Death of a theater

There’s a lot of bitching about the supposed death of movie theaters. The argument goes that the only way to appreciate filmmaking is on the silver screen with a fellow audience. Because of the proliferation of internet streaming, the communal experience cinema has fallen by the wayside.

Do I agree with this assessment?

Yes.

Do I give a shit?

No.

Perhaps I became a cinephile at the wrong time. I mean, I get it. I really do. But the dynamics of the filmgoing experience has changed. And that’s alright. EVERYTHING changes at some time or another.

But I quit caring about movie theaters a long time ago. Long before COVID even. The last time I’ve been to a theater was in 2017 to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This is largely because I have truthfully never bought into the “communal experience” of watching a movie.

I remember watching Joe Dirt in theaters long ago. I realized it was funny before everyone else did; before it became a cult classic. When Joe Dirt threatened to blow up the Grand Canyon and got poop spilled all over him, I laughed hysterically. Everyone else sat in their seats stone-faced. Audiences (except for me, of course) wouldn’t know what was funny if it bit them in the nuts. So fuck what other people think.

My argument is this: if you want to enjoy a movie, it has to be just YOU and the film. My love of cinema didn’t start in the theater. It started at 11 years old, after midnight, while watching Taxi Driver on Cinemax. Of course I was watching Cinemax at that hour to see some gratuitous T&A. At least initially. In fact, if anyone caught me, I would have probably quickly switched to porn and denied I was watching the classics of cinema. The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was with some friends and, to be cool, I had to say it was the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. But in my heart, I knew it was genius. At 12 years old, I stayed up late to watch The Deer Hunter and cried myself to sleep. I never told anyone that until years later. Enjoying a movie, to me, should be an intimate experience; it should reveal things about yourself both good and bad…things that you may never tell another living soul. THAT’S the power of filmmaking.

This isn’t to say that theaters don’t have their purpose. But I’d argue that theaters simply offer the spectacle of film. They serve a similar purpose to churches. Sure, everyone can come together and listen to a sermon, but to have a truly transcendental religious experience, one must transcend the spectacle and enter a state of gnosis; of opening one’s mind to things unseen. Movies can be more than a spectacle. They can be a revelation.

Honestly, the slow death of movie theaters probably started with VHS.

Oof

Other than the James Bond films, I typically don’t pay too much attention to new releases. But I was so blown away by Midsommar that I’ve been loosely following the career of Ari Aster. Originally called Disappointment Blvd, the trailer for Aster’s next film Beau is Afraid has recently dropped, and, well, I gotta say…Beau is afraid for Beau is Afraid.

Perhaps I should be glad that the same guy who made the short film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons is getting carte blanche in Hollywood, but a cursory glance at the history of filmmaking will tell you that’s almost never a good thing. Ever heard of Heaven’s Gate?

Damien Chazelle is the latest victim of this curse of talent. You make a few great films on a modest budget and suddenly you’re the toast of the town. Producers then give you $100,000,000 to do whatever you want and you create a three-hour, self-indulgent mess called Babylon.

Not to say that Beau is Afraid won’t be interesting. One man’s unfortunate adventure to visit his mother sounds like a hoot. But here’s the problem: it’s also three hours long!

Very few movies across history deserve to be that long; maybe, like, five total. And if there’s any genre that absolutely should NOT be that long, it’s horror AND comedy. Audiences should stand up and say to Hollywood: if you can’t tell a good story in under two hours, you don’t deserve to be making movies.

That’s a hill I will die on.

But maybe Aster has earned the benefit of the doubt. Allegedly, we’ll be shown Phoenix’s gigantic (prosthetic) testicles. Maybe when his mother says “I am so sorry for what your daddy passed down to you,” she’s referring to his abnormally large wang? So this might be a story about the burdens of having a big dick. If that’s the case, then I think three hours are warranted (because I can relate, of course).

But if we really wanted to maximize Aster’s talents (Hollywood, if you’re reading), here’s my suggestion: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Producers have been trying to adapt that book for years, but the truth is that it’s nearly unadaptable. UNLESS you have someone like Aster’s sensibilities. Clearly, much of the novel would be cut out, but Hollywood needs a horror film director to tackle that material. Moreover, you need a director that’s willing to pull the trigger on disturbing subject matters. For a guy that made a short film about a dude that sexually abuses his father, Ari Aster is just the man for the job 👍

Troma’s War (1988)

If you knew nothing of this movie (as I did), you’d think that this movie was meant to be a genuine action thriller that was repurposed into a comedy.

Also known as 1,000 Ways to Die, the plot revolves around a group of plane crash survivors that get caught up in an armed conflict on an island. Various characters include a deranged Vietnam vet, a blind woman, a saucy Latina, a (probable) British secret agent, an asshole Wall Street broker, etc. Apparently this was Lloyd Kaufman’s response to the glorification of war and violence during the Reagan era.

I’ll admit, the opening few minutes are quite funny. Through the credits, we hear a voiceover from the pilot calmly and casually inform the passengers that the plane’s about crash and the opening scene depicts a woman losing her shit as she watches people flail around while on fire. It sounds horrible, but it accurately sets the tone for the rest of the film. We watch as the survivors slowly evolve into full fledged commandos as they fight a hodgepodge syndicate of terrorists and communists that occupy the island.

There are a few lines here and there (“I don’t know if the guy’s psycho, or just crazy”) that might crack you up. But there are also a few moments, like an interaction with a villain where a priest’s tongue gets ripped out, that feel a little too real. Of course, that was the filmmaker’s goal. However, the satirical points never quite mesh and honestly it mostly feels like an awkward mess. When compared to other self-aware 80s parodies like Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke Em High, Troma’s War falls short in my view.

That being said, I’ve been waiting a long time to see something like this. Whenever I watched Apocalypse Now as a teenager, I’d always laugh at the thought of replacing Wager’s Ride of the Valkyries during the helicopter attack with a bangin 80s soundtrack, complete with synthesizers and electric guitars. Suddenly the complexion of the movie would change. So thank you Lloyd Kaufman, I guess, for thinking the same things I did.

Born for Hell (1976)

What an unusual movie.

In this Italian-German-French Canadian-English-Russian-Mexican-Brazilian-French-Belgian-Swedish-Regular Canadian-Honduran-French Polynesian-Zimbabwean-Pakistani-Sri Lankan-Vietnamese-and Aleutian co-production, a veteran of the Vietnam War finds himself in war torn Belfast where he begins to torture a household of nurses.

The first hour or so is not what you would expect from something in the “horror” genre (as Tubi categorizes it). In fact, it feels more like a commentary on the situation in Belfast. Furthermore, the perpetrator of all the crimes comes across halfway sympathetic. Not only does the villain get plenty of character development, but so do the nurses who are portrayed as more than faceless victims. That being said, there are a few indications that something is ‘off’ in the first half. Any good horror film should prepare its audience for what’s about to happen: after a bombing at a church, the main character couldn’t have given less of a shit; there’s a strange interaction with a child in a park; and a middle-aged prostitute dances topless under threat. Nevertheless, the first half of Born for Hell feels like a gritty documentary-style drama, in the same vein as The French Connection or The Battle of Algiers.

Even the torture scenes are a bit unusual. Sure there are the usual rapes, stabbings, and strangulations. There’s nothing especially creative about the deaths in that regard, which might come as a disappointment to some. But the villain isn’t typically maniacal about it. In fact, Sometimes he’s quite polite (“follow me, if you don’t mind”). It’s the performances of Mathieu Carriere and all the nurses, from Carole Laure onwards, that really carry the day.

Perhaps I shouldn’t read too much into this movie. In all likelihood, it was a tax write off for a bunch of international businessmen. But conceptually, this was an interesting idea. Sure, this story was inspired by a real event that took place in Chicago. Yet I like to think the filmmakers were reaching for something higher here.

Much like how The Deer Hunter tried to capture the madness of war through suspenseful scenes of Russian Roulette, I’ll suggest that the torture scenes at nurse’s house serves a similar function: senseless killing pushes men to the brink of insanity and they take out that frustration on innocent women.

I don’t know.

But when viewed in this light, Born for Hell fits in nicely with the 70s Cinema canon.

Die Hard Another Day

It’s a shame that the illustrious Die Hard franchise ended with A Good Day to Die Hard. Sure it had its moments, like fucking up Moscow then driving to Chernobyl on the same day. But it could have been so much more.

“I’m on vacation!”

That’s a wasted line in A Good Day. John McClane wasn’t on vacation! But imagine the final Die Hard movie where he is on vacation: John McClane goes to Bangkok and the CIA learns that the daughter of Hans Gruber, Hanna Gruber, is out for revenge. So CIA agent Jack McClane heads to Thailand to rescue his father. When Jack arrives, he says, “Dad, I won’t ask questions. I’m just here to rescue you.” Right then, Gruber’s minions bust in the hotel room and blow the place up and John goes “I’m on vacation!”. Of course, there’s a car chase through the streets of Bangkok.

Fortunately Jack and John escape the country by boarding a C-17 but it eventually gets shot down. John falls out of the aircraft without a parachute, so Jack throws one on and leaps out of the plane before crashes and grabs his father. As they’re falling to the ground, John screams “I’m on vacation!!!!”

They land in China and while they’re wondering through the jungle, of course, there’s some character development where they say things like “being a dad is hard,” and we shake our head at John’s vague racism towards the Chinese people. Unfortunately, Gruber’s men catch up with them, and they escape by boarding a speed boat. John says “I wanted to go down the Yellow River, just not this one!”.

After a thrilling boat chase, Jack and John arrive in Beijing (which the Yellow River doesn’t flow through) where they are reunited with the CIA. But there’s a double cross and they are recaptured by Gruber. From there, they are taken to Pyongyang, North Korea where we learn Hanna Gruber is in league with Kim Jung-un.

Jack and John are being interrogated at the Ryugyong Hotel but John manages to escape. As a nod to the first Die Hard, John is back in a white tank top and no shoes as he climbs through air ducts and kills off all the bad guys one by one as he tries to rescue his son. Finally, there’s a showdown at the top of the hotel where John is face to face with Hanna Gruber. “You killed my entire family!” she screams to John. “There’s still one more, sweetheart,” John says. Then she falls to her death from on top of the Ryugyung.

To avoid an international embarrassment, Kim Jung-un releases the father and son into US custody, and John shakes his head and says “I could use a vacation.”

The end.

Dissecting the Scene: Emotional Climax Moments From Star Trek Films (Part II)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier- Release the Pain

Sybok, played brilliantly by Lawrence Luckinbill (in a role originally intended for Sean Connery) is Spock’s half-brother turned religious charlatan. He amassed a following by tapping into the emotions of a down-trodden people who later helped him gain control of the Enterprise. In this scene, Sybok uses his emotional trickery to tear apart the the Original Series triumvirate…Kirk, Spock, and McCoy…and nearly succeeds: McCoy is forced to relive the pain of euthanizing his father, and Spock is reminded of his half-humanness that caused him to be a pariah in Vulcan society and feel less loved by his father.

Kirk, meanwhile, sees through this bullshit and reject’s Sybok’s offer to be “released from his pain.”

Regardless of how you feel about Kirk’s rationale for clinging on to his pain (to me, Sybok and Kirk seem to have the same philosophy of “deriving strength through pain,” it’s just that Kirk kept his eye on the ball…regaining control of the Enterprise…while everyone else succumbed to Sybok’s charisma) this is actually a very well directed and well written scene. And it just so happens to be in the worst Star Trek movie there is (personally, I think Insurrection, Nemesis, Into Darkness, and Beyond and WAY worse, but whatevs).

This is why I think director William Shatner isn’t to blame for STV. When it comes to the character interactions, this might be the best that Star Trek has to offer. By the time this film was made, the actors had been playing these characters for over 20 years and it certainly shines through in this scene.

Shatner made the right decision to not create an elaborate set design. It’s like an intimate theatrical production and it’s one of the highlights of the franchise.

Star Trek: First Contact- “The Line Must Be Drawn HERE”

The Enterprise follows the Borg back in time to the late 21st Century and it’s up to the TNG crew to save history. Meanwhile, the Borg take over the Enterprise and Picard goes on a warpath.

Now this might be the most famous example of an “emotional climax” moment in Star Trek, but it’s got some problems. While Alfre Woodard delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, as any Star Trek fan could tell you, it should have been Beverly Crusher who confronted Picard. Additionally, Picard is out of character. While Patrick Stewart is an incredible actor, in my opinion, he never quite understood Star Trek OR the appeal of his famous character. And it was Stewart’s push to make Picard more vengeful and heroic in this installment. While that doesn’t make a lick of difference to the average viewer, things like that DO matter to Trek fans, which is why First Contact has fallen out of favor with some.

That being said, everything is well executed. This is also director Jonathan Frakes’ (who plays William Riker) first motion picture and it doesn’t show. Star Trek seems to excel when one of the actors is allowed to direct.

Oddly enough, science fiction is somewhat secondary to Star Trek. First and foremost, the franchise is about HUMAN stories that uses science fiction as a backdrop. That’s why Trek is such fertile ground for actors. And I think the sequence above highlights that point.

While the stuff between Woodard and Stewart is incredible, I also like the mini-arc between Worf and Picard. The Captain’s judgment had clearly been clouded and Worf was absolutely correct in confronting him. Picard was in the wrong, plain and simple. Which is why I love the payoff when Captain Picard makes his apology and states his admiration for his longtime security officer.

It’s a small moment, but for longtime fans, it was an impactful one.

Dissecting A Scene: Emotional Climax Moments in Star Trek Films (Part I)

So over the Thanksgiving weekend, I made my family watch arguably the worst Star Trek film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. When the Sybok interrogation scene of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy came up, it occurred to me: “Star Trek is REALLY good at doing this.”

Doing what exactly?

They’re good at creating emotional climax scenes where character arcs come full circle. Trek films may not be the flashiest of the science fiction genre, but that’s not really their intention. Star Trek is at its best when it’s theatrical, or allowing the actors to fully explore their characters. Two of the franchise’s most notable faces, William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, are quite effective stage actors and that’s where Star Trek is at its strongest: being character driven.

So you have to let the actors ACT.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Mutara Battle/Death of Spock

This is probably one of the most famous and most parodied death scene in all of film. But this sequence is quite remarkable on multiple levels.

It’s a shame that William Shatner didn’t get any accolades for his performance in Star Trek II. His portrayal of Captain/Admiral Kirk is often viewed as hammy, but in truth, Shatner was quite nuanced in his approach. Director Nicholas Meyer figured out that his leading man was far more effective when doing more takes, which caused the actor to slowly dial back his performance. In short, Meyer wore out Shatner, which perfectly suited a beat down and aging Kirk at the beginning of the film. Obviously, Meyer let Shatner return to form at the end which had a huge emotional payoff.

Not only does the villain Khan get his comeuppance by succumbing to his own wrath but…in pursuit of vengeance…he ends up becoming a force for creation. Spock, of course, delivers the ultimate sacrifice, but Kirk finally faces the very thing he’s cheated his way out of throughout his illustrious career: a no-win scenario.

Thus, everything comes full circle.

Of course, it also helps that there’s exceptional editing and the score that made James Horner a sought after composer is playing in the background.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Stealing the Enterprise

James Horner is typically given credit for the success of this scene. But you have to tip your hat to the editing and, again, the performances.

While we can criticize Shatner’s acting choices all we want, he always makes it perfectly clear what his characters are feeling. And James B Sikking’s arrogant-ass performance almost makes you forget how shitty the Excelsior bridge set is.

It’s a shame that Leonard Nimoy didn’t direct more movies. While he directed some television before, it’s hard to believe that this was his first motion picture because he REALLY elevated this scene. If you pay attention, not much happens here: the Enterprise slowly backs up to the space doors before they magically open and then the Excelsior begins its failed pursuit. But it’s fucking intense! The hairs on my neck always stand when the Enterprise clears space doors and Kirk orders warp speed. That’s a testament to Nimoy’s superb direction of an otherwise ‘meh’ script.

While this isn’t the “emotional climax” to the film, it is an emotional highlight for the Original Series crew; they’re sacrificing EVERYTHING to save Spock. Now Star Trek III isn’t the best Trek film, but the “stealing the Enterprise” scene is one of the best in the franchise.

Dirty Harold

I sometimes forget the impact that Dirty Harry had on me as a kid. I was expecting it to be some stupid exploitation flick from the 70s, but it turned out to be much more.

Unlike other gritty crime films from the 70s, like The French Connection or The Taking of Pelham 123, director Don Siegel and DP Bruce Surtees shot the movie like it was a western. Clint Eastwood looms large in mythic form over the screen, but he never completely dominates it. Like how the rough and tumble deserts and mountains are a major character in westerns, the streets of San Francisco play a similar role.

But Dirty Harry was slightly ahead of its time. While westerns were fading away, and with it the gunslingers delivering justice on the prairie, Clint Eastwood was offering the a audience a new hero: the pissed off cop that’s tired of rules and regulations and the constant whining from bureaucrats over the rights of individuals. Dirty Harry fit the mood of white conservatives during the age of Nixon and those that wished to return to a simpler ethos of good guys vs bad guys. In short, Dirty Harry was the predecessor to the Cannon Film craze of the 70s through the 80s.

But in my view, the unsung genius of the film is Andrew Robinson as the crazed villain. Even now, it’s an unnerving character…one that no one could get away with today. The closest comparison that I can think of is Heath Ledger’s Joker, but no sensible writer would permit Batman’s arch nemesis to kill, rape, and abduct children. THAT would be crossing the line. But Robinson’s Scorpio does it numerous times throughout the film.

Which is why the ending was so effective. Sure, it’s a cliche to hear Eastwood utter “do you feel lucky?” before blasting his last round into the bad guy. But you actually feel his rage as he asks Scorpio “well do ya? PUNK!!”. In my view, that was Eastwood’s finest moment as an actor.

While Dirty Harry might be synonymous with Clint Eastwood, I think it would be interesting to see the character return to the screen given its political undertones. Obviously Clint Eastwood is too old, and casting someone like Karl Urban to replace him would seem like parody. But now that the nature of masculinity on film has come under scrutiny, and the zeitgeist has turned skeptical towards law enforcement, it would be fascinating to see Harry Callahan return…especially to such a divisive city as San Francisco.

Skeetin

I’m a little under the weather so I’m just gonna phone this one in.

But I was doing my annual Paul Schrader marathon when I got to Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. A few thoughts: 1.) it’s a shitty movie but 2.) Vittorio Stararo was the DP?!!! How did that get past me?

And it’s such a shame that this film didn’t work because it is very much in line with the themes that occur throughout Schrader’s work. I haven’t bothered with the retooled Exorcist: The Beginning, but I’m glad Schrader stuck to his guns and at least attempted to make a cerebral film rather than make a run-of-the-mill horror. That’s what made the original Exorcist so interesting: director William Friedkin stated that it never occurred to him that he was making a “horror film” (he could be bullshitting though).

Schrader probably should have had a bigger say in the screenplay. Much of the introspective philosophical back-and-forth that, in my opinion, slightly bogged down The Last Temptation of Christ (which clashed with Martin Scorsese’s rather “extroverted” direction) would have been quite effective for Dominion. Additionally, the event that caused Father Merrin’s lack of faith should have been revealed later in the movie. And while there was some good stuff with the British colonial troops, I felt that there was no payoff for any of it.

(Plus the special effects REALLY sucked ass)

I also saw Touch for the first time. I don’t remember a damn thing about it other than Skeet Ulrich was in it.

Whatever happened to that guy? That dude was like, super fucking hot. Shouldn’t he have had a bigger career?

Were people disappointed to find out that he wasn’t Danish?

who watches the watchers watching the watchers?

I’m a little late on this Alan Moore thing. But while I can empathize to a degree on Moore’s point here, I recall listening to his interview with Chapo Trap House’s Will Menaker from a few year ago where he stated “everything is politics” and it makes me want to beat my head on the wall.

I’m afraid that we’ve reached a point where audiences aren’t allowed to enjoy anything due to the hyper-politicalization of EVERYTHING. The last few years have been a wet dream for ideologues because finally people are as miserable as they are. And I’ll admit, much to my embarrassment, that I’ve played a hand in this. But people need their distractions from a world that’s seemingly falling apart all around them.

While I’m not a comic book fan, I’d venture to guess that most comic/superhero fans don’t connect this material to any sort of real world scenario. They recognize it for what it is: entertainment.

And that’s okay. Let people be happy.

I think Moore is projecting his “everything is politics” (🤢) worldview here. And that, in my opinion, is far more toxic than what the comic nerds are doing.