“If I could just reach my wand, I’d Avada Kedrava half the assholes in this audience”

First of all, congrats to Woody Allen whose Midnight in Paris finally became his all time highest grossing film over the weekend. It’s still outclassed worldwide by Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but it has yet to open in some major markets in Europe and I think it’ll wind up on top when all is said and done.

And now I’ve got a couple of things to get off my chest.

Because they’re a bunch of car-bound infants, my city collectively shit its diaper leading up to this weekend when a 10 mile stretch of the busiest freeway in the country was scheduled to be closed for a little over 48 hours so crews could tear down an overpass to facilitate widening the already congested artery by a single lane in either direction. The media dubbed it “Carmageddon” and had a field day with dire predictions of catastrophic gridlock. They equipped news vans with dashboard cameras to roam the city looking for signs of trouble and dedicated the bulk of their weekend news broadcasts to covering the end of civilization as we know it. Then a funny thing happened. People rearranged their lives a bit for a couple of days and they stayed close to home. Simple common sense prevailed and traffic was lighter all over the city than it usually is on any ordinary weekend.

If only my weekend at the theaters went as smoothly as it did on the highways and byways of Los Angeles.

It started promisingly with a screening of the sad and infuriating but excellent documentary Project Nim (****), but it was a hit and miss affair after that. Errol Morris’ Tabloid (** 1/2 review)  was a complete bust which I’m thinking less and less of the further away I get from it. The new Winnie the Pooh (****) was probably better than it had any right to be, almost capturing the spirit of A.A. Milne if ultimately allowing it to elude capture with a wee bit of unwanted rambunctiousness. A worthy effort though.

And then there is Harry Potter 7.2 (*** 1/2). Any glimmer of hope I might have really gotten into it (and let’s not kid ourselves, the odds of that happening were slim) were dashed about 10 minutes in when an older guy stumbled in through the dark theater and collapsed into the seat next to me. At first I thought he might be mentally challenged, but the reek of dirty sweat sock lying in a Bourbon St. gutter the morning after Mardi Gras clued me in to the fact he was completely hammered and possibly living in his car. The stench alone was enough to distract me from the movie at hand, but within 20 minutes the snoring started. The snoring was punctuated by random jags of consciousness when he’d stir and say something random in his outside voice like “She couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee and now she’s a millionaire” or “that guy looks like the dude from Black Sabbath” and then he’d fall asleep again with more snoring. Sloppy, loud, drunk guy snoring. I jabbed him with my elbow but might as well have been trying to get the attention of a potato sack full of wet dough.

Meanwhile, the row of Potter nerds behind me kept up with a running commentary during most of the movie. I swear to god one girl either had an orgasm or she gave birth to a litter of kittens when Ron and Hermione kissed. Or both simultaneously. Oh, and then there was the infant in the lobby right outside the auditorium door squalling like someone was stabbing it in the face with a pen knife while trying to drown it. This went on for at least 45 minutes and it would get louder every time someone would get up and open the door on the way to the bathroom or the concession stand.

Finally, the smelly drunk sack of crap next to me woke up again and he started talking some more so I shushed him. Not because I had any hope of ever actually getting into the movie at this point, but just out of a basic sense of right and wrong and order in the universe. This clown needed to shut his stupid face and I was the only one in a position to do it. He was quiet for about 10 minutes before suddenly getting up, cursing me out and staggering out of the theater. For the rest of the show I had visions of him stalking back in and trying to murder me in a fit of senseless moron rage and I was in no mood to be a headline.

So that’s that. I lived to tell the tale, but I’ll never really know if the movie was as good as critics claim or whether it deserved to be the most successful opening weekend ever. I suspect not, but it’s not a point I’m going to argue with anyone. The thing is, with the exception of the 3rd film, I find the adaptations to be careful but slavishly dull recreations of books that are bursting with inspired imagination but terminally hampered by genuinely amateurish and sloppy writing. The movies have to hit so many specific beats to keep the fans satisfied that they come across as artless and cluttered dioramas rather than compelling stories.

Still, the 2nd half of the last book benefits from being totally lacking in Quidditch or that annoying goddamn house elf or the irritating Hagrid. What’s more, it’s pretty endlessly action packed and it ties up the loose ends pretty satisfyingly. I don’t think it really works by itself, but then it doesn’t have to. As with all the rest of the films, the look and feel are terrific. Alexandre Desplat’s score is excellent and the supporting cast are all entertaining. Once again, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman have the best parts. They’re almost worth the price of admission all by themselves. Could’ve done without the homeless guy or the baby stabbing, but they can’t all be winners and it probably wouldn’t have much mattered either way.

25 Responses to “Theater of Pain”

  1. Craig, that is an incredible experience there. Ugh!!! But I was half-laughing reading through it, even while lamenting that your viewing was clearly compromised. I agree with so much of what you say about the individual components, especially with Alexander Desplat’s fantastic score!

    The answer is “yes”, it WAS every bit as good as the critics are saying it is, and it is absolutely the artistic and emotional piece de resistence of the entire series. I am NOT a Potter groupie (heck I was lukewarm on a few of the films) but this one has entered the stratosphere and is a fitting coda to this landmark series.

    But God, you ran smack into some major assholes there. That’s too bad.

    Lucille and I (and the kids for two of the ventures) had a torrid week in movie theatres, fueled mainly be the continuation of the Keaton series and the launching of the “Pre-Code” Festival at the Film Forum. Then there’s a dude named Harry Potter:

    Tabloid ** (Saturday night) IFC Film Center

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 **** 1/2 (Saturday) Edgewater

    The Three Ages **** 1/2 (Monday night) Buster Keaton at Film Forum

    The Scarecrow **** (Monday night) Buster Keaton at Film Forum

    Baby Face: The Uncensored Version **** 1/2 (Friday) Pre-Code at Film Forum

    Two Seconds **** (Friday) Pre-Code at Film Forum

    I’m No Angel **** 1/2 (Sunday afternoon) Pre-Code at Film Forum

    Hot Saturday *** (Sunday afternoon) Pre-Code at Film Forum

    TABLOID is about the most disappointing film I’ve ever seen from Errol Morris, largely because the subject wears thin early, the humor becomes hokey, and the entire premise seems unworthy for a feature documentary. True, this fact is announced in the title, and Morris does some typically fine things with his creative flourishes (I liked his use of a film clip from Franco Zeffirelli’s “Brother Sun Sister Moon” and the paper mache and animation sequences) but the film is forgotten shortly after leaving the theatre. Marilyn Ferdinand (at “Ferdy-on-Films) penned a terrific piece on the film last month, taking issue with the film with uncompromising candor. I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Part 2 Saturday afternoon at the Edgewater multiplex with my wife Lucille and five kids, all of whom were waiting months for this final coda to one of the most popular franchises of all-time. There is no question in my mind that this is the finest film of the series, one that connects the emotional dots, with the pyrotechnical wizardry and aural bombastics. In fact the entire Potter series is probably more artistically mature than any other continuing franchise, in that readers and viewers take a profound interest in their favorite characters. Much like the finale of the Rings Trilogy (THE RETURN OF THE KING) there is an operatic depth and Shakespearean resonance, deep wrenching emotions, compelling drama and and underpinning of nostalgia that dispels the notion of deja vu once and for all. Radcliffe, Watson and the crew deliver their most accomplished turns, and the films dark and moody look and utterly magnificent score by the great Alexander Desplat.

    The continuation of the marvelous Buster Keaton Festival yielded the beloved silent clown’s first superb feature THE THREE AGES (a kind of parody of Griffith’s INTOLERANCE) and another classic short, THE SCARECROW. With the next four weeks offering up THE NAVIGATOR, STEAMBOAT BILL JR. OUR HOSPITALITY and SEVEN CHANCES -and a few more great shorts- we will all be in Keaton heaven.

    The first features offered up in the four-week “Pre-Code” Festival (also at the Film Forum) are classic works, especially BABY FACE with Barbara Stanwyck and I’M NO ANGEL with Mae West in one of ther most beloved films. Both ladies play similar characters, using their sexual charm to bewitch men. BABY FACE is often considereded a “trash classic,” but simply put it’s a great film, one of the best of the pre-coders. Edward G. Robinson had a chilling courtroom scene near the end of the very fine conscience drama TWO SECONDS, and Cary Grant and Nancy Carroll are impressive -this was Grant’s first leading role- though the film isn’t anything special.

    The festival will be offering up a number of features this coming week, that will have me making multiple appearance. The musical masterpiece LOVE ME TONIGHT will be up for Wednesday.

  2. Uh, yikes. That sounds like a legitimately awful experience. I only had one-third of that: the screaming fans. Of course, that’s because I elected to go with my wife to a double feature of both Deathly Hallows parts on Thursday night/Friday at midnight, so screaming fans were the only people in attendance. Well, and me and my wife, both of whom are big fans of the books and movies, but see no point in screaming at Ron and Hermione kissing, or Neville having his admittedly badass moment at the end, or…well, you get the point.

    I have had run-ins with drunks before; when I saw Across the Universe, there were a few drunks in the theater, though not next to me. Anyway, I feel for you. My only question: was there no way to get the guy out of the theater, by telling the staff? (Not trying to be judgmental, I’m just genuinely curious.)

    I saw, obviously, Potter and Winnie the Pooh this weekend. I liked the Potter finale, but I had enough quibbles that I didn’t outright love it. I’m fairly sure my quibbles aren’t in the category of “But why did they cut out my favorite scene?” so much as just slightly sloppy storytelling. Still, Rickman, Smith, and Fiennes were all great, and the three kids have done a fine job throughout the years of portraying the characters.

    But I loved Winnie the Pooh. Really, really thought it was great. I wish Disney hadn’t left it to die this weekend, but I am so glad I saw it, even if my wife and I were the only people in the crowd without kids. Great stuff (that I talked about on my new Disney movie podcast, which you can find if you click on my name. End shameless plug.).

  3. Geez, Josh, our posts logged in here at the exact same time! I couldn’t manage POOH, but I am very heartened by your stellar family report and will try to see it over the next week.

  4. This is the worst “review” I’d ever seen. You are the luckiest person on earth if someone actually pays you for this drivel.

  5. Sorry to diffuse your misguided rage LL, but it’s not a review at all. Reviews are clearly marked with the word “review”

  6. Hey “LL” what ever gave you the idea this was supposed to be a “review?” This was a recap of a personal experience while seeing the film. Take a look at Mr. Kennedy’s proper reviews on the sidebar and then bury your head in shame, you troll.

  7. Potter for me was easily in the top 2 of the series, but as you can tell from what I said above, I just don’t dig the adaptations all that much. They’re fine. Glad I saw them. Glad they’re done.

    Pooh was sooooo close to being great. My only beef was some tone that conflicted with the feeling Milne sets up. It was subtle, and maybe I was just being hyper picky, and compared to a lot of stuff for kids it was wonderful. It just seemed a little too eager to please. Does it make sense to say it had too much personality?

    Still, it was way better than it had any right to be. Glad to see Disney make a return to form.

    Sam, were all your kids too young for Pooh?

    Josh. Yes I should’ve mentioned Fiennes. He was terrific too.

  8. “Sam, were all your kids too young for Pooh?”

    Oh no Craig, ha! Most are too old (15,14, 12, 10, 9) But to be honest, the youngest two do want to see it, and I will be sure to attend a screening this coming week at our local multiplex. I do love Milne’s immortal character.

  9. that’s what I meant. Too old.

    12-15 is exactly the wrong age and they’d probably be bored to tears. In 10 years they might appreciate it again. The 9 and 10 might be on the cusp.

    It was sweet and gentle and charming.

  10. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too young for Pooh (or, at least for that movie). There’s nothing remotely scary in the movie, and it’s not long enough that it would tax a kid’s patience too much.

    EDIT: And, of course, as soon as this posted, I saw Craig’s reply. In the words of Gilda Radner, never mind.

  11. Lol. Yeah. Look at me saying the exact opposite of what I meant to say.

  12. I love you, LL Cool J. Not only did you incorrectly assume someone pays Craig to do this, but you misjudged the Watercooler for a review. HAHAHAHA, way to go, dude.

    Wow, Craig, I think you had a screening that including all my single worst film-going experiences in one screening. Kudos to pulling the best you could out of it.

    I saw Terri and it was great, truly great, and that was including the drunk guy wandering in and out of the theater repeatedly to tell his wife (loudly) that he had no interest in the film. And he was drunk at two in the afternoon, no less. Classic.

  13. Wow, that was awful. Something similar happened to me when I saw Never Let Me Go last year. Some guy strolled in, reeking of cigarettes, and almost sat in my lap before I said “Excuse me!” Pretty sure he was a rapist, not just because of his demeanor, but also because there was literally NO ONE else in the theater, and he somehow found my crotch (or, almost).

    Anyway, in terms of Potter itself, I have to admit, I’m not a crazed fan, but I’ve enjoyed all the films, despite their shortcomings (hit-or-miss effects, squandered supporting actors, bigger focus on subplots than actual plots). I also, like many, do feel it is a bit of an end of an era for me. I was thirteen when the first hit, and now I’m out of college. There’s definitely a sense of nostalgia attached with it, even if it’s not the most consistent series. Most of that’s due to the audience literally growing up with the cast. It’s so weird to watch the earlier films and see how much older everyone got.

    Prisoner of Azkaban, however, never wavered in being the absolute best, in my eyes. Alfonso Cuaron made all the difference.

  14. I totally love and support the theatrical experience, but when it’s weird and bad, then I’d rather just sit at home with my blu-rays

    As for Potter, I totally get the bond people of certain ages have with it and I think it’s cool. Me? I was not in the target demo when the first book or movie came out and all I could do was compare it to the stuff I grew up with as a kid: tolkien, and Lewis and stuff like EB White.

    I agree that Azkaban is the best movie and probably my favorite book. Though honestly I thought this last one gave it a run for the money.

  15. Joel, I’m pleased you fell for Terri. As you know that’s just not a movie that is going to appeal to everyone, but goddamnit it had an honesty to it. Terri was such a sweet kid, yet the movie never tried to cover up for his flaws. I mean forget about the fact he’s overweight which is hard for any high schooler, but he wore pajamas to school.

    The business with the pretty girl (was she kind of adorable or what?) was fraught with peril, but it worked. They totally justified her interest in him just by the way he was sweet to her and she accepted that as an outcast, but then the note she left him at the end made it clear she just wanted to be friends which is how it would realliy go in real life. I mean let’s be honest.

    John C. Reilly was also terrific.

  16. Damnit! I just realized that’s another one I didn’t review.

    I suck. LL is right :)

  17. Great story Craig, made all the more entertaining by the funny and smart telling. At least you get to dine out on the frustrating experience.

    No movies but finished watching The Walking Dead. Nothing truly groundbreaking about it and at times the show bordered on the banal but it had enough promise for me to look forward to seeing where season 2 takes things. I liked that we’re placed in circumstances that left you wondering whether it would be better off dead (though not the walking variety), no matter how strong ones will to survive and facility for hope is. The writing needs to sharpen though and layers of complexity added to the story.

  18. Oy, what a story. I’d have gotten out my jennybitch until the management gave me a pass for a free flick.

    Potter was great. Loved it. Best of the series.

  19. @Craig: John C Reilly was terrific, and I was immensely happy to see he wasn’t once again typecast as a man-child, weirdo, loser, or mildly brain-damaged lovable idiot. He does all those things well, but he’s also great when he just gets to play a regular person. Thank god Azazel Jacobs had the common sense to cast him against his type.

    Terri is definitely in contention for my Top Ten this year, but I haven’t seen a lot (so far) that I’ve loved so that’s a short list to begin with.

  20. though the experience was a theater of pain, this story made me laugh a lot.

  21. Then mission accomplished, Ari!

    Had the movie been Tree of Life, I probably would’ve had to murder someone, but in the grand scheme of things this was not a big deal, just a kind of crazy one.

    Sartre, I’m on the fence about Walking Dead. I loved some moments of it and was frustrated with others. I’m undecided whether to give it a go for season 2.

    Joel, you saw Momma’s Man, right?

  22. I did see Momma’s Man, but I liked Terri better. There was a certain weird distance I had from Momma’s Man that kept me from really getting into it. The whole scenario was sort of bizarre. Terri is swimming in bizarreness too, but Reilly’s character allowed me to get inside it and appreciate it.

  23. I think I liked Momma’s Man better precisely because it was weirder, but at the same time it surprisingly turned out to be less weird than what it seemed like on paper.

  24. :(

    Sorry about the terrible movie-going experience, Craig. Maybe LL is the drunk sack of crap who was sitting next to you and is upset that you wrote about it.

    Nothing extraordinary on the movie-going front for me. PBS showed All About Eve on Saturday and since I never get tired of that movie I watched it again.

    On Sunday TCM showed Horse Feathers, another movie I never get tired of.

  25. It’s ok Alison. It’s not like any bunnies were killed by my theatrical experience :)

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