Monday, January 29, 2007

Easily swayed

It's not like I'll do anything. I won't do a shot of the mustard/horseradish/mayonnaise/hot sauce/ketchup combination that my friend Tom will do. I won't root for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I won't rebroadcast, reproduce, or use a game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, or the National Hockey League. Well, maybe without the NHL's consent. And I will most certainly not walk across the room to talk to that hot chick.

But I will watch whatever movies Salon's Beyond the Multiplex column tells me to watch. At least the one's that I can find in my library system. And that are supposed to be good. And that were independent films in 2006.

When added up, it equaled 13: "The Beauty Academy of Kabul", "Brick", "CSA: Confederate States of America", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", "The Fallen Idol", "Gabrielle", "Oldboy" (OK, not really on the list, but the first in a trilogy of movies that ends with a movie on the list), "L'Enfant", "Nathalie", "On The Outs", "The Road to Guantanamo", "Somersault", and "Zizek!".
"These will all be great!" I thought. "A great way to spend cold, snowy evenings!"

Ummmmmmmm, yea. More like a decent way to spend cold, snowy evenings. Or an OK way to spend cold, snowy evenings. They weren't BAD movies -- "Somersault" (co-starring a very good Sam Worthington, the newcomer connected to James Cameron's new project, "Avatar") and "On the Outs" proved worthy of recommendation. "Brick" starred that kid from "Third Rock From The Sun" and tried to turn Most of the rest had at least something worth mentioning, even though I'm not going to mention it. Only "Gabrielle", a French movie set in the early 1900s about the fallout of wife's choice to leave her cold husband, was one I wished I hadn't watched.

I did keep statistics:
  • 6 movies were subtitled or partially subtitled.
  • 4 movies featured naked women
  • 3 movies featured naked women and subtitles
  • 1 movies featured a naked old man and subtitles
Really, I would imagine just about any list worth its salt that is of independent movies would contain this ratio of movies with subtitles and naked women. And naked old men. It's to be expected.

I'm not sure if this exercise taught me not to be so easily swayed. I still love year-end lists. And I still like watching movies on cold, snowy nights. I'm still not going to do a mustard/horseradish/mayonnaise/hot sauce/ketchup shot. And I'm not rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers, ever. I guess I'll have to suck it up and talk to the hot chick across the room so she can come home with me and help me decide if these movies really are any good or not.

As long as that doesn't result in more movies with naked guys on my list, old or not.

A ray of Sunshine

I could be vacuuming my apartment. Or putting a load of dishes in the dishwasher. Or a load of laundry in the washer. Or cleaning the tub. Or even calling my parents.

Instead I'm upstairs watching "Little Miss Sunshine" at Joe and Bob's apartment. Bored out of our minds and with no interest in vacuuming, dishwashing, laundry, tub-cleaning, or calling our parents -- and with no girls in sight -- we fall back to what we are good at. Watching a movie.

And we picked a good movie to watch. Nominated for an Oscar, "Little Miss Sunshine" is even funnier than expected. Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin, and Toni Collette you probably know, but their work here is different then I've ever seen before yet still excellent. Newcomers (to me) Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano are worth watching both here and in the future.

With this and "Babel", I've now seen two nominees for Best Picture. And I saw each in the perfect context -- "Babel" alone in a large-screen theater with time to think and reflect on it, "Little Miss Sunshine" with my buds in their living room ready to have a rollicking good time.

If the other three are as good as these two, I've got some movie-watching to look forward to. And I'll probably be putting off vacuuming, dishwashing, laundry, and tub-cleaning to do it. Calling my parents, well, we'll fit that in.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The horror, the horror

Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival, the coolest band in Cleveland, is putting on a great show -- especially great considering I just saw them killed two hours ago.

But there's Brother Ed, as alive as ever, pounding away on his industrial cardboard bass drum, milk crates, and beat up snare drum and symbol. And there's Brother Ant, standing on Brother Ed's drums with one foot while balancing his other foot on Brother Ed's head, ripping away on his guitar. Considering that when last seen, Brother Ant's guitar was rammed through his stomach and Brother Ed's eye had been gouged out with his drumstick, this might be their best show ever.

"It's funny every time," says my friend Bob, who I had dragged to the Beachland Ballroom to hear Uncle Scratch favorites such as "Gimmie Back My Bible," "I Banged A Sinner," and "I Lost my Soul in Hell's Casino." The small tavern is packed with Uncle Scratch worshippers, and those along the front of the stage can't help but put Brother Ed's drums and microphones back up whenever Brother Ant or guest Brother Bill knocks them over. Pretty hard for a dead guy to keep everything in working order.

OK, OK, Brother Ed and Brother Ant weren't really killed two hours ago. Well, they WERE killed, but it wasn't real. They died during the movie (if you can call it that), "Horror Convention Massacre," a one-hour flick from the Cleveland independent filmmakers at Old School Sinema. Don't worry if you missed it -- it's available on DVD and two sequels will be filmed in March.

Also don't worry if you missed it, cause you didn't miss much! The slasher film, which takes place at a horror convention at a Holiday Inn in either Beachwood, Brunswick, Strongsville, or some other boring Cleveland suburb, features at least a dozen deaths and four naked chicks in just one hour. Now this is a serial killer who wants to make a Top 10 list!

"Hey, you weren't really playing a character in this movie, were you?" I ask Ted Wodoslawsky, who plays the chain-smoking Paul in the flick and who stands outside the Beachland doing the same thing during a break in the action.

"I hadn't smoked for 19 years before they asked me to smoke in the movie," he tells me. "Now I can't stop."

Anything for the art. It's Ted's second appearance in such a movie, after "The Deep Dark Woods: No Witnesses." He was also director of photography for "The Devil's Filmmaker: Bohica." Proving its value as the most comprehensive guide to movies on the planet, lists all three of Paul's movie, and even has a picture of him.

Anyway, Bob's wish of a 20-minute movie is not granted. But it could have been worse. It could have been 95 minutes long like "Friday the 13th" or 91 minutes long like "Halloween" or 83 minutes long like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." But "Horror Convention Massacre" just gets everything except the blood and boobs out of the way. Not a bad formula, really. At least if you're not a discriminating movie-goer.

So Bob and I endure the movie and wait through two other bands before Uncle Scratch takes the stage. Then we head back home, but not before stopping at Flannery's Pub downtown to meet Bob's roommate Joe and our friends from Cleveland Heights, Ben and Emily. And when I (already a librarian) discover that Rachel is studying for her master of library science degree, we talk about librarianship. And then I go home and sleep the sleep of the dead while dreaming about running into girls at horror conventions who are studying to be librarians but who instead end up dead and naked.

At least I didn't kill any of them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Punished by The Punisher

In order to watch "The Punisher", you should have the following:

  • Absolutely nothing to do. This is two hours of your life you won't be getting back.
  • A detachable brain. You're going to want to open up your skull, take out your brain, and put it in a block of ice so as not to damage it during the movie.
  • At least a hundred comic books scattered about the house. Preferably Daredevil or, say, The Punisher.
  • No girlfriend.
Fortunately, I qualify!

One night a week I work til 9 p.m, then turn around the next morning and work at 8 a.m. These short nights don't leave much time for anything; it's hard to take on a household project, any Cavs and Indians game is usually almost over by the time I get home, a night of beer drinking is not the wisest thing since it will be hard to sober up by morning.

But I still have a couple hours to unwind before I'm ready for bed. So on such nights, a movie is the perfect way to relax. Even if that movie is "The Punisher". Before I grabbed it off the library shelves (you think I paid money to watch this?) I knew that (a) it was most likely horrible, (b) it was most likely stupid, and (c) it was most likely going to fill the two hours between getting home and going to bed.

Happy to report that "The Punisher" fulfilled my expectations. I was so tired by the end of this flick that I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It's a miracle that I didn't fall asleep on the courch before I even made it to bed. But then I couldn't count this as one of the movies I've watched this year!

And I'm in luck. Apparently "The Punisher" was so successful they're making another one! Sometime this year, "The Punisher 2" (set in New York City this time, and featuring arch-villain Jigsaw, though not the Jigsaw from the Saw movies) comes out, and sometime a few months after that, on another night where I work late I'll take it home, put my brain on ice, and waste two more hours.

Maybe by then I'll have a girlfriend to piss off by watching it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Three for the price of one

It's only been five minutes, and I've already been told to buy some candy, some popcorn, some pop, watch "Heroes" on NBC next week (as well as "My Name is Earl", "The Office" and everything else that's no longer on Must See TV Thursday nights but something else on Thursday nights), and turn my cell phone off.

And I wonder how many more things I'll be told to do since this is only the first of three movies in a row I plan to see today. As long as one of the things I'm told isn't to leave the theater I won't mind, since I'm only paying for one of these movies today. You see, I'm at the Cinemark at Valley View in suburban Cleveland and I'm going to watch three movies for the price of one, only without telling anyone who works here.

I've snuck beer into a movie before, but I've never snuck myself into a movie before. But I've cased this joint. There's a ticket-taker at the front entrance but no one to see where you go when you enter the hallway to the 12 theaters on the left or the 12 theaters to the right. And as soon as the ticket-taker takes the ticket of one of the children waiting in line in front of me and then mistkenly tells a different child's mother in which theater "Arthur and the Invisibles" will be playing, well, I know this Cinemark will be no match for my skills.

I'm starting my day just before high noon with "Babel", the likely Academy Award nominee starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. That should end just in time to slip into the 2:30 showing of "Children of Men", featuring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine. When that ends, I'll have just enough time to get to the just released adult fairy tale "Pan's Labyrinth", featuring a lot of Spanish actors and subtitles. I know very little about all three, except that many good things have been written about all of them.

Now I wait through the commercials. I already have my Sprite -- and, no, I did not want to upgrade from medium to large for 25 cents more, though I would have done it for free! -- but they aren't going to seduce me into buying any of their $3 candy. Haha, that's already in my pocket, the forbidden outside food brought into the theater. For now I'm legally in the theater, having paid my $6 matinee fee; my only worry is making it through the 142 minutes of "Babel" without having to go to the bathroom.

And I do, because the film is engrossing and exactly the kind of film Oscar voters love. Think last year's winner "Crash" only on a global scale with a smaller story. "Babel" has already won the Golden Globe for best motion picture drama, so it most likely will be among the Academy Award nominees when they are announced on Tuesday. And also because I believe going to the bathroom after the show will be a great cover for slipping into the next theater for "Children of Men". The cleanup crew will forget all about me in the two minutes I need to relieve myself of my 32-ounce Sprite!

Panic sets in when "Babel" ends at 2:28 -- only two minutes until "Children of Men" starts. Not only do I have to make my way down the corridor and find the movie, but I still have to go to the bathroom. No way can I wait another 109 minutes without going. So I slip into the bathroom, notcing that there are really no Cinemark employees in the hallway at all. Still, I practice my excuses just in case a pimply-faced teenager tries to play hero: "Oh, I'm sorry, I am looking for my friend." "Where's the bathroom?" (Just in case he doesn't notice I just came out of it.) Or pretending I'm deaf.

But you would have thought I had purchased a ticket for this movie. No one says a word when I leave the restroom and march right back where I came from, back down the hallway past "Babel" and around the corner to theaters 17-24. I find "Children of Men" with no help from the ticket-taker, thank you.

Thank goodness for previews. By the end of the day I've seen 16 previews, and only Jim Carrey's upcoming "The Number 23" shows twice. That's an average of five previews per movie. By the time I slip into "Children of Men" -- unnoticed by anyone, of course! -- it's five minutes past the posted show time but just two previews in. My only worry is that the guy eating the Subway sandwich behind me will continue to chew loudly and smell up the theater for the entire movie.

He doesn't, and I enjoy my second movie of the day even more than the first, since it's free. And since I know that it will be very simple to sneak into "Pan's Labyrinth" which is not only right across the hall, but right next to the OTHER bathroom!

When "Children of Men" ends, I do my now patented bathroom move. This time when I come out I head to the front lobby under the pretense that perhaps I'll buy some Milk Duds, or maybe even popcorn, although that would require another medium Sprite that I will NOT make a large for 25 cents more. Fortunately the lines are too long so the temptation subsides. I make my way back to "Pan's Labyrinth".

And disaster! I notice a man wearing a name tag standing at the edge of the first row of seats, just down the aisle from the theater's entrance. He's watching the screen, which is showing a preview of "300", but I know he's really looking for me. There's no doubt that this is the Cinemark manager and scofflaws like me, scofflaws like me who aren't even writing a blog, are his target.

I duck back out. Thankfully there are two entrances to each theater, and I take the one on the left. This leads to the balcony. I tuck myself in up there, happy to have both a new vantage point and eluded the movie policeman. Oh, he'll be looking for me again on my next trip, but I am onto his tricks.

For the next two hours, I twist in my seat. Don't let anyone tell you that movie watching is easy. They've got comfortable chairs and all at the Valley View Cinemark, but even the great Roger Ebert would be exhausted after a 6½-hour movie marathon. I'm not sure if I'm ready to fall asleep halfway through "Pan's Labyrinth" because I don't like the movie or because I'm uncomfortable. Somehow I find my second wind and enjoy the second half of the film, leaving thoroughly satisfied with my day at the movies.

I'm grateful when it's over, even though I know I could walk to the other side of the theater and watch "Rocky Balboa". Yo, Adrian, I'm tired!


"Babel": Absolutely grand
"Children of Men": Visual pleasure
"Pan's Labyrinth": Sadly fulfilling

Thursday, January 4, 2007

It's Showtime!

Before you even start watching a movie per day, you have to start wondering how the word "movie" even came to describe movies. First of all, it's not even spelled like it sounds. Shouldn't it be movey? Or moovie? It rhymes with "groovy", which is how your parents described cool things back in the '70s, and the concept of movies is very cool, but the word movie came well before and endures long after groovy's short lifespan.

I mean just look at it -- movie. Movie. Movie. Movie. Movie. Kind of like the word "drawer". Say that a few times. Drawer. Drawer. Drawer. Drawer. No, not a guy who draws something! The place where you put your socks, in a drawer.


It doesn't even look like a word that would describe moving pictures. The more you see it, the more you say, the more it sits there, the less it even looks like a word than a Roman numeral. Take out the "o" and "e" and it is a Roman numeral: 1,006. Which has nothing to do with movies.

What does have something to do with movies is trying to come up with a blog title, writing the word "movie" over and over while finding all the titles taken makes the word look even more weird. There's Movie A Day, A Movie A Day, One Movie A Day, and Movie Per Day. All defunct. You'd think they freaked out looking at the word "movie" over and over again, but then there's Film A Day and A Film A Day, both of which sound more pretentious but are as dead as all the rest of the movie-a-day blogs.

Turns out that the word "movie" is actually kinda cool. When they were all proper back in the day they called 'em "moving pictures." Which they were, since up to then all anyone had to look at was some big old painting and a few photographs. Then suddenly there was a picture that MOVED.

Can you imagine back in 1927 when some youngster wanted to impress a flapper by taking her to a moving picture (later a motion picture)? But you can't say, "Wanna go see a moving picture?" You give it a nickname, use some slang: "Hey, wanna go see a movie?" Movie, short for moving picture, now that sounds so much cooler.

Let's face it, just doesn't cut it. But A Movie Per Day does, and not just because it's the last name left.

Here's the concept. Over the next 365 days, I'm watching one movie each day. Give or take a few movies and a few days. Then I write about it. Not necessarily about the movie, but about watching the movie.

So in effect, this blog is going to be all about me watching movies, not necessarily the movies that me watches. If you want to read all about the movies, there's plenty of places for that -- the Internet Movie Database, Roger Ebert, Rotten Tomatoes, Ain't It Cool News, and so on. But there aren't very many places online to read about me. For that you have to keep coming back here.

As I'm sure you will.