It goes without saying that movies are a big part of a movie critic’s life. But with a majority of films being viewed at sterile press screenings, the actual movie-going experience diminishes with time. In most cases, I can remember the movies vividly but very little about the circumstances surrounding them.
That’s as it should be, maybe — the films should speak for themselves — but it’s also fun to remember the audience reactions, the friends who watched the flicks with you, and the awful popcorn you ate simply because it was in front of you.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share some of my more significant movie-watching experiences of the year. You will notice that all of them involve friends. Without friends to watch movies with, I don’t know how important movies would be in the first place.
Josh and Chanel
With Josh’s girlfriend (now fiancÃ©e) living in California, he found himself spending inordinate amounts of time with me and Chanel, the three of us forming a merry, platonic band of entertainment-seekers.
We saw an advance public screening of “The Rookie” at Provo Towne Centre’s Cinemark 16. Chanel sobbed through the end of this genuinely uplifting, wholesome story. Josh and I would have mocked her mercilessly, except that we had to fight back tears ourselves.
For reasons I still do not understand, Josh and Chanel were convinced the drag-comedy “Sorority Boys” would be funny. Not having attended the press screening already, I went with them on opening day, where we found it to have some shining moments of comedy mixed with the awfulness. My friends subsequently received DVD copies of the film as gifts. The movie is quoted among us to this day, a testament to the staying power of a movie experience, whether the movie was any good or not.
Chanel has consistently proven unreliable in her predictions of movie quality. She insisted on attending the press screenings of “Mr. Deeds” and “Master of Disguise” with me, hoping to be entertained by them. After “Master of Disguise,” which featured the once-funny Dana Carvey, there was some talk of ending our friendship immediately so the ugly incident would never have to be revisited.
One weekend in April, I was visiting other friends in Florida when Josh called to report he and Chanel had just seen “Frailty” and it had, as he put it, “stolen our souls.” I was intrigued, of course, so the next night my Florida friends and I watched it at a theater in Tampa. I retained ownership of my soul, but the disturbing film led to a lively conversation about the nature of religious zeal, as depicted in the movie. Though “Frailty” is a flawed film, it is worthy of being watched and discussed, which is more than you can say for most movies.
I saw “About a Boy” with Chanel and Josh, too, on one of the nights when I was persuaded to go to the movies with a large group of friends despite my having already seen everything playing. (I am not very much fun to hang out with for that reason.) I gave “About a Boy” an A- when it was released. The second viewing made me wonder why I included the “minus.” It is the funniest drama, or the most serious comedy, I saw all year, and the second screening of it convinced me it belonged on my Top 10 list. I have learned never to be afraid of giving a movie a second chance to make a first impression.
Josh was also with me when I saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for the first time, a few days after it sneaked unnoticed into Utah theaters. Josh reports that he had never seen me laugh so hard as during the scene in which the insane Greek grandmother tiptoes across the lawn, is assaulted by automatic sprinklers, and then tiptoes back, shrieking. Apparently, I laughed so hard he feared for my safety. So be careful of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I guess.
Brett and bad movies
Of all my friends, it may be Brett whose love and knowledge of film is most keenly defined. Ironically, instead of watching Hitchcock or Bertolucci masterpieces together and then discussing them, what we usually dine on are bad slasher flicks.
For example, in 2001 we watched the entire “Friday the 13th” series on DVD and video. Sadly, in 2002, Brett could not attend part 10 (“Jason X”) with me, and we have yet to find time to watch it together. That void remains in his life.
We did, however, watch all eight “Halloween” films this year, up to and including the newest one, “Halloween: Resurrection,” which we saw in the theater. The first two films in this series are rather good, while part three is among the worst cinematic experiences of our lives. The last one features Busta Rhymes, which to me is all a movie needs to make it bad.
We saw “Wes Craven Presents: They” in November; it seemed inevitable. A bad horror film is released; naturally, we will view it in one another’s company. Surviving bad movies is like living through a plane crash or other serious trauma: You’d never want to repeat it, but you’re grateful for the way it strengthened you and refocused your priorities. In the case of “They,” it made us go around saying, “In the dark they come for me” in the creepy way the little boy in the movie says it. You could tell the filmmakers wanted it to be the next “I see dead people,” but as far as I know, it only worked on me and Brett.
During the Olympics, Artisan Entertainment sponsored all-day, back-to-back free screenings of “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” set to open several weeks later, at the Gateway in Salt Lake City. Since it was free and an excuse to go to Salt Lake in the midst of Olympic fever, I attended with two friends. We were all horrified and offended; sadly, the gross-out humor of the film was not the worst I’d ever seen, so I was least traumatized of the three of us.
I took my “Star Trek” nerd friend Randy with me to “Star Trek: Nemesis,” in part because he asked but in part because I valued his input. He, like many Trekkers, was disappointed by the film. As a non-Trekker, I didn’t enjoy it but did not take its mediocrity personally, as I had nothing invested in it.
Jeremiah, whose seriousness about film rivals Brett’s, consented to see Steven Seagal’s “Half Past Dead” with me at the press screening. I went into it happily, knowing it would be stupid and feeling prepared to revel in it. Jeremiah believed it would be mediocre but was unprepared for how bad it actually was. He declared it among the five worst films he’d ever seen in his life, and when I told him it did not even rank among the five worst films I’d seen this year, he pitied me.
The best place
My favorite place to watch movies? The Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. This is where I saw two of the films on my top 10 list — “Far From Heaven” and “Bowling for Columbine” — and this year, for the first time, I finally took advantage of the Tower’s weekend midnight movie series. There is something very cool about seeing classics like “A Clockwork Orange” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the big screen, especially late at night in an audience full of excited but respectful film lovers. Is there anything better than cozying up next to someone special and watching a great film in a historic theater? If there is, it definitely includes chocolate.