All posts by archangel

10 YEARS Already?!? I Mean, “The Crack Team: A Decade In Retrospect”

When The Crack Team was formed many years ago, it was to achieve one simple, humble goal: save the world. We’ve accomplished that, many times, and although you’ve never read about it, we know you’d like to thank us from the bottom of your hearts. You’re welcome, Earth.

I know reporting on our deeds has been lacking of late, with none to blame more than me. Therefore, I bring to you a new theme, and a concerted effort to bring you more content. Meaning: we’ll up the effort for a little while, then we both forget. Deal? Deal.

And now for our featured presentation…

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Yes, It’s Canceled (2011-2012)

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m watching too much TV, but it seems like there have been a ton of canceled showed this past year. Here’s what we’ve lost:

  • House: Ongoing, but final season. Getting too expensive to produce, mainly from actors’ salaries.
  • Chuck: Painfully overt Subway promotions couldn’t make up for low ratings. At least they had lots of time to lead to a real series finale.
  • Terra Nova: I really enjoyed this one, but the ratings didn’t support the high filming costs. Netflix was in talks to save it, but bowed out. Another reason to not go back to them.
  • Alcatraz: Yet another one season wonder, ending on a cliffhanger to boot.
  • Pan Am: spies and stewardesses in the swinging sixties. How did this not catch on? I’m a Christina Ricci fan, but Margot Robbie was just stunning in this show. Prettiest face on TV. Expect we’ll see more from her.
  • Bored to Death: Read it was canceled to help pay for Luck.
  • How to Make it in America: Again, was unLucky, even with lots of nudity added in the second season. At least we got to see Lake Bell topless.
  • Luck: Ha! Two shows killed for this and they cancel it because show also killed horses. Actually, the last horse died walking back to the barn and wasn’t at all related to filming, but there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Honorable mention to:

  • Hung: Honestly, I didn’t make it past the second season. The show didn’t make it past a third.
  • Men of a Certain Age: I liked the first season, but never made it to the second, so I’m in part to blame.

Here’s what a lot of producers don’t get: if you acknowledge the bad ratings and tie up the loose ends at the end of the (probable) final season, you can actually get some DVD sales, which might justify a return season (see Family Guy, Arrested Development). I know it interferes with your perfect 5 year story arc, but you can always come up with a good plot excuse for keeping it going. The alternative, putting your head in the sand or being overly optimistic, leads to cliffhangers that just piss off your core audience. Alcatraz followed in the steps of Flash Forward, which was the worst series finale in history.1 If your fans yell, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” at the screen when your series ends, you have not done a good job. I will give exceptions to shows like Luck, which filmed all its episodes before the first aired, not to mention it was actually renewed before the sudden cancellation.

At this point, I just hope the following actors get jobs on something I want to watch:

 

Yvonne Strahovski
Margot Robbie
Christina Ricci
Allison Miller
Lake Bell

 

  1. Best series finale goes to Good Times where, for once, good things happened to everyone in the show. []

Best Films of 2011

It’s the 8th anniversary of The Crack Team blog! To celebrate, I’ve once again gone through the list of Oscar-eligible films and selected the best of the bunch. I don’t believe in ranking them since many are hard to compare with each other, but I’ll break it down for you in terms of quality, enjoyability, and longevity.

Drive
Upon seeing this, I realized I’d just witnessed a new cult film, an homage to the gritty crime dramas of the 80’s. Gosling and Brooks give standout performances and the soundtrack is fantastic, but none of these will be recognized by the Academy due to oversight and technicalities. To be honest, I was a bit turned off by the trailer, mainly because Bryan Cranston looked like he was overacting. Truthfully, I’m not thrilled with his performance here, but everything else about this film rocks.

The Artist
Here’s a film that has already been honored with Golden Globes and Oscars are in the works. I’m a classic film buff and felt this was exceptionally well done. While a silent film, it is scored very well. I also recommend the OSS-117 films from the same director/actor team. They’re a farcical French take on 60’s James bond (more like In like Flynt than the over the top Austin Powers). Very funny.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
A riveting story with fascinating characters. I’d seen the Swedish version already and found this to be a faithful remake, but there are some subtle but interesting character interpretations. Another selling point for fans of the original is that director David Fincher brings along his fantastic cinematographer and Trent Reznor for the score, so it looks and sounds beautiful. This movie convinced me to start reading the books.

The Guard
This is another film that people are granting cult status, although I don’t think as strongly as Drive. First thing to note is that in Ireland, Garda is police, so the American translation would be The Cop. It’s a dark comedy about a dirty cop (Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody of the Harry Potter films) and a straight laced visiting FBI agent (Don Cheadle of the new Showtime series House of Lies). If you enjoyed In Bruges (you did), then you’ll enjoy The Guard (you will). If you didn’t see In Bruges, fix that right away.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The final chapter in the immensely entertaining and well crafted Harry Potter series. You either saw it and loved it, you’ve written off all things Harry Potter, or you’re putting off watching them all until you have time. Not much I can say to sway you either way. It won’t pick up any accolades for writing, directing, or acting (not that it shouldn’t, it’ll just never happen), but the beautiful art direction and special effects can’t be denied.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
A great psychological thriller and another Oscar surprise that Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t nominated. She does a tremendous job, and I might point out that some of that job is performed sans clothing, which is rather nice since she doesn’t suffer her more famous sisters’ eating disorder. Or lack of talent. John Hawkes also does a great job portraying the creepy yet charismatic cult leader.

Midnight in Paris
A fun, thoughtful comedy about appreciating the present. I’m a pretty huge Woody Allen fan so it’s no surprise this is on my list. It’s also his most financially successfully film to date, so if you’re not a fan of Woody you may still like this one. If you are a fan, I highly recommend the American Masters’ Woody Allen: A Documentary.

Our Idiot Brother
A great cast in a great comedy. I loved the tone of this film. In fact, I’m kind of surprised to see it has an R rating (although I can quickly recall the scenes that earned that rating) because its heart is in the right place. That said, you’re still laughing out loud throughout. A very recommendable film.

Super 8
This is the most enjoyable and easily recommendable film of 2011. It’s ET meets The Goonies (it even takes place in 1980), only ET is bigger and angrier. J.J. Abrams directs, but Spielberg produces, and the classic Spielberg style is all over this. The kids in this are pitch perfect, too.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was a fan of the original BBC miniseries, which runs over 5 hours, so I wasn’t sure how it would survive its run time getting chopped in half. But I didn’t miss a thing. The screenplay is very well crafted so the plot isn’t convoluted and doesn’t run at a breakneck pace. Of course, the acting is superb.

Young Adult
Diablo Cody followed up her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno with the awful Jennifer’s Body. Maybe that was the director’s fault, I don’t know, but she redeems herself with Young Adult (she may have redeemed herself with The United States of Tara, but I don’t watch that). She’s once again teamed up with Juno director Ivan Reitman and we have 2 more Oscar snubs for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt (plus one for the screenplay). At a minimum, it has the best single line of any of last year’s films.

Honorable Mentions

We had some very good sci-fi films last year:

Hanna - would love to see a sequel to this
In Time - from the director of the excellent Gattaca
Source Code – from the director of the excellent Moon

And a couple top dramas:

The Ides of March
Moneyball
Margin Call – terrific screenplay, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin or Stephen Gaghan

Then there are the films that are just plain fun. These are the films where, if you liked the trailer, you’ll like the film:

X-Men: First Class
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thor
(actually, I wasn’t stoked by the trailer, but really enjoyed this movie)
Hugo

Erasing Your Background

Listen up! This is required reading for all Crack Team agents. A sharp agent in the field1 has documented how to remove yourself from all background check web sites. This is your first step in erasing your background and living off the grid!

Actually, this only goes so far. An employee from one of the companies in that list offered the following informative comment:

All of this data is public data. The data itself isn’t going away, opting out just makes people who want to find it have to look a little harder. As an example, I live in Washington State. The state provides a site to search through public records. From here I can directly see my marriage license and the land I own.

What these sites do is take all of this publicly available information (address history, phone numbers, marriage records, death records, criminal history, etc…) and consolidates it. Some sites with more success then others. Often this data is quite vague, and it can be very difficult to actually tie a record back to a specific person. The amount and accuracy of data on these sites is dependent on how “active” you are to the public eye. Get married a lot, have multiple crimes, there’s a pretty good chance the data on you will be quite full. But if you have a fairly low public footprint (young and single with few addresses and no criminal record) the data my be somewhat spotty, especially if you have a fairly common name.

The common name thing is a bit of a problem for me. Looks like when it’s time to go underground to escape the bad guys, I’m changing my name to James Smith.

  1. Note this comes from someone with the handle LawyerCT. []

Canceling Netflix – And They Don’t Care

After over a decade of patronage, I am canceling my Netflix account. Yes, price is a factor – they are raising my subscription fee by 40%. But I have a pretty high tolerance for this sort of thing, already paying $20/month for Tivo,1 and keeping Netflix despite having a “free” streaming video source in Amazon Prime.

What irks me is that what attracted me to Netflix at first, and held me all these years, was how they catered to film buffs. This has ended. Example: for years, I’d rent the Harry Potter movies to prepare for the sequel, and really enjoyed watching all the extras. I’ll admit, I’m a huge Potter fan, so I appreciated that Netflix made available the extras disc. With great disappointment I discovered that for Deathly Hallows Part 1, only the rental version of the disc is offered. This version has only the movie and a personal invitation from Netflix to go fuck yourself. I’m kidding about the invitation – they couldn’t be bothered. I’ve been seeing an increase in these rental versions, which have zero extras, but tons of trailers and commercials that you can’t skip.2 The Deathly Hallows rental includes a 6 minute commercial for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I can tell you that if you’re on the fence about visiting that wondrous place, being forced to watch a 6 minute commercial may resolve you to boycott it.

And I’m not being melodramatic when I say they don’t care. For one, their subscriber base has gone from 10M to 25M in the last few years, so they assume they’re doing the right thing. If you want concrete proof, go to their cancellation page. They threaten to charge you for discs you don’t return within 7 days, and let you know that even though you’re paid up through the month, you won’t get a partial month refund or even be allowed to continue streaming until it expires! But the most callous part is that they don’t even ask you why. No short answer box, not so much as a multiple choice question with lame answers. And there’s no other form on the site for critical feedback. They really don’t care why you’re leaving.

Well, good riddance. In place of Netflix, I’ll start renting from Amazon or PPV, and even though it will cost me more, I’ll make a greater effort to see films in the theater.3 With the money I save, I’ll invest in a nice collection of films on BD, which I frequently find on sale at SlickDeals. I think I’ll start with the Harry Potter Ultimate editions…

Update: I’m not the only one, as Netflix has revised their projections for this quarter downward, causing their stock to tumble. Sounds like they already factored in the massive subscriber exodus, which proves my point that they don’t care about it.

  1. Although now that I’m on Cox cable, that will also be canceled when my contract is up. []
  2. Well, you can with some software, which you can read about here. []
  3. Note that all major theater chains allow you to buy premium discount tickets in bulk (50+), typically for less than $9 each. I go in with friends and split it. []