Moviegoing in Days of Future Past

The temptation to make this a tirade that meanders for far too long, waxes poetic finds any and all tangents and beats them to death several times over is great. However, with a few days I have been able to ponder the impetus for sitting down and writing this in the first place to the reasoned, cautionary bit of friendly advice was meant to be in the first place. In other words, please don’t take this as get-off-my-lawn but rather a necessary suggestion on course correction as we proceed through time as moviegoers.

The impetus was, as has been the case in the past, something overheard while leaving a theater. This time it was rather innocuously, and I must admit rather enthusiastically, a parent saying, mere moments after the end of the new X-Men film “Now we have to wait two years for the next one; X-Men: Apocalypse.”

This little moment struck me in so many ways as a microcosm of the current state of moviegoing, and entertainment in general. It was mere seconds after the film had ended, the experience not yet fully absorbed, but already the next one was anticipated and longed for. Clearly, there’s a positive to that. However, there’s a certain lack of even “stopping to smell the roses” indicated when one cannot walk out of an auditorium and wait five minutes before pondering the follow-up.

Hugo (2011, Paramount)

Perhaps the acuity of this particular observation was amplified because it was a parent and a kid (or kids). I distinctly recall not knowing what was coming out far in advance as a child and the surprise seemed to add to the magic. I’m not saying I don’t anticipate things for a long time now, but I still very diligently try to preserve mini-surprises like trying to only see trailers at the movies. I also don’t play the whole teaser to a trailer game.

The impact of this particular moment was further amplified by the fact that I anticipated there’d be another X-Men film but I honestly had not read up on it and didn’t even know a title. I fully understand that we live in a day and age wherein untitled projects from studios getting a slot three years down the line is news, and press releases including initial synopses get ubiquitous coverage, but I don’t want to look forward to all things at all times, so X-Men fell through the cracks. Not that I’ve had a big issue with any X-Men film. Perhaps it’s due to a subconscious desire to have Sony and Fox fall asleep at the wheel, or strike a deal, to unify the cinematic Marvel universe that I don’t diligently follow their plans.

Another reason this moment jumped out to me was that in my blogging I try and strike balance in what I cover. I try and keep current but also not forget cinematic achievements and glories of films past. It seems that the old struggle (for lack of a better word) was to not ignore the past as a film enthusiast. Now with the evolution of Internet coverage it seems at times a struggle to give adequate focus to the present.

Is it possible that all this short-sightedness has unexpected positive side-effects, such as more films being “rediscovered” after being too quickly summarily dismissed and/or ignored? Sure, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Look, I get that there’s a glut of information out there, and I don’t want to sit here and preach that we should be ignoramuses. I am perfectly aware of my bad habits. For example, I hate casting rumors and prefer confirmations, but I read both. I think my best advice to dealing with an excess of information is that there is a time for everything. So if you love a series you will read about what’s next regardless, but save your thoughts and longings for further installments for an adequate time after seeing the latest. Give it a moratorium.

X-Men: First Class (2011, Paramount)

Going back to the specific example that was the catalyst for this piece: I loved First Class a lot. So much so it ended up very high on my year-end list. My watching Days of Future Past was a lock based on how much I liked it. I saw news tidbits and they slipped in-and-out of my consciousness, as it was a film I wanted to see regardless. The trailer enticed me. I liked it quite a bit. Only today five days after seeing it did I start to read up on the stinger that closes it out. Granted it was a longer moratorium than is needed, and it connects to this last film, but it does foreshadow.

Everything is cyclical and going against the current, or trying to change is single-handedly, is foolhardy. A certain amount of information has always been available to film lover. It’s just that, like with everything, the Internet has democratized it and moved it out of the sole purview of the trades. I have more frequently lately had to check Fandango to see “What’s out this weekend?” It’s something a while ago I may have been embarrassed to admit, but I’d rather check it to see what’s out this weekend than know what’s out this weekend so I can see what I have to look forward to two or three years from now.

Film Thought: Moviegoing Solo

Sometimes the short commentary pieces are one I think of and slip my mind and crop up every so often and I need a nudge to remember that the question could use asking.

I’ve meant to discuss, hopefully open up a dialogue, about moviegoing solo for a while. It’s one of the several aspects of the moviegoing experience I feel are worth some exploration. This is due in part to the fact that not only do I actually enjoy it but quite frequently some of my favorite films of the year happen to be seen just that way. Most recently and notably number two last year.

The impetus to finally bring it up was the other day Alexander Huls on Twitter mentioned he was asked “Just one?” when buying a ticket. We had a brief discussion about this wherein I likened it to being attended to at a restaurant. What that question, in either scenario, boils down to, at the very least, is not taking into consideration its connotation and the presumptive nature. Yes, people meet up and get names in for tables ahead of time at restaurants. That’s why the question is “How many?”As with moviegoing, it should be the same.

There were then two moviegoing-related anecdotes in pop culture that came to mind; I believe it was the ‘movie-saving episode’ of Seinfeld that brought up the question, how is moviegoing inherently better in a group. I also frequently harken back to Stephen King’s comment in Danse Macabre about people attending horror films in packs, in part to subconsciously stave off being frightened.

The answer to the Seinfeld question is that it is and it isn’t inherently better. If the movie is any good, or worth discussing, you can instantly talk to your friends afterwards about what you just watched. I think I saw Sinister in a group of five (a rare pack outing for me) and there was much to discuss. However, if there’s a film I have to get in, or I really want to see, and I don’t want to have to twist anyone’s arm to do it, like say a Bela Tarr, why wouldn’t I go alone? There’s no good reason for it, and I frequently do go.

New York is one of the great moviegoing destinations in the world. Whenever I’m there now I like to partake in activities on either end of the spectrum: either fairly touristy or something more localized that I know of having been born and raised there. However, I also typically also make it an overnight excursion and take advantage of the fact that there’s plenty of films out I can only see there and for a limited time.

So those are some of my tales of moviegoing solo. And what of you? Do you like, love or hate it, and why?

Moviegoing Abroad

I actually watched Battleship a few days before it came out here in the US, as I was in Mexico in time. This wasn’t the first time I saw a movie there. I went last year also, and while it’s not something I’d recommend everyone, but if you’re a movie freak going to a foreign movie house is definitely something to do.

Part of the reason I decided to write about it this time was with more and more conversation about the filmgoing experience in the US it’s more valuable perspective now more than ever.

So here are some benefits to checking out a flick abroad.

1. Check The Listings, You Might Get Lucky

Part of the motivation to see Battleship was that I knew it came out abroad before it came out in the US. This is a the case more and more now, so if you time it right you could see something before all your friends. Maybe it’ll even be good.

2. The Price is Right

Granted this all depends on your exchange rate and how favorable it is. Going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was not really any cheaper Brazil than it was here (However, art houses in Brazil may be cheaper I haven’t been to one recently). This is especially true when you factor in the fact that soft drinks and candies are sold in normal sizes but still up-charged. However, the USD equivalents in Mexico were akin to when I’d take the bus to a multiplex for matinees in the mid-90s, meaning: ticket $5 USD, $2.50 Soda and under $2 for Candy.

3. Concession Variety

Now, clearly when you’re abroad you’ll find things that are ubiquitous like Coca-Cola but also things that are rather indigenous like this year’s find Freskas, which are Nestle’s answer to Whoppers with ice cream-like flavors.

At this particular Cinemark there was also a coffee/liquor bar in the back with other snacks, which is usually only an arthouse thing here, dine-in locations being a rare exception.

4. Etiquette

OK, I can only gauge this based on my limited experience and will qualify that my experiences in Mexico have been during/towards the end of the work day and the theaters weren’t that full but they were quiet. Conversely, my Potter screening in Brazil was late and rather full but for the most part filled with quiet reverence that film deserved.

5. Experience

My two trips to this Cinemark in Mexico and another mall-attached multiplex in Brazil have been clean theaters, where seats could be chosen ahead of time (get this, no extra charge! Take that Cinema de Lux!), seats that are comfortable, lights that go down on time, good projection with no significant degradation of quality even in 3D and based on my interaction courteous professional staff (for the most part).

Not to generalize for clearly the more you frequent and inadequately run movie house the more warts you find but it’s a game of chance when you happen upon a house that doesn’t do things right, when they do odds are you’ll have a great time.

As I mentioned above, it takes a certain odd egg to see a movie on vacation abroad. However, if you think you’re one it’s definitely worth doing.

Film Thought: Sorry, No Refunds For Bad Movies

Sign at the Avon Theater Warning People about The Tree of Life and the no refund policy

Attention to All and Sundry:

After hearing about people seeking refunds for disliking The Tree of Life because it was too artsy and a woman suing the makers of Drive because it’s not an action flick and now people in the UK are unaware that The Artist is (mostly) silent.

I’ve recently had cause to go on a few Twitter rants about all too frequent substandard filmgoing experiences but this is one where I have to defend exhibitors.

Essentially we as filmgoers have to grow up and take some responsibility and think about what it means to buy a movie ticket:

1. The film you watch may, in fact, be bad and that’s OK.

To be truthful watching some movies I hated has been just as memorable as one I thought was great, maybe you really just have to love the form but the bottom line is that money you pay may be for something you dislike. It’s a mystery, that’s part of the fun. The theatre does not guarantee your enjoyment of the film, what it should guarantee is a clean, quiet auditorium, a properly projected image and crisp, clear sound. In short, they should guarantee you enjoy the experience of watching the film not the product itself.

2. Make Sure You Want to See The Film

If you are one who shows up looks at the showtimes and picks something at random, live with that. The same goes for something you think will be stupid or that you can’t wait to see. Also, if you are seeing a film because you think it will be stupid normal codes of conduct still apply to you. Your snarky disposition is not a license to speak or be otherwise disruptive.

3. Forewarned is Forearmed

This goes for things as basic as sound/silent (a rare conundrum), color/black & white (nearly as rare), synopses and parental information, some who are defending the audience members make it seem like finding out The Artist is a silent film is a chore. If all you knew is it won awards you can find out. As an experiment I just searched “The Artist Movie” on Google and results came up in the usual split-second and then it took me just a few seconds to scan down and find the Wikipedia entry that in the abstract starts by stating the film is silent. Such a chore.

4. A Movie Is Not That Different From…

Perhaps the best comparison (the most apples to apples) I can think of is books. Everyone has likely read a bad book and in all likelihood you owned it. I never once thought of reading something and then taking it back to the store. What does the store have to do with it? They only made it available to me. I chose to buy it.

Movies are similar. The difference is it’s a scheduled artistic presentation not unlike a concert. You are buying a ticket that guarantees you admission, not fulfillment. Has anyone ever seriously sought a refund because they didn’t know who the opening acts are or because Guns N’ Roses didn’t play “Pretty Tied Up”?

In both books and concerts there’s an accepted level of the unexpected and we’re fine with that. Why not films?

5. Trailers Aren’t Accurate

Things will make trailers and not the final cut, tone will be mangled and you will be manipulated. A trailer is a commercial. They are meant to make you want to see a film. Some are bad and some are good and they rarely are an accurate representation of the film’s quality.

6. Knowledgeable Complaining & Spending

If you truly dislike some film trend like remakes or a given franchise then you’d be best served by not giving those things your money. Otherwise, your complaints fall on deaf ears as the studios cash their checks. If you are curious to see those things that’s fine but know they will still exist if you contribute to their box office. If you just want to be informed as you besmirch them that’s fine but don’t delude yourself into thinking you can wish them away.

The box office is really all that decision-makers will listen to 99 times out of 100.

7. When I Should Complain/Seek a Refund

The theatre’s responsibilities are limited to presenting the films it has. Therefore, issues such as sound, projection or anything else that adversely affects your viewing are grounds to complain and/or seek a refund. I’ve read that being compelled to walk out can get you one but I wouldn’t bet on it hence the above stipulations.

I could probably get further bogged down in the minutiae but the above seems to be the minimum that needs to be stated in light of the recent silliness that seems to have occurred at the movies perpetrated by patrons.

Film Thought: Excuse Me, Did You Like The Movie?

Hayden Panettiere and Cayden Boyd in Fireflies in the Garden (Senator Entertainment Co.)

It happens far too often that I leave a movie theatre and am left shaking my head not at the film I just saw but rather at the chatter that I can overhear walking out of the auditorium. All too often I hear confusion at a rather simple film or mental constipation due to the fact that the film as somewhat more artistically rendered and opaque than the run-of-the-mill fare which makes up the bulk of our cinematic diet.

The example I’m about to cite is not meant to smack of regional elitism but rather to illustrate that all too often now little of what once drew us out to the movies is still what appeals to us about it. It seems to be more out of habit than for the aesthetic pleasure and a communal activity.

The tale is relatively simple: I was visiting an old friend in New York and amongst the activities we decided to engage in was to go to one Manhattan’s many theatres and see something we couldn’t find anywhere else.

The film in question was, the critically dismissed yet left me rather moved and affected on a few occasions, Fireflies in the Garden. As soon as the film was over someone came up to me and asked “Excuse me, did you like that movie?”

We exchanged a brief and cordial discourse about it. The gentleman asking and his screening partner differed in opinion. I allowed that I could see that specifically due to one of the casting decisions of a younger version of a character (what I didn’t mention was an unusual family structure within the narrative) but I told him I did like it.

That was all that was said. It was short and not too detailed but it’s an all too rare occurrence. This part of the communal aspect of moviegoing is virtually extinct it seems. Many will lament how etiquette, whether it be talking or being distracted by mobile devices and other faux pas are bigger problems but this is a side effect of the mentality that seems to be “This is just something to do” or put differently “I’m not here just to watch this film.”

I’m not saying that every screening should be like a post-screening bull session in film school or that all layouts be art house in nature with a cafe where you can sit down and debate the finer points of the narrative, however, a quick exchange wherein you say “Yeah, I did like it. I can see where you might have issues…” should not be so much of a shock.

I recently stated that that’s what I like about Twitter, you can go there and have a group of followers who have have seen that film and have their own insights into it. It’s a minor but not insignificant part of the moviegoing culture that ought not be ignored: there should be more stimulating conversation on the way out of an auditorium rather than inadvertent eavesdropping and muffled sighs.

I am all for taking the time to absorb a film, any film at all, however, some of them present questions and quandaries that should be discussed in a more open way and post-screening discourse should not be so endangered.