The Veronica Mars Kickstarter is going to be a huge success

I've never watched an episode of Veronica Mars, but I can already tell this Kickstarter is going to be huge, wildly surpass their goals, and become a film fans will love. How do I know? Because: Hit and Run.

 

This was a little movie written, directed, and starring Kristen Bell's husband Dax Shepard. It's a goofy little movie, part road-trip, part who-done-it, but very funny with smart dialogue. I rented it a few weeks ago on AppleTV not expecting much and was surprised by how much I liked this goofy little film. It has a look of a film that says "anyone can do this, you too can make an entertaining little picture."

I did a little research (read the IMDB page) and realized why I loved it so much: it only cost $2M to make. Comic book movie blockbusters are now costing in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars, and this little two million dollar movie has done over fourteen million dollars in business, I'm sure making it quite the successful project for everyone involved. There was something about the movie that reminded me of the first time I went online in the mid-1990s and saw the web as one giant "anyone can do this, you too can make a great website" message.

So I have a feeling Kristen Bell can make a wonderful little $2M movie that people will love since she already did it last summer.

This is 40

I wanted to like This is 40 more than I did. I’d heard positive reviews from friends and heard Judd Apatow give a great interview on Jesse’s Bullseye (embeded below).

The thing I heard in many reviews was how this comedy struck a common thread with people turning 40, and as a guy that is barely a couple months past that milestone, I looked forward to a personal and brilliantly funny comedy about the things I’ve had to deal with in the past year.

Opening night of this film I saw a friend tweet about how This is 40 was basically just “rich white people problems” and I thought that was a cynical take until I watched it. Ultimately, I think this was the downfall of the film. Sure, the script does feel very personal and I’d say it’s a safe bet that three quarters of what happens on screen happened in Apatow’s real life, but the film lost me by not being the common-man-turns-40 comedy I was expecting it to be.

They live in Santa Monica, one of the most posh neighborhoods in West LA. Judging from the minimum of 3 bedrooms and the huge backyard I’d say their house is worth around $2mil. Rudd’s character drives a $80k 7-series BMW and Leslie Mann’s (Apatow’s real-life wife) character is in a $50k Lexus. Rudd runs his own record label, and Mann runs a clothing storefront, both in Santa Monica (where rents would be astronomical). They both have enough time and flexibility to exercise for an hour or two each morning and their only obligation seems to be getting up early enough to drop the kids off at school before exercising and eventually showing up to their workplace. One of the core conflicts in the movie is they are having money problems, but when you look at their lives, that conflict felt weak given their amazing circumstances.

They also lie constantly, a personal pet peeve that made it hard for me to love the main characters or root for them. I have no patience for dishonestly in my personal life and one of the worst scenes in the film was one where the parents both flat out lie to┬áMelissa McCarthy, whose character gets so frustrated she flips out and looks like the crazy one in a scene that ends up with everyone laughing at the stereotypical fat “hysterical” woman that left me kind of sad that a good movie had to stoop that low.

It’s not all bad, the movie is funny and cracked me up endlessly in parts and yes, that included a few scenes from my own life that went in a similar way. Judd Apatow is amazingly good at packing a comedy with honest moments from life and there are plenty in this. One of the best was when the 13 year old daughter flips out at her parents and drops the f-bomb repeatedly. It was such a perfect capturing of the moment where you are thirteen and have hormones coursing through your body and you’re completely frustrated by a lack of control in how the world is going at that age and you can’t do anything but rage into the abyss about how everything sucks. There were lots more moments that rang both funny and poignant: dad sitting on the toilet for 30min playing iPad games, siblings hating each other and making up later, dad farting in bed while discussing their lack of sex life, etc. Still, in the end, it fell flat of being as good as the title “the sequel to Knocked Up” lead it to be.

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Transformers/Avengers rated: PTSD

I saw The Avengers yesterday since everyone I know has been raving about it for weeks saying it was better than every other big budget comic book summer blockbuster (because it had a good script and good cinematography). I thought it was very good for a comic book movie, pretty good overall. It was entertaining, but at the same time disturbing. It took several hours after viewing to figure out what I found unsettling about it, and I’d have to say (slight spoilers) it was the battles that took place in NYC between giant metal evil snake things and the heroes.

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Of course it’s all computer generated and this is a movie, but it was distracting to see aliens and their ships constantly brushing up against buildings supposedly filled with office workers, knocking down buildings in some cases. While the comic book hero team was trying to save one or two buildings full of people, you’d see a dozen more get damaged. In the end the world gets saved but there’s no mention of all the damage and lives lost in the final scenes. It felt weird, like a minor side plot point that was previously mentioned was never mentioned again.

I hadn’t felt conflicted with entertainment since last summer’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The movie was tough to get through and a total assault of the senses in the battle sequences. It was like watching a difficult war movie (think: Platoon or Thin Red Line) and I couldn’t wait for it to be over (I nearly walked out halfway through).

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With Transformers, the influence was more obvious as the director used constant visual references to 9/11. There was a burning city with smoking skyscrapers, buildings went down after collisions with robots, and there were people diving out of planes (in wingsuits) shown in vertical poses next to buildings like iconic horrifying photos from September 11, 2001.

I never thought I was all that affected by the events of 9/11. I was on the West Coast, slept through the first crash and only got to see the second building collapse live on TV after reading everyone’s reactions on MetaFilter. I never experienced it in person with my own eyes, just through media from thousands of miles away.

Seeing these movies and remembering the horrifying events of that day, I can’t sit and watch a movie with CGI monsters battling in a city full of people and not think about the substantial collateral damage happening. Part of my mind knows this is all done on a computer and it’s fake robots in fake fights with a few extras running around on the ground and no one was hurt and this is all fiction, but a larger part of my brain remembers the horrifying images from TV that are permanently burned into my brain and I can’t really enjoy movies that mimic them in any way.

Kevin Bacon Number II: The Wire Index

I've noticed many of the films and shows I've enjoyed over the past few years have featured actors that previously appeared in The Wire. Someone should build a site that calculates a number based on how many actors in a show or film previously appeared in The Wire. It could be calculated like so: 

(Actors in the work that were on The Wire / Total number of actors in a work) * 10

This gives you a number between 0 and 10, with 10 being a perfect total saturation of the cast (probably only in actual episodes of The Wire) and zero being not a single actor from The Wire is involved in the project. I'm curious what the highest number non-Wire show/film is and I have a feeling if I was about to watch something and it had a number hovering between 2 and 3 I would be almost certain the work would be enjoyable.

Developers: this seems like it'd be fairly possible to do with some IMDB api work and you could probably make some money off the site by throwing Amazon "order now" links to any DVDs mentioned. 

 

Little ideas that refuse to go away

BUT FARMER HOGGETT KNEW THAT LITTLE IDEAS…

THAT TICKLED AND NAGGED AND REFUSED TO GO AWAY…

SHOULD NEVER BE IGNORED…

FOR IN THEM LIE THE SEEDS OF DESTINY.

Babe (1995)

Watching Babe tonight and hearing this passage reminded me of SBJ‘s new book and this post about it, and Twitter, and working on ideas that stick around.

Netflix on the iPad

One of my favorite apps for the iPad is Netflix's streaming service. I started out watching tons of documentaries. I really enjoyed two recent ones: Beer Wars and The Union

Beer Wars is an inside look at the world of microbreweries and how it's nearly impossible for them to sell at major stores thanks to the near monopoly held by Bud, Coors, and Miller. The Union is yet another "pot should be legalized" movie, but it's better than any I've seen before, with a long slow exploration of all the angles of the "why is pot illegal?" that doesn't fall for cheap tricks or emotional pleas and comes off as an intelligent run-down of how crazy the US laws are around pot and how they got to be that way.

Eventually, I found I didn't always have 90 minutes to sit around watching films and I eventually found the streaming TV shows listing at Netflix. It's really fantastic to have all three seasons of Arrested Development just a click away, or any number of TV shows I've never watched when they were first broadcast.

I thought my favorite app for the iPad would be Air Video, but that requires me to seek out shows and movies, download them, then stream. Netflix has surprisingly become my go-to app for relaxing and enjoying video on the iPad. It's a bit buggy and crashes whenever I finish an episode, but other than that, it's pretty great.

Logorama

Nominated for an Oscar this year in the animated short category, Logorama is a 15 minute film that’s a cross between Pulp Fiction and 2012, with lots of violence and NSFW dialogue, and exists in a world made of nothing but well-known corporate logos. Let’s hope it wins.

PS: How awesome is it that we get to watch nominated short films for free online? (via artlung and TCJ)

Going to the movies

We’re crossing the parking lot and up ahead, two gentlemen in their 70s or 80s are approaching the ticket window. We slow down, half out of respect, half because it means less Army and Sprite commercials to watch inside.

It’s our third movie in a movie theater that we’ve seen in 14 months. Fiona is wonderful and life-changing, but I do miss seeing movies. We have very few opportunities to see a film when someone is watching her.

My first thought is what on earth are they doing at a movie theater at 11:30 AM in July? It’s nothing but blockbusters, superheroes, and comedies this time of year. These men look distinguished, almost certainly war veterans. The Greatest Generation. World War Two movies ended months ago.

We’re seeing Pirates of the Caribbean 2 only because the first one was so brilliant and light and enjoyable. When you see one new movie every six months, it’s tough to pick exactly which one. Superman was out because it started later and overlapped with some meetings. I haven’t heard rave reviews for anything else. I haven’t even heard of half the movies.

The men seem upbeat. As they’re taking the curb, one pauses for the other as he carefully places his cane and ascends the step. We’ve still got 15 minutes so we trail behind, watching.

I heard the average price to make a movie in Hollywood is now $96 million. I remember the uproar a decade or so ago when Waterworld was the first film to crest $100 million. Spiderman 3 is supposed to run $300 million. A third of a billion dollars? For a movie? And a sequel no less?

They’re at the ticket window. They’re joking around with the teen girl behind the glass. At 11:30 AM on a weekday, the cost of matinee tickets and senior tickets is identical, but I overhear one insisting on buying a matinee, not senior ticket. The other laughs.

I have a feeling Pirates isn’t going to be quite as good. The first one only worked because I had no expectations. I loved Oceans 11 for the same reason and it had the same wonderfully fun upbeat style I could rewatch a thousand times but its own sequel was crap. It tried too hard to duplicate the first. It was desperate. Maybe lightning can strike twice here with Pirates, but I doubt it.

We’re right behind the guys at the window and it’s taking a while. I’m scanning the choices, trying to figure out their purchase. Devil Wears Prada is probably the most serious or dignified choice and it’s still a comedy. Perhaps they’re Superman fans from reading comics during the Depression? Maybe they’re former executives from an automobile company ready to enjoy Cars? I’m leaning towards them, straining to hear what their choice will be.

I remember our first summer in Oregon, three years ago, when we didn’t have air conditioning in our rental apartment. When the thermometer passed 100, we’d be here, watching 2 hours of fluff but enjoying the relief. Maybe that’s what these guys are here for, but all the nearby retirement communities seem to be modern enough to be comfortable in the summer.

The joking has subsided. They’ve got their money out and they’re ready to pay. After tailing them for several minutes, I’m dying to hear what brought them out on such a hot day at such an odd hour during this weird time of year for film.

“Two for Little Man.”

Cars

Thoughts from seeing Cars today (only the second time I’ve gone to the movies since Fiona was born — she was in daycare):

– Oh my god, the Ratatouille preview was awesome. Is that the sweet sound of PATTON OSWALT DOING COMEDY?! I can’t wait for Patton’s big film.

– The One Man Band short is mildly amusing, but forgettable compared to their earlier works.

– My god there are a lot of children in this theater.

– Disney once had a short cartoon about cars-as-people where an old junkyard is revisited by 50s teens and they soup up a rust bucket. The way the eyes and mouths work on these cars is pretty similar.

– The look of the film is mostly cartoonish. Here and there you see amazing super realistic digital effects (accurate reflections, atmospheric effects) but for the most part the lighting feels purposely “wrong” so everything looks like a cartoon. The Incredibles looked like little plastic/clay figures in real space — it was hyperreal but I guess talking cars are clearly fiction and the look was tailored to avoid realism.

– The film is clearly aimed at kids, with a few adult joke nods but not many. The Incredibles was total adult material while Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story series felt equally aimed at children and adults. I expected the film to work on multiple levels but it feels mostly like a very good children’s flick.

– The story is nice, but fairly simple and not particularly strong for a Pixar film. I know they spend 5-6 years working on scripts there and every Pixar film has been amazing. This is probably their weakest effort, but it’s still good. It just felt a bit weak for a Pixar project.

– I loved Tony Shalhoub and it was great to hear Paul Newman do another classic older hero role.

– I’m a car nut and I loved the little nods to car history but overall, I’d give it a 3 and a half out of 5 stars. Maybe it’s because I expect 5/5 movies from Pixar, which has always delivered.

AVIs worth downloading

I’ve enjoyed a bunch of movies/shows in the past couple weeks and figured I might as well share. I like to watch a lot of documentaries and I like small films that never play where I live that I have to remember to catch up with later.

I love watching behind-the-scenes movies on the craft of comedy (I loved Comedian a few years ago). The Comedians of Comedy (only available as a rental from Netflix but it’s also on Showtime now) and The Aristocrats were both great glimpses into the mind of comedians.

Murderball, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Rize followed the classic documentary formula of showing a world the viewer never knew, and following the subjects of the story through a competition. All had their strong points but if I had to choose one, I’d say Murderball was my favorite.

On the TV front, I have to eat my words and agree with Michael that The Office has reached a level the original series did. The last couple episodes have been fantastic and Steve Carrell is as unwatchable as David Brent was in season two of the BBC series. My other favorite TV show right now is My Name Is Earl. I love anything Jason Lee does, but I really think he’s hit a groove on this one. The stories aren’t always tight but every week but there’s always one moment that reaches the genius of something you might see on Arrested Development. And finally, Drawn Together on Comedy Central is really pushing the censorship limits. Every episode this season leaves me dying with laughter while at the same time horrified that they got the jokes onto TV.