Reviews

The Simple Life

Terry Sawyer

Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton have no discernible talents (I haven't seen the video) and personalities as pleasant as a bout of dry heaving.


The Simple Life

Airtime: Tuesday 8:30pm ET
Cast: Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Richard, Curly, Janet, Albert, Justin, Cayne, Braxton, Tinkerbell
Network: Fox
Amazon

Reality television, in the form of The Simple Life, seems finally to have found its karmic balance. Democrats would do well to tape this show as evidence for any future hearings about the estate tax, as suffering is here doled out where suffering is due. If anyone should find herself on the ass end of the boob tube, it should be the fake-n-bake party heiress whose most recent barnacle on the hull of proper fame was a grainy private porno featuring a sleazy former boyfriend.

At last, the cult of celebrity has reached its nadir. Though you might think the proliferation of fame might make it seem less attractive, in fact, reality television has made people all the more desperate for a taste, setting the bar so low that almost anyone can sacrifice enough dignity to garner a shameful pan flash. Fame is no longer solely a province of achievement, no matter how dubious. It's an accessory, a trend that's pedestrian to the point of being this decade's parachute pants.

Case in point: Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton have no discernible talents (I haven't seen the video) and personalities as pleasant as a bout of dry heaving. The premise has them leaving their wealth behind for a month on an Altus, Arkansas farm, where they live with poor people, namely, the infinitely patient Ledings. The Simple Life introduces the girls during a "typical" day: they spend thousands of dollars without seeming to think. (Hilton walks into one store to spend $1,500 on a bag for her dog, confident that mommy's credit card is on file.) It was, in fact, a cagey opening gambit: after watching these coddled vipers giddily stuff their voids, I was eager to see the wealth teat ripped from their mouths. For them, it's a kind of punishment; as one of Hilton's friends observes, "I'd rather have no food for six weeks than no cell phone."

What follows is one of the most protracted indictments of wealth and privilege ever recorded. It's Clueless meets Survivor, as Nicole and Paris navigate the world of normal folk. They struggle mightily to maintain their ice-princess courtesy. Nicole asks, "Do you guys hang out at Wal-Mart?" This gives Hilton pause: "What is Wal-Mart?" The show is premised on such ping-pong hilarity, showcasing the girls' class deformation to the point of retardation. "What are wells for?" asks Paris, as she's warned about stepping over one in the floor of the house. Is she kidding? I have no idea. Usually, it's only Presidents who appear on tv to reveal their numbing levels of disconnection from our lives.

My favorite moment of the premiere episode (so successful on its first night that Fox re-aired it on Wednesday, garnering 13.3 million viewers) comes when the girls are asked to go grocery shopping. They, of course, don't stick to the list and end up spending more money than they have with them. When the clerk tells them they don't have enough money, Paris asks, "Can we just have it?" He confuses them by telling them, "It's not a soup kitchen." In the car, Nicole echoes Paris' surprise: "I can't believe he wouldn't just give it to us." Apparently, she lives in that stratosphere of capitalism where your very identity is somehow a commodity to be bartered. If you can score free cocktails at the Viper Room for being peripherally famous, why not Miracle Whip at the Piggly Wiggly?

By contrast, the Ledings look like admirable people, entertained by the spectacle of prissy snots "roughing it." From the start, one nurses the hope that their charm will prove contagious. Maybe by the end of the series, Hilton and Richie will have Dickensian epiphanies, where they say: "Our lives are vile. We're going to be different people from now on." More likely, though, they will see the experience as an affirmation of their social position, and have their assistants send the Ledings expensive pots of jam for the holidays. I know there's a market for the psychological version of Queer Eye -- these girls are prime candidates for existential makeovers.

Still, I did observe flickers of humanity cracking through the dead nights of their souls. Richie, for one, makes an effort to notice and reciprocate the politeness of her multigenerational host family. This is more than can be said for Hilton, who limply endures the experience like some cyborg who got lost on her way to the set of The O.C.. But they both display a moment of kindness, when they're deciding what to do for the evening and show something approximating genuine warmth to the older son. Nicole offers the porny aside, "We should have a threesome with him." That's "Thank you" in the dialect of Beverly Hills.

I've often been told to lighten up when I'm bitching about something -- as if it's impossible to reconcile enjoyment and critical analysis in the same sitting. Yes, The Simple Life is cavernously stupid. But it's also incredibly fun, a heavy bevy of easy targets that go perfectly with take-out and a circle of culture wolves.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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