Caddyshack, but it's also a disappointment. Since it was produced for television, it has the aggravating habit of recapping for every intro and outro before unspoken commercial breaks, and if you pared this ep down to the real meat and potatoes, it'd easily lose 30 minutes of painfully repetitive narration. What's left is somewhat intriguing but not particularly fresh or in-depth, especially given that Dangerfield and Knight have both passed on, and neither Chase or Murray deemed it worthy to appear for new on-camera interviews. Even Brian Doyle-Murray had better things to do, although yet another Murray brother, John Murray, pops up frequently. The Blu-Ray's only other extra (no commentary?) is the shorter doc produced for the DVD, called "The 19th Hole". The PQ and AQ are both solid, although not quite as impressive as some other '80s films I've seen.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Drew McWeeny's List of Duh

Last night, I discovered that Drew McWeeny (@DrewAtHitFix) and William Goss (@williambgoss) have apparently been at this thing called The Basics for a few months now (explained in detail by Drew here, in which Goss goes through McWeeny's List of Duh (reprinted below, in chronological > alphabetical order) and watches the ones he hasn't seen.

Most of my paranoia about my work as a film critic being terrible comes from the usual lack of spread past films made during the years I've been alive, made in the country that I live in. Even if I've seen more films than most of the people I know, I'm still at the tip top of the iceberg when it comes to watching these things.

When I read the article yesterday, I thought it was new, which is why I'm starting now (shows how much attention I've been paying to things around me). There are 140 entries on the list. I haven't ever seen 52 of them, and there's probably only around that many films on the list I know well enough I could write about them without watching them again. In any case I figure I might as well review all of them. Who knows how long it will take. I don't think I'm planning to go in any specific order.

The General (1926)
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
Dracula (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
Freaks (1932)
The Mummy (1932)
Duck Soup (1933)
The Invisible Man (1933)
King Kong (1933)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dumbo (1941)
The Wolf Man (1941)
Bambi (1942)
Casablanca (1942)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Cinderella (1950)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Peter Pan (1953)
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Seven Samurai (1954)
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Touch of Evil (1958)
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Lolita (1962)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The Great Escape (1963)
The Nutty Professor (1963)
The Pink Panther (1963) films
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Mary Poppins (1964)
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The Graduate (1967)
Point Blank (1967)
2001: a Space Odyssey (1968)
Easy Rider (1969)
The Planet of the Apes (1968) films
The Wild Bunch (1969)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Pink Flamingos (1972)
American Graffiti (1973)
The Exorcist (1973)
Mean Streets (1973)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Chinatown (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Jaws (1975)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
All the President's Men (1976)
Carrie (1976)
Network (1976)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Annie Hall (1977)
The Star Wars (1977) films
Suspiria (1977)
National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke (1978)
Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Manhattan (1979)
Airplane! (1980)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Friday the 13th (1980) series
Raging Bull (1980)
The Shining (1980)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the Indy films
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
First Blood (1982)
Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan (1982)
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
Tron (1982)
Scarface (1983)
Ghostbusters (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Brazil (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
The Fly (1986)
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Hellraiser (1987)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Predator (1987)
Hairspray (1988)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
GoodFellas (1990)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Aladdin (1992)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Unforgiven (1992)
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Clerks. (1994)
Ed Wood (1994)
Leon: The Professional (1994)
The Lion King (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Friday (1995)
Heat (1995)
Se7en (1995)
Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999)
Fargo (1996)
Trainspotting (1996)
Boogie Nights (1997)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Rushmore (1998)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
There's Something about Mary (1998)
Fight Club (1999)
The Lord of the Rings (2001) series
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and 2 (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Grizzly Man (2005)

Ready, set...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Critical Thinking: In Bruges (2008)

Critical Thinking is a column where I review something I've just watched (usually something I like). No other reason. It doesn't really need a name but I gave it one anyway, since it's different from Cheap Thrills, and I hear things on blogs should have names.

David Mamet once said that a film's developments should be both "surprising and inevitable". This strikes me as the perfect summation of good entertainment, and few movies embody this advice as clearly as Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, which I am revisiting thanks to its long-overdue debut on Blu-Ray here in the United States.

The setup: a pair of hitmen named Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) have just arrived in the Belgian city of Bruges (roughly pronounced "brooj"), on orders from their employer, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), following a botched job. Ken is perfectly pleased to look at all of the medieval architecture; Ray would rather kill himself. "Do you think this is good? Goin' around in a boat, looking at stuff?" he demands of his partner. Ken does. "Ray, you're about the worst tourist in the whole world."

Innocuously hidden within the first ten or fifteen minutes is a prime example of Mamet's theory. In case the reader hasn't already seen In Bruges, I won't go into too much detail, but Ken goes to the city's biggest tourist attraction: a giant tower in the center of the city. Unable to get rid of his coins (ten cents short), he pays in cash and heads to the top, where he spots Ray down below, only minutes away from getting into a fight with a group of overweight Americans. The relevant information is not only organically buried in scenes that are interesting and funny in and of themselves, but even the most forward-thinking viewer will find that when the scene's major callback occurs, McDonagh has already devised a way to subvert the audience's expectations.

Ray is depressed over the events that sent he and Ken to Bruges in the first place, and Farrell's performance is surprisingly emotional, and not just sadness. Ray is a man who is all surface and no center, without any room on the inside for feelings. He wears them all with childlike earnestness on his rubbery face, veering from delighted to grumpy at the drop of a hat. In particular, he is delighted by the luminous Chloë (a sweet and sexy Clémence Poésy), a drug dealer offering her services to crew on the film shooting in Bruges, and Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), a little person playing an ever-changing role in the film's elaborate, pretentious dream sequence. Ken, meanwhile, is placed in a position of action, and has a quiet internal debate about what decision would be best for everyone. Ken is both noble and a realist, two qualities that work against each other.

Many of the people I've shown the film to have labeled it a downer, but I feel that's failing to see the forest for the trees. It is more about the attitude with which the characters deal with the events of the film than it is the events themselves, and Ray particularly sets the tone. The last lines of dialogue can be interpreted as sad and distant, especially taken in with the music and idea of what's happened, but viewers who listen carefully should see the humor in it, particularly if they're an optimist. The film's comedy is also quite goofy. Ken snapping at Ray's refusal to go see an exhibit ("It's only Jesus Christ's blood! Of course you don't fuckin' hafta!"), Jimmy and his ludicrous prophecy about a "war between the blacks and the whites", and Ray's almost existential hatred of everything about Bruges and what it stands for are all a wonderful counterpoint to the film's artful cinematography and picturesque setting. And that's all before Fiennes' character actually appears on screen. His Harry is a misanthropic, bomb-like force of nature whom Ken accurately sums up as an eternal cunt. "I mean no disrespect, but you're a cunt. You're a cunt now, and you've always been a cunt. And the only thing that's going to change is that you're going to be an even bigger cunt," he says, straight to the man's face. Harry does not disagree.

I missed the movie in theaters thanks to Focus Features' misguided ad campaign that tried to cram McDonagh's darkly witty farce into the same crowd-pleasing package as Guy Ritchie's rollicking Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch. McDonagh's style is generally much more naturalistic, with his only real "movie-esque" flourishes coming at the end, including an absolutely perfect sequence set to Luke Kelly's "On Raglan Road", and a climax so logical it practically seems like reflex rather than writing, yet so nutty you can't believe you're actually seeing it; in other words, a vivid illustration of Mamet's advice in action.

The Blu-Ray is a disappointment. The A/V quality is fine and a visible step up from the DVD in all regards, but there are actually extras missing from the SD-DVD. Since I don't believe I've gone back in time to the birth of the format, there's really no excuse for this, particularly when I was hoping Universal might see fit to track down McDonagh for a commentary in light of the film's Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay, and perhaps throw in "Six Shooter", his Academy Award-winning short film that also stars Gleeson. Clearly, my sights were set too high.

[In Bruges on IMDb]

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Critical Thinking: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Critical Thinking is a column where I review something I've just watched (usually something I like). No other reason. It doesn't really need a name but I gave it one anyway, since it's different from Cheap Thrills, and I hear things on blogs should have names.

On June 4th, the Katherine Heigl/Ashton Kutcher film Killers was inflicted upon us. Heigl plays the anti-woman's woman, i.e. a chipper, moronic, blonde beauty who can't do anything remotely masculine and needs men to rescue her from her own incompetence. Her mundane, career-focused, flighty existence is interrupted by the appearance of Ashton Kutcher. I reviewed Marley & Me for DVDTalk, and the first sight of Eric Dane, who looks like this, playing the role of an underpaid newspaper columnist, made me laugh out loud. Kutcher is supposedly a badass spy in Killers, which basically inspires the same reaction except with full-body nausea instead of laughter. Three weeks later, June finished up with the opening of Knight and Day, in which Tom Cruise plays the spy and Cameron Diaz plays the blonde (25% as ditzy, 75% as shrieky). I had high hopes, but it was a misfire in my book (you can read my whole review here).

Most people would point to Mr. & Mrs. Smith and True Lies as obvious recommendations for an alternative to these films, and these two examples are undoubtedly more inspired by those movies than the one I'm reviewing, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith isn't all that good, and True Lies -- easily the best of the four -- still gets terribly sidetracked by Bill Paxton's character, and is only barely more progressive when it comes to Jamie Lee Curtis' character than Killers (at least Curtis' performance appears to be intentional slapstick comedy, like a "Saturday Night Live" caricature).

No, my pick is the popular but still underrated Grosse Pointe Blank. John Cusack plays Martin Blank, a casual hitman who ends up in his hometown to do a job on the same weekend of his 10-year high school reunion. For most of those ten years, he's had a recurring nightmare about his choice to abandon his girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver), and the weekend offers Martin a once-in-a-lifetime chance to track her down and make amends.

Re-watching the film with friends this weekend, I think the key to Grosse Pointe Blank's success is that, unlike the other films in question, there's more going on here than the central conceit of putting romance and bullets in the same movie. In the relatively simple paragraph above, I've outlined not one, not two, but all three of the movie's storylines: Martin returns home after a decade away for the reunion, Martin reunites with Debi for the first time after his vanishing act, and Martin the hitman starts looking for a way out. Like a well-oiled machine, all three of these stories work in tandem with each other while remaining loose enough to switch in and out of center stage as the movie needs them. I was bored during the first twenty or thirty minutes of Knight and Day because the trailers completely sum up the Cruise character and concept in thirty seconds. There are side notes about Diaz's character fixing her father's GTO and the wedding her sister is having, but the movie doesn't try to flesh these out into parallels or even brief tangents to the story. Comparatively, there's more than enough room in Blank for Martin to go on a drive with his old friend Paul Spericki (Jeremy Piven) or visit his childhood home without these scenes feeling like a distraction from more important things.

Director George Armitage has an odd career. After directing four films in the '70s, he vanished for a decade, reappearing in 1990 as the writer/director of one project and the writer of another. Passion projects, maybe. Then, he took another 6-year hiatus before making Blank. Afterwards, he didn't work until 2004's The Big Bounce, and has since been laying low, other than a "special thanks" on a 2010 movie called Joy Division. Having seen a couple of his '70s efforts recently, he doesn't appear to have much of a personal vision, but he still seems like he's more than an assembly-line guy. Even if he didn't respond to the material in a personal way, one gets the impression he was invested creatively, keeping things basic but not boring, engaging with his fellow cast and crew. There are a couple clever little shots, like a quick pull back to reveal a banner that Paul is leaping for, but Armitage's main contribution is probably the one of the whole film. This is a story about a violent hitman, but it never seems that gruesome, despite going all-out with an R-rating and at least one reasonably bloody death. If Grosse Pointe Blank were made today, it's hard to imagine the romantic and comedic lead of a film being allowed to do anything as intimately violent as stabbing a man with a pen for fear of losing the audience's sympathy, yet there's no sense that Armitage has to work to keep our relationship with Martin alive through the entire incident.

Another aspect of that light tone is the sexy chemistry between Cusack and Driver. Cusack is basically his usual self, but Driver brings plenty of little touches to the equation that make their relationship believable. In many movies like this, Debi would practically be a side character in comparison to Martin, but Driver fleshes her out with enough pathos and neuroses that she feels like his equal, having her own decade of uncertainty after he disappeared without a trace. Martin brings out the playful side of Debi, but this time around she's got her guard up.

The film is filled with a host of side characters, and it's nice how the picture manages to fit all of them in without going all over the map. Aside from Piven's Paul, Joan Cusack is Martin's assistant, who deals with the customers and answers the phones, Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman play two government agents looking to blot out Blank if they see him doing any misdeeds, Alan Arkin has several scenes as Martin's stressed-out psychologist, Benny Urquidez is a hitman looking to get revenge on Blank for the death of a prized dog, and Dan Aykroyd plays the movie's villain, a fellow assassin named Grocer who wants Blank to join his union of hired killers. There's also a whole host of characters at the eventual reunion, including Jenna Elfman as a woman who saw the other side, and Michael Cudlitz -- a scene-stealer if there ever was one -- as coke-snorting BMW salesman Bob Destepello. All of these people feel like they're cut from the same comedic cloth as the main characters, which is almost miraculous given how broad some of them are allowed to be. As a lifetime Ghostbusters fan, it hurts me to say that if any of them are a weak link, it might actually be Aykroyd, whose insistently cheery schtick toes the waters of "cartoonish", but I don't quite have a problem with it.

The third act leans on a tiny bit of script convenience, Azaria and Freeman are kind of written off, and the movie stops a touch abruptly, but these are minor nitpicks. The movie has more than enough goodwill to coast by then, and the ending is no cop-out, giving us one of the few "armchair psychology" epiphanies that actually feels organic and believable, allowing for a resolution that is satisfying instead of just relieving. Being a shootout, it lacks the intimacy of the film's high points, but the characters are intact, and it packs a nice punch. Grosse Pointe Blank is a great romance and a solid action movie featuring an entire cast's worth of well-written, well-performed characters, in a setting (the reunion) with some universal comedic appeal, and it accomplishes all it sets out to with enough ease to make you wonder: why exactly is this kind of movie so hard to make?

I was sure that 2007 was the year for Blank. The movie takes place at a 10-year high school reunion, so a 10th Anniversary DVD with an anamorphic transfer is a given, right? The year came and went, and even through to today, the only thing that's changed is that fans can now pick up the same old letterboxed transfer with a useless Digital Copy disc. Until Buena Vista opts to issue the film on Blu-Ray, I suggest people track down the 2-Movie Collectionwith High Fidelity, another great Cusack picture. There's also the film War, Inc., which reunites John, Joan and Dan in a worlds-apart scenario with a very similar tone. A few interviews hint that War, Inc. may have been written as a Grosse Pointe Blank sequel, but Disney wouldn't license the rights. On the other hand, I haven't seen it, so I can't vouch for it.

[Grosse Pointe Blank at IMDb]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cheap Thrills: Suburban Commando (1991)

Cheap Thrills is a column on The Following Preview featuring movies that can be had new at certain stores for $5 or less. Today's movie is the action-thriller Suburban Commando (1991), which I found at a Big Lots! store for $3.00.

There were three movie series I grew up on: Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and Home Alone and that was pretty much it. I was only allowed to see movies that were rated G or PG, and instead of bothering to look for other things to capture my imagination, the seven films that comprised those three franchises at the time were basically my comfort zone.

Eventually, my parents started to resist my desires to just watch the same thing over and over, and I was forced to branch out. I chose to take baby steps, and just followed the actors. This led me to movies like Groundhog Day, Richie Rich, Life With Mikey, and Suburban Commando.

I vividly remember getting the VHS tape from behind the counter at Safeway, and discovering that while the box said the film was rated PG, the tape itself had the PG-13 logo on it. I was excited. Time to see some intense stuff, I thought. When the movie started and the human-looking villain has his hand chopped off, the image burned itself into my brain.

Today, Suburban Commando is fascinatingly disjointed. For about 10 minutes, the movie moves at a normal pace and even appears to have a plot, but then it suddenly and decisively devolves into a Greatest Hits compilation of Hulk Hogan doing impressive feats. He's lifting the kids! He's throwing a skateboard into space! He's bench-pressing workshop machinery! After 20 minutes of this, the movie gets bored and devolves further into random wacky antics. Hulk squishes a melon in an old lady's face! Hulk tries to skateboard! Hulk punches a mime! Whoooooa!

Miraculously, Suburban Commando stays pretty fast-paced and earnest about all of this nonsense (as opposed to insistent and belabored), which actually creates some goodwill towards the movie and Hogan's character. Sure, he's not a very good actor (his range seems to consist of how wide he has his eyes opened), but he seems relatively cheerful regardless of what's going on, even when he's supposed to be annoyed.

I wrote the above paragraphs about two months ago, and I don't want to delete them. However, other than mentioning what appeared to be an attempted rape sequence (which Christopher Lloyd heroically foils), I've already forgotten everything about Suburban Commando, which probably sums up the viewing experience in a nutshell. The movie is so forgettable, it's actually managed to partially delete the hand-capitation that I claimed had "burned itself into my brain". (If anyone finds me and I've become a complete and total amnesiac, blame Suburban Commando.) The DVD comes with widescreen and full-screen presentations, and a set-top game of some sort. Sadly, I can't recommend it. Save your three dollars for something more critical, like a third of a city parking fee, and rent the movie on Netflix instead, if you have to see it again. I guarantee it will be 90 minutes of surprisingly-pleasant-but-also-moronic childhood memories.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Importance of FilmXTRATOM

Right up front, I want to admit that there isn't much more that can currently be said about the story of FilmXTRATOM's plagiarism, at least not until YouTube responds to Matthew Turner's copyright claim against him. However, in the wake of Tom posting his newest review (which I won't link, since it gives him paid traffic as a YouTube Partner) I've seen a dispiriting amount of comments saying that Tom's actions don't matter or the posters of said comments don't care about what he did, and I think there is something to be said about that. Yeah, okay, those people probably aren't going to come to this blog. They probably aren't going to see this. But I feel like writing it, because, like the list of Tom's infringements itself, I think it's somewhat important.

There are a few primary reasons why Tom's actions mean something:

Plagiarism is a crime.
The easiest and most obvious statement to make here is that plagiarism is illegal.


Most cases of plagiarism are considered misdemeanors, punishable by fines of anywhere between $100 and $50,000 -- and up to one year in jail.

Plagiarism can also be considered a felony under certain state and federal laws. For example, if a plagiarist copies and earns more than $2,500 from copyrighted material, he or she may face up to $250,000 in fines and up to ten years in jail.

Most of the people trying to let Tom off the hook don't think plagiarism matters, because a) they just don't care, b) they don't care when it's on the internet, or c) they don't care because the plagiarized work in question is a bunch of movie reviews. Well...

Writers care.
This is pretty obvious too, but there's more to it than "it was my writing, and therefore I am mad about it!"

I have become acquainted with Matthew Turner in the last week, both via Twitter and e-mail, and he's clearly angry about what happened to him. I understand why people who are generally not "creative" about their opinion (i.e., opinions are stated in basic terms and not elaborately written out -- not an assessment of the quality of the opinions themselves, just the amount of effort put into them) have trouble understanding what the big deal is that Tom took the words out of someone's .doc file, especially when it's an opinion. "Two people can have the same opinion, right?"

But good writers try and create a "voice". It's not always perceptible, or, not always as perceptible as the writer in question (like me) would like to think it is, but regardless, that's part of the goal. Personally, I hope that if someone read my movie reviews, they would feel like they're having a conversation with me about the movie (albeit a one-sided one, although I think Matthew Lingo would attest that's what conversing with me is like).

At the very least, this should be easy to convey when it comes to the most extreme, stylized examples. Since this is a film blog, and the plagiarism concerns film, take Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith. Just by listening to the way the characters in one of their movies speak, I'd expect any viewer familiar with either of those filmmakers' work would know instantly they were watching a film by that person. That's a big part of what's at stake, and I guarantee that no writer wants their "voice" stolen.

Of all the reviews I found on Tom's page (and I may have missed some), only the first three reviews (of Hellboy II, Babylon A.D., and The Duchess) did not appear to be plagiarized. The fans that still support Tom don't seem to grasp that, if you watched purely for the reviews and opinions (as opposed to Tom reading the news, which he did link to), there wasn't anything to learn about Tom himself in those videos. He doesn't have "a way of looking at the films" or "a certain style", because almost the entirety of every review (excepting sentence or two at most, and not on the majority or even a significant portion of the videos) was taken word for word from those other reviews. Tom has no "voice". If the viewers thought there was something about Tom they liked when watching his reviews, I'm afraid the most he could be given credit for personally was his hyper-caffeinated enthusiasm.

Plagiarism is stealing from the writer.
Even having said all of that, it's still hard to get across why it matters that someone would steal your "voice", but to a writer, it's probably no different than having your house broken into. The actual mechanics and significance of the crime is different, sure -- it unquestionably takes more balls to break into a stranger's home and go through their belongings than it does to copy, paste, and memorize -- but the emotions are the same. It's invasive (they're coming into your headspace). They're taking something away from you that you worked hard for (either as an achievement or as a material item). They're passing it off as their own when they did nothing to earn it (the same for money, material goods, or the review) and in a way, they've invalidated you and everything that you did in the process.

The amount and mindset of plagiarism matters.
Another common sentiment is that I and other online voices are blowing things out of proportion. Tom's just some anonymous kid in Yorkshire, England. What business do a bunch of older professional film critics have beating up on this guy?

And, if Tom had swiped a one or two lines from a random review, and upon being found out, apologized swiftly, profusely, and genuinely, it probably wouldn't have been a blip on the Twittersphere. But not only was it nearly every single one of his reviews, it totaled nearly 100 counts of plagiarism.

I debated with a reasonably friendly person on Twitter about Tom, and the other person compared it to shoplifting a bottle of Coke from a local corner store. There are lots of reasons to dispute this comparison, but the biggest one is the amount of plagiarism. Okay, so for one review -- and even then, I'm being generous, since a given Tom video was 99% stolen and 1% Tom, if that -- let's say for the sake of argument I agree with this equation. And one Coke is certainly not deserving of the electric chair. But once Tom's stolen 75 Cokes, begun selling them to other people with his own label on them, and even started receiving the kind of Coke-seller cred that it takes legitimate salesmen years to earn, then it becomes a legitimate problem.

On top of that, it wasn't idle theft. Tom clearly put some level of effort into stealing from people, because a number of his reviews weren't copped from a single source. He would take the paragraphs he liked from multiple sources and re-arrange them until they sounded like they could all have come from the same review. I also didn't get the impression that Tom was reading off of cue cards, which hints that he may have memorized these reviews in order to make them sound like his own train of thought. If putting work into a crime doesn't wave a big red flag, then your code of ethics is probably in need of some revisions.

Tom was profiting off his plagiarism.
Okay, so we've got malicious mass plagiarism. Rage-inducing, sure, and worthy of punishment, but not seriously actionable...until you realize that Tom was pocketing cash for his operation. Not only was Tom a YouTube Partner, meaning the traffic his videos received earned him cash, but he also runs a Cafe Press-like T-shirt shop, has Google ads activated on his videos (no idea if that's set apart from being a YouTube Partner), and was being invited to red-carpet premieres in his country, as well as advance screenings. Right now I'm affiliated with three websites, and I don't make even a fifth of enough money doing that to earn any sort of living off of it, nor have I ever been to a red carpet premiere (I only see movies in advance). I don't know if Tom has a real job (he doesn't seem to), but he's the 85th most subscribed UK journalist of all time on YouTube, so I imagine his vids got a fair amount of traffic (although, like the Google Ads, I have no idea how much money this translates into).

This changes the entire scope of Tom's crimes. Another analogy: would you appreciate it if you went into your job, every day, toiling away at work that's hard but rewarding, and when payday came, you went up to collect your check, and found that another guy was getting paid for the work you were doing? Sure, he's not taking any money out of your paycheck, but this other guy gets to sit at home relaxing, and cashes in on the effort you put in. Does that seem fair to you?

Tom is still profiting off his plagiarism, even if he deleted it.
As a second part to this bullet point, Tom is, as of the time I write this, still a YouTube Partner. It takes a certain amount of views and traffic to become a YouTube Partner, and although Tom finally deleted the videos (rather than simply making them "private"), he still has a heightened level of awareness and membership to a club he wouldn't be part of without his plagiarism. Any money he makes off of his continuing status as a YouTube Partner is directly attributable to his crimes. If Tom really wants to soldier on (by which I mean ignore the fallout from this last week), which it seems he does, then the best thing to do is to dump the FilmXTRA name (which, although he didn't steal it, is the same name as a new UK film TV show), and launch a whole new channel without the existing one's benefits (i.e., not only the YouTube Partner status, but also the legions of followers he's retained).

It's just lazy, and if you're going to be lazy, why bother?
Even if none of that means a damn thing to you, it's outright lazy. I mean, how hard is it to formulate an opinion on something and express it to another person? I'm pretty sure that everyone in the world does it on a daily basis, so it can't be that tough.

Beyond that, what I said in my original blog post bears repeating: I just can't understand why you'd want to have a film review show on YouTube if you don't want to do the work when it comes to the primary, central function of the whole enterprise, which is reviewing movies. I've heard complaints from people that we're picking on this guy over his passion, but if Tom really loves film, then Tom would want to express his own views on movies. If he's not good at it, he should just talk about movies with his friends, who probably won't be judgmental of whatever it is that holds him back. If he wants to tell people other than his friends, then he should learn to get better, or not worry about the quality of his output, because the act of expressing himself is all that matters. If he wants to reach a wide audience without improving, then he should be happy with whatever he can create.

The only reason I can think of that Tom would want a film review show on the internet where he wants to express opinions, without self-improving, but still not being satisfied with what he personally creates, with the goal of reaching a wide audience, is that there must be some other benefit to the show, something he believes he won't get without stronger reviews, and the only thing I can think of is money. You must apply or accept an offer to become a YouTube partner, and if Tom was really testing the corruptibility of the website, then he should have declined.

Plus, if Tom's new review is "no different than the old ones" in terms of style (another claim I've heard in Tom's defense), then it means he is capable of expressing his own opinions, without stealing, and therefore his crime actually becomes more indefensible. If you don't have to steal, you shouldn't be doing it. What possible purpose could it serve ("corruptibility" aside) to steal something for no reason?

It's insulting.
Last, but not least, he's insulting you. You, his loyal viewer. Of anything he did, I think I was most personally shocked by the plagiarism in his blogtv video, which he prefaced by saying the movie in question (Collateral) was something he watched because one of his own fans suggested it. He's lying to your face! He's assuming nobody will care enough to figure it out, least of all the people watching. The only reason people care enough to repeat visit any critic's blog, vlog, channel, Twitter, etc., is because they feel like that person has something unique to offer, something that the seeker can't get anywhere else, and Tom is throwing this basic agreement back in your face by faking the things that should make his tiny corner of the internet unique.

Look at his demeanor in his most recent video (or don't). He hasn't learned. He hasn't changed. Not only does he think what he's done is something that can be brushed off with a half-assed apology letter, but he thinks he can ignore the repercussions, and more importantly the people he's walked over in the process, and feed you, the viewer, a whole new slate of enthusiastic BS. Come on. Be honest. Doesn't that make you feel used? And if it doesn't, why not?

UPDATE: I do just want to add, once again, that is also stealing from Matthew Turner, and it's no more or less important that they are than it is that Tom was. Please, if you mention Tom in any blogs or Tweets, mention iZone and Izaruddin as well.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Tragic Saga of FilmXTRATOM

A few days ago, JoBlo's Twitter account (@joblo) called out an online blogger known as Tom S Perkins (@FilmXTRATOM) for straight-up stealing 85% of his video review of Iron Man 2 from their write-up by JimmyO (the corresponding FilmXTRA video has been removed).

Using cutting-edge technology known as Google, I identified the rest of his review (which sounded equally professional) as having come from Den of Geek, and others noted that snippets of his Alice in Wonderland review also came from JoBlo.

After a few hours of collective internet hatred heading his way, Perkins finally signed onto his account in order to thoroughly deny that he'd done any wrong (here, here, and here), before finally caving early the next day (here).

It is worth noting at this point that Hey U Guys, which sponsored/ran Tom's videos for some period of time, almost immediately disassociated themselves from him via their Twitter (@heyuguysblog). Since this is something that is essentially developing and spreading, I've seen a lot of people just finding out about this demanding to know their position, but they've already made it clear. You can read their announcement here, here, here, and here.

This is when, suspiciously, the video reviews from 2010 vanished from his YouTube channel (here), along with any comments identifying the plagiarism on his page or on any videos. Perkins' previously-promised apology letter failed to materialize, and people I follow were suspicious that Tom wasn't ready to fess up to all of his crimes after all. In the interest of public service, I thusly have gone through every one of Tom's videos to find the plagiarism in question.

Pineapple Express
Review in FilmXTRA #9 taken from Empire (unidentified writer)

Righteous Kill
Review in FilmXTRA #11 taken from NewsBlaze (Prairie Miller)

Tropic Thunder
Phrase "more explosions than Krakatoa" in FilmXTRA #12 taken from Mansized (Chris Laverty). Can't access the full review to see if more was taken, Mansized is password protected...?

Death Race (2008)
Review in FilmXTRA #13 taken from The Movie Blog (John Campea)

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
Review in FilmXTRA #15 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Review in FilmXTRA #18 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Burn After Reading
Review in FilmXTRA #19 taken from Daily Mirror (David Edwards) and View London (Matthew Turner)

Ghost Town
Review in FilmXTRA #22 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Eagle Eye
Review in FilmXTRA #22 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Quantum of Solace
Review in FilmXTRA #23 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Pride and Glory
Review in FilmXTRA #26 taken from View London (Matthew Turner). Plot summary seems to be taken from official press release.

Max Payne
Review in FilmXTRA #27 taken from View Oxford (Matthew Turner)

Note: In FilmXTRA #29 he starts passing off the classic "Invisibles" screen caps as a segment he created. Clever!

Body of Lies
Review in FilmXTRA #30 taken from View Hamilton (Matthew Turner, he's stalking you!)

Review in Film XTRA #31 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Lakeview Terrace
Review in FilmXTRA #33 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Review in FilmXTRA #34 taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and Bloody-Disgusting (Brad Miska)

Transporter 3
Review in FilmXTRA #35 taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and Empire Online (Chris Hewitt)

The Spirit
Review in FilmXTRA #38 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Review in FilmXTRA #39 taken from View Auckland (Matthew Turner)

Role Models
Review in FilmXTRA #40 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Seven Pounds
Review in FilmXTRA #41 taken from (Mark Adams)

Review in FilmXTRA #41 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Review in FilmXTRA #42 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Review in FilmXTRA #43 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

In addition, there is also this review over at Blogger News Network, which has a passage quite similar to the one I Googled.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Review in FilmXTRA #44 taken from View Auckland (Matthew Turner)

Review in FilmXTRA #45 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Review in FilmXTRA #47 taken from View Auckland (Matthew Turner)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Review in FilmXTRA #49 taken from View Hamilton (Matthew Turner)

Star Trek (2009)
Review in FilmXTRA #50 (Part 2) taken from IGN UK (Orlando Parfitt) and View London (Matthew Turner)

Fast & Furious
Review in FilmXTRA #51 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Terminator: Salvation
Review in FilmXTRA #54 taken from View Auckland (Matthew Turner)

The Hangover
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Night at the Museum 2: Battle For the Smithsonian
Review in FilmXTRA #56 taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Review in FilmXTRA #57 taken from Collider (Matt Goldberg) and undoubtedly one other source, which, despite repeated Googling, I could not find.

Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Public Enemies
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and Daily Mail (Chris Tookey)

The Hurt Locker
Review here taken from View Auckland (Matthew Turner) and STL Today (Calvin Wilson)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and Total Film (Jonathan Crocker)

I Love You, Man
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner), SFX (Andrew Osmond), and probably at least one more I couldn't identify.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

The International
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

Inglourious Basterds
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray) and (yes, really, as far as I can tell) IMDb user laurylou-1, plus potentially others I couldn't identify

The Time Traveler's Wife
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray)

Funny People
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner)

District 9
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and JoBlo (Chris Bumbray)

Dorian Gray
Review here taken from Shadows on the Wall (Rich Cline) and View London (Matthew Turner)

Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner), SFX (James White), and Mark Reviews Movies (Mark Dujsik)

Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and JoBlo (Jenna Busch)

The Invention of Lying
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray) and possibly somewhere else

Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray) and possibly somewhere else

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray) and possibly somewhere else

Review here taken from JoBlo (Brian Kelley) and possibly somewhere else

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and IGN UK (Chris Tilly)

Review here taken from JoBlo (JimmyO) and possibly somewhere else

The Men Who Stare at Goats
Review here taken from View London (Matthew Turner) and possibly somewhere else

Harry Brown
Review here taken from Little White Lies (Josh Winning)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Review here, oddly enough, doesn't appear to be taken from anywhere, or at least, the internet is too flooded with Twilight crap for Google to find it.

Paranormal Activity
Review here taken from View Auckland (Matthew Turner) and JoBlo (JimmyO)

Law Abiding Citizen
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray) and possibly somewhere else

The Box
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray) and possibly somewhere else

Review here taken from JoBlo (Jenna Busch) and possibly somewhere else

Sherlock Holmes
Review here taken from JoBlo (Chris Bumbray)

This has already taken more time than I could have possibly imagined, so I'm not going to scrutinize his channel, but previously, I did determine that he was doing the same on his live podcasts, with the most recent podcast making for a perfect example.

EDIT (05/09/10 6:00PM): I got a little heat from the charming Scott Weinberg of Cinematical (@scottEweinberg) for running the list, and I see his point (it is kind of like ganging up on him, and I have to completely admit to having already made two days worth of jokes at his expense on Twitter), but the true purpose of the list is to a) alert people whose work might have been stolen (which some fellow Twitterers indicate that it has), and b) make sure Tom confesses to everything he's done. There have been indications (based on the leisurely pace Tom is dealing with this, and the rate at which he deletes accusations of plagiarism from his YouTube channel and videos) that he had some thoughts about trying to fess up to some but not all of the theft. It also seems pretty clear that the guy had found ways to make money off of his hackism, via a merchandise shop and Google advertising, and he was being invited to premieres in the UK.

The silly thing, I think, is the whole idea of plagiarism itself. I write about movies because I love writing about movies. The point is to express my thoughts on them, which is something I'd do whether I had a blog or not. To skip over that part of the process is unfathomable to me, because what appeal could running a channel about movies possibly have if you don't actually want to put out your own, original thoughts about them? If that part of it is a chore to you, then clearly you should focus your energy elsewhere.

EDIT 2 (05/09/10 7:30PM): Somewhat ironically, it seems I've inadvertently discovered further plagiarism in the form of @iZone, which has ALSO been targeting Matthew Turner's reviews. Matthew had 42 of his reviews stolen by FilmXTRATOM and an unidentified number of reviews stolen by iZone. Make him feel a little better by following him on Twitter, and hopefully assure that all of his content will be heard from him first in the future.

EDIT 3 (05/10/10 4:00 AM): Unsurprisingly, most of the links to the videos have stopped functioning since I posted this about 12 hours ago. However (equally unsurprisingly), the videos have only gone private as opposed to being deleted from YouTube entirely.

According to Turner, Tom has also issued his personal apology. I have only seen the one comment Turner Tweeted, but Tom claims he was "trying to test the corruptibility of YouTube". Gee, sorry, Tom, what a noble thing to do!

When I first started at DVDTalk, there was a forum post about a plagiarist who had just been deleted. His excuse was supposedly that he "liked the passages" he'd ripped from reviews so much, he'd put them into the same document as his reviews in an attempt to write something equally good, and they just happened to stay in.

Readers may also appreciate the story of "comedian" Nick Madson here and here over at Patton Oswalt's MySpace blog, which broke a little over a week ago. The second blog, in particular, is essential.

EDIT 4 (05/10/10 5:20 AM): Thanks to YouTube video by a user named FuryoftheFilmFan (how fitting), I realize I would be remiss if I did not mention FredLozano, the JoBlo poster who first alerted anyone about any of FilmXTRATOM's crimes. He deserves as much credit as anyone, if not more, for without Fred, Tom would still be getting away with everything.

In addition to FuryoftheFilmFan, a user named OrionSyndicate910 has created a very nice video about the situation here.

EDIT 5 (05/10/10 2:24 PM): In case you wanted to read FilmXTRATOM's apology letter, you can do that here at JoBlo. As a Twitter user pointed out, if he was "testing the corruptibility of YouTube", what purpose did it serve plagiarizing for his weekly live videos?

Luckily, Tom is resilient. As per his most recent Tweet, he will continue to do his video reviews. Well, thank goodness.

EDIT 6 (05/10/10 9:51 PM): Well, even though Tom seems to be prepared to put up new videos this week, it's still good to see that he has finally pulled the trigger and deleted the videos from his account (previously, he had only made them private).

I have two videos on YouTube, which are clip montages from films. They were both flagged at one point by movie studios, but I noticed even while the videos were not available, my view counts remained.

My theory about Tom's attempt to leave the videos "private" is that he could continue being a YouTube Partner -- and thusly, keep profiting from his plagiarism -- if the videos still existed, along with the view counts.

That said, I am not certain as to whether Tom is currently a YouTube Partner. I am going on the implied word of OrionSyndicate910, who suggests that Tom is (or was) a Partner, so make of it what you will.

EDIT 6 (05/11/10 11:42 AM): OrionSyndicate910 has posted a new video which explicitly states that Tom has been a YouTube Partner for 2 months.

By way of this story, I also got mentioned on FilmDrunk, my favorite movie blog on the internet. Day: made.

EDIT 7 (05/11/10 3:07 PM): Initial whistleblower Fred Lozano has put up his own two cents on the issue. Fred also Tweets as @BubblegumWay.

EDIT 8 (05/14/10 11:42 PM): Matthew Turner has a blog up about it, and the newest Empire video blog references the whole mess.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jay Baruchel's Next Move

Here's a piece I wrote for that didn't get used.
The alumni of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's now cult-classic TV show "Freaks and Geeks" (including Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel) have risen to the top of Hollywood's A-list in the past few years. Shortly after the cancellation of "Geeks", however, Apatow created a second show, called "Undeclared", which again featured Rogen and Segel, but also gave actor Jay Baruchel his "big" break as the show's lead. Like its predecessor, the show only lasted a single season, but 9 years later, Baruchel is ready to take his swing at Rogen-level fame with a trio of 2010 films. The actor co-stars in Disney's big-budget, live-action Sorcerer's Apprentice alongside Nicolas Cage, took on a starring role in the recent R-rated success She's Out of My League, and voices a CG hero in DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon.

Baruchel has seemingly shied away from Apatow's success thus far: his only appearance in one of the director's films (as producer or director) is an intermittent role as one of Rogen's roommates in Knocked Up. In the meantime, he's appeared in one or two indie projects, such as the aptly named real-time dramedy Real Time, and continued to be a supporting actor in big movies like Tropic Thunder and the Night at the Museum sequel. None of these films have trumpeted the actor as a leading man, but perhaps that's part of the actor's plan. A good parallel might be actor DJ Qualls, who made a splash in the 2000 comedy Road Trip and quickly graduated to a starring role in 2002's The New Guy, only to see his movie career immediately stall. Qualls even appeared in I'm Reed Fish, a 2006 movie that happened to star Baruchel.

Regardless of what Baruchel's plans were, 2010 is already looking like it's going to be his breakout year. The producers of League were clearly looking to be in the Apatow business, starting with a romance and raunch formula and ending with a movie poster basically consisting of Baruchel's scrunched-up face, just like the campaigns for The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Banner ads peppered the internet, trumpeting the film's R-rating, looking to catch the attention of the same demographic that made The Hangover a $300 million hit, the studio, after sitting on the film for around a year (thanks to the Paramount/DreamWorks split), carefully positioned it a safe two weeks away from John Cusack and Steve Pink's Hot Tub Time Machine. The strategy worked: League isn't a box-office smash or even a low-key hit, but the film's solid numbers proved that Baruchel's non-existent star status didn't seem to bother audiences.

Now, Baruchel is looking at what may turn out to be two of the biggest films of his career, regardless of whether he'll be personally responsible for their box-office success. Apprentice, which won't be arriving until August, has plenty of cache behind it, including producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Jon Turtletaub, and star Nicolas Cage -- three men who turned two National Treasure films into nearly $400 million in domestic box office reciepts (a third is in the cards) -- as well as the basic name value of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (the film is an expansion of the original Fantasia short with the buckets and brooms, minus Mickey; you can see Baruchel recreating the scene briefly, near the end of the film's teaser trailer), even though it's not really a remake. Right now, though, How to Train Your Dragon is getting big buzz as DreamWorks' best animated project yet, with additional kudos for the 3D. Even if Baruchel won't get stopped on the street for participation in Dragon if it turns out to be a smash, he'll likely find himself doing more and more voicework (just like his "Geeks" alum Seth Rogen, who laid down tracks for Shrek the Third, Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs. Aliens).

On one hand, most voice actors aren't exactly celebrities, and, while the practice is increasing, most actors would prefer to do their work in front of the camera rather than behind the microphone. Then again, for Baruchel, maybe that level of celebrity makes perfect sense. By doing a film where he doesn't physically appear, and another where he plays the co-lead, he's probably locked up plenty of steady work, retains his cred as a supporting actor, allowing any profit and credibility League creates to be icing on the cake. Even if "Jay Baruchel" never becomes a household name, it looks as if he's got his future in perfect order.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Remake Watch 2010: Week 15

A catch-up post, in which Hollywood vomits old movies and television shows into your face with alarming strength and velocity.

Legendary Pictures has the rights and are trying as hard as they can to avoid making anything like Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla. Good plan. [Source: Variety]

House Party
This movie isn't going to make House Party 2 look like House Party 3! It's just going to look like House Party! Because, you know, it's a remake. I guess that House Party 4 Film Favorites DVD is selling like gangbusters. [Source: Pajiba's The Hollywood Cog]

"Laverne & Shirley"
Jamie Foxx is writing a "Laverne & Shirley" movie with Jessicas Biel and Garner in mind to star and Garry Marshall to direct? I told you I wanted an out-of-left-field story, damn it! [Source: TV Guide]

Look Who's Talking
Clearly, someone wants to capitalize on those E*TRADE ads starring babies. Oh, wait, they're making a movie based on those, too. [Source: Pajiba]

Sometimes I think Hollywood execs with no ideas on what to greenlight just go to Blockbuster and look at old DVDs. You know, because Hollywood Video is out of business. Maybe this is the one that will get Jennifer Lopez that "dope" Oscar she deserves. [Source: The Hollywood Reporter]

Night of the Living Dead: Origins
Never mind that there is already a Night of the Living Dead 3D, they're making another one, and it's animated, and a prequel. Hmm. [Source: Movie Mikes, via Moviehole]

Private Benjamin
Anna Faris is headlining a Private Benjamin remake. Unlike my joke above, it may really turn out to be an Oscar bid for Faris (the original scored Goldie Hawn an Oscar nomination), which Jennifer Lopez can watch from her couch while lamenting that her comic ability to hold semen inside her vagina in The Back-Up Plan was overlooked. [Source: THR's Risky Business Blog]

Police Academy
Steve Guttenberg's dreams of a Police Academy reunion sequel are crushed by the news of this remake. Steve Guttenberg's dreams are always crushed. [Source: The Hollywood Reporter]

A remake of the cartoon, not the Robin Williams movie. IN 3D!!! [Source: Variety]

Real Genius
I like the idea that someone is remaking a movie titled Real Genius, in the sense that that same person would probably remake a movie called Truly Original. [Source: the first article from Pajiba again]

The Toxic Avenger
Everyone's favorite hand-frying, arm-tearing, boob-loving, grossly mutilated dweeb is bringing his classic mix of blood and breasts to Hollywood in an all-new PG-13 family movie in the vein of The Mask! Wait, what? [Source: Deadline Hollywood Daily]

Not added to the "Remake Watch" count but still oh-so-very-in-development:

Years ago, Eli Roth was attached to "Baywatch", presumably for no other reason than he could be. Unfortunately, as it turns out, that might have been a good idea, and it was quickly scrapped. [Source: THR's Risky Business Blog]

Fantastic Voyage
Alright, alright. There are four movies on this list with genuine potential, and this is one of them. Like Clash of the Titans, there's definite room for improvement here, and it's been long enough since the original film was released to justify revisiting. As long as potential director Paul Greengrass leaves his shaky-cam behind (sometimes it works, but I don't think Fantastic Voyage needs to be gritty) and producer James Cameron lets someone else write it, I'll go see it. [Source: Variety]

Fright Night
Here's another one that I have mild faith in, entirely based on Anton Yelchin. [Source: THR's Heat Vision Blog]

Heavy Metal
The third project worth caring about and the one with the second-most potential: Heavy Metal, via David Fincher. He tried before and failed, but this time, he's brought his buddies Zack Snyder and James Cameron with him. Loud and nasty indeed. [Source: Deadline Hollywood Daily]

Caesar (Planet of the Apes)
Finally, 20th Century Fox is moving forward with a Planet of the Apes prequel called Caesar, which will ignore Tim Burton's much-maligned remake. [Source: Production Weekly, but the best link I have is from Deadline Hollywood Daily]

Red Sonja
Rose McGowan: out. Megan Fox: potentially in. My attention: as far away from Megan Fox as possible. [Source: Pajiba]

The director of Stomp the Yard is considering directing. There will be no robots, only interpretive dance. [Source: IESB]

When a movie is a hit (like, say, Transformers), quickly find and buy a property that you can make nearly indistinguishable, and pour money into it. [Source: Corona Coming Attractions

Remake Watch 2010:
15 film remakes in development
4 film remakes released in theaters
0 film remakes released direct-to-DVD
3 film reboots in development
0 film reboots released in theaters
0 TV remakes announced
0 tv remakes released

A "reboot" is defined by Remake Watch as a new attempt at a film series with new actors playing old characters (thus, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Race to Witch Mountain are excluded). Sequels to remakes (The Pink Panther 2, Halloween II) are ignored.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on an Random Movie: Leprechaun (1993)

I got a job recently, and I haven't been around to update this site very often. I mean, I never do, but I need to do at least one Remake Watch post (Police Academy and Overboard!), so even at that, I'm behind on my work.

Since I spent most of the last 24 hours being unusually productive (I got and work done today too), I figure I might as well post here just to complete the hat trick, and what better to fill your internets with than a random assortment of thoughts about Leprechaun, which I am watching for the first time. I may or may not be watching all six Leprechaun films in the next week or two (yes, they made six Leprechaun films), so you might also be treated to entries on the sequels as well.

I decided to start blogging a little late in the game, so I'm afraid my thoughts on the first 30 minutes are mostly missing. The rest are time-coded, in case you too are one of the poor souls who owns Leprechaun and you'd like to retroactively read along.

(unspecified): Can this movie not afford the expensive visual effect of a door closing?

25 minutes: As a director, if you're unable to visualize the impossible, such as the end of a rainbow, just hide it behind an old truck.

27 minutes: I hope this annoying kid dies first.

28 minutes: The fat guy just ate a gold coin by accident. This incident was followed by this amazing exchange:

"Can you die from eating gold?"
"You can if I kill you!"

You would think that the second line comes from the Leprechaun, but no, it comes from the annoying kid.

28 minutes: I'm afraid there aren't actually expensive surgeries to make morons into geniuses. Sorry, Poor Man's Louis Anderson.

29 minutes: Nathan the Painter is really impressed that Jennifer Aniston has picked up the challenging "paint-in-a-straight-line" technique in 30 seconds. I guess he's into intellectual women.

31:20: Why on earth would she think Nathan the Painter was hiding under the truck? Is that something country painters do?

32:30: The characters in this movie are very easily convinced that the Leprechaun is a random, benign animal.

34:10: Of course, the town just happens to have a collectible coin store. I mean, what town doesn't?

35:50: Damn it, did I leave my bike bell on upstairs again?

36:18: Better whisper exposition to myself while I lock this safe.

36:37: So it isn't bizarre to this coin shop owner that a kid-size tricycle is rolling through his coin shop?


37:50: I guess this guy does have a lot of toys, for some reason. Maybe they're collectibles or something.

41:25: Wait, so, instead of kicking the Leprechaun as hard as possible and running to his car, this cop chose to flee into the woods?

42:45: It's a real shame that Mark Jones' elaborate artistic vision is being steamrolled by this cropped, full-screen DVD.

44:20: This cop is experiencing all the stages of grief, at the base of this tree, in order, inside a minute.

44:58: Nathan the Painter has ordered blob, in mud sauce, with a side of slop.

45:43: Aniston pronounces "mature" like "couture". That's how you know she's serious.

46:10: Off-brand Lucky Charms in the pantry. Nice.

47:33: Wait, is the idea that he sanded the boot until he'd whittled it down into a high heel? Why does that change the boot's color?

48:21: Yes, Nathan. A bear arranged a bunch of shoes on the table.

49:20: She's mastered a broom too? On the same day she mastered painting? Look out, world!

49:22: "Sounds like a bell." THIS IS A GENIUS OBSERVATION

50:56: I really do like the flute-heavy score. It's funny. Good funny.


52:17: This battle is seriously epic.

52:39: LUNGE

52:46: Don't just stand there, Jennifer Aniston, do something!

52:53: Of two adults, you send the nine-year-old to go get the shotgun?

54:15: What is Nathan shooting at?

55:39: Six rounds my ass. You only put one round into him, you liar.

56:57: kill the kid kill the kid kill the kid kill the kid kill the kid

57:25: No power windows.

58:33: It doesn't even look like the Leprechaun's car is tall enough to touch the truck, much less flip it over.

59:24: We're in some serious Evil Dead territory here.

59:33: Serious Evil Dead territory.

59:36: Wait, so, he opens the door and just runs away?

1:01:41: "Where the hell are the police? They should be here by now!" Police in this town have a minute-or-less guarantee.

1:02:47: The flip-frame transitions in this movie are amazing.


1:06:19: "No one takes a leprechaun's gold!" No one except all of the characters in this movie!

1:07:28: Don't see a lot of dick-grabbing as assault in real life, much less in movies.

1:08:21: "We got the sucker!" Yeah, well, you got him before, too.

1:08:49: Just shoot him again, damn it!

1:09:33: Normally, I'd expect producers to hold off on having the villain in a horror movie skateboard until the sixth or seventh chapter, but Leprechaun goes for the gusto.

1:11:07: It rang before, and it was the Leprechaun! You ripped it out of the wall and threw it on the floor, and you're going to answer it again?

1:11:13: Apparently, the answer is yes. Therefore, this Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off moment is only brought to you by your own stupidity!

1:11:44: "That thing is a leprechaun, and we've gotta find a way to stop it!" Aniston's hatred for that line is audible.

1:12:38: Is there a reason they're not all escaping?

1:14:09: The Leprechaun has mastered the skateboard, but not roller skates.


1:15:21: Really, I love it in every movie when characters whisper exposition to themselves. I'm not trying to single Leprechaun out.

1:17:17: The Leprechaun is a master of disguise! Awesome.


1:18:38: Exposition is not often delivered by a bloody, dying man, hanging from the roof of an elevator. And by "not often", I mean "not often enough".

1:20:18: The Leprechaun's low-to-the-ground point-of-view turns out to be unexpectedly appealing when it comes to foot chases after 1993-era Jennifer Aniston.

1:23:16: Damn it, movie, don't pretend you're going to kill the kid when you really aren't.

1:23:50: Leprechaun becomes a religious movie.

1:24:10: Largest four-leaf clover ever.

1:25:33: This is not a great movie, but that is an amazing one-liner.

1:26:25: This is the opposite of touching. Stop talking, Ozzie.

1:28:03: One hastily-added voice-over line is an ending, right?