For the past few months, I’ve filled this space with musings about all the things that surround movies rather than the movies themselves: movie houses, festivals, interviews with festival programmers—everything to garnish the meat of the matter, so to speak. I will, at some point, get to the real thing. But first bear with me while I ramble on one more time about the view from where I’m sitting, and what it’s like to be sitting here.
Maybe it’s better that I avoid simply critiquing films. After all, there are plenty of movie reviews on the IMDB, and you can pretty much pick and choose whom you’re going to trust. Also, my day job as a hebdomadal movie-section editor and head writer has me digging through the good, the bad and the ugly new releases on a very public, very weekly basis. (If you’re really curious, check out my and my colleagues’ viewing pleasures at Hour magazine.) It’s hardly surprising then that I’ve been noticing lately just how much time I spend with my eyes glued to one screen or another. This month alone, I’ve seen at least fifty movies. Not that I’m complaining. But when you’re filed under “cinephile” as often as I am, the where and the when of moviegoing starts to matter as much as the what, the who and the why.
So let me tell you about my weekend.
Friday morning began on Air Canada flight 797Y non-stop from Montreal to Los Angeles. I was on my way to my very first junket—my first hyperspeed jaunt to Los Angeles for business, and I had Tom Petty on the brain more than I had the agendas of my benefactors, the publicity departments of Sony and Columbia. I was dozing off to the sweet sounds of Montreal’s own Afrodizz on my in-flight headset when I realized that, to my great surprise, the movie that was showing was something that (a) I hadn’t already seen and (b) I actually wanted to watch: Before Sunset, Richard Linklater’s sequel to 1995’s Before Sunrise, in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Train-à-Grande-Vitesse-crossed lovers wandering about European cities (Prague last time, Paris this time) talking about life. A lot.
Since it was daytime and the windows were open on deck, I couldn’t see a goddamned thing on those horrible new pull-down LCDs that are smaller than my laptop screen, but I listened anyway. Linklater is a great director; here he is able to remake Hawke and Delpy, two of the most annoyingly iconic Gen X leftovers, into romantic leads despite themselves. Since I’d lived in Paris, and I already knew what Delpy and Hawke look like, the whole film worked fine as a radio play. That, by the way, is a compliment (consider The Day After Tomorrow without visuals).
Once I landed at LAX, I had to jump straight into a cab and head over to a press screening of The Grudge, the new Sam Raimi–produced remake of Takashi Shimizu’s Japanese horror phenom Ju-on: The Grudge. I had high hopes (of a sort) for this remake. Only Raimi would have the brilliant idea to actually hire Shimuzu to remake himself for the American nightmare. The film really works, and it’s very frightening by any standard. In person, Shimizu comes off like a really creepy thirty-two-year-old Japanese toddler with strange teeth. I hope you were lucky enough to catch his Marebito at Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma. If not, you can always rent the original Ju-on at La Boîte Noire on St. Denis Street. The remake is still set in Tokyo and doesn’t fall prey to Halloween/Elm Street Americana horror conventions. The participation of TV starlet Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) is meant to make the film accessible to American audiences, giving us an empathetic window into the action when we want it—just like Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation. Kind of. Well, not really.
After the junket, I checked into room-service indulgences and a very distracting panoramic view of the Angel City. I spent Friday night ensconced in a feather bed in my Beverly Hills hotel, watching screeners for the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma on the in-house VCR. Then, after an afternoon that left me reeling from all the junket round tables, a colleague with better connections turned me on to Saturday night’s hot ticket: a screening of Team America: World Police on the Paramount studio lot. I had to at least try to scam my way in. Name, rank, serial number and God on my side, I made it to the front gate. I almost caved when security informed me I wasn’t on the list, but I was rewarded for my shamelessness by eventually being granted access to the lot. After having sweated it out at the entrance (just like in the movies!), access was sweeter than sweet. And the movie was great. Who ever thought that puppets puking and having sex could be so apropos? Don’t miss it. Don’t go sober.
The next morning, duty called again. I needed to see David O. Russell’s I ♥ Huckabees since I was going to miss the press screening at home. I checked the LA Times listings with a friend, looking for any theatre where it was showing. Said my friend, who knows about these things, “Oh. It’s playing at the ArcLight. That’s something else entirely.” Was it ever.
The ArcLight is a modern architectural wonder, all gleaming glass and thick carpet. It’s an unapologetically huge and unbearably comfortable cinema complex on West Sunset Boulevard at the corner of Vine in Hollywood, built to embrace and augment a cinema landmark: the sixties-era Cinerama Dome, once a happening Hollywood movie palace. I was actually okay with paying more for a ticket, even though admission was $14 US. I picked my seat from a diagram at the box office and then cocooned myself in its perfect, giant, padded womb while I marvelled at this hushed temple to celluloid. It was indescribable. Even the relish on the hot dogs was a pure expression of its own best possible reality, each shard of pickle alive and exploding in my mouth with flavour and freshness. I never dared imagine a movie could be like this: full of sound, full of picture, sharp as tacks from God. Hollywood, my friends, is not dead.
By the way, I ♥ Huckabees is heartily worth the effort, despite what the critics have been saying.
Montreal-based journalist Melora Koepke is in her element when the theatre lights dim. Camera Obscura lights up cinema culture every second Friday.