The Summer Date Night Screening Series Wrap-Up

Every April, the same thing happens to me. Similar things happen to my friends in late August, or perhaps in March. The fever. The craving for a season to begin, or heat up, or come to a climax.

Towards the end of April, as we finish seeing the slew of inconsequential comedies, third rate comic adaptations, and processed horror remakes, I gear up for the Summer Movie Season. This year was no different. I had a dry year in 2009, following the popcornucopia that was 2008’s Season. In 2008 I could distract myself from the pressures of producing A Genesis Found by visiting a theater, but as the director of The Nocturnal Third in the summer of 2009, I was rarely able to see through the haze to the outside world.

This year I was all set.

The plan: To use summer movies to battle the potential ennui of being between jobs as a full time freelancer and the potential madness of being locked into the most tedious process in post-production, sound editing. Through colorful adventures and explosions and hamburgers, I would treat my wife to a date a week, all summer long. We would try to match the food with the movie. I made a full schedule, with time break-downs and alternates. Alternates came in handy, as we were able to dodge The Last Airbender as its Rotten Tomatoes score plummeted. I also kept a very brief and concise log through Facebook updates.

In our house, summer ends around September 20th, as the Huntsville weather allows us to wear summer clothes at least this long, and our anniversary is a nice milestone to celebrate as we begin to welcome Fall. We’ll say our summer starts when everyone else’s does… The first weekend in May.

In we go.

Aw, man. I just realized I didn’t date these things. Oh well.

The Pre-Season…

Letters to Juliet – This doesn’t really count. I often dig myself into a hole, owing my wife a movie of her choosing in the case I pick something she really hates. I still get flack for Drag Me to Hell, which I sold to her as a straight comedy. We were cashing that in here. I can’t offer much insight on this, an impulse watch that occurred before the Season really started, and definitely before I made up the schedule. The film will offer exactly what you expect, and didn’t give me much to ruminate other than the ruthless efficiency of the agent-driven Hollywood Star Machine. “Seyfried’s got a hole in her schedule, we need to keep her demographic fed, so let’s patch together that script that’s been floating around and get this show on the road.”

D


Iron Man 2 – We had high hopes for this one, which we watched during a tiny weekend vacation to Seaside. You might not remember this, but Iron Man 2 was one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. You might not remember this either… This movie was actually released. It doesn’t feel like that now, as it’s quickly fallen in between the sofa cushions of the public subconscious. If you can dig out that dusty recollection, you might remember a movie that was a lot more interested in sarcasm and wit than plot and stakes. Still, some good, feather-light fun… if you haven’t seen the superior first film.

B-


And now, directly from my status updates, we begin in earnest.

SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND ONE…. Prince of Persia gets a D+ from myself, but Danielle enjoyed it. We both definitely enjoyed dinner at Mellow Mushroom, at which we were joined by Jesse Ewing for discussion of transcendental Phil Collins experiences. Next Week: The A-Team & Red Robin.

This was a great way to kick off the summer, as we ran Huntsville’s legendary Cotton Row Run 10K that morning. It was my first registered race ever, and I recall doing pretty well for a noob. Although the Mike Newell film we saw that night was lackluster, we still had a great time drinking high gravity beer and eating pizza. The movie itself is a bit baffling, as Newell is no hack. The guy deftly handled the potentially low-stakes and drawn-out plot of Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire, and gave us the dragon fight, one of the most memorable sequences in that whole series. I’ve not seen Four Weddings & A Funeral or Donnie Brasco, or any of his other movies, but again- he’s got chops. I guess this just boiled down to an uninspired video game movie that features a third-act plot twist that reminds us all of the difference between video games and films.

But the pizza was good. And the beer.

Movie: D / Dinner: A+ / Date: B




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND TWO… We caught a matinee of The A-Team, which easily comes in as the best movie I’ve seen this summer. I wasn’t expecting Jurassic Park or The Dark Knight; heck, I would’ve settled for Speed Racer or Die Hard 4, and that’s about where it sits. Afterwards, we ate enormous hamburgers at Red Robin and had a few margaritas, followed by a search for Genesis CDs that came up short. Great night! Next Week: Mystery Dinner & Toy Story 3

You know, I’m not sure I would still rank The A-Team as better than Iron Man 2, but while the latter had a hard time maintaining a good pace, the long-gestating TV adaption at the very least kept a brisk pace and a goofy overall tone, similar to the cartoonish Transporter movies. I’ll give it up for some fun action sequences, great chemistry, and a priceless introduction to Neeson’s Hannibal.

Movie: B- / Dinner: A / Date: B+




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND THREE… Ate ridiculous sandwiches outside at EarthFare. Muffaletta dipped in tomato basil soup, pesto chicken sandwiches, whole grain corn chips, fruit smoothies- Incredible. Toy Story 3 was sold out last night, so we just kind of drove around for the rest of the night, and picked up our movie rain check this afternoon. The movie’s great, of course. I wish I was watching it right now.

This was obviously a bit of a cheat, as I underestimated what has now become the highest grossing animated film and Pixar project of all time. We still had a really fun date with delicious food, and then snuck in a leisurely Toy Story screening the following day. The film is wonderful, although I’m having a hard time letting it really stick to my ribs. I often have this reaction to Pixar films, though… they’re some of the few films that come across as elementary at first, and only reveal their complexity and brilliance upon repeat viewings. That’s how my favorites of theirs have bored their way into my imagination.

Movie: A- / Dinner: A- / Date: A-




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND FOUR… Checked out Knight & Day, which was better than expected; honestly, it featured some of the most coherently constructed action scenes I’ve seen in quite some time. Other than Prince of Persia (for me), no stinkers yet. We had dinner at Mezza Luna – some gourmet pizzas and a delicious bottle of Stelzner Claret, and frozen yogurt afterward. Great night!

I’ll stand by my comments about the action scenes in Knight & Day… well-constructed and coherent. The movie commits few sins beyond a general disconnect with any consistent reality. Cruise is fun to watch, Diaz is watchable, but I’m afraid it commits the worst sin of all when it comes to summer movies… Digestibility taken to the point of pure waste. It’s like store-bought, off-brand ice cream. Awesome food though, although it’s hard to stack pizza up against Mellow Mushroom. I suppose there are different types of pizza dinners, similar to the different types of movies. Pizza and beer is going to give you a completely different type of date than pizza and wine, and even in that category, there are different levels of pizza and beer. When the wife’s out of town, there’s cheap pizza plus cheap beer and editing. On a date, there’s super filling pizza and high-gravity beer. Or, you could go expensive gourmet pizza and a nice, velvety wine.

This post sponsored by Red Baron.

Movie: C / Dinner: A / Date: B




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND FIVE… Mixed things up today with a tightened budget, which always spurs on creativity. After a 5K and a Mxy trip to Green Mountain, we made turkey bacon and eggs for a brunch date. Then we went over to the $1 theater for How To Train Your Dragon (a cheat, as it was released in March). It rocks. Seriously. Much better than expected.

This was one of the most memorable days of the summer. Being early birds, we decided to move the whole operation to the start of the day to give me time to work on our film that evening. I believe it was a Fourth of July 5K that we ran that morning. We followed that up with a treat for our dog, Mxy (named after Mxyzptlk, the fifth dimensional trickster), as we walked the trails up on Green Mountain, where we got married.

Danielle and I then cooked up a delicious breakfast and caught the earliest screening of How To Train Your Dragon at the recently demoted dollar theater at Madison Square 12, in glorious, scratched-up 35mm… complete with missing frames. The quality of exhibition had an impact of my viewing of the film, which is so strong that its merits shone through. It’s easy to enjoy a mediocre movie in a pristine packaging, but really good movies play well any way you watch them.

I look forward to watching How To Train Your Dragon on blu ray. It’s technically not even a summer movie, but it plays like the best of them. It overcomes some annoying voice work and cliched moments to give a really focused take on the “boy and his dog” story, wrapping it all up in a fantastic, WWI-inspired aerial dog fight. The score is fantastic, the emotional arc hits, and it’s still one of my favorite movies of the year. Sleeper!

Movie: A / Dinner: A / Date: A




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND SIX… Things took a while to get rolling this week, but the date turned out! We returned to the Rave this week for Predators, which is a fun monster movie, but nowhere near as good as the original. We then went to an unnamed new Mexican restaurant, got some depressing vibes, wandered the earth a bit, and wound up at the old standby- Rosie’s. Like I said, thouugh, we punched the predator of routine in the mandibles by wrapping up the night with some video games (Sega) and quality time with Mxy.

We were in the doldrums of summer at this point, and our schedules were taking a hit. As the post mentions, it was hard to keep making time, but we stuck to our guns. Well, our gun. Our giant gatlin gun with which we mowed down the forest of disconnect.

My use of the metaphor might betray my true feelings on Predators, which opens STRONG and moves downhill fast from there. The first hour is vintage McTiernan, but there’s a tangible turning point when a certain Larry walks into the movie, and things never recover.

Movie: C+ / Dinner: B+ / Date: B




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND SEVEN… A bit of a cheat, as we had a double date with my bro & my sis-in-law for my bro’s 30th birthday. We went to Pane de Vino, the pizzeria in the museum. Pretty great! Next we met up with our more nocturnal friends David Vail & Jaime Ezzell for coffee/video games at our house followed by Inception at midnight. It was great, of course.

Here’s our climax, folks. The Iron Bowl of the 2010 Summer Movie Season. The point in the screening series where the van hits the water. Like the post says, we moved from a great double date with fellow early birds to a co-ed bro-out session in anticipation of the film that I was more excited for than any since The Dark Knight. It would stand to reason that Inception is the very best film I’ve seen in a theater since The Dark Knight. A Serious Man, Star Trek, Moon, The Informant!, Encounters at the End of the World, and a handful of other movies might be in a similar ball-park of quality for me, but I don’t think any of them have the re-watch factor of Nolan’s latest.

It’s a showcase of emotion, translated into action, translated into plot, exhibiting character. I’ll recklessly dive into hyperbole about about is place in the cinematic science fiction lexicon if you let me, but I’ll keep things short. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Philip K. Dick in the past year, and I’m not sure there’s a better realization of his type of reality-bending and physics-folding imagination out there. Like this year’s Shutter Island, Inception goes to really interesting lengths to reflect relationships and life, but it also folds neatly on itself to probe the purpose of movies themselves.

My friend Jaime is the composer of the music for the N3rd teaser trailer and Out of Pocket, as well as a member of the musical duo Hawking’s Horse. After the film, he and I did something I haven’t done in over five years. We went to Waffle House until 4:00 AM and just talked about what we had seen. Blame it on the nerds or the bad movie season or whatever, but please- acknowledge this movie as special.

Movie (for the purposes of this series): A+ / Dinner: A / Date: A




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND EIGHT… A night in for a change. We decided to finally try Crazy Cajun Wings, which we’ve been morbidly curious about. We’re no wings connoisseurs like Jeffrey Smith, but honestly, we weren’t impressed. Regardless, we ate wings and had Killian’s while putting on an Arrested Development marathon. Not a summer movie, sure, but whatever. Good times!

This was definitely a cheat. We’ll keep it in the schedule, since we had some pre-season movies to give us balance. Impossible to grade this, though. For the record, though: Not good wings, great show.

Movie: N/A / Dinner: D / Date: I




SUMMER DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND NINE… After several weeks off because of hectic lives, we snuck in a mid-week date to grab some soup and sandwiches and Jason’s Deli, followed by SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD, which is wacky fun. The funniest movie I’ve seen in the theater in quite some time. We came home just in time to see the kitten suffer the runs all over the carpet. Scrub scrub.

Inception went a long way in destroying our schedule and our expectations for future films in the series. Scott Pilgrim is definitely a movie worth making time for, and in the slickest theater you can find. It is visual candy that does have you coming back for more, and its sense of fun is infectious. Great music, big laughs, and a strong directorial hand from Edgar Wright. I’m still lacking a personal connection the universe of the story, however, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending it.

Movie: B+ / Dinner: B / Date: B+




SUMMER BRO NIGHT: ROUND ZERO…

No post for this, but it’s worth mentioning. I got together with some good friends, including my pastor and my father-in-law, for The Other Guys (since The Expendables was sold out) and some food, and it was pretty fun. The film’s solid, though it eventually wears a bit thin, but it does feature one of the most brilliant satirical moments I’ve ever seen in a mainstream comedy. I won’t spoil it, but when you see the movie, listen for the Foo Fighters song most often used for the purposes of cliche and get ready, because you’re in for a treat.

Movie: B / Dinner: B / Bro Time: A




DATE NIGHT SCREENING SERIES: ROUND TEN… Final Round! Summer officially ends and Fall begins with Danielle’s birthday in our house. Yesterday we were able to catch GET LOW at the Rave. It’s solid, with a refreshingly slow pace and fantastic production values. Then we went birthday shopping for Danielle, followed… by awesome steaks at The Chop House. Great, cheap wine they recommended- Red Diamond merlot.

I think it’s kind of poetic that we started the Series with a bloated, glitzy, international Hollywood adaptation of a video game and end with a small, quiet, rural independent movie based on a somewhat true folk tale. I could mine Get Low for faults, but I think it’s more productive to laud it as the type of movie we don’t get to experience nearly enough in metropolitan areas in Alabama. I understand what demographic we’ve proven ourselves to fall into, but I look forward to the day when our tastes outvote our attention spans. Get Low is slow, yes, but things change every scene. It’s low-stakes, definitely, but the emotional catharsis is effectively communicated as important. It’s stilted, maybe, but there’s a lot of life in Bill Murray and Robert Duvall. I look forward to director Aaron Schneider’s next movie, knowing he can craft a cinematic story with an old-fashioned hand in an aggressively modern independent market.

In other news, The Chophouse has Huntsville’s best restaurant steak. I might prefer my dad’s experiments on Sunday afternoon lunch, but for your money, I haven’t experienced any better than what we got on possibly the best date dinner of the summer.

Movie: B / Dinner: A+ / Date: A-




So there you have it! An exhaustive look at Danielle and I’s cinematic and culinary summer. We may have picked a weak summer to pick as an inauguration, and who knows what life will provide for us next year, but this is something I’d like to do again. Sometimes it’s hard to make time for rose-smelling unless it’s institutionalized, and that’s what this provided. It also did its job in keeping us entertained and involved in each others’ lives in a particular divisive summer for our respective careers. Here’s looking forward to a quieter fall, with more easily accessible quality time.

Of course, my Film Nerd license would be revoked if I didn’t RANK THAT !SHT, so here’s my run-down of the summer movies I caught in 2010….

1. INCEPTION

2. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

3. TOY STORY 3

4. SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD

5. GET LOW

6. THE OTHER GUYS

7. IRON MAN 2

8. THE A-TEAM

9. PREDATORS

10. KNIGHT & DAY

11. LETTERS TO JULIET

12. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME