Last Friday night I ended up standing on a rooftop.  Not actually an uncommon endpoint for me on a regular night, I have to admit.  This is one personality quirk I do have in common with the heroes of my youth – I’m somewhere between Batman and Spider-Man in my comfort with landing a perch from which to survey the world at great heights.  Of course, last Friday night was the Fourth of July, so it was the absolute best place I could have been at the time.


Los Angeles is by far the most photographed city in the history of the world, but every once in a while she puts a sight up on the board that you’ve never seen before, one that lifts your mood and breaks your heart at the same time.  Nothing will ever overtake the place of New York in that central pulmonary organ of mine, but LA sure made its play that night.

I saw fireworks spread out in all directions, from
Century City to Echo Park, from Glendale to Santa Monica.  My view was so deep I can’t be sure I didn’t see straight down to Orange County.  It all exploded around me to varying frequencies and volumes for over an hour, like Apocalypse Now only peaceful.  When all that was done, I turned around and watched the show at the Hollywood Bowl from a distance.  This heightened visual activity was all in addition to the tens of thousands of various light sources that blink and pulse and shine all over the city on a typical night. 


It was awesome.




I also had a somewhat uncharacteristic three-movies-in-the-theaters weekend.  There are few places I’d rather be in the heat than a cool multiplex.  Let me run those three flicks down before [hopefully] another weekend of moviegoing takes over my attention:




1.  The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre


The Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax & Melrose is screening John Huston films (among many others) every weekend this month.  I strongly recommend this joint in general (cool vibe, solid deal), and this film series in particular, which kicked off with the stone classic The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.


There’s no doubt very little that I can add to any discussion of this much-discussed 1948 film.  If you haven’t seen (I hadn’t ever, all the way through), here’s the run-down:  A down-and-out drifter (Humphrey Bogart) and his young partner (Tim Holt), team up with an unpredicable white-haired prospector (Walter Huston), to go find gold in the arid mountains of Mexico.  Along the way, bandidos, rival gold-hunters, and the seeds of distrust, slowly unravel their tenuous partnership.


Humphrey Bogart played a lot of broken but still always noble protagonists, and even though many movies from this period were much more ballsy than we modern audiences seem to perceive, it still probably took some major cojones for Bogart to portray the complete moral and physical dissolution of Fred Dobbs.


As Bogart’s two primary supporting players, Tim Holt, who played Virgil Earp in My Darling Clementine (one of my all-time favorite Westerns – highest possible recommendation), is unwaveringly believable, and Walter Huston (John’s dad) plays pretty much the best grizzled old coot in the history of world cinema.  I want to be that guy when I’m old.


It’s interesting to look at this movie in the context of There Will Be Blood, and vice versa.  This and Citizen Kane are the movies most often referenced in conversations about the newer classic, but this is a much clearer influence.  The mining life and the oilwork, and the crushing deterioration of the protagonists, are a clear commonality of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and There Will Be Blood (which I should cop to as my personal preference for Best Picture of 2007, just so you know who you’re dealing with here.)  Both movies also make a bygone world thoroughly watchable, where we may not previously have expected it to be at all watchable.


Another nice thing about this screening was that it was packed.  I definitely like knowing that there are so many other people out there who would take up the early half of their Saturday night watching a near-sixty-year-old movie.  It says a lot for the appreciation of the classics in such a movie-friendly town. 



2.  Hancock


Interesting how this one ran into such varied reviews.  I sure didn’t expect such an upper of a review from The New Yorker, nor can I entirely agree with it.  For me, some stuff worked, and some stuff didn’t – generally I liked it, but still wished for something other. 


Will Smith plays John Hancock, a slovenly Skid Row drunk who happens to have super-strength, super-speed, near-indestructibility, and the power of flight.  He is taken in as a client of a do-gooder PR guy, whose wife is distrusting of Hancock’s ability to rise to any heights of respectability of all.  In those supporter roles, Charlize Theron is good and Jason Bateman is great.


The movie does explain Hancock’s origin eventually, but I didn’t believe that explanation.  I have my suspicions as to the real source of his superhumanly drunk & disorderly nature:  Hancock was bitten by a radioactive member of Motley Crue.


Anyway, there’s good stuff to be had in Hancock, even if it doesn’t all fit together as snugly as it might:


Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world, maybe the only real movie star left in some ways, and he always gets the congratulatory fist-pump for being the only person who could ever convincingly play Muhammad Ali, one of the most almost-irritatingly likable people to ever walk the earth in my opinion.  Sometimes it’s just cool to see a guy bring that kind of juice to a movie, Paul Newman style. 


Also, the action-oriented parts that worked about Hancock worked great.  They made me yearn for someone to get Superman right again on screen, and I’m no major Superman fan so that’s a bit of a significant compliment.


And I do have to tip an unwashed cap to a movie that clearly has set some kind of record for uses of the word “asshole” in a PG-13 film.


The movie is also an interesting link in the directing evolution of Peter Berg, who started his career with a movie I couldn’t stand (Very Bad Things) and has dramatically improved his filmography with every subsequent film.  [Check out The Kingdom to see how drastic an improvement curve can really be.]  This might have something to do with the fact that Berg is blessed with Michael Mann as a sensei, but he’s due plenty of credit on his own.


Speaking of which, I also nerded out over the early scene of Hancock with the Michael Mann cameo, as he’s my favorite living filmmaker (have I mentioned that 100 times already?).  But I hope that day-playing as a corporate executive didn’t keep MM from the set or the editing bay of Public Enemies for too long, because I am ready to see that movie TOMORROW.




3.  Wanted


The movie I previously described as “the one where Angelina Jolie and Young Gary Sinise run around shooting bullets in all different directions while Morgan Freeman does his wisdom thing.”  That description is what I extrapolated from the trailer, and it turned out to be relatively spot-on, although there are some minor surprises in store.


The thing about Wanted as an action movie, is that it does do some very original stuff.  There are several unique set pieces (I loved the early stuff with Angelina’s sports car), the fight choreography plays fresh, and most of all, you haven’t seen bullets act this way in any movie before now.  Which is entertaining in some ways for a while, but also obviously bad in other ways.  While Wanted can’t be held responsible for the crappier imitators that are sure to follow (and make no mistake, whatever you think of Wanted, it will soon enough be imitated), it’s still a dispiriting notion.  The obvious antecedents are Fight Club and The Matrix.  Both are arguably more influential than Wanted will ultimately turn out (I would argue this), but Wanted has in common with the first a fierce anti-authority stance and with the second a search for innovative style in action.  Those traits are prone to imitation – so Wanted is released and it hits, and all the shit is sure to follow.


But for a while, the whole thing is a well-oiled machine.  The actors are all fine, and up for everything the movie wants from them:  Young Gary Sinise is a decent, likable lead in the Office Space goes Hard Boiled role, and Angelina Jolie is directly in her wheelhouse with this kind of movie.  Morgan Freeman is dependable as always, and at least tries to put a new spin on his weathered distinguished-educator persona.  Since I dig his music, I’m liking Common in movies, although I’m still trying to figure if he was cast just right here.  Everybody else is kind of forgettable.  Why? 


Because the editing, cinematography, score, and absolutely the shot choices by the director, are like the work of a cokehead who forgot his meds but remembered the Jolt Cola sixer.  It’s all pretty infectious for a while, but ultimately the movie had no right to run as long as it did, which wasn’t even as long as it felt.


Or maybe I’m just getting old. 



That’d be cool by me, but if that truly is the case, I better go watch Walter Huston in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre again for pointers in how to grow old awesomely