Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More Maybe than Definitely.

I would work a campaign if I knew there were unpretentious hotties making copies.

When I first saw the previews for the romantic comedy, “Definitely, Maybe” I found myself annoyed. Annoyed at another lame romantic comedy or “Rom-Com” as I learned people in the movie industry call this genre. Annoyed that it appeared Abigail Breslin from “Little Miss Sunshine” had lost the charm she once had. I was just annoyed at what seemed like a movie that relied completely on formula, not story.

This trailer seemed to be played before every movie I saw for 3 months and it was wearing on me. One night, hanging with a few friends we decided that an evening at the cinema sounded like the best choice for all of us. This is how I end up seeing movies that I am sure I won’t like. I am with a group of friends, we decide we want to see a movie but with no specific film in mind. As this movie is the only film that fits our time slot, I insist that we should not see this movie. One friend who has similar movie tastes steps up and says, “I agree, the previews look lame but it’s from the writer/director of Notting Hill and Love Actually.” At that revelation, I concede and we end up seeing the film.

Well, the movie was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I found myself not horribly annoyed by Abigail Breslin. Ryan Reynolds who I just can’t believe was only a minor distraction. The redeeming factor that allowed me to make it past all this accumulating annoyance was that I found myself drawn in by the “find out who my mom is” mystery. I actually couldn’t figure it out and really wanted to discover who was mommy. This is rare. I am not claiming to be a brilliant guy, but I can usually figure twists out before they’re revealed. (i.e. “The Prestige”, figured that out 30 minutes in.) So, in that way I was entertained. But as the movie went on I realized that this film was nothing like “Notting Hill”, “Love Actually” or “4 Weddings and a Funeral”.

As the credits began to role, I pulled out my phone and logged on to This movie was in no way connected with any of my British favorites. My friend had completely misspoken. I had a big hint when there were no British characters and felt nothing like the other movies. So the moral of the story is three fold.

1- Definitely wait for Netflix, this movie is cute enough to watch on the couch with a date but not worth seeing in the theatre.

2- Trust your gut, if a movie looks cheesy in a preview chances are it won’t be good.

3- Confirm claims that change your stance via IMDB.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Movie Theatre Fascism

Just look at that lobby, so pretty.

Over the last year, I realize that I have become a crabby old man. I prefer to surround myself with people that have a certain decorum. Now don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with people that lack social skills. I worked with High School Students for 10 years, I volunteer with some pretty eccentric homeless people on a regular basis, and most of all I spend time with improvisers on a weekly basis. But there is something about dealing with crowds that can just get under my skin.

I wonder if it is genetic. My Papa (Dad’s dad) is probably the epitome of the old man that doesn’t like crowd. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good guy with a great heart but if he isn’t happy with his surroundings, he’s out. The guy walked out of my plays multiple times growing up. I use to think it was rude until I realized that when it comes to movie theaters, I am becoming my Papa.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my friend Eddie and I mentioned that I generally only see movies at The Arclight in Hollywood. I was expecting for Eddie to jump on board with my love for the Arclight, but I was surprised when he said he hated that place. How could this be? Not only did Eddie strike me as a movie buff he is a pretty picky guy who gets frustrated easily. Eddie said that the Arclight is a movie theater that operates under fascism. Initially I was offended, that term brings up my defenses. Not just because of it makes me think I am in cahoots with Mussolini, but that term was used all too often working with High School Students. “Hey, you can’t be smoking pot with your friends here at the church.” “YOU’RE A FASCIST!” While it was laughable, it still is not the nicest thing to be called.

I began to think of why Eddie didn’t like the Arclight. I realized that while being easily annoyed was a part of Eddie’s personality, he values social equality and doesn’t like the idea of creating an environment that caters to the elite. I began to appreciate Eddie’s values, I began to examine my heart and think about whether or not I needed to change my ways. Then it hit me, Eddie just doesn’t want to spend the extra two dollars. Now, I value the dollar. Being unemployed for a season and now being a full-time student have renewed my value for the dollar. Working with orphans in Africa also impacts my perspective. Still I have to be honest, I want to spend the extra two dollars on the Arclight Experience. I know it is selfish, I know it is silly, but it is what I want. I have become a crabby old man.

I hate the crowds at theaters. I think that this generation has grown up with home theater and therefore has no theater decorum. They don’t know how to shut up. They don’t understand that their phones screen is a distraction. I hate waiting in line and trying to find seats. I hate getting to a theater early just so we can all sit together. The theaters don’t maintain their facilities so it becomes this run down barn where they move cattle…errr ticket holders…in and out, just milking their $10 with no respect for their dignity. With such clear disdain for the average movie theater and a true love for film, we have ourselves a bit of a problem.

That’s where the Arclight comes in. This theatre has a huge parking structure adjacent to the complex. After parking your car, you make your way through the courtyard and into the Arclight lobby. It is a very clean and modern lobby with a café (good food) bar (small but some screenings are 21 and over which means you can take your beverage into the theater) and gift shop (fun stuff to look at, old Hollywood books that are overpriced but fun). The thing that dominates your view in the lobby is what they call their departure board. It is a giant set of signs that indicate when movies are playing and the status. This is important. Similar to FAA regulations, Arclight will not allow you to board once the film has started. They will not let you get your tickets. This is not a loosely enforced policy.

One time, I was meeting some friends there and they had purchased my tickets and left them at guest relations. I got their late and the person at the counter saw that my tickets were for a show that had already 5 minutes before I arrived at the counter. They would not give me my tickets. Right behind me was Casey Affleck. Now I bring up Mr. Affleck not to tell a cool Hollywood story about bumping into an academy award nominee. I bring this up because he was in the exact same predicament. His girlfriend was dealing with the employee who wouldn’t budge. Eventually a manager was called over and the manager would not budge. Casey put his hand on his shoulder and said “come on man”, they wouldn’t budge. Eventually Casey gave up, when the manager offered tickets to another show Affleck said he didn’t want them. As the manager started to process a refund, I leaned over to Affleck and said “hey man, I’m in the same spot. I’m gonna get tickets to another show and just sneak in.” “Good idea, thanks man.” I then snuck into the theater and shared an armrest with an actor from one of my favorite movies.

Back to the Arclight, it is a “black-box” auditorium, which means there is not lame mural, or silly lights on the walls to distract you. The screen is set back far enough that if it fell, it wouldn’t hit the first row of seats. That’s important. Not because screens are known to fall, but because it makes every seat a good one. So you have your reserved seat which is extra wide (3 inches), there is extra leg room (6 inches), with extra wide arm rests so you don’t have to battle your neighbor. It’s 1st class. An usher introduces the movie, and stays in the room to “ensure picture and sound are up to Arclight standards.”

I know this is starting to sound like a commercial, but I have to share why I like it. It’s not just a fancy LA thing, its really a great experience. I think you will rediscover why you like the movie going experience if you give the Arclight a visit. While it may be considered fascism by some, I still choose to pay extra for a great experience. That is what crabby old men do.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

You know you should see "Juno"

***Spoiler Warning. This article may reveal parts of the story that you wanted to keep to yourself. I am not trying to be a critic, and therefore will not show restraint. Basically what I’m saying is this, there are spoilers. Deal with it.***

I love this kind of love.

While I consider myself a big fan of movies, I don’t think I have ever seen a movie three times in the theater. This last week I saw Juno for the third time and I have to say, I enjoyed it more every time I saw it. This fall when I saw a trailer for Juno I was set on seeing this film. I loved the cast, the look of the film, all of it seemed to have potential. My first viewing was before the holidays, and with good friends who are also good movie partners. The next time I saw it was with some friends that wanted to see Juno specifically. I mislead them into thinking I hadn’t seen it and got to enjoy the film for a second time. Finally this last Friday, my co-workers were set on seeing a movie in the afternoon. That’s one of the things I love about my job, some days we just stop work and hang out. Most days we work late and make it happen but this particular day there was someone that needed some cheering up. So it was off for some authentic Mexican cuisine in Simi Valley and some time at the cinema.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. I thought it was a humorous take on teenage girls who all too often are misrepresented and one dimensional. I liked the father and step-mother characters and I found their care for Juno to be endearing. Jennifer Garner was well cast and played her part well. I often forgot that this was Sydney Bristo, which says a lot. Jason Bateman is always a delight, he has definitely stepped it up since Teen Wolf Too. He gave a great subtlety to a part that could have come across stereotypical and creepy. And to top it off George Michael from Arrested Development was perfect I really hope actor Michael Cerra continues to make smart choices. So far he's doing better than his co-star from Arrested Development, Maeby (i.e. Deck The Halls).

Overall this movie had a great cast that worked well supporting the lead character. While I wasn’t going into the film not knowing Ellen Page, I left the theater a fan. While most will think she gave a great performance because of her witty dialogue. I thought she brought an emotional depth and honesty to the role that was great. I was not surprised that she was nominated for an academy award. (Though I would be shocked if she won.) The scene after she had the baby brought me to tears. Now I am not a real crier when it comes to movies, but this got me.

Now with all of these great actors and solid performances, it brings
me to my only complaint about the film. The writing. Juno was written by Diablo Cody, an author turned stripper turned screenwriter. The first time I saw the film, I walked out of the theater happy but not ecstatic. I couldn't quite describe what it was that I didn't like. As I mentioned before, on my first viewing I was accompanied by good movie partners. Standing in the lobby of the Arclight, I started to talk with my friend about it. I described my overall enjoyment but not liking something I couldn't put my finger on. He then said "yeah, I felt the same way, it felt like the characters all sounded the same. Where is this town with all these witty people. As a writer you want different characters to have a distinct voice" Don't you love those moments when you feel something but can't describe it and someone just sums it up in a few words. It helps to see movies with a friend who has a degree in screenwriting from NYU.

Everyone sounded the same, from the lead character, to parents, to
random strangers. It made it feel a little monotonous. Throughout the film, the characters have a vocabulary that is similar to that of church-going teens. The film had a few expletives but instead used substitutes that is a part of the language of many young people in conservative families. Additionally it was witty joke after witty joke. I know my friends get frustrated when I do that and I too found myself frustrated. The second time I saw it was at a Saturday 10:40pm showing at the Grove and the audience wanted to laugh at everything. They wouldn’t let anything go, they felt the need to laugh at every moment, no matter how sentimental. (More on my “Movie Theater Facism” in another post.) So it is this complaint about the writing that keeps Juno from the level of Good Will Hunting and Little Miss Sunshine.

I was talking with a friend about this film and he said that the people he worked with thought the film was a conservative fluff piece, supporting the pro-life movement. It made me laugh and showed that bias on either side of an issue can be blinding. The film does involve a scene where a young person leaves an abortion clinic, but it never makes a preachy statement about Roe v. Wade. The film if anything would be considered pro-choice in the fact that a parent asked if Juno had considered abortion. The only pro-life character is shown to be naïve and out of touch.

So, with various frustrations, I remind myself of what I started with; a good movie, with a great cast and an endearing story. So good in fact, that I saw it in the theater three times.

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