We went to the drive-in again this weekend. Same place, too. The Starlight 6 Drive-In (not Star-Lite as I'd originally written -- I'd only assumed that because they were a drive-in theater they'd use cutesy spelling, but they did not). This time, though, the films themselves shared screentime with a night of electrical storms. The dark clouds started to roll up about half an hour before the first feature started. The clouds went from a pinkish hue to a deep, rusty orange color from the city lights, and during that transition, those clouds were periodically shot through with sudden bursts of white heat lightning. It was all cloud to cloud to begin with, so there were just flashes without any of those waterfall-like streaks. But those, and the big single-line bolts came later. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Behind us, a bunch of white middle-aged Miata drivers had all gathered together in their convertibles to watch Cars. There must have been about 14 of those little cars all lined up next to one another on the back row. It's nice to see that as our society gets more fragmented, and people get more isolated from one another, people still find some commonality that can draw them together. In this case: Miata ownership. Contrast that with the sad cases who come to the drive-in alone. To me, this is more than a little different than going to the regular theater alone -- if somebody wants to see a movie that no one else wants to see, going by one's self to the local AMC is a fine option. But it seems to me that going to the drive-in in 2006 is as much about the experience of going to the drive-in with someone you like spending time with as it is about the movies themselves. Going by yourself to the drive-in seems a little self-flagellating -- like maybe you want to feel bad, wallow a little. The guy who drove up next to us for the second feature (during which it was pouring down rain) in his Volvo was one of these sad "by himself at the drive-in'" cases. We spent the first part of the movie pitying the poor creature, and then the second half watching his clumsy ass like a hawk after he smacked his car door into the side of my Crown Vick while fumbling with an umbrella to make sure he didn't do it again.
And even with the wipers going at varying speeds through most of the first movie and all of the second, and having the screen blank white periodically when a particularly bright burst of lightning flashed, we had a great time. And the movies weren't so bad either.
The first one was Tokyo Drift: The Fast and Furious 3. Overall, I liked it. Compared to the first sequel, which was most famous for having its witless characters say "Bra" over and over again to each other, this movie's The French Connection. It starts out in a SoCal high-school and the first sequence is one that never gets old. Captain of the football team (or any meathead jock will do), picks a fight with the cool outsider kid. In Footloose, the combatants resort to playing chicken with tractors. In Tokyo Drift, they resort to a race through a still-under-contruction housing development with a muscle car and a Dodge Viper. And though the actual racing footage isn't particularly inventive here, they make up for it by using "Batwitdaba" by Kid Rock over the end of it.
Lucas Black of Sling Blade fame, plays Sean Boswell, a screw-up kid (and Black is 23, by the way, proving yet again that Hollywood doesn't want high-school age kids to play high-schoolers in their movies) who's had to move from school district to school district on account of his penchant for drag racing. So when he smashes up his hot rod at the close of the aforementioned race, he gets sent packing across the ocean to his father's craptacular place in Tokyo, or risk jailtime in the States. What's different about this movie, and what makes it so superior to Fast and Furious 2, is how interested the filmmakers are in the little telling details that make daily life lived in Japan so different from the US. It's not meant to be a travelogue, so they don't dwell too much on the differences, but they don't have to because they shot on location -- the differences are suffused throughout the movie. The camera lingers on the vending machines that spits out lobster dinners. We see the parking garages that hold the cars in suspended metal trays that hang from an elaborate system of wheels and spokes. We see the Pachinko parlors and the unfamiliar table games. When feasible they have the Japanese characters speak subtitled Japanese. This movie doesn't take itself too seriously, but it never dumbs itself down so much you feel like your intelligence is being insulted. (Like the last Fast and Furious).
I'm still not sure that Lucas Black can actually act, but he is an appealing presence in the movie. And some of the drifting sequences (and drifting, from what I understand, is what happens to your RWD car when you engage the emergency brake at the same time you accelerate) are very impressive, especially since almost all of the shots were done by actual stunt drivers driving actual cars. And the surprise cameo at the end made me grin, so, overall, a not bad little movie about racing.
Next up on the double feature was Mission Impossible : III. Peggy and I had made a conscious effort to avoid this one until now because of Tom "Xenu-Hatin'" Cruise. For myself, I stayed out of theaters since it opened as a way of protesting, by way of my movie dollar, Cruise's deft resculpting of Katie Holme's remarkably malleable brain to make her a suitable mother for his Scientologist spawn. She used to be normal, and now she's a Stepford wife. Peggy stayed away from it because she loathes Tom Cruise and always has. I think she agreed to see this because she was just being nice to me, and didn't think seeing it at a drive-in a month after its release would do much for Cruise's bankability. She says all of her $6 admission price went to Tokyo Drift. Anyway, this movie wasn't bad either. I think it would have been vastly improved if Philip Seymour Hoffman's screen time as the villain Owen Davian was increased from 20 minutes to 80 minutes, but then it would have been a different movie. In every scene, Hoffman was awesome. At a party in the Vatican, he picks up a drink off a tray and the way he does even that little thing is brilliant. He makes you believe that the same man who played the unwashed hippie in Twister, ("We're goin' green") is now the most dangerous arms dealer in the world. How many guys can be that kind of chameleon? Gary Oldman's the only other one that comes to mind right now. MI:3 is written and directed by JJ Abrams of Lost and Alias fame, and you can feel it in every frame -- he's got his stamp all over it. There's a serious big-budget TV vibe to the whole thing. It feels at times like an extended episode of Alias, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I did miss some of the sweep and grandeur and orginality of the first one (we won't talk about MI:2). Though there is one thing about MI:3 that was simultaneously the best thing about the movie and also the worst.
The opening scene.
It is very intense and took full advantage of both Hoffman and Cruise's acting talents. Hoffman's got Cruise's girl gagged and tied to a chair with a gun to her head. Cruise is tied to a chair across from them and Hoffman is counting up to ten waiting for Cruise to tell him what he wants to know. As interrogation scenes go, it's pretty wrenching, but its also a ballsy way to start your big-budget summer movie off on such a sadistic note. All around great scene. But of course we have to go to an extended flashback to get back to that point, and then when we get back there, we watch a lot of it all over again, and though it's slightly worse because we know the girl a little better, it's also not as effective, because WE'VE ALREADY SEEN IT. Imagine if other filmmakers started to do that -- just showing the best scene out of their movie right out of the gate to get you enticed, all out of context, and then showing the same scene later when it's actually part of the movie. It seemed like a cheap ploy to me -- maybe movies need that jolt of doing things a different way, but it struck me as a kind of hucksterism.
In one way, Tokyo Drift and MI:3 was a well-paired double feature. Each film helped re-establish a franchise that was marred by a truly awful first sequel, though on slightly different scales. Overall, not too bad -- but like Harry Knowles said, this movie was essentially a retelling of True Lies, except without the comedic element, so it was already working from a strong template. The majority of the film was pretty forgettable. What stands out in my mind is Hoffman's performance, Billy Crudup's subtly creepy turn as Ethan Hunt's IMF supervisor, and the bridge sequence where the film's best shot comes from (the one where the missile strike's concussive blast knocks Cruise into a car, shattering the window). Worth my $3 and a little more.
And Superman Returns this weekend. Hope it's as good as the early reviews say it is. And I'm out.