Looking Back at 2014

04-Jan-15 9:01 AM by
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Happy New Year! It's been four years since I took this opportunity to reflect on the past year of movies, so I have some catching up to do!

For about a decade, my moviegoing was stable at 10–16 outings a year. I've never been one for Hulu or Netflix, so anything I didn't catch in theaters, I'd either borrow on DVD from the library or miss entirely. But lately, my habits have changed:

2014 year in review

Not since I was in college have I gone to the movies as often as I did in 2014! What changed? I attribute this uptick to several causes, in order:

  1. This was my first full year living in Boston. I now have easy access to so many theaters that it's easy to hop on a bus or subway and see one after work or on a weekend.
  2. Likewise, I also have easier access to friends who live in Boston, where I went to grad school. Many of them don't have cars but can use public transit to coordinate outings. More invitations to the movies equals more movies.
  3. The Brattle Theatre, a non-profit theater in Harvard Square. It has only one screen and generally shows a different film every day, ranging from classics to indies to regional debuts. I'm a patron of the Brattle, which grants me a dozen free tickets a year. Darned if I'm going to let them go to waste! However, this also means not every movie I saw in 2014 was necessarily a 2014 release, such as Labyrinth and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  4. RiffTrax Live. The creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have kicked up the number of live-streaming comedic commentary events, with four in 2014 alone. I backed two of them via Kickstarter, so of course I was going to see my name up in lights!

Having gone to the theaters so many times, I thought the competition for best films of the year would be stiffer, but the choices are fairly obvious — especially if you like children's films: Frozen (which technically came out in 2013), The Lego Movie (essentially a retelling of The Matrix), and Big Hero 6, which I liken to a cross between How to Train Your Dragon and The Incredibles. All three films were a pure joy, and though there is a place for cinema to be challenging and address dark or difficult subjects, I felt like these movies made moviegoing fun, while featuring believable characters and some plot twists that elevated them above being insubstantial tripe.

I'm not going to make predictions for 2015. The last time I offered predictions, they included promises that I would not be seeing X-Men: First Class or the Footloose remake. I ended up seeing and thoroughly enjoying both! So enjoy whatever the year has to offer. Showbits' official debut was eight years ago this month, and though my energy for blogging has mostly been directed elsewhere, theatergoing is still a big part of my life. I look forward to sharing those experiences with you for years to come!

Looking Back at 2010, Looking Ahead to 2011

01-Feb-11 12:00 PM by
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Although 2011 is now a full calendar month old, a friend reminded me that it's not too late to be reflective. And since I'm always curious to see how my moviegoing habits stack up against past years, I figure it's not too late to see how 2010 stacked up and predict what'll draw me to the theater in 2011.

First, let's see how many movies I've historically seen in public venues:

Movie trends 1995 - 2010

Now let's take my granularity to an unprecedented level by looking at exactly which months were most popular:

2010 movie outings timeline

The myth of the summer blockbuster season doesn't hold much weight here, seeing as how it drew me to the theaters no more than the holidays did. In fact, many of the holidays films I saw could've easily stood up to the summer competition: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, TRON Legacy, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (The fourth "holiday" movie was a screening of Bicycle Dreams, a documentary that's been around for awhile.)

The best movie I saw last year was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which was as much a video game as it was a movie; shame the enthusiasm of Comic-Con fans was not enough to make it a profitable film. The worst movie of the year was Predators, which was more akin to psychological horror films like Cube than it was an actual Predator movie.

The most surprising movie was How to Train Your Dragon — it wasn't a kids movie but was instead an ideal fantasy (and even anti-war) film. And the most disappointing film was Inception — actually a decent movie, but nowhere near deserving of the universal praise it received.

Will 2011 be much better? There isn't much on the docket that's caught my interest. Films I'm likely to see include:

Apollo 18 (Mar 4)
When I saw the trailer for the next Transformers movie — but before I realized it was a Transformers movie — I thought a secret, historical NASA mission a great concept. I was delighted to discover it's an actual movie, without giant robots.
Thor (May 6)
I don't know the Marvel superhero, and the trailer looked iffy, but it's part of the universe that includes Iron Man and the Hulk, so it can't be that bad.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (May 27)
The first film was surprisingly funny with broad appeal. I have high hopes for the second.
Green Lantern (June 17)
I'm still disappointed they didn't choose Nathan Fillion for the lead role, but Green Lantern is still one of my favorite DC superheroes.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (July 15)
The first half of this conclusion was possibly the first Harry Potter movie to be better than the book, thanks to its condensing of a hundred pages of camping.
Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)
See Thor.
Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)
The last time a movie featured James Bond and Indiana Jones, it was The Last Crusade. So this graphic novel adaptation should be awesome. Right?
The Muppets (Nov 23)
You're never too old for Kermit and the gang.

Movies I'd see if I could convince a child to accompany me:

Winnie the Pooh (July 15)
Both innocent humor and traditional animation are rarities these days.
The Smurfs (August 3)
I actually am not a fan of adapting cartoons to live action, but I have a morbid curiosity about this one. Hank Azaria as Gargamel has to be worth something, at least.

Movies I will definitely not be seeing:

Your Highness (Apr 8)
A fantasy comedy is a great concept, but the dialogue in this one sounds asinine.
X-Men: First Class (June 3)
I've never seen a Matthew Vaughn-directed film, but I've also never seen a good X-Men movie that wasn't directed by Bryan Singer — X-Men Origins: Wolverine was awful.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (July 1)
I didn't see the second film in the Transformers trilogy, but I did see the first one twice (both with and without RiffTrax), and it was horrible both times. Pass.
Final Destination (August 26)
No longer called 5nal Destination (perhaps due to its resemblance to a porn title?), this film is part of a series that started off strong and quickly lost momentum.
Footloose (Oct 14)
It has a good cast (Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, and Julianne Hough), but I'm just not sure a remake is necessary.
Puss in Boots (Nov 4)
A spin-off of Shrek, another series than ran too long.
Happy Feet 2 (Nov 18)
The first film was cute but couldn't tell if it wanted to be an action, comedy, musical, or social commentary.
Rise of the Apes (Nov 23)
Planet der Awful!
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (Dec 16)
See Smurfs.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (Dec 16)
This franchise is actually pretty strong, but I like it enough to warrant a rental only.
Sherlock Holmes 2 (Dec 16)
I love Robert Downey Jr. but didn't see the first Sherlock Holmes.

What's on your must-see list for 2011?

The Films of 2009

30-Dec-09 12:27 PM by
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As we prepare to kick 2009 to the curb, it seems an appropriate time to review the films that marked the year. Building off my list from two years ago, here's a rundown of my theatergoing habits over time:

Theatrical outings 1995 - 2009

My visits to the cinema have been fairly consistent this millennium at just over a dozen outings per year. In 2009, films taken in ranged from the independent documentary The Accidental Advocate to the classic American Graffiti to an original take on Plan 9 From Outer Space. Of the few mainstream films I saw, the best were Star Trek (which composed three of my sixteen theatrical outings) The Soloist, and Up; good but not great include Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Surrogates, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Night at the Museum 2; while the stinkers consisted of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Terminator Salvation. Also of all the mainstream films I saw this year, the only original IP was Up.

There were a lot more films released than these few — 342, by one person's count. This enterprising individual has tried to compile all the year's releases into one montage. I don't know if his sources were limited to theatrical trailers, but he references some films multiple times, which makes getting around to all of 2009's contestants even more challenging. Some of the transitions and juxtapositions are clever, though:

What were your cinematic highlights of the decade's final year?

Count Me In for the Drive-In

12-Jun-08 5:54 PM by
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Spring has sprung, summer looms, and Hollywood blockbusters abound — though you may not want to spend the season in a movie theater… so don't! Instead, take in your movies in the great outdoors by patronizing your local drive-in.

It's easy to forget this artifact of a bygone era. The first drive-in movie theater opened on June 6th, 1933, in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Though that theater no longer exists, the second-oldest drive-in opened in 1934 and is still in operation, as are 393 others in 48 of the United States (sorry, Alaska and Louisiana).

Showbits.net says, Support Your Local Drive-In! I was plotting my own upcoming trip to the drive-in when, coincidentally, Major Nelson pointed out the venue's recent 75th anniversary. I thought I too would do my part by again highlighting this oft-overlooked alternative. I've previously written about the draw of the drive-in, and those attractions are no less true now. Most such theaters are open on Friday and Saturdays only, and it's tempting to fill those few weekend nights with expensive outings — but the more affordable drive-in needs your support today. So enjoy the great weather and some big-budget films in what's sure to be a memorable night.

2007: The Year in Review

04-Jan-08 12:19 PM by
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It's time for a brief look back at 2007 — brief, because my theatergoing is not what it once was. The number of movies I saw in theaters has fluctuated wildly since a decade ago, though it seems relatively constant over the course of this millennium:

1995: 22 1996: 43 1997: 70 1998: 53
1999: 37 2000: 30 2001: 12 2002: 16
2003: 15 2004: 11 2005:  9 2006: 14

This past year was very similar to its predecessor, with me taking in 15 theatrical films. It is not the prohibitive cost that keeps me from seeing more movies: a genetic condition permits me free tickets to any movie, anytime. It's more a matter of the time investment and working around the theater's schedule, whereas I can watch as much of a DVD as I want, whenever I want. Theatergoing also has a more social element than sitting at home in my pajamas, so I'm further limited by other people's geography and availability. Add in the fact that I don't have TV service and thus am not exposed unwillingly to commercials and trailers, and it takes some other rare factor, such as brand recognition, to make me aware and interested enough to warrant seeing a film.

Of the 15 films I saw in 2007, the best were Live Free or Die Hard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (I'd include Star Trek: The Menagerie as a theatergoing experience, but it technically was not a movie.) All three were rock'em, sock'em good action flicks that may've relied on tried-and-true formulae, but executed with finesse and humor.

This year's most disappointing movies were Spider-Man 3, 300, The Simpsons Movie, and The Golden Compass. And downright loathsome was The Transformers, which I recently saw the RiffTrax version of. Sadly, even Mike Nelson and crew could not improve on The Transformers, as I found it even more tedious on a second runthrough. Again, each of these films was based on an existing property, which perhaps led to high and ultimately unfulfilled expectations.

Which of 2007's films did you enjoy the most or least? Did I miss any you recommend?

Here In My Car

16-Apr-07 3:18 PM by
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Now that I've reviewed my first two films of the year, let me tell you where I saw them: the drive-in.

I'd been to such a theater only twice before: with my best friend and his parents in 1990 to see Die Hard 2 and Days of Thunder; and six years later, on a date, to see Dragonheart and The Nutty Professor. (Sadly, the crass humor of the latter film precluded any fogged-up windows.) Now, eleven years later, I've had what was my best drive-in experience yet: two friends, huddled under our respective blankets on what was likely the coldest Holy Saturday on record, watching two first-run comic book adaptations (TMNT and 300, in that order), doing our own MST3K when appropriate, glancing at the other screens (showing Blades of Glory and Grindhouse) when bored, and being appalled by the intermission snipes showing a hot dog suggestively leaping into a bun.

What a shame that such fun isn't more widespread! But alas, the drive-in is a dying breed: as of 2003, there are 432 theaters left — down from 815 in 1997, and 3,775 in 1950. But some drive-ins are being reopened or built anew; in 2002, the number of drive-ins actually increased.  As well it should!

The drive-in movie theater, first established in 1933, is not just a quaint artifact for moviegoers nostalgic for a simpler time. It's an effective, enjoyable, and unique venue for watching movies — one with many advantages over more generic multiplexes:

  • Affordable — in my case, two movies for the price of one (charging by the head, not the carload)
  • Bring your own snacks
  • Control of the film's volume
  • Control of the "theater"'s heat
  • Talk with your friends as much as you want without disturbing others
  • Conversely, other people talking won't disturb you, either!

The only disadvantage I encountered is that my car would turn off its electrical system after an hour of idling. If I didn't anticipate this by turning on the engine, the radio would suddenly cut out and we'd lose some dialogue.

That trivial inconvenience is easily overlooked for the wonderful opportunity presented by the drive-in.  MST3K alumnus Kevin Murphy wrote a wonderful book, A Year at the Movies, that describes how contributive the personality of the theater is to the experience of moviegoing. I can't think of anywhere that's truer than at the drive-in. Support your local one today.