Summer 2007 at the Fairway Theatre

In summer 2007, between my high-school graduation and my enrolment at the University of Toronto, my parents relocated from Etobicoke to Kitchener, about 90 minutes from downtown Toronto. The move had been a long time coming: Dad changed careers when I was in the tenth grade, and commuted an hour to Kitchener every day to avoid the trauma of making me switch schools. Once high school was over, however, nothing was tying them to the Toronto suburbs. In retrospect, the move was a no-brainer: Dad is now a five-minute drive from the office, and my parents spared themselves the possible indignity of clinging to an old home out of sentimental reasons. Even so, I spent a lot of summer 2007 mourning the loss of the house where I spent most of my life; disdaining a city that I knee-jerk dismissed as a poor-man’s Toronto; and moping through the four whole weeks I had to wait before I could again self-identify as a Torontonian.

One way I passed the time in August 2007 was by riding my bike to the nearest multiplex—the now-defunct Fairway Theatre—and seeing whatever garbage was playing during the late-summer dumping period. The Fairway Theatre was demolished a few years later and a Cineplex megaplex was erected a few blocks away, but I miss the Fairway for its five-dollar Tuesdays and its dumpy, pinball-machine-in-the-lobby vibe. As luck would have it, the films of August 2007 combined mediocrity with nostalgia in a way that seemed tailor-made for me in this emotionally vulnerable month of my life. The next summer, Iron Man would usher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and The Dark Knight would become the quintessential “Smart Blockbuster™”, so I daresay that the late-summer 2007 slate even has a certain wistful end-of-an-era quality if you squint hard enough.

Easily the best of the movies was Superbad, one of the wave of movies that turned superproducer Judd Apatow into the next decade’s defining American film-comedy force. As you will recall, the film was about three sexually-inexperienced teenage boys who luck into being invited to a cool party on the condition that they bring alcohol. Their goal for the night: lose their virginities. The boys’ sexual insecurities were, shall we say, somewhat resonant to myself at that age. The movie was frank about certain elements of teenage life—alcohol, fake-IDs, internet porn—in a way that I was not used to seeing, and I felt a combination of exhilaration and deep personal embarrassment while watching it. I haven’t seen it since 2007, but the characters’ many conversations about the ethics of sleeping with drunk girls have possibly aged poorly.

I spent a lot of time that summer pondering what, exactly, constitutes “home,” so I was uniquely receptive to two feature-film extensions of franchises relevant to my childhood, The Simpsons Movie and Mr. Bean’s Holiday. Even at the time I knew The Simpsons Movie was a disappointment: tepidly funny throughout, but draggy, and never exploring the possibilities of the medium the way that, for example, South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut did. Even so, there are worse ways to spend a lonely afternoon than biking to the Fairway to see Homer and the gang on the big screen. (I remember my parents saw it a few days later on Cheap Tuesday, and Dad concluded, “It was worth most of the five dollars”).

Mr. Bean’s Holiday arrived when 1997’s Bean was still a living memory. The earlier film was pitched at American audiences, transporting Rowan Atkinson’s mostly-silent man-child from London to Los Angeles and involving him in a sitcom plot with an American family. Holiday had a European setting and flavour, returning Bean to his silent-comedy roots as he bumbled his way across the continent. Mr. Bean was a niche phenomenon in the United States, but in Canada he played regularly on the CBC and his VHS tapes were ubiquitous at grocery stores. Based on anecdotal evidence, practically every Canadian child of my acquaintance who grew up in the ‘90s has fond memories of Bean struggling on the diving board or getting his head stuck in a turkey. In summer 2007, I was hungry for anything that reminded me of my vanishing boyhood, so I sat watching Mr. Bean’s Holiday like De Niro watching Problem Child in Cape Fear. I’ve forgotten most of it, but I do remember that it climaxes at the Cannes Film Festival, where Bean’s home movies are embraced by the festival crowd as avant-garde masterworks.

I was lucky enough to discover Hong Kong cinema as a teenager, but was unlucky enough to become interested just as the industry was in its death throes. I made regular trips to the bootleg-DVD stores in Toronto’s Chinatown to pick up post-millennial Jackie Chan efforts like New Police Story (2004), The Myth (2005), and Rob-B-Hood (2006), trying to convince myself that, hey, he’s still kinda got it, right? In the ‘90s, titans of Hong Kong cinema like Chan, John Woo, Jet Li, Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-ping, Chow Yun-fat, and Michelle Yeoh seemed destined to reshape American action movies, but by the time I was graduating high school, demand for their talents had mostly dried up.

So it was a melancholy experience watching War, a violent B-movie that was sold as a Jet Li vs. Jason Statham grudge match. Three years after Hero became one of the only foreign-language movies to ever open at #1, here was its star sleepwalking through a dreary late-summer exploitation movie. Of all the movies discussed here, this is the one I remember least. However, a scan through Wikipedia reveals that it featured fight choreography by Hong Kong legend Corey Yuen, and that director Philip G. Atwell also helmed the video for Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” so maybe it’s due for a revisit.

My most anticipated film of the summer was Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour 3, the (to date) final film in the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker buddy-cop series. 1998’s Rush Hour was popular sleepover viewing when I was a child, but when I recently revisited it for the prestigious Important Cinema Club podcast, I was disappointed by its lumpy pace, Tucker’s abrasiveness, and the complete absence of any chemistry between its leads. I did, however, appreciate the vague Hong Kong/Hollywood coproduction flavour that Ratner brought to the joint (especially enlisting Lalo Schifrin to compose a near-copy of his Enter the Dragon score), and I got a kick out of Chan’s brief fight scenes (which were watered-down compared to his Hong Kong work, but look positively fleet-footed next the listless shenanigans of Kung Fu Yoga).

Even these modest pleasures were absent from Rush Hour 3, in which the oil-and-water teaming of Chan and Tucker felt more contrived than ever. This one sent the boys to Paris, and inevitably climaxed with a fight scene at the Eiffel Tower. This was the kind of movie where Tucker goes backstage at the Follies Bergere and pretends to be a costumer so that he can see naked women. It had a “who’s on first” bit with guys named Yu and Mi. To put it kindly, Tucker looked a little more fleshed-out than in 2001’s Rush Hour 2. Chan mostly just stood around looking old and glum. The one part of Rush Hour 3 I think about on a regular basis is the cameo by Roman Polanski—reportedly a real-life fan of Rush Hour and friend of Ratner—as a commissioner at the airport who subjects Chan and Tucker to a cavity search. Putting aside any ethical implications of casting him, I am glad that there exists a Rush Hour movie with Roman Polanski in the cast (in retrospect, it’s kinda crazy that a convicted child-rapist putting on a rubber glove and suggestively saying “Welcome to Paris” was one the movie’s big trailer moments). The film ended with the boys dutifully dancing to Edwin Starr’s “War,” and as I sat in the Fairway Theatre, I understood the meaning of the phrase “You can’t go home again.”

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