Eric’s Top Five Theatrical Experiences

For the last two weeks, my favorite local movie theater, the Music Box, has provided Chicago with what they have dubbed the 70mm Film Festival. As the last remaining theater in town that can play movies at 70mm (compared to the usual 35mm or digital), they brought in a wide variety of films to screen in this gorgeous format. One of these films was the biggest item on my so-called “movie bucket list” — 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was there for its very first screening (which was absolutely incredible), and it gave me the idea to compose this list of my top five theatrical experiences.

Now, one thing you will notice right away is that most of these have taken place in just the last few years. That’s because I never really went to the theater much when I was younger — it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in 2008 that I truly fell in love with film. With so many theaters in town, all of which are easily accessible, I found myself going more and more. The fact that these are all recent does not make them any less memorable for me.

movie-theater-seats

First, a few honorable mentions:
Antichrist [November 2009]
My first visit to the Music Box. I instantly fell in love with this theater. My girlfriend and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with Antichrist — let’s just say it was an experience I will never forget, for multiple reasons.

RoboCop [July 2012]
This was noteworthy for two reasons. 1) I met up with several movie bloggers for drinks and a movie, all of whom were good people. 2) It was freakin’ RoboCop on the big screen!

Miami Connection [October 2012]
The hype machine surrounding this revived 80s action flick was out of control, so I had to see it for myself. It turns out that the movie was an absolute riot, and I can’t wait to see it again. What made the screening even better was that I got to share it with my niece and her husband — we still reference the brilliance that is Dragon Sound to this day.

And now, the top five:

Drive [2011]
5) Drive [September 2011]
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Drive, and I couldn’t wait to see it. My girlfriend and I rode our bikes to a theater in Lincoln Park on a gorgeous summer night. I had a feeling I was going to like the film, but I was surprised at how much it blew me away. I ended up ranking it as my favorite film of 2011. I left the theater feeling like a total badass — how could you not? — and the first thing I told my girlfriend was that I needed a pair of biking gloves. I felt invincible on that bike ride home.

Beasts of the Southern Wild [2011]
4) Beasts of the Southern Wild [June 2012]advanced screening with a Q&A with Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis afterward
I had to wait an hour in line before this screening, and to make matters worse, a huge chunk of the theater was blocked off for contest winners. The only available seating was in the first few rows, and I was tempted to just say “fuck it” and walk out before the show. But I stuck with it, and I’m so glad I did. I got sucked into the world of the Bathtub, and I quickly forgot about how close I was sitting. I loved the film, and the Q&A with the cast and director afterward made me appreciate it even more. I was especially impressed with Dwight Henry, who came across as such a genuinely humble man.

THE ROOM
3) The Room [2010-present]multiple screenings, some with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero in attendance
I can thank my good friends Steve and Ali for turning me onto the madness that is The Room, and now I frequently return the favor to anyone who comes to visit. There’s nothing like showing someone The Room for the first time, especially in a jam-packed theater. I have been to two different screenings in which director/writer/”star” Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero did a Q&A — once even getting dragged on stage to shake their hands — and they are endlessly entertaining. If you haven’t experienced The Room yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Words cannot do it justice. Just make sure to bring a bunch of plastic spoons.

2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey [February 2013]part of the 70mm Film Festival
This was the absolute #1 choice on my “movie bucket list”, and I am eternally grateful that I was able to experience 2001 the way it was meant to be seen (in 70mm, no less!). As much as I loved the film on DVD, seeing it on the big screen just blows it away. I got goosebumps as soon as the first notes to “Also sprach Zarathustra” began playing, and I remained glued to the screen from that point on. I get asked a lot what my favorite film is, and well, it could very well be 2001: A Space Odyssey. A flawless film.

The Master [2012]
1) The Master [August 2012]advanced surprise 70mm screening with Paul Thomas Anderson and nearly every major Chicago film critic in attendance
I stumbled upon this screening by pure chance — I just happened to sign onto Facebook at just the right time. Tickets sold out in a matter of minutes, but not before I was able to snag one. The Master had only been screened twice before this showing — both in Los Angeles — so this was a pretty big deal. I arrived later than anticipated only to find a line of people wrapped all the way down the street and around a corner. Somehow I was lucky enough to still get a good seat, but I was worried for a while.

The film was fantastic, my favorite of 2012, but the experience of being one of the first few hundred people in the entire world to see it made it feel unreal. There was so much excitement and nervousness in the room, and none of us could have predicted what was in store for us. And, to top it all off, Paul Thomas Anderson hung out in the lobby afterward to converse with anyone who wanted to talk. Events like this remind me just how much I love Chicago.

So there you have it — my top five theatrical experiences! What are your favorite theatrical experiences? Got a good story to tell?

Top 10 Films From 2012

The “best of” lists have been well underway, and it’s time for me to join in on the festivities. I wanted to wait until I saw a few of the most recent heavy-hitters, and now I feel confident enough to put together my own top 10. This has been a great year for film, and I could have easily stretched this out to a top 20, or even 25. For the sake of consistency, I am sticking with a top ten.

Honorable Mentions:
The Intouchables
Zero Dark Thirty
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Killer Joe [2011]
10) Killer Joe
“A totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story.” Yeah, it’s as great as it sounds. I will never look at fried chicken the same way again.

Take This Waltz [2011]
9) Take This Waltz
Pretty much a “love it or hate it” film, but this one struck an emotional chord within me. I can’t get enough of Michelle Williams either.

Lincoln [2012]
8) Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis deserves every bit of praise sent his way, and he anchors a well-rounded cast in a film about one of America’s most pivotal moments.

argo-2012
7) Argo
Dare I say Ben Affleck is a much better director than actor? This is a gripping thriller that manages to maintain suspense despite the outcome being well-known.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]
6) The Dark Knight Rises
I can’t think of a better conclusion to one of the best trilogies in recent times. The film flies by despite its lengthy running time, and Bane is a hell of a villain.

Indie Game: The Movie [2012]
5) Indie Game: the Movie
A documentary about indie game developers? Whaaaa-? This is actually a damn good film, one that shows a dedication to a craft where no outcome is certain.

The Imposter [2012]
4) The Imposter
The perfect example of truth being stranger than fiction. My favorite documentary of the year.

Oslo, August 31st [2011]
3) Oslo, August 31st
A look at a reformed drug addict trying to fit back into society. Sounds familiar, but this film looks at addiction in a fresh new light. Joachim Trier is a director to keep an eye on.

Django Unchained [2012]
2) Django Unchained
I could watch Quentin Tarantino recreate history any time. Just as stylish as expected from the eccentric director, with an especially memorable soundtrack.

The Master [2012]
1) The Master
I’m still a bit shocked at how divisive this film has been, but no other release resonated with me this year like Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest. The trio of Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams deliver some of the best performances of the year, and the film itself will leave you thinking about it for days (or much longer).

Still need to see: Amour, Seven Psychopaths, Rust and Bone, The Impossible, Holy Motors

Any thoughts? What do you agree with? Disagree?

Top 10 Films from 2012 — So Far

Now that we’ve wrapped up the first 2/3 of the year, we’re going to be getting into the REAL good stuff for the fall/winter. Movies seem to get their best releases near the end of each year, and 2012 also fits that mold with plenty of heavyweights coming soon. Still, there have been a lot of great releases so far this year, and more than a few should hold up on the inevitable year-end lists. Here are my top 10 favorites through August:

Honorable Mentions:
The Woman in Black — Slow-paced but atmospheric horror with a great performance from Daniel Radcliffe.
The Grey — Liam Neeson as a wolf hunter. ‘Nuff said.

Haywire [2012]

10) Haywire

Sorely underrated action flick. Worth seeing just to watch Gina Carano kick Michael Fassbender’s ass.

Prometheus [2012]

9) Prometheus

The marketing campaign probably raised our expectations too high, but this was still a fun sci-fi adventure that provided endless discussions throughout the summer.

The Avengers [2012]

8) The Avengers

Can’t ask for a much better blockbuster to kick off the summer. Fans of the comics no doubt loved this even more.

The Intouchables [2011]

7) The Intouchables

Doesn’t really give us anything new, but Omar Sy provides arguably the most entertaining performance of the year.

Cabin in the Woods [2012]

6) The Cabin in the Woods

Entertaining throughout, but really kicks into gear during the final act. A real treat for horror fans.

Take This Waltz [2011]

5) Take This Waltz

Possibly this year’s most polarizing film. I really enjoyed this one, perhaps because I could relate to most of the characters.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

4) Beasts of the Southern Wild

Easily the most unique of this year’s films, and it comes from a group of veritable newcomers, no less.

Moonrise Kingdom [2012]

3) Moonrise Kingdom

Hey, maybe there’s something to this Wes Anderson guy after all. The movie that made me a fan of his work.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

2) The Dark Knight Rises

I can’t ask for a better conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Epic in every sense of the word.

The Master [2012]

1) The Master

People will be talking about this for a long time. Guaranteed.

So, what do you guys think? Do you agree? Disagree? What are your favorites from this year so far?

Movie Review: The Master [2012]

The Master [2012]

The Master [2012]
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Genre: Drama
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams
Runtime: 137 minutes

New films from Paul Thomas Anderson don’t come around too often, so when they do, it’s a huge deal. Last night, a secret “pop-up” screening of The Master took place at the legendary Music Box Theatre in Chicago. This is the only theater in the entire city that can show a film in 70mm print (as The Master was filmed and meant to be seen), and the event sold out in less than two hours. Since the film won’t receive a worldwide release until September 21, this was an even bigger deal, and the demand was through the roof. Scalpers on Craigslist were reported to be selling tickets for hundreds of dollars, prompting the Music Box to send out Facebook posts and tweets warning moviegoers to avoid paying inflated fees. It already seems The Master is one of this year’s most talked about films, and after seeing it myself, I feel it will remain that way all the way through Oscar season.

The most common reactions coming out of this screening were “Wow” and “I need to process this.” I am in the same boat — even as I sit here, nearly 24 hours later, I am trying to wrap my head around what I just saw. Make no mistake: this is going to require more than one viewing to fully comprehend, but I will do my best here.

The Master [2012]

In its purest form, The Master is a character study of two men: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Quell is a drifter, a Navy veteran with a troubled past who boozily ventures from place to place. After being chased out of an island town after an alcohol-related incident, Quell sneaks onto a luxury ship. This is where he meets Dodd, who learns of the intruder’s trespassing and allows him to stay on board — but only if he keeps a steady batch of mixed drinks coming his way.

It doesn’t take long for Quell to realize that Dodd is the leader of a new religious organization simply known as “The Cause.” With his loyal, pregnant wife Mary Sue (Amy Adams) at his side, as well as a sizable collection of followers, Dodd preaches to them day after day.

The Master [2012]

The comparisons between The Cause and Scientology are inevitable, but this should not be dwelled upon. While there are similarities between the two, The Cause works in its own right, and it could represent any number of cults. The point here is not to bash a certain organization but to show the man in power and his influence over those near him.

In this regard, the relationship between Dodd and Quell is endlessly fascinating. Quell is a bit of a wild man, and it’s almost as if Dodd sees him as a pet project. Both men are prone to explosions — Dodd when his beliefs are questioned — but yet they have a bizarre mutual respect for each other.

The Master [2012]

Of course, it helps greatly to have skilled actors such as Hoffman and Phoenix playing these multi-layered characters. The scenes with the two of them together are when the film really shines. One particular scene, the real centerpiece of the film, involves Dodd interrogating Quell, asking him a series of questions (including many repeats) to “cleanse” him. This is part of the grooming process, to see if Quell will be a fit for the organization. The interaction between these two men is astounding, especially as Phoenix twitches nervously, runs his fingers through his hair and even slaps himself as Hoffman grills him with intense personal questions.

Much will be said of Phoenix’s dedicatedly physical performance, and he deserves ALL of the accolades he will receive. Hoffman also warrants a great deal of attention, as he perfectly nails the demeanor and mannerisms of a cult leader (while also showing his insecurities). The real surprise here is Amy Adams. For much of the film, she is in the background, quietly by Hoffman’s side, seemingly acting as a loyal housewife. But there are moments where she strongly asserts herself and commands the scene, showing that she has a great deal of power, too. Her subtle facial expressions are phenomenal. These three deliver some of their finest performances yet, and they are rounded out by a stellar cast that includes Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers and Jesse Plemons.

The Master [2012]

I had the pleasure of seeing The Master in 70mm, the first time I have ever seen any film in that format. The difference between 70mm and the traditional 35mm is like night and day. It’s almost comparable to watching an old early-print DVD and then seeing the latest and greatest Blu-ray transfer, but that analogy doesn’t even do this justice. This is a visually stunning film in its own right, but if you have the option of seeing it in 70mm, it is an absolute must.

As stated earlier, The Master will almost certainly be one of this year’s most talked about films. Cults are always a tantalizing subject, and with two characters as dynamic as those played by Phoenix and Hoffman, it’s hard not to get sucked into the experience. Some may be disappointed with the slow pacing early on, but for those here for the long haul, this is infinitely rewarding. Based on my gut reaction, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this hold up as one of the year’s best.

9/10