i’ve actually been watching movies lately


I used to watch a lot of films. In fact, I had a friend who worked as a janitor at the old Movie House theater downtown. This was just after the theater had been bought by Regal Cinemas. What this meant was that he could see not only every Regal movie for free with a guest, but also every movie at every art house and independent cinema in town, due to Movie House’s long existence as an independent theater. He only worked this job a few hours a week, but in return we would watch movies for free all week. We might see as many as five in a day or ten in a week. However, in Spring of 2000 I basically stopped watching movies cold. At the time I was heavily involved in fighting with my fellow Powell’s Books workers for a first contract between Powell’s Books and our union, ILWU Local 5. (Don’t sleep! Our second contract expires this year and we will no doubt be out in the streets to secure a fair third contract in the Fall.) This took up all of my time and energy and I was so involved in a real struggle that I had no interest in spending two hours watching a simulated reality on a screen. This lasted for years where I would only enter the theaters on one of the few occasions that they would be showing a Hong Kong film. I also never rent DVDs. (I have only made exceptions for Sacha Baron Cohen and Dave Chappelle since I don’t watch TV and I wanted to see their work.) I also don’t like watching things on a small screen. I like the immersive experience of a big screen. Even today’s megaplexes with their barely-larger-than-big-screen-TV screens hardly do it for me. These days I may go a month without seeing a movie, or maybe Anjali and I will see a few. It is a rarer-than-not experience.

I happen to have seen quite a few films lately. In addition to “Crossing the Bridge” I’ve also seen “Perhaps Love,” “Invisible Waves,” “Curse of the Golden Flower” and “Henry Fool.” “Perhaps Love” is a Hong Kong musical starring a variety of Asian stars in an attempt to draw in every Asian market. I like Jackie Cheung, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Xun Zhou who I don’t think I’ve seen before. A Cantonese friend of mine told me Jackie Cheung had the best voice of all the Cantopop stars and without any actual knowledge I attributed the deep mock-Western operatic singing of his character in the film to be his own voice. I liked the yearning romance (or is that hatred?) but Anjali and her friend were less impressed than I. “Invisible Waves” is the second film by “Last Life in the Universe” director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. I liked it more than his first film. Dark, shocking, comic, slow, odd, and mostly quiet (except for some awful karaoke). Very unusual atmosphere. A cruise ship where you never see the sky or any expanse of water. Just a malfunctioning, dingy and oppressive cabin and vomiting. I like the movie on a number of levels. Who deserves to die more, a happy man or a homeless ghost?

I loved “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers” (the first time through) and was looking forward to seeing “Curse of the Golden Flower.” Took us forever to find time to see it and I was afraid it would leave town before we would get a chance to see it. Fortunately we were able to catch it for cheap at the Laurelhurst. Gong Li is awesome. I’m glad to know she can still look beautiful after Wong Kar Wai somehow made her look so ugly in “2046.” Chow Yun-Fat with a beard as a mean-ass patriarch and ruler is awesome. The siege scene is killer. I love all the super-saturated psychedelic colors of the palace. I love the costumes and Gong Li’s golden finger jewellry. Loved the rope-riding ninja assassins with sickles on chains. Very disappointed by what felt like a cop-out ending. Will need to see it again.

I love Hal Hartley and his dense, non-naturalistic dialogue. Anjali had yet to see any of his films. “Henry Fool” was one of my least favorites. All his other movies I would see twice in the theater in their first week, because I knew they probably weren’t going to get a second. “Henry Fool” was so popular compared to his other movies that it scared me off. I heard some disappointing reports and it actually took me months to finally go see it. None of Hal Hartley’s films had ever lasted months in the theaters. I remember not thinking it was horrible, but I had seen several of his others five to ten times and until last week I had never seen “Henry Fool” a second time. The reason I was watching it with Anjali and The Nick this week is because the sequel “Fay Grim” is coming out, and I wanted Anjali to see the first film first. I even rented a DVD! This is some rare and shocking shit. I had to set up an account at DVD Delerium. They even have a special box for Hal Hartley films, which I had to ask about, since he wasn’t alphabetical on the shelf. It was better than I remembered. Still some great patented Hal Hartley dialogue and offbeat moments. When my friend Syra Blu introduced me to “Trust” back in 1993 I could only think to compare it to David Lynch. Not that the tone was anything like Lynch, I just didn’t know of any other director who was taking icons of American popular culture and twisting them in such subversive ways. Poor dead, murdered Adrienne Shelly.

I’m looking forward to the sequel. Now everyone will know which way Henry Fool was running at the sudden ending.

Just watched a preview of the adapted-from-Frank-Miller’s-graphic-novel “300” and now I have at least one more movie I will be seeing in the future.

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