Sunday, October 4, 2015

No Limits Movie Marathon

In our house, we love movies. It's one of the things that brought my wife and I together and our love of film is still a source of bonding. I joke to people all the time that you don't have to look for huge signs that you're dating "The One." When you walk into her apartment and see a 60 inch 3D television and three hundred or so DVDs, that's how you know. 

So, because we love film so much, we're always looking for ways to pass on this passion to the kids, not only to share our favorite films with them, but also to teach them how to think critically about them, how to set criteria for what makes a good or bad movie. A couple of weekends ago, since we were all together the whole weekend with nowhere to go, for once, we decided to have a movie marathon, where each member of the family could pick whatever movie they wanted, as long as it was in the stacks or on Netflix. Then, everybody would have to watch everybody else's movies and discuss them. Even movies that would normally be off limits for them were fair game for that weekend, so long as they were willing to be uncomfortable watching them together. Basically, for the cost of a few movie snacks from Walgreens, we had an entire weekend of entertainment and family bonding. Unfortunately, the littlest one hot left out for most of it, since the movie choices ended up being quite gritty and scary. We could only watch our flicks while the baby was napping or after her bedtime for the evening. Then again, I've seen Frozen, Winnie the Pooh, and every episode of Sesame Street and Umizoomi at least a hundred times each, so she's already had her movie marathon with us, and it is, in fact, ongoing.

The first film was my oldest daughter's pick, and she chose Insidious 2, mostly because I had been telling her she couldn't watch it and it happened to be on Netflix. She is pretty good at playing all the angles when she wants to. She had seen the first one with her mom, and thought is was great, but, to me, her taste in movies, especially horror, runs too deep into teen flick, jump scare, I-thought-that-guy-was-dead deus ex machina territory. So when she chose this one, I steeled myself for an hour and a half of lowest common denominators. The truth is, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I still have to say I was completely lost for the first twenty minutes, but once I caught on, the rest of the movie really worked for me. My daughter said that was because I hadn't seen the first one, even though I tried to explain to her that good filmmaking means that the movie has to stand on its own merits. 

Overall, I liked the twist on the ghost story/possession idea, and the (spoiler) time-travel aspect was confusing, but also interesting. Maybe it was because my expectations were so low, but it made me actually want to watch the first one, to get the background the story. The only part that really sets of the plot hole detectors in my brain was when the boy with the powers, in the most stressful moment of his young life, with the lives of literally every one of his family members in jeopardy, somehow just falls asleep in a brightly lit room with people walking around and his possessed father beating down the door, so he can "cross over." I really felt like that was an even bigger flaw than it may have been in another movie, because it seemed as if this one had worked hard to protect its own mythology.

My son's movie was Alien, mostly because he wanted to prove to his sister that old movies could be scary, too, and without ghosts and demons and such. He definitely made his point. Alien is one of those slow burn horror movies, but the notes it hits stay with you for a long time. It was really difficult watching it with people who were seeing it for the first time, because in some ways it's a whole different movie the second or third watch. I kept telling them I couldn't answer any questions, because I wanted them to get the full experience. When you think of all of the really deep seated human fears that a film can exploit to scare us, Alien concept verse just about every one of them. Think about it - body invasion, sexual violation, evils of technology, xenophobia, darkness and sterility, nakedness, isolation, the reprisal of nature, the evil corporate conspiracy. It's hard for me even now to come up with a primal fear that Alien doesn't tap into at some point. I feel a little spooked just rehashing it. Seeing their gut reactions to scenes that have lost some of their edge for me over many viewings somehow helped me to get back into that space where the film really scares me again. I think that's one of the real values in film as a shared experience, that the audience is reacting not only to what they see on the screen, but to the emotions of the people around them as well.

My wife's movie wasn't a horror flick, but it was still one that the kids had asked about and hadn't been able to watch - The Warriors. It's one of my favorites, for sure, especially because of the music and the look of it. But I think what makes it such a well-loved film is the themes of loss of leadership, wrongful persecution, and the soldier behind enemy lines. Teenagers are very concerned with fairness, or at least consumed with the need to be treated fairly, as they perceive it. So, given that, I think that both of the kids really responded to the Warriors because no frame and hunted for something that they didn't do, and wouldn't do. It makes it so much worse that they aren't even part of some huge conspiracy or caught up in someone else's war. When it comes down to it, there was no reason for killing Cyrus at all, just that one crazy guy "likes doing things like that." One other unexpected bonus we got from watching it together is that it opened up a discussion with my daughter about Mercy, how twisted and needy she is, how she allows herself to be degraded and seems to just make trouble whenever she goes, and how she brings out the worst in Swan. Swan is no angel, to be sure, and he is certainly responsible for his actions. Still, sometimes two people just have an effect one each other like repulsing magnets, and really expose each other's worst qualities. One thing my daughter reacted very strongly to is the idea that Mercy seems to need a gang, or a man, or a group to belong to, but then she never likes the one she's with. It did my heart good to hear hear ask why Mercy can't just "do her own thing" and stop worrying about everyone else.

Finally, my pick was the only PG-13 film in the bunch, Monster Squad. To be honest, the entire idea of No Limits Movie a Marathon was basically a ruse to make the kids watch Monster Squad. As soon as I saw it available on Netflix, I started scheming and plotting to make them sit down and watch it. The thing is, every time I watch one of these movies that I loved as a kid, especially when I haven't seen them for a few years or more, I'm always surprised by some of the content that made it into the movies that were clearly made for kids, and shocked that my parents let me see them. Every time I watch The Goonies, which is at least once a year, I'm amazed at the amount of foul language that is coming out of those kids' mouths. Not only that, but invariably, almost every time I put on one of my old favorites to watch with the kids, there's always a nudity scene that I forgot about, and I can never get the remote fast enough to avoid looking at boobs in front of my children. I don't know what surprises me more - the fact that so many of these nude scenes were allowed into PG-13 movies, or that they didn't make enough of an impact on my adolescent, hormonal brain to remember them. I swear my kids think that Ronald Reagan passed a law in 1980 that every film produced during his presidency would have to have gratuitous boobs in them. 

All in all, it took us two days, three bags of popcorn, and four different family size candies to watch them all, but it was absolutely worth it. I'm usually so cautious about letting the kids watch certain movies, or certain scenes that earn the big R. One thing that the No Limits Movie Marathon showed me is that, while it may be a little uncomfortable, there is some value in letting the kids see some of these things, with their step-mom and I to moderate discussion. Some of my favorite movies from my teen years are movies that I've told my kids not to watch, even though they were cornerstones to my cultural experience growing up. And they didn't turn me into a pervert or desensitize me to real bodily harm. I'm starting to think that there's too much real value in some of the films that have been either banned or restricted in my house to throw away, just because of some blood or a little nudity. I think w me get have to do this on a more regular basis, and next time, I'm definitely choosing Beverly Hills Cop.

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