Monday Morning Critic – The Debut

With a new year, Inside Pulse has had a lot of changes. In nearly four years here I’ve witnessed a lot, including replacing the guy who brought on my board (Steve Coogan) as leader of IP Movies and then into our own little section on the web. With a year comes new changes and challenges, including our seemingly ever changing design, so I’ve opted to follow in the path of writers who drew me to apply to be a part of Inside Pulse in the first place and become a regular columnist.

I’ve decided a change is in order for my own writing. I’ll still have a regular review up once a week, but I need a creative outlet outside of my own shenanigans outside of this place. With Contradicting Popular Opinion with ML Kennedy on hiatus, a void has opened up in column work for the Popcorn Junkies. And outside of reviews, and the occasional feature, I’ve never really written long form about films and the cinema experience. So this will be an interesting experience, to say the least, and hopefully it’ll be somewhat entertaining.

Random Thoughts of the Week

Only in Philadelphia, I suppose, can this happen. It’s the next logical step after Michael Irvin gets booed after getting hurt and Santa gets pelted with snowballs.

Normally I would be up in arms, as shooting someone over talking in a film is kind of crossing a line that really shouldn’t be crossed. It is classy that after shooting someone in the theater he did kick back and continue watching the film, I have to admit, but after reading the article I didn’t feel so bad. Heck, if he has a defense fund set up I’d contribute a small amount of cash to it. Why? Because I’ve gotten to that same point in movie theaters myself in the past couple years dealing with people.

Its one thing to make a snide remark to the person your with, under your breath, as that’s pretty common. Most people do it, its human nature. The thing that has been pissing me off over the last 18 months or so is just the blatant disregard of others in the theatre.

Example: I was at a 5pm showing of The Spirit on X-Mas day, as my family doesn’t celebrate the holiday season like most do. We all do different things on our own, so I spend Christmas day watching movies in the theatre and eating Chinese food. The theatre was relatively packed, which is never a bad thing, and I took a seat near the top.

Behind me some people were still talking as the film stopped. I did a friendly “shush” and they wouldn’t stop. I said it again, as one of the three people had a cell phone go off very loudly. After using several obscenities to describe actions I should take, it was almost to the point where they were going to make a bigger scene. The trio decided that it would be best for leave per the cell phone conversation, which obviously must’ve been of great importance and relevance. Of course I handled it with a level of class reserved for those with the highest of grace.

I golf clapped their exit to some muted chuckles from those around me.

One of the people leaving shouted some profanities at me. I gave him the universal sign of unacceptance in response. He then made a racial slur about my whiteness in response. I responded by waving said universal sign of unacceptance around and he walked away, never to return. I was hoping he would wait around after the film (because I hadn’t beaten up a teenager in a long time) but alas he didn’t.

People’s behavior in theaters has gone from good to acceptable to deplorable. I can’t count how many times people have answered their cell phones and had conversations in the theatre while the film is going on. Not whispered or hushed conversations but regular volume. Or people who seemingly think that having a conversation in regular voices is acceptable during a film.

I can take little kids in the theatre, despite their usual annoyances, because little kids are like that. If you’re over the age of 13 you should know how to act in a theatre and seemingly people of all ages think because you pay 10 bucks for a ticket it entitles you to act in ways that are unacceptable in any other context. It’s getting so frustrating to pay good money for a movie ticket and to see rational, reasonable adults act worse than most children do.

So shooting someone doesn’t seem so drastic to me anymore, honestly, as people’s behavior is becoming so rude and obnoxious there’s no wonder why the DVD market is still booming and the home theatre market is still doing well. With ushers and managers usually not willing to do anything except shrug their shoulders, no wonder box office receipts are struggling.

I don’t think it’s a matter of movie quality or price, honestly, but people’s rapidly disintegrating behavior towards one another is the reason I peg. It’s easier to stay at home and NOT deal with others who think a movie theatre is a reasonable substitute for their own living room.

The Movie Challenge

I’ve always thought two things about movies. The first is that the only true experience to watch one is in a theatre on 35mm. There’s something to be said about being able to watch a film in the original aspect in the original manner. When you have the right theater, the right crowd and the right film there’s magic in being in a seat in an auditorium watching a movie. I remember watching The Forty Year Old Virgin in a packed house and it was magical. How so?

Because it was a ridiculously funny movie with an audience that loved it; any time you can watch a comedy with an audience that’s laughing as hard as you are you’re truly experiencing cinema. Roger Ebert has always said it’s the best way to watch a movie and I have to agree. The DVD market has become something I don’t think even Hollywood envisioned it could be the kind of draw it has become; with the advancement of home theater technology, the home movie-watching experience is almost comparable to being in the movie theater itself.

And part of the great thing is that now all of the films that you would otherwise need to track down through specialty shops or bootleggers are now coming to DVD. And every year since I graduated from college I’ve received roughly $3-600 dollars in gift certificates. With the advent of DVDs, I’ve developed quite the DVD collection over the years. It’s to the point where I use a computer program to track them all; one problem comes out of all of this, though. Sometimes you can’t make the time to watch through, and over the years they stack up and I’ve got at least 50 to go through. That’s the downside of the Wish List, darn it, as people actually buy stuff for you on it and there’s never enough time in the day.

I have a stack of DVDs I have yet to get through due to time issues. So as part of this column I’m going to go through a DVD per column and give my thoughts. This week is French New Wave crime film Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes, released simply as Rififi in the U.S.

One of my favorite eras of film is the French New Wave, as it inspired the likes of Scorsese to become film makers. I love the simplicity and the daring of guys like Jean-Pierre Melville, who had a more minimalist style and focused on the little things of story-telling. It’s rare that you see in genre films of a specific time frame that you have such a volume of great films that all do the same thing story-telling wise but do it all differently (and do it so well).

Rififi is a simple film about a heist. Tony (Jean Servais) has just finished serving five years in prison for a heist and is released when the opportunity for the score of a lifetime comes up. The film’s main focus is on the heist itself and the aftermath, but it’s hard to rate the film as a heist film in the same manner as rating The Maltese Falcon is as a noir piece; Rififi is the film that defined how the modern heist film worked to a large part (that and Melville’s Bob le Flambeur a year later). From the planning of the heist, including little things like figuring out how to disable the alarm system, are things that have become common place in heist films ever since. Watching a film like Ocean’s 11 or The Bank Job and all the conventions of those films were first used in Rififi. Even the heist film’s conventional aftermath, including the stupid mistake by a guy usually over a girl, has its origins in this film.

So watching the film is a little off because you know exactly what will happen and how because that’s how heist films conventionally happen, but this is the film that started all those conventions.

Highest recommendation, definitely worthwhile to pick up, and the Criterion collection release has a lot of good extras on it.

Awful Trailer of the Moment

In an era with great trailers, where even god awful films look somewhat good, bad trailers stick out even more. And some just need to be pointed out. This week’s example: The Unborn

I can only imagine the reasoning behind the film. A remake of a film of the same name made in 1991, an American film mind you. I could see if it was some crappy J-horror flick, but come on. The only thing I keep thinking is that they wanted to cast Jennifer Connelly back then, couldn’t, and so now they cast someone who looks like her. Except half the age and weight.

Top Five Challenge

The last truly great feature we did at PJ was the Top Fives, where someone is asked a question that required a top five list. It was such a fun feature that we always wanted to revisit it. Since we really don’t do features anymore, considering most of the really good ideas have been done already, why not revisit our most fun one? Each week a member of the Inside Pulse team will join me to answer one question revolving around an answer in five parts..

This week’s guest is DVD Lounge Czar Travis Leamons, Travis is one of the original hires into IP movies and ascended to his post at the same time I took command of Popcorn Junkies. He also has the best DVD collection known to man.

You have a great DVD collection. If you could only take five DVDs with you to a foreign country from which you’re not returning from ever, which five do you take and why?

Travis Leamons: So I’ve been given the unenviable task of deciding what five DVDs I would take to a foreign country. Oh sure, ask the guy that has over 1500 discs packed away in cubbyholes and disc sleeves. Thanks, Scott. Thanks a lot.

There are limitations to this challenge however. I’ve been instructed to not select a DVD box set/collection, and if I select a TV on DVD release it can only be for a single season. Let’s see where this takes us.

The first selection is a no-brainer: The Shawshank Redemption‘s 10th Anniversary, two-disc release.

Why I picked it: The ‘Shank, as they call it in the hood, is my favorite film of all time. When somebody asks me what my favorite film is, I gush about this prison drama. I remember when I first rented it on VHS. It was an okay flick, but the more and more I watched, the more I appreciated Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s short story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” Prisoners would like it too; it’s a visual aid on how to successfully escape imprisonment.

Second selection: Black Hawk Down 3-Disc Deluxe Edition

Why I picked it: Ridley Scott is a director that loves to create an immersive experience for home audiences. And when I mean “immersive,” I mean filling his DVD titles to the gills with tons of supplemental material. I could have easily gone with Gladiator or Blade Runner or even Kingdom of Heaven, but I’m sticking with BHD. With this release I can enjoy a good film as well as take notes for the film studies and history lessons spread across three discs. Containing three commentaries, a making-of documentary that is longer than the film itself (144 minutes), and a historical archive that contains two docs that total close to three hours, yeah this thing is packed. So besides the actual film, which I consider to be the best representation of modern war depicted in cinema, you have all this extra material to enjoy.

DVD watching can’t just be about war flicks and prison dramas. I need to laugh every now and then. So for my third selection: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Why I picked it: Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is the bridge between Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. All three make good use of special effects, but what’s special about Rabbit is seeing a flesh-and-blood human interacting with cartoon creations. Surely I’m not the only one who, as a child, dreamt of what it would be like to hang out with Bugs or Daffy, or even Mickey or Donald. Zemeckis makes it all possible. The final act is a treat in itself, seeing Disney stars interact with the Looney Tunes bunch. Besides the final act, we get a fresh twist on the film noir model with a drunken private investigator; a rabbit whose only goal in life is to sees stars when he hits himself with a frying pan, and a redheaded femme fatale with a heaving bust line. But she isn’t bad; she’s just drawn that way.

To go along with the noir theme, my next selection is a neo-noir that came out in 1997. L.A. Confidential.

Why I picked it: Other than the fact that I’m sure it finished second in the Oscar voting behind that seafaring picture (which I understand made quite a bit of money during its theatrical run), Confidential was clearly the better picture. And it still holds up on repeated viewings. You couldn’t make a film like this in 2009. Back when Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce were the unknown Australians (and before Kevin Spacey would win Oscar gold with his performance in American Beauty), Curtis Hanson’s picture only cost $6.5 million. $6.5 million! That wouldn’t even cover the catering costs on a Michael Bay flick. The most recent two-disc DVD release gives us a new commentary and 100 minutes of new featurettes – plus those found on the previous release – and the failed “L.A. Confidential” TV pilot starring a pre-Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland in the Spacey role. Not as bad as an episode of “Cop Rock,” but bad nonetheless. (Also, between you and me, the best reason to include L.A. Confidential in this list: Scott told me I had to include at least one DVD that featured Russell Crowe or he’d take away my man card.)

Finally, we have reached my last selection. For this one I better go all out. Do I want something that is the antithesis of Brokeback Mountain (something like Road House or Commando)? Do I want action or comedy? Tough decisions. Okay, I’m going with the title that established the DVD player as a mainstream gadget. All I have to write is “Lobby Shootout” and you know what I mean immediately.

The Matrix was the movie of 1999 that changed how we looked at cinema. It’s my last selection, as well.

Keanu Reeves proving that he could headline two successful action-oriented films (Speed being the other one), groundbreaking visual effects, and the action. Oh, the action! This was the title you bought and showed off in your home theater back in the day. And I still can, if I was forced to flee the country with only five DVDs in my possession. Maybe I’d go the France and tell them to quit watching Jerry Lewis and try one of these five movies instead.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and Northwestern University Co-Eds with low standards at the Rhythm Room

Ahh . . . the weekend of movies to be. Every week I’ll give you my impressions of what’s coming out and whether or not there’s anything to see. See it or Skip it, easy criteria. This isn’t based on actually seeing the film or any other sort of early information; purely based on the trailer, the cast and the plot summary will be my thoughts.

This looks like a pretty light weekend for films, but it is January so there’s not going to be anything really of note for a while. This is going out for wide release this weekend:

Bride Wars: Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson are brides who are best friends, but complications arise when they are scheduled to get married on the same day. Neither will budge, leading to a War of the Roses brawl between the two.

Skip It – Do we need another film about narcissistic women who are obsessed with their wedding day?

The Unborn – Gary Oldman is an advisor to Odette Yustman, who is tormented by the soul of her unborn twin brother. The dead kid seeks to use her death as a gateway to life.

Skip It – Do we need another crappy horror film remade from another film of little note? Buy the international poster of the film instead.

Not Easily Broken – A car accident and shifting affections test the bond between a married couple.

See It – Bill Duke of Predator and Commando fame directed it. And when in doubt, always go with a guy who’s been in two classic Arnold movies.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.