Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'm projecting? Damn right I am!

Thursday was my birthday.

It's okay if you didn't remember. You can make it up to me by sending presents to the following address:

Vance Tastic
P.O. Box THX 1138
Hollywoodland, CA 90036

But I don't really need any more presents, because the best one I got was the ability to spend Friday night in a hotel. A damn seedy hotel (my choosing) near my work. It wasn't the seediest one I could have picked -- that would have been the one down the street that was advertising rooms for $44 a night. Seeing that this one had wifi, I opted for it at a price of $73 including tax. Still pretty good for a hotel that's within three miles of LAX.

My wife has done this twice as a treat -- staying over at a hotel in your own city, to get some time to yourself and sleep in. This was my first time, and I chose a seedy hotel in order to save money. I didn't need to be pampered at this hotel -- I just needed it to be a different place to spend Friday afternoon, Friday evening and Saturday morning, a place that would allow me to sleep in without a young boy getting me up at 6:30 on a weekend morning.

Oh, and I needed it to be a place where I could watch movies.

See, when I have time to myself with no other responsibilities, I binge on movies. I look forward to few things more than an uninterrupted stream of whatever movies I want to watch: marathons of my own choosing. And since it has happened so rarely in the days since I've been a) a husband and b) a father, the need to binge is even stronger. So during these times, I barely pause to do anything else.

A key to a movie marathon, however, is that you get to watch the movies you want to watch. You don't want to leave it up to circumstance. So I knew my hotel TV would be playing no role in this marathon. I'd be watching movies on my laptop, either streamed (depending on the strength of the wifi) or on DVD. That was the only way to curate the marathon for myself. (I'd intended to re-watch Trainspotting on Netflix streaming, but had to give up after 30 seconds because it continued buffering. This ruled out streaming as an option for the rest of the evening.)

But watching a movie on a laptop is somewhat less than ideal. The real way to go is to make it special in some way, and about ten days ago, the idea how to do that struck me:

A projector.

Not the kind you see in the photo above, but the kind you see in the photo here:

It's the kind of projector you can hook up to a laptop. People in the business world use it most often for Powerpoint projections and the like, but you don't have to use it that way. It'll project whatever's on the screen.

A movie, for example.

And I knew I had access to a projector like this. Two, actually. My company has two of them, and since I'm a member of the IT department, it's my department that takes custody of them.

The thing is, they're not cheap. If they were, more of us would probably own them, since watching a movie on a projector is gooooood. But I believe both of the ones we have cost over a grand -- possibly over two grand.

My boss would still probably let me borrow one of them. That was my guess, anyway. Especially if I told him it was for "bringing the movies home" -- a treat for my birthday in which my wife and I, who can barely ever go to the movies together anymore, would watch a movie projected on our own wall at home. (Which turned out not to be a lie, as I will get to later.)

However, I thought of the old adage that it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. I know where my boss keeps the projector and there'd be little chance he'd come looking for it from Friday until Monday. I seriously considered just snatching it, because this way there'd be no way he could deny me. If I asked and he said "No," then the jig was up.

Ultimately, I decided to give my conscience a break and just ask him for it. He agreed immediately, and only asked why I needed it as a way of making conversation. I told him I'd be very careful with it, though he did not even seem to require that assurance.


Combine this score with my wife's insistence that I report straight to the hotel after work on Friday, and by about 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon, I was already setting it up in a seedy hotel on Imperial Highway in Hawthorne.

How seedy? When I went next door to the liquor store to pick up some drinks shortly after checking in, I was stopped by a guy on a bike who wanted to sell me a watch. Fortunately, I extricated myself from that situation without incident, and before no time, I was watching movies.

Movie #1: The Girl Next Door (2004, Luke Greenfield)

I had a couple candidates for the first slot on Friday afternoon, but ultimately settled on this movie from my own collection -- which I'd watched thrice before -- as a nice guilty pleasure to usher me into the marathon. I actually consider The Girl Next Door to be better than a guilty pleasure, but if you are judging it only by the poster, you might need to know that it would work on the level of a guilty pleasure for you, if that's what it takes to convince you to see it. (If you're a Timothy Olyphant fan, this is actually my favorite of his roles.) I also thought it would be interesting to see it while fresh off a viewing of Risky Business, because it's basically a modern update of that film. I could write a post about that, probably -- we'll see.

I also wanted to make sure my first movie was something I'd seen, because the hotel presented me with an unanticipated problem:

The walls were not white.

My entire theory of projecting movies on my hotel wall was predicated on the idea that the walls would be pattern-free. But this being a pretty seedy hotel, it had wallpaper, and the wallpaper was interrupted at regular intervals by little gray fleur-de-lises. Not such a distraction that you couldn't watch the movie, but enough of a distraction that the movie needed to be something I was already pretty familiar with.

I considered hanging the sheet from my bed on the wall, but there was no obvious way to hang it. I'd already taken a mirror off the wall to allow me a clean projection surface, and was worried about trying to jerry-rig a system that would put me further down the road toward potentially damaging the room.

Thank goodness I was texting my friend Don at the time, because he came up with the winning solution: thumb tacks. "The holes would never be detected," he texted. "Downside - you probably don't carry thumb tacks around with you."

"No, but I could go out and get them," I texted back.

Which is exactly what I did after the first movie ended, around 6:45.

Movie #2: Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008, Kevin Smith)

Not knowing the area super well (despite its relative proximity to the neighborhood where I work), I did one of those optimistic drives down a main road, where you assume you will eventually hit a larger shopping complex. It didn't happen as quickly as I was expecting, but I did eventually come across a CVS, which was sure to satisfy my push pin needs. (I decided on push pins rather than thumb tacks because push pins are easier to pull out. They don't require finger nails.)

It also satisfied my breakfast needs (a mango smoothie drink, a sleeve of donuts, and a milk to go with the coffee maker in the room) and my needs for the rest of my night (a Mountain Dew, a pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, and, remembered at the last moment, a box of plastic spoons that would allow me to eat said ice cream).

Pinning a sheet to the wall made all the difference. This is the movie experience I had in mind, and I settled in to enjoy Zack and Miri, which I'd picked up at the library on my lunch break.

It's appropriate I was seeing it for the second time in a hotel room, because that's where I saw it the first time as well, when my wife and I stayed in a local hotel to celebrate our first anniversary. (Full story here.) I ended up liking it just as much the second time -- in fact, I think it could be my favorite Kevin Smith film, though Clerks and Dogma are also up there.

Watching Zack and Miri on my newly unobstructed screen did make me realize, however, that I should watch something visually dynamic for my next film. Projection this good should not go wasted on a film whose visuals are essentially secondary to the writing.

Movie #3: Hostel Part II (2007, Eli Roth)

I wasn't sure about the visuals of Hostel Part II, but by this point in the marathon, it was definitely time to watch something I hadn't already seen. If there were any kind of a theme to this marathon going in, it was that I'd try to watch things I wouldn't ordinarily watch at home -- either because my wife didn't really love the movie (The Girl Next Door) or because it involved a subject she might not dig (women being tortured, for example). I'd always meant to see Hostel Part II, but hadn't gotten the chance yet because of my wife's perceived aversion to it. (Which is actually based on nothing but an assumption on my part. She and I actually saw the first Hostel together, and I remember that she liked it.) So I lined it up to arrive from Netflix and received it mid-week.

During Hostel Part II, my pizza arrived. I'd ordered from Domino's -- first time ever ordering delivery from a hotel, if I'm not mistaken, and I was concerned about the logistics. The room key actually had a Domino's advertisement on it, which was perfect -- I'd already wanted to order Domino's after loving the artisan flatbread pizza I ordered from them a couple weeks ago, and the room key gave me the phone number without even having to look it up. I did have to scurry and look up the address online -- for some reason, I thought they'd have the address as long as I gave them the hotel name, given that the ad was printed on the key.

And this is where having a second laptop came in handy. I'd been planning to use my own laptop for the projection, but discovered only that morning that it didn't have a port to hook up an external monitor (the port the projector uses). So I brought my work laptop for the projection, and used my personal laptop for internetting. This allowed me to look up the hotel address without even having to disturb my projector setup.

The Italian salami artisan pizza was mmm mmm good once again. The movie was pretty good as well, though I had a couple issues with it. Still, better than I thought it would be. And for the record, Roth goes to great lengths to avoid accusations of misogyny. Even though it's women being tortured rather than men this time, the most sadistic torturing is performed by a woman as well.

Movie #4: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006, Tom Tykwer)

It was nearly midnight by the time I was ready to start my fourth movie. Perfume, from my own collection, hadn't necessarily been part of the plan going in -- I had it along as sort of insurance. But when I realized just how good the projection looked, I added it to the agenda for my late-night screening due to its amazing visuals. Even though it was over two hours in length, and the beers I'd consumed threatened to put me down for the count long before it was finished.

As it turned out, I fell asleep only in the last 15 minutes or so. Too bad, because one of my favorite scenes in the movie is its climax. But this too was a movie I've already seen three other times, and I own it, so I can watch that scene by itself any old time I like.

Movie #5: The Cable Guy (1996, Ben Stiller)

Think the movie watching was done just because the night was over? Think again my friend.

Despite my stated anticipation of sleeping in, my body had other thoughts. It woke me up at ten past 7, the bastard. Fortunately, I was able to get myself back to sleep eventually, and slept until ten past 9. With a checkout time of 11, I had time to squeeze in one more movie -- if it was something I knew really well, and could clean up the room while watching.

Enter The Cable Guy, which I have seen about seven or eight times (but not in about five years) and is one of my all-time personal favorites.

The perfect comfort food to watch in the morning, alongside the comfort food of coffee and donuts.

Because I had to shower and had to start breaking down the room well in advance of 11, I only watched about an hour of its 95 minutes, and even then I was racing around to get the room back to its former shape by checkout time. I didn't want to take the risk with one of these seedy hotels that they might try to charge me for an extra day if I missed the checkout time by even a minute. (They called me around 10:40 to ask if I was going to stay an extra night).

Unlike the ending of Perfume, I did get to see the ending of The Cable Guy later. And that brings us to the next chapter of my projection weekend ...

Movie #6: Mars Needs Moms (2011, Simon Wells)

What I haven't told you so far is that I'd prepared my wife for a surprise on Saturday night. If my boss was going to loan me the projector for the weekend, might as well take advantage of it. The walls in my living room are white, so I just had to move a few things and get the projector set up, and we'd have that very movie night at home that I'd used as my excuse to borrow the projector in the first place.

Having been the sole caretaker of our son since I left for work Friday morning, my wife was well deserving of a little time off once I got home, so she went out to see The Ides of March. I immediately went to work setting up my surprise, and making sure I had a workable system for both the projector and the laptop that wouldn't jeopardize the safety of either of them -- since both were company property. This was to say nothing of the safety of our own stuff. I temporarily broke a lamp in our living room while trying to move it out of the way of the intended projecting area, but was able to fix it later on.

Once I had the thing set up -- using a breakfast-in-bed table as the platform for the projector, whose feet I wedged between the back of the couch and the wall, and propping up the laptop on one of the arms of the couch -- I figured I might as well take advantage of the fact that my wife would be gone for the next couple hours, and watch another movie.

I said a little bit about Mars Needs Moms in yesterday's post, so I don't need to talk more about it here. I will say that it was one of the movie's I'd picked up from the library the day before, and that although it looked very good when projected, it would have looked even better if the colors weren't all muddied and washed out -- a part of the movie's design. In fact, it was then that I started to realize that the best thing to watch in this format would be something with a lot of color, where the edges of the screen were well-defined -- but I'm getting ahead of myself.

And oh yeah, I finished The Cable Guy after Mars Needs Moms. It really helped that my son went down for an unusual hour-and-forty-minute nap.

Movie #7: Reign of Fire (2002, Rob Bowman)

Now that I'd watched two of three movies I'd borrowed from the library, leaving only The Next Three Days unwatched, I decided it was time to replenish our supply -- to give my wife a whole new set of options for her big surprise. So when she returned from the movie, less than ten minutes after I'd hurriedly broken down the projector, I took my son back out with me to the library, to quickly pick up three more choices before closing.

All three were movies we'd recently talked about: Magnolia (which she loves and wants to see again), Poltergeist (which we both want to see again, especially now that it's Halloween time), and Reign of Fire (which she hadn't seen but I'd recommended).

Unfortunately, a difficult previous night with our son meant that she had to go do something she usually never does: She went to lie down for a nap at 7 p.m. I used the time to get set up again, but when she awoke, she was a tad too groggy to fully appreciate my surprise -- and might have even preferred just to watch some TV that night. She was a good sport, however, and could see the seeds of disappointment in my eyes. She selected Reign of Fire as the shortest of the three options, which would allow us to watch some television after it was done.

It was my third time seeing Reign of Fire, first since 2002, and I definitely did not like it quite as much this time. There was also a nagging problem that I hadn't noticed on any of my other projections, which was that the image tended to pixelate in spots at this level of projection. Nothing that would be a major distraction, but enough that I tried to refocus the lens in our favor.

On the plus side, my wife seemed to genuinely enjoy the movie and the specialness of the situation I'd tried to create. I'd also bought us some creme brulee, which we enjoyed before she retired to bed.

Movie #8: Waking Life (2001, Richard Linklater)

So my big realization in Mars Needs Moms and again in Reign of Fire was that I wanted to watch one final film that was very light (in brightness, not necessarily in subject matter) and colorful. Neither the Mars setting nor the dragon-scorched post-apocalyptic landscape qualified in this respect, and the darkness was constantly bleeding into the side of the frame, leaving the frame itself as very indistinct from the darkness in the room around it.

I had a couple candidates in my collection that I knew would satisfy this need for bursts of color. The three that jumped to mind were Waking Life, Tangled and Paprika. But I'd seen Tangled for the second time only about six months ago, and I don't love Paprika (but have already seen it twice nonetheless). I'd seen Waking Life at the beginning of 2010, but it's a film I love revisiting for its dense philosophical ruminations combined with an absolutely beautiful color palette. I discuss my love of Waking Life in some level of detail here, if you want to read it. (And I also mentioned it in yesterday's post as well.)

It looked as great as I'd hoped -- but somewhere in the middle of the movie, I experienced projector burnout. Not literal burnout, though I'd feared that I would kill the bulb at some point during the weekend, and have a lot of 'splaining to do to my boss. Fortunately, I was pretty good about giving the projector rests of 20 to 30 minutes here and there, when possible, while still managing to keep up my breakneck pace.

No, I just got tired. Tired of watching eight movies in about 32 hours. Hey, watching movies can be exhausting, even for people who would prefer nothing more.

So I didn't set up the projector one last time on Sunday night, even though it might have meant two more movies at full size. It was time to attack some priorities on the DVR ... and for me, time to catch up on some sleep. I was in bed before 9:30.

If you've reached the end of this much-longer-than-anticipated blog post, thank you -- I appreciate it. And now you can finally stop reading.

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