After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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Hey everyone, it’s that time again! No, not another CPA column, although thanks for reading. We’re in the midst of the best time of year, the Fall TV season, where hope is kindled anew and we patrons of the idiot box are treated to a dearth of new shows. Some reach phenomenal heights, becoming a part of the fabric of pop culture; others, no matter how critically lauded or devoted a fan base, linger in mediocrity for several seasons. And still more are just downright deplorable and cancelled faster than I can write a column about cancelled shows. “But sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that show back to set the wrong things” – never mind, maybe that’s getting too meta. (I’ve been catching up on Community and Abed might be my new hero.)
Sometimes, shows are cancelled no matter how awesome they are. And then there are those shows that don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “cancelled.” Thanks to undying fan devotion, these series (see: Family Guy) return from cancellation and endure more years of fun for everyone. Sadly, too many shows aren’t as lucky – they are cancelled way before their time and are never heard from again. These series are axed for poor ratings, network management turnarounds, or several other reasons. But one thing’s for sure, their cultish fan bases are never going to give them up.
Shows Cancelled Without Resolution
When good series die young, it just plain stinks; we’ll never get to know what happens next. Shows end on cliffhangers to build up suspense for the next season, or even the next episode. But when the network lowers the boom, we’re left wanting more simply because as a devoted fan we deserve more – we deserve closure.
Soap (ABC, 1977–1981)
I’m not quite sure how many of you out there have heard of this late-70s gem, but we’re going to begin our rundown with it, because Soap paved the way for or jumpstarted several careers (see: Billy Crystal, Ted Wass, Robert Guillaume, Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan, Robert Urich), not to mention blasted down the doors of night time TV comedy and expanded sitcom boundaries. The show focused on the well-to-do Tate family and their ne’er-do-well in-laws, the Campbells. Soap was aptly named, as the entire series parodied the extraordinarily madcap daytime soap opera genre and many of its wilder tropes, such as murder, mystery, cults, demonic possessions, wrongly convicted murders – the list is never ending and Soap always made it all hysterical. Due to the show’s cliffhanger in every episode, the show was cancelled as Jessica (Helmond) was about to be saved from, or executed by, a Communist firing squad.
The 4400 (USA 2004–2007)
As a former comic book nerd, I was a huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars. The yarn was about a group of children all conceived while a mysterious light hangs above the town of Pederson, Illinois. The babies are blessed (or cursed) with super powers, are all raised by a kind doctor and taught how to use their abilities. Do any of these elements sound familiar or reminiscent of Heroes? Well, The 4400 did it all and worlds better. The series centered on a massive group of people (and no we do not get to meet all 4400) who were abducted from the future at various points during the 20th Century and all mysteriously returned to Mt. Rainier, Washington. The group had to face many obstacles, like reconnecting with a world they have not seen in some cases for over fifty years. Eventually the series went from a “4400 of the week” format to crafting a deep mythology that became better than anything Heroes would ever do. The show also gave us the character of Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), a messiah/Magneto-like 4400 who establishes his own society. Unfortunately, the show was a casualty of so-so ratings, budgetary constraints, and the Writers’ Guild strike, and we’ll never get to see the promises of Promise City.
Lights Out (FX, 2011)
I know a few people who bemoan the cancellation of Terriers, but for my money, if ever a series got the shaft after just one season, its FX’s Lights Out. Take Rocky’s retirement at the beginning of Rocky V, add The Fighter, multiply it by The Sopranos and you get Lights Out. After premiering strongly in Jan. 2011, the show told the story of Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany), a former world champion who retired after losing his title and after poorly mismanaging his finances, is forced to get back into the ring. With strong performances from McCallany, Pablo Schreiber (Lights’ brother, Johnny), and the incomparable Stacy Keach (the Leary patriarch, Robert) there is no conceivable reason why this show was canned so early. Great boxing action coupled with a mob story, and a family tale of woe involving Boxer’s Dementia season, the finale had a great finale twist. Like many others on this list, we’ll never get to find out what happened to the Champ next.
Shows That Got The Axe Way Too Soon
They might not have been ratings darlings, but these dearly departed shows never left us hanging.
Arrested Development (Fox 2003–2006)
This is quite possibly the most popular cancelled series ever. The story of the dysfunctional Bluth family aired for an all too brief 53 episodes and introduced to us all to a cast of some of the wackiest characters ever. How loved was this series? Rumors of its revival by both fans and stars alike have never tapered off since the show’s cancellation. Luckily, it looks like fans are getting their wish: earlier this month it was reported the show is heading back from the grave, all leading up to what should be a monumental film.
Better Off Ted / Mr. Sunshine (ABC 2009–2010 / 2011)
Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) is a single father and the most respected and beloved head of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamic. With a comedy, there are all kinds of wacky things for a company like Veridian to be researching and developing, like cryogenics. The affable Crisp was Don Draper with a conscience. His boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi), was an ice queen who comically knew it would behoove her to be nicer to people (like giving Phil an award for bravery in hopes of not getting sued). Better Off Ted’s subversive and satirical blend of comedy sadly got lost in the shuffle of ABC’s other popular comedies like Cougar Town and the gargantuan genre-crossing Modern Family, and there was simply no room for a series like this. The alphabet network would try it again with Matthew Perry’s Mr. Sunshine, which is essentially the same show, except with a less likeable Ted (Perry’s Ben), a more mean-spirited boss (Allison Janney) and its arena setting with circuses performances, Smurfs on Ice, and sports teams. ABC saw the hyped show dwindle faster than the Titanic – it tanked it after nine episodes.
Mad Love (CBS, 2011)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The affable Jason Biggs, along with the adorable Sarah Chalke, along with the biting wit of Judy Greer and Tyler Labine, who has become a bit of a TV curse (see: Reaper, Sons of Tuscon). Biggs’ Ben and Chalke’s Kate meet and start dating as the perfect couple. Anyone who watched could see the “mad love” chemistry between oddball Connie (Greer) and Larry (Labine) as the respective best friends who loathe each other. While it was always good for cutsey laughs, the series couldn’t pick up enough steam for a full season order and was cancelled. But considering the show’s How I Met Your Mother style humor, Mad Love had potential, which is why its cancellation was a bit of surprise.
Honorable Mention: Married…With Children
Yes, this show was on for 11 years, but while while the Bundys did entertain audiences all that time and along with The Simpsons helped to put the once fledgling Fox network on the map, Fox decided that the good faith the show built up for many a year wasn’t good enough to let the cast and crew know that there wouldn’t be a twelfth season. Poor ratings and progressively sillier stories would end the series’ run. But with the now fairly well-known story of Ed O’Neill learning of the show’s cancellation from a fan instead of from the network is just a downright deplorable way to do business.
Obviously, there are plenty of shows like The Critic and Deadwood that did not make this list. It doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of them, or of their greatness. But we’ve only got so much time. There’s a bevy of reasons networks take our favorite TV shows from us, and they’re all unfair because the bottom line is that we need great TV to watch, whether it’s That’s My Bush! or Flashforward or Jericho or some other series, a cancelled TV show is like a lost friend we only just met. Well it may not be that melodramatic, but you catch my drift.
So far this season, we’ve lost The Playboy Club, How to be a Gentleman, Free Agents, and Charlie’s Angels luckily none of these will raise the ire of fans. However, The Playboy Club (even if it was actually good) was dead on arrival due to all the negative publicity and How to Be a Gentleman moved to the death-sentence Saturday night slot before CBS flat out nuked it. Here’s hoping that any of the shows that we love this season aren’t unceremoniously cancelled before their time – note to Fox, leave my Fringe alone!
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.
Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.