Saturday, January 29, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences #7: “Godzilla 2000” (1999)

You may not know this, but movies run in theaters even if there is not audience. There’s a reason for this, of course. Most movie theaters no longer change reels. All the reels are spliced together and put on a large platter. So once you start a film, it has to run all the way through.
Now, let’s say the show time is 1 PM and no one shows. So you said, “Let’s not bother to show the movie.” And then ten teen thugs show up to watch the movie at 1:10, hoping they had missing the PSAs, trailers and credits and were ready to be cinematically entertained. So you start the show twenty minutes late. Which would make the 3 PM show late, and the 5 PM show and the 7 and the 9. So you have to start the movie every time, even the last show, just for the off chance someone shows.
I remember 1988’s “Jack’s Back” with James Spader running many times on its first and final weekend with no one attending at the UA5.
I love it when I’m the only one watching a movie. If I feel like it, I can stretch out in the center aisle, scratch, belch and make MST3000 remarks loudly to the screen. It’s nice, of course, as well, when it is a film with only my family. Off hand, I can only think of one time that happened. An that wasn't the only cool thing about this particular sceening.
When I still lived in Felton, CA, my wife Mindy and our kids (Bret, Paige and Jill) were visiting Santa Rosa. And visiting the UA5, my old theater workplace. Mary Ann was still managing the theater, as she did when I working there. And she gave the kids a tour of the upstairs, to see the movie projectors running. Even more cool, she gave each of the kids their own preview of coming attractions trailer (“Titan A-E” for Bret, “Rocky and Bullwinkle” for Paige [poor Paige] and “X-Men” for Jill.)
Then we watched (free of charge), “Godzilla 2000”. Now, this is not the best of the Big G films. Not nearly as good as the original, but so much better than the American CGI abomination. Because it had men in suits, the way Japanese sci-fi with bad dubbing was meant to be.
In case you want to know the plot, “Godzilla saves Tokyo from a flying saucer that transforms into the beast Orga.” I didn’t remember that. I copied it from IMDB. I remember Toho Studios and United Artists spending millions of dollars for the entertainment of my family alone on a wonderful weekday afternoon. It was not only the first time my kids had seen the real Godzilla on a big screen, it was the first time for me. I had watched him on Creature Features and the kids saw him on video, but never on the big screen. And we got to play Mike, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Nothing better. (Although since this is #7, there must be at least six things better.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Addenda for Movie Theater Post #9

I left out in my "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" post who I saw the movie with, and that would be Gregg Naslund. Some of my best film going in high school and college was with Gregg. Together we saw such fine films as "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" at the drive-in and a double feature of "The Spy Who Loved Me" with "Logan's Run".
But again the point of these posts is the experience more than the movie. Such as the time, while waiting for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to start that Gregg recited Dr. Suess' "I Had Trouble in Getting to Solo Salu" to an appreciative audience.
Also memorable was an incident after viewing "Dawn of the Dead" with Gregg. Somehow, after this very gory film, we decided to get something to eat. We pulled into the Jack in the Box parking lot and looked in the window. We then looked at each other, not believing what we saw. People in Jack's with blue faces, the same shade as the zombies in DotD. We then realized, it was a group of clowns. Which may have been scarier.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences: #8 “Oliver!” (1968)

My sister is (sorry, Gwynne) ten years older than I am and when I was little she got the most awesome job in the world, working in a movie theater. At least, I thought so at the time. Free movies and free popcorn, who could ask for more? (Well, it would be nice if they paid you. But that didn’t keep me from working on and off in movie theaters once I was old enough.)

When Gwynne worked for a summer at the Park Cinema, they had two theaters and for many, many weeks they had the same two movies playing, “Oliver!” and “Funny Girl”. I watched FG, and it was okay, but I’m sure a lot of what was happening in the film flew over my head.

But “Oliver!”, well, I pretty much loved it. We went to see it (free, of course) as a family. But even better was when Gwynne worked and I went with her and watched the film by myself. This was the first time I watched a film alone, something I still enjoy on occasion.

At the time, I thought the very best seats in the house were in the very front row, so you could stretch your legs out and completely enter the world of the film. The screen was all you could see, and I was back in Merry Olde England with the Artful Dodger (played by Jack Wild who starred at the time in one of my Saturday morning favorites, “H. R. Pufnstuf”.)

Though my childhood was much happier than Oliver’s (Mark Lester), I still could relate to feeling alone at times (though not sleeping in a coffin) and envied his discovery at the end that in fact he came from a rich family (though I would later appreciate that my family was richer than most in nonmonetary ways.)

Oliver Reed scared me as he was meant to as the villainous Bill Sikes.

But best of all, was Nancy played by Shani Wallis. Sitting in the front row, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. (My first movie star crush, narrowly beating out Katherine Ross in 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.) Sadly, Wallis didn’t have a very prolific career. I see at IMDB she had a stint on “The Young and the Restless”, but I’ve never watched soaps. I might have seen her guest shots on “Columbo” and “Charlie’s Angels”, but I don’t remember. I wanted to see the horror film “Arnold” but my parents wouldn’t take me. But I do remember her voicing the Nancy-like mouse pub singer in “The Great Mouse Detective.”

There were kid’s matinees that Gwynne got me into that summer, such fine films as “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Attack of the Puppet People”, but “Oliver!” was even better than those great films in my 6 year old mind.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Top Ten Movie Going Experiences #9

This should have been the title of the post below. All hope for better for Post #8.

"Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" and "Piranha" (1978) UA 6 Santa Rosa

Actually saw these in 1979 at one of the great Midnight Shows at the UA 6 in Santa Rosa. It was at these shows that I first saw such classics as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Apocalypse Now” and other things that were not quite classics. Such rules as not drinking (alcohol) and smoking (tobacco or other substances) were not enforced at this time.
This particular screening took place before I worked at this theater (working for UA on and off for years.) You might say these are two bad films, but they are great bad films, bad in quite different ways. Films that try to be so bad that they’re good almost never, ever work. But “Tomatoes” did for me. It is a silly spoof of horror films that made me laugh. (Sometimes it’s easier to laugh after midnight.)
And “Piranha” was made by people that were about to become big. Directed by Joe Dante (“Gremlins”) and written by John Sayles (“Eight Men Out”), this is much more subtle and subversive spoof of horror films.
But the best thing is that it was a Double Feature! (Awesome things that there aren’t enough of anymore.) And it started at Midnight!) (I had a speech tournament the next morning in Sacramento. I had two hours sleep at the most and did horribly in the tournament. It was so worth it.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Books I Read In 2010

I realized I had made a top movie list and a top TV list from list from 2010, but not a top book list. So instead, here's the books that were published in 2010 and that I read in 2010.
These are the ones I could think of, off hand.

“Devils in Exile” by Chuck Hogan

“61 Hours: A Reacher Novel” by Lee Childs (but not “Worth Dying For” yet)

“Dexter is Delicious” by Jeff Lindsay

“Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the After Life” by Lisa Miller

“Blockage Billy (with the short story ‘Morality’)” by Stephen King

“Juliet, Naked” by Nick Hornby

“Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One” by Zev Chafets

“Ford County: Stories” by John Grisham

“The Strain” by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

“Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940 – 1945” by Max Hastings

“Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” by Mary Roach

“The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women” by James Ellroy

“101 Places Not to See Before You Die” by Catherine Price

Of these, "Packing for Mars" was probably the nonfiction book I enjoyed the most and "Devils in Exile" or "Juliet, Naked" was the most fun novel.

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences: #10

I appreciate the benefits of the digital revolution has had on the movie experience. It's great to have more movies, especially old, classic films available in the home. But there can be something special about going to the movies. Some of my favorite experiences have been in movie theaters (or drive-in.) Thus this list.
This is a personal list, and as the first film on this list makes clear, the film doesn't have to be great for it to make the list.

#10) OUTLAND - 1981 -(Grauman's/Mann's Chinese Theater) - This Sean Connery science fiction remake of HIGH NOON is no great shakes. It's entertaining but I remember it having a loose grip on how gravity, vacuums and other scientific principals work. Like many films by Peter Hyams (Timecop, Capricorn One, The Star Chamber) there is decently directed action and a plot with ludicrous conspiracies, but the film isn't what puts this on the list.

It's on the list because of the history the theater. Built in 1927, the art deco style of the place is cool. But it's real fame comes from the foot and hand prints in the cement which started with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and went on to include everyone from John Wayne to R2D2.

I've been there other times (once when Michael Landon was filming an episode of "Highway to Heaven".) But this was the only time I've seen a film there. I went with my brother Dale. The screen was large, the picture was clear and the sound system was good.

Better than the film was one of the trailers. This was the first time I saw footage of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Seeing the trailer, I thought the film had potential. (My first viewing of "Raiders" with family and friends sitting next to my sister-in-law Carol almost made this list. The film itself is certainly in my top ten.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Western Isn't Dead

True Grit

“The banjo takes me back, through the foggy haze,
With memories of what never was, become the good old days.”

The line above is taken from a country-western song by Steve Martin, “Daddy Played the Banjo” and I think it summarizes nicely the appeal of the Western genre. We might know that the world of cowboys and gunslingers, saloons and Main Street at high noon is mythical, but we still like to think of it as our history and heritage.
The new version of True Grit puts on some pretense of being more “authentic” by keeping much of the language of Charles Portis’ classic novel, acknowledging the racism of the time period and featuring grim living conditions. But it’s really a Western, an adventure story as real as tales of Camelot or Narnia. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There is something about a good adventure story that stirs the spirit, that makes us think that we weren’t made to live ordinary lives but are meant to accomplish great things. It’s even better when the hero of the story is young. Treasure Island endures as a classic tale partly because it’s a young boy, Jim Hawkins, that enters the murderous world of pirates.
I think Portis created an even better protagonist with Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl with intelligence, orneriness and, yes, True Grit (tenacious courage.) When her father is murdered and no adult seems interested in bringing the killer to justice, she takes on the task herself.
One of the things I love about the character is her Christian faith, which seems to tend toward the Pharisaical. She is quick to judge others. She considers the man her father traded horses with to be a crook. She is quick to assess the federal marshal she hires to track her father’s killer as a lazy drunk. And of course, there’s the condemnation she wishes to heap on that killer, Tom Chaney.
Though a judgmental nature is always an ugly thing, like many fashions it hangs a little better on the young. Mattie, like most teens, is an idealist who expects more from people than they are able to deliver. Older people should know better. (Jesus captured this judgmental spirit well in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18: 9 – 14.)
But Mattie is smart enough to know she can’t take on Chaney and his gang of outlaws alone. So she joins up with Rooster, whom she considers a sinner, and Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, whom she considers a dandy. The three go together into the wilderness and face great dangers from both villains and nature.
Trials bring these three people together into a bond of respect and love.
Mattie’s cause is not of the noblest kind. She seeks revenge. (She should have been looking to Romans 12:19.) But I think there is lesson here for Christ’s church: when we have a common goal and vision and seek it together, Christ will bond us together, and we can overcome our petty differences.
The film opens with a quotation from Proverbs 28: 1, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” Strangely, the second half of the verse was omitted, “but the righteous are bold as a lion.” One of the joys of a good adventure is the spending time with good, brave people. True Grit, with wonderful performances by Jeff Bridges (in the role that won John Wayne an Oscar), Matt Damon and especially newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie.
It’s a great adventure, but God has bigger adventures in store for you.

By my figuring, this puts the Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel)film record at 13 for 15, which is very, very, impressive.

(True Grit is PG-13 for language and violence.)