Thursday, August 19, 2021

Worst Moviegoing Experiences: This One Time, In Moscow...

Once again, resharing an old post from Ye Olde Nerve Screengrab...
In 1997, I was working for a few months on a film shoot in Moscow. The Moscow Film Festival had just rolled into town, and, having been largely deprived of movies for a few months (despite working on a film), I decided to go see a flick. I wound up in a cavernous theatre, in a packed, premiere night screening of William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. (Let’s ignore the fact that, by a strange twist of chaotic film festival programming, this also happened to not be the film I had actually meant to see.) 

I should preface this story by briefly noting two things: First of all, this was a time when the Russian mob was quite active in Moscow. Indeed, many people held up mobsters as heroes. A local English-language paper ran a story on how ridiculously little it actually cost to have a foreigner offed. Secondly, many movie theaters in Moscow had numbered seats. You didn’t always have to abide by the numbers – but in the case of this special, crowded screening, everybody seemed to be sitting where their tickets told them to sit.
Anyhow, before the movie began, while people were still filing in, a youngish gentleman (whom I will refer to as Youngish Gentleman) a few seats to my right in the row in front of me got up, put his coat down on his seat, and went off to the bathroom. The seats to his sides were empty. A minute later, as if straight out of Central Casting, a big, incredibly tough-looking guy (whom I will call Big Scary Guy) in an impossibly tacky suit, escorting two leggy supermodel-types, came and looked at the seat. He took the other guy’s coat, placed it on the seat behind him (which was empty), and sat in the seat, placing his two dates on either side of him. 

A minute later, the seat’s previous occupant came back. Seeing that his seat number no longer matched his ticket, he went to Big Scary Guy and said, “Excuse me, you’re sitting in my seat.” Big Scary Guy, without even looking back at him, said, brusquely, “You can sit somewhere else.” 

Silence. “No, I can’t,” said Youngish Gentleman. “My ticket has that number. That’s my seat. What does your ticket say?” he asked. “Who cares,” replied Big Scary Guy. “Look at these two beautiful women I’m with. Do you want to tell them they have to move?” 

 Youngish Gentleman, clearly unprepared for this debating point, hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, then said, “But…that’s my seat. If you have tickets, they’ll have seat numbers for you.” 

Big Scary Guy, still not looking back, scoffed, “Go away.” 

Youngish Gentleman stood there for a second, seemingly wondering if he should buzz off to the other side of the theater and actually sit where his jacket was placed, right behind his scary tormentor. Finally, he sat down behind Big Scary Guy. After about half a minute of silence, he said, “You’re very rude.”

Again without looking back, Big Scary Guy said, very casually, “After the movie is over, I will kill you.” 


At this point, the lights began to dim, and the movie started. But as the film was beginning, Youngish Gentleman, probably after mustering up untold depths of courage, spoke once more: “You’re very rude,” he said again. 

Without missing a beat, in fact almost interrupting the other guy's statement, Big Scary Guy said, “I will kill you. Just wait.” 

Anyway, on that note, William Shakespeare’s pulse-pounding action adventure about gangland killings and techno music and hot young movie star lovers began in earnest. 

The screening itself was without incident. But as the film was winding down, perhaps spooked by the violence onscreen, Youngish Gentleman quietly slipped out of the theater. 

 As the credits rolled, Big Scary Guy asked one of his molls, “Did he leave?” “Yes,” she said. “Did you see what he looked like?” he inquired. The girl shook her head no. Big Scary Guy said nothing. Instead, he just gave a sigh of exasperation, as if he’d been deprived of his fun for the evening. I decided at that point that it was time for me to leave, too.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Here's Everything I've Written About Christopher Nolan (So Far)

I've written a lot about this fellow Nolan over the years, and people will occasionally ask me if there's a place where they can find links to all my pieces on him. So with Dunkirk opening, it seems like it might be a good idea to collect it all here. And while it seems fairly certain that I will write more about this guy in the future, for now, here's pretty much all of it:

-"Dunkirk Is the Movie Christopher Nolan Was Born to Make." My review of Dunkirk for The Village Voice.

 - "All 10 Christopher Nolan Films, Ranked." For Vulture.

-"Interstellar: The Loneliest Journey in Human History." My lengthy essay about Nolan's much-maligned by some, beloved-by-others sci-fi epic.

"Christopher Nolan and the Brothers Quay Hold Court at Film Forum." A report from a screening and Q&A at Film Forum, where the Quays and Nolan screened some of the brothers' most daring animated works, alongside a short documentary Nolan made about them.

-"You Must Become a Terrible Thought: Nolan, Batman, and Hope." An exploration of The Dark Knight Rises and how its theme of hope fits into Nolan's work.

-"Knight Falls on Gotham." My review of The Dark Knight Rises for the Nashville Scene.

-"What Is Christopher Nolan's Big Idea in The Dark Knight Rises?" This is, I think, the first piece where I lay out my theory that each Nolan film is a fugue built around a specific idea. Written before The Dark Knight Rises came out, I go from discussing the big ideas in his previous films to speculating on what the new film might be about. (I'm wrong.)

-"The Hidden Inception Within Inception." My slightly-deranged, personal theory, written for Vulture, about what's really going on in Inception. (I'm right.)

-"When It's Safe to Hit the Bathroom During Inception." Service journalism at its nerdiest. You need to take a leak. But you also don't want to miss any key information in a movie packed with data. Again for Vulture, I identify two brief moments in the film when you can run out and run back.

-"The Number of Times Each Character Dies in Inception." It's, like, a lot.

-"Six New Things We Learned from the Inception Blu-ray." I don't know if you noticed, but I was kind of obsessed with Inception once upon a time. Luckily, Vulture was there to enable me.

-"This is Probably Not the Last Piece I'll Write About Inception." Hilariously, it sort of was. (At least for now.) But this is also probably the closest thing I wrote to a review of Inception.

-"Christopher Nolan Opens Up at Tribeca." About a live 2015 filmmaker talk that Nolan gave at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Wherever it hits me is where it's going to be": Reports from Cannes 2016

As those reading me at the Village Voice may know, I was at the 69th Cannes Film Festival over the past couple of weeks. Here, for your convenience, are all my reports from the festival (along with the films discussed), in one handy list o' links:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spielberg and Horror

A conversation about Poltergeist today reminded me of something I’d been meaning to post about for a while. A couple of months ago I went through a Steven Spielberg binge – partly for this essay on his development as a political filmmaker, partly because, hey, Spielberg. But as I went back over his earlier work, it struck me just how much Spielberg’s filmmaking language owes to horror. Obviously, several of his earliest films – Duel, Something Evil, Jaws – actually are horror films. But I’m intrigued by how many of his other films rely on horror tropes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - A Galaxy Not-So-Far Away

One thing I always found interesting about George Lucas's Prequel Trilogy was the way he expanded the Star Wars universe by going back to his original well of inspiration for the first film: the popular movie genres of his youth. So if the first Star Wars (aka A New Hope) was an homage to old sci-fi serials and Westerns, then The Phantom Menace was a Biblical epic (complete with a chariot race), and Attack of the Clones a combination of noir and syrupy romance and sword & sandal flick, and Revenge of the Sith a gangster movie. Watching Lucas try and bring such oddball genre elements into his otherwise fairly well-defined sci-fi world was fascinating, even endearing -- and it's one of the reasons that I don't hate the Prequels like many others do. Though they're wildly uneven, they're still dazzling feats of imagination, and even their very unevenness feels like a result of a directorial personality at work.

J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, comes from a different generation than Lucas, and he most likely didn't grow up with those genres. The good news is, he evidently grew up watching Star Wars. So, in his own way, he’s made a movie that homages the film genre of his youth. In other words, The Force Awakens feels very much like a Star Wars movie -- maybe even more so than the Prequels. It doesn't expand the universe so much as indulge in it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inside "Out 1": A Revisitation, Of Sorts

"Sadly, madame, today is not the day for private conversations."
Here’s another one from the archives. Back in 2006, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Jacques Rivette’s 750-minute long, largely-unseen 1972 film Out 1, described by many at the time as a kind of Holy Grail of moviegoing. It’s a challenging film, to be sure, and despite the extreme patience involved in sitting through such a long film I realized it also warranted multiple viewings. Beautiful, haunting, and uniquely engaging, this seminal phantom of world cinema was no less mysterious to me, having seen it, than it had been beforehand. That still didn’t stop me from writing about it for at the time.

The film is now making a two-week stand at BAM. I was hoping to revisit it beforehand to try and write about it again, but, well, 13 hours and all that. (It was hard enough to see back in 2006, when I didn't have a family, or a life, or a job, or two.) So I thought I would re-run, with some modifications, the Nerve piece -- which I also revisited several years ago, when Out 1 made an appearance on German DVD. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Duke of Burgundy: Discipline and Languish

It’s hard not to look at Peter Strickland’s portrait of domination and desire and not feel at times like it’s a corrective to how sexuality is portrayed in the mainstream. The Duke of Burgundy, which came out with a whimper earlier this year (right around the same time as Fifty Shades of Grey) but hits Netflix this week, even begins with a nod to the softcore films of the 70s: A beautiful woman in a cape, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), rides her bike through a woodsy setting as soft pop plays on the soundtrack. The colors are super-saturated, the credits are blocky and old-fashioned; we even get the occasional freeze-frame. But that self-aware opening belies the film’s deeply felt sense of place and passion – not to mention the rigor of the filmmaker’s vision.