Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Best Movie Theatre Experiences I Have Ever Had
Last week a bunch of fellow circa-40 goofballs and myself descended upon the United Artists Denver Pavilions Theatre to catch the 35th anniversary screening of Rad. As a superfan of that movie – hell, I named my first website Cru Jones Society – being surrounded by other Rad superfans creating our own mild Rocky Horror style quote and singalong was about as fulfilling an experience as I hoped it would be. We applauded. We cheered. We sang along quietly to “Thunder in Your Heart.” It didn’t have the unhinged manic energy of Rocky Horror because this screening was populated almost entirely by dorky dads who probably had to go to work in the morning.
It’s only the second movie I’ve seen in theatres since the start of the pandemic (the first was The Addams Family 2, which I saw with my kids – it was fine), but it’s now one of my absolute top moviegoing experiences of all-time. That made me look back on the other best times I’ve had in a movie theatre. Don’t worry, there won’t be any sordid tales of some chick pulling an Alanis Morrisette on me in the back row, nor any dumb irony where I snark on seeing shitburgers like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or the mistaken identity Ricki Lake vehicle Mrs. Winterbourne. Nope, all good vibes below!
A couple of caveats: First, since I’ve written roughly 200,000 words about Quentin Tarantino already, I’m going to purposefully exclude any of his films in this list. If you want to read about my experience seeing his films, I recommend this comprehensive piece I wrote in the summer of 2019, and, to a lesser degree, my experiences seeing Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, which I wrote about in [squints looking at the date] 2012?! Yikes. I’ve been at this shit a long time! Also, the story about Inglourious Basterds would absolutely make this list. Maybe the one about Grindhouse, too.
Second, I’m going to skip writing about The Expendables because I covered that a bit here. I’ll summarize that one briefly for you: On a Thursday afternoon after an unusual Wednesday night bachelor party, two friends and I drank through a hangover in a JC Penney parking lot before seeing this, got faced again, and I laughed harder than I ever have in a movie theatre at Mickey Rourke’s blue-tinted soliloquy. Not entirely sure why, but holy shit, I nearly suffocated.
Now then, here are my top moviegoing experiences, not really in any particular order.
American Pie 2
I saw the first American Pie movie during that weird summer I lived in Texas before I moved back to Colorado. This probably doesn’t speak all that highly of who I was then, but the movie spoke to my exact sensibility. The characters in the movie were a grade above me, but I could anxiously FEEL graduation coming right around the corner, just like they did. I was also desperately horned up every hour of every fucking day, and it was exhausting. It was oddly reassuring to see all of that energy reflected onscreen.
Cut ahead to summer of 2001, two years later. The characters had aged only a year, but I had now caught up to them and we were all coming fresh off the first year of college. The movie was released August 10, 2001, and if I didn’t see it that very night, it was within a week of that. My girlfriend and I joined a packed house at the Denver West United Artists theatre and that crowd was READY for this movie. Everyone was buzzing. If I had to guess the median age in that theatre, I’d put it at 18.5. And we all desperately hoped the filmmakers wouldn’t fuck it up because we loved the first one so much.
The Universal logo comes onscreen accompanied by “Every Time I Look For You” by blink-182, and I swear to God, the whole theatre exhaled. Yep, this was gonna be exactly what we hoped it would be. And it was! Comedies are best enjoyed in big groups, and this crowd was dialed in all night. The farcical opening sequence with Jim’s dad walking in on him while he’s banging a floormate got massive laughs. The whole gonzo sequence of Jim gluing his hand to his dick had the theatre rocking. But the biggest laugh of the night belonged to Stiffler interrupting the phone sex between Oz and Heather, which nearly brought the fucking house down.
I caught this movie on cable not long ago, and it’s not nearly as charming now as it was then. I suppose that’s to be expected, but I will always tune in for a few minutes because every time I do, I think of that night with that wonderful crowd of juvenile jackasses and smile. Even the dweebs in the back loudly protesting when Jim leaves Nadia to be with his band geek Michelle. Someone in the crowd shouted at them, “God, shut up, you nerds!” Man, what a great crowd.
From one high school comedy to another! I remember seeing the trailer for this and thinking it looked incredibly lame. It was a nerd and a fat nerd and some dorky cops all doing… I dunno? Then I saw the red band trailer. This exchange ensued as Evan’s mom leaned down to talk to Seth and Evan in the car revealing some very nice cleavage:
Seth: I am truly jealous you got to suck on those tits when you were a baby.
Evan: Yeah. Well… at least you got to suck on your dad’s dick.
Seth: [shrugs] It’s a nice lookin’ dick.
Wait. What? Holy shit, these guys talk like us! The rest of the trailer features an incredible variety of off-color jokes including Jonah Hill as Evan pretending to dry hump Emma Stone’s character, pantomiming jerking off into a measuring cup and then pretending to drink it. There’s a horrifying vaudeville energy to the way teenage boys will try to extract laughter from their friends via shockingly disgusting character work that this trailer manages to capture flawlessly.
Needless to say, Jason and I were ALL IN on this movie, so, since we both didn’t work Friday afternoons, we met at the theater right by Dave & Buster’s after work and proceeded to get shitfaced in the parking lot at like 1:30 in the afternoon. We went in with a cool buzz and proceeded to laugh our asses off. To this day, Superbad is the most true-to-life encapsulation of high school I have ever seen represented onscreen. Yeah, Seth and Evan are mostly dorks, but they’re not segregated pariahs the way the grotesque nerds of Bayside High were. High school social dynamics are way more fluid than the way most high school movies are willing to present, and Superbad does an amazing job of staying true to that.
Okay, maybe this whole list is about high school movies. [reads ahead] Four outta five! Whatever.
Juno is a move I had zero expectations for. I knew very little about it, it was playing at the arthouse theatre near my apartment, and my wife was hosting her bookclub on some weekend morning which meant I had to get out of the house. So I called Jason, asked him to brunch at The Hornet, and saw if he wanted to catch Juno at The Mayan.
- The Hornet is a Denver institution. Even though I don’t live in the neighborhood, I make it a point to go to The Hornet whenever I can. The food is delicious, the drink menu is tremendous, and it’s not nearly as expensive as it seems like it should be, given their neighborhood. We had a ridiculously good brunch, drank a shitload, and then headed to the movie.
- We had to wait in line. This felt weird considering we both grew up in the suburbs with giant theatres that had stadium seating. A line?!?! Ultimately, it was perfect because it gave me a chance to go to the nearby Walgreen’s and buy cigarettes. I am a couple weeks shy of two years without smoking and very much don’t miss it, but HOT DAMN, a cigarette that pushes you from buzzed to drunk is a real experience, man. I’m happy to keep that in my past, but it’s a historical feeling that is one I’m happy to have in my carousel of retired sensations.
- The movie put me on my ass. It was drop dead funny. It had heart. It felt lived-in. Some of the dialog was way too cute (“Honest to blog?!” “This is one Etch-a-Sketch that can’t be undid, homeskillet.”), but I love it when my zero expectations are exceeded by roughly one million percent.
- When it was over, I wondered if my apartment was clear. I think I texted Kristin, and she told me to come back. There were at least three book club participants still there. We helped ourselves to more drinks, and the thing about girl brunch is that, as a dude, the drinks are always oddly unsatisfying, there’s too much fruit, and not enough tortilla chips. We hung out, we chatted a bit, and given that the vibe from the movie and book club were both over, everyone went on their way. It’s a very adult end to the experience.
I have no idea if they make great high school movies now because I’m ridiculously outside that target demographic, but the 90s were regarded as a teen movie renaissance. Pre-internet, pre-streaming, pre-prestige television meant movies played an outsized role in terms of cultural importance. And teenagers have lots of downtime, some money to spend, and are begging to be entertained.
Scream checked so many boxes for me, you’d think I was part of some focus group in getting this movie developed. Pop culture obsessed characters, impossibly witty dialogue, gorgeous actors, clever plotting and lots and lots of fun jump scares. Scream is a weird movie in a lot of ways because it’s a horror movie released right around Christmas, peaked in its box office performance in its third week, never hit #1, and stayed around the Top 10 until May (!!!). This movie had legs, man, and it’s not hard to understand why.
My friend Mike and I must have seen this over Christmas break during high school, and we managed to catch a late night showing in a theatre packed with shrieking girls. Under many circumstances, a gaggle of shrieking girls is a heavy deterrent to enjoyment, but in the context of a horror movie, it’s a feature, not a bug. Jump scares were punctuated by screams from the audience. Character twists and turns were met with gasps. Moments of levity from Jamie Kennedy or Matthew Lillard brought waves of relieved laughter. The entire room swelled and breathed and turned into a living organism. I’ve never felt anything like that during a movie.
After the movie, it was late as fuck, and Mike and I were thoroughly freaked out. As we trudged across the dark, freezing parking lot, we both took great care in noticing our surroundings. We inspected the backseat and the trunk of his parents’ Volvo station wagon before getting in. And we drove quicker than normal back home. The movie had us shook in the best way possible. Not enough to stop us from getting drive-thru Taco Bell on the way home, but teenage boys still gotta eat.
I was a couple months shy of my 12th birthday when this movie came out. Jurassic Park had overwhelming hype surrounding it before its release, and for good reason. Steven Spielberg had made dinosaurs come to life. I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago and it still looks goddamn breathtaking. I’m not sure what anyone was expecting plot-wise going in, but I’ll bet it wasn’t one of the scariest fucking horror movies ever made.
Jurassic Park is positively terrifying. You sometimes forget that Steven Spielberg managed to scare the everloving shit out of an entire country with a fake-looking shark solely by the unparalleled skill of his filmmaking craftsmanship a decade and a half earlier. Armed with the best special effects anyone had ever seen, it stands to reason he’d be able to do that again, but I think we managed to forget his horror chops because his most recent projects at the time were the hokey Peter Pan re-imagining Hook, the weepy supernatural pilot drama Always, and the first 3 Indiana Jones movies.
But holy shit, once Nedry cuts the power, we’re off to the races with some of the scariest shit I’ve ever seen in a movie theatre. Depending on how you look at it, it either profoundly helped or didn’t help, that I was sitting next to my mom. I sometimes I wish I had her gift of getting THAT deeply into the plot of a movie because she’s IN THERE with the characters. She had both feet up on the seat, kicked at the screen to help will the characters away from danger, and yelped and shrieked and shouted at every scare. Oh! Nooo! (perched on the seat like a Gargoyle, one foot thrusts out in front of her Bruce Lee style) Get outta there! It was wild.
The scene that still fills me with dread every time it’s on and makes my lizard brain twitch with fight-or-flight instincts is the scene with Nedry and the dilophosaurus. When that tiny little bastard flares out its colorful frill, makes its horrible rattling roar, and then spits acrid poison at Nedry before ultimately mauling him in his own Jeep, I want to run screaming into the night every single time. For whatever reason, the way Spielberg and team manifested this dinosaur into existence is pure nightmare fuel for yours truly.
I loved Jurassic Park the first time I saw it, but I was also ready to get the fuck out of the theatre and back into the sunshine the very second it was over. It was a full body experience, and I was exhausted when it was over.
You’ll sometimes read how the era of movie theatres might be coming to an end. With experiences like these, there will always be a place for movie theatres in our lives. At least, I hope there will be.