Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Fugitive II: Hard Target Search

A former female roommate of mine who'd known me a little while used to give me a hard time whenever I'd get all Grizzly Adams around the house and grow out a beard. Usually in winter, but often just for more supreme facial structure definition (meaning "I think it looks better, sometimes"), I'd let the chin hairs get a little long... and she'd be merciless about it.

"My mother always said not ever to trust a man with a beard," she'd remark.

"Feh!! Yer mom don't know nuthin'!" I'd respond mock-angrily.

My recent days have been bearded ones, me being too tired/lazy/or some such, to shave. The other night at the job, I was in the not altogether unusual situation where I was forced to have a few words with a particularly rude woman at the store who had the unfortunate but similarly not altogether unusual luck of having her three night's DVD rental choices already taken out by other customers in the previous few days. She huffed her way out of the store and that was that. Not long after, I finally got it together to shave and took the razor my facial whiska'z. The next day after that, this happens...


A sizable male Customer enters the store. He's composed, but his Tommy Lee Jones-like eyes show that he has some purpose here this day. He approaches the clean-shaven Associate, counterside.

Hey bud, you got some guy in here with
a beard?

Uh... Sometimes.

My wife says she came in here the other night
and said some bearded guy was bein' rude.

Well, I was here for that actually and to tell you
the truth she was the one raising her voice and
getting testy in the store, all angry that the movies
she wanted were already checked out.

(shrugs a little)
That does sound a little more right. She's my lady
and all, but... She can be a little... Y'know.

Heh... I hear ya.'

Alright then. No big deal. Thanks.
And sorry 'bout whatever happened.

No problem. Glad to help. And I'll tell the bearded
guy you stopped by.

Cool, thanks again.

Maybe my former roommate's mom knew something, after all. :)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Warning Shots

Something is happening. Something horrible. There is a plague in our midst, movie fans. It is reportedly happening everywhere and if it's not too late it must be stopped. I have my doubts. I think it's already too late. In our complacency and our fear, we've let them take so very much already. They roam our places of enjoyment and are taking over our cities like a dreaded zombie horde. I'm referring to one of the most vile creatures ever to walk our streets. I'm referring, of course, to people in movie theater audiences who won't shut the hell up .

It's to be expected that whenever a populace gets together there will be a select group of idiots who will -- without care for the rules of society and common decency -- have a little too much fun and ruin things for others. Be they schoolyard bullies, family barbecue drunkards, soccer hooligans or Lindsay Lohan... the right to free speech is forever locked in battle with the right to behave like a blithering fool. Things seem to be coming to a boil, at least in the city of Boston. And not just at the movies.

Back in May, fisticuffs famously broke out in, of all places, an orchestral performance by Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall -- not the sort of place you'd expect to encounter a battle royale. But it happened and it was in fact stirred by one patron's refusal to deal with another patron's refusal to stop talking during the performance. Onlookers were shocked... including Lockhart, who reportedly "stood there quietly" for a moment. Which is a pity, really. I like to think that if John Williams were still there, he might've had the orchestra begin playing a few bars from Episode One's "Duel Of The Fates."

At a recent screening at Davis Square's Somerville Theater of the Chuck Norris 80's actioner, The Delta Force, those of us who went to have a great old time watching Chuck kick ass for God and Country were forced to deal with five, gel-haired, polo-shirted, receding hairlined, aging frat boy, pseudo accountants who seemed to think they were hosting their own private episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Now sure, something as cheesy/fun as a Norris flick should be enjoyed by all and one can understand the desire to poke fun at the jingoism in the politically charged but unabashed-entertainment film. But post 9/11 there's a lot of the film that just isn't really very funny these days and even more that wasn't meant to get laughs to begin with, such as the uncomfortable sequence where an airplane in Greece is hijacked by Lebanese terrorists and they begin to call out a list of Jewish-American and Israeli passengers to be used as hostages. The aforementioned social misfits in the theater audience a few feet away from us had been snickering and howling inappropriately since the opening credits but it was at this point that I couldn't take any more. I walked up behind them and had to grit my teeth at the fact that I was living in a world where I had to say to five people, "Excuse me boys, I'm gonna have to ask you not to laugh out loud during the parts of the movie where they're rounding up the Jews."

Does the behavior of these people come from upbringing? From theater management's refusal to get involved and police their own patrons? I worked in a suburban cineplex (just out of high school) from 1988 to 1994 and we would regularly throw out troublemakers -- once, the first two rows of people who were acting up during the opening night of a Halloween sequel. Granted, that was some time ago. Nowadays you're likely to suffer an after-work beatdown (or worse) in the parking garage if you reprimand someone with a "crew."

Perhaps it's technology. We humans have become so dependent on our gizmos that we can watch a movie wherever we like -- on our phones, our game systems, even our goddamn refrigerators -- that maybe we feel that we're owed something if we deign to pay for a full price theater ticket. And with our HDTV/digital surround home theater systems, we're used to being in charge of our own theaters and saying whatever we like as loudly we like. Are we (reminder: by we I mean they) becoming so comfortable and so used to the world being our entertainment oyster that we no longer give a damn about the person next to us if they're not our bud, our kid or our sexual conquest?

I mean... friends of mine just told me about a midnight showing of another 80's classic, Tron, coming up in a week or two. But I can't imagine it going anything but badly as the wonder and delight of those who love the film will most likely be drowned out by beer-drunk tools who will yuk it up to one another and moistly shout things like, "Hey look, it's "Dude" from Lebowski!" and "Videogames sucked back in the day, bruh."

I'm starting to think that film attendance should be as difficult as buying a handgun. There should be a five-day waiting period for movie tickets. We've gotta take back the night and I'm gonna use a golf club if I have to. The zombies must be stopped. "Kill the head and the body will die," someone once said. But then again, that smacks of violent overthrow and that's no good for anybody. Not when you can just as easily bring an extra twenty dollars with you to the theater for after the show in the parking lot. Some crackheads will urinate on anybody for twenty dollars...

...Or so I've heard.

Now please rise for our new National Anthem...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Before & After: Rush Hour 3

In this blog's continual search for ways to enliven what passes for film criticism these days, we now take a look at the recently released third entry in the Rush Hour series, starring Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker and directed by Brett Ratner. Today, we'll examine the film from a "before and after" approach, in which a few misgivings about the films are discussed, pre-screening and a few insights are concluded with, post-screening.
Some Spoilers Follow!

BEFORE (August 11, 2007)
How strange it is to see, as a Jackie Chan fan since 1992 (the day being the one when my good friend Mark showed me the first 5 minutes of Armour Of God), that I'm pretty much the target audience for a movie like Rush Hour 3 and even I can't muster much enthusiasm for it.

Rush Hour 2 had a dramatic drop in quality from it's predecessor, so I'm imagining this third entry will too. Whereas the original Rush Hour was solid pretty much all the way through, somewhere along the line the creators of RH2 forgot the thing that made us appreciate Chris Tucker's "Carter" character in the first place: he was a great cop. Sure he was occasionally obnoxious but his police instincts and his desire to get in good with the Federal Agents on the case (the kidnapping of the daughter of a prominent Ambassador) made him sort of endearing... and when it came down to action-time toward the film's climax he dispatched his opponent capably and with a touch of humor. In RH2, he was reduced to a boorish, running and screaming buffoon and his character weakened the entire film. (He was barely even a cop, really.) I hope Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson at least restore his character to some small measure of dignity in RH3.

At least there's no new "Shanghai" sequel with Jackie and Owen Wilson on the way (Knights was similarly a major letdown after the fun of Noon), so that's something of a blessing. That said, I'm always ready for some new Hong Kong Jackie films. I very much enjoyed New Police Story and Rob-B-Hood, and even The Myth to a certain extent. Still, I'll get out to the theater to catch Rush Hour 3. As a movie fan, sometimes you've just gotta support the greatness of Jackie Chan, no matter what.

AFTER (August 12, 2007)
The verdict is: "
Genial but weak." I was reasonably entertained but they could do so much more with this series.

For instance, take the Young Martial Arts Students... Why not have them all bust out like crazy in their own action scene? Imagine them going after Chan & Tucker on their own and giving them a comical beatdown. That's what might've happened if this were a movie that really cared about being innovative. Hell, then they could've brought the gang back at the climax of the film as back-up and we could've had a dozen screaming Kung Fu Kids running around the Eiffel Tower, too (and calling back in theme to an earlier scene in which Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom plays on a nearby television while Tucker gets Chinese food.) As much fun as the French taxi driver "George" was (and he truly was a real highlight), I wondered what might have been had Ratner had the foresight to cast, say, Sami Naceri (of France's own infamous Taxi film series) in the part. And what is it that these films have for blue-screen/CGI gags involving heights and huge pieces of fabric? After the Rush Hour movies and Shanghai Knights (which "borrowed" it's last stunt from Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies), it seems that there's at least one pair of stunt people who like to recycle their tarp and flag gags.

Though it seemed that the narrative might have been tipping a hat to Johnnie To's Election films with it's use of Triad Elections as a plot device, I read somewhere that an earlier installment had a story sending Lee and Carter to Japan. They should've stuck with that, I think, for all the Parisian flavor this film had and all it's talk of Yakuza and such. Hiroyuki Sanada made an engaging villain and Jingchu Zhang was a fine damsel in distress -- but what these kind of films need is more scenes featuring characters like them and their own internal struggles. (What do they do when they're not in the room with Lee and Carter? Showing us would make them more interesting and well-rounded characters.) And while I've loved Youki Kudoh ever since Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, her part was no more than your standard kung-fu hitwoman and she's barely given a chance to shine. Chan and Tucker get more laughs than wows... But someone needs to butch up Tucker's film work once and for all. With his straining voice and aging swagger, Tucker is -- to quote fellow buddy coppers Riggs & Murtaugh -- "too old for this shit." Be that all as it may... the Chan/Tucker chemistry is still there, the car stunts and set pieces are still relatively impressive, the Eiffel Tower sequence has its moments and as the femme fatale, Noemie Lenoir can accurately be referred to as "the new hotness." Catching this at one's local cinema is still a decent enough way to beat the August heat for a couple of hours. **1/2 stars out of four ("good/not great")

Theatrical Reviews

The Simpsons Movie ****
The Host (Korea) ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***1/2
The Delta Force (1986) **1/2
Transformers **
Hero and the Terror (1988) *

DVD/Home Video:
Jaws (1975) ****
Zodiac ****
Jigoku: Criterion Collection (Japan) ***
Welcome To Collinwood (2002) ***
Dog Bite Dog (Hong Kong) ***
The Negotiator (Japan) ***
I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay (Korea) **1/2
Renaissance (France) **1/2
Yo Yo Girl Cop (Japan) *