Notes from the back row 

Not like the old days

When I was a kid, we were pretty stoked on gangsters. We liked sticking it to the man, in most of its incarnations, but back in those days we liked gangster rap, gangster hats, gangsters on TV’s American Justice and, most of all, Gangster movies.

The Gangster movie has been around almost as long as film itself. In fact, one could argue 1903’s The Great Train Robbery was the first ever gangster pic. But the genre really peaked in the ’30s and ’40s, thanks to prohibition and dudes like James Cagney and Paul Muni.

The newest addition to gangster cinema is American Gangster, opening Friday at the Village 8. Directed by Ridley ( BladeRunner) Scott, this by-the-book story of rising to the top doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The film is a “based on Truth” account of Frank Lucas (played decently by Denzel Washington). In the early ’70s Lucas, a smalltime hood, got the idea to start dealing directly with Asian heroin suppliers and shipped his drugs home in the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. Needless to say his entrepreneurial spirit worked out, and ultimately this gangster pic is about the American dream of greed, opportunity and success at all costs.

Russell Crowe plays the morality role, the straight cop who tracks Lucas’s criminal habits.

At two hours, 37 minutes this flick is way too long and it takes itself too seriously (Oscar bait). It’s okay but it lacks punch compared to the gangster flicks of my youth. This is no Heat, Scarface, New Jack City or even Mobsters (and whatever happened to Richard Greico anyhow?).

Also opening Friday is Bee Movie, a courtroom drama about a Jerry Seinfeld-voiced bee who, rather than do the regular bee gig of working his ass off, decides to start talking to humans, suing a large honey corporation, and falling in love with Renee Zellweger. Thank god it’s an animated flick so we don’t have to suffer through her scrunchy face.

If Bee Movie sounds stupid, that’s because it is. There are a few decent jokes about the relationship between bees and humans (those little bastards pollinate most of our food supply) but I still don’t understand how anyone could take a look at a script for a talking bee legal drama picture and give it the green light. As the kids are saying these days, WTF?

The DVD of the week continues to be Flashdance . Dance pictures are a dime a dozen these days but they can all bow down and recognize. Jennifer Beals and Flashdance took the Rocky model of scripting and applied it to something chicks would like too. This is the ultimate date movie — totally unrealistic, fluffy and even dumb at times, Flashdance is still a true classic. The kind of flick you can watch with the volume off and not feel bad about falling asleep — like Blue Crush. Basically, the plot is about a gorgeous chick who’s a welder, owns the nicest loft apartment in the universe, and does lots of sexually suggestive stuff wearing tights with little ginch on the outside. If that sounds perfect for a hungover afternoon DVD session, that’s because it is.

From a film history angle, Flashdance set the mold for the “taking it from the street” kind of fairy tale dance story that pops up in almost every single one of those shitty dance flicks that pops up each year ( Honey, Save the Last Dance, etc etc.)

As a kid, I never really got into Flashdance or any kind of dance movie, actually, I was more into watching people shoot each other. But now, in my mellower years, sometimes Jennifer Beals doing Jane Fonda-style workouts (riding an invisible bike, for instance) is enough to make for a good day.  

AT VILLAGE 8 Nov. 2-8: American Gangster; Bee Movie; Gone Baby Gone; Across the Universe; 30 Days of Night; Into the Wild; Dan in Real Life; Saw 4.

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