A Trip To The Movies – THE WACKNESS, HELLBOY II & The Theaters We See Them In

There was a time when my favorite way to spend a weekend or a day or night off was going to the movies. Though my love of film has in no way diminished, my love of the theater-going experience has. I still believe there is no better way to see a film than projected in 35mm (or better yet, 70mm) on a big screen with great sound. But too often, I find audiences to be loud, obnoxious, distracting and disrespectful. Maybe it’s always been that way. Or maybe it’s just since the advent of home video that people are having a harder time distinguishing that there is (or in my opinion should be) a difference between your living room and a movie theater. Plus, many of the great single-screen theaters are gone. They’ve been cut up, closed down, or simply replaced by the multiplex. That alone greatly diminishes the experience for me. So many movie theaters now require you to plow through throngs of shoppers in malls just to get to your medium size theater to watch slide-shows for local restaurants, play movie-themed word scrambles or answer annoying pop-culture trivia. Almost entirely gone are the days of never showing the screen before there’s a moving image on it. Gone are the giant curtains parting like the red sea to reveal the magic lurking just behind. It used to be that for me, just sitting in a movie theater was exciting. Today, that experience is rare. 

I’ve found that I actually prefer watching a movie at home. I’ve put enough time and money into my home theater (however probably less than I would have spent buying high-priced tickets for the same number of movies) that now my home feels closer to honoring the films I watch than most local movie theaters. And though I sometimes show a trailer or two, no one in my home is assaulted by slide-shows, dozens of trailers for films I would never want to see (and that have a bad tendency to give away entire plots to those I would), or numerous fast-paced commercials that may actually induce PTSD on unsuspecting audience members. Yes, a man’s home may indeed be his castle. And a man’s home theater may indeed be his movie palace. 

I mourn the loss of the movie-going experience of my youth. And like any old fart, I complain about it and wax poetic as I reminisce about the great days of yesteryear. But God help me, even the FILMS were better back then. 

Writers Guild Theater

If I do venture out to see a movie, it’s either at the Arclight in Hollywood or the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. That’s it. The Writers Guild is free of the youthful banter of disinterested delinquents (though the occasional mumbling of an elderly writer with hearing loss can distract from time to time). There are no trailers, no slide-shows and NO commercials. Just the movie. Good or bad. And people watch it. Applaud it. Talk about it. AFTER the film. It’s unfortunate that there’s no stadium seating as it’s one of the few additions to new theaters that I actually like. But the pros far outweigh the cons and so I go. 

Arclight Hollywood

The Arclight prides itself in presenting a movie in a respectable atmosphere free of rude interruptions or incompetent projectionists. There’s no curtain, but there’s also no slide-show and no commercials so, again, the pros outweigh the cons. The price is a bit steep, but all movies are these days so what’s an extra buck or two more to guarantee an above-average experience?

And to think, I actually sat down to write about two films I recently saw in theaters. The first was THE WACKNESS. I knew nothing of the film beyond that it starred Ben Kingsley, an actor whose work I greatly enjoy and admire. This small film, deceptively simple at first glance, slyly wormed its way under my skin. Kingsley’s performance walks a fine line between humor and pathos and he ultimately offers us a very moving human portrait. The same should be said for Famke Janssen who plays Kingsley’s distant wife. It’s an amazing piece of acting that translates a world of emotion and history in a relatively small amount of screen time. 

And Josh Peck won me over with his mouth-breathing charm and bittersweet journey into first love. Unless you’re dead and buried, this performance is certain to disrupt a couple of swept-under-the-carpet memories from your youthful romantic past. And Olivia Thirlby (of recent JUNO fame) embodies the beauty and danger of first love perfectly (for this guy, anyway). 

The other film I saw was HELLBOY II: ELECTRIC BUGALOO. Er… I mean, HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. I wanted to like this film. I enjoyed the first installment and think Ron Perlman is perfect casting. Really inspired and charismatic. And Guillermo Del Toro‘s direction creates an interesting and visually stunning world, but in the end there’s too little character and simply too much “stuff” going on. Simply put, the effects–though extremely well done–take center stage away from the performances and story and bog the film down until there’s very little memorable about the whole experience. Except maybe Perlman, who manages to poke his head slightly above all the effects just long enough to not be entirely forgotten. But just barely. That said, there is a wonderful animated “story” in the beginning of the film that I thought was just great.

Though HELLBOY II felt like more style than substance to me, I did nonetheless walk away sensing that when Del Toro directs THE HOBBIT movies, if he sticks to the scripts written by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens, his visual style may be the perfect match. That is, if he doesn’t get too excited by all the toys at his disposal. 

And I already know that I’ll be venturing out to a movie theater to see those two HOBBIT films as they do hold the potential for spectacle and excitement I remember from the films of my youth. However, I’ll be choosing which theater to see them in VERY carefully.

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