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The Big Screen and I, Part I

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The movie that changed everything for me. (Source)

In case you didn’t know, I like movies.

And more than that, I like going to the movies. Watching a movie at home, there are all too many distractions. In the theater, your attention is compelled. Distractions are discouraged, even penalized. In the theater, the film rules all. So I go to theater quite a bit.

But it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, going to the movies was a comparatively rare treat. It wasn’t like we couldn’t afford it – once my dad got a DVD player we began amassing a collection which now numbers in the thousands. But we didn’t go to the cinema as a matter of course.

The first film I can definitively remember seeing in the theater was The Pagemaster. I’m sure there were others before it, but I no longer have even a shadow of a memory of them. I saw Titanic at age 8 and said “Eww!” at the sex scene; I saw The Phantom Menace and hated it intensely; we went to the next town over to see Fantasia 2000 because it didn’t play everywhere in its non-IMAX release.

And of course, we saw The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider-Man, and so forth – we also saw both the 1998 Godzilla and Godzilla 2000. (I can also claim to have seen Alexander in the theater, for what that’s worth.) But for the most part, we watched movies at home. In 2006 – not, admittedly, a banner year for cinema – I think we only went once, to see The DaVinci Code.

It was the next year – March 9, 2007, at 9:30 p.m., to be exact – that things began to change. I didn’t become a ravenous film-goer overnight, but visit by visit my cinephilia grew, and the end result is this article; a trip down memory lane, and a long lane it is. So join me, if you will, and remember.

A note about the organization of this piece: this article will cover, as best I can remember, all the films I saw in the theater from 2007 through the end of 2016. For quite some time I was diligent about keeping and curating my ticket stubs, and so for most of those years I can cite the exact date and time of my visits. But for 2015 and 2016, I had stopped holding onto my stubs and so have had to laboriously reconstruct a record of my theater visits from Facebook posts, messages, Criticker ranking dates, and my own imperfect memory.

So some dates may be inexact, and I have may have inadvertently omitted a film or two. I hope you will forgive these lapses; I will endeavor to make up for them with my reminisces of the outing and my thoughts on the film itself. Also, in cases where I know I saw a film a second time but cannot recall the exact date, I absorb my comments on those viewings into the body of my main entry on the film.

2007 – 9 trips:

  • 3/9/2007, 9:30 p.m.: 300

This is a perfect place to start, as it is the earliest ticket stub in my collection, the first film I saw in 2007, and the film which I view as inaugurating my current life as a film-goer. The buzz around my high school had been pretty solid for this film, and I was informed by some means that a number of my classmates would be going to a screening the Friday it opened. I was able to convince my father to take me, and we also took my friend Preston; at the theater, Preston and I sat in the midst of our classmates whilst my father sat a row or two ahead, lecturing my friends who sat around him about the real battle at Thermopylae. It was a delight to see.

And the film dazzled me as well; here was not only violence, but a wide variety of violence filmed with pulpy bluntness, as well as ample nudity, badass bravado, and quotable dialogue – “THIS! IS! SPARTA!”, “Then we shall fight in the shade”, and “Tonight we dine in Hell!” being the most memorable for me. And when the film turned out to be a massive and unexpected hit, it felt like a personal triumph – it felt like our film, the film we had all gone to and loved together, had broken through. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen the whole thing all the way through since. It might be better that way. The memory of that night is more important than the film itself, to be honest.

  • weekend of 4/6/2007, evening: Grindhouse

I saw this one with Preston; I recall my friend Ian being upset he wasn’t going, but I can’t recall why he didn’t. In any case, at the time I really enjoyed Planet Terror (I remember my friend Charlie finding Rose McGowan’s gun-leg unbearably ridiculous for some reason) and the fake trailers, but wasn’t fond of Death Proof; ironically, in subsequent years the consensus seems to have changed to support Death Proof as the better half. Either way, I’m glad we saw this, because it was rather a flop at the time, and was unavailable to watch in its original form for some years.

  • early May, matinee: Spider-Man 3

I saw this with my parents (we’d seen the first two in theaters); I can’t remember if that was before or after I’d been grounded for the first time in my life for going to a friend’s house and getting drunk prior to the police being called and my father falling into said friend’s swimming pool (it was dark). In any case, I didn’t really like it; I thought the alien symbiote was a lazy plot device, Emo Peter was just stupid (that damned dance scene), and the various plot contrivances (like the retconning of Uncle Ben’s killer) drug it down further.

  • 5/25/2007, 7:30 p.m.: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

I saw this on the only out-and-out date I’d ever been on at the time (as of this writing, the only one so far); I’d actually been grounded a second time for lying about where I was one night, but since I had already made plans to see this with my short-lived girlfriend, my parents allowed me to go. (She broke up with me a few days later; May of ’07 was not my month.) I actually really liked the film; I loved the first film and had mixed feelings about the second, but for me the size and scope of the film just gave me more to relish, and the comparatively downbeat ending impressed me as well.

  • 7/11/2007, 12:01 a.m.: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I know I went to join a bunch of my classmates for this one, but I think I accidentally got a ticket for the wrong showing and watched it with some upperclassmen rather than my direct peers. I long had a video on my phone of my friend Justin tooling around while we were in line: “You wanna get axed?!…I love spillin’ water on myself, WHOO!” Oh, and I liked the movie fairly well; I was never the biggest fan of the series, but I enjoyed them all.

  • 7/16/2007, 1:40 p.m.: Transformers

I think I saw this with my friends Charlie and Jake; I know I saw this with friends and I wouldn’t have gone by myself. I enjoyed it; it’s one of Michael Bay’s better films and far better than the sequels.

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Remember when this was a thing? And how the show is still going a decade later? (Source)

  • late July-early August: The Simpsons Movie

Saw this with my parents. I liked it, although it feels really weird that the series kept on going even after the film came out, and the film seems to have been somewhat forgotten in any case. I best remember Homer’s line “Thank you, Boob Lady!”

  • 8/15/2007, 2:20 p.m.: The Bourne Ultimatum

I think I saw this one with my dad and Preston. I’d watched the first two films on DVD in preparation for this, and I was suitably impressed (and quite pleased when it won 3 Oscars). I do recall not being completely satisfied with the third-act revelations, but I could chalk that up to my youth.

  • mid-late November, matinee?: Beowulf

This, I’m fairly certain, was the first movie I ever saw by myself – odd, since my father would’ve probably wanted to see a film of Beowulf (he has seen it since). I had issues with it, especially with the mo-cap animation (the characters just don’t look convincing) and the plotting in the second half. Ebert later suggested the film was meant as a parody of the original poem – that might explain some of its goofier elements, but it seems like an awfully arcane premise for a big-budget film.

2008 – 18 trips:

  • 1/11?/2008, 9:50 p.m.?: Juno

I saw this with a bunch of my schoolmates; I specifically recall Charlie was there. By the time we saw it/the time it actually came to my hometown of 20,000, it had already received ample acclaim and would soon receive four Oscar nominations. But I had more mixed feelings. I was initially put off by the twee tone and self-consciously “indie” touches, then won over by Ellen Page’s performance and the genuine heart of it all, then profoundly alienated by the ending. That Juno remained willing to hand off her child to Jennifer Garner, whose concept of parenthood was rooted entirely in parenting literature, and was perfectly okay with having no contact with the child ever again, upset me because I had known girls at my school who had become pregnant and raised their children.

I might be more open to the ending now (I’m not so sure about the tone; I went over the Quotes section of the film’s IMDb page and was pretty put-off), but I’ve never tried to watch the film since.

  • Feburary?: There Will Be Blood

I saw this by myself; I think there was one other person in the theater who was more interested in staying out of the cold. I think it only played in my hometown for a week, as I recall a theater employee saying few people had bothered to see it. Since I was quite impressed by it (it was the first Paul Thomas Anderson film I’d seen), I deeply regretted that. It’s not my favorite of his films, but it’s a damn good one.

  • 3/14/2008, 9:30 p.m.?: Horton Hears a Who!

Another film I saw with a group of friends; Jeff and Kellie, I’m pretty sure, were both part of the group this time. I was dubious about going because I had utterly hated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but to my surprise this was a lot of fun – though I had more affection for my high school’s production of Seussical the previous year.

  • 5/6/2008, 4:30 p.m.: Iron Man

I may have also seen this with Jake and Charlie; my memory does not serve. This, of course, was a surprise smash critically and financially and set the MCU in motion.

  • 5/25/2008, 1:40 p.m.: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This would’ve been the first movie I saw after graduating high school. I saw this with my parents; a friend of mine might’ve come along, but if they did I can’t recall who. I actually really liked it, and thought the fridge scene was really rather clever at the time, though other aspects of the story weren’t terribly satisfying. I remember claiming it was as good if not better than Iron Man at the time, but I doubt I still would.

  • 6/11/2008, 4:00 p.m.: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

I feel like I saw this with a friend, but I can’t remember who. I know my dad would’ve been there; I don’t know if my mom was or not. I didn’t like this as much as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the way the Pevensies were brought to and from Narnia felt half-assed to me, and I really hated Ben Barnes as Caspian (or at least his accent).

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I’m sure it wouldn’t hold up, but it’s not remotely the worst Will Smith film I’ve seen in the theater. (Source)

  • 7/4/2008, 4:00 p.m.?: Hancock

It’s weird to think this film was a hit at the time. I liked it, though, even allowing for the much vaunted narrative failings of the second half. All I remember about this screening was missing the first minute or so and having to race directly from the theater to the park, where my parents and our friend Elaine were having our traditional Fourth of July picnic.

  • 7/6/2008, 9:50 p.m.: Wanted

My parents had gone on a trip to London and left me in charge of the house; this was the first time I had ever been home alone. They’d left earlier in the day, and that night I went to see this with some friends (I know Charlie was there; I don’t know if Ian was or not). I really loved it; the stylization and the misanthropic tone really clicked for me at the time. (Would they still?)

  • 7/10/2008, 4:00 p.m.: Hancock

Yes, I saw it twice. This time, I went with my friends Shon and Shawn, and afterwards we had Italian food and, I think, went bowling. (I think we were also a minute or so late to this screening.)

  • 7/17/2008, 11:59 p.m.: The Dark Knight

Oh, yeah. This was the big film of the year. Heath Ledger’s death only added to the hype (which is pretty damn ghoulish in retrospect). This was only the second midnight showing I’d ever been to, and I drove a bunch of my schoolmates to go see it; Charlie, Shon, Shawn, and I think at least one other person rode in my truck to the theater. Heading there, I got pulled over for the first time (for making a right turn into the far lane), but that was no great matter.

The film blew me away; the moment the Joker made the pencil “disappear”, I knew I was in for something special. For a time, I considered it one of the greatest films I’d ever seen (I gave it a score of 100 when I got Criticker – only four films have ever earned that from me), and I staunchly supported Heath Ledger’s Oscar win against claims that his death was the only reason for his winning. (I still do; that performance is a thing of beauty.)

I saw the film twice more by itself in theaters; once with my parents, and once the following January when it was given an awards-season re-release – and I got pulled over coming back from that screening as well (this time for a burnt-out tail light). I know that third screening was right around the time of the Chinese New Year, because right after I got back to the dorms from that, a bunch of my dorm-mates and I trekked to Atchison to have a New Year’s feast at a restaurant owned by our floor-mate Jason. And, of course, I saw it a fourth time along with Batman Begins as part of a marathon finishing with The Dark Knight Rises…at which time my opinion cooled considerably.

  • 7/24/2008, 9:40 p.m.: Journey to the Center of the Earth

I hadn’t really wanted to see this film; I’d wanted to see WALL-E, but Ian insisted that the two of us seeing that film would look bad (yes, even at a late-night screening). So we saw this instead. I actually liked it more than I expected, but it was pretty forgettable, especially compared to the 1959 version.

  • 8/1/2008, 7:30 p.m.: The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Saw this with Ian and Spencer, who’d been in Texas the whole summer, during which time we were in constant communication (which continues to be the case, almost a decade later). I’d enjoyed the first film but never saw the second (or The Scorpion King, for that matter), and I thought this was enjoyable as well. Totally forgettable, but definitely not 12% on Rotten Tomatoes bad.

  • 8/7?/2008, 4:30 p.m.: Pineapple Express

Saw this with Ian, one of the last times we hung out before I left for college. He loved it; I liked parts of it, but I found the violence more jarring than anything else and didn”t really care for the characters. Another film I might like better if I gave it another chance.

  • 9/5/2008, 4:20 p.m.: Tropic Thunder

I met my friend Adrian totally by chance my first week at KU, and we decided to go see this at the Lawrence multiplex – the first film thus far that I didn’t see at the Mall 8 in my hometown. I don’t recall how he felt, but I liked it (I recall “I only know the sound it makes when it lies” was a big line for a few months after that), and I remember reacting with visible shock when it turned out that was Tom Cruise. (And how great is it that Robert Downey Jr. got an Oscar nomination for this?)

  • 9/21/2008, 4:45 p.m.: Burn After Reading

Charlie was in Lawrence with his family, and we saw this. Not quite top-tier Coen Brothers, but it has some really hilarious moments (and one very shocking death).

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For my money, one of the most underrated of all Bond films. (Source)

  • 11/14/2008, 12:00 a.m.: Quantum of Solace

I had become a big fan of the Bond series and loved Casino Royale (at the time, I felt it was practically tied with Goldfinger as the best in the series). So I’d been anxiously looking forward to this and went to the midnight premiere. I really liked it, and with subsequent viewings have come to like it even more (while acknowledging some of its narrative issues), to the point where I consider it my favorite film of Daniel Craig’s tenure.

  • 12/19/2008, 9:50 p.m.: Yes Man

I was back home for Christmas and saw this with Ian and Spencer. I liked it, even if it was kind of Liar Liar redux.

  • 12/27/2008, 4:30 p.m.: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Saw this with Charlie. I had some definite qualms with it, especially with the framing device, but since The Dark Knight got fucked out of Best Picture and Director nominations, I was rooting for it to win, especially since David Fincher had made Fight Club, at the time one of my favorite movies.

Next up, 2009 and 2010.

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