Monday, June 14, 2004

Every now and then I make a trip to a mainstream video store, usually Hollywood because I refuse to go to Blockbuster and there really aren't any mom-n-pop stores around my area. (Most of my rentals are through Netflix and two local funky arthouse/weirdo stores.) Anyway, as always I'm surprised by the number of DTV titles that I knew nothing about and this previous weekend by the number of crime films starring rappers. Wonder if there are any undiscovered gems there? Fifty years ago who paid attention to, say, Detour or Kiss Me Deadly?

Anyway the first batch of rentals:

Phone Booth (Joel Schumacher 2002) - Despite my love of Larry Cohen's work, the dread Schumacher kept me away when it was in theatres. As it turns out this could practically have been a stage play and is so tight that it's pretty hard for Schumacher to mess up. By "tight" I don't mean sensible since there are enough plot holes and logical leaps that it's anti-thriller amusing at times (deliberately perhaps?). After all, this is a film where two people die to teach another one that lying is bad; it seems a bit out of proportion but I guess they needed a protagonist that viewers could somewhat identify with. There's enough b-movie energy that this might be worth watching again.

The Cooler (Wayne Kramer 2003) - Promising for the first ten or so minutes and then it becomes one of those "why was this ever filmed" films. It's the kind of thing where the characters stand and unload themselves of monologues explaining exactly who they are and what they want. There's no mystery, no fuzziness, no self-conflict. All the themes are heavily underlined--I laughed out loud at the tipping salt shaker when bad luck is mentioned--and everybody acts just the way they're told to. When the ending appears to be downbeat you might think the filmmakers are taking the cowardly way out but then there's a "twist" so, well, stupid that you think these people (except the cinematographer) should be consigned to a few years on reality TV if not just sent to staff a new Home Depot.

Intolerable Cruelty (Joel Coen 2003) - You can see why this was filmed--money mainly--but can't help but wondering at what point in the production did they realize there was nothing worthwhile in it? Very nearly unwatchable. And by the way, didn't anybody realize that a lawyer would have copies of a legal document like a pre-nuptial so destroying one copy doesn't invalidate it? Actually destroying all of them doesn't necessarily do so.

So when I returned those the store offered a cheap rental deal so I unwisely got three more:

The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman 2002) - I actually intended to see this in theatres though now I can't imagine why. I've never read anything by Ludlum but have always heard they're extremely bad, which must be true if this is any indication. There's an interesting moral issue about whether a person is responsible for actions they have no memory of committing but, well, it's hard to imagine what interested anybody connected with this other than showing Matt Damon for the maximum screen time. Alternately tedious and dumb, the film keeps promising to slide into goofy hijinks (such as the assassin who jumps Python-like out of a window) but mainly it just makes your eyes glaze and your teeth gnash.

Jason vs. Freddy (Ronny Yu 2003) - Talk about shoulda-been goofy hijinks. Surely some half-decent writer could have come up with something clever but apparently these people never tried. Admittedly that's tough to do for two unkillable characters that long ago became self-parodies but hey Wes Craven's New Nightmare managed to be smart and involving. Yu actually brings off a few decent images but he's got so little to work with that you can only wish it was a bigger surprise that Hollywood has destroyed so many Hong Kong talents.

Scorched (Gavin Grazer 2002) - Had never heard of this but since I'm a sucker for comic crime (yes I love Donald Westlake; well not him but his books) and the Python-completest in me noted the appearance of John Cleese. Well, there's a reason I'd never heard of it: This seems to be some kind of tax-shelter film that nobody ever expected would be released. It's just so far beyond implausible and unfunny and anti-life that you almost want to cry at the wasted humanity on view. Even Cleese can't make some of his lines funny (though he otherwise gets the only laughs with the remainder) and everybody else is just wasted. Just for what it's worth: Key plot points would never work because alarm systems record whenever they're used.