Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Wright Stuff II Rundown

Back in January at my favorite revival movie theater in Los Angeles, the New Beverly Cinema, director Edgar Wright hosted eighteen nights of awesome movie programming titled The Wright Stuff II. The event kicked off with a triple feature of Edgar's three most current titles Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Over the course of nearly three weeks of programming Edgar Wright hosted one midnight feature and eight double features that were influential to him as a filmmaker. Each evening included tons of special guests and Q&A's along with a barrel of classic trailers that coincided with the films being presented. I had the pleasure of attending the opening night triple feature and three of the double features. Below you can read my thoughts on those spectacular evenings...

For every evening of the Wright Stuff II we arrived between one to two hours ahead of time and each night we were lucky enough to sit in the seats we wanted to. Being somewhat of a regular at the Bev I've become very accustom to sitting in my favorite spot. A spot I'm not going to disclose because I don't want any competition for its awesome locale but if you're smart enough you should be able to figure it out by some of the photos I will share in this post.

I have to admit that when I bought tickets for the Edgar Wright triple feature I did not realize there was two nights of the same bill to kick off the event, I thought there was only one. Outside of of the midnight screening of "Run Lola Run" every double feature or triple feature ran for two evenings, but somehow I was confused and bought tickets for the first evening. The reason I mention this is because the second night of the Edgar Wright Triple Feature included one epic special guest that no one expected to come. Alas because of my confusion I missed out on the guest, instead we were treated to an introduction by Edgar Wright himself as well as comedian Doug Benson on Friday January, 14th. This was my first time seeing both "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" in a theater, while it was my 4th time seeing "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" theatrically.

I was turned on to 'Shaun' after it had released on DVD in 2005 and was very excited to see it in a theatric setting. Better yet, I was surrounded by die hard Edgar Wright fans. Watching 'Shaun of the Dead' for the first time in a theater was amazing. I had recently just watched it on DVD at the tail end of summer with my kids. (Some background; my oldest son fell in love with "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" after seeing it last year at Comic Con and I decided he needed to see the rest of Wright's films.) Back to the event, even having only watching it some 5 months before and having seen it at least a dozen times, I noticed new things about the film. The biggest change I noticed from a home viewing to a theatric was the tone. 'Shaun' is actually scary. I found myself nervous even though I knew the outcome, furthermore I found myself clutching down with fright as the film steamed towards the finale. The crowd at the Bev ate up every minute of the film. All the laughs you'd expect in all the right spots.

Every night of programming included trailers for features that were similar to the main features. During the triple feature we got plenty of great spots, but the stuff that played ahead of 'Hot Fuzz' was so damn good. We saw trailers for "48 hours," "Fuzz," "Newman's Law," "Nighthawks," "The Super Cops" and "Kill Point." Each trailer is great and was flawlessly matched, but for me these trailers just set the tone fabulously. Some of the trailers we'd see were better than the movies they were previewing, but nonetheless they heightened the atmosphere of the revival theater. More than anything the trailers that were shown either reminded me of great movies I'd seen and/or forgot about or gave me some awesome new films to discover for myself like "Zabriskie Point" or "Candy."

"Hot Fuzz" is a film that I've been sorta lukewarm about. I like it and it is funny, but for some reason it never hit the same chord that 'Shaun' did for me. Easy money would say its because I'm a huge fan of horror, but honestly I'm just as big of a fan of the action genre. I mean, I love all the movies that influenced 'Fuzz' so there is no reason I shouldn't be just has head over heels for 'Hot Fuzz' as I am 'Shaun.' After seeing 'Fuzz' theatrically, I'm changing my tune. "Hot Fuzz" is a riot. Pegg and Frost play perfectly off each other. There is so much to love in this movie and I think it took seeing theatrically to finally see it that way. I'm generally not one for a crowd persuading my opinion of a film, but damn it, the sold out crowd over-sold all of the laughs and made seeing "Hot Fuzz" at the Bev a memory for the history books. I've gotta say, seeing the first two "Blood and Ice Cream" films back-to-back also got me itching for Wright to finish the trilogy again.

Seeing "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" for a fifth time in less than a year might seem a tad overboard for some, but it was worth it. I love the movie for a number of reasons. One, Wright out did himself by creating coming of age love story that is chalk full of pop-culture references I grew up with. The film is like a cornucopia of video game, comic and geeky references. Two, Wright surrounded himself with a loads of talent and let them do their thing. Whether it is cinematographer Bill Pope's eye for action or Nigel Godrich's immaculate score or the talented cast of actors 'Scott Pilgrim' fires on all cylinders. What makes it such a testament is even after seeing the film numerous times theatrically, I still found new things to boggle at.

The second evening of programming I had the pleasure of attending was a double bill of "Brazil" and "Delicatessen." Two movies that have each their own sense of uniqueness in different ways. The selling point of this double bill was hands down "Brazil." It is one of my favorite movies and word was that Wright had scored a European cut of the film to screen in 35mm. Word was right and we were able to see the better cut of Terry Gilliam's wonderful film. This was my first time seeing the movie in a theater having previously only seen it on DVD and VHS.

The trailers shown before "Brazil" were friggin' epic. Wright picked 6 trailers that all kept the crowd very amped and full of cheer. We saw, "Time Bandits," "Zardoz," "Slaughterhouse 5," "Blade Runner," (my personal favorite) "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" and "Strange Days." While Zardoz is the one odd ball amongst the other powerful films, all of these trailers were so much fun to see. 'Buckaroo Banzai' was tits though because I got to hear that amazing bit of score written by Bones Howe and Michael Boddicker. Seriously one of the most iconic pieces of movie music in my childhood through adult life.

In attendance with Edgar Wright to present "Brazil" was Richard J. Kelly director of "Donnie Darko." Wright introduced "Brazil" with an email from director Terry Gilliam himself. Hearing Gilliam reflect on one of his early films was a true treat and I can't thank Edgar Wright enough for. It was as if Gilliam was right there with us, I even pictured his sweet little giggle. The film played without a hitch. The print was absolutely glorious, it nearly felt like we were watching a Blu-Ray it was so crisp and clear. Afterwards Wright and Kelly spoke about the film and what it meant to them when they saw it. It is crazy how much can be taken away from 'Brazil.' Both politically and emotionally. It is a film that while is dated, still has just as much relevance as it did when it released as it does today, if not more.

"Delicatessen" is director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 1991 breakthrough film. A post-apocalyptic tale that is set in a single location, an apartment complex. Like every other Jeunet film, 'Delicatessen' is filled with odd characters that end up becoming almost family. In each of Jeunet's films I tend to develop a bond with his characters and here Dominique Pinon playing Louison shows you why Jeunet has continued to use him in further films. Its not my favorite Jeunet film by any means but a very worthwhile film in every regard. It puts satire into a famine plagued post-apocalyptical world. The film is very dark yet remains entire whimsical which is a testament of Jeunet's inspired filmmaking. The film is quirky and addicting and I am so glad I was able to catch it at the Bev. Should also briefly mention the awesome trailers shown ahead of 'Delicatessen,' we saw "The Cars That Ate People," The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover," Hudsucker Proxy" and "Being John Malkovich." The only film I had not seen amongst these trailers was "The Cars That Ate People" and let's just say that movie is now on my must see list. Looks like a great WTF factor film.

The third evening of Wright programming I had the pleasure of attending was "American Graffiti" and "Animal House." 'Graffiti' is one of my favorite movies of all time and is my favorite movie that follows a set of characters for a period of one day. There are plenty of films that come close to being as good as it, but none that are better. Our special guest for the evening was none other than "Animal House" director John Landis. Landis actually introduced 'Graffiti' because Edgar Wright was tied up at another engagement. Landis assured us that Wright would join us in between films and went on to read an introduction written by Edgar Wright pertaining to why he selected "American Graffiti" apart of his month long programming at the Bev. Like me, Wright feels that 'Graffiti' defined a generation, not to mention it showed us how boss American vehicles were in the 1950's and 1960's. Another aspect of 'Graffiti' that makes it such a timeless film is the music. The film is plastered with nothing but hits from the era. Songs that become hard not to just sing along with as you watch the film progress. It would be a sin not to mention the remarkable cast throughout. Everyone in this film is pure unadulterated charm. Re-watching "American Graffiti" I wished that Lucas would have made more movies like it instead of spending his days in space. I know that is a grand statement, but I stand by it, I'd give up Star Wars for more films like 'American Graffiti' from Lucas.

Before moving on to Landis's 'Animal House' I'd thought I'd mention the trailers we were treated to in front of 'Graffiti' and 'Animal House.' In front of "American Graffiti" we saw "The Wanderers" (which was also scheduled apart of Wright's month long programming), "Diner," "Stand by Me" and "Dazed and Confused." Ahead of "Animal House" was "Caddyshack," "Porky's," "Bachelor Party," "Up the Creek" and "The Sure Thing." Out of the trailers that played in front of 'Graffiti' "Diner," "Dazed and Confused" and "Stand by Me" deserve lots of praise. They are each fantastic films. Seeing the trailer for 'Dazed' instantly took me back to High School when I saw Linklater's classic for the first time. Such a epic day-in-the-life flick that almost trumps 'Graffiti' but just almost. "Stand by Me" is another fabulous day-in-the-life movie, but this one is all about friendship's made. I can't watch that movie and not be instantly reminded of my childhood and the shenanigans I would get into with my friends. Of the trailers that played ahead of 'Animal House' while all of them are funny movies "Caddyshack" is the only one that truly remains in my memory. Mainly because it is the only slapstick comedy in my adult life I can still appreciate. "Porky's" is a cheap rip-off of "Animal House" and "Bachelor Party" now is just all nostalgia.

Now the second feature in this double header was "Animal House" a film I am not entirely fond of, however I see it for its influence on film. While I was happy to have John Landis in person telling us all sorts of funny stories about 'Animal House,' re-watching it with a sold-out crowd did not change my opinion of the film. From my perspective it has too many things happening and lacks focus. It is suppose to be a movie following two new Freshman in their first year of college, however it turns into the John Belushi show. Landis only confounded my belief when he told us that due to Belushi's schedule much of his scenes were just Belushi doing his own thing and not necessarily following the script. Maybe its because I did not see "Animal House" before seeing other better college movies like "Revenge of the Nerds," but 'House' has never really tickled my funny bone. Landis also told the crowd that the original cast was suppose to include Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd but SNL creator Lorne Michaels would only allow one of his SNL stars to be involved in the film which is too bad. Landis actually said he liked that the movie did not have (at that time) a lot of stars, because "a nameless cast was more believable." Believable or not "Animal House" is iconic and has a lot of great moments, but for me, those moments do not add up to a great movie. Credit were credit is due, "Animal House" is a trend setter not to be forgotten, just improved.

The fourth and final night of The Wright Stuff II I had the opportunity to attend was a fuel injected double feature of "The Driver" and "Duel." Both were films that I had previously not seen. Well kinda, I saw "Duel" as a kid on TV where it premiered, but I was so little that re-watching at the Bev felt like the first time I had seen it. Joining the crowd and Edgar Wright for "The Driver" was director Walter Hill, actors Ronee Blakley and Bruce Dern, as well as super producer Frank Marshall. The special guests quickly introduced the film and Walter Hill went as far as to say we were, "the only sold out showing in the U.S." The group would come back up on stage after "The Driver" for a Q&A, but Hill who is a very modest man seemed very taken back to see so many fans excited for one of his lesser known movies.

Once again the trailers were perfectly matched the film the ran ahead of. Before "The Driver" we were treated to a stockpile of other Walter Hill films including "The Warriors," "Extreme Prejudice," "Johnny Handsome" and "Wild Bill." All films I've seen multiple times and re-watching the trailers reminded me how much of a great filmmaker Hill is. In front of "Duel" we were treated to other maniac car movies including "The Car," "Christine," "Maximum Overdrive" and "The Ambulance." 'Overdrive' got the most attention by the Bev crowd. A film that played there recently as well apart of their midnight programming. I've never seen "The Ambulance" but after watching the trailer I'm keeping my eyes peeled for any chance I can to do so.

"The Driver" is brilliant. While it isn't an action film it does feature a few of the best action sequences I've seen in cinema history. More specifically some of the best car chase sequences. Walter Hill and cinematographer Philip Lathrop create some edge of your seat driving that puts the viewer right in the brunt of the action. At the same time, "The Driver" is not afraid of taking things slow. Like I said, it is not an action film. A movie for being about a hired getaway driver doesn't feature more than 3 sequences of chase. The film instead is more centered around a detective (Bruce Dern) and his infatuation with tracking down and arresting the driver (Ryan O'Neal). Dern who is fabulous in nearly everything he's done is electric. He gives the film its life. Seeing  "The Driver" for the first time you could see its influence on so many other films I had seen. It also made me quite sad. I mean you have classic cars in the movie at breakneck speeds, something we don't see too much of anymore. There is no cgi here, all of the stunts are 100% real and when a car gets trashed, its certainly getting trashed.

"Duel" is Steven Spielberg's first feature length movie. It was originally released only for television here in the U.S. but did receive a theatrical release in Europe. The cut we would see at the Bev was a European cut and was 15 minutes longer than the television version released in 1971. Before starting the film Edgar Wright read us a email from none other than Steven Spielberg himself. The email revealed that Spielberg made the film in 11 days. Yup, only 11 days. That's crazy talk! "Duel" itself is a very basic idea. A man traveling for business is tormented by a unidentified trucker driver in a eighteen wheeler. The film has its issues. While there are moments of torment and terror the film suffers from too many lulls in said terror. For instance we spend a good 10 to 15 minutes in a diner while David Mann played by Dennis Weaver tries to outsmart the illusive yet menacing truck driver. The sequence tries to create tension but just misses the mark for me. All the tension gained while the two men shared the road is all thrown out the window within the diner sequence. These gripes with tension throughout "Duel" ends up as fodder because it is such a seminal film. It is one of the original dueling car movies that spends nearly the entire film focused on the road. Spielberg was able to utilize long stretches of highway that come across entirely desolate. Most of the film we only see the forty ton truck and David Mann's simple automobile racing the quiet roads of Central California and there's no denying you get the sense of fear that was intended.

While I wasn't able to attend all of The Wright Stuff II what I did attend was a exactly what I hoped for. Awesome movies with awesome special guests and a awesome New Beverly crowd. It was a bit crazy at the usually quiet theater for the events, but it was so worth it. The four nights of programming I attended will remain apart of memory for a very long time.

Best moment had to be, seeing my son light up when he got his 'Scott Pilgrim' poster signed by his favorite director. Not to mention listening to him talk the entire ride home and the next day about how cool it was to see Edgar Wright speak about his films in person and shake his hand. We all have our own icons growing up and as a father of four kids I loved how sweet Wright was to my son. Big time kudos Mr. Wright. Thanks a billion. And thanks to the New Beverly and all of its staff for continuing to provide its patrons with stellar programming all year long.

Checkout Edgar Wright's blog for further details on The Wright Stuff II and if you live in Los Angeles area do yourself a favor and make a point to visit the New Beverly Cinema.