We Want Action: Hit & Run (2012)

hit-and-run-poster Sometimes it can take a while for my wife and I to decide on a Netflix offering to watch on a Friday or Saturday night. The main problem is the huge number of offerings and a less than clear idea of what kind of film we want to watch. Last weekend I was flipping around and finally just hit play on Hit & Run. We both watched Dax Shepard (who co-wrote and co-directed the film with David Palmer) on Parenthood and went through Veronica Mars together a few years ago. So, it seemed like a good choice and I’m glad to say my instincts were correct.

The film finds real life couple Shepard and Bell playing a couple in a small California town. Everything’s going smoothly for them until Bell’s character gets an interview opportunity for her dream job in LA. The problem? Dax is part of the witness protection program and isn’t supposed to leave the town. He decides to throw caution to the wind and take her on the trip which reveals more of his past than he intended after Bell’s ex informs Dax’s former partner in crime that his pal is heading back to the City of Angels. Things get progressively crazy from there.

A solid mix of car-based action and comedy, Hit & Run felt like a unique film. There’s just as much relationship talk between Bell and Shepard as there are cool car chases, which puts it in a fairly sparse group of films. In other words, Vanishing Point this aint. After reading a bit about the movie, I started liking it even more because it basically came about because Shepard and Palmer had a cool idea for a movie, got together with their friends and got to work. Shepard even used his own car collection in the film and did a lot of his own stunt driving. In that regard, it reminded me of RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists because it’s just a person taking what they love and putting it on film and that’s always aces in my book.

Veronica Mars Is Awesome (2004-2007)

Man, you guys, I love when I wind up really liking a show I didn’t think I could even get through. I had heard good things about Veronica Mars, but thanks to a general dislike of things other people get SUPER excited about and a growing dislike of Kristen Bell, I wasn’t super interested. But, pretty much anything showing up on Netflix Instant gains my attention. One day I was feeling curious and the missus and I were in need of a new show to watch, so we jumped in and wound up devouring most of the series in a pretty short amount of time (we started right before she gave birth to our daughter and wound up finishing the other day).

My dislike of Kristen Bell stems less from a dislike of her as a person and more so the characters she’s played in movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples Retreat and Burlesque (where the young-looking 30 year old actress hilariously played a washed up veteran dancer, a role that should have gone to someone older or more broke looking than Ms. Bell). She was really good at playing assholes to the point where I couldn’t really see myself liking her in a different role (I must have forgotten her in Fanboys). Thankfully, it turns out she’s a pretty damn great actress and the role of Veronica Mars seems absolutely tailor made for her and suits her perfectly.

The general idea behind VM is that Veronica works for her dad’s private investigative firm. The cases she handles, though, usually involve students at her high school and later college asking her for help to figure something out while overarching mysteries play out over the whole season. The first season revolves around Veronica trying to figure out who killed her best friend Lilly (can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I discovered that the beautiful Amanda Seyfried was on the show, but playing a dead girl who spent a good deal of her on-screen time in weirdly lit dream sequences or with gaping head wounds). The second season focuses on the murder of several students who were on a bus that crashed into the ocean. The third actually finished up it’s overarching story early on, but most of it dealt with a serial rapist at the college Veronica (and many of her high school friends) wound up attending.

When I asked my buddy Ben Morse about the series–he was a big fan when it was actually on–he said that the first season was an incredibly tight season of television with a fantastic mystery and then the quality kind of went down from there. I actually really dug all the seasons. Some of the mysteries-of-the-week might not have been quite as interesting as the other, but I thought that overall the writing and acting were of a surprisingly excellent level.

I’d like to give whoever casted this show a hug because he or she did such an amazing job. Bell is perfect as Veronica, starting off hard and jaded thanks to her fall from grace, but eventually getting more comfortable. At the same time, she’s a real ass-kicker who doesn’t let anyone give her shit. That’s a great character and one you don’t see often, especially in such a likable package. You really want to hang out with her, but also stay on her good side. I also loved her dad, Keith Mars, played by Enrico Colantoni. He walks that tightrope between dad who lets his daughter work cases for him and bulldog. He doesn’t look like the most threatening dude in the world, but there are times where he really puts the screws to someone and you can’t help but cheer. Her friends Mac (Tina Majorino), Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Weevil (Francis Capra) are all pretty good at their roles. Her one time boyfriend Duncan (Teddy Dunn) was a bit wooden, but lowered expectations actually lead to some really surprising moments from him. Background character Dick (Ryan Hansen) is this amazing example of a rich kid who truly doesn’t seem to have a care, worry or thought in his head beyond getting laid or drunk…until the end. Most impressive, though, for me was Jason Dohring as Logan. He starts off as this total asshole, but has the biggest progression as far as character goes from the beginning of the series to the end becoming something of a tragic hero by the end. Dohring has a great skill for conveying a lot with a little look or nod and saying nothing. I was most impressed by him and think he should be a pretty big star.

The series also sported some great guest stars like Harry Hamlin as Logan’s dad, Charisma Carpenter as Dick’s step mom and Paul Rudd as a washed up 90s rocker, but they weren’t all gold. Lisa Rinna–who played Hamlin’s wife on the show and does the same in real life too–was absolutely atrocious. She couldn’t even convincingly act like she was listening to people in the same scene as her like a human does. Blech. Luckily, she’s not in the show for very wrong. To give you an idea of how bad she is, I’d rather Paris Hilton had stuck around for more than her two episodes as a high schooler (snicker) than watch Rinna on the screen. But, hey, no show is perfect and Hamlin wound up murdering his role, so it’s an okay tit for tat.

Another problem with the series is that it doesn’t have a real ending. There’s a last episode and lots of hints throughout the final season that might lead towards Veronica’s future with the FBI, but there’s not a real finale, even with a last episode filled with familiar faces. From what I’ve read, the show never really had a solid foundation with it’s network and didn’t really garner a huge number of viewers. As such, they didn’t know if they’d get renewed for a next season. Turns out they didn’t. Had VMars been one season and ended thusly, I think it could be off putting for future viewings, but with a solid three seasons, it’s less of a negative mark for me.

Which brings me to my last point, I really want to watch Veronica Mars again. Not in the near future, but I want to see how it holds up the second time around when I know all the big reveals and whether the hints and clues of the actual killers/criminals are there from the beginning. This is actually a lot different than most mystery-of-the-week type shows for me. I used to watch CSI all the time, but I don’t have a desire to go back and watch that again. Or even a show I like a lot like Bones. The overarching stuff there tends to be relationship-based, which Veronica definitely has, but those long-reaching season-long mysteries add an extra layer to the series that will probably bring me back to it somewhere in the future. Highly recommended!

Vince Vaughn Double Feature: Couples Retreat (2009) & Wild West Comedy Tour (2006)

I was pretty excited about Couples Retreat when I first heard about it. The cast is killer. I’m a big fan of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman and putting them all together seems like it would be comedy gold. Plus there’s plenty of eye candy in the ladies (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis). I don’t mean to sound like a total pig, I’m just not familiar with them beyond Watchmen, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and hating Sex in the City. I didn’t know anything about Faizon Love or his partner in the movie.

In the end it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. There were definitely funny parts with each person doing their shtick (Bateman’s the neurotic, Vaughn talks fast and Favreau plays a jerk again). I did like that Vaughn actually comes off as a pretty good guy as opposed to say his character in Old School. But there were a few things that kind of put me out of the movie. It definitely feels like a bunch of friends wanted to make a movie together with beautiful women in an exotic locale.

Another problem comes from the fact that, with the exception for Favreau and Davis, none of the couples seem to be appropriately matched age-wise. Vaughn and Ackerman have been together for eight years and I just barely buy it. Even worse is Bell who may never not look like a high school detective whose show I never watched.

The plot also seems to be a little all over the place. They go to a resort that’s supposed to be a regular resort but then turns out to be a full-on couples place, which everyone but Bateman and Bell are bummed about as they were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place (I thought they were actually playing a trick on the others who seem to have more problems than them). The relationship trouble all flies, but then there’s this whole thing with a party island and everyone going there and a really ripped yoga instructor (that did have me laughing). Anyway, it was a fun enough movie, but didn’t have a quickness that I wanted from it.

Interestingly enough, this documentary following a series of stand-up comics headed up by Vaughn did offer the snappiness I wanted from Couples Retreat. The comics are Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Sebastian Maniscalco and they’re all pretty great. Instead of showing full sets, we get snippets of their acts as they travel through 30 cities. We also get walk-ons from Vaughn, Justin Long, Dwight Yoakam, Favreau and Couples Retreat director (and Ralphie from A Christmas Story) Peter Billingsley.

Aside from showcasing a great group of comedians the movie does a few other things that I really appreciated and bumped it up from being just a great stand-up movie. First off, one of the guys makes a really interesting point about stand-up nowadays: guys headlining tours like they are were getting huge and starring in sitcoms in the 80s and 90s, but now they’re struggling to survive (one of the guys was a waiter leading up to the tour). I also think it’s cool to see how positive Vaughn is throughout the movie. Sure he’s got his quick, biting sense of humor, but he’s also really supportive of the guys after they have a lousy set. It’s also fun to see him geek at different times.

But what really elevates the movie is how it deals with Hurricane Katrina, which hit while they were touring. In fact, they had to change a few venues because of it and donated the proceeds from those shows. They also went to a camp ground acting as a shelter some of the displaced people. I give the director and editor kudos for portraying this honestly, with the guys not really wanting to do it and then going and enjoying the experience. It’s just more honest that way. Good stuff all around.

Fanboys (2008)

Before I start getting my post-Wizard World Philly post together (here’s a preview, Skeletor karaoke) together I just wanted to say a few words on Fanboys, which Em and I just finished watching. Maybe it’s because I just experienced fanboy-ness to the extreme this weekend and my inner fanboy was all over the place, but I REALLY liked this movie.

The story’s about four (eventually five) lifelong Star Wars fans in 1999 who are anxiously waiting for Episode I to hit theaters, but the problem is that one of the guys has cancer and they don’t think he’ll last the six months until the premiere. So, they go on a road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch to watch a rough cut of the movie before it opens. Of course there are plenty of hijinks along the way and TONS of guest appearances and geek injokes. There was a lot of trouble getting this movie into theaters because the powers that be weren’t sure whether they wanted to keep the cancer plot in the movie. Well, I was excited about this flick since I first heard about it and can’t imagine how bad it would be without that element behind the plot. It really is the heart of the movie and I’ll be honest, the end got to me. Even more so than Darth killing the Emperor. Now, you know that’s serious.

I was worried that I wouldn’t like the movie because the guys on the Totally Rad Show didn’t like it very much. Our tastes don’t match up perfectly, but I do respect their opinions and ours match up a good deal of the time. I think the wait hurt the movie and it really is kind of a big injoke, so I can see why your big audiences wouldn’t have wanted to check it out. Em’s seen all the Star Wars movies, but she’s nowhere near the geek I am, so she didn’t necessarily pick up on all the things I did, but she still dug it. If you haven’t seen Star Wars, it’s probably not the best flick for you. It’s kind of like how you might be able to enjoy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, unless you’ve seen all of Kevin Smith’s movies a bunch of time. By the way, Kevin Smith makes a cameo I didn’t know about that had my laughing like crazy. But, in the end, I really liked it and recommend it to all my Star Wars brethren. Plus, it makes fun of Trekkies, so that’s cool.