Return of the Movie Binge


I remember being pretty casual last year about the illegality of theater-hopping on one ticket for an entire day, but this time around I arrive at the Boston Common 19 feeling nervous about the whole undertaking. Maybe it was my wife’s assurances that this time I’d be caught. Maybe it was a friend who recently tried some impromptu theater-hopping and was immediately kicked out. “You’ll never make it,” my friend assured me. Supportive. Whatever it was, though, I feel jittery and guilty. My schedule calls for a career-high seven movies today over 16 hours. Seeing as this is the only time of the day when I’ll actually have a legitimate claim to being in the theater, I should relax and enjoy it.

Will I regret doing this? If it goes anything like last year, definitely. Better get started. I get my $6 matinee ticket and head upstairs.

10:00 a.m.

Rise of Planet of the Apes

I always think of science fiction as our most earnest genre, and for me it’s often an uncomfortable union of big ideas and ridiculous execution. Take Star Trek, for instance. How can I seriously consider the weighty philosophical issues so often promoted in science fiction when I have to look at aliens that are nothing but homely character actors wearing plastic foreheads? I can’t, is the answer. Over and above budget consideration, even the most revered science fiction movies are often marred by heavy-handed symbolism that undermines any interesting themes. For me, the gold standard of distractingly earnest, homemade-looking sci-fi has always been the rubber masks and ridiculous tunics of the original Planet of the Apes.

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s, which has afflicted his father, Charles (John Lithgow, who I realized halfway through was born to play a guy with Alzheimer’s). Lo and behold the drug Will tests on apes improves their intelligence dramatically. A baby chimp named Caesar (Andy Serkis) winds up being the lone surviving recipient. He’ll become their liberator.

Naturally there are no rubber monkey masks in sight, the filmmakers opting instead for CGI apes. Like most CGI creatures, they’re beautifully rendered but, once they start to move around, oddly stiff. In theory, moving toward something more visually believable should let the ideas shine through, and often they do. For example, it’s hard not to at least momentarily ponder the definition of humanity when Caesar stares ruefully at the collar Will forces him to wear. But when it comes down to it, the movie might be a little too reliant on horror movie clichés and shallow ideas to ever really take off. Maybe they spent too much time making it look better than the original. Ironically, I found myself fondly recalling those old masks and tunics, because while the actors in that film might be a little hard to take seriously, there are moments—like when Heston’s character finally learns the truth–that this film simply can’t rival.

(As an aside, the movie is set in the Bay area, and I just feel like I have to ask: How many loose primates do they get out there? Because when Caesar gets hauled away by animal control, it’s not to a catch-all stray animal facility, but a site specifically for primates (and run by Brian Cox sporting Rip Torn’s hair), where there are something like 50 chimps, orangutans and gorillas all just awaiting a leader and some of that sweet brain enhancement. A whole site just for stray primates? And when they inevitably break out and start the uprising, the Bay area is revealed to be home to hundreds of apes. Their destination? Marin, just like everyone else. No wonder they’re so cultured in the later movies.)

Trailers: In Time, Contagion, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Killer Elite (in which every cast member seems to play an assassin, except for Clive Owen, whose mustache suggests an assassin who’s also a pedophile)

Intermission 1

So is there much real risk of being caught? I suppose. But I’ve decided that the friend who tried and failed to sneak in an extra movie was just an amateur. If you plan well and take a few basic precautions, you can eliminate most of the risk. The fact is that the system of film exhibition isn’t designed to prevent all-day movie orgies, because really, how many people even want to do try it?

12:05 p.m.

Horrible Bosses

People talk about big summer action movies being critic-proof, and they are, but what about frat comedies? As long as you cast a few of the people from the Zack Galifianakis/Steve Carrell/Jason Sudeikis set, throw in a barf/diarrhea/cumshot joke or three, and hit a few characters in the nuts/head for good measure, you’re golden. I swear, they could make them from a template, like Mad Libs for date rapists.

The only really interesting thing in these kinds of movies is the gender politics, and Horrible Bosses’ are pretty strange, though I’m sure unintentionally so, since beneath its veneer of knee-jerk misogyny and fashionable racism, this movie is about as subversive as a church bake sale. Consider: It’s the boss’ aggression that’s causing all the problems—Nick (Jason Bateman) has Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), a manipulative, power-hungry sadist who could really only be played by Kevin Spacey; Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) has Bobby Pellitt (Colin Ferrell), a coked-up degenerate intent on wrecking his newly deceased father Jack’s (Donald Sutherland) company; and Dale (Charle Day) has Julia (Jennifer Aniston), perhaps the most stereotypically make of them all, a libidinous cougar (sorry, Jen) whose determination to get Dale to sleep with her threatens his impending nuptials. All three characters feel so cornered, so helpless, they decide to murder the bosses.

(By the way, Jennifer Aniston, if you’re reading, let me just say that both your body and your body of work look exactly like they should considering that you spend 90% of your time on the former, and 10% on the latter.)

But wait—is the real problem the aggression of the bosses, or is it our heroes’ lack of aggression? Nick has spent eight years under David’s thumb, groveling and subjugating himself for a promotion that never comes. Eight years. I wouldn’t want to do anything pleasant for eight years. What kind of a milquetoast subjects himself to that kind of suffering for that long? Kurt, meanwhile, loves his job, but his passivity in the face of the unhinged, confrontational Bobby makes it hard to sympathize. As for Dale, it feels like he could escape Julia’s advances pretty easily with a legal consultation.

The attitude of Horrible Bosses is that extreme aggression is the only solution to the problem of male weakness. There’s no room here for adulthood (a central characteristic of this whole genre, really). Your choices as a man are suffering, or murder, the ultimate domination. Take David, for example. He’s haunted by paranoia and insecurity over his wife’s (Julie Bowen) faithfulness, and when he discovers what he considers evidence that his fears are founded, he doesn’t hesitate to murder the presumed lover. Everything about him screams male aggression: his Escalade, his gun, his decisiveness, his swagger. What’s beneath it all? The film doesn’t say. And the only other model is weakness.

Trailers: Footloose, Our Idiot Brother, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Colombiana (“From the writer of Taken,” just in case you can remember Taken, or think writing matters)

Intermission 2

If you want to plan your own all-day movie extravaganza, start by making a schedule, because there’s no surer way to be caught than to wander around aimlessly looking for another movie to see. A movie binge should be well-planned and -timed, like a military invasion. Only with M&Ms. Choose the theater with the largest number of screens, because it will obviously have the most options as you plot your day. Find the earliest movie, and start with that one. Then find the one that starts the latest. Then fill in everything in between. Remember that if there are 3D movies, you’ll need the glasses, so bring your own from home or keep an eye out once you get the theater (don’t sweat it, though, because 3D glasses are about as well-secured as Russian nukes).

2:05 p.m.

Conan the Barbarian

You know what the characters in Horrible Bosses could have used? A little quality time with Conan the Barbarian (Jason Mamoa).

Considering our current appetites for vicarious sadism and homoerotic violence this seems like to the perfect time to adapt Conan again. And since the character has its roots in the pulps of the 1930s and a cinematic heritage that involves Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bar is set pretty low. This version clears it with ease. You got your bare-chested slave girls. You got your swordplay. You got your gory battle sequences (during one of which I swear to God I saw someone punch a horse in the face). The whole thing looks like something airbrushed on the side of a van.

There’s also a pretty thin plot, a warmed over Lord of the Rings thing about a mask made from the bones of dead kings (or something). The mask is supposed to allow the villain, Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), to bring his sorceress wife back from the dead. Once the mask is his, he tells his daughter, Marique (somewhere, Tyler Perry is kicking himself or not thinking of this name; here, it’s Rose McGowan, with the approximate wardrobe, hair, and dramatic heft of the goth girl who makes your Frappuccino), “My wife will make me a god and we will cast all rivals into oceans of blood.” Pretty big talk. But once he gets the mask… not much happens. Some more fighting. A lot of screaming. More blood. Slave girls, of course. But he can’t fly, he doesn’t grow any extra arms, and he stays the same size. Hell, his eyes don’t even glow. Then again, any of those things would have involved special effects, and by that point they’d already blown a lot of budget on HGH, hair extensions and Styrofoam rocks.

Trailers: Warrior, Abduction, The Thing, Immortals, Sherlock Holmes, Ghost Rider (Here’s a line I wrote weeks before embarking on this project: “Some cold, snowy winter day, I’ll recall with regret that I spent 16 hours of summer watching things like __________.“ I knew there’d be something exceptionally stupid to tack onto the end of that sentence. That something is a skeleton demon peeing fire. Thanks, Nic Cage.)

Intermission 3

And then there’s the issue of food. Unless you plan to eating all day at the concession stands (which, first, sounds like a gastronomic apocalypse and, second, gives a whole lot more theater employees a much better chance to catch onto what you’re doing), you should pack a lot. Think protein. I favor hard-boiled eggs (I brought four), but a hardboiled egg smells like nothing so much as a hardboiled egg, so maybe wait until the lights are down to break those out. Oh, and peel them ahead of time. This time around I also brought two turkey sandwiches, some Baby Bells, four apples, and two Clif bars. Remember, you’re trying not to draw attention to yourself, so think about what your food is wrapped in. Cling wrap is almost silent. Just a thought.

4:00 p.m.

Captain America

It’s probably a mistake to read much into this movie. (It’s a mistake, in fact, to see this movie, but such mistakes are what I’ve dedicated my day to.) The only reason this movie exists is because a bunch of Marvel Comics executives are convinced that 1) an Avengers movie can be huge, 2) there can be no Avengers movie without Captain America, and maybe even 3) Captain America is iconic. Number one is plausible; two is probably untrue; and three is unquestionably wrong. Captain America has never crossed over to Spiderman/Superman/Batman cultural relevance. He’s a relic from the super-patriotic climate of the early 1940s, mysteriously surviving from an earlier age, like Tang. The average person on the street, I guarantee you, had very little idea who he was before this movie came out.

Anyway, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a dedicated but physically feeble Army enlistee chosen to receive an experimental drug meant to transform him into a supersoldier. In Rogers’ case, it not only adds about 8 inches of height and 100 pounds of muscle, it also somehow waxes and oils his chest. (The focus on Evans’ torso is so great, in fact, that he isn’t even required to remove his pants for the procedure.)

We’re supposed to root for Rogers because of his determination and courage, and because he wants to join the Army to defeat “bullies.” But the handsome, hulking, blond Evans is more Aryan than the Nazis his character hates so much, and once he becomes endowed with superhuman strength, the action sequences are tedious exercises in predictable physical domination. The take-away isn’t that bullies need to be defeated. It’s that you should make sure your side has the biggest bully.

The problem isn’t helped by the choice of villain. The Red Skull (Hug0 Weaving) is ostensibly a Nazi agent, but early on we learn that he has ambitions for power that would exceed Hitler’s, and from that point forward we hear no more about the Fuhrer. I get that the Red Skull is Captain America’s arch-nemesis, but the choice causes complications. If you want to get audiences riled up about a war that happened before most of them were born, making the villain a guy who killed six million people is a good place to start. By instead making the focus the horribly disfigured, curiously sympathetic Red Skull, the filmmakers have put the story in a vacuum. The battle stands for, and relates to, nothing.

Trailers: No idea—I got in late thanks to Conan’s epic battles.

Intermission 4

This is a good time to remember that by the time you’ve been at the theater for eight hours, the people who saw you come have probably gone home. I keep telling myself this as I skulk about, trying to remember the basic tenets of theater-hopping: keep moving, make small changes to your outfit frequently, act natural. It also doesn’t hurt, depending on your level of self-respect, so hang out in a bathroom stall between shows, where something as simple as adding a hat can turn you into a different person. This is the time of the day that’s easiest, because this is when the crowds start to pick up. They have a lot of people to look at, and they probably don’t expect anyone to be spending 16 hours ripping them off.

6:30 p.m.

Final Destination 5 3D

After waiting for 30 minutes, they cancel the show due to technical problems. But don’t worry, they announce: Everyone will be getting a free pass good at any future show. Seriously? Am I about to get a free pass out this? We line up down the stairs where a girl by the door is handing them out. With about five people in front of me, she runs out. The remaining audience members are instructed to go downstairs to the box office, present a stub, and get a free pass. Of course, I have no stub. And I have business to tend to.

Unfortunately, the delay throws my tightly packed schedule into disarray. I consult Fandango, and quickly come up with: Crazy Stupid Love followed by my originally scheduled The Help. This takes me down from seven movies to only six, and eliminates the almost-surely terrible Cowboys and Aliens. Damn you, 3D projectors. Damn you.

7:40 p.m.

Crazy Stupid Love

By the end of the 1980s, Hollywood was so much in love with the big-budget blockbuster that independent movies didn’t get that much mainstream play. Then along came the Coen brothers, and Tarantino, and Miramax and others, and we had a resurgence of the quirky, intimate, not-necessarily-commercial films that had been the bread-and-butter of the maverick 1970s. And then they figured out how to sell indies to mainstream audiences. And then indie movies started to get a little safer. And then we started getting movies like Crazy Stupid Love. All in all, when Hollywood makes or backs an indie, it tends to look a lot like a blockbuster writ small.

Cal (Steve Carell) is a frumpy middle-aged father married to Emily (Julianne Moore). One night over dinner, Emily suddenly reveals that after 20-plus years of marriage she’s had an affair and wants a divorce. Cal is shocked enough to throw himself from a moving car on the way home (possibly the movie’s best moment). This all occurs within the first five minutes. The real plot catalyst is the introduction of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), an arrogant ladykiller who does his work at the bar Cal begins to frequent after moving out of the house.

Crazy Stupid Love has most of the characteristics we’re taught to associate with indie dramedies: attention to character detail, a small scale, strict verisimilitude, and a cast with considerable indie credibility. But watching it feels a little like buying Stop & Shop’s organic raisin brand: Yeah, maybe it’s organic enough that they can use the word, but is the word much more than a marketing idea at this point?

Crazy Stupid Love wants to have grit, but the only thing it ever punishes anyone for is being dull, and it doesn’t really want to hold any of its characters accountable for their real sins. Jacob, for instance, is a condescending, manipulative cad, and the movie wants to have the guts to make him suffer. In the end, though, his penance amounts to nothing more than a few lines of dialogue about his being “horribly lonely,” and then he’s off to a fairly effortless romance with the substantive, sees-right-through-him Hannah (Jim Carrey’s favorite, Emma Stone). Same with Emily, who’s allowed to chalk up her infidelity to a “mid-life crisis,” and her paramour, David (Kevin Bacon), who gets to be a pretty nice, earnest guy despite breaking up a family. Often, the only thing sustaining any tension is the handful of manufactured conflicts.

All in all, I’d rather watch an honest blockbuster.

Trailer: New Year’s Eve, I Don’t Know How She Does It, What’s Your Number, Machine Gun Preacher, Contagion (they cast this movie by dragging an Oscar statuette behind a Bentley through Beverly Hills)

Intermission 4

By this time of night, after this many hours of movies and this number of hardboiled eggs, it’s hard to care about getting caught. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone working at the theater gives any more of a shit than you do. Myself, I’ve had a piercing headache in my right temple for about six hours. I’m struggling to recall the logic behind saving a bloated drama for last, but here I am. No turning back now. (I wish it was Cowboys and Aliens.)

10:20 p.m.

The Help

Hey, have you heard? Racism is terrible. Same with segregation. In case you’ve somehow missed that point, though, there’s The Help, a movie that answers the question: What’s more tedious than yet another Holocaust movie?

Racial tensions aren’t exactly topping the news in the U.S. these days, but it’s no mystery why The Help was made. The book of the same name has sold something like 40 zillion copies, so there’s a ready audience. But it has more than than that going for it: it’s the Oprah-est story you could ever ask for, comforting us with such messages as: good wins, mean people are punished, courage is rewarded, and so on. Along the way, we also get some cathartic racist comeuppance, but until Gene Hackman comes out of retirement, it’ll be tough to top the satisfying barbershop scene in Mississippi Burning.

Set in the early 1960s, The Help tells the story of Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone, again), a recent Ole Miss graduate who returns to her hometown of Jackson, MS to confront the horrors of segregation, gender bias and the Junior League. Skeeter isn’t like other Jackson folks. She’s progressive. She isn’t just pleasant to the many black maids, drivers, and groundkeepers that people the film, she actually regards them as human beings. She’s somehow untouched by the racial, class and cultural biases that have engulfed everyone around her. Ultimately spurred by her parents’ dismissal of Constantine (Cicely Tyson), the black maid who raised her, Skeeter, an aspiring writer, starts working on a book about the experiences of the help. Expect to hear the exclamation “Scandalous!” repeatedly.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds like a breeding ground for some good, old-fashioned Magical Negroism, you’re right. To date, our most condescending films have settled for one or two Magical Negroes, but this one is just plain full of them. Segregation and southern culture during the Civil Rights movement are complex things, but you’d never know it from this movie. Here we get bigots whose bigotry is cartoonish but conveniently nonviolent, and saints whose enlightenment is anomalous and unexplained, but the only thing we get in between is Skeeter, a spunky (I like her, Jim Carry, I swear to God I do) but standard-issue surrogate for our liberal outrage.

The Help is a handsome, well-made film. The photography is golden and blandly attractive, like an ad for a sexual dysfunction drug, and the sets and costumes are note-perfect to the era. The performances are all sincere. The script is… I don’t know, let’s call it ‘workmanlike,’ because I’m running out of adjectives for ‘mediocre.’ And in case you were thinking it wasn’t about anything important, consider how long it is: over 6 hours, according to my internal clock. (What? Fandango says it’s only two hours and 17 minutes? That can’t be right.)

Trailers: The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Tower Heist, Ides of March, The Warrior, How Does She Do It, Warhorse (The main emotion I get from this trailer is wanting to punch it in the face. That’s an emotion, right?)

12: 35 a.m.

Walking through the almost-deserted theater lobby on my way out and seeing the skeleton crew left to wipe down the counters and restock the Nips feels like running into an old girlfriend a year after your break-up: everything seems a little silly now. Did we really fight about that? The tension has been drained away. I give one of them a smile. He pauses, then turns and goes back to work. He may want to be here even less than I do.

I should feel worse physically. Last year as I left the theater, there was some numbness in the extremities, dizziness, and mental incoherence. This year, just a headache (which will persist for about 24 hours). Am I getting used to this? The thought is both encouraging and a little unnerving.

Today’s totals: $6 for six movies totaling 11 hours of movies—well short of my goal. Same time next year, Boston Common 19? Same time next year.

[Editor’s note: For more thoughts on The Help, see Roxane Gay’s essay, “The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help.”]


Rumpus Original art by Jason Novak.

Larry Fahey is a writer living in Boston with his wife and two kids. Johnny Depp gives him hives. If you’re so inclined, follow him on Twitter. More from this author →