Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I'm getting worse at this
Used to be, just a little bit of smart planning, and I'd be guaranteed to successfully execute a theatrical double feature.
You know, the kind where you pay for the first and sneak into the second. I do it -- I admit it. I've admitted it numerous times on this blog.
Starting at the beginning of 2011, though, I've now had three attempts in a row that were marred by some kind of bad luck or brushes with the law. At least the one this past Saturday was considerably less traumatizing than the other two.
Just to refresh your memory, the first double feature I attempted in 2011 was to see The Green Hornet and Blue Valentine. That one was kind of botched from the get-go, in the sense that I'd been intending to see Blue Valentine and Another Year, but when they switched which movie was playing in which wing of the building, I had to drop Another Year for a movie that was playing in the same wing as Blue Valentine. I successfully saw both movies, but I lost my wallet somewhere in the process. I ended up getting it back, but not for three weeks, and I'd already ordered a new license and credit cards by then, plus suffered about four days of depression related to the loss.
The second botch was at the drive-in, and it also involved The Green Hornet. We paid to see Battle: Los Angeles and The Green Hornet, knowing that we intended to switch theaters after Battle: LA to try to finish with Hall Pass and Red Riding Hood. But the "drive-in cops" (guys in golf carts) stopped us from entering the second theater, and in a panic of indecision, we simply left the grounds and drove home.
This past Saturday night I was supposed to see Water for Elephants and Hanna. I even cased the joint earlier in the day to make sure that the movies were playing in the same wing. This was no certain task because Water for Elephants was actually playing on three screens, only two of which were in the same wing as Hanna. But I timed things out perfectly so that my 8:00 showing of Water for Elephants would have led directly into a 10:00 showing of Hanna. I wouldn't be able to use the bathroom between movies, because the bathroom was on the other side of the ticket taker from me. But as long as I wasn't too desperate after the two-hour Elephants, I should be able to hold on for the 1:50 Hanna, especially since it would be starting immediately, with no downtime in between.
And it should have worked out perfectly. I even snuck in two cans of soda and other snacks in my skateboarder pants -- you know, the ones that are torn, too small and should be replaced, but are still useful because of their large additional pockets. My bladder was in fine shape at the end of Elephants and everything.
The problem was, this is a very nice theater, with lots of very nice but very attentive ushers. The screening room where I saw Elephants was the first in the wing, its door right next to the ticket taker. Perhaps to prevent the very thing I was trying to do, they had extended one of those cordons, the ones that recess back in on themselves like a tape measure, out from the exit of the theater to directly where the ticket taker was standing. So instead of just ducking off to my right as I exited, I would have had to go around the ticket taker, who would see me exiting this screening room and know I was up to something. With no time to adapt to this sudden realization, I just let the flow of the exiting crowd carry me out, and just like that, it was done. No second movie.
For a moment I considered trying to pull some bologna like just flashing a stub and walking back in with confidence, to get down to the Hanna theater. But part of having very nice, very attentive ushers is that you feel a lot worse trying to pull one over on them. It's one thing to see a second movie as a "crime of opportunity" that involves little to no consternation on anyone's part. It's another to actively deceive the theater staff in order to see a movie for free.
The other thing I did wrong was that I reversed my usual philosophy about which movie you're supposed to see first. Because there's always the chance that you won't see the second movie, for one reason or another ("too tired" could always be a reason), you should see the movie you're more interested in first. In order to do that with Hanna, however, I would have had to go to a 7:30 Hanna and a 9:55 Water for Elephants. That would have left me with a good half-hour of downtime, during which I would still have been torturously prevented from using the bathroom. What's more, the extra time would mean I'd have to dodge people cleaning theaters, etc.
Fortunately, I liked Water for Elephants enough that I didn't mind it being the only movie I saw. Sure, the presence of Robert Pattinson sent off some warning flares. But I also know he's trying to move away from Twilight and forge a serious acting career, so I didn't expect this movie would be aimed at teenage girls. At least, not only at teenage girls.
The beauty of Water for Elephants, in fact, is that for the first time in a long time, I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't heard any review of it, in part because there was no new Entertainment Weekly this week after last week's double issue. I hadn't even heard any buzz, positive or negative. All I knew was the footage from the ads, which made me think of three different films for which I have decent to high levels of affection: Moulin Rouge!, Big Fish and Australia. If Water for Elephants could fit into the same category as those films, we'd have a winner.
But I didn't know. It's so strange to go to a movie not knowing anything about whether it's supposed to be good or not. Just by our immersion in the cinematic world, we film fans usually have a pretty good idea whether a movie is getting praised or panned, even if it hasn't come out yet. Therefore, seeing it is always a matter of living up (or down) to those expectations, of exceeding (or failing to exceed) them. It was quite refreshing to come into a movie with no expectations -- except for those I could glean from my own analysis of the trailers.
One thing that struck me about Elephants was that it made me feel like I'd never seen a movie about the circus before. Surely that isn't true -- I can name a few off the top of my head. But one of the things this movie does well is that it gives you a supposed insider's look into the business of circuses, and has a couple compelling storytelling techniques to assist with that. For example, one of my favorite sequences was when Pattinson's character is led through the train carrying the Benzini Brothers circus, by the inevitable salty old character who takes him under his wing. Director Francis Lawrence didn't achieve it all in one take, but it still had a similar feel to Martin Scorsese's famous shot in Goodfellas, where Henry Hill is led through a microcosm of the underworld (you know, the restaurant scene). Did I just compare Water for Elephants to Goodfellas? Yep, I think I did. Another scene involves the wonder and awe of seeing a 1930s big-top erected from the ground up, accompanied by just the right score. In these ways, Water for Elephants is something of a "circus procedural," I guess you could say.
But what I really liked was how grandiose it was. Not only the big-top, not only the menagerie of animals, and not only the amazing titular elephant, named Rosie, who makes you love an elephant like no movie has ever made you love an elephant. But just every piece of the cinematography. There's a scene where Pattinson's Jacob and Chrtisophe Waltz's August climb atop the train as it chugs through the American countryside, and view that countryside while walking the length of the train. The whole scene is bathed in this glorious moonlight and just looks gorgeous. I love seeing someone work on a big canvas like this.
The epic quality of the movie was also mirrored in the central love triangle between the vicious August, his beautiful but fearful wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and Jacob. This is old-world movie stuff, with Jacob as a righteous hero, Marlena as an imprisoned soul desperate to escape, and August as a hissable villain, whose treatment of human beings and animals is equally malevolent. Waltz is brilliant again, after his obvious brilliant turn in Inglourious Basterds, and then taking (the again aforementioned) Green Hornet off. In fact, something about the whole production was so giant and old-world that it reminded me of another movie: Titanic. Similar love triangle, similar story told in flashback from the present day. Similar impact? No, but you're talking about the second-highest grossing film of all time, so that's asking a lot.
Compared to the four films I mentioned, I found it to be not as good as Titanic or Moulin Rounge!, almost as good as Big Fish, and better than Australia. That's not saying much for those of you who didn't care for Australia, but I did, so it's good praise from me.
And a word about the director, Francis Lawrence. I had him pegged as a total genre director, as he'd previously helmed Constantine (which I liked at the time, not so much in retrospect) and I Am Legend (which I liked a lot and still do). Turns out that branching out into epic period stuff looks good on him. He really had the feel for it.
And it's not for teenage girls. It's a movie that should speak to the romantic that exists in most of us, but it also has good substance. Ever been curious about how a fringe circus survived during the Great Depression? What desperation will drive men to do? Water for Elephants wraps that in there, too.
Okay, enough shilling. Let's just say that it was nice to walk away from my single feature, feeling as satisfied as I might have felt if I'd seen two.