Sunday, August 22, 2010

My First Big-Screen Quadruple Feature

Believe it or not, after all these years of being a crazy moviegoer, I had never seen four movies on the big screen in a single day.  Tons of double-features and plenty of triples... but the quadruple had always managed to elude me, for whatever reason.  That is, until Friday, August 20th, 2010, when the stars and showtimes were properly aligned, and I found myself at the movies all freakin’ day.  And even more remarkable than the milestone itself... all four of the movies were actually good!  It was one of the all-time great movie-watching days, and now I will take you through the experience, one movie at a time....

switch Thanks to the glory of 1:00 summer Fridays at work, I was able to easily make the 1:45 showing of the THE SWITCH at the AMC Empire, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It's a romantic comedy that follows the standard romantic comedy format -- but the plot is refreshingly original, the dialogue is snappy and the cast is truly outstanding, including Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum (who once again proves that he needs to be in more movies), Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson (the perfect Baxter).  The kid is hilarious, and even Old Lady Aniston is better than usual.  Funny, poignant, edgy and all-around entertaining -- probably the best traditional romantic comedy of the year so far.

Afterward, I grabbed some lunch and then went right back into the Empire for the 4:40 show of one of my most anticipated movies of the summer: PIRANHA 3D!  I opted to see it in ETX format, which stands for "Enhanced Theatre Experience." This basically means that it’s better than HD, but not quite IMAX, highlighted by a larger-than-average screen that literally stretches from the floor to ceiling, so it sufficiently fills your field of vision.  Crisp picture and booming sound, too.  Definitely a better choice than the fake IMAX screen at the Empire (though a far cry from the true IMAX Experience at Lincoln Square)... and a buck cheaper, too.

piranha Anyway... PIRANHA 3D... yeah, it is pretty awesome.  From the opening scene with a very Matt Hooper-esque Richard Dreyfuss... to the non-stop cacophony of bouncing boobs and jiggling butts... to Eli Roth emceeing a wet t-shirt contest... to Elisabeth Shue as a kick-ass sheriff... to the naked underwater girl-on-girl ballet... to a truly geektastic cameo from Christopher Lloyd... to the grand climax featuring a solid 30 minutes of some of the craziest, unbridled bloody carnage I've seen in a movie since CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST... this movie is insane fun in every sense of the word and 3D technology at its absolute finest!  It’s interesting that for the first hour, pretty much all the blood & gore is CGI... but in the big climax, it’s all old-school blood, guts & gristle, which makes for quite a contrast.  Best death:  When the wire snaps and slices diagonally across a girl's body, undoing her bikini top and revealing a perfect breast -- only to have her upper torso slowly detach itself from the rest of the body and fall into the lake.  BRILLIANT.  Tremendous effort by Alexander Aja, who has already proven his horror chops with HAUTE TENSION (a perfect movie until the last five minutes) and the excellent 2006 remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Good stuff!

a_film_unfinished After that, I switched gears a bit and headed up to Lincoln Plaza for the 7:05 showing of A FILM UNFINISHED, a documentary that uncovers the truth behind the unfinished Nazi propaganda films of the Warsaw Ghetto. If you’ve ever seen a documentary about the Holocaust, you know the footage I’m talking about -- it has been used as a reliable historical document for decades, and many of the images are instantly recognizable. However, a few years ago, a long-lost reel was discovered that revealed the full extent to which the footage was intricately staged by the Nazis -- it’s basically an outtake reel containing alternate takes and a far more authentic, unedited look at the atrocities of the Ghetto. The Nazis’ true intent was apparently to show the world that there were plenty of well-off Jews who didn’t have it so bad and were indifferent to the plights of others, to the point where they would ignore beggars in the street and enjoy fine dining.  But the outtakes prove that all of this was intricately manipulated -- scenes of well-dressed Jews sitting down for dinner were staged from multiple angles, with looks of fear evident on the “actors” faces. Crazy shit. The footage is shown in its entirety and juxtaposed with scenes of actual Holocaust survivors watching it in an empty theatre and reflecting on their memories. As fascinating as it is horrifying, this is an important film and a must-see.

scott_pilgrim So yeah, that was kind of a bummer. But undaunted, I headed a few blocks north to Loews Lincoln Square and snagged two tix for the 10:05 showing of SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD! I met up with my lovely lady friend, Rachel, got pizza from our favorite pizza place on 68th, washed it down with frozen yogurt & coffee from a Frozen Yogurt & Coffee Truck we came across, and prepared ourselves for what we hoped would be two hours of pure, unadulterated epic awesomeness. And that’s exactly what we got -- SCOTT PILGRIM is another gigantic triumph for Edgar Wright, whose genius cannot be denied. It’s a geek’s paradise, loaded with video game references, non-sequiturs and ringer t-shirts, and bursting with some of the most creative visuals we’ll see all year. It’s also arguably Michael Cera’s best performance ever.  Now, I’ve made no secret that his lack of range has been annoying me for a while.  He’s basically been playing the George Michael Bluth role in every movie he’s ever made. But while Scott Pilgrim is still very much a Cera character, he is far more nuanced, more aggressive and confident in his own awesomeness... plus he kicks ass and rocks. Instead of being an awkward teenager who has trouble talking to girls, which is Cera’s forte, Scott Pilgrim is a slightly-less-awkward twenty-something who has success with girls in spite of himself.  It’s like the culmination of all of Cera’s performances to date and I can't imagine anyone else in the role (though now would be a perfect  point for him to go and do something COMPLETELY different next scott_ramonatime, so we’ll see how that goes). Fantastic supporting cast, too -- Mary Elizabeth Winstead is indeed dreamy and ultra-cool as Ramona Flowers, while you gotta wonder if maybe Scott would be better off with sweet, loyal, excitable Knives Chau. And the League of Evil Exes is unquestionably one of the great ideas in the history of great ideas -- each one is awesome, hilarious and well-developed (personal favorite: Brandon Routh and his vegan superpowers. Also, anybody else recognize the actress that plays Roxy Richter? I didn’t, but my girlfriend did. Hint: she’s worked with Michael Cera before!) and the fight scenes are outstanding and really make me want to bust out of my old Super NES and play some Street Fighter II. I don’t usually put much stock in box office performance, but honestly, the fact that this movie is turning out to be a flop is definitive proof that the general public has shit for brains. Suffice to say that I am very much in lesbians with SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD and I can’t wait to revisit it many more times on Blu-Ray!

Well, folks, there you have it.  At around 12:15 a.m., I exited the theatre and headed home with four fresh ticket stubs in my pocket. My longest-ever day of movie-watching was complete.  I guess the next step is to see FIVE movies in a single day.  Difficult, yes... but not impossible.  We'll see what happens someday when I have a full day off and am feelings particularly cinematic!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Day I Met Doc Gooden

Back when I was a boy, I used to collect baseball cards, and as such, I used to attend lots of baseball card shows.  The mid-‘80s to ‘90s were the golden age of the baseball card industry and these shows were a big deal.  When I lived in Bayside, Queens, they would have baseball card extravaganzas at the Adria Motor Inn.  And later, in South Plainfield, NJ, they would take over the Middlesex Mall once a month.  These shows were like walking through baseball card heaven, and God only knows how much money I (and my dad) spent amassing my very extensive collection.

Oftentimes at these events, they would have baseball players on hand to meet & greet with fans and sign autographs. Aside from having many tens of thousands of cards, I put together quite a collection of signatures and photos, ranging from no-names like Hensley Meulens, to personal favorites like David Cone, to legends like Mickey Mantle.  I enjoyed meeting these players with a childlike sense of wonder -- but being a kid, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the experiences at the time.

It’s different nowadays, though. In my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to attend lots of movie premieres and things of that sort, which has allowed me to hobnob with movie stars like Bruce Willis and Paul Rudd -- and every single time, I find myself completely star-struck and reveling in the glory of the occasion.

But still... as much as I love movies, and as awesome as it is to meet movie stars on the red carpet... there’s nothing quite like meeting a real, live baseball player.  Especially one that you once idolized.  And so, tonight, when I met the legendary DWIGHT GOODEN, it was easily one of the biggest highlights on my surprisingly long list of my celebrity encounters.

How did this happen, you ask?  Well, we can thank the power of social networking.  Last night on Twitter, someone retweeted an announcement that Doc would be appearing at a place called Last Licks, a shop that sells -- wait for it -- ice cream AND sports collectibles (genius!) on the Upper East Side.  All you had to do was buy an item for him to sign and you were good to go -- the actual autograph was free.  So I went... and he was there... and it ruled.  It wasn’t like the baseball card shows of yore where there were huge lines and they rushed you in and out as quickly as possible.  This was a smaller, more intimate setting, and the crowd was not very large, so we actually got a few minutes to sit and chat.

doc_ballI had a pretty fun conversation with Dwight Gooden, who, along with Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter, was one of my favorite Mets of the ‘80s (and, indeed, of all time).  When it was my turn, I shook his hand and handed him a ball to sign. First I congratulated him on his induction into the Mets Hall of Fame this past Sunday.  I told him that I was there and that it was awesome to see him & the others on the field.  He thanked me and said that it was fun to be there.  I added that by the end of the game, we were kind of hoping that they’d give him a uniform.  (The Mets were crushed 14-1 by the lowly Diamondbacks.)  Doc laughed and agreed that it was a rough one.

I then went on to tell him that the first Mets game I ever attended was one that he pitched. The date was August 20, 1985, when I was 8 years old. Doc went the distance and shut out the Giants 3-0 and struck out SIXTEEN.  Shea was rocking with every pitch, the K Corner was working overtime, and that was pretty much the moment I began bleeding orange & blue.  Doc seemed impressed by the story and said that he actually remembered the game, which I thought was pretty damn cool.

Finally, I asked if I could get a picture with him, and he graciously agreed.  Here is the result:


Look, I know Doc has had his problems over the years, and his career could have been so much more.  Who even knows if he has completely cleaned up his act yet.  All I know for sure is that on this night, at this baseball card shop, he was a class act, completely gracious and humble and a nice guy.  And this battle-hardened Mets fan was awestruck because, for God’s sake... it was DWIGHT GOODEN! Doctor K! One of the biggest sports figures NYC (and thus, the world) has ever known! The man!

The other funny thing is, I actually met Gooden once before, in 1987 or so, at (you guessed it) a baseball card show.  I got an autographed ball and shook his hand, and I may even have a photo somewhere of us shaking hands.  So now I have two Dwight Gooden baseballs -- one from the height of his career, and one a few days after his Mets Hall of Fame induction.  How poetic!

(P.S. Someday, perhaps over a drink or three, be sure to get me to tell the story (or sing the song) about the day I met Lenny Dykstra.  THAT one’s a doozy....)