Notes from the back row 

Dear John, stay out of Paris

At least we have the Olympics to distract us because February is usually a dud month for new movies. For some reason studios like to empty their crap buckets and hose out their bedpans the month before the Oscars so this is a pretty underwhelming week on the silver screen.

From Paris With Love opens Friday. It's an action-spy movie about a Paris-based wanna-be secret agent played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers who gets teamed up with a  loose-cannon nutjob super agent played by John Travolta with a  bald head and a nut-rug goatee that is supposed to make him look tough but fails miserably.

It's directed by Pierre Morel, who scored a hit last year with Taken, but From Paris lacks that film's emotion. There is no kidnapped daughter to guide the action and it never feels like there is very much at stake. Rather we get a lot of John Woo-ish shoot-em-ups and Travolta jabbering away from scene to scene. The story jumps inexplicably from an Asian-drug gang problem to a Pakistani terrorist plot but at just 90 minutes long From Paris with Love is quick enough and has plenty of well cut action scenes to appease the easily amused. Too bad John Travolta is such a knob and the idea of him being badass, even with a Pulp Fiction reference thrown in, is laughable at best.

On the other end of the thematic spectrum, but no more worth watching, is Dear John, the next round of sentimental garbage to come out of the mushy mind of novelist Nicholas Sparks, the guy who wrote The Notebook. This one stars Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, both gifted actors but stunted here with outdated dialogue and heavy-handed, emotionally spoon-fed direction from Lasse Halstrom (Chocolat).

Tatum is a soldier, Seyfried an idealistic college girl. They fall in love, he goes to war, and the Sparks formula kicks in - the reading of letters, the other lover, the mental disease, the teary ending and gauzy cinematography. Hear that? That's the sound of me puking. Maybe if you're deep in the trenches battling menopause this kind of thing will work for you but the rest of us can skip it.

Rumour has it that the Village 8 will open The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus this week, which contains Heath Ledgers final performance, or part of it at least (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped in after Ledger's tragic death and finished the part.)

That director Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing, Time Bandits, Tideland) was able to even complete the picture is astounding but he pulls it off with (for him) restraint and poise. The story is based around Dr. Parnassus, who made a deal with the devil for immortality if he hands over his daughter on her 16th birthday, and Tony, a man rescued from death who might be able to get the old man out of that deal. Based in old London, the flick is full of Wonderland-like otherworlds and characters and is, thankfully, a lot better than Tideland.

The DVD of the week is a doozy. Black Dynamite is neither homage nor parody, but rather looks, sounds and feels like a genuine '70s Blaxsploitation flick, complete with kung-fu, cheap sets, black lovin', pimpin' suits, and an evil plot hatched up by "The Man" to keep a Brotha down. The characters might be one-dimensional stereotypes and it runs a bit long but watched with a group of friends, buds, and some '40s, Black Dynamite is a damn good time and I pity any jive-ass sucker who can't get down with it and enjoy himself. Dig?



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