Thursday, May 5, 2016

On the Big Screen :: A Day at the Movies: The King, a Trickster, a Prince, and Oh, Captain My Captain.

About a week ago I had a scheduled day off with nothing to do. There were also an obscene amount of new movies out that I really wanted to see. And since my hometown has only one first run theater, and since this multiplex is the absolute worst when it comes to turnover and making room for new films -- unless you wanted to see Zootopia again (-- absolutely loved it but already saw it three times), or Miracles from Heaven (-- now in it’s sixth, no, seventh week), I hatched a plan for a 160-mile round-trip to spend a day at the movies in a better theater with a sketched out, theoretical, bona fide quadruple feature:

It really could have, too.

Wait. Could have, you ask? Well, see, when the fateful day arrived and I prepared to skedaddle, with the threat of rain all day in the forecast I decided to grab my mail first and bring it in since there is nothing worse than a porous mailbox full of soggy envelopes; and inside I found a statement from my insurance provider, running down what they would cover and what they wouldn’t cover for an *ahem* incident suffered earlier this month when what I thought was a blood blister on my ankle turned out to be a varicose vein that I stupidly picked open, which, to my incredulous surprise, caused a highly pressurized stream of blood to spray all over myself and my bedroom floor. (Seriously, it was like Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days in there.) And since it really wouldn’t stop, and the blood loss began to mount as well as a sense of panic as the minutes tic’d past, I got to scratch “Make a 911 call” off my bucket-list of things to do. After the EMTs arrived, and I sprayed more blood around my house to unlock the door to let them in, they staunch’d the blood fountain while I arranged transportation to the emergency room. Of course by the time I got there it had FINALLY stopped bleeding. And of course I sat there for about an hour waiting for a doctor to examine it and explain what the hell just happened, but I did have a great conversation with the nurse in the interim. Here’s a transcript:

And when the doctor finally arrived, she said, “Yeah, that’s pretty terrible” but there wasn’t much they could do, feeling it didn’t need to be cauterized, then, “Keep it covered and moisturized, and good luck to you.” They didn’t even bother to re-bandage it. And that was the extent of my visit to the ER, which saw me leaving caked with blood from my hands to my elbows, with one leg covered in spatter, the other solid crimson with essentially all my clothes ruined. (I recall giving a young, wide-eyed toddler a thumb’s up as I left through the automatic door.) Now, several weeks later, I look at what I will have to cough-up to cover this glorified, drive-by consultation, and suddenly, any notion of spending the day in Lincoln was scotched due to being an adult with adult financial responsibilities. *sigh* At least I got to have friends over for a crime-scene clean-up party, so, there’s that.

Thus, I had a day off with nothing to do and nowhere to go. And as I moped around the house, trying to decide what to do with myself, I started working some creative math inside my head. Frankly, I still couldn’t really afford it but sometimes, Boils and Ghouls, ya just gotta say, Screw it, and do it, which is exactly what I did.

Now, there was one casualty as this initial delay blew my window of opportunity, thus reducing this adventure to a triple feature, meaning one of those movies would have to go. As to which one got skunked, I decided to just follow my nose and see where it led me after re-consulting the schedule after I got there. What I did know for sure was that one of those films was a dead-solid lock as the one I really wanted to see, and so, 80 miles later, this binge began with a screening of Liza Johnson’s Elvis and Nixon (2016).

According to legend, this infamous historical “incident” is all Paul Frees’ fault. Seems the legendary voice actor -- Rocky and Bullwinkle, a ton of stuff for Hannah-Barbera and Walt Disney as well as doing dub work on things ranging from Blood and Black Lace (1964) to King Kong Escapes (1967) -- was allegedly an asset for the Federal government, working undercover for the Bureau of Narcotics (later morphing into the DEA). And for this he had been issued a badge as an “undercover agent at large”, which, as the legend continues, he reluctantly showed to Elvis Presley. And Elvis being Elvis, he decided he needed one of those for his own self. And to satiate this wild hair, he went on an impromptu expedition to the gates of the White House to see the top man himself and make his pitch to the President. And while Richard Nixon was currently one of the most powerful men in the world at the time, no one said “no” to Elvis Presley.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and this all really did happen. Alas, this was before Nixon started secretly recording everything that happened in the Oval Office so what really transpired between these two men, who were not as disparate as you’d think, on that fateful day in December, 1970, is left to conjecture, hearsay and a precious few photographs. (I, for one, feel Elvis’ patriotic pitch was a load of crap. Just a means to an end as all he wanted was that badge.) This tale was already told once in a really good TV movie called Elvis Meets Nixon (1997), and the feature film covers a lot of the same ground, with nearly 2/3rds of the run time showing the efforts to just get into the White House. 

Spacey delivers, as we all knew he would, bringing some true character to this caricature, but the real surprise here is Shannon who is a constant revelation every time I encounter him. He may look like he’d be more suited for a bio-pic on Arch Hall Jr. but he just nails the character, especially the bits where he reflects on the false facade of his public persona and how the loss of his twin brother gave him the luck of two people to help balance out the comical spin of the film in general, making for a wonderful comedy of errors. And it was pretty hilarious. Too bad when I bought the ticket the cashier told me I was the only seat sold for the matinee, which explains why I and I alone sat in an otherwise empty theater and laughed and laughed until I could laugh no more. (I might’ve even peed a little when the Secret Service forced Presley and his entourage to disarm themselves.) Man, you all missed a really good movie.

When the film got out I consulted the big board to try and plot out the rest of the day and was confronted with a choice. I also really wanted to see Green Room, which I could’ve seen next, but that would’ve meant Purple Rain was out altogether and a long, long wait after that for a late, late screening of Everybody Wants Some. However, if I did Purple Rain next it would only be a short wait after for a second Green Room showing and then maybe, just maybe, I could still squeeze in a fourth feature at midnight.

And so, I went with Purple Rain next, which gave me some time to kill; and so I scurried back to the parking garage to snag my glasses, which I had left in the car in my haste to make the first show. (I don’t really need them except while driving at night but I kinda get instant Hi-Def if I wear them in the theater.) There was also time to grab a bite at a nearby Qdoba, a burrito bar, where I gorged on one the size of my own head. (Author's note: I have a really big head, too.) Then back to theater, where, unlike the first private screening, the theater was already pretty full and I got to see an extended featurette on Shane Black’s The Nice Guys (2015) for a second time that day, another film I cannot wait to see -- a featurette I’d get to see yet again later and didn’t mind one bit. And as the theater filled up, my row was soon packed pushing my slight social anxiety disorder into overdrive. I thought about moving to another seat for some breathing room but there really wasn’t anywhere else to go. Thus, I hunkered in. I’d already seen the King, and now a Prince. (See what I did there?)

Now, I think the first time I ever saw Prince was on Friday Night Videos, a lifeline to us rural bumpkins who had no MTV, which wrapped up one episode with “When Doves Cry”. What the hell was that? said I, anxious to watch, hear and experience it again. More videos followed, I was hooked, and soon bought the album, which would serve as the basis for Purple Rain (1984), a kind of star vehicle piece that you don’t really see any more. 

I wouldn’t say I am a huge Prince fan, and he kinda lost me when he changed his identity, but back in the Prince and the Revolution days, man, that was the sh*t. And it was easy to get swept up again when the film opened with a live (canned) version of “Let's Go Crazy”, which sets the tone for what was to follow.

Here, Prince plays “The Kid”, a musical prodigy on the precipice of “making it” but whose life is falling apart around him both personally (his abusive father has gone officially out of control) and professionally (his band is rebelling over his obsessive creative control, and a rival constantly tries to torpedo him), making it the perfect time to fall in love with a protege (Appolonia), looking to make it herself. 

I had never seen Purple Rain before, and now that I have I can say it was definitely better than Graffiti Bridge (1990), but I thought Graffiti Bridge was pretty awful, so, interpret that as you will. The film suffers ah-lot from the Kid being protected by a designated hero status as otherwise his actions would brand him a total dick. Prince is actually a pretty good actor, I think, raw, but there's something definitely there; he was just saddled with a poorly written character plugged into a rote After School Special plot; so that's all on Albert Magnoli, who wrote and directed. The real message, I guess, is breaking the cycle of violence as our *ahem* "hero" appears to be on the same self-destructive path as his father, as both like to use their love interests as punching bags or heap tons of emotional abuse when they don't get their way or aren't getting enough attention. (Highlighted by a performance of "My Darling Nicky", used as a middle-finger salute.) 

And somewhat miraculously, against all evidence shown, the Kid manages to pull this off, honoring his parents, placating the band, and saving his career in one, fateful final musical number. And so, as a movie, Purple Rain isn’t so hot -- but as a musical showcase for Prince and the Revolution it is indispensable. And before we move on, between this and Graffiti Bridge, can someone please explain to me why Morris Day hasn't gotten his own movie yet?

There was time for a quick bathroom break before seeking out the right theater for the third feature, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), a nasty little piece of business cut and bled from the same vein as the writer and director’s earlier backwater noir, Blue Ruin (2013). 

Here, a near destitute punk band, living out of a van out on the road in the Pacific northwest, are in desperate need of a paying gig. And so desperate are they, the group – lead singer Tiger (Turner), guitarist Pat (Yelchin), bassist Sam (Shawkat) and drummer Reece (Cole) – agree to take a job from a guy who knows a guy out in the boonies. Well, turns out this gig is at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. And despite their best efforts to get their heads caved in by the choice of baiting cover-songs, the group survives the set but then see something they shouldn’t have seen in the green room before clearing out.

Things get really exacerbated from there, with witnesses needing to be eliminated – and eliminated most gruesomely to fit a forensic cover story, meaning no bullets, only blades and trained attack dogs. Thus, there is no real mystery or suspense to Green Room. Not that this is bad thing. Instead of shocks, the film deals and trades in a ruthlessly methodical brutality (perhaps too methodical for its own good) as each band member meets their fate while the others keep on fighting to stay alive and disrupt the “scene of the crime.” (Life in horror films in a post-Hostel world, I guess.) 

Now, the main reason I wanted to see this, as are many others, I’m sure, was to see Patrick Stewart stretch his acting legs a bit as Darcy, the leader of these skinheads and owner of the bar. (Insert your own haywire holodeck joke here.) And I am happy to report that he is really, really good at being a bad guy. So calm, cool, and collected and lethally calculating as he orchestrates this massacre to fit what he needs. In fact, it is the cast that elevates the film several notches above a perfunctory plot that efficiently gets us from A to Z with plenty of grue in-between. Thus and so, to say anymore would spoil too much as it all boils down to who lives and who dies. If asked Was it worth seeing? The answer is a definitive Hell yes.

Checking the clock as the theater emptied, I saw there was just enough time to get a ticket and catch the last screening of my fourth desired feature. However, if I did that, I would still have to drive home and not get there until around 4am. Still, I had come all that way. I then saw the lone cashier was swamped by a fairly long line for, I assume, another showing of Keanu since there was like only four other people watching Green Room with me. And yet I was already here and I normally don’t go to bed until 5am anyways. Ultimately, it was that burrito I had consumed earlier that made the decision for me, which had turned into a rock inside my stomach, which meant Everybody Wants Some would have to wait, and so I decided that three films was enough and called it a day -- and a very good day it was at the cinema. 

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