Notes from the back row 

Be Cool and really cool

Okay, there we go. Another Oscar season come and gone. Now, hopefully, Hollywood will stop unloading the crappiest of the crap on us ( Are We There Yet?) and begin hitting us with some cooler movies. Starting with the newest F. Gary Gray flick, Be Cool , which opens Friday at the Village 8 Cinemas.

Remember 1995’s smash hit Get Shorty , where Miami gangster Chili Palmer goes to Hollywood to be a movie producer and shakes up the entire town with his gun point negotiating, his mini van, and his "be cool" attitude? John Travolta, fresh off his Pulp Fiction career highpoint, played Chili and Elmore Leonard, who wrote the original novel, was so inspired by that performance he pumped out a sequel.

And so has Hollywood. Be Cool looks cool on the surface – Travolta is back, but he’s bored with the film industry and their crappy sequels, so he decides the music industry is where the action is and he’s found a sweet young talented songbird he wants to take to the top. Hoping to muscle and charm his way into the music industry is a bit tougher than Chili plans and he’s forced to wade his way though an exposition-riddled script with more than a few stereotypical characters to finally pull off a typical rags-to-riches story.

Be Cool is chock full of good actors spraying nifty Elmore Leonard dialogue but for some reason it lacks the cohesion and pacing of the first movie, coming across more like a handful or character skits than a unified movie. Director F. Gary Gray ( Friday, The Italian Job, Set it Off) is going to have to take the blame for this, as is scriptwriter Peter Steinfeld. Both fail to "get" their source material and the movie fizzles a bit for it. Still though, good performances from a star-riddled cast (Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Cedric the Entertainer, and show-stealer The Rock) but the movie recycles a lot from the original (and Pulp Fiction ) and its self-reflective, tongue-in-cheek attitude isn’t as fresh this time around. While pointing out that PG-13 movies suck in a PG-13 movie is kinda funny in that hip, post-modern way, at the end of the day Be Cool is still a PG-13 movie and, sadly, isn’t really all that hot.

What is hot, and incredibly fun, is seeing people get the snot beat out them. And the most entertaining way to do that is watch a martial arts film. Lately these have all been artistic, beautifully choreographed period pieces with people flying all over the place and walking on stuff you can’t really walk on. Well, those days are over thanks to Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, which throws more than a dash of shitkick into the genre courtesy of Thailand’s unique fighting style, Muay Thai.

Ong Bak is the story of a small town boy thrust into the big city to recover the missing severed head of his village’s treasured Buddha statue. Sound like a thin plot? Who cares? It’s as good an excuse as any to hit us with one of the most seriously brutal ass-kicking martial arts displays ever. No wires, no computer effects. Just this new guy (and soon to be huge star) Tony Jaa severely beating his way through Bangkok’s seedy underside. This is the real nitty gritty – hard hitting, skull-crunching action and a bad guy in a wheelchair cursing through one of those tracheotomy voice amplifier things. I think those things are called modulators but who cares? If you like brutal pain (the good kind – somebody else’s) then hit up the Village 8 and check out Ong Bak . It kicks ass. As opposed to Vin Diesel’s latest, The Pacifier , which sucks.

AT VILLAGE 8 March 4-10: Pacifier; Be Cool; Ong Bak: Thai Warrior; Cursed; Son of the Mask; Aviator; Million Dollar Baby; Man of the House; Hitch; Constantine.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE March 4-10: Meet the Fockers.

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