Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Examples: As a cashier at a multiplex, I had the honor of giving my 10th grade crush a ticket while dressed in my nerd uniform of sweater vest and clip-on tie. When I worked at Borders--a job I loved, by the way--a customer once threatened to "take it outside" after I allegedly bumped into him. The latter scenario didn't become a scene from Road House.
However, the key to surviving a job like this is to have a good attitude. I know it sounds cliche, but it's the truth. When customers are given the impression that the person helping them is competent and can speak in complete sentences, interactions go smoothly 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent leads to some terrific stories.
This brings me to last Sunday. I went to a 10 a.m. screening of The Happening. It wasn't because I needed to see the movie right away, but because the AMC in my area offers $6.00 tickets for late morning shows.
The theater had two guys working the ticket desks, both very professional and polished, a shock considering the early hour. However, the ticket taker was another story entirely. I went up to him, gave my ticket. He asked how I was, and I asked him. The reply: "Just fantastic," in a voice so rich in sarcasm, you could hear the drops falling on the floor.
I was stunned into silence. Look, I'm not asking for a handshake and a cold drink, but c'mon, man. Don't talk to me like an asshole. First, I'm making an effort to be nice, so I shouldn't be shot down for it. Second, how do you know that I won't beat the absolute snot out of you, or the next guy you decide to take that attitude with? (God forbid he tried that with my Dad. Remember Alec Baldwin verbally intimidating the real estate agents in Glengarry Glen Ross? Multiply that by five.)
Honestly, the next time this happens, I'll probably say something like, "Well, that's great, young man. If you don't mind, I'm going to see this movie, get paid for it, and pursue my dream. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy standing for hours on end in your little costume while girls laugh at you and your resentment for your life and the people in it builds. Good luck on Monday's calc test, by the way."
Eh, maybe not. It would take too long and I'd probably miss the previews.
Friday, June 13, 2008
He was the archtype of the insufferable mover-and-shaker type, the kind of guy who peddles his hustle, drive, and tenuous showbiz connections like they're unique, star-making qualities. He first talked about planning a star-studded bar mitzvah for a kid, including trying to get Chris Brown. He then made a call to someone related at the party, who returned his call. The shaker then said, "Let's talk about it later," in a real self-important way that made me want to hit him repeatedly in the head and face with a copy of American Psycho.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Jones emerges to see a gigantic mushroom cloud. The year is 1957, and the message is clear: A man who makes his living through the past is staring right at the future.
It's a fitting opening because the storied franchise is also in unfamiliar territory. The previous chapter, The Last Crusade, was released all the way back in 1989. Harrison Ford, the most underappreciated movie star of his time, is now 65 years old and actually looks, well, old. Today's action movies are less concerned with characters and cleverness and more concerned with gee-whiz special effects. How else to explain the demise of regular guy action movies like the Indiana Jones series (or Die Hard and The Untouchables), where heroes have to think their way out of problems?
Indy is a (welcome) anachronism, like newspapers or young women who wear full-length dresses. Director Steven Spielberg and his creative cohort George Lucas were wise to bring Indy back for round four, but they've compromised, catering to a younger audience in establishing the franchise's future path.
In other words: uh-oh.
After Indiana survives the nuclear pummeling, his professional life takes a beating. Thanks to heat from the FBI, he loses his professorship. He's on the verge of traveling for a possible teaching job, when he's confronted by Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), a young, motorcycle-riding rebel in need of help. The two most important people in Mutt's life, his mother and Indy's former classmate Professor Oxley (John Hurt), are in trouble over the Crystal Skull, an ancient Amazonian artifact with superpowers.
Oxley has left a "riddle" of clues leading to the artifact, which brings Mutt and Indiana to Peru, where adventure and the resilient Russian army greet them. Along the way, Indiana reunites with his old flame Marion (a still luminous Karen Allen) and employs a delirious Oxley to find the lost city of gold that is home to the skull.
The plot, or rather plots, isn't that important. We just need a series of events that keep Indy and his cohorts on their toes, which writer David Koepp and Spielberg provide in abundance. There's more: Spielberg is still the best action director working today; it's fun to see Allen and Ford swap barbs again; and the movie's pace never slackens. But it's not the same. It's apparent that LeBeouf will inherit the franchise in whatever form it takes, so a lot of time is spent establishing his character and his traits, even though Ford's casual, everyman intelligence was crucial to the previous movies' success. So many characters tagging along with Indy (Mutt, Oxley, Ray Winstone's double agent) prevent Ford from settling into the role, while keeping him and Allen from duplicating their sexy chemistry from Raiders of the Lost Ark. This isn't the victory lap I envisioned for Ford.
Crystal Skull does retain some of the chestnuts from the previous installments, such as the map with the moving red line and the amplified punching sounds, but Spielberg embraces the present, relying heavily on CGI technology. A lack of apparent special effects wizardry defined the three previous films, and it's the reason I was so looking forward to this movie. So many movies use these over-the-top special effects as replacements for creative storytelling, vivid characters, and great direction, which defined the Indiana Jones adventures. Do we really need to see LeBeouf swinging on vines like Tarzan? Isn't that what Michael Bay is around for?
The hard truth is that our beloved Indy isn't made for these times, and Lucas and Spielberg's attempt to cater to everyone is the proof. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't a bad movie, far from it, but it's a sad commentary on the changing nature of the Hollywood blockbuster. Audiences apparently can't be satisfied with one great character, God forbid older ones. Special effects will gain more prominence, so much so that heroes and villains won't define them. If Indiana Jones isn't immune to this, then it's time to brace ourselves.
Monday, June 2, 2008
With You Don't Mess with the Zohan coming out this week and The Love Guru scheduled to annoy millions on June 20, this column (as well as Dave and Megan's astute observations) is still relevant. Enjoy.
There are times when I watch comedies when I say to myself, “Am I the only who’s not laughing?” So, why do so many American comedies stink? I put my journalism degree—or more accurately my e-mail address book—to good use and consulted two experts: my brother Dave, associate editor at Mad, and Megan Ganz, a staff writer at The Onion.
Here’s what they had to say.