Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lots of thoughts on lots of hotel movies

This is where I spent my Saturday night:

And these are the movies I watched, along with some thoughts on them, including a number of interesting ways they were related that I could not have anticipated. Please do not think of them as complete considerations containing the entirety of my thoughts on each film.

Oh, and this post will be somewhat long, but it should be easy to jump around in and flip through to find the parts that interest you.

Jane Got a Gun (2016, Gavin O'Connor)

I only really watched the last 20 minutes of this movie in the hotel. The rest of it was watched the night before, that morning, waiting for the bus and on the bus ride out. The reason for the erratic viewing schedule was that I started it too late on Friday night, but then had to finish it before the 24-hour iTunes rental expired. It was much better than five different sittings would suggest it is -- and all the advertising/handling by the studio would suggest it is.


1. I'm digging the "slow" westerns these days. I'm thinking primarily of last year's Slow West, but this fits that bill as well (in addition to having several other thematic similarities to that movie). I think I'm more into the intimate western with only a few main characters and a few settings, though Slow West in particular violates that last criterion. These might work better for me than what I think of as the big, sprawling western epic, though I'm hard pressed to give you an example.

2. During the last scene, I finally realized something very funny about this movie: Its three main cast members all appeared in the last two Star Wars prequels. As Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton all appear on screen at the same time for the first time during that scene, I was like "Hey, it's a standoff between Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme and Uncle Owen!" I doubt it was totally a coincidence, and since Edgerton co-wrote this movie he may have been the one to call in a couple favors (though Portman was one of its producers).

Grimsby (2016, Louis Letterier)

Looking for something light to start things off in the afternoon in the hotel. A Sacha Baron Cohen film defintiely fit the bill. Its 79-minute running time was also attractive.


1. This marks the second straight year I've started in the hotel with a visually stylish spy movie featuring Mark Strong. Last year it was Kingsman: The Secret Service, in which Strong appears in a supporting role. Here Strong is one of the leads. In both cases there is gory violence (more there than here) and edgy humor (more here than there), and in both movies, a real American president or would-be president is either killed or given a fatal disease. (SPOILER ALERT) (Barack Obama's head explodes at the end of Kingsman, and Donald Trump gets AIDS in Grimsby after the spray of blood of an HIV-positive gunshot victim ends up in his mouth). Both movies were a lot more satisfying than I expected them to be.

2. And both movies had about the same amount of material, but in Grimsby it was all packed into 79 minutes. That was definitely to the film's detriment as it frequently felt rushed and all over the place. However, this movie has a scene where the two leads are getting violated by an elephant penis while hiding inside another elephant, then proceed to get covered in elephant semen, so that may be the decisive factor in comparing the two films.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn)

My most unpremeditated pick of the day. When Grimsby ended, I had my choice of 16 other movies, only three of which I knew I was saving for the evening (it was about 5 o'clock at this point). As I had only seen Bonnie and Clyde once and it was at least 20 years ago, the time felt right.


1. The opening scene of this movie floored me. And I'm just talking about that scene where Faye Dunaway rolls around in the bed restlessly. The way the camera ends by zooming in on her eyes, as she detects something outside that she needs to respond to (and that will change her life forever), was absolutely enthralling. Simply put, I love that shot. Dunaway in general really impressed me in this movie. Not that she hasn't in other instances.

2. I was surprised to see Gene Wilder pop up in this film. I guess it wasn't at the point that he popped up that I was surprised; I saw his name in the opening credits. But it seemed like quite the coincidence as we just lost him this past week, and I had no foreknowledge of his presence in the cast when I selected this movie. It was nice to get to appreciate him in a comedic turn as one half of the couple that follows the Barrow Gang after they've stolen his car, only to wish he'd never done so when the gang turns the tables on them and starts following back. As he'd just died, it was especially nice to see him emerge from his interactions with them unscathed.

3. The two leads change cars quite a few times in this film, but I knew it was getting close to the end when they carjack the "Bonnie & Clyde Death Car." A couple friends and I have a joke about this as the car they were killed in is displayed at a casino on the state line between Nevada and California, and we stopped there on the way home from a weekend trip a couple years ago. The casino is called Whiskey Pete's, and you can buy all sorts of Bonnie & Clyde Death Car-related paraphernalia.

Barton Fink (1991, Joel Coen)

I have never loved Barton Fink like others have, but I have decided over the years that I respect it, and again not having watched it in more than 20 years, it was time to see if I had more than respect for it. I bought it for like $2 at a fundraiser for my son's school back in March, so it was time to finally pop it in. This was the film playing during my pizza dinner.


1. I noticed right away that the film was in full frame rather than the proper widescreen aspect ratio. While this sucks, and kept me from watching a similarly deficient version of The Shining a couple years ago (and also a version of Meek's Cutoff, though I later learned that this was the only version as this film was actually shot in this ratio), I decided that I owned the damn thing so I might as well watch it. I was only distracted for the first few minutes, then forgot about it.

2. If seeing the recently deceased Gene Wilder in Bonnie and Clyde was total coincidence, then seeing the recently deceased Jon Polito in Barton Fink was not total coincidence. I'd been planning to watch Barton Fink anyway, so in that sense it was a coincidence that he died that morning, but once I heard he'd died, then the resolve to watch it become absolute. Strangely, I think of Polito first and foremost as his character in The Crow -- "Shit on me!" Also, had no idea he was gay until he died. It was good to get the chance to appreciate a memorable character actor, in addition to a lead like Wilder.

3. I was struck on this viewing how indebted Barton Fink seems to David Lynch's Eraserhead. It's not only the physical similarity of the lead actors, especially as John Turturro's hair is styled in this movie. It's not only the idea of going mad in the confined setting of a living area (there an apartment, here a hotel room). It's even the shots traveling down into the various fixtures and openings -- there the radiator, here the bathroom sink. Throw in a weird worm baby and Fink would be a full-on homage to Eraserhead.

4. Speaking of which, it was funny to watch this movie in a hotel room. I didn't start to go mad, but there was one point where someone tried to open my door. I think they had just come to the wrong room, but it was enough to spook me a bit.

5. I definitely more than appreciate this movie.

Natural Born Killers (1994, Oliver Stone)

Another movie I hadn't seen in 20 years. Sensing a theme? Also, this movie is grotesque enough that I thought it would be better to watch it away from my wife, so I wouldn't have to explain myself. This was a movie I always loved, but had not revisited in ages. I started at about 10.


1. Despite the long layoff between viewings, I remember a ton about this movie, and it's easy to see why: I own the soundtrack. This soundtrack was put together by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and included not only a couple of his old songs, but one new one ("Burn"). In fact, "Burn" may be the only song on the soundtrack that I didn't notice in the movie during this viewing, as the movie has songs going nearly beginning to end and the soundtrack has a ton of the movie's dialogue on it. So lines of dialogue were coming back to me from multiple listens to this CD in the late 1990s. Funny how that stuff lodges in there.

2. The movie did not disturb me as much this time. I remember the violence being bloodier than it actually is. I think the thing that always disturbed me the most still does: Rodney Dangerfield. Genious casting. Who knew this man could be so damn creepy.

3. The structure of the movie took me a bit by surprise. I didn't remember until this viewing that the whole second half of the film takes place in the prison. I would have though that would have been more like the last third, but 'tis not.

4. It was funny to see blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos from both Evan Handler (as a guy working behind the scenes on Robert Downey Jr's. show, American Maniacs) and Jared Harris (as a British youth talking about why Mickey and Mallory are so great).

I had the idea of watching one more movie -- it would have been Spring Breakers -- but I just couldn't justify starting a movie at midnight. Not when checkout is at 10 a.m. and I still needed to awaken early enough to watch one more movie in the morning. Which was ...

Ghostbusters (1984, Ivan Reitman)

I always finish in the morning with a movie I know by heart that is usually pretty light in tone. Past movies in this slot have included The Cable Guy, Raising Arizona, This is Spinal Tap, Almost Famous and Say Anything. I had lined up Back to the Future for this year, having just bought it (very belatedly) about a year ago, but then I realized that my copy is BluRay, meaning it won't play on my laptop. So Ghostbusters it was, for the first time in ten years, just about exactly. (And before seeing the 2016 Ghostbusters, which I will catch when it arrives on video.)


1. The connections to other movies I'd just watched were really funny here. The ectoplasm on the library card catalogues immediately put me in mind of the oozing wallpaper glue in Barton Fink. It was the same color and texture.

2. Weirder: The New York news anchor reporting on the activities of the ghostbusters identifies himself as Roger Grimsby. Grimsby was the first complete movie I'd watched the day before.

3. I didn't notice until this viewing that Dana has also bought a package of Stay Puft marshmallows on the same trip to the store where she bought the eggs that will fry themselves on her counter. The marshmallow bag appears right next to the eggs as they begin popping their shells.

4. I thought it was really interesting to note that Winston Zeddemore, already late to the party, tries to distance himself from the other ghostbusters. When they're jailed, he shouts about only having worked with these guys for a few weeks and he wasn't even there when it happened. He then talks about getting his own lawyer separate from them. Of course, he redeems himself by vouching for them to the mayor in the next scene and then being a team player from there on out, but it struck me as an unusual decision that they would not likely repeat today.

5. Reginald VelJohnson has a small role as a police officer. He would more famously play the role of an officer of the law in Die Hard four years later.

6. Try not to follow the logic of time in the last 24 hours plus of this movie. When Louis Tully gets turned into the keymaster and delivered to the ghostbusters, it's nighttime. No one is ever shown sleeping or anything, and it would appear they've just been examining Louis the whole time. Next thing you know, it's the next day when the EPA shuts down the power to the containment system, leading into the following night where all the shit goes down with Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Oh, and then it's morning again during the closing credits. Not a big deal, but I did notice it.

7. By getting viewed again, Ghostbusters has jumped from the bottom of a particular list to the top. That list is my Letterboxd list of all my repeat viewings in order, back to when I started recording my repeat viewings in mid-2006. When a movie I've watched during that period gets watched again, I update the notes field with the most recently watched date and move it to the top of the list. So essentially, all this time, Ghostbusters has been the oldest movie that I haven't rewatched again since starting to keep track of my rewatches. Got that? In case you're wondering, it has now been replaced on the bottom of the list by Superman II, which I last rewatched in July of 2006. (When I first started, I only kept track of the month they got rewatched. The exact date was added at the beginning of 2008.) Also, I have rewatched 409 different movies in the past ten years and two months, some of them multiple times. There are nearly 200 more I've seen more than once, but longer than ten years ago.

Whew. If you are still reading, congratulations. You can stop now.

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