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Monday, 30 April 2012

JON HURWITZ and HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG Interview - The Writing and Directing Team Behind AMERICAN PIE: REUNION

JON HURWITZ and HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG are the guys behind the 'Harold and Kumar' movies. They wrote all three, directing the second. Their unique style earned them a crack at one of the film industry's biggest franchises: American Pie. 

As they zipped through Europe promoting 'American Pie: Reunion', I sat down with them in London to discuss the film -- and their thoughts on sequels, criticism, and the genius of Eugene Levy.


I’m guessing you’ve had a lot of interviews today. How is that, is it hard; you must have to answer the same things again and again?


HAYDEN:
You do but it’s, y’know; when you work on a movie for a long period of time, and it’s only a short period of time it comes out – it’s easy to talk about something you’ve been working on.


The thing about the ‘American Pie’ franchise, is that people seem to have such a strong affection for the characters, more so than many other films. What is it about these characters that has resonated with people do you think?


JON:
We can speak for ourselves with it. When we saw the movie, it felt like it was us and our friends on the big screen. It was cool because each character was almost like a different archetype from high school. It wasn’t like there were five guys who were all the same. Jim is the extra sexually frustrated kind of guy who is unlucky in a lot of situations --- Finch was the oddball intellectual kid who was sort of wise beyond his years in certain ways but sort of immature in other ways.


Stifler was the king of the high school, a complete asshole, but also a lot of fun to be around. And there was Oz who was a jock as well, but had a little bit of a softer side. And Kevin was that friend who, y’know, was like the glue of a group of friends. When we saw the movie you just felt like you were watching people you knew, and I think a lot of people felt that way. It wasn’t just the core group of guys, it was the whole high school experience. It didn’t matter what country you were in, you felt like you knew people like those characters. They’re all good people too, it’s like there’s a lot to love about them.


HAYDEN:
Even Stifler, who’s an asshole. You kind of like it, you like how he’s an asshole, you know? I think there’s something about the characters that gives a connection to the audience that you don’t have in some other movies.


This is a writing question – when you’ve got these incredible characters like Stifler, and Jim’s Dad, it must be so tempting to just want to write the hell out of it, write twenty pages of Jim’s Dad – do you know what I mean?


JON:
Yeah.


How do you balance that?


HAYDEN:
We start off by having a list of all the characters, we liked all the characters. And we know the movie works not just because of Jim’s Dad and Stifler. The Thomas Ian Nicholas – Tara Reid storyline, and the Oz and Heather storyline… the romance in the movie had a big part in making some of the raunchier scenes not seen as raunchy. When you left the theater you felt like that was a good movie, beyond just being a funny movie. It’s fun to work on the Jim’s Dad scenes, and Stifler is an amazing character to write for. But for us, we get excited about exploring things like first loves – cause here you have characters you’ve seen in a movie 13 years ago say ‘I love you’ for the first time, and now they’re in their 30’s.


So there can be some authenticity to them bumping into each other for the first time in a while, and the awkward feelings coming back up, it’s really relatable. So Jon and I get into that aspect of it.


JON:
When we first signed on to do the movie, well when we first pitched to do the movie; we wanted it to be an ensemble again. What we loved about the original ‘American Pie’ was the ensemble nature of it. For this movie, especially if you’re dealing with the reunion concept, you want to see everyone back, and it’s not just about seeing the core group of guys and girls, but we wanted the MILF guys back and we wanted the Sherminator back. We wanted it so that everyone had something to do in the movie, or moment to shine. So when you’re going in with that agenda to start with you put the focus on every character equally.


And obviously, when you’re building up the comedy, and going in certain places, you rely more heavily on certain characters – but every character was important to us.


I got the feeling with some of the previous sequels---  like, with the Heather and Oz phone sex storyline in the second movie, I watched it again recently and it felt like they wanted to bring them back and have a story for them, and it didn’t really work. But in this film, I really got the sense that characters who you didn’t have much of a storyline for, like Natasha Lyonne’s character, or Nadia, you gave them their moment, a quick cameo -- here they are, but didn’t force more, do you know what I mean?


HAYDEN:
It’s a challenge to give everybody --- there’s only so much pie to go around as we say. On the one hand, we love all the characters. On the other hand, there are a LOT of characters. In this movie they’re coming in with wives and girlfriends, and so it almost doubles the amount of characters that you have. So it makes it challenging at times to give everybody something, but we try ---- and I think with Shannon Elizabeth and Natasha Lyonne, we would love to see them in the movie a lot, but it’s a question of how long can the movie be?


And also when you’re at a reunion, part of the fun is people popping up. We felt like that was the right way to do it. And I’m sure there’s gonna be people who want to see them in it more, but ---


JON:
The other thing I would say is: at it’s core, even though the first American Pie was great because it had the core group of guys and the core girls--- and there were scenes where just the girls were talking ----- the original American Pie was about a group of guys who make a pact to lose their virginity. They were the protagonists of the film. So in this movie we really follow the protagonists storylines. Stifler’s now part of the group because we’ve explored him as a fifth member of that group.


So really, the other characters were all in the film in a way that serviced the core group of guys and their storylines. So Heather plays a big role in Oz’s storyline, so she’s in the movie more. Jim’s Dad is always a big part of Jim’s storyline, so he’s in the movie more. And he can also tie in with Stifler and what he’s going through. Jessica is really not relevant to the storylines of our characters in a major way, so we found a way to tie her in, in a way that makes sense while giving her some comedy to play with.


Eugene Levy in this movie is just brilliant. I thought you made some really surprising choices in the writing, and it gave him a lot more depth. There were some really heartbreaking moments with him that I don’t know if I would have expected in an American Pie movie.


JON:
Yeah.


It made it so much richer, and I loved that.


JON:
That was a thing that was important to us. When we first came up with ideas for the movie, we were thinking, okay, we have Eugene Levy who is such an immense talent. What can we do beyond just having him give Jim advice again and again?


When you’re in your thirties, you no longer just view your parents as Mom and Dad. They become actual human beings who have real issues, and sometimes you’re giving them advice. So we wanted to create a moment for role reversal with Jim and his father.


Furthermore, we wanted to free him up to have more fun in the movie. We were like, wouldn’t it be great to get Jim’s Dad and Stifler’s Mom together. So we were like, okay, either the Mom died, or there’s divorce. We felt like the kind of relationship that Jim's father and mother had, felt like a loving and nice healthy kind of relationship—so we had to kill her!


Like if it was divorce, it wouldn’t ring true. But killing her – to put it so harshly, making it where Jim’s mother passed away; we liked the idea of adding a certain maturity to the film, even though it goes as immature as they always do. The issues that you’re dealing with in your thirties are more mature – and for a guy like Eugene in his 60’s, we were really excited about that choice. We felt like we could utilize Eugene Levy in a better way than he’s ever been used before.

I still feel that Jim and Michelle are very much the heart of the movie. I often forget that. I remember at the end of the 3rd one, when they’re dancing at their wedding – you really got the sense of, yeah, it’s about everyone, the ensemble, but it’s really their story (Jim and Michelle), they’re like the heartbeat through it. I still got the sense of it with your movie. Would that be true do you think?

HAYDEN: Yeah. It’s interesting though. In the first movie it just kind of happens at the end., y’know?

Yeah.


HAYDEN:
And the Michelle character is really a sort of one note thing throughout the whole movie and then there’s the twist that she’s really filthy at the end. And it’s a great pay off. I think when you look at the sequels and you look at the Michelle character, it was challenging I think, to take this character who you just knew as “this one time, at band camp..”, and actually give her more dimensions. I think that was the kind of thing we tried to do with ‘American Reunion’, was just really try and make her feel a little more like a real character. She’s still Michelle, she still has her band camp moments and everything. But she’s with Jim in this boring marriage and she really needs to spice things up, and she’s really lost her mojo as a Mom. And Alyson is a mother in real life – she was really able to get into that.


JON: I also think that like, it starts with the very first film and the very first scene. Jim was so accessible as a guy. You felt for him when he gets caught by his parents masterbating. Either that’s happened to you, or you can imagine the horrors of what it would be like. So you instantaneously saw Jim as a guy you could get behind and want the best for. He’s the spine of the franchise in a lot of ways.

How do you feel in general with--- I mean, American Pie you’ve made the 4th movie, there’s been three Harold and Kumar movies. You always get this thing when you hear there’s another, like, ‘Oh God, another one..’. How do you as filmmakers who are part of that—do you feel a certain pressure? Does it not matter to you?

HAYDEN: There’s two sides to it, y’know? For every franchise there’s people who don’t get it. I don’t get --- um, okay, I’m just trying to think of a random franchise that goes on—

JON:
You’ve never seen a ‘Twilight’ movie before.


HAYDEN:
Yeah! I don’t watch Twilight movies, but I get that there’s people that love them. I’m sure if they made another book there’d be fans that really like it. With ‘Harold and Kumar’ we created a fanbase. We created something that was a sleeper—kind of underground cult movie, and we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could give that cult, like a drug—it becomes like you’re a drug dealer, and you get to get everyone intoxicated with something that they like. And when you go out with it there’s going to be people that say ‘oh, another one of these’. So okay, it’s not for them, it’s for our fanbase.


JON:
We don’t make our movies for the people that don’t enjoy them.


Great answer.


JON:
We make our movies for the people who are excited about them. When we tested ‘American Pie: Reunion’ for the first time, the audience didn’t know what they were about to see. They were just told that they were going to go and see an R-rated comedy, like if you like ‘Bridesmaids’, if you like ‘The Hangover’, if you like ‘Harold and Kumar’, then come see this R-rated comedy.


When they announced at the beginning of that screening that you’re about to see the next installment of the American Pie franchise, the crowd went apeshit. It was like a rock concert, people were going crazy for that. We had the same experience when we tested ‘Harold and Kumar 3’ and they didn’t know what was going to happen. These were again people that just knew they were going to see an R-rated comedy. Comedy fans, fans of these kinds of movies get excited about them. They have a love for the characters, and it’s a fun and unique experience for a fanbase and for a filmmaker.


HAYDEN: Sequels and franchises, they get a bad rap. But it’s like, at the same time, it’s funny, cause I was just thinking about it and like – one of the first stories in Western literature, or in the Western world, was Homer’s The Iliad, and then there’s The Odyssey. And there’s the Old Testament and the New Testament. I think there’s always this urge to see iconic characters continue on, you know?


Definitely.


HAYDEN:
When Jon and I got into movies as children, everything was a sequel and a franchise.


JON:
We loved ‘Star Wars’, we loved ‘Back To The Future’, we loved ‘The Karate Kid’.


HAYDEN: So it’s not like ‘oh my god, Hollywood today and these reboots’. It’s like, they’ve been doing it for a long time! I mean, Shakespeare, a lot of his plays are like Greek mythology that’s rebooted in his amazing way! I feel like it’s a little bit of a clichéd, almost innacurate thing to say, “oh, Hollywood today, making a sequel, trying to milk money..” - of course, it’s a money-making business over there. But I think the way we go about it, when we’re writing a sequel, we’re not thinking about how much money we’re going to be making, we’re thinking how are we going to make a good movie out of this? It’s got to top it, it’s got to have a familiar sense that the fanbase is going to love but also be different enough so it’s not a rehash. These are the things we think about when we---


JON:
That’s not to say that we don’t want to do original movies. We did create the ‘Harold and Kumar’ franchise, and we have a lot of original ideas that we’d like to do. But y’know, we do enjoy this.


HAYDEN:
It’s fun when you have a fanbase the opening night of a movie, and you feel the excitement of people, you know? It’s an equally fun thing though when people discover something.


So what do you guys do when you’re not writing and directing movies? What are your lives, what do you do -- ?


JON:
I’m a Dad. I’m a husband and a father, I have an almost two year old daughter. Usually Hayden and I are hanging out working on stuff. Otherwise it’s, uh, y’know, I’m taking my daughter for a walk or tucking her into bed and things like that. I’m on the internet a lot!


HAYDEN:
I’m just Googling ‘Harold and Kumar’ and ‘American Pie Reunion’ and seeing what people are saying on message boards.


Do you read all that stuff? Do you read the reviews?


HAYDEN:
Of course, I have to.


Does it bother you when it’s negative and hateful, or -- ?


HAYDEN:
Yeah. It doesn’t feel good when it’s negative and hateful.


JON:
You know what it is? I’ve found the reviews on ‘American Pie Reunion’ in the States to be fascinating. A lot of the critics that we love and respect, they totally got the movie, they totally got what we were trying to do. And we’ve sat amongst audiences --- we’ve been in twenty audiences for this movie, and every audience laughs from beginning to end. Every audience applauds at the end of the movie in our experience. People are having a great time, people leave the theater smiling, loving the film.


And then you start seeing a bunch of negative reviews that show up. People that say that the movie’s not funny, and you’re like – well, all those rooms full of people found it funny. It’s weird. It’s an interesting and fascinating disconnect where you start to realize –


HAYDEN:
It goes to your point though, y’know, about franchises and sequels, because I think there are some people that are like ‘oh, another one of those’, and then they go to see the movie and they’re not gonna give it a good review, it wasn’t meant for them. That’s how I view it.


And people feel powerful writing a negative review I think. You feel really strong if you can write something negative—


HAYDEN:
Especially when it’s personal about the actors.


JON:
That’s the thing we really hate the most. I don’t really care when people diss us.


HAYDEN:
It’s actually kind of funny, cause we like any sort of personal attention, cause we’re the behind the scenes guys [laughs]. But when they start criticisng some of the actors, or saying that they look like they don’t want to be there, it’s like, okay, you’re wrong. We all had a great time.


JON:
It’s funny. A lot of reviews bring the reviewers own perspective before they walk into a movie. The best reviewers judge a movie for what it is. That doesn’t mean everyone has to love all of our movies. I mean, sometimes I read a review where they didn’t like the movie, and I’m like ‘Oh, I get why..’.


HAYDEN:
I don’t think that ‘American Reunion’ is trying to be this great piece of film. It’s trying to be this great piece of entertainment, for an audience that connected with the first ‘American Pie’, or that would be interested in this type of movie about a high school reunion.


'American Pie: Reunion' is released in the UK on May 2nd 2012. 

Care to share?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

AMERICAN PIE: REUNION Review

"Services? Like what? A happy ending? 'Cause I won't go there. I don't need that kind of massage, Jim."
-Jim's Dad. 

Sequels aren't a problem if you get the angles right, if you know what to do with the characters. That's something that 'American Pie: Reunion' immediately got right. 


The writing and directing team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (who wrote all three 'Harold and Kumar' movies, directing the second) brought some much needed freshness to the franchise.


How do you bring freshness to a franchise? It's about making decisions. In terms of the original cast, they skilfully managed to include everybody by not actually including everybody. What I mean is that the characters either got a key storyline, or they were reduced to a simple cameo. A perfect example is Natasha Lyonne. In the original 'American Pie' she was pivotal, here she's a thirty second cameo. Same for Shannon Elizabeth as Nadia. 


They got this wrong in the previous films. Characters lingered and it was pointless, like Kevin in the third movie, and Oz and Heather in the second film
Luckily, the ten year hiatus has done Oz and Heather some good. The rekindling of the relationship is one of the sweetest parts of the movie. Predictable? Perhaps. But when you hear Bic Runga's 'Sway', you're absolutely sold.


But this film belongs to Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad. Levy is masterful. Most surprising is his vulnerability after the passing of his wife. It elicits true, humble emotion, and you'll do well to keep a few tears from falling. This film is about the years passing and dreams not being fulfilled. We got most of the access to that theme through Jim and his friends, but it's truest of all with Mr Levenstein. That's what happens when you're invested in the characters. When you see them ageing, you realise you're ageing too. The characters have lost ten years, they've lost loved ones, they've lost a layer of innocence; and so have we. None of us escaped the last ten years. Isn't that scary? That's why I love 'American Pie' and that's why I loved this movie; because as crazy-insane as they are, they're rooted in something real, something we can understand, something we feel

There's also a great performance from John Cho, who reprises his role as the MILF guy, to hilarious effect. Schlossberg and Hurwitz could have overcooked it, being that he's the 'Harold and Kumar' guy, but luckily it's mostly underplayed and quietly, subtly hilarious.


Like I've written about the previous sequels; the success of new additions rely heavily on strong ideas. At times, 'American Reunion' struggles to raise strong laughs. But then again, I watched the film in a room full of journalists who were all in their fifties. This movie isn't made for 50 year old guys who take a notepad and pen to the cinema. It's made for people like you and me who just long to connect.  We want characters that ARE us. That's why I'm not swayed by some of the negative reviews of this film - because it's not a film you're meant to break down and analyse, you're just meant to enjoy it. It'll either resonate, or it won't. If it does, like it did with me, you'll have a blast.


If you're a fan of the previous films, then go see it. If anything, it's just good to see the old gang again. There are enough laugh out loud moments, mixed with the sincerity and heart that endeared the franchise to everyone in the first place.


There is something about the pairing of Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan that
really works. They're such oddballs, and they're so like us! That's the problem with most movies. You look up at the likes of Megan Fox, or the Twilight dude, and you don't see yourself. Jim, despite all his perversions, has a giant beating heart; and you can't help but love him. Hannigan is wonderful at taking a very annoying character and somehow making her relatable, even lovable.


It's the 4th film in the franchise (8th if you include the straight to DVD releases). Should they have made it? Yeah! It's FUN! And it's great to see all the characters again. They handled this movie in the right way. It was steeped in nostalgia and in-jokes, yet at the same time, it had a freshness and a joyfulness which lifted it above many other films in the series. The most important thing, for me, is that I had a smile on my face throughout the thing. What more could you want?
 



American Pie: Reunion' is released in the UK on May 2nd 2012.

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Saturday, 28 April 2012

AMERICAN PIE Presents: BAND CAMP / THE NAKED MILE / BETA HOUSE / THE BOOK OF LOVE

"Perhaps I just don't get the movie business, but I never thought they could squeeze three more sequels out of this franchise just by naming random characters Stifler." 

-Member review on IMDB by 'sandcooler'

Last week I was talking to my friend Carl about the American Pie Week I'm running on the blog. Seven days, purely focused on the pie. The problem was, I only had 6 articles. Something was missing -- but what was it? I considered writing a post about the music of 'American Pie', or a 'what have they been up to?' article about the actors in the last ten years, but none of those ideas excited me.

And then as we talked some more it became apparent; the missing link; the thing that had to be done.

I'd have to watch the straight-to-DVD releases.

I told Carl I'd do it, but only if he joined me. He agreed. We also roped in my friend Pete to do the same.

Much to my dismay, the DVD night arrived. Carl bailed. Naturally, I haven't spoken to him since. Pete and I soldiered on and watched them all, back-to-back.


After 'American Pie: Wedding', the cast and crew happily called it a day and moved on to other things. But someone, somewhere at Universal, thought it would be a great idea to carry on the franchise. Someone gave Brad Riddell permission to write the screenplay.

'American Pie Presents Band Camp', is quite honestly one of the worst films I have ever seen.Tad Hilgenbrink plays Matt Stifler; the younger brother of the original Stifmeister. Here's my description of the film.

Matt Stifler is struggling at school. So the school counsellor, The Sherminator, sends him to Band Camp for the summer. At band camp, Stifler decides to set up video cameras everywhere, so that he can capture everyone having sex, and all the women naked in the showers, so that he can make a porn film. 

To describe Matt Stifler: on of the one hand, he seems obsessed with sex, but mostly he just seems extremely retarded. His love interest; Elyse, initially hates him; but at some point inexplicably becomes interested in him for no reason at all. Some romance is about to occur, but them some random hot girls turn up at band camp, and Matt Stifler decides to show them the rough edit of his band camp porn film. 


Poor Elyse, who's waiting for Stifler to meet her at night on the dock, gives up him and returns to her dorm room. On the way, Stifler's door opens, and she sees herself on the laptop screen, naked in the shower. 


NOW! Let's think for a second. Women, I have a question for you! If you were at band camp and discovered that you were being filmed in every room by a pervert --- would you a) Call the police? b) Call your parents? c) Scream! d) Beat the hell out of him, or e) Shrug, look awkward, linger in slow motion, and then return to your bedroom.


Elyse chose 'e'. 


After that, Stifler returns to his school and the Sherminator says that he is happy with his improved behaviour. The end. 


I rarely trash films on Kid In The Front Row. I know how hard it is to make movies, let alone good ones. But 'American Pie Band Camp' and the other three cheapo-American Pie movies are some of the most embarrassing attempts at filmmaking I've ever seen. They're morally bankrupt, atrociously written, and most of the time; lacking in any story or plot at all.

I rate 'Band Camp' 0/10.

'American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile' begins in a mildly improved way, if only because Erik Stifler (John White) is more of a likable fella, rather than the severely retarded and perverted guy from the last movie.

I watched this film LAST NIGHT! But I really struggle to have much to say about it. Here's what I remember of the film.

Erik Stifler is still a virgin. This is unheard of in the Stifler family. After accidentally killing his Grandmother with a stray cumshot, he decides to go with his friends to 'The Naked Mile', an annual event where college students run naked, for a mile. Oh, and his girlfriend, who is not quite ready to have sex, gives him a 'free pass', so that he can go have sex that weekend. 

The film meanders on for about an hour or so, where the hopelessly forgettable characters wander into parties, drink, see boobs, then go somewhere else and see more boobs.


Eventually, the Naked Mile thing happens and Jim's Dad introduces it, everyone runs for a mile. 


I think this was also the film where a bunch of midgets play an American Football match against the main characters. This lasts for 15 minutes and has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. 


The film ends with Erik Stifler returning to his girlfriend. The End. 

I rate 'The Naked Mile' 0.5/10. It is 0.5 higher than the previous film due to attempting to have a likable lead character.

'American Pie Presents: Beta House' is the 6th film in the franchise. It's the third of the straight to DVD spinoffs. And it's a sequel to the second film. So I guess, to sum things up, we can say it's a sequel to the second spinoff of the six movies. Yeah, that makes sense.

I hope you can feel the excitement I felt at preparing to see 'Beta House'.

Here's the lowdown:

Erik Stifler and his friends go to college; see some breasts, and do a bunch of respectable tasks to get into the 'Beta House', such as eating horse semen. 

Lots of women get their breasts out, and the guys stroll into various scenes which rarely have anything resembling story or plot. 


Jim's Dad turns up for the 6th film in a row. No real reason for it but there he is. 


A bunch of montages happen and sexual exploits. 


The End. 


I rate 'Beta House' 0/10.

'American Pie Presents: The Book Of Love'

There's a random Stifler in this film. They don't even explain whether he's a brother, or a cousin; he's just called Stifler. A camp, awkward, badly acted Stifler.

'The Book Of Love' refers to the sex manual from the original movie.


Here's what went down:

Rob (Bug Hall) is a bland dude who wants to have sex. His friends want sex too. They go to college or a trip or something---- zzzzz, I really don't care anymore. 


There's montages, breasts, parties.


With twenty minutes left, the whole 'Book' storyline kicks in randomly. 


A bunch of nothing happens. 


The end. 


I'm not sure I even like films anymore. This has ruined it. I watched the films with my friend Pete. Here's his description of 'The Book Of Love':

"An hour of not much, then they found a book, made a book. Tits. That's about it."

I rate 'The Book Of Love' 0/10. 

My summary of the four 'movies':

WTF? I don't understand these films! I don't get why people would watch them! They are just absolutely retarded. THERE IS NOT ONE GENUINE LAUGH IN THE WHOLE FOUR FILMS! I have never met anyone with a low enough IQ to enjoy these movies.

I just don't GET IT, at all. Some of the worst writing and directing I have ever seen.

WHY CALL THEM AMERICAN PIE? Why do it?

Did Eugene Levy need the pay cheque that badly? Was so surprised to see him in such awful movies. I hope they paid him well!

Why didn't they hire decent writers? Even if they knew it would be straight to DVD. Fair enough, Adam Herz was done with it, and no great screenwriter would want to go near it. But there must have been better upcoming screenwriters who could have maybe penned an original joke or two? Or the producers could have at least given the writers some screenwriting books to take a look at.

I am uneasy being this negative about films, but these are genuinely atrocious. I wouldn't even make my ex-girlfriend sit through them.

PLEASE AVOID THESE MOVIES AT ALL COSTS!!!!!

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Friday, 27 April 2012

AMERICAN PIE: THE WEDDING

"Love isn't just a feeling. It's shaving your balls!"
-Michelle.

It's the easiest thing in the world to pick apart the sequels and moan about the problems. But at the end of 'American Wedding', which was meant to be the last in the franchise, you can't help but feel it's been a journey worth being invested in. As Michelle and Jim dance their first dance, to Van Morrison's 'Into the Mystic', it dawns on you that you care a lot about these people.




They cleared out the dead wood. Oz, Heather and Vicky were pointless in the second movie, so it made sense that they were missing from this one. In truth, Kevin was equally redundant in the third instalment, he was just there to keep the numbers up. Stifler was supercharged. His actions seemed to border on mental illness at times. He was a caricature of who he was in the earlier movies. Was he funny or not? It's hard to say. Some moments seem to go overboard, and others are classic Stifmeister. 

I always disliked the scenes with the strippers at Jim's house. But looking at it again, even though it just seemed like a pointless excuse to get some breasts on show, it did actually serve a purpose, setting up the return of Jim with Michelle's parents. Hilarity ensued.


Michelle is a hilarious character, and Allison Hannigan deserves great recognition for her creation. She's insane, but she's got real heart. 
January Jones, as Cadence, was a welcome addition, although the Finch/Stifler storyline seemed weaker than I remember previously. They build up this great battle between the two guys, over Cadence, and then at the end, Finch just seems to drift away and then settles for Stifler's Mom (again). It seems lazy, somehow. The Stifler's Mom joke is old, finished. But I guess people expected it. 

The 'American Pie' films always stretched believability. The trick is making it believable in the MOMENT.  In 'American Pie 2', it was ridiculous to make us believe that Stifler would mistake the MILF Guy's pee for champagne. But it worked! Just like the beer gag in the first film. But Stifler eating dog shit? It's a stretch! You feel like he could have just been honest, and said "Hey, it's dog shit!". And the insistence of Michelle's parents, demanding a 'nibble', just seems highly unlikely.


That's the difference between great comedy and average comedy. How well the ridiculous can be made believable.


--------- Have you noticed how my tone is different in this article to the others? I'm not as enthusiastic. I guess that's my sequel cynicism coming out that I mentioned in my first American Pie post. Also, when I wrote about 'American Pie' I said that the 6.9 on the IMDB scale was a false low, but with 'American Pie: The Wedding', I feel like 6.1 is exactly right. 


We love the characters. And there are moments in 'Wedding' where we go with them. But a lot of this film, it just doesn't work, it's not funny. I want to love every second of it, really; I do, but it's hard! Stifler is a bit too off the charts crazy, and Finch's story progressively weakens, and Kevin just seems to be hanging around pointlessly. It's frustrating to watch. 


The first slice of pie came in 1999. The third film was released in 2003. That's a lot of material, based on the same characters, to force out of one writer. So I don't blame Adam Herz. I love his writing, his characters, and I hope to see more from him. In an interview with ign.com after the film's release in 2003, Herz said
"There won't be another one. Simply because I don't have any stories left to tell about these guys... When you do any story, you want some characters to take an emotional journey... And look, with American Wedding, when Stifler has learned something, there's nobody left to learn... I can't do it. That would bother me, if they did another movie."

You get the feeling that, in truth, there wasn't enough material to fill out the whole of the third installment. Despite all this, I like it. And as I said at the beginning of the article -- when you see the friends on the dance floor at the end; the imperfectness of the sequels fall away and we are left with a warm feeling of getting to know these wonderful characters and their hilarious situations.


It was wrapped up nicely. The Wedding, what a perfect way to end it. 


But wait, there's more? Funny how time changes your perspective on things. When they announced 'American Reunion', I didn't feel any
sequel cynicism at all. I was just plain excited. And THAT'S what's important. These characters resonated with me, they meant something; and the fact they would return after so many years was exciting to me. 

Care to share?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

AMERICAN PIE 2

"My name's Petey. Thank you. And I have gigantic balls!"
-Jim

Did it need to exist? Probably not. The first one was perfect, the second one just wanted to ride the wave.


But I loved the characters. It was good to just hang out with the guys again.


The sequel survives on the characters and set pieces. The first one had a strong structure--- it was all about the build up to the prom, and the sex. The sequel was much like where the story was set; a pointless summer vacation, but one where lots of fun happens.


The scene at band camp where Jim gets mistaken for Petey, the special needs trumpeter, is absolutely masterful. And it doesn't rely on sex. It's harmless, silly and hilarious.



Same thing goes for the scene where Stifler breaks into the house of the 'lesbians' and finds a dildo. Jim and Finch follow him in--- and then of course, the women return home, and the lads are stuck in the house, forced to hide in the bedroom.


But for every masterful scene, there are moments that struggle. When the women find them in the bedroom, what follows is a scene where they mess with the guys, forcing them to touch and kiss each other in return for some lesbian action. It's a nice idea, but lasts five minutes too long.



In the first film, everything weaves together perfectly. In the sequel, they don't seem to know what to do with all the characters. Kevin and Vicky? Boring! Oz and Heather? Snorefest! 
I guess they just wanted to keep as many original cast members together as possible. But the phone sex storyline was coma inducing. Oz and Heather were adorable in the original, but this was just pointless.

The film got better halfway through, that's when the key story really took shape. I'm talking, of course, about Jim and Michelle, who have always been the heart of the franchise. Looking back at this film --and this is purely speculation on my part-- but you get the sense that they tried overly hard to make it as funny, outrageous and shocking as the original; and because of it, there's a lack of focus --- but it's saved because of Jim and Michelle. They bring an honesty and openness to it, which makes things more balanced, it makes us believe in it more. 


And then there's Jim's Dad. And Stifler. The fact is: these characters are hilarious, which is mostly a good thing but it means there was always a risk of overkill. It's like watching 'Friends', you know Joey is Joey, but they have to keep it in check, because if you cross the line, everyone quickly gets disinterested.  In the years since this film came out, the Stifler jokes have aged, yet Jim's Dad still rings true.


Ultimately, this film is nowhere near as strong as the original. Having said that, some moments are HILARIOUS. I'd totally forgotten about Jim gluing himself to himself with one hand, and to the 'Pussy Palace' VHS in the other. That whole sequence is golden.




'American Pie 2' is just about passable as a sequel. The characters are lovable and some of the sequences are genuinely hilarious. But overall, it's a piecemeal effort. A bunch of jokes hacked together with convenient storylines that exist purely to make them possible.

Care to share?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

AMERICAN PIE

"What exactly does third base feel like?"
-Jim

I think the original 'American Pie' was a bit of a masterpiece. I know we're not meant to label teen comedies as masterpieces - but I love it, I think it's a fantastic movie. And yes, I'm biased. I feel personally attached to it. I guess it's an age thing; it's generational. I was the perfect age to be affected by this movie when it first came out. 


So much of 'American Pie' became iconic; Jim dancing for Nadia. Stifler drinking the beer. Jim's Dad. Finch shitting in the women's toilets. The phrase 'MILF'. The pie fucking.


That's why the 6.9 on the IMDB scale is a false number, because it has been more influential than half of the films that score 8 and above. 'American Pie' was an important film. It's easy to disregard teen comedies, but this one had something special about it.

They set the tone from the first scene. Jim, a porn channel with bad reception, and a sock. Yet all the films that ripped off 'Pie' in the years that proceeded it missed the point, just like the blockbusters that came after 'Jaws' missed the mark ---- the film had 
heart.

Yes, it's a film about four guys trying to get laid. And yes, it's crude. Yet somehow, we love them. Quite remarkable, considering the awful things they do. If I filmed a girl undressing in my bedroom and then broadcast it without her permission to hundreds of people, it would be unacceptable, disgusting, probably even land me in jail. In the film it's charming, and oddly -- we feel for Jim. We feel his desperation, his loserness. When you're a teenager, you don't have a clue what you're doing. You try and fit in, try and get laid, and try to impress your friends.

On the surface it's a film about boys trying to get girls into bed, but really it's a film about guys figuring out how women work, coming to terms with what love is. That's the best thing about American Pie, its sincerity.



Watching it again reminded me of how much I loved it. I know every line of dialogue. I've probably seen this film twenty five times. I realised how some of the dialogue and funny lines are things I say in real life; they've become embedded in me. I'd forgotten where they came from. Isn't it amazing how movies do that? They become part of your DNA.


I've got to confess that so many of my favourite movies are my favourites simply because: they're a blast! They're so much fun. This is the perfect example of that. I've always been the type of guy who loves the first twenty minutes of movies, and then gets pissed off when all the conflict and plot stuff comes along. Sometimes I just wanna get the feeling of hanging out with great people. I love it when movies allow for that. That's exactly what this film did. And luckily it had all the other elements too.

Care to share?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

AMERICAN PIE Week on KITFR

"Sure it may be a cash in, but I want to see the Ghostbusters again. I want to see Woody and Buzz argue. We fall in love with characters and they inform our childhoods, our teenage years, and we always long for them. "They don't make them like they used to," we say. We think we miss the stories but most of the time we miss the people."
-KITFR on 'Scream 4'. 

This week, I'm focusing exclusively on the 'American Pie' franchise. Why? I'm a fan. When I heard they were doing a new movie, I was immediately excited. 
This is difficult for me, because I've always had a troubled relationship with sequels, remakes, and reboots. Generally; I disagree with them on principle. But what is that principle? I don't really know. 

And it's not like I feel that strongly about it. As I
explored a few years ago, the inner-grumpiness I often feel when remakes are announced, disappears as soon as I'm sitting down and watching the new movie. I enjoyed the new Karate Kid film. And then there was 'Scream 4', which I thought was amazing. But it's a different kind of amazing. More than anything, sometimes it's just great to see faces you know, people you grew up with. It's nice to know what they're doing ten years later.


That was the appeal when I heard there'd be a new American Pie film. The thought of seeing Jim, Oz, Michelle and Nadia again was exciting! After three movies (let's not even discuss the straight to DVD movies that came after 'The Wedding') it was, rightly, time to call it a day. The joke had run out, we were tired of Stifler, and Jim's Dad had given just about all the advice he could give. 

But time is an interesting thing. Going to see a new American Pie film is much like adding an old school friend on Facebook. You're unsure whether you should, but you can't help but be curious and hope a little of the old magic will still be there. 


So, yeah. I'm a fan. I decided to watch the first three movies again and write about my thoughts. And then I'll tell you what I think of the new one.



American Pie week will run from April 24th - April 30th here on Kid In The Front Row. 

Care to share?

Friday, 20 April 2012

NICE GUY JOHNNY

Bruce Springsteen. Van Morrison. Talking about my favourite musicians is easy. When it comes to films, especially in this day and age, it's harder. Because the writer's voices get diluted, the directors visions get fragmented into the wishes of twenty people. Finding singular voices is hard. But in an industry of compromised auteurs and pay-cheque hacks, Edward Burns stands strong. I LOVE his movies. They're not for everybody, in fact they're hardly seen by anybody -- but he has his niche. We are in an era where you can build a career around your niche.



This film is about that precise moment in your life when you have to make a decision --- follow your dreams, or compromise. On the one hand, Johnny (Matt Bush) can continue his job as a late night sports show presenter on the radio, or on the other hand he can go to New York and take the job with his fiancee's father. The job is depressing, but he'd earn $50,000 and keep his wife-to-be happy. And Claire (Anna Wood) terrifies me, because she's the girl I fear I'll end up with. The one who would say "Take the job at the cardboard factory, I only want you to do it because I love you!". Aghhh; it scares the hell out of me. That's why I'm so useless at relationships, cause I'm terrified they'll erode my creativity, make me turn into something else.

Turning into something else is the easy route, the path of least resistance. That's why the film rings so true. The hardest thing in the world for Johnny is to stand up and say "I'm a radio DJ! I earn no money but THIS IS MY DREAM!". He can't do it. Instead; the whole film is about him faltering under the pressure of people who think his dream should be something else; they think it should be the cardboard job and a huge pay-cheque.

Uncle Terry (Edward Burns) is flawed, he's not perfect. But he's a guy who can see his nephew Johnny is having the soul ripped out of him. Edward Burns is a great actor; especially when he's in his own films; every friggin' moment rings true. That's the thing with all the characters in this movie. I feel like I know them, I want to hang out with them, maybe I even want to be them. That's what a great movie is -- when you look up at the screen and think yes, that is me. That's fucking me! There I am! That's my journey, that's my struggle!


It's about the actors. That's not always true in Hollywood, because often the concept is king. But in 'Nice Guy Johnny', it's the actors domain. Whenever I see Matt Bush and Kerry Bishé on screen, I feel like I know them. That's a weird thing to say, because I've only seen Kerry in three movies (the others being 'Red State', and another Ed Burns film, 'Newlyweds'). In 'Newlyweds', she's a messed up bitch; has all sorts of issues. In 'Nice Guy Johnny', she's loveable, she's intriguing. But not in a boring way like most movies; but in a complicated way. The same thing with Matt's character --- sure, he's a nice guy to a fault, but you get to see how complicated that is!

My point is that Edward Burns, Matt Bush, Kerry Bishé, they're real actors. They can nail a character, yet you also get a sense of their humanity - who they really are. That's what you get when you see an Edward Burns movie. They're down to earth, they're honest, they're New York. These films will never take over the mainstream, because that's not where the audience is at anymore. But there is an audience for it; a real fan base, and they're hooked.

Care to share?

The Special Relationship


JEN
We have a special relationship.

TOM
How do you mean?

JEN
Creatively.

TOM
Which means what?

JEN
You should cast me in your movies.

TOM
Oh okay.

JEN
You don't think so?

TOM
What is special about it?

JEN
We have a connection, like, a special understanding.

TOM
So I should cast you in my movies?

JEN
Yes.

TOM
And what will you do for me?

JEN
Act in them.

TOM
That's very nice of you.

JEN
But it is a special relationship. Don't forget I introduced you to that guy at the BBC.

TOM
So what?

JEN
So you should put me in your movies.

TOM
There are also many other actors.

JEN
But they don't understand you like I do.

TOM
Back in the old days; women used to sleep with directors to get a role, now all we get is an insincere compliment.

JEN
That's really hurtful. Don't you believe me?

TOM
As an actor? It's a little forced, if I'm honest.

JEN
How can you say something like that to me?

TOM
I can say anything I want.

JEN
Why?

TOM
Because we have a special relationship.

Care to share?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Reflecting on ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

All we have is our memories. They're all we can really base anything on. I guess we have the current moment, and that's pretty cool. But you can't help but be shaped by what came before. So what if you really could erase it; wipe out someone you used to love? I think what makes it an appealing thing is not so much removing someone's face from your memory, it's removing all the marks they left. All the crap that comes up every time you meet someone new. Know what I mean?

'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' is one of the greatest films ever. I am saying that now, at this moment, only minutes after watching the film again. If calling it 'one of the greatest films ever' is ridiculous, then it's ridiculous and so be it. But right now,
in this moment, I'm in love with it. I have not had an experience like this with a film in quite a long time.


The film is about memories. It's funny because -- I'm not sure how well I know this film. I'm not sure how many times I've seen it and how much I enjoyed it in the past. Watching it just now was great, because it was a very fresh experience.


There's genius in this film in so many ways. Charlie Kaufman's script is mind-blowing. How did he write this? When you add films like 'Adaptation' and 'Being John Malkovich' to the list, it's incredible. Kaufman seems to have access to his whole brain -- he knows how to utilise it. 'Eternal Sunshine..' is so powerful for exactly that reason -- we feel like we're going through a journey in our own brains.


You have to credit the director, Michel Gondry, and the director of photography Ellen Kuras. In a remarkably accurate way they have brought to life the inner workings of the mind --- the dreams, the nightmares, the memories. It's so haunting,
so real.

And then there's Kate and Carrey. What can you say about them? I don't know if I realised the first time I saw this movie -- but Jim Carrey's performance is perfect. But not perfect in any way you could teach. I don't think you could extract it and bottle it and learn from it. You just have to watch him and be in awe of it -- because he's just amazing. From the first moment, you're sold. Kate Winslet is probably just as good, but you can't help but be a little conscious of the fact it's Kate Winslet with weird coloured hair in the opening scenes. It takes a while to adjust.


The thing about movie stars is that it's very hard to detach from who they really are when you see them on screen. Or more accurately, it's hard to detach from what we project onto them, how we view them. But in the opening scenes, Carrey and Winslet are so REAL. They're like me and you. Just a man and a woman. They're vulnerable, awkward, and you just
feel it. These are two performances that really earned their salaries. This is why we love the cinema and movie stars. Sometimes they really can reach these levels.


And then there's the editing, by Valdís Óskarsdóttir. It's seamless. The thing that's so difficult about mind-fuck films like this one, is that it's so easy to get lost -- to be jolted into confusion. In 'Eternal Sunshine..', the moments where we do get confused are intentional, and get resolved later on. There's an art to what Óskarsdóttir achieved. There are times in the second half of the movie when we're being taken on a journey through Joel's (Carrey) subconscious mind -- as he dashes in and out of numerous memories, yet at the same times we cut back into the Clementine/Patrick storyline (Winslet/Wood), and the Dr. Mierzwiak/Mary storyline (Wilkinson/Dunst) and it's miraculous that it all makes sense. That's the power of great editing. If you compare it to films like 'Donnie Darko' and 'Vanilla Sky', I think there's a level of brilliance to this film that those ones lack. And it comes down to how all the elements mentioned in this article were handled. 


The film had a strange effect on me tonight. It got me thinking about my memories. How many of them are rigid and built to last? Maybe not that many. In fact, some stories I could recount perfectly two years ago, now somehow sink into insignificance. It's weird what time does. The erasing of former lovers is something that, weirdly, kind of happens in real life too. The pain goes away, the specifics evaporate. We get left with the feelings. Sometimes they're beautiful and poignant, other times they leave us bitter and resentful. So what to do with all of these memories? 


I know precisely what I want to do with them: I want to create a lot more of them. 

Care to share?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Vulnerability

I still find writing extremely scary.



The blog has always been my safe haven. I always feel pretty free to write stuff here of varying quality, without thinking too much about it.



But still; so much of what I write is met with stone silence, and it's SCARY! Late on Monday night I posted a short story called "London Falling". Days went by, there were no comments, no emails, no friends saying 'hey I really liked it'. Absolutely nothing.



The immediate inclination is to delete the story, because it must be awful. But I always try to leave everything standing. I like to show all sides of creativity, the good stuff and the bad. So the bad stories stay, as much pain as they cause me.

Today, nearly three days later, there's a comment on the story. PAUL S has thrown it a lifeline.



"I'm bemused by the lack of response to writing of this quality. This piece is beautiful, moving and macabre; and I for one want to thank you for sharing it."



Amazing how a tiny comment by someone, anyone, can make all the difference to your state of mind and how you feel about yourself as an artist. You always kid yourself into thinking you can just write anytime you want without caring about people's feedback, but you need it.

GREAT material gets comments, and it gets shared. And if it's really great, it goes viral. Everything else just kind of sinks into the internet. Another page of semi-interesting nonsense that will capture a few, but hardly anybody.

Luckily, occasionally, a piece resonates; as this one did with Paul S. You find yourself with a little bit more fuel - someone likes what you do, and you know you'll write again.

Care to share?