Thursday, May 31, 2007

Introducing Two Buck Schmuck


Today I start a hopefully somewhat regular feature.

Late last millenia I had quite the lovely time reporting on the dregs of Hollywood after it had dripped from the first-run moviehouses on to the sticky floors of the Davis Theater.

A few things have happened since my Davis Theater days.

1. The Davis, while still cheaper than many moviehouses, cannot really be called a "cheap theater" any more.
2. I live nowhere close to the Davis any more. I live really, really freaking far away "nowhere close".
3. I got wall-to-wall freaking kids.

In a crazy mixed-up way, rather than having my blog report on my idiosyncratic behavior, my blog is now working its own influence on my behavior.

I'm going to try and visit my new neighborhood cheap theater, the LaGrange, for the occasional 9:00pm weeknight shows, after the kids have gone to bed. The LaGrange is $2.00 per show. I'll go see a movie and then review it, most likely being entirely too snarky. Hence, the title "Two Buck Schmuck".

There's something I really enjoy about going to Le Cinema to see a shoddy piece of work for a low price, and afterwards taking pot shots at it. And, hey, if the movie turns out to not suck so bad, then I saw a good movie on the cheap.

Initial Impressions of the LaGrange
The LaGrange's lobby is kinda grungy, with dirty, threadbare carpet, similar to the Davis I fondly remember. The soda on tap is Royal Crown, the faithful, cheaper alternative to Coke and Pepsi.

I can't really give a good impression of the theater where I saw the movie, as it was dark when I arrived. It was Theater 1, which I'll call the Curvy Theater. It's narrow (though not *too* narrow) and the seats all form a curve, as this theater was probably the right side of a larger theater which at some point was split into smaller rooms.

A Snack Dilemma
I had considered sneaking in a bag of plain M&M's into the movie, while still buying a soda at the LaGrange like a good, proper theatergoer. However, since this was the start of a potentially long and beautiful relationship, I decided that I should just go ahead and purchase my M&M's there.

To my dismay, the LaGrange only carried the reviled Peanut M&M's. I told the youngish concessionaire, "Hey, I really want plain M&M's, so I'm gonna go buy some, then come back, but don't worry, I'll buy a soda." -- I figured the assurance that I would buy *some* kind of concession would mitigate the fact that I would be bringing in something from the outside -- and, hey I was being straight with him. He paused, shrugged and said, "Okay." I know what you're thinking -- "wow, that was Joe Camel smooooth."

The Movie
Okay, so I had three choices -- Premonition, 300, and Shooter.

The 9:10 showing of the Sandra Bullock film Premonition was thankfully canceled due to "technical difficulties" according to a posted note. So between 300 and Shooter I opted for Shooter, because I didn't want some muscular dudes screaming at me for an hour and a half.

I have seen one movie by Shooter's director Antoine Fuqua, the overrated Training Day, where Denzel Washington grabs the viewer and shakes them until he receives an Oscar (it worked!).

I like this director's name, if only for the fact that I can say for his new movie, "What the Fuqua were you thinking, Antoine?"

This is an action movie which feels very similar to a 1980's action movie (particularly the 1985 movie Commando) but tries to play it somber instead of playing up the cartoonish elements that made the 1980's action movies cheesily enjoyable.

Don't get me wrong, there's some freaking cheesy moments here. The name of the protagonist (Mark Wahlberg) is Bob Lee Swagger. OH MY GOD. Why couldn't his middle name have been "BigBalls"? There are some choice scenes with Bob and his dog, where his dog opens a refrigerator and retrieves a beer for him. No, it didn't then proceed to pull out a bottle opener, pop the top and pour the contents into a frosty mug. That lame, good-for-nothing dog.

Bob's love interest is played by an actress who is introduced with nipples in a white tank top. Later on, she is held captive in bra and panties. Now that's something exploitative they didn't do to Alyssa Milano in Commando. Granted, she was only twelve.

A couple character actors pop up in this movie that I generally like, but didn't like in this movie. Ned Beatty is wasted as a Snidely Whiplash-ish senator. Near the end of the movie he's crawling away from Bob Swagger on his stomach. No, there was no anal rape involved.

Elias Koteas, who has perhaps the most wondrous name ever (say it with me -- E-li-as Ko-te-as) plays a reptilian crony of the big bad guys, but not an interesting one. I feel that directors should let this guy improvise in whatever roles he plays. He'd probably come up with something interesting. Aside from having his arm shot off, he doesn't have a lot to do here.

Danny Glover has a horribly stinky part as an ex-Colonel evil guy, but I don't like him that much as an actor (two words -- Predator 2).

My main problem with this movie wasn't the cheese, the predicatable plot, or the bad characterization. I realized I find it hard to root for a character that routinely shoots people in the head from a long ways away. You can try to portray the target of a sniper as deserving his or her fate, but still, the sniper is picking people off, literally blowing chunks of their brains out.

Seeing this movie made me think of soldiers getting killed in Iraq, and the sniper shootings in the D.C. area from a few years back.

There is something really cowardly, non-action-movie-heroic about picking people off while you're hiding. I'm sure it's a very valuable military strategy, but I didn't really root for Mr. Swagger as he amassed an impressive body count.

And don't get me even started on the ending. It's too late! I've already started! During most of the run of the movie, Bob Swagger is the suspected attempted assassin of the President of the U.S.

He gives himself up and is granted a five minute discussion with the US Attorney General. His sniper rifle (which was supposedly used to attempt to kill the President) is in the room where he is meeting with the Attorney General. An FBI agent who he hooks up with during the course of the movie is also present.

To prove his gun was not the gun used in the assassination attempt (he had removed some sort of firing pin from it making it inoperable), Bob has the FBI agent secretly gives him a bullet for the rifle, which he then uses to aim, point and shoot at his FBI buddy. In the office of the Attorney General. Well, he sure as hell would be tackled down to the ground for that, right?

Nope. The Attorney General, then convinced of Bob's innocence, lets him go. Not only that, the AG basically implies to Bob Swagger that he should kill the people responsible for framing him because justice does not always work. THIS IS THE ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYING THIS.


This review will be too late for most theatergoers, perhaps even too late for DVD-renters.

If it's not too late, I'd say you'd be better served by Commando.


jin said...

Sounds pretty much like a pass for me...


there's one thing you forgot to mention for the ladies that would assure us sitting through the film no matter how bad it is:

do we get to see Mark Wahlberg nekkid???

Splotchy said...

The best you ladies get is "shirtless and wounded".

Johnny Yen said...

I saw "Predator 2" at the Davis, back in the early 90's. If Danny Glover wasn't in danger of having his SAG card revoked for that one, both he and Joe Pesci risked it for "Gone Fishin'."

My life has taken an opposite tack-- my family moved to the western suburbs (Western Springs) when I was a teenager, so I grew up seeing movies at the Lagrange Theater, some good, some not so good. I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and All the President's Men there. But I also saw a double feature in 1976-- "Grand Theft Auto," a big old piece of crap starring Ron Howard, doubled with "Grizzly." I'll let you guess which movie "Grizzly" was ripping off:

It begins with a nubile young woman being torn apart by a wild animal in a national park.

The wild animal continues to kill and eat campers.

Concerned park ranger, played by character actor Christopher George, warns the head of the park that they need to close the park. The head of the park doesn't want to close the park because it's tourist season, and there'll be dire economic consequences for local merchants.

*spoiler alert*
Christpher George teams up with a bear expert and a rugged outdoorsman to hunt and blow the wild animal to bits.

It wasn't directed by Steven Spielberg.

I live just a few blocks from the Davis, and go there frequently. Yes, it is now a first-run theater, but it's still seedy and grimy. The good things in life don't change.

lulu said...

According to my mom, the Davis was kind of grubby when she went there as a girl. (She's 70 now)

I haven't been there in years; I rarely go to the movies for some reason, although I did see The Mummy at the Davis five nights in a row during a heatwave. I do love me some Brendan Fraser.

SamuraiFrog said...

The few times I've been in the LaGrange, I always end up looking around and feeling like I'm in some kind of coffin or death trap. "Yep," I think, "I'm going to die in this theater."

Though as yet I've not.

Johnny Yen said...

Funny, I felt that way about mid-way through "Grizzly," Samurai.

Splotchy said...

Mr. Yen, I completely forgot about that Gone Fishin' movie. I just have to say, "ACK."

I am very, very intrigued by your synopsis of Grizzly. Dammit, it sounds like a fine movie.

Just curious, have you ever seen "Alligator"? It's another Jaws knockoff, but I think it's really great. Written by John Sayles, directed by a pretty-talented Roger Corman director, Lewis Teague, with a great performance by Robert Forster.

lulu, ain't it great that you went to see a movie taking place in the desert to avoid a godawful Chicago heat wave? It reminds me of the time I ducked into the Garfield Park "desert" greenhouse to avoid the stifling humidity of a hot July afternoon.

samurai, you're haven't died yet! That's batting a 1000, right? I like those odds.

Splotchy said...

Oh, Mr. Yen.

Thanks for the heads up regarding the Davis' still crappy condition.

I don't feel so bad that I haven't taken down my old website describing its crappiness, disobeying the wishes of its current owners.

Johnny Yen said...

Yes, Grizzly is wonderfully bad. I remember that about half-way through, it became a communal experience with the audience, as we spotted and pointed out the blatant Jaws rip-offs to one another.

I have seen Alligator, and loved it. John Sayles has made a nice living writing the scripts for schlocky Corman movies. It's allowed him to do the great arty stuff like Passionfish, Matewan, Eight Men Out and Lone Star. Have you seen Sayles' sci-fi schlocko classic "Battle Beyond the Stars?" It's a re-telling of The Seven Samuria/Magnificent Seven as a Sci-Fi Western. It even had Robert Vaughn basically replaying the part he did in The Magnificent Seven. Richard Thomas, "John Boy" plays the good guy, and one of my favorite character actors, John Saxon, plays the bad guy with relish. I highly recommend it.

Another Sayles movie I recommend, if you haven't seen it already, is "Brother From Another Planet." Joe Morton plays a mute alien who lands in Manhattan.

Johnny Yen said...

BTW, Lulu, back in the thirties, going to theaters was a popular way of getting some air conditioning. It was the reason that my grandparents happened to be at the Biograph the night Dillinger got shot.

lulu said...

Johnny--I always knew I was born in the wrong time period.

Splotchy said...

I haven't seen Battle Beyond The Stars. I wasn't aware that Sayles wrote it. I would have prolly sought it out if I had known.

I like John Saxon in the movies I have seen him in, "Enter The Dragon" for example, though I'll remember him mostly for his bad guy robot in The Six-Million Dollar Man.

I have seen Brother From Another Planet, which I liked, but not nearly as much as Alligator. The best part for me was John Sayles and David Strathairn as the alien bounty hunters, asking for beer "on the rocks".

Splotchy said...

By the way, cool thing about your grandparents and Dillinger!

Another blog post for you to do some day!

lulu said...

How odd. Mindy does this whole "Cosmic Unconsciousness" thing on her blog, and now it is happening to me. You guys are talking about John Sayles, and I am showing Eight Men Out to my American Lit classes.

Johnny Yen said...

Great movie, Lulu. Studs Terkel plays one of the reporters--when he's not busy dodging my old station wagon.