Younger readers may not remember, but there used to be a time when high-school kids would beat the shit out of each other after class (or sometimes at lunch) to settle disputes — and entertain their peers. Historically, the happy youth of Whistler and Pemby seem to have been the exception that proves the rule (I can't speak for Squamish), but on any given afternoon in small towns across B.C., there used to be good chance that teenage angst and hormonal stupidity would mix just right and things would have to be settled the old-fashion way — two kids in a parking lot throwing down in a circle-coliseum of teenagers chanting, "fight, fight, fight...."
It seems like the Internet and some deeply entrenched anti-bullying campaigns have largely ended the madness, but it used to happen enough that there is a film subgenre dedicated to high-school violence. The 1980s were an especially productive decade (check out 1980's My Bodyguard — early Matt Dillon!, 1984's The Karate Kid, 1985's Tuff Turf or 1987's Three O'Clock High), but the '90s also carried the flame with classics like Dazed and Confused and The Craft. It eventually led to 2008's Never Back Down, wherein high-school kids stage UFC-meets-Fight Club-style battles for popularity (it's terrible, but stars Amber Heard!), and now, Fist Fight opens this weekend at the Village 8.
Fist Fight is the first flick I can think of that transposes the violence onto the teachers. Ice Cube stars in the bully role and Charlie Day is the mild-mannered English teacher scrambling to avoid getting stomped. There were no pre-screenings for this one but if you've seen any of the flicks listed above, chances are you know how it will go. With low expectations, however, Fist Fight could be OK. Cube is always watchable and director Richie Keen is the guy who made Take Me Home Tonight, the underappreciated Anna Faris/Topher Grace '80s throwback flick with a perfectly ridiculous set-up about a video-store clerk pretending to be a Wall Street player to impress his old high-school crush (watch for the pre-superstar Chris Pratt cameo).
Speaking of walls, The Great Wall also opens this week. It's not about political posturing though, as timely as that would be, but rather the other wall, the one in China that took 1,700 years to build. That's not important to the movie, however, because the history and mythology is under-realized by a story plagued with generic action-movie tricks and a reliance on American stars.
Matt Damon stars as a round-eye mercenary out of his league when he falls in with an elite force of Chinese warriors battling dragons to save humanity, or something. Directed by veteran Chinese visual master Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) this one is supposed to be a breakthrough U.S.-China co-production to wow audiences on both sides of the pond.
And visually, it might. The plot — hung on an idea that civilization's biggest landmark may have been built to contain something larger than mere mortals — suffers from a lack of backstory or empathetic heroes (Damon spends most of the movie being outclassed by the Chinese), and it all works in setting up repeated Lord of the Rings-style battle scenes. The editing is too frantic for my liking (John Wick's lengthier shots show better action) and now that Captain America is a hit, it's kind of lame to see everyone suddenly throwing shields around.
In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens as Hollywood continues to seek Chinese investment for co-productions. Hearsay is that the Chinese demand strict quality control over how their actors and culture are portrayed (they have to come off looking good or no paycheque), so time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, for visual spectacle The Great Wall is as good as it gets this week.
That is, unless you count La La Land, which is still playing at the Village 8, and a favourite for a number of Oscars. I finally watched it and there is no denying that the actors used their acting and the filmmakers used their filmmaking. There is a lot of brilliance in this one, but also a lot of singing, much of it unnecessary.
The kids are into that sort of thing these days though; I blame reality TV. Although I guess song and dance makes for a brighter future than high-school fight club. Evolution baby!