Archive for October, 2011

Ever since moving to New York, I’ve had a little trouble settling in. I am, after all, a small town guy (pop. 800), used to fresh air and mountain-based entertainment as opposed to the primary forms of recreation in NYC (endlessly walking, overspending on basic amenities and thinking you’re cooler than everyone based solely on geographical location).

Salt Lake was the perfect-sized city. It was big enough to have some privacy but not so big that you have none at all. I had a decent apartment (even though my room was a little stuffy), decent roommates (even though one of them introduced themselves in the third person AND with a definite article) and a more-than-decent job (besides, you know, the “working for the LDS church” part).

But, after 2 months, I can happily report that I have discovered a slice of New York that makes me think I could actually put living here on my vision board. Roosevelt Freaking Island (the Freaking is silent). Nestled in the literal middle of the East river, the island is 2 miles long (on low tide) and has everything you need without the shouting throngs and a gorgeous view to boot.

Manicured green space, jogging paths, a racquet club, the ruins of a historical landmark (a mental ward, how fun is that?) a pub and Starbucks and an adorable fruit cart right outside the subway. It’s one stop away from midtown or you could take the gondola-thingy up and over the water and just hope the Green Goblin doesn’t show up.

The housing is a little on the pricey side, but the only way I’m staying in NYC is if I snag a swank job at which point I’ll NEED a swank apartment (Sorry Queens, you’re just not helping the image). Lucky for me, I’m not a mindless drone so dead set on living in “the city” that I’ll take 2 jobs waiting tables while I pursue an acting career (you and everybody else darling). I meet one ever day, it’s just sad.

Oh yeah, I still have a thing for empty benches.

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Now that everything has premiered (essentially) and, in most cases, we’ve had a few episodes to get a feel for what the new TV shows are actually going to be, the Honeymoon, as they say, is over. It was fun to set a couple of weeks aside, by copious amounts of ice cream, and spend the bulk of our free time perched in front of the television absorbing the new offers, but now we have children to raise and errands to run and our discretionary time is finite.

So, like all things in life, we must now decide which shows to allocate our scarce time to. The battle lines are drawn for us and we need only choose a side.

Female-centric primetime soap operas:

It’s no secret that I (and the organization I work for) LOVE ABC’s Revenge. There is something intrinsically satisfying about watching the wicked wealthy get their nasty comeuppance. The week to week is juicy delicious goodness as Woman-scorned Emily Thorne cuts through a community of Hamptons dwellers like a hot knife through butter. It’s absurd, melodramatic, and I love every minute of it.

By comparison, CW’s Ringer is an overcooked goose. Sarah Michelle Geller unconvincingly portrays twins that have swapped identities and do little more than look sullenly out of rainy windows and have shaded conversations on horribly green-screen rendered boats.

Winner: Revenge by 35*
*points are given in relative football terms

New York-set crime procedurals with a twist:

I had high hopes for CBS’ Person of Interest. It was being produced by J.J. Abrams (a.k.a God), written/created by Jonathon Nolan (a.k.a. brother of the other God, which makes him, like, Poseidon) and starred Lost’s Michael Emerson (a.k.a. Benjamin Linus) and Jim Caviezel (a.k.a Jesus, woah, I didn’t even plan that). The show circled around a head-twisty concept about solving crimes before they happend and seemed poised to really mess with our heads.

Turns out, it’s exposition city and incredibly boring. As fun as it is watching Cav bust heads, the action scenes are few and far between and there’s literally not a single character on the show with a personality. That’s 44 minutes of facial neutrality and BenLinus pretending to have a limp.

Prime Suspect at NBC also came to the table with a healthy pedigree. It had creator/director Peter Berg (one of my favorite creator directors, I’m not kidding) and the uber-talented Maria Bello as a hard-case female homicide detective (that’s the twist, she’s a girl) with a chip on her shoulder trying to make it in a man’s world. Even though Belo never cracks a smile, she’s a talking ball of old fashioned sass and her backup men provide the comic relief.

The show is good, and just seems to be getting better. I have an unwritten rule that I only watch one crime procedural (currently House) that I’m inclined to break for Prime. It has a tone unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV and manages to squeeze original drama out of the tiredest of subjects .A recent episode involved a suspected child molester, but avoided the SVU look-a-like contest by focusing on how a man’s life is devastated simply by being suspected for a crime he did not commit. Though-feeding stuff.

Plus, the show’s star routinely wears an ascot and fedora. #Winning. And, I would argue she’s one of the most dynamic female characters to ever headline a network television show. Sadly but not surprisingly, despite being one of the best things on television Prime has struggled to find an audience. If things don’t pick up, we probably won’t be talking about it much longer.

Winner: Prime Suspect by 14

Single-camera sitcoms written by Whitney Cummings with a female protagonist (or two):

Yes, these two shows really do have that much in common. The difference? One is successful and the other is on NBC. Note: neither category is a value judgment as lots of crap is successful (2 and 1/2 Men, American Idol) and lots of NBC shows are spectacular (Community, 30 Rock).

When Broke Girls premiered, it did so to mostly positive reviews (including this reviewer) and huge ratings numbers. Problem is, the show has never quite left the awkward pilot feel. It’s single cam is artificial, it’s laugh-track jokes are as over-processed as Kraft Singles and it’s supporting cast is as one dimensional as the carpet. Even that is an overstatement since it only has 3 supporting characters, two of which are just walking stereotypes and the other does little more than hold a pickle jar and sexually harass the shows two stars (no joke, for the first 3 episodes he never puts down the pickle jar. What is that?)

This show started good and has drastically deteriorated. On the other hand, Whitney has consistently sucked. The female lead (Cummings in the flesh) is about as unlikeable as a main character can be and the show itself is probably the least-funny comedy you’ll ever see. That said, unlike it’s sister show on CBS, Whitney at least HAS a supporting cast who, as strange as they may be, can actually produce a chuckle here and there and the scenery at least colorful and not incessantly dirty (like Broke Girls). Whitney premiered at an unimipressive 5 and hasn’t moved wheras 2 Broke Girls came in at a 7 and has since dropped to a 3.

Winner: Whitney by a late fourth quarter field goal.
Loser: America

Period pieces set in exotic locales

One’s about a squad of Pan Am stewardesses at the dawn of the jet age and the other is about a colony of humans living in the Jurassic age (if that was even a thing, I have my doubts). Originally, Pan Am was set to be competing with The Playboy Club but when that show proved to be the least provocative thing to ever include the name “Playboy” it was yanked from the air.

Incidentally, these two shows have more in common than the far-fetched connection I drew for their category. Both were very high profile premieres for their respective networks and have underperformed in the ratings (Pan Am debuted strong bat has since fallen and Terra Nova has posted upper single digits that would be fine for a sitcom but not for the “most expensive TV show ever created?)

Nova, with its something-for-everyone format, is stuck in a creative limbo as it strives to appeal to the largest possible audience. Its serial Lost-y mythology is clunky and overbearing, it’s Dino-action CG sequences look terrible, it’s angsty teen love is formulaic and uninspired and it’s procedural weekly arcs are, in essence, meh. Episode 3 gave the main characters amnesia in a “race for a cure” that seemed like a bad episode of The X Files or a worse episode of House and Episode 2 involved 44 minutes of the colony being attacked by laughably cartoon Dino-birds. Simply put, it falls short.

Pan Am, on the other hand, is trying to milk every last nostalgic drop out of it’s 1960s cow. The girls look great, the “God is in the Details” glamor of early jet travel (cigarettes, personal service, comfortable seats and a lounge in the plane) make for a wish-you-were-here sentiment and the historical backdrops of the Cold War and JFK presidency makes for a nice history lesson. It’s a lot of dessert but not a lot of meat and potatoes, yet. The cast is likeable and they have plenty of room to stretch their wings.

In the end, despite the lush landscapes of Nova, it’s the Come Fly With Me world of Pan Am that makes me say “I want to go to there.”

Winner: Pan Am by 10

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*4th and FINAL (at last) post examining this year’s fall tv premieres.

Last Man Standing

If you were born any time before 1995, you likely remember the sitcom “Home Improvement” where Tim Allen starred as a husband and father of three boys who worked as the host of a male-targeted home improvement television program. The series was wildly successful, a staple of mid-90s television, and, thanks to it’s young cast member Jonathon Taylor Thomas, had full spectrum multi-gender appeal.

In Allen’s triumphant return to television, Last Man Standing on ABC, he stars as a husband and father of three girls who works as the manager of a male-targeted sporting goods store.

Yes, it’s the same show.

Problem is, it’s not the 90’s anymore and the same old jokes and the same ole traditional multi-camera family sitcom don’t resonate anymore. The cast is likeable enough and it may get a few laughs in its 22 minutes of screen time but ultimately the experience is unmemorable. You’re not likely to be chatting about last night’s ep at the watercooler.

A lot of people showed up for the premiere but I suspect the numbers will nosedive in the coming weeks. That’s not to say that the show won’t survive. I could see this show taking it’s older-skewing demographic and dwindling in obscurity for more seasons than it should a la According to Jim. In the meantime, don’t waste your time.
Grade: C+
Class: Kill and Bury


In it’s 6th season, Psych is plenty comfortable and therefore doesn’t have to settle to cheap flash-in-the-pan tricks to draw viewers. It has a devoted fan base, comfortable ratings, positive critical appeal and while it would welcome new viewers it’s fine just where it is (sidenote: If you’re not a viewer, I guarantee you that you’ll be intrigued after 1 episode and completely hooked after 3)

When we last saw the gang, Carlton had walked in on Shawn and Juliet sharing a secret kiss and in the premiere we find him desperate to expose his partner’s relationship. The investigation takes a back seat to the character play (who cares) and we get some great moments as Lassie takes turns hooking Juliet and Shawn up to a polygraph test.

Yes, he hooks a man who lies about possessing Psychic abilities…up. to. a. lie. detector. test.

It’s a refreshing premiere in how not premiere it is. It’s just one more great episode in a long list of great episodes and sets up the Shawn and Juliet story arc that will obviously dominate the season. Psych is one of three shows that in my opinion navigated the post will-they-won’t-they entrapment perfectly (the others being Scrubs and The Office). I don’t expect any melodramatic wrenches thrown in for fabricated “tension,” they’re dating, it was inevitable, get over it and solve some murders.

(Sidenote 2: I’ve seen the next 3 episodes and numbers 2 and 4 are ESPECIALLY awesome)
Grade: B+
Class: Subscribe

The Walking Dead

TWD had some big shoes to fill. Its teasingly short-lived first season was universally heralded as one of the best things to ever hit the small screen. To complicate matters, showrunner Frank Darabont was replaced halfway through the hiatus, leaving the crew to scramble the team together and forge ahead.

We find our gang of survivors recouping after their near-death experience at the CDC and heading toward some fort (it doesn’t matter, they ain’t gonna get there). They get trapped by stalled cars on the freeway and have to hide as a roving “herd” of Walkers (zombies) ambles by. In the ensuing tension, one of the kids goes missing after running off into the forest, prompting the gang to go searching for her.

The showrunners reportedly spliced 2 episodes together to make the 90-minute premiere and it shows. The premiere has some truly edge-of-your-seat moments but gets lost in the between lulls that seem to go on, stagnated, forever. Eventually they find themselves at a church house and spend what seems like an eternity as nearly every character gets to monologueize about god and faith. There’s a fascinating theological debate that underlies these moments (how would zombies fit into the contemporary christian view of life, death and the afterlife?) yet the show never quite gets there, instead dragging it’s feet.

That said, TWD dragging it’s feet is still streets ahead of most typical tv dramas on their best weeks. The final scene is an absolute doozey and the “scenes from next week” had me literally giggling in anticipatory ecstasy.
Grade: B
Class: Subscribe

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A common fable is that in the early days of motion pictures, the audience ran screaming from a theater when the film they were watching showed a train coming into a station. The story, which is most likely false, is fun to think about in the same way old-timers like to reminisce about what used to cost a nickel way back when.

We go to the movies for a number of reasons: escapism, relaxation, to make out on the back row, and of course, to sit in wonder and think “how did they do that?” In the years since the technological dawn of computer generated images we, as a people, have begun to grow a healthy skepticism towards all-out CG shlok fests. We’ve been burned too many times by lazy filmakers who trade depth for dazzle and as a result, a dichotomy has grown to the point that every film is categorized as either good or effect-driven.

It didn’t use to be mutually exclusive. Lord of the Rings blew our minds and made us care at the same time. Gladiator, with it’s epic battles and larger than life sets, gave us a chilling history lesson bathed in blood. It’s easy to lay the blame on the filmmakers (George Lucas, Michael Bay, etc.) but we, the audience are slightly to blame as well. We’ve lost the ability to be dazzled.

So arrives Real Steel, a movie about a father and son reconciling with the backdrop of Robot Boxing. When the ads first came out, many of us shared a collective groan, “Robot Boxing? Seriously” But why not? Who says a movie about pugilistic androids can’t be good? Is it really any different than Rocky, or Remember the Titans?

Turns out it’s not. Real Steal packs an emotional punch along with it’s mechanical bouts of strength and it does so with one of the most conventional tools in the game: a kid. We meet 11-year-old Max early in act I, the abandoned child of protagonist Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) who, after the passing of his mother, needs a legal guardian. Kenton is a down-on-his-luck former boxer trying to find his place in a world where the game has changed.

Kenton is down a robot (2, actually) and up to his neck in illegitimate debts. He and Jr. go scavenging through a junkyard and happen upon an older-model robot, built to take a beating and not much else, and after tenacious insisting by Jr., they lug the old bot to the shop and hope to fight another day.

Turns out, Atom’s (the robot) unique shadow-boxing design makes him easier for Kenton (a former pro) to control and so the terrible trio of Father, Son and Robot begin climing the ladder toward the appropriately named world champion: Zeus.

The structure is a textbook underdog sports story. There’s no shocking reveals or twists and turns. Where it not for the spectacular effects (frankly, I’m inclined to say it’s the best I’ve ever seen) Real Steel would be the most traditional movie of the year. Even weirder, it’s squeaky clean. You could watch this movie with your mother, shucks, you could watch it with your grandmother.

It’s a no-frills, feel good, family flick that just happens to feature boxing robots. In a way it’s the least-flashy flashy film you’ve ever seen, and shares more in common with films from a simpler time than it’s shiny contemporaries. It may not quite have the heart of Rocky, but by the final fight as the seconds count down to the end of the 5th round you’ll be cheering for Atom as much as you would any human character.
Grade: B+

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Every so often, a show comes along that despite being loved by the critics and adored by its fans fails to find an audience. While season after season of trashy reality shows like American Idol (10 and counting) or uninspired rubbish like According to Jim (8 seasons, seriously?) seem to exist in unending perpetuity, these smart, entertaining pop culture gems dwindle in obscurity, perched on the edge of the abyss.

You’ve heard their names: Firefly, Arrested Development, Freaks, Love Monkey (ok, you might not have heard of that last one, but it was really good). You may have even been a fan, but you sat idly by while the collective unconsciousness of our cultural soup gummed these diamonds into mushy oblivion.

Simply put, if Community’s ratings don’t improve it will not survive another season. It’s time to send out the Save Our Show distress call.

For those of you who don’t watch (shame on you) Community is pure, elegant, brilliance. It’s first season started slow, but steadily built into a lean, mean, fat-reducing comedy machine. It’s second season was, in a word: Perfection. For the 2010-2011 season you could not find a more consistent laugh out loud comedy on the air. Anywhere.

Now we’re in season 3. The premiere was great, introducing a stellar John Goodman and quickly spiraling into all-out crazy town. The next two episodes were, to be frank, meh. I was worried, the quality was not up to par and the ratings. wouldn’t. stop. falling.

Then, last night, we had episode 4, Remedial Chaos Theory, which did what the show does best: Absurdity. The gang gathered at Casa De La Chez Trobed for a housewarming party and because of a roll of the die segmented into 7 alternate timelines. Pierce was shot, Britta got high, Shirley lost her mind, Troy lost his larynx and Jeff lost an arm — in ONE timeline anyway.

It is a stellar piece of television. Entertainment Weekly TV reviewer Ken Tucker (a.k.a. God) made it his pick of the night, saying it was one of the best episodes to date and should not be missed. And yet, AMERICA MISSED IT.

Most of them anyway. Do you see Annie in the above picture? Do you see how Sad Panda she is? That’s how I felt this morning when I saw the ratings report. NOT GOOD. The only reason this show is even on the air is because NBC gets a hit show about as often as I ovulate. Their most successful new series is Whitney. WHITNEY, PEOPLE! Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Sunday night football, NBC would have to close up shop. NBC! The nation’s first national broadcasting network!

These are dire times indeed. I’m sure that most of you, like me, love this show but we need to go on the offense. We need to get people hooked. We need to shout our love from the rooftops. We need to push this series like Shirley pushes pies. Guys — and this is important — friends don’t let friends NOT watch Community. Ok?

So get all ponzi scheme up in here. If you don’t personally cause 5 people to be addicted to this show then you’ll only have yourself to blame when NBC gives it the axe in January. And remember, HULU doesn’t count, I suggest you make plans so that you can be home, at the ready, each Thursday at 8 p.m./7 central.

Good hunting.

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*Third in a series of posts examining the Fall 2011 TV Premieres.

Things are winding down. We only have two entries this week and after Walking Dead, Psych and 30 Rock finally premiere in the coming weeks we’ll be essentially done. p.s. I’ve already seen Psych and I can’t really tell you about it but… (smiley face)


Me and House have an interesting relationship. I fell hard and fast when it first premiered and made it through the first 2 seasons solid before the weekly freak-of-the-week premise started to wane on me (oh really? It’s NOT lupus again?).

So I abandoned it and it went on in my peripheral vision for a few years. Then, two season ago, I heard that Dr. Gregory House was in a mental institution being rehabilitated from his drug addiction. I was intrigued. That premiere was fantastic, and the subsequent season which showed House off the drugs and fighting to improve his life under the watchful care of a therapist was fan-freaking-tastic (Olivia Wilde didn’t hurt anything either). I got back on board like we had never been apart.

Then there was last season. The first half was spent with House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein, who I’ve never cared much for) in a boring and horrendously implausible relationship. Spoiler They break up, and the back half of the season shows Hosue back on the pills and acting out in ways so over the top insane that the original moniker of “Genius with bad bedside manner” is shot completely. All the progress made in the character the prior season was completely scrapped and the show as a whole just because convoluted, melodramatic and a little juvenile.

Which brings us to the premiere. House is in prison for Spoiler driving his car through Cuddy’s front room in a fit of jealous rage. He’s about to be released on parole but is having a hard time falling in line with the inmate heirarchy, althewhile trying to diagnose a fellow inmate. It was a cute 44 minutes (and featured the lovely Odette Annable who I know from Cloverfiled. It always makes me happy to see the Cloverfield actors working) but altogether uninspiring.

Sorry, Doc. I had vowed to stop watching this show and the premiere did little to change my mind.
Grade: B-
Class: Kill and Bury

American Horror Story

As far as pilots are concerned, American Horror is just about perfect. Let’s face it, most TV shows are either a re-interpretation of The Cosby Show, Seinfield, Friends, Law and Order, or M.A.S.H. It’s not the studios fault, certain things just work and we, the viewers, expect certain things. Still, every year the networks roll out a new slate of shows promising us, for whatever reason, that it’s “fresh” and “like nothing you’ve seen before.” New Girl, they tell you, is groundbreaking because it has a female lead with male supporting players. Person of Interest, they say, is different than all the other crime serials because they stop crimes before they occur. Et Cetera, Et Cetera.

Well folks, American Horror is literally like nothing you’ve ever seen. Ever.

The pilot gives us just enough backstory without beating us over the head with exposition. Wife has a stillborn pregnancy. The ensuing marital issues contribute to an extra-marital affair. A repentant father eager to keep his family together moves his clan to a L.A. for a fresh start. Oh yeah, and the house they move into just happens to be haunted.

Of course, THEY don’t know that. Yet. But we do. It’s dramatic irony, except instead of a piano about to be dropped on a mime’s head, we have a mysterious creature named “The Infantada” lurking in the basement, a cleaning lady who’s a little something for everyone and a man in a rubber fetish suit lurking around and Spoiler possibly impregnating mom?

The pilot is a lot of setup, but under the crazytown tutelage of Ryan Murphey, (the Glee guy, which makes it even better) setup has never been more intoxicating. AHS is a show built on that emotion we feel when we wonder if we should look away but don’t want to. On the literall sense the show is definitely M for Mature, with 2 sex scenes and 2 other sexy-time scenes, not to mention a hefty amount of Dillon McDermott au naturel. In the metaphorical sense the plot deals with emotional damage and scars and the way that human beings can act when they are motivated, for good or ill.

I still have no idea where this show is going, or how they’re going to get there, but I’m curious enough to find out. I’ve been told by my colleagues at EW that Episode 2 is “the scariest thing you’ve ever seen.” This IS water cooler entertainment. The show’s subject material is definitely not for everyone but whether you tune in or not I personally guarantee that you’ll be hearing about it.
Grade: A
Class: Subscribe

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I have long been an opponent of the so-called 3D revolution. I say “so-called” because 3D movies have been around for a long time. It seems like every 10-15 years we go through a nauseating period where studio execs push 3D on us and eventually as a society, we tell them to go die.

The first time they tried was back in the 1950s. True story. Obviously they didn’t have the technology that we possess now to even ATTEMPT a decent three-dimensional cinematic experience but hey, they tried. And failed. Then we saw another push in the 80’s, the 90’s and the early 00’s (the Spy Kids 3-D era). By that point the technology was well and good but the experience itself was so gimmicky that no filmmaker even bothered with it unless they were contractually obligated to make a festering pile of excrement.

Then a guy named James Cameron had to come along, make absolutely obscene amounts of money with Avatar and suddenly studio execs were once again wetting themselves at the idea of using 3D to rob the american public.

That is what it’s about. Money. James Cameron was sincere when he talked about wanting to create a truly immersive visual experience and I’ll give credit where credit is due. Even though the actual plot was the most recycled thing in American Cinema (equal parts Pocahontas, Fern Gulley, Tarzan and a pinch of The Matrix) the visuals where incredible.

When the makers of Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, Clash of the Titans 3D and Piranha 3D (and the upcoming 3DD) talk about the technology serving the story: they are lying to your face.

Back to the point. I’ve been saying this for years and most people agree with me. Every now and then, however, I run into someone who obviously can’t tell a good movie from a hole in the ground and they ask me “Weeeeeel, how do you know if you’ve never seeeeeeeeeeeeeen one?”

I’ve never been shot, or mauled by lions, or contracted Dengue (the bone break fever) or watched Jershey Shore but I feel pretty confident assuming that the experience would be unpleasant.

So, last night I watched a 3D film. It was for work and it was for free (which helps the experiment because I wasn’t financially invested). I’m contractually forbidden from telling you what movie it was, suffice to say that it was visually-creative and action-oriented.

For the entire 2 hours I was aware that I was wearing glasses. It was like when you have a muscle tick, constantly pulling your focus away from what you’re doing. I never reached a point where I was truly immersed in the story and not keenly aware that I was viewing the world through a plastic lens. My guest was also wearing a pair of prescription glass, meaning she had to double up and which I can only imagine totally sucks.

For the first 30 minutes my eyes couldn’t focus. Any camera movement or fast movement from the actors (remember, action movie) would go blurry and the constant re-adjusting my eyes were doing gave me a mild headache.

The actual image (when in focus) didn’t look “realistic” in fact, it just looked weird. Real life looks nothing like a 3D movie. Truth be told, real life looks pretty 2D. That’s why people paint, and take photographs, and hang things on their walls. It’s called perspective, and it’s supposed to go away from you. Can you imagine if everything in life visually came out at you? I don’t want to live in that world.

Lastly, and most importantly, the 3D served no purpose. The movie would have looked just as awesome (I would argue awesomer) and the story would have been told just as well (I would argue weller) and Freida Pinto would have looked just as hot (I would argue ho………oh crap, don’t tell anyone I said that).

In short. I have seen 3D and I was not amused. If I had been forced to pay and extra two to five dollars to have a weird, blurry headache I would be speaking in much harsher terms right now.

3D is nonsense. The studios are trying to shove it down our throats because it means more mullah for them. It is purely an economic exercise. They have no interest in improving the quality of the movie-going experience or improving the quality of films. They just. want. your. money.

Please, stop giving it to them and don’t let the people you love spend their money on 3D. Friends don’t let friends watch 3D. It is a gimmick used to lure viewers into terrible films, or to glean more money out of the movies that we actually want to see. And I will have none of it.

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