' ' Cinema Romantico: Let's All Go to the Movies!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Let's All Go to the Movies!

Many movie theater experiences make you want to fall asleep ("The Good Shepherd"). Many make you fall asleep for real ("Van Helsing"). Many make you want to walk out ("Click"). Many make you walk out for real ("Varsity Blues"). Many make you want to weep for mankind ("Armageddon"). And some make you want to stab yourself because it's 2:45 AM and you had to screen it by yourself at the movie theater where you work since no one else wanted to watch it with you and it seems like it will never end and, dear God, you just want to go home ("Meet Joe Black").

But some movie theater experiences are rewarding to a degree no prose can explain. And two years ago today was one of those very days. Today is the second anniversary of the most transcendent movie-going experience of my life. If anyone does not know this particular experience took place at the Sierra 3 Movie Theaters in Des Moines, Iowa and was a movie featuring the squinting of Clint Eastwood, the gargled-with-rocks voice-over of Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank hitting a speed bag. Thus, I decided today would be the perfect day to revisit not only the single most transcendent movie-going experience of my life, but the other four movie-going experiences that also live up to the term transcendent.

1.) Million Dollar Baby. I saw it four times in the theater and have seen it, at least, five times all the way through on DVD. But nothing can compare to my very first viewing. As the film unfolded on the screen before me I slowly came to the amazing revelation that I was watching not just a good movie, or a great one, or even a brilliant one, but a movie that was - as the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert wrote of it - "a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true." I still vividly recall sitting in the darkness of the theater after it had ended and thinking to myself if it was really possible that what I had just witnessed was real. Had the last two hours been a dream? I didn't cry in the theater but, I'll admit it, when I got to my car and closed the door a torrent of tears poured forth. Many movie theater experiences have caused the "unforced smile", or made me want to stand up in the theater and cheer, or stop the projector and lecture my fellow movie-goers regarding the ingenuity they're witnessing, or perform cartwheels of joy in the parking lot. But only a single movie theater experience changed my life. This one.

2.) Titanic. Unlike "Million Dollar Baby", which swooped in from left field to stun me, I had anticipated "Titanic" for months prior to its release. It was going to be hard for it to live up to the expectations I had built in my head but, lo and behold, it did. Prior to the Bruce Springsteen show I witnessed last June the only other out-of-body experience I've ever had occured during my initial viewing of this movie. Remember the scene when Jack puts Rose on the lifeboat but then she jumps back onto the Titanic and they run to each other? Yeah, I left my body during that. Someway and somehow I merged with the movie screen. I can't really explain it. And I still remember the kiss the couple sitting one row in front of me shared immediately after the movie concluded. It wasn't one of those obligatory kisses couples share because, you know, they're a couple, but a kiss that seemed to be a true affirmation of their love. Despite the film's naysayers, "Titanic" contains the power to do that.

3.) Boogie Nights. I saw this in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with my friend Caleb, his girlfriend at the time, and her friend. This one was in the manner of "Million Dollar Baby" - not in the life-changing way - but in the way that as the movie progressed you realized how you were in the presence of complete brilliance and you weren't really sure whether or not you believed it. Plus, it was all worth it for the moment when Caleb forcefully grabbed hold of me during the scene in which Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly are drinking margaritas and swapping lies and yelled, "They're talking about nothing!" That's what pure joy sounds like.

4.) Signs. Some people may not share my rapturous view of this film but I don't care one bit. I loved it. I was indifferent to "Unbreakable" (writer/director M. Night Shymalan's previous movie) and I wasn't all that into "The Sixth Sense" like so many other people. Therefore I was interested to see "Signs" but I wasn't anticipating it a great deal. But, man oh man, I was hooked from precisely the opening second and the throwback titles. In rare instances you're so deeply involved with the movie that the theater itself feels just like your own living room. You know, like sometimes you're viewing a movie at home and it's so remarkable you have no choice but to pause it and get up from your chair and bust a move of happiness (this just happened last week during "A Fond Kiss"). I had to restrain myself from doing this during "Signs". Plus, there came a moment midway through when something particularly scary happened and the girl sitting behind me screamed way, way out loud. And I - the introverted hermit we all know - was literally this close to turning around and thanking her for enjoying this cinematic experience as much as me.

5.) There's Something About Mary. I was employed at the movie theater when I first saw this one and it was a sneak at midnight solely for theater employees. I know this is my friend Dan's favorite movie-going experience. It was so funny and the whole damn theater was into it. It felt like a tent show more than a movie theater. The auditorium wasn't just filled with laughter, but with applause and even high-fives if something was really hysterical. It felt like drinks were being served even though they weren't. Another part of the magic for me stemmed from the fact I sat next to a girl I really liked (that brightens any situtation). The best exchange we shared of the whole night came during the scene when Ben Stiller busts into the house where Matt Dillon and other guy posing as the invalid are hiding out.

Her: "Is that shit on the floor?"
Me: "I think it is."
Her: "There's shit on the floor."

And we laughed and laughed.


Wretched Genius said...

OK, this post begs that readers respond with their own. I will try to be brief.

1. "Serenity"
I loved "Firefly," and went into the movie expecting to essentially see an extended episode of the show (with better effects, of course. It ended up being the very best of the whole series, and provided a sense of closure that I was not prepared for. I was gripping my seat during the end fight against the Reavers, and I am not a man who ever grips his seat. This is the only time my obsessive fanboy desires have ever been exceeded by a filmmaker.

2. "Event Horizon"
This is not a great movie. Probably not even a good one. But it is a scary one. And I did not know that when I went to the midnight employee sneak at Cobblestone with a bunch of other employees who also thought they were about to watch a standard sci-fi space adventure. We turned off all the lights (including the emergency and track lighting). It scared the hell out of all of us. The DTS sound was relentlessly attempting to stop our hearts. And the movie's art direction (which is astounding on the big screen and sadly muted on a TV) helped so very well to add to the general feeling of unease while watching. We were all trembling when we exited.

3. "South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut"
Close to 50 employees from various theaters showed up for the sneak of this, and none of us knew how far the humor was going to go. It is the absolute hardest that I have ever laughed in the theater.

4. "Resident Evil"
Let me say this first: the movie is terrible. But on a night when Travis Henderson and I filled one of the theaters' ice buckets with bottles of Bud Light, bought 8 bags of chips and a 5-pound container of licorice, it couldn't have been a better choice. When drinking with friends in an empty theater, there are few better plots than a hot chick in a skimpy dress using automatic weapons and martial arts to fight zombies. We laughed, we drank, we threw stuff at the screen, and then we drank some more. It was a glorious night.

5. "Almost Famous"
I may enjoy watching a good movie. I may relish the chance to watch a great one. But seldom can a movie actually make me feel good. "Almost Famous" made me feel good. In fact, it made me feel great. I left the theater ready to take on the world. I wasted that temporary momentum but going home and taking on my couch, instead. But for that brief time, I felt wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I actually had the opportunity to attend the "South Park" screening you speak of but for some reason - I fell asleep, if memory serves - I missed it. And I regret that immensely. I remember people talking about it the next day like it was already legendary.

You also mention "Almost Famous". If I had done a Top 10 that one would have made it. I returned to my Norwalk, Iowa home after I saw it at the theater and vividly recall hollering at my roommate and his girlfriend that I would "throw things out the window" if it didn't win the Oscar.

It didn't win, of course, but I also didn't throw anything out a window. Ah, the heat of the moment.

Rory Larry said...

This is more in response to Wretched Genius

"Serenity" provided closure I agree and it was great to watch but it was inferior to the series in many ways. Where was the Western element that defined the series? It was epic and grand whereas the show was more subdued and intimate. I recently rewatched the series. "Objects in Space" is amazing work for a tv show. I used to think Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative in "Serenity" was so amazing and I still think that but Richard Brooks role as Jubal Early is amazingly complex and I think ultimately a more interesting character.

Anonymous said...

"Serenity" is a pulse-pounding thrill ride with breathtaking cinematography, witty characterizations, and mind-blowing special effects. "Event Horizon" is (copy, paste). "South Park" is (copy, paste, substitute "animation" for "special effects). "Resident Evil" is (copy, paste from original). "Almost Famous" could have been better, but I still give it 3 and a half stars, out of 5. And I heartily recommend "Reno 911: The Movie." I haven't seen it yet, but the show is hilarious, and the special effects will undoubtedly be mind-blowing.