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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008


Romantic comedies are, by their very nature, saddled with two completely different sets of motion picture hurdles. First, the story needs to be quixotic, dealing with the emotional bond between two typically star-crossed individuals. If the chemistry or the charisma is not there, part of the filmic formula fails. Then there is the humor. While not needing to be outrageous or riotous, there should be a fairly consistent level of laughs. Both of these prerequisite issues come to bear when discussing the Simon Pegg vehicle Run, Fatboy, Run. Directed by ex-Friend David Schwimmer and co-written by The State‘s Michael Ian Black, what we have is an attempt to turns a sullen London slacker into a loveable determined dreamer. The movie only gets part of this right.


After leaving his pregnant fiancé at the altar, life has been tough for lingerie store security guard Dennis. He is constantly being harassed by a leggy transvestite, and his steady diet of beer, cigarettes, and take away has left him pudgy and out of shape. When he learns that his former betrothed, the lithe and nibble Libby, is now dating a new man, he sees green. When Whit, this suave American businessman starts coming between Dennis and his Lord of the Rings obsessed son Jake, he sees red. Learning that his rival is a marathon runner, our hero decides to throw his Keds into said arena as well. With help from his gambling addicted buddy Gordon, Dennis hopes to finish the race, impress Libby, and in the process, win back her heart. But Whit won’t go down without a fight - literally.


It’s hard to sum up what’s wrong with Run, Fatboy, Run. It boasts an impressive cast - Pegg, Thadie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran - and some spirited cinematics from the noted Yank behind the camera. The script, which our UK cult comic also had a hand in, does a decent job of setting up the whole contention and challenge element while adding a few laugh out loud moments to the mix. We sympathize with Dennis, even though he’s a sod for leaving Libby like he did, and Whit comes across as both too good to be true and an easily taken down dunce. And the last act run is handled with style, even if some of the beats are as cliché as they come. So why doesn’t this film work better? Why does it appear as if, sometimes, Schwimmer is phoning it in - or worse - incapable of creating the aesthetic presence needed to make things gel?


Part of the problem is the plot. It’s hard to buy Pegg as such a coward or cad, especially since it looks like his case of cold feet turns into a raving psychosis within a matter of seconds. Next, Newton seems more sensible than to simply drop the man after her humiliation. She loves their son together, and wants nothing but the best for the boy. Helping Dennis turn his life around seems reasonable, especially since she’s got one of those unimaginably successful movie jobs (she owns a bustling bakery) that indicates a real lack of desperation. And Azaria adds very little as Whit except for suit and tie savoir fare. He’s not a compelling mate, nor does he do much except use materialism and power as a way of manipulating situations. Heck, even Moran’s betting problems seem tacked on from a different Guy Ritchie oriented effort.


Another issue is the ancillary characters. Pegg lives in the only basement flat in London run by a Bollywood poster boy. Harish Patel does his damnedest to overcome the rampant stereotyping (he has a nice scene in reminiscence of his late wife), but he’s stuck in a pile of Indian clichés as Mr. Ghoshdashtidar. Similarly, the criminal element out to get Dennis and Gordon seems stolen from the extras call for Eastern Promises. The amalgamation of accents and attitudes is occasionally off putting. Schwimmer does try to keep things light and airy, allowing times when Fatboy gets questionable to skate on by unscathed. Still, we remember the initial minor shock.


For all its faults however, this is a romantic comedy that works - if just barely. We want Newton and Pegg to get back together, to see the supposed passion they once shared. They are a smart couple. Azaria does just enough to make his villainy viable without overplaying his hand, and the wager subplot loses enough of its tacked on quality by the last 10 minutes so that it starts to actually matter. Indeed, what we wind up with is an effort that tugs at our heartstrings while we’re sitting back, scratching our often confused heads. We don’t get much of the logic or rationality here. We’re afraid to look beneath the surface to see if this entertainment emperor really has not clothes. In the end, we’re relieved to see that he’s at least outfitted in some running shoes and shorts.


Anyone coming to this film hoping to see the kind of celebrated comedic wit that made Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead such winners will definitely leave disappointed. In addition, this is not a soaring love story like those witnessed in such quasi-classics as Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally. In some ways, Run, Fatboy, Run is a post-modern generation’s interpretation of a revisionist rom-com. It does away with some of the genre’s truisms while taking embracing a few too many. It fails to be full-on funny or five hanky weepy. In the end, we get a sometimes solid, frequently uneven mixture of jokes and underplayed emotion. It’s clear that Schwimmer has a career behind the camera. Perhaps next time he should pick sounder material. Fatboy is too fragile to withstand much scrutiny.



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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008
by Robin Cook

At Austin’s legendary Waterloo Records, Elf Power treated patrons to a lively in-store performance, with songs from their newest album, In a Cave (Rykodisc). Before their set, band leader Andrew Rieger talked about Elf Power’s history, their place in the great Elephant 6 cosmos, and their new sustainable housing project.—Robin Cook



Tagged as: elf power, interview, sxsw
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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008
by Rachel Leibrock - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
Scheduled release date: May 22


It’s been nearly 20 years since the last Indiana Jones installment and though the world is a much different place these days, some things, thankfully, never really change.


So while the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t really give away much (OK, any) of the highly anticipated flick’s plot, it does reassure fans that this Steven Speilberg-directed film relies on the Indy Film Gold Standard.


Which means you’ll get, in no particular order, tons of Harrison Ford (still smokin’ at 65);smart aleck one-liners; the Fedora; tumbling boulders; fiery explosions; winding chases; daredevil stunts; hot vixens; sucker punches, and lost treasures.


Oh, the film also stars Ray Winstone, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent - but, as you and I both know, they’re sorta beside the point.


Rating: 3 dancing popcorn guys (out of 4)



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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008

Along with JFK, one of the greatest murder mysteries in modern American history is death of Tupac and Biggie (not to mention Jam Master Jay).  Like the JFK assassination, theories fly around but there’s still no definitive answer (unless you believe the Warren Commission and/or the LAPD).  One reporter who’s been tireless tracking the story of Tupac’s demise and circumstance surrounding it is Los Angeles Times writer Chuck Philips.  Initially, the big story was Philips’ recent revelation of P. Diddy’s involvement in a savage attack on Tupac but now that’s turned into an embarrassed retraction.  This ain’t an easy story to untangle but it’s worth wading through some of the history here.


Though it was reported there when it happened in the mid-90’s, the deepening story of Tupac’s undoing and the L.A. Times goes back to the 2002 when Philips started to dive into this mystery.  Who Killed Tupac Shukar a headline asked that year.  The article included a number of bombshells, including linking the murder to an L.A. gang and the murder weapon to Biggie himself (which Smalls’ family denied).  Because the circumstances were such a complex web and because not enough people were coming forward with information and the ones that did were suspect, the article was far from the final word about the story.


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Thursday, Mar 27, 2008
In this edition of Checkpoints, we blast off with Rocketmen: Axis of Evil.

Right around the time that Mutant Storm Empire hit, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I need to separate myself from the whole top-down 360-degree shooter thing.  I mean, there is not a game in this genre that I haven’t enjoyed, to some extent.  Smash TV was and is a hoot, Geometry Wars is one of the most addicting, infuriating games ever made, Undertow does neat strategic sorts of things with the genre, and Mutant Storm Empire, well…it didn’t do anything new, really, except offer an insanely high level of difficulty for those who fancied themselves skilled enough to take it on.  And yet, I loved it.  Honestly, other than Guitar Hero III, there’s not a single game I played more in the last few months of last year.  This, of course, probably means I have a problem.


As such, going into a new game in the whole “use one analog stick to move, use the other one to shoot” shoot ‘em up genre was filled with a sort of trepidation.  Is Rocketmen: Axis of Evil, Capcom’s latest Xbox Live Arcade offering, going to be another timesink the way that Mutant Storm Empire was?  Am I going to find myself addicted again?  Am I ever going to be able to look at a game in this genre with a subjective eye?


Interestingly, the answer to all three turned out to be “yes”.


Rocketmen does a lot of things right, and the core gameplay elements that make other games in the genre so appealing are all present.  It’s one little dude (or dudette—you get to control a highly customizable character, which is a nice little touch) against a whole bunch of bad dudes (and conspicuously few dudettes), armed with only a pathetic little pistol to start.  As needs to be the case with a game in this genre, there are copious power-ups spread throughout each level, as our hero can pick up all manner of guns, missiles, proximity bombs, and whatnot in the interest of clearing his way through wave after wave of enemies.  The environments are colorful and varied (if occasionally confusing, what with the number of see-through floors that there seem to be in space), and the play is hectic but never all that overwhelming.  In addition to blowing away the baddies, there are other missions to be undertaken as well, most of which involve running up to trigger points and, as the game so humorously puts it, “pounding on the ‘A’ button”.  It’s all pretty basic, but any member of this genre almost needs to be.


Still, there are problems that exist in Rocketmen that simply don’t exist in other games of the genre.  Namely, it feels really odd for a game like this to be on pseudo-rails.  The camera sort of scrolls where it wants, and while you have to walk into certain places to convince it that, yes, now would be a good time to continue the process of scrolling, it’s not always clear when or where you can do this.  Worse, you sometimes have to run right up to the edge of the screen to convince the game to let you proceed, and when the camera then starts moving, enemies are waiting just past that forced horizon waiting to shoot you into oblivion.  So not fair!  Most egregious of all is the fact that the secondary goals are impossible to revisit once you’ve passed the point in the level where they occur; you’ll just have to start over to achieve them.  When you’re talking about levels that last longer than a half an hour, this becomes annoying very, very quickly.


There are other issues with Rocketmen: Axis of Evil as well; for one, the cutscene art style is just…odd.  Static three-dimensional hand-drawn-looking people converse with one another through speech bubbles and voiceovers; a little more animation in these cutscenes would have been appreciated; even if there wasn’t room for such animation given Xbox Live Arcade’s restrictions on the size of the game, the art style could have been changed to make it look a little more comic book-like (see Joe, Viewtiful) and less awkward.  The leveling-up process takes an awfully long time as well, and I have to admit, genre constraint or not, I am getting tired of blowing up random boxes and barrels for money/experience/titanium.


Still, the multiplayer portion of the game is addicting and hilariously hectic when four people get involved, and the single player certainly isn’t bad enough to keep someone like me from coming back.  If you think that overhead shmups are the bees’ knees, then you’ll do just fine with a $10 download of Rocketmen.  If you’ve been thinking since the first paragraph that I’m just this side of nuts, well, Rocketmen isn’t going to help my case with you.  It really is for diehard fans of the genre, but those fans will likely have a blast.


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