April 2000
s m u g
feed hollywood
by Brian Thomas

America, Germany, and seeing something else

Well the Oscars have come and gone, and I'm proud to say that ALL of my predictions came true! Billy Crystal made a Bill Clinton sex joke. Actresses who complain that the only roles for women are as sex objects compete to expose the most flesh in public. Celebrity-obsessed Melissa Rivers failed to recognize some big stars. Trained performers routinely paid millions had difficulty reading a few lines off a teleprompter. I tell ya, I'm another Criswell. I further predict that by tax day you'll have forgotten who was nominated.

The Awards? Heck, who can predict those? In order to have any kind of valid reckoning of what is going to win, one would have to have seen all of the nominated films. Even the Academy members cheat on that. As for me, I was too busy watching American Pie, American Movie, American Kickboxer, American Cyborg, American Werewolf in Copenhagen, and The American President to see American Beauty, and I still haven't caught up with American Tigers, American Dreamers, American Psycho, American Nightmare, American Ninja 2 and 5, American Hot Wax, American Drive-In, American Graffiti, American Streetfighter, and Cider House Rules. And oh, there's also that episode of <>Will and Grace I taped last week - gotta make some time to watch that, too.

Frankly, the Academy Awards are more about movies that you're supposed to watch, than movies you want to watch. Oh, it's okay to want to see them, too - but the emphasis, in the minds of most people, is on respect rather than just enjoyment. But that's my shame - I'm always watching the wrong movies.

Take the other night, for example. The Biscuit and I were taking advantage of an invitation to attend the opening of a new movie theater in town. These days, when we say "theater" we're technically talking about a group of screening rooms with a common entrance and three dollar Cokes, but this isn't a technical column, so let's let it pass. I think Biswick is writing the technical column this month. Anyway, the theater is beautiful. It's way up at the top of a mall, which is made up of a spiral going up seven stories or so, with lots of cute little shops selling very expensive and exquisite crap that you can probably get much cheaper with a little digging with one of the better search engines. The walls are done in calming shades of blue. The stadium seats are roomy and comfortable. A jazz band played classic opening-of-theater/gallery/car wash type music. Best of all, there was a lot of great food - aside from small portions of all their concessions snacks, the good people of Landmark Cinemas sprung for a decent caterer. While I diverted the attention of my fellow mooching critics, the Biscuit crammed her purse full of turkey & cucumber wraps and mini cheesecake muffins.

To cap off the evening, they planned to have a premiere screening of a new film. I'm happy to see just about anything, which comes in handy in this line of work, but my dear wife, on the other hand, has a lick of sense and wanted to find out more about the film before we committed to the screening. The poster featured a sexy woman in a low-cut red dress. I'm sold! But at the Biscuit's urging I investigated a bit further, and found that the film was called Winter Sleepers, "the new film by the director of Examining the fine print, I found that this was actually an earlier film called Winterschläfer, made by German director Tom Tykwer two years before Run Lola Run, and now dusted off to cash in on his big art house hit from last year. It's apparently some sort of complex relationship drama.

I try not to build up prejudices like this. I happen to be a big fan of German cinema, especially from the great days of UFA, and the Edgar Wallace crimis of the early '60s. But neither one of us could recall seeing many really good German films from the past thirty years (except maybe Das Boot) and neither of us felt like sitting through two hours of subtitled footage to find out if Winterschläfer was an exception - not with our guts bulging with the aforementioned free eats, anyway.

Not wanting to let the opportunity pass me by, I tried to corner the projectionist and bribe him into digging out a print of Romeo Must Die. I knew that it was to open that coming weekend, and I was anxious to see Jet Li in his first starring role in an American film. No such luck - this particular theater was trying to draw a classier crowd, and had decided to pass on kung fu movies for the time being. I thought about trying to trick the manager into booking it under the guise that it was based on Shakespeare and featured an acclaimed international cast, but figured they were probably wise to the truth. [I soon caught up with Romeo, and found that it is indeed far from The Bard. It's more about mixing up urban hip-hop crime films with Chinese fight movies, with mixed results. Li is fine - not up to the incredible speed and grace to be seen in his Once Upon A Time in China films, and the camerawork is sometimes too flashy for it's own good, but fun to watch nonetheless. The cast is good, and the action keeps things going enough that you don't have to pay much attention to the dopey plot. Worth a Sunday afternoon or an overnight rental.]

Before giving up, I noticed a poster up for High Fidelity, a comedy we'd both seen and loved a couple weeks before and would be happy to see again. John Cusack stars as a Chicago record store owner trying to straighten out his love life, but unable to come to grips with the fact that his soul is stuck in a rut. A very funny film, and perfect to show to a home town crowd and get some good vibes and energy into the place. I offered to thread the projector myself and hand out bags of popcorn. The manager offered to hang my picture in the box office. No, not the autographed kind - the keep-an-eye-out-for-this-pest kind. I offered to shut up and leave immediately.

What's to be learned by this? I don't know, except that, even though there's a lot of movies being made that are well balanced, full of vitamins, and build strong bodies twelve ways, there are also a lot of movies that just make you happy. It's not homework - it's entertainment. The nutritional content should be a painless bonus, and nobody ever got irritable bowel syndrome from a kung fu movie.



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