30-Day Movie Challenge: Week 1
You've seen it on Facebook! You've seen it on Twitter! Heck, you might have even seen it on Instagram! Now you can join along with us as Kino Club 313 shares our own choices and thoughts each week in June.
Day 1: The first film you remember watching...
Director: Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson
Blurb: Okay, so this definitely isn’t the first film I remember watching, but the first film I remember watching in theaters. I was a habitual rewatcher of my favorite films as a small child, which makes it very hard for me to pinpoint any first-viewing experiences. Did you know you can wear a VHS tape out from overuse? Just ask my childhood copy of The Little Mermaid. Or Beauty and the Beast. Or Pocahontas. Are you sensing a theme here? Despite my Disney love the first movie I actually *remember* seeing in theaters (likely not the first film I ACTUALLY saw in theaters) is the Dreamworks animated classic Shrek.
Title: It's Potty Time
Year: Early 1990s?
Blurb: I'm a man on a mission. A man possessed, you might say. Anyone who knows me – who knows me well – knows that I am hellbent on tracking down all the films that I consumed as a youngster, no matter how hazy or fragmentary my memory of them has become. I'd be a damn fine detective, as it turns out, so long as all my cases hinged on obscure children's programming from the first half of the 90s; I'm the Columbo of weird Blockbuster rentals and impulsive garage sale purchases, the Poirot of Saturday morning cartoons that got cancelled after the first season. I only stumbled upon this bizarre relic a few nights ago, as fate would have it, and I wasn't even looking for the damn thing (I was on the hunt, not that you asked, for a half-remembered educational special about dinosaurs that still eludes me). It's Potty Time is a short quasi-musical toilet training instructional video that taught me, among other things, that it's normal to leisurely leaf through an entire picture book while you're on the can (I have this film to blame for all the time I've squandered messing around on my phone in the bathroom). This is, in all likelihood, the earliest film that I watched and retained, though it's impossible to pin my recollections of it to an exact date, in part because consensus has yet to emerge as to when it was released; Letterboxd (which distressingly, and ungrammatically, but not inaccurately, summarizes the plot as follows: “a tiny man watch while toddlers go to the potty”) says it came out in 1992, whereas Rotten Tomatoes claims it debuted a year prior. These are the rabbit holes I live for. One of my fondest and vividest childhood memories has to do with receiving a VHS tape of The Land Before Time from the open window of a McDonald's drive-thru, and eagerly devouring both the film and my Happy Meal as soon as I got home. I thought for sure I'd dreamed up that entire incident – fast food joints never gave away complementary videotapes, surely not – until my girlfriend found an eBay listing for “The Land Before Time (VHS 1994) McDonald's VHS New Sealed.” Point being, if I hadn't rediscovered It's Potty Time by sheer happenstance less than a week ago, this space would most likely be occupied by my musings on my favorite Don Bluth movie, and we'd all be better off. Instead I'm forced to report that the song “Super Duper Pooper” is an insidious, maddening earworm that will hound me until my dying day. I don't have children, so I've started humming it to myself every time I go panning for turds in my cat's litter box.
Matt Linton Title: The Legend of the Lone Ranger Year: 1981 Director: William A. Fraker Blurb: Although I remember next to nothing about this movie, I do vividly remember the circumstances of watching it. I would have been about six years old, and I remember being super excited (for some reason) about this movie. However, shortly before I had a chance to watch it, I injured my left eye climbing a tree and had to wear a gauze bandage over it. So, my memory is attempting to watch the movie with one functioning eye. From what I understand, the movie itself is pretty bad, but my eye is mostly fine, now.
Day 2: a film you like that starts with the first letter of your name
Title: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Director: Edgar Wright
Blurb: It’s hard to believe that this movie is coming up on its tenth anniversary! Scott Pilgrim was one of the first films I ever saw in theaters with my partner, Matt (the actual first film we saw together – and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this – was The A-Team). We sat behind a trio of young girls who seemed to be mainly there because 2010 was the brief window where Michael Cera was considered, like, cute or something? Their visible/audible confusion when the film takes its very weird turn (the Matthew Patel dance/fight sequence) was almost funnier than the movie itself. 10 years later this is still one of my favorites.
Title: The Man Who Wasn't There
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Blurb: Tony Shalhoub's monologue about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is such a slam dunk that it makes me a little angry. I'd get a faint twinge of writer's envy just from reading his words typed out on a page; once you factor in Shalhoub's impeccable performance, and the film's expertly managed, ravishingly beautiful chiaroscuro lighting, that faint twinge escalates into something more akin to a debilitating cramp or a dangerous arrhythmia. That's the work of the Coen Bros. for you.
Title: Monty Python’s Life of Brian Year: 1979 Director: Terry Jones Blurb: It’s honestly a little frightening how much my views on organized religion were formed by watching this movie. Apart from the interlude with the alien spaceship, it all just feels so much more plausible than anything I learned about in Sunday school.
Day 3: a film that has more than five words (in the title)
Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Blurb: One of the greatest satires to ever satire. I’d bet my precious bodily fluids on it.
Title: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Director: Sidney Lumet
Blurb: ...in the title, right? More than five words in the title? I'm hedging my bets with this one. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a quite wordy film. Its characters lie to one another's faces, and bury knives in one another's backs, and every oath or untruth or veiled threat that they utter drips with import and menace. The acting is off the chain. This is a heartbreaking, nerve-wracking downer with a denouement that will banish any vestige of cheer and goodwill from you and leave you reeling.
Title: I Am Not a Serial Killer Year: 2016 Director: Billy O’Brien Blurb: Featuring the second appearance of Christopher Lloyd on my list (he also starred in The Legend of the Lone Ranger)! This is a creepy little film about a young man in a small town who has been diagnosed as a sociopath, and consequently lives by a very strict set of self-inflicted rules to prevent himself from harming anyone. However, when a series of killings start happening in the town, he sets out to prove to himself that he isn’t the one behind them. And then it gets weird. Great performances, interesting twists (try to avoid any more about the movie before seeing it), and a clever premise made this a fun discovery when I saw it.
Day 4: a film with a number in the title
Director: David Fincher
Blurb: I should get extra credit for this one because not only is the title a number, it also has the (very stupid) stylized number 7 in place of the V. That being said, I do actually like this disturbingly gross film. I haven’t tried rewatching it since Kevin Spacey’s totally justified fall from grace, and frankly I don’t know if I want to, but I have to admit that at a certain point in my life the twisted logic of John Doe’s ‘righteous’ killings utterly fascinated me.
Title: Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)
Director: David Lynch
Blurb: David Lynch's first foray into experimental filmmaking is a blaring, baleful overturned slop bucket of a movie. The parenthetical in the title is a mercy; it serves to assure the viewer that what they're experiencing has a set, finite duration. It's the same thing I always have to remind myself, whenever I come down with a stomach bug or a bad fever: just hang in there, you won't be sick forever. Somehow it's never as reassuring as it ought to be.
Title: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie Year: 1996 Director: Jim Mallon Blurb: Despite the title, this isn’t really a movie. And that’s what I love about it. It’s an episode of the TV series with slightly better production values, and that’s it. One of my favorite bits of trivia is Trace Beaulieu (who plays Professor Forrester and Crow T. Robot) pointing out in a book that the film is actually one minute shorter than an episode of the TV series, so technically people paid for less of what they were getting for free on television.
Day 5: a film where a character has a job you want
Title: Stranger than Fiction
Director: Marc Forster
Blurb: This one is a bit of a twofer, since multiple characters have jobs I’ve idly daydreamed about (and one character has a job that I’ve actually held, sorta). Karen Eiffel [Emma Thompson] is a novelist: an early dream of mine. Ana Pascal [Maggie Gyllenhaal] owns a bakery: I’m a hobby baker but would love to do it professionally. Jules Hilbert [Dustin Hoffman] is a literature professor: I’ve taught literature courses at the college level and hope to keep doing so. The least interesting profession in the film actually belongs to the protagonist, Harold Crick [Will Ferrell], who grinds each day away as a ((gag)) IRS agent.
Title: Boogie Nights
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Blurb: This pick isn't necessarily as prurient as it might seem. I don't know that I'd care to fill Dirk Diggler's shoes, that seems like an awful lot of pressure; I'd settle for penning the cheesy scripts, or holding the boom mic steady. Boogie Nights may be a film brimming with seediness and smut, but its depiction of the underbelly of showbiz has a certain quaintly old-fashioned, quintessentially Hollywood sensibility to it. At the end of the day, the crew just wants to have a good time and put on a good show, and it's possible that no fresh-faced young filmmaker has ever brought more flashiness and razzmatazz to the table than Paul Thomas Anderson. I think I'd rather enjoy being a pornographer – provided I got out of the game before midnight on December 31st, 1979, that is. Maybe that's an unrealistic and untenable fantasy. If you stay up all night getting trashed, you have to be prepared to nurse a hangover in the morning. But people who operate in the porno industry are peddlers of unrealistic and untenable fantasies, after all.
Matt L. Title: Mystery Team Year: 2009 Director: Dan Eckman Blurb: When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be a detective. More accurately, I wanted to be a boy detective (like Encyclopedia Brown or Jupiter Jones of the Three Investigators). What I love about this movie is that it takes that premise and sends the team of (former) boy detectives up against an actual crime (murder) that they’re vastly unqualified to solve.
Day 6: your favorite animated film
Title: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Director: Henry Selick
Blurb: I know that in recent years TNBC has essentially become a Hot Topic merchandise machine, but the film itself is still as creepy and wonderful as I remember it being when I was a kid. I watch it religiously between Halloween and Christmas each year, and can recite the whole film – dialogue, songs, all of it – by heart. Despite my deep love of Disney princesses and Pixar animation, The Nightmare Before Christmas has pretty consistently held the “favorite animated film” spot for me since I first saw it on VHS, sometime in the mid-90s.
Title: The Lion King
Director: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Blurb: The Lion King is peerlessly majestic. Its sweep and grandeur are unrivaled. I was exposed to it at a formative age – it's the first film I can remember seeing in theaters – so I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive this steady stream of superlatives. The opening scene is just plain awe-inspiring. I feel like a primitive, sun worshipping protohuman every time that flaming yellow disc crests the horizon and bathes the savannah in light. When I listen to “Circle of Life,” I don't hear a platitudinous show tune; I hear a hymn to the whole of creation, an anthem for the natural world and all the living and dying that goes on in it. How terribly embarrassing. Subjecting myself to Jon Favreau's misjudged and misbegotten pass at this material helped to cement my appreciation of the original film's philosophical coherence and unity of vision. Favreau badly botches Scar's initial reveal, for one thing. That giant paw crashing down on the unfortunate mouse is one of the great villain introductions in movie history (eat your heart out, Harry Lime); it's a stroke of genius because it swiftly and wordlessly refutes the thesis of the film's prologue. We've just been told, visually as well as lyrically, that all creatures, great and small, have a place in the scheme of things. Exhibit A: that gorgeous rack focus from the procession of ants on the tree branch to the herd of zebras thundering through the dust below them. The takeaway is simple and unmistakable. Seen from the right perspective, ants and zebras are the same size. Au contraire, that giant paw retorts, when it comes crashing down on the tiny mouse. We are not all the same size; we are not all created equal. Children grok all of this, on a semiconscious level, even if Jon Favreau doesn't.
Title: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Year: 2018 Director: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman Blurb: This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. It’s not only my favorite animated film, it’s my favorite movie, period. It’s basically everything I’m getting my PhD in. I want to marry it.
Day 7: a film that you will never get tired of
Title: Die Hard
Director: John McTiernan
Blurb: Another film I watch annually – because *of course* Die Hard is a Christmas movie. I love action movies, John McClane is iconic, and no matter how many times I watch it, I always flinch when Hans quips “okay” and casually shoots Takagi in the head.
Director: Chuck Jones
Blurb: Chuck Jones was a visionary, and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is, for me, his most enduring masterpiece. Watch this movie when your mind is still malleable, and the struggle that it depicts, between a crafty mongoose and the cobras who wish to destroy him and his adoptive family, will lodge itself firmly in your grey matter and gradually assume the stature of a timeless and mythic tale, on par with David slaying Goliath, or John Henry outperforming the machine, or Odysseus blinding Polyphemus. “Who has delivered us, who? Tell us his nest and his name! Rikki the valiant, the true! Tikki with eyeballs aflame!”
Title: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Year: 2010 Director: Edgar Wright Blurb: Prior to getting bumped down by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse this was my favorite movie. It earned that title by being the film that I unquestionably and unintentionally have seen more times than any other. I could watch it right now. I am in lesbians with it.