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TiVo Taken 'Hostage'

The latest installment in the long-running series "Keep TiVo, Inc. Solvent" was downloaded to my unit the other day. And I watched it. The funny little fact is that I bought a device which allows me to skip the commercials during the shows I watch and yet I have gone purposely out of my way to watch the extra commercials the TiVo automatically downloads for me. Yes, I have watched advertisements for Best Buy (its Electronic Feng Shui spots), the films "Mr. Deeds," "Red Dragon," and "Austin Powers in Goldmember," the boxed set of James Bond DVDs, and videos by Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, and Vanessa Carlton, even though the only one of those things I'd ever shown any interest in was Gwen Stefani's underwear.

This newest item to be downloaded is the most interesting (underwear excepted), though. It's a nine-minute mini-movie involving -- or perhaps a nine-minute extended commercial for -- a Bavarian auto manufacturer. And while it's really just the logical extension of those car commercials starring Udo Kier which aired a few years back, it's a leap forward in terms of quality: Directed by John Woo, produced by the Scott brothers Ridley and Tony and former commercial director David Fincher, starring Clive Owen ("Croupier") and Maury Chaykin (about eight million movies -- trust me, you've seen the guy).

These little mini-movies have been available for download on the Web for ages but this is the first time that I know of they've been "broadcast." Others in the series were directed by John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, and Guy Ritchie; upcoming, my TiVo promises, are shorts directed by Joe Carnahan and Tony Scott himself.

The series as a whole is called "The Hire." The most recent installment, "Hostage," is a really neat little film. The short format means we can gloss over details which might derail a feature. Clive Owen appears to be working for the FBI -- so why are the local police chasing him in his fancy car? Well, the reason is, so we can see how fancy the car is. "Hostage" is an exercise in pure style -- typical John Woo, really -- which never loses sight of who is footing the bill. Thus we get a large number of shots of Clive Owen manhandling the gearshift, twisting the car into turns, skidding to a stop, and so on, all the while with this look on his face like he's trying really hard not to drop his ben wa balls.

And that is possibly the ad's only fault: It sure doesn't make driving this car look like much fun. At one point Clive's got the car up to about 120 and suddenly the darn thing flies off the road "Bullitt"-style only to come crashing down unpleasantly hard. And you can actually see, in between one frame of film and the next, in your mind's eye, the tow truck come and haul away the $60,000 tangle of wrecked German machinery and the new car drive up for Clive to get into.

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want my car to come flying off the road for no reason. I especially don't want this happening if I owe the balance of a year's salary on said car. And I definitely don't want the paramedics to find me in the driver's seat looking like I'm trying to hold a greased hardboiled egg between my butt cheeks. But that's what this commercial is telling me will happen if I buy this car.

So as a fun little exercise in filmmaking, "The Hire" series is perfect. As an advertisement, though, it's notso hotso. And if it keeps TiVo afloat, I'm all for it.


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