Sunday, July 30, 2017

Cat's Away: Saturday blitzkrieg

This is the fifth post recounting the movies I'm watching while my wife is overseas for ten days. 

Any time I have my Saturday all to myself to watch a marathon of movies, which happens approximately once a year and usually when I'm staying over at a hotel for the express purpose, I go through a predictable series of phases.

The first is overwhelming excitement and optimism, which lasts the entirety of my first movie. That's part of the reason I like to keep the first movie light. During this phase you imagine you might somehow squeeze in ten different movies that day. The sky's the limit. At the very least, five should be possible.

The second comes during the second movie, when you are taken hold by the sedentary nature of the experience and the realization you have the luxury to just close your eyes for a bit without any children needing anything from you. This is when a nap that's possibly as long as two hours transpires. Then, when you wake up with 30 minutes still to go in the movie and already encroaching on your evening viewing slots, a sort of panic sets in. You then realize that no more than four movies will be possible and you immediately regret the choice of movie you've just made. Do you even have to finish it?

The third movie comes during dinner and this is usually the prestige slot. Something really good you're revisiting, most likely. Something with a guarantee of satisfaction. You eat a good dinner (though are starting to feel a bit bloated from all the junk food you've already consumed) and restore a bit of the equanimity you lost during the nap and the realization that the total possibilities for the day are not, indeed, limitless.

The last movie is usually designed as a bit of a "midnight movie," and by this time you're struggling just to make it through. While you're probably enjoying it -- or not, since a midnight movie can go either way -- you are pretty ready when the time finally comes to close your eyes, probably sometime between one and two.

That was the shape my day did indeed take yesterday when my sister-in-law picked up my kids for an overnight at her house, leaving around 12:45, which would have given me even a bit longer than I usually have when I check in to a hotel. But I had two errands to run: to the library to return soon-to-be overdue books and movies (and to check out some more movies, one of which I actually ended up watching), and to the store to buy some junk food I didn't want to buy in the presence of my kids (else they'd ask why they couldn't have some). I got started at about 1:45, still on track to fit in five movies, even with 30-minute breaks between movies built in to do housework (and break up the routine).

But I ended up at only four, and that's because I had arrogantly believed my previous night's sleep would not come back to haunt me. I'll spare a few words here for that, to let you know why it was impossible it wouldn't. I got a late start to bed anyway, after 1 a.m., and shortly after that I was joined by my younger son -- this is a bad habit he's developed since my wife left. Sleeping with him is no picnic anyway -- he does this weird thing that I call "sleep running" -- but that sleep was shattered at 3 a.m. when the smoke detector started cheeping that its battery was dying. That took five minutes to deal with, involving a precarious stacking of chairs to get to our high hallway ceilings, and though it allowed me to deliver my son back to his bed, it did not allow me to return to sleep right away. I was awake another hour on my computer, and around 5:30 my younger one broke up my newly deep sleep by coming back to my bed, now ready to be awake for the day and imploring me to get up with him. He let me linger in the bed another 90 minutes, perhaps dozing off a bit himself during that time, but that period was also broken up by him asking me questions and being cute. We finally arose at 7.

So yeah, there was no way I wasn't going to take that two-hour nap.

Okay, should we finally talk movies? I'll go through them somewhat briefly in deference to the fact that a) I've already written a whole lot this morning on my procedure, which may be only of marginal interest to you and b) I need to get watching my Sunday morning movie before my kids return in a couple hours.

Hall Pass

If you remember from my post earlier in the week, Contact was the movie I originally had envisioned for this time slot. When I pushed that up to opening night, I replaced it with Hall Pass, the second-to-last movie I bought in this sale that I had yet to watch. (Hustle & Flow, I still have a future date with you). I chose it for a couple reasons. One was that the Saturday afternoon time slot is always good for a comedy -- something I'd temporarily forgotten when I targeted Contact -- but there are plenty of other comedies I could have chosen. I chose this one in part because I thought it was worth grappling again with how good the movie actually is. I like this movie more than anyone else I know, including my wife, who also does like it, but I think finds it fairly juvenile. Plus, the subject matter makes it one of those "Why are you watching this?" movies -- it's about a week off from marriage. Don't want my wife to think this topic interests me more than it actually does, which makes it a good movie to watch when she's not here. (When, in fact, I am sort of getting "a week off from marriage" with her out of town -- something I am not using to try to pick up chicks at Applebee's, I'll have you know.)

I nearly put this movie in my top ten of 2011, so observant did I find it and so capable of producing big laughs in various moments. A very necessary January 2012 rewatch before my list closed talked me down off that ledge, but I still ranked it #12 for the year. My first rewatch since then has further sobered me on the merits of this movie -- the Farrelly humor is indeed pretty juvenile -- but I still like it quite a bit. It was a good Saturday afternoon choice.


This was a really random choice, something that was not in my considerations at all until I picked it up at the library earlier that day. (Though I daresay it's probably available on one of our streaming services as well.) It perfectly exemplifies the on-the-fly element I want Cat's Away to have, but it's my one possible regret from yesterday. The reasons I chose it were: 1) I'd always meant to see this -- "wanted" may be a bit too strong a word -- and I was enjoying keeping the "light" afternoon tone after Hall Pass; 2) It's short, and I was still trying to get in five movies at this point; 3) It was the only chance to have a "new to me" movie, and these Saturday marathons usually have at least one of those. When I realized it was too early to watch the movie I'd planned for the dinner slot, I decided something short would be perfect, which led to me discard other possible contenders City of God and Watchmen. Besides, neither of them would have kept the light tone.

Megamind was fine. I'd even say I liked it. In fact, when I was reminded that a comedic actor I love, Will Ferrell, does the voice of the title character, for a few moments it felt like an inspired, felicitous choice. But ultimately it hardly rose to the level of essential animation I have not seen, which I kind of knew was the case before I even started. It would have been totally fine if this were not the movie I interrupted with that two-hour nap I was powerless to stop. When I woke up at 7:45 with the aforementioned 30 minutes still remaining, which would push dinner to nearly 9 o'clock when you factor in the proscribed 30-minute break between movies, I wished I'd gone another direction. This choice ultimately doomed my original midnight movie choice, Spring Breakers, which will now have to wait for another occasion. Which is okay, since I have already seen Spring Breakers four times and it hasn't even existed for five years yet.

Pan's Labyrinth

And here was the prestige time slot movie that restored order. I targeted Guillermo del Toro's film because I'd loved it at the time (it was in my top ten of 2006) but still had seen it only that one time. I don't know what has held me back from a second viewing -- possibly the heavy subject matter, possibly just opportunity. In any case, I was overdue for a rewatch.

The film did not disappoint. The interesting thing I found as I was watching it was that I considered its fantastical elements, which are what have delivered the film to its classic status, kind of superfluous. I mean, it clearly would not be the same movie without the great creature effects we have come to associate with del Toro and his muse, Doug Jones (who is like the Andy Serkis of practical effects). And though I still found those effects wondrous, I find their narrative function somewhat dubious, and in fact am far more interested in the real-world elements of this film. Sergi Lopez' villain is one of the most hissable in modern cinema, and I felt freshly frustrated by an element of this film that bothers me (in a good way), wishing that Mercedes had just taken her advantage over him to kill him during that scene where she slices out the side of his mouth. I guess that still allows him to have his perfectly staged death scene later -- "No, he will not even know your name" -- but it also would have saved the life of the little girl.

One thing I noticed after the movie, when I was adding this to my list of rewatches on Letterboxd, was that I awarded this movie "only" four stars when I added it to Letterboxd. (Which would not have been at the time of its release, of course -- I think it would have been around early 2012.) In just five years I've kind of radically altered my conception of what constitutes a four-star movie. I probably would not give Pan's Labyrinth five stars, as it does not rise to the level of a personal favorite, but it surely would have been worth 4.5 today. Which I guess is only a half-star difference ... so that's not that bad I suppose.


And we finish with Showgirls.

This was also a film I've only seen once, but for different reasons. I'd been one of those ones who considered Showgirls an unmitigated disaster when I first saw it. But in the 22 years since its release there has been a small but determined segment of the movie-going populace who have reappraised this film as a work of comic and satirical genius. And so I decided I needed another viewing to watch it through that lens.

But I just didn't see it. I don't really think this movie's tongue is in its cheek, or if so, that aspect does not manifest itself in ways I found interesting. It really just seems tawdry for tawdry's sake, and has numerous moments where it doesn't get how silly something plays. That said, it's also not as bad as I remembered it. When I entered this film in Letterboxd, I gave it one star, probably just due to foggy memories of how awful it was, and to align my star rating with the general consensus of respected critics. But this movie might actually deserve 1.5 or even 2 stars. Its greatest sin is that it's pretty boring, even with a number of pretty steamy sex scenes (whether you are describing "sex" as actual intercourse, an intense lap dance or even just Elizabeth Berkley licking a stripper pole).

And let's talk about Berkley for a moment. Even though I think this movie has rightly thrust her into a kind of iconic status, leading to the idea that she's kind of "perfect" for the role, her performance in numerous spots leaves much to be desired. Whether this is a Paul Verhoeven issue or an Elizabeth Berkley issue is up for debate. I will say that there are a comical number of times when she seems to wildly overreact to something that's said to her, and I lost count of the number of times she stormed off from an interaction, her high heels clicking against asphalt.

Okay, you can go now.

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