it’s always sexier when you do it in public

Blogger Buddy Rick over at Stop the Planet of the Apes- I Want to Get Off! wrote an inspirational post about his favorite experiences seeing movies in the theater. Nowadays when you go and your shoes are stuck to the floor and half the place is lit up from kids texting on cell phones, and several rows are holding dissertations on what they did at the mall today, and someone is translating the movie into another language for their mom*, we rarely have good memories of movie theaters. But Rick inspired me to think of my best movie theater memories, and here they are, in no particular order. Except I’ll probably save the best for last, so you finish it. Or maybe I’ll put it in the middle, so you don’t skip to the end. Ha! Whatever will you do, but read the whole damn thing?

To Sir With Love
I saw this with Firecracker in Bryant Park in Manhattan during their summer film Mondays. Before the screen was filled with Sydney Poitier’s manly dignity, and contrasted him with poor white cockney kids, they showed two Warner Brothers film shorts, including one that had some horribly racist ’40s-era caricatures of African jungle tribesmen. The crowd was silent. Being a Looney Tunes fan, I’d seen it before and knew what was coming, and didn’t think it was one of the better cartoons like Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, that is worth watching despite its caricatures. But it was the perfect, banal counterpart to the groundbreaking film that would suggest romance between a young white student and her black teacher. In 20 short years, how things had changed. Even hateful dreck like Tokio Jokio deserves to be preserved. We tend to assume things were always better in the past, and if we let the bad parts fade into obscurity, we’ll begin to believe it. Contrast this with when I saw Blazing Saddles for the Warner Brothers 75th Anniversary film festival at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, when scads of people walked out, stunned and offended at the use of the “N-word,” even though it remains one of the most poignant spoofs and skewerings of American racial relations as of 1976. That festival also led me to seeing Goodfellas, The Godfather, and many other classics on the big screen for the first time. I wish there were more revival theaters, but around here I think we just have The Film Forum.

Aliens, 70mm
This was one of many films I saw at a now forgotten revival cinema in the Twin Cities of St.Paul & Minneapolis when I lived there. This is one of my favorite action films, and I don’t think I saw it in theaters when it came out- I was a broke high school student! I probably shoplifted the VHS tape. So seeing it in glorious 70mm was a revelation. They also showed the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which re-spurred my interest in the band and David Byrne. The theater was old and decrepit, the seats were painful, but it was a great way to spend a night with some friends, since the place was huge and never filled up.

The Big One
This is Michael Moore’s most forgotten film, but one of his best. It’s not as scathing, but before The Corporation, this was one of the best documentaries on how multinational corporations essentially serve no one- not even their stockholders, as boards and CEOs run rampant- and how they squeeze tax amnesty out of communities in trade for jobs that eventually are outsourced elsewhere. Now, I don’t hate all corporations but for the last 20 years they’ve been incredibly short-sighted, and the country has suffered for it. In this one, Moore shames Nike CEO Phil Knight into buying computers for Flint, Michigan schools if Moore will split the bill. This viewing was memorable because I got to meet Mike. We haven’t always agreed- I had an email spat with him when he was making Bowling for Columbine– but this is one of his funniest and even-keeled films. This was at the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis, an art and revival theater that spoiled me. The best I’ve got in New Jersey is the Clairidge, a Landmark theater. The Oak showed movies as varied as Shaolin Temple 3 with Jet Li, one of the best ’80s kung fu movies. We saw a midnight show there and the crowd went wild. Even when I saw these movies in NYC’s Chinatown back in the day- usually Jackie Chan’s prime stuff like SuperCop and Armor of God– the crowd was usually quiet, so it wasn’t as exciting. This was one time I didn’t mind the cheering. Hell it was subtitled anyway!

The Answer Man
The premiere of this movie in Monmouth was followed by an interview with one of its stars, my cousin Lou Taylor Pucci. The movie unfortunately didn’t get a wide release, but is available on NetFlix, DVD and cable now. It stars Jeff Daniels as a reclusive blockbuster novelist who hasn’t written in years. It’s not a perfect film, but an enjoyable mix of drama, romance and comedy. The audience was gracious and it was great to see my cousin interview by older film snob types who loved his performance.

This was the first movie I remember seeing alone, in 1983. I walked to the Franklin Theater or rode my bike; more likely my Mom dropped me off. It remains one of my favorites, with its vaguely electronic, harmonica-infused score that gives it a touch of melancholy. The video screen of WOPR, the defense computer playing a game that NORAD interprets as a real Russian attack, is my current desktop background. Matthew Broderick sure has had one hell of a career since he appeared as a computer nerd in this one. He’s been Ferris Bueller, and perhaps my favorite, a hapless teacher in Election. He and John Cusack have mirrored my life with their roles, though Broderick is a few years older than me. Watching this movie on the big screen cemented the magic of movies to me and lead to a long life of enjoyment, losing myself in their fantasy world. The earliest movie I remember seeing in theaters with my parents is Star Wars; I distinctly remember my Dad patting me and telling me it was okay when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were barbecued by stormtroopers. Despite that, I still count Raiders of the Lost Ark as my favorite film of all time. Pulp adventure with lots of fun and winks at the audience. It’s pure entertainment.

This was the first scary movie I saw without my Mom’s permission. I was 11 and sneaked in with my older neighbor Ruben. I paid 90 cents, and nearly shit my pants when they pull that rope that Carole Anne is supposed to be on the other end of, and a gigantic, rotting human skull comes out of the closet and roars at you. I still adore this movie as one of the greatest haunt films ever made, alongside The Haunting and The Changeling. Sure, this one is more about effects and scares than creepiness, but tell me that scene with the kitchen chairs arranging themselves isn’t effective! We practically had this matinee to ourselves, which was good, because I think we screamed like little girls the entire time.

The Empire Strikes Back

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
This is the first movie I took a girlfriend too. Rebecca liked scary movies like this and Child’s Play, and I liked her burrowing into my side in terror as Freddy clawed someone, or Chucky knifed some poor bastard in the spine. Maybe that’s why crappy, jump-scare horror films still make money these days? The last horror flick I went to see was the awful Haunting in Connecticut, and I don’t think I heard one scream. Do girls text to their boyfriend OMG Im skeert nowadays? The theater was packed, and we were deathly silent. This wasn’t the pure murderous horror of the first Freddy film, but it was before his snappy one-liners took over. I still enjoy this one for what it is, and found the way he stalks the troubled teens in this one to be pretty clever.

Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny
This is the first movie I went to see with my wife to be, Firecracker. It was supposed to be Borat, but we ended up seeing that separately with friends. We’ve seen dozens and dozens of movies since, from Blade Runner: The Final Cut at the Ziegfeld, to me sitting through (and liking) The Jane Austen Book Club. Really, it’s pretty cute. I drew the line at the Sex and the City movies. The show is short, and I couldn’t take 90 to 150 minutes of Sarah Jessica Parker. It would like the Ludovico Treatment. I don’t remember much about this movie. I remember the Sasquatch, and the battle with the Devil, and lots of cameos by those such as Ronny James Dio, may he rest in peace.

So, what are your most memorable movie theater experiences?

*(actually happened to me, during The Departed)

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Election Day Special- Slacker Uprising

I’m not a big fan of Michael Moore ever since Bowling for Columbine, where he went after a senile old man who marched at Selma. But he began to redeem himself with Sicko, which was more his style of prankster documentary that reminded me of his excellent “TV Nation” show. Slacker Uprising documents his attempt to get young slackers to vote during the 2004 Bush/Kerry election campaign, where the vitriol against him was at its highest.

Moore had just released Fahrenheit 9/11, one of his weakest movies in my opinion. He had gone from pranking to preaching, and while much of the movie has been redeemed by history, it still comes off as a propaganda piece. Mike is an unapologetic leftist, and I respect that. Sometimes I think his strident tone makes him his own worst enemy, but he’s out there giving the perspective the “liberal” media won’t, so I give him credit for that. The man has plenty of faults, but I don’t think he “hates America.” That’s just a ploy to make us ignore what he’s actually saying. There’s a scene in Slacker Uprising where a woman- the most un-American idiot I’ve seen recently- says that if you don’t support our leaders, you should be shot. Go back to 18th century Britain, you psychotic. America began when we decided not to support our leaders.

The mother of a soldier who died in Iraq

More begins with the Swiftboating campaign- a political ploy so despicable that it now carries that name- where you throw a bunch of monkey shit and see what sticks. John Kerry- a bland and boring politician if there ever was one- at least had the honor to serve his country overseas during the Vietnam war, when George W. Bush was serving in the Texas Air National Guard (when he wanted to show up). Kerry’s Purple Heart was belittled, since he was “only hit with shrapnel.” This is nothing new in military service. My friend Milky served in Iraq and has a chest full of “fruit salad” as they call it. Everyone gets a medal, and every injury in combat can earn a Purple Heart. If Kerry constantly talked about his service, or tried to inflate it into Audrey Murphy-style heroism, I’d understand the need to tear him down. But the simple fact is that a man who actually served in Vietnam was somehow made less honorable than a rich boy whose connected father kept him on American soil while Joe Sixpack died to the tune of 58,000 and change.

Moore’s doc recalls the despicable TV ads, and combats it with his familiar sarcasm; he makes his own fake ads for the Bush campaign stating that if Kerry was a real hero, he would have died for his country. Kerry didn’t respond to the ads for weeks, and it irreparably damaged his campaign. Moore decided to go to campuses and get out the vote to help counter it, and begins with a press conference where he berates the media for not digging up the truth, and forcing people to get a babysitter and go see a movie to get what should be on the news. He’s a bit hyperbolic but in essence he’s correct; our news is often more about fashion, entertainment and shock value than politics. From there on, he heads to college campuses to get the word out.

The rest of the documentary has a lot of fluff in it. We get to see Eddie Vedder sing a Cat Stevens song, because “he can’t sing it here anymore.” Stevens has since been allowed in the country, but it captures the vigor of paranoia of the time. The entertainers are there to lure the slackers, where Moore does stuff like offer them packages of ramen noodles and clean underwear if they’ll go out and vote. You can see the inherent humor in it- college students living on ramen, and wanting for clean undies so they can put off doing laundry- but it almost gets him in trouble, for inducing people to vote with such gifts is illegal in most states.

By the end, there are active campaigns to stop him from appearing on certain campuses. In San Diego, they have to move to a nearby convention center, where they draw an even bigger crowd. This was the era a short time ago when hateful “pundits” like Anne Coulter were given screen time, before she attacked the families of 9/11 victims when they dared criticize President Bush. In the end, all is for nought. The slackers either stayed home with their ramen and underwear, or felt the sting of the Democratic Party letting Howard Dean- who genuinely energized young voters- get thrown to the wolves. It’s brave for Moore to let us see a document of failure, and he is distributing it free on the internet.

For a free movie, it’s well made and it lacks the strident tone that made Moore go from merry prankster with a message to the man the Right loves to hate.As far as political documentaries go, it’s an interesting view of the 2004 election, and how the son of a Bush who weathered an Iraq war and an economic crisis was allowed to do it again, on a much grander scale. If you like Moore, you’ll love it; if you hate him, you’ll hate it. If you’re indifferent, it’s a return to his earlier filmmaking, and I’m looking forward to more like it.

David Zucker makes Michael Moore parody 4 years too late

Dennis Miller used to be funny; then 9/11 happened and made him crazy. Now I was working in Manhattan on 9/11; it affected me as much as anybody who didn’t lose loved ones there. I got heartburn every time I thought about it for years. But let’s face it, when Dennis Miller decided he was a conservative pundit instead of an equal opportunity political comic, the humor drained out of his butt like he ate 6 bags of Olestra potato chips. There are funny conservatives- I’m pretty sure Norm MacDonald is conservative, and I find him funny as hell.

David Zucker, who helped bring us classics such as Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Top Secret! and Kentucky Fried Movie, has suddenly decided that not only is Michael Moore relevant, but is deserving of an entire movie parodying him. The last few movies he produced were the Scary Movie sequels, so it’s obvious he’s lost any comedic talent he once had as the famous Zucker-Abrams-Zucker team. Or maybe like the Order of the Triad, he only has power when the ZAZ work in tandem. I’ll let you be the judge, when you view this trailer to his new movie, An American Carol that debuted on “The O’Reilly Factor,” since Bill O’Reilly actually stars in the movie as someone who gets to slap Michael Moore.

Michael Moore is a polarizing director. I was a huge fan of Roger & Me, and his TV show “TV Nation.” I even went to Philly to see Crackers the Corporate Crime Chicken. I also liked his movie The Big One, and went to the premiere in Minneapolis, met him again, got his autograph. Then Columbine happened and he went sort of crazy. He always brings up that he learned to shoot in a youth rifle club of the NRA, but he got unhinged after a kid in Flint Michigan brought an illegal gun from his uncle’s drug-dealing roommate’s dresser to school and shot a young girl that he’d previously stabbed with a pencil. The NRA was somehow to blame for this.

We got into an email argument over it; this was back when you could email him. Sadly my old email program ate them and I can’t share them here. His argument was “it’s gone too far,” and attacking a senile Charlton Heston was the answer. I never forgave him for that, and think his documentaries have suffered since he’s gotten so strident. Even in Roger & Me he was accused of setting things up to look one way when reality disagreed, and most documentaries have a slant. Some of the greatest, like Harlan County U.S.A. and The Thin Blue Line have definite agendas. The father of the documentary who gave us Nanook of the North infamously staged most of the scenes. But those films didn’t take a complex, polarizing issue like gun control and try to stack the deck and convince people to your side of the argument with bad facts.

That being said, I loved Sicko, where he seemed to get back to his prankster style of filmmaking, when he tried to bring a bunch of American citizens who’d been failed by our ridiculously expensive and coldly bureaucratic health care system to Guantanamo Bay, where enemy combatants were getting better treatment. Then again, one of my favorite recent comedies is Team America: World Police by the “South Park” guys, which makes fun of Moore and American foreign policy.

An American Carol looks like it’s 5 years too late to be funny. There was a time when we might have believed that critics of the Iraq War actually hate America. $500 billion later, when we’re still pumping cash into Iraq when they have a $90 billion surplus in their budget and our economy is taking a plunge, folks are starting to question why we threw 4000+ American lives and 30,000 American limbs to put the party who blew up our Marine barracks in Beirut into power. Yes, they’re our friends now, apparently. At least compared to the other parties trying to run Iraq. And this is from paleoconservative Paul Mulshine, not Michael Moore or some “America hater.” The fact is the bad guys were in Afghanistan, we still haven’t caught bin Laden, and we’re losing Afghanistan because of lack of troops. And Russia is flexing its muscles because it knows we’re spread thin. and… nevermind, everything’s fine. Go see Scary Movie 8.

So who’s going to see a movie where a country singer, Bill O’Reilly and a poor facsimile of General Patton show Michael Moore what makes America great? I didn’t see one remotely funny thing in the trailer, sadly. It’s old news, and was done better with pooping puppets by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. You know what makes America great? That Michael Moore can make his movies without being beaten down like a journalist who aims his camera at a “Free Tibet!” sign at the Olympics in China. That we can make fun of Michael Moore and call him out when he skews his facts. That really funny movies like Airplane! were made here, and yes, that even crap like An American Carol can be made here. It would be greater if useful idiots like Zucker didn’t think that anyone who disagreed with his politics “hates America.” Though I can imagine having to deal with the insipid Hollywood political activists is pretty infuriating.