Sorry to take so long to get around to this, but I actually had to force myself to rewatch a few bits here and there of the last two IFC's Ultimate Film Fanatic episodes before writing this latest recap/critique/what-have-you. Before I took it upon myself to completely trash elements of the third episode, I wanted to make sure I remembered specific lines and moments accurately. You see, I've come to the abrupt realization that for some silly reason, you people care about my criticisms of this show. (Or, in the case of the cinetrix who lives without cable, I am her only hope in following this all-important event through its endgame.) In fact, I even received an email from one of the first two episodes' robbed contestants thanking me for bringing to light the extremely important issue of how rigged the outcome of each contest seems to be.
This week, I'm going to place a little emphasis on the writing of UFF because quite simply, it blows. I don't expect it to improve during this run since all these shows were pre-taped, probably on the same day, some weeks ago. But maybe, as I requested in last week's open letter, some producer will see the error of his ways and improve this show by utilizing a little bit of thought and common sense in order to give the IFC viewer and true film fanatic the game show he/she wants and deserves. (Do you hear me Mark Cronin? That means to create a show without cannibalizing on the WWOR Howard Stern TV Show that gave you your start, or even your own series Mr. Beat the Geeks, which seems to be your practice.)
This week's episode were the Midwest regional semifinals. Noticeably, the six semifinalists included three women, which is three times as many as made it to the previous two episodes combined. But that's not the show's fault, is it? I guess women in the Midwest just have more time to watch movies, or something. Who knows.
Or can I blame the show after all? Also noticeably, not one of those women made the first cut; by the time we hit "The Great Debate," all three were gone. Did you decide to stack the deck in this group for some reason? When one of your regional semifinalists -- someone who supposedly beat out others to get on the show – gets bounced on the very first question, I sense a problem. That first question: "What Clint Eastwood character said, 'Go ahead. Make My Day?' Name the character he was playing in Sudden Impact who said that line." Are you shitting me? How does anybody not get "Dirty Harry." Hey contestant Eve: Even if you've never seen that film, you hear Clint Eastwood and an iconic quote, and you claim to be a film fan, and you can't come up with "Dirty Harry"? WHA? Making matters worse, your answer was "Joe Friday." That's just pathetic.
But back to my big complaint: the writing. Changing one word in host Chris Gore's supposed banter does not constitute good writing. The show seems to care enough to make people believe it didn't tape everything the same day (as I'm sure they do, like most game shows). Gore and the judges all wear different clothes episode-to-episode. Why don't they give a shit about making the lines a bit less pathetic. I can guarantee that this show has little or no crossover appeal by the fact that my girlfriend (who thankfully is far saner than I and therefore NOT an obsessive film fan) watched UFF for the first time and couldn't stop saying, "This is so lame," and "This is so cheesy."
My evidence? After "The First Cut" trivia round is complete, Gore has two standard lines that have been virtually identical all three weeks. In the second episode, Gore said, "I promised you a rumble and I think we delivered," before continuing with, "We've tested their knowledge and frankly some of these guys scare me."
In this past week's episode, Gore said, "I promised you some carnage, and I think we delivered." Then he goes on to say, "We've tested their knowledge, and … I don't know … some of these guys scare me."
Are you kidding me? It's one thing to have the same or similar wording when explaining the game or the rules – as also happens repeatedly. However, when scripting what should be tossed-off funny asides, how about changing it up a bit. The joke that "some of these guys scare me" really isn't funny the third week in a row, nor will it be for the remainder of the series. I do hope the producers know that this is a series, i.e., they want people to watch it more than once, no?
The other big thud "joke" that consistently annoys me is "the ticket home." That's what the losing contestants get -- a plane ticket home. Gore's disinterested, gum-chomping female assistant host Meghan always walks over to the loser, turns her back on him/her and holds out an airline ticket envelope. Look closely, and it's for TLA: Trans Loser Airlines. Har har. Whatever. The simple prop is kind of cute in the first round. It would even be fine after the second round if it weren't for the lame scripted lead-up Gore reads from the cue cards, which also has been virtually identical week-to-week. In the second episode, Gore said, "You know, the people in round one, they all got tickets home, but I got a little something for you … something a little different: a ticket home!"
Ooooh. Snap! Or if you want to get all retro, FACE! But he said virtually the same damn thing in week one.
This past week, Gore's lead-up was, "Remember the first round, all those guys got tickets home. But you know what you're going to get? Come on over here Meghan: a ticket home!'
I have no idea how involved Gore is with the writing of the show. I have to think quite a bit, but I hope otherwise because he's so much better than this. His writing in Film Threat has usually been insightful and clever. And his ad libs on this show (he summarized one of this week's contestant's items in "The Obsession War" perfectly by calling it "Dawn of the Deadapalooza") have usually been much better than the cue card fodder.
At least I can't complain about this week's ultimate winner. It was really no contest in "The Obsession War," even though the producers/judges evened things up after two items by awarding the individual comparison to one of the worst "show & tell" moments of the show so far.
The finals came down to Michael F. and Julian. At this point, I'm rooting for Michael F. to win the whole damn thing. He seemed to have a wealth of trivial knowledge, he was excellent in his debate claiming that Harrison Ford is a great actor, and he just demolished Julian with his items of memorabilia.
"The Obsession War" as it's called is described by Gore word-for-word utilizing the same script each week. In order to be even more specific as to what they're supposedly looking for, here is Gore's speech describing the competition:
Six entered, we're down to two. Both of these players have proved they have excellent movie knowledge by surviving "The First Cut." Both have proved they have fanatic attitudes by surviving "The Great Debate." But now only one will survive … "The Obsession War." Each player has dug deep into their closet and brought with them three items from their personal collection that they feel makes them the ultimate film fanatic of the Midwest. Basically, this is just like War when you were a kid. You show off one of your obsession items, and you'll show off one of yours, and our panel will decide which item is more freakishly obsessive.
So with that in mind, I once again cry bullshit and declare that for supposed competition purposes, the producers are having the judges even things out so we always see all three of the mini-wars. Michael won all three handily. He started by showing a picture of a Star Wars stand-up arcade game, something he always used to play as a kid. He promised himself one day he would buy one of those machines, and this picture was of the one he put in his own home. Julian's lame ass "item" was his "Cinema" tattoo. His little story basically was that one morning he woke up and, "I said 'Eff this! I'm making this real. I'm making this permanent." So he got a tattoo. (Jackass.) The judges rightly gave the war to Michael.
Where the show once again lost credibility is in the next "war." Michael had a an original prototype of the Book of the Dead from Sam Raimi's cult horror classic The Evil Dead. It was even signed by effects and makeup supervisor Tom Sullivan. What beat that fantastic collectible that only a crazy film fanatic would possess?
It turns out that Julian is a big Spike Lee fan. So at one point, he contacted Lee's production company in Brooklyn and applied for an internship. He flew from Detroit to New York and had an interview; then he went home. He got the internship so he moved to New York for the summer and worked as an unpaid intern for 40 Acres and a Mule (Lee's company). In fact, sounds like he had a pretty kick-ass internship because rather than simply getting coffee and making photocopies, Julian was a set p.a. on Crooklyn, which essentially means he was getting coffee and making photocopies, but at least he was doing it on-set.
You're waiting for what this has to do with his battle in the "war," right? I think he had a script of Crooklyn with him. You know, to represent his internship. Uhm, that's it. The fact that he worked as an unpaid intern. Unpaid meaning free. I emphasize that because it seemed to really impress the hell out of Richard Roundtree. Of course, that only goes to prove the Roundtree hasn't been paying attention to the plebes running around him on-set or simply hasn't worked enough since Shaft. If he had, he would know that the entire industry runs on free labor. There are hundreds of young people who would kill to work in this business who take unpaid internships all the time, yet that doesn't actually qualify any of them as being a "film fanatic." That just means they want to work in the film business.
Nevertheless, they called Julian's very normal and not extraordinary whatsoever internship more "freakishly obsessive" than Michael's Evil Dead book. Whatever.
At least they didn't fuck-up in the end. Michael truly was this show's "Ultimate Film Fanatic" based on the criteria they're supposedly looking for. Julian's last item just provided more evidence that he's a moron. First, he expressed his devotion to Brian De Palma's Scarface with Al Pacino and calling it "the definitive gangster film" – uhm, not so much! Have you heard of The Godfather? Parts 1 & 2! Once Upon a Time in America? GoodFellas? How about the original Scarface? The Public Enemy? The Roaring Twenties? White Heat? I'm actually a fan of De Palma's Scarface no matter how much scenery Pacino chewed in his fun but just over-the-top performance. But don't start giving it credit for something it's not. In fact, the modern Scarface doesn't even have a place in the conversation of "definitive gangster film." But Julian loves Scarface so much that he bought some photo stills of it, and then one day he's walking down the street in his hometown (for some reason, that's important) when he passes a guy wearing a really ugly Scarface shirt. I know this because Julian is wearing it. The shirt is tiled with images of the film's poster as well as other Pacino shots from the film. Julian just had to have it so he gave the guy $200 to give it to him … right there, on the street.
Now that actually impresses me a bit, but then Michael came back with some truly obsessive-compulsive behavior to beat out Julian. This is what Gore called "Dawn of Deadapalooza." Apparently, Michael is such a Dawn of the Dead fan that he decided to make a pilgrimage to the Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania where the original film was shot. At the mall, he went to a Suncoast Video where he bought a copy of the movie. On the show, he held up that videotape along with the receipt, which he has also kept. But that's not the end of his Dawn of the Dead obsession, because he also held up his treasured photo -- taken at some Dawn of the Dead convention! – of him and Dawn director George Romero.
So the right guy won this time. Great. It barely made the show any better, and getting there was still relatively annoying. But I assume there will only be three semifinals and one finals episode left. You'll get another 2 hours of my life IFC, but in return, you'll also get my rants. I only hope you take what you should have learned after this first series and make a ton of changes before the next go 'round.