Archive for March 6, 2014

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Need for Speed

Rated PG-13

for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language

In 1994 Electronic Arts unleashed on the world one of the most successful video-game franchises of all time. The Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and 3DO were the first platforms to take on the title that would eventually spawn 22 sequels. Need for Speed set the standard for what racing based video games were to be going forward. Over time the gameplay was modified, the graphics improved and the physics of cars included but always true to the core; go as hard and fast as you can to win the race in some of the most iconic exotic cars ever made by man.

There are few things as exciting or iconic in movies as the car chase. A good chase scene can elevate an okay movie to the good or great level pretty quickly. Good use of high-speed cars engaged in precision driving and performing, often impossible, stunts can make up for most any flaw an action movie has. The car chase is what Need for Speed used to get through to audiences and successfully adapt an iconic video-game into a feature film.

The movie is about a street racer, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), who lives in upstate New York. Marshall is betrayed by a former rival turned business partner, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), and left to go to prison for the consequences of a street race that went horribly wrong. When Marshall is paroled, upon completing his sentence, he sets out on a mission to get revenge by taking out Brewster on the biggest stage in street racing, The DeLeon.

The stars of this movie are billed as; Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper and Scott Mescudi (Kid Kudi) but I would dare to say that the real stars are listed here under the heading “Stunts.” The 40+ men and women that made up the stunt and precision driving teams are what made this movie as thrilling as it is. In an effort to be as real as possible, most of the racing scenes in the movie are done on closed courses with real cars being driven to their limits by these amazing professionals.

If the stuntmen and women are the stars, then the best supporting nod has to go to the menu of amazing vehicles used in the story. In one scene the head of the DeLeon race, The Monarch (Michael Keaton), states that the combined value of the cars in his race is around $6 million and average 200mph. Yeah right! Maybe if you are getting some major discounts from the manufacturers and ride the brakes!

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Bugatti Veyron Super Sport – $2.5 million and a verified top speed of 265mph

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Koenigsegg Agera R – $1.7 million and an estimated top speed of over 270mph

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Lamborghini Sesto Elemento – $2.9 million and a verified top speed of 205mph

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McLaren P1 – $1.3 million and its top speed is electronically capped at 220mph (It’s also a hybrid!)

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Saleen S7 – $500,000 and a verified top speed of 248mph

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GTA Spano – $725,000 and an estimated top speed of 220mph

Add all those up and you get… (Drumroll please) a whopping $9.65 million dollars in cars with an average top speed of around 240mph! Thank God the ones that were abused and wrecked were all replicas.

As impressive as that list of cars is, they are not all that appears. A modified 2014 Ford Mustang GT 500, that is rated at 900hp with a top end of 236mph, is the central car figure for most of the movie. There is also a bevy of classic muscle cars from the 60s and 70s that make appearances.

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With the sheer volume of cars that are featured in this movie it is easy to jump to the conclusion that this is just another Fast and Furious style movie; ”show a bunch of cars driving fast and add some special effects and hope it works.” The makers of Need for Speed went in a different direction with the way they portrayed the street racing scene and driving in general. The developers took the time to make sure this movie honors the great car chases of the past by focusing on realism as much as possible. Aside from two scenes where I shook my head and thought, “was that really necessary,” the movie uses driving skills and stunts that are very believable and realistic.

As a part of the respect to car chases from the past, you see Bullitt playing at a drive in an early scene, the Pontiac Trans-Am from Smokey and the Bandit makes an appearance, there is even a nod to the Blue Brothers movie. One of the more obscure references is a scene where the Mustang being driven by Marshall is being chased around and around a traffic circle a la The Dukes of Hazzard. Homages to Thelma and Louise and The Great Gatsby are also cool if you catch them and appreciate them. There are countless other subtle references to car chase movies from the past that appear in the dialogue as well.

One of the most important aspects of this movie that I found the most refreshing is in the way the story does not insult you intelligence or seem to be “on the take” from a car manufacturer. An example of what I mean is in the car chase in last year’s The Last Stand, there is no way on this round earth that a bone stock Camaro is going to run down an 1100hp Corvette Blue Demon. Need for Speed, delightfully, chooses to respect the knowledge of the fan base that this movie will appeal to most and not slap them in the face by having a Mustang torch the Veyron SS or anything absurd like that.

I would be remiss if I wrapped this up without really mentioning the various actors and acting. They all played their various roles well with no one really standing out as a positive or negative. I get the impression that they all accepted the fact that they were in a video game movie that was all about the driving and not about them. Aaron Paul as the hero, the brooding Tobey Marshall was a good fit. Dominic Cooper as the manipulative Dino Brewster was also easy to accept. Michael Keaton as The Monarch was fun. I specifically enjoyed the character Julie Maddon played by Imogen Poots, maybe it is just a screen crush or infatuation with the accent.

For the first time in 2014 I am going to put my seal of approval on a movie with no restrictions or caveats. Need for Speed is fun and worth the trip to the theatres, no questions asked.

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MAS – With your show Legit coming back for a second season, how has your life changed? I’m sure you are quite a bit busier, but in general what is going on in Jim Jefferies’ life right now?

JJ – It’s the same as when the first seasoned launched. This time, more people know about the show and it has a bit of a fan base. The first season, people were trying to figure out what the show is and now we are trying to live up to the first season. I think this new season is substantially better than season one.

Other than that, doing all the press and stuff, I enjoy that. I’m doing Kimmell soon and hopefully I can do all the other ones. I enjoy that aspect, getting on the couch and talking with people.

MAS – With the show moving from FX to the new network FXX, are you expecting any type of impact from that?

JJ – There will be a small drop-off in the ratings because FXX is available in less homes, it is just simple math. The thing about FXX is, it’s a start-up network. It’s good to be on the ground floor and to be a flagship show of the network. I get to be the face of the station, if you will. It’s us, The League, and Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and they also just bought The Simpsons for that channel. They are also working on 4-5 new shows. I think this time next year this station will be said in the same breath as FX. It will be its own identity, obviously, with more comedy on it than FX.

MAS – That’s one of the things I am enjoying about seeing the show on FX, or in the FX family. In watching the show, I tried to think of where else you would fit. There aren’t a lot of networks that would give you the freedom that you have now.

JJ – I don’t know if we have gone too far to ever be syndicated or to be put on TBS or anything like that. It’s probably, in a business point of view, a bad idea to do that. There is something about making a show that is genuinely unique. I don’t think anyone has seen anything on TV similar to it. People can argue, that Louie is a comic playing himself or Seinfeld is a comic playing himself. But the storylines that we are doing, I don’t think you are seeing anything like it. Especially considering one of our main characters has muscular dystrophy in a comedy.

MAS – Are you still shooting now, or are you all completely done?

JJ – No we finished shooting in December. There are only three of us that write the show. I try to write all the storylines and the other guys direct while I act in them. We don’t have several different directors so we can edit while we are making them, we have to edit after. We have to finish up with enough time to get the first episode out. So we finished filming a couple of months ago.

MAS – You mentioned having a character such as the one DJ Qualls plays. What kind of feedback did you receive after, or during, season one with his depiction of an individual with a physical limitation?

JJ – Everything we have received has been very positive after it aired. Before it aired, we were getting a lot of mail that said we were being insensitive and they hadn’t even seen it yet. I think that they thought that since it was a comedy that we were going to be doing disabled gags the whole time. I mean we did do a couple of them, but the point of the whole show is that his character is treated the same as everyone else’s character. We worked very hard at that. Obviously his character has limitations when you are writing for him, but we involve him in every scene. When you get the other disabled actors on… I know from just working with them, they enjoy working on my show more than do working on a Hallmark movie where they may be a depressed, sad kid at school. Or they may be in a PSA after it. Once you see the show, you don’t feel sorry for anybody on it. I don’t think there is any hate or malice in it.

MAS – With the premise of the show being you playing a comedian, you pull things from your day-to-day life. With the upcoming season, are we looking at more of the same or are you going in some different directions with the characters?

JJ – Each episode is more serialized in this season compared to the first one. Season one was more vaguely serialized, not saying you can’t watch individual episodes out of season two and still get enough out of it to enjoy it. My character has a full arc, Steve has a full arc where he goes into alcoholism… I think we learned a lot from writing the first season which was largely based on my stand-up.

The entire first season was written before we cast anybody. So we didn’t know what the actors were going to be good or bad at. We didn’t know we’d get DJ Qualls or John Ratzenberger. So now, we start writing it based around the strength of the actor and where they are going to be able to take the character. Where you never thought the character could go before.

In season one Steve Nugent was so one-dimensional, then Dan Bakkedahl came along. He is such a good “improver.” I realized that he made such a good drunk that this year I made him an alcoholic.

MAS – The tour you are on now is obviously new material. Is it something that you are using towards a new comedy special or are you just focused on Legit?

JJ – Some bits and pieces I did on the last tour, but for the most part it is all new material. There is nothing that you have ever see me do on one of my specials. If you only have ever watched me on TV, you have never seen any of these jokes.

I will be recording a new special in Boston in couple months. It will probably be 6 months later when we release it. I am fine with the network who will release it, I can’t say who it is yet. I could do that special tomorrow. I am ready to retire some of this material and start fresh again.

There will be a lot of stuff that I will be doing in the show at the theatre that won’t make it into the special or even the next special after that one. I try to keep an hour ahead of myself.

MAS – As far as the future, most talents tend to pick one or the other; stand-up tours or TV. Are you the type that is going to try and do both or do you see a time when show like the one in Durham will be less frequent?

JJ – I think I will always be a little better at stand-up comedy than I will be at acting. Maybe I will get good at acting or something. I always feel like that when I am acting that I am having an affair from comedy. Comedy is my wife and acting is this mistress that I see occasionally. Comedy is my main gig and I think it always will be.

MAS – I recently spoke with Gary Owen from Think Like a Man and Ride Along and he said he has to keep doing stand-up to stay sharp because acting makes him soft. Is that true for you too?

JJ – Once I finish a TV show it takes me another month to get back into the swing of things. I have to push myself and go out every night until I get good at it. I am back in the swing at the moment, everything is good. When I get to Durham it will be great.

MAS – If you could get anything across to the folks attending the show coming up, what would it be?

JJ – In my mind I would say something like, “There is no God” or something else like that. I just don’t give a shit anymore.

The main thing I want to get across is that I want them to have a good time. I’m not going to try and change anyone’s opinion. I’m going to give my opinions and you can do with them what you want. If you don’t agree, keep yours and just wait for the next joke.