Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Afternoon at the Movies

Going to the movies is sort of a mildly religious experience for me.  I love the moment the lights lower.  I love having popcorn for dinner.  I love getting lost in a good story for a couple of hours. And I really enjoy trying out new theaters.

So when two of my friends invited me to go to the new Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas, I knew I absolutely would be spending my Sunday there.  I knew the Drafthouse mainly from its reputation in Austin -- good food and drinks, fun movies, and a very strict "no talk/no text" policy.  As a renowned rule follower, I was a little nervous since I would be attending the 2:20 showing of The Butler with a Candy Crush addict and a notorious movie talker.  I warned them both that if they got tossed, I wasn't going with them.

Now, the theater I enjoy most is the 7th Street Movie Tavern here in Fort Worth.  And I realize I have a tad bit of a Cowtown bias, but I have to say that while the Drafthouse wasn't terrible, it was no 7th street.  The aisles are crowded.  It's hard for the waitstaff to see your order ticket once the movie begins.  The seats don't recline.  The food and drinks were $2-$4 more per item.  And there was a very annoying "movie predictor" sitting down the aisle from me.  I kept waiting for Zombie Ann Richards to bust through the door and yank her ass out, but, alas she did not.  I think you have to snitch on each other at the Alamo, and unless you're really obnoxious, it's not worth the tattling.  Luckily for me, the plot line was pretty predictable and the Movie Swami didn't ruin too much.

Which brings me to my thoughts about the movie.  Truthfully, this is the kind of movie that I usually see alone on a weekend morning.  I sometimes need a quiet theater with few distractions to really gather my feelings about a film with A) pretty solid reviews upfront and 2) serious subject matter.  But that wasn't the case today, so here I go.

Yes... the plot moves were predictable, but I really did enjoy several of the performances.  And a strong performance or an interesting character will always win out over plot for me.  Forrest Whitaker delivered (although not as well as I've seen before), and a drunken, unhinged Oprah was a treat to be sure.  But my favorite performances were small -- Alan Rickman as Reagan and Elijah Kelly as the younger son, while I absolutely detested Yaya Alafia (as the "girlfriend" of Whitaker's older son) and Terrence Howard (who I think just plays his own terrible self half the time).  Granted, the point was to not like either of them, so I suppose they did pretty well.  I was impressed with most of the Presidential characterizations, but they all felt slightly shallow and one-dimensional (which if you're introducing 8 of them, depth is tough to accomplish).

In the end, the story's essential conflict is between a father and son, mirrored in the struggle for civil rights, and in several places -- especially during cutaways between a state dinner and a sit-in -- I felt that push and pull so often found between generations.  It felt genuine and glaring.  In fact, the two friends I saw the movie with are from a different generation, and we saw the same movie with slightly different eyes.  They, who had grown up on the heels of desegregation in larger urban settings and me, who grew up in a small town that rode a fine line between the Old and New South even 30 years later.  There were several parts and lines that rang very true, and they are the moments that I do think that America needs to see and to understand -- that for as far as we've come, the ways in which we treat one another and take care of our own, still have a ways to go.

Final grade for "Lee Daniels' -- The Butler":  B+
Final grade for the Alamo Drafthouse:  I'll stick to 7th Street.

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