Sunday, August 22, 2010

First in line

I don't usually go to see movies on opening night. But when I do, you'd think it would be a movie I was really jazzed about. You know, like the tweens who had their parents drive them to the theater for the 12:05 a.m. screening of Twilight: Eclipse, or the geeks who camped out for weeks before Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Nope, not really. In fact, last night was just the latest movie I saw on opening day/night despite having only mild interest in it. I should say, I had mild interest going in, and heavy interest coming out. Yeah, Piranha 3D was "super fun," as I said to the friend who saw it with me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I guess my thinking goes like this: If you go to see almost any movie during the primetime slot of its opening night, it's going to be a clusterfuck. Every movie has some subset of the viewing population that's interested in seeing it, and these are the people who will come out for that primetime Friday night show. That's nice when it means you're surrounded by like-minded individuals who plan to cheer and applaud; it's not so nice when you get stuck in the front row, because you bought unassigned seats earlier in the day, but didn't get there in time to claim something good.

And so I've developed something of a policy toward seeing movies on the day of their release: I'll see only ones I don't really care about.

Here are some recent(-ish), funny examples:

Surrogates (2009, Jonathan Mostow). Released: September 25, 2009.

I didn't even know if I planned to see this in the theater, but I'd written one of my Friday morning pieces about it, and I was hankering for an after-work screening, so I hit whichever one started in the 4 o'clock range. As might be expected, the screening was fairly sparsely attended -- the movie ended up grossing less than $40 million, and I think I may have liked it better than anyone else in the world, except possibly Jonathan Mostow.

Splice (2010, Vincenzo Natali). Released: June 4, 2010.

I had gone through a bit of a rollercoaster in my feelings toward this movie, at first thinking it would be an exciting genre buster, then thinking it would be a completely interchangeable startle-scare horror film. I ended up going Friday afternoon because my boss had failed to comp me the afternoon on the previous Friday, before Memorial Day weekend, as he usually does, but had forgotten to this time. So I got out around 1 o'clock that day and took myself over to the theater. I don't know that the movie actually busts its genre, but it is unforgettable in a number of other ways -- some good, some I'm not so sure about.

The Last Airbender (2010, M. Night Shyamalan). Released: July 1, 2010.

This one doesn't quite count, because I actually saw it on July 2nd. The whole time leading up to it, however, I thought they were releasing it that Friday. Then for some reason they moved it up one day to Thursday. This was a similar situation to what was supposed to happen with my Friday-before-Memorial-Day early release, except on the Friday before July 4th, it did actually happen. This screening was also sparsely attended -- maybe everyone already knew that the movie had been ripped to shreds. Me, I thought it started out abysmally and then improved enough in the last 45 minutes or so that I thought it was fine. But because my failure to hate The Last Airbender is not what I came to talk about today, I'm not going to say any more about that.

Piranha 3D (2010, Alexandre Aja). Released: August 20, 2010.

And then there was last night. A friend and I had been trying to find some common ground on a movie -- a movie my wife didn't have any interest in seeing, at that -- and Piranha was what we came up with. We were trying to jam it in before my wife goes into labor (could happen anytime in the next 10 days to two weeks) and before he goes to Burning Man (next weekend). Plus, yesterday was his last day of work on a gig that was located down near where I live. So he got off work, we met for dinner, then went to the movie. In fact, we dilly-dallied enough that I thought we'd shot ourselves in the foot, getting to the theater only 15 minutes before the show was scheduled to start. But instead of having to crane our necks at the 3D from the front row, we hadn't actually needed to buy tickets in advance at all. Strangely, the theater was only half sold -- and this was a prime location on the Santa Monica Promenade, albeit a theater that probably hasn't been renovated in 20 years.

That could have been some kind of forewarning about the quality of this movie, but it wasn't -- at least not for me. My friend wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I was, but I was enthusiastic enough for the two of us. It was a rollicking good time -- exactly what I wanted it to be. Awesome piranha carnage and lots of hilarious gore -- stuff that made our audience howl, squirm and grimace. Some of the gore was truly horrifying -- I can't get that image out of my head of the woman being scalped by the outboard motor, pulling her face right off -- but Aja's tone was such that it was "all in good fun." Besides, the idiotic spring breakers who had come to the fictitious Lake Victoria were portrayed as so vapid and so obnoxious, it all really seemed like their just desserts.

A movie like Piranha 3D really argues for that opening Friday night showing. Even though we were only half full, we were the ones who were really excited for that bloody mayhem up on the screen -- and we probably enjoyed it a lot more than we would have during that 1:35 showing next Thursday afternoon.


Mike Lippert said...

Wow, I can't believe Aja actually made a movie that is worth seeing. I liked Surrogates too, so that makes three.

Vancetastic said...

Aja has interesting things in each of his films -- each that I've seen, anyway. However, I agree in the sense that I would not call any of them complete films. Piranha comes close.

Yeah, why did people hate on Surrogates so much?