Tag Archives: Cinema

Friday Relief

15 Jun

For some Friday Relief this week, we wanted to pass along a strangely awesome little piece of cinematic history.  There we were, sitting down to enjoy The Long Goodbye, an old 1970s crime noir/comedy film that follows a carefree private investigator through the surreal world of 1970s L.A.  The Robert Altman film offers a great look at the 70s weirdness of L.A., and the movie was a noticeable influence on the Coen Bros. when they made The Big Lebowski.  It’s a great movie.  But that’s not the point of this.

The point is, towards the end of the movie, the movie’s protagonist is brought to the home of a crime boss, who’s surrounded by his henchmen.  We’ve seen this crime boss, and we’ve seen these henchmen before.  Except for one guy that we haven’t seen.  A musclebound deaf/mute bodyguard who looks like….no….is that a mustache…..Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger.

It takes a few seconds to make sure it’s really Arnold.  Because this is a rambling, verite-style movie that is not at all like Arnold’s beefy action flicks, and you don’t expect him to be anywhere near it.  And because the look of young Arnold is so awesomely different from that of eventual movie star Arnold.  He looks like David Wooderson from Dazed And Confused suddenly quit his job working for the city and put on 25 pounds of solid muscle.  He looks like he loves to party.

And in the weirdly enthralling scene that follows, Arnold somehow manages to get his shirt off, and half of his pants.  It only takes him 30 seconds!  And we say half of his pants, because he manages to pull them down just low enough to show off some neon-yellow Spanx that proceed to take over the entire scene.  It’s a truly odd and memorable movie moment.

Go forth and enjoy your weekend like Party Arnold would.

 

Full Scene:

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Hot Days, Cool Movies

8 May

Summertime at your local movie theater is a season marked by huge stars, lavish budgets, and lots of loud noises.  With schools out and temperatures ranging from uncomfortably warm to oppressively hot, the easy distractions and cool A/C blasts of the multiplex are an enormous draw all across America.  Movie studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to fill those multiplexes with all the big stars, shiny effects, and loud noises that the months of May – August can handle, and their efforts are rewarded with enough box office sales and merchandising tie-in revenues to keep the whole routine humming year after year.

It is easy to point to the summer movie season as a perfect example of everything wrong with Hollywood and America today – enormous sums of money spent on hollow excesses simply for the sake of making even bigger sums of money on the back end.  And there is some truth behind that.  A cynical truth, though, and bringing cynicism into the summer movie season can prevent someone from enjoying the great potential behind some of these blockbusters.  If done right, a huge summer movie can represent some of the best things that the medium of cinema can offer –  namely an escape from the mundane realities of everyday life, and the chance to see wild twists of imagination made ‘real’ on the big screen.  Summer can offer the chance to check your worries and stress at the door, and escape into worlds of pure entertainment.  There is nothing wrong with just being entertained for a few hours out of your otherwise busy week.

The Avengers kicked off the blockbuster season last week with a small fortune in box office receipts, and it has gotten us in the blockbuster mood here at Dan Swanky’s.  We sat down and picked out some films from the next few months that have us all-out excited, or at least genuinely intrigued, for what awaits in the cool dark of the theater.  And to add a different perspective, we also got our resident blockbuster aficionado Steed to give us some picks of his own.  Enjoy Part One.

May

The Avengers – May 4

The Avengers is an example of how to make a blockbuster the right way.  Director Joss Whedon manages to pull off a story that remains true to the essence of the comic books while also achieving a broader appeal, and he does it behind strong characters that don’t get lost behind the massive scale of the special effects.  It’s tough to stay grounded and nuanced while pulling off scenes with aliens, Norse gods, and lots of spandex, but Avengers manages to do that while also celebrating the awesome action potential that comes from having superhero legends sharing the big screen for the first time.

The Dictator – May 18

Sascha Baron Cohen continues his trend of playing crude characters with funny accents in The Dictator, and it’s tough to tell from the early trailers if this will be a return to brilliant Borat form, or a continuation of the mild disappointment of Bruno.  Regardless, any movie that brings together comedic talents like Cohen, director Larry Charles, and John C. Reilly is worth the benefit of the doubt.  Hopefully there are plenty of batshit crazy and filthy jokes waiting behind the currently tame trailer.

Moonrise Kingdom – May 25

Wes Anderson returns with another coming-of-age tale (presumably) soaked in warm colors, ethereal indie rock songs, and sharp-tongued youngsters.  You can go into an Anderson film with a strong idea of what you’re going to get, and you’ll end up being mostly right – but he can also hit you with emotionally charged scenes of beauty when you least expect it, and is always wholly unique.  Moonrise could be a welcome change of pace among the special effects melee of the summer landscape.

STEED:

Battleship – May 11

“Let’s run this one down:  Aircraft carriers.  Aliens.  Guns.  Tim ‘Riggs’ Riggins.  Liam ‘Taken’ Neeson.  Brooklyn Decker.  Explosions.  This one had me standing in line from the top.  Then the newest trailer dropped in front of Avengers this past weekend, and things were ratcheted up.  I blacked out from the sensory overload, and when I came to a few seconds later, I was at half-mast and lying in the aisle.  Ticket already purchased.”

What To Expect When You’re Expecting – May 18

“Confession: I’m a sucker for baby humor.  No, not humor meant for babies to laugh at – humor that is made up of babies doing funny things.  Babies reacting to things they clearly shouldn’t be reacting to?  Babies crawling around and stirring up innocent mischief?  Gets me every goddamn time.  This movie looks like it’s got all kinds of baby vs. stupid human interaction, and I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.”

June

Prometheus – June 8

This sci-fi action/horror/mind-bender looks to be one of the cooler movies of the summer, complete with a mysterious plot, creepy alien action, and a great cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron.  And that’s on top of the fact that it’s directed by Ridley Scott in his rumored return to the Alien universe; the early glimpses of the trailers look like there are plenty of the same ‘horror movie in space’ touches that made the first film so great.  In another connection to Alien, Fassbender is playing an android in this one – there are unconfirmed reports that he actually begins the film as a sex robot and that this could be a Shame-in-Space situation.  Stay tuned.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – June 22

This is one of those movies that has the potential to be the perfect ‘turn off your mind and be entertained’ summer offerings.  The concept (spelled out in the title) is borderline absurd – but so what?  Timur Bekmambetov is a director who knows how to craft stylish and inventive action sequences, and he’ll be offering up plenty of badass Abe Lincoln v. Vampires ax fights.  If the movie doesn’t take itself seriously and focuses on just having a good time, then this could be a great late-night summer movie.

Magic Mike – June 29

We’ve talked about this before, but we’ve been looking forward to Magic Mike ever since hearing the logline.  In a story based partly upon his real life, Channing Tatum is a male stripper whose mentor is Matthew McConaughey.  This alone sounds somewhat iffy, but when the kicker is that Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh, things could get weird, in an awesome way.  Soderbergh is a very good director, and his approach to this particular story will be very interesting.  Plus, McConaughey’s role means that we get to see David Wooderson follow his calling to be a male stripper.

STEED:

Rock of Ages – June 15

“Make sure you put down that I’m not a musical fan.  I’d much rather see someone fight their way through a movie’s plot instead of singing and dancing about.  But when the music is all rock classics from golden gods like Journey, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Bon Fuckin’ Jovi, and the main guy is Tom ‘Maverick’ Cruise?  Then sign me right up.  I’m definitely looking forward to getting out my old denim and bringing a few tall boys to the opening weekend of this baby.  Hopefully I’ll bring it back to the Van Halen show a few years ago and get a little something going in the back row.  We shall see.  We shall see.”

That’s My Boy – June 15

“Well, it looks like the June 15 weekend is going to have to be a double feature for yours truly.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the Sand-man’s last several movies, and with this one we finally get to see him in some hard-R glory.  No more dancing around that salty language, Sand-man, just let it fly.  I’m not too sure who this Andy Samberg broheim is, but he looks like he could have some potential and I’ll give him a shot.  As long he doesn’t get in the Man’s way.  I don’t want anyone stepping over those baby-talk lines I love so much.  I’ve got a feeling that like Grown Ups, I’ll be making some return trips to the theater all summer long for this one.”

Part Two covering July and August coming soon…

A Different Kind Of Cinematic Excellence

22 Mar

The Theater.  At first, second, and third glance, it is an unlikely place for memorable cinematic experiences.  It was impossible to move in your seat without a high-pitched creak echoing out against the faded walls.  The floors were constantly sticky and you always had to be ready to lift your feet up at moment’s notice to allow spilled drinks to flow by underneath.

After about 20 minutes into the movie, the first empty bottle would fall over; that familiar clinking would sound out at least a few more times before the credits rolled.  There was a Coke-colored splatter just slightly visible on the bottom right hand corner of the screen, presumably the result of someone’s lobbed soda.  Every now and then, a disinterested teenage usher would walk down the aisles and jiggle a flashlight halfheartedly.  It was ostensibly to keep things under control, but they’d only bother you if you happened totake a pull from your wine bottle right in front of them – at that point they’d just make you throw it out before returning to your seat.

In terms of beverages, the best ‘personal’ drink options were either 40ozs (High Life is a local favorite) or the Pan Flute.  The Pan Flute is a 3-pack of 24oz beer cans that conveniently comes wrapped tightly together.  It vaguely resembles the Peruvian pan flute, but a vague resemblance is all it took for the name to catch on with the local college crowd.  The Pan Flute easily slips under a zipped-up hoodie or under the crook of your arm so that no one is the wiser as you slip past the box office.  The 24oz threesome is also much more than enough to keep you feeling alright throughout the whole movie.

You couldn’t just see any new release at The Theater.  There was an art to picking your spots.  There were some movies that would be ruined if seen there, some that would be alright but not really worth it, and then some that begged to be seen there.  At no other theater was there the same mixture of location, clientele, and environment.

The Theater was situated right in between campus and student apartments, and was also in a somewhat run-down neighborhood.  When you went to a movie, you were most likely going to find a varied crowd with a decent proportion of them inclined to partake in some kind of partying.  The Theater’s managers weren’t running too tight a ship, so there wasn’t much oversight going on.  You could count on enjoying yourself with some recreational beverages as long as you kept it in moderation.

This was a place best suited to enjoying some cold beers and a movie, with an audience that would largely be doing the same.  So you wanted to find a movie that would both supplement and be supplemented by this kind of ‘open-minded’ environment.  Some genres that turned out to fit this category well were broad comedies, ‘pot movies,’ mindless action flicks (but none that relied on huge amounts of special effects, because the grand scale of those would be lost on the drink-stained screen and shaky-at-best sound system), and most of all, horror movies.

It is this last type of movie that The Theater seemed tailor-made for.  There is something about watching a ridiculous horror movie on a dingy theater’s scratchy screen that feels akin to a classic moviegoer experience.  The super-intense, thematically profound horror movies are not the kind of horror we’re talking about here.  No, these are the slasher movies, the teen screams, the grindhouse creature features that inspire fits of frightened laughter and knowing groans with every crazy ‘kill scene.’

I came to horror, or specifically these particular brands of horror movies, later than I came to appreciate many other film genres.  For a long time, I was a bit too grossed out or disturbed by the randomly gratuitous violence in these movies.  But as I entered college – and not inconsequentially moved into the Theater’s neighborhood – I began to see the greatness potential in this horror canon.  Not great in terms of artistic merit and thoughtful filmmaking, but great in terms of the way these movies can become visceral events and communal experiences in a way that few other genres can.

Shortly after being introduced to The Theater, a few close friends and I spent one long summer introducing ourselves to the old-school horror movie catalog.  This involved spending many humid nights going through frosty six-packs and living vicariously through the doomed characters on-screen.  Talking (yelling) at these movies, in relative moderation, is an essential part of the viewing experience.  You can laugh at the ridiculousness of the 80s-era teen parties, or the absurd ways in which the killers take down their victims.  The nature of the action on screen moves the viewer to become more than just a passive spectator; few other types of movies can allow you to run the gamut from yelling, laughing, groaning in disgust, or cringing in fear in under two hours.

While it is highly enjoyable to watch these movies from the comfort of your own living room, it can be a much richer experience to venture out with some friends and beers to a venue that accommodates the lively atmosphere resulting from a horror showing.  The Theater provided that exact kind of venue, and I remember one particular viewing experience that stands out in memory as a shining example of the best things both The Theater and horror movies have to offer.  It was a drizzly night in early Spring, and the Friday the 13th remake had just hit theaters.  While this movie was critically panned and may seem wholly unremarkable on the surface, it was an exciting development for some of us in the area.

As part of our aforementioned Horror 101 summer, my friends and I had discovered the many joys of the old Friday The 13th series.  The original Friday The 13th was a bit more serious and straightforward than some of the other cheesy horror movies – there were legitimately unnerving and intense sequences, and the producers seemed intent on crafting a quality film experience.  But the original also laid the groundwork for the recurring motifs that would make the following sequels such great summer night horror material:  the good-looking but hilariously stereotypical teen protagonists, the incredibly dated style sense, the idyllic summer camp/cabin setting, the copious amounts of drugs, drinking and sex, the cartoonishly indestructible villain (Jason), and the creative yet often absurd death scenes.

We covered Friday 1-4 that summer, and watched as they got broader and dumber with each installment.  Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Viewing each one was a chance to drink, laugh, be disgusted, and sometimes, be a bit scared.  From hallmark moments like the inexplicable wheelchair death scene in Part 2 to the blatant gimmickry of the 3D effects in Part 3, the series never disappointed.  As strange as it is to say about movies concerning menacing killers, we developed a sincere fondness for these films over the course of the summer.  And it was due to this twisted fondness for the Friday movies and their brethren that we were excited to see the remake’s showtimes go up on The Theater’s haphazard Coming Attractions display.

Say what you will about the Friday The 13th remake – the crass, cash-in motives behind its creation and its lack of relative originality or quality as a piece of filmmaking cannot really be refuted.  But the real reasons we had to go see the movie at The Theater had nothing to do with the critical criteria placed on most films.  Instead, it had everything to do with us getting the opportunity to watch this trashy update of one of our favorite O.G. trashy horror movies, in an environment where the crowd experience would be almost as fun as the actual movie.  Where we could slip our Lite Pan Flutes under our sweatshirts on a rainy, dull night and head into a movie we could laugh at, groan at, and which got better as the beers got emptier.

There is something inherently comforting, almost like a borrowed nostalgia, about hearing the projector whir and the film crackle in a rundown theater with a teen slasher movie onscreen.  And while this seems like an elusive experience in today’s luxurious super-multiplex world, we managed to find and live it out at The Theater.

Sure, we would have probably preferred the original Friday or maybe some other vintage 80s classic on that screen – but we got what we came for.  There was plenty of gratuitous teen stupidity, drinking, pot smoking, sexing, and creative Jason slasher action to keep us entertained for two hours.  And there were plenty of other groups in that audience with a similar mindset and liquid accompaniment, which provided the kind of big communal watching experience that wasn’t possible in the living room.

There were no pretensions anywhere in the whole experience, from the shabby carpet in the lobby to the cracked seat covers to the cheap beer everyone smuggled in.  By the time the credits rolled and we moved back out into the night, we had a contented and pleasant buzz that was only partly due to the now-empty Pan Flutes.  It was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had in a long time.

For all the incredible, well-crafted, and visually-stunning films I’ve seen at high-quality theaters since then, I still find myself missing that shitty old Theater more times than I care to admit.  That kind of experience will be hard to duplicate again.  At least I can still hope to look forward to more long and hazy horror movie nights this summer.