A Christmas Lament

Hey everyone! First started this Lament a week ago, with a tiny little mason jar beside me, basically a thimble of white wine potentially three days past potency, to tell you a tale of pure Christmas joy, but got distracted. Now I’ve made the mistake of sitting on the experience too long, and it’s a bit of a struggle to remember all of the details while sitting in this gleaming Echo Park laundromat, charging my phone with my laptop, before I dine out at a Japanese curry joint with Filardo and Greg Campanile, who you may recall from a previous Lament is perfectly eligible for great dating opportunities.

I’ll do my best, I owe you that.

Cut to Christmas Joy: A few weeks ago Mike and Marijke were in LA for some business-related fun (which I think Mike would term fun-related business), and we got to take a vigorous winter hike in the Santa Monica mountains with Meagan and Evan that ended with Bloody Marys and Mexican plates at a British pub, where we sat outside and used our hands to shield our eyes from the nice sun beating down on us there. Somewhere along the way, Christmas plans came up. I had none, being a sort of lone wolf cub all my life, but off-handedly mentioned I had the errant desire to force myself to watch five theater movies on Christmas Day. Mike, being Mike, immediately offered to fund the project, his interest ignited I think by the potential athleticism of such a plan. Walking ahead of me down a dirt path, he added two stipulations: one, I was not allowed to leave the theater grounds and two, in accordance with classic theater policy, I was not allowed to sneak in snacks and only permitted to eat food at the theater.

I was stoked! It struck me as exactly appropriate that my first Christmas as an Angeleno would be spent indulging to excess in Hollywood’s largest export on the biggest box office day of the year. I also felt particularly suited for the challenge. Maybe even like I’ve been training my whole life for such an occasion. Last year, for instance, I watched Django Unchained 5x in the theater, twice on Christmas Day ’12. My friend Andy and I saw four movies in one day on Regal Cinema’s get-into-the-movies-for-three-cans-of-food-day, but I don’t remember any of the movies except that Nicole Kidman was in one and it maybe had a lot of lightning in it. I watched Magnolia back-to-back in the theater whenever that came out for some reason though it’s not my favorite movie or anything, and also in 2004 I didn’t sleep a wink for a few days because I was watching Seasons 1 and 2 of 24, an action/espionage show shot “in real time” (though that was one was mainly because I was so hopped up on the quasi-patriotic adrenaline and muted sexual tension–I’m a sucker for any viewing experience where a government agent has to say into her earpiece with a weirdly reserved urgency, “we’ve been compromised/there’s a mole!”). I really don’t know if Mike would have assigned any of this to me had he known about all my experience! In general, too, I love a challenge–recently Steve observed I like to make myself do hard things, then did an impression of me: “Maybe if I face this darkness I will know the truth.” Me, in a truly succinct nutshell, but also a perfect phrasing for this cinema adventure, the ultimate darkness, ultimate human truths.

The first task at hand was to select the five films and one theater to screen them all. I turned to Steve here because, in addition to his gifts of observation, he is incredibly efficient at Internet. I told him the films I most wanted to see, and with true Steve expediency, better than Domino’s, he narrowed it all down to Arclight Hollywood. I felt obligated at this point to ask Mike for his permission because Arclight Cinemas has a significantly kinder vibe than the average theater–cushy seats, an espresso-serving coffee shop, bar, and even a restaurant. Mike, in a charitable mood: “Less dark, but it’s ok.” So the only real setback we encountered was that it was impossible to find a theater showing both Nebraska and Wolf of Wall Street. I was disappointed for maybe like five minutes, but there are seriously so many excellent movies out right now it was hard to be too sad. Mike suggested I see the new Ben Stiller, but I watched the preview and not even Kristen Wiig could make me see that. I hate that weird slippage into mental fantasy, like Life Is Beautiful or Amelie or whatever (exception: Eternal Sunshine, but that was memory not fantasy). The final selection, listed in viewing order: Inside Llewyn Davis (104 min), Her (126 min), Anchorman 2 (119 min), American Hustle (137 min), and Wolf of Wall Street (180 min). First showing beginning at 9am, last film ending at 11pm. I added it up and the total viewing time is exactly 666 minutes, the number of the beast! So punk!


Prior to settling on Arclight, I might have factored in a little illicit theater hopping, but Arclight features reserved seating so you run into the chance that maybe you’ll sneak into a theater and get caught early on by a theatergoer who actually paid to be in seat K28. Plus, I’m 36 and don’t want to be a sad old broad getting collared on Christmas Day. Instead I did an appropriately middle-aged thing and got the best bang for my buck. I found out Arclight was running a Christmas promotion for a free yearlong membership (plus two free movie tickets) if you buy $100 worth of gift cards so I purchased a $100 gift card with the money Mike gave me on Christmas Eve and received a membership voucher, which I tried unsuccessfully to redeem online and just wound up paying for the membership. When I told that to the box office, they not only refunded my $15 but also let me keep the voucher, which is good for $15 worth of movies or concessions. Then I purchased all five of my tickets online because you get a buck off each one if you are a member and purchase tickets online. Working it! That’s some boring grown up shit!

 With tickets in hand, two free tickets on the way, and $25 on a gift card for concessions, I had a very mellow Christmas Eve with some friends, pizza and wings and weed = very mellow. The next morning, I called a Yellow Cab at 8:30am to take me from Koreatown into Hollywood. The driver was chattier than I like–I prefer to just stare out of a car window–but it was Christmas and I tried to keep that in mind and not be a sullen asshole. He told me he was from Bangladesh and grilled me about my life, which was kind of brutal. He inadvertently asked hard-hitting questions like why aren’t you with your family for Christmas, why do you live so far from your father, then theorized that had my family never moved to the states my parents would still be together. Dark breakfast! He spit me out right in front of the Cinerama Dome, which I promptly ‘grammed to begin documenting the experience, dusted my shoulders off, and went inside to get full-on.


Movie #1: 9am showing of Inside Llewyn Davis, Cinema 9, Seat K22

First things first, I needed coffee. Inside the theater, I made a beeline for the espresso bar and made my first official though non-traditional concessions purchase–an Americano, with soy milk as creamer. I walked around the theater for a minute too long looking at posters for upcoming releases (cannot wait for the new Rogen) and subsequently missed the Greeter and previews before Inside Llewyn Davis. Oh yeah, at Arclight each screening has a Greeter and that person welcomes you to the movie and reminds you to turn off your cellphones instead of playing that oft-animated 15-second reel experience where some popcorn with eyes tells you to throw trash away in the lobby. At this 9am viewing there were only two other moviegoers, but one left partway through and turned out to be a theater employee. Cool job, guy!

I absolutely loved ILD. Oscar Isaac killed it, though you have to admit Oscar Isaac is a funny name. Such a stellar foot to start the day off on, angst and all. I don’t have any intention of doing movie synopses here or even straight-up reviews, but will say a thing or two that got trapped in my brain while viewing so Spoiler Alert, for sure. I was totally fascinated by what the Coen Bros were doing with all of Llewyn’s displaced empathy for animals–from the first cat, Ulysses, to the wrong cat to the weird unspecified small white foxlike animal he hits in the car all the way down to when he passes a theater and stops to look at the movie poster for The Incredible Journey, a flick following two dogs and one cat who are lost and trying to find their way back home. Referencing the Odyssey and then all the constricted, long narrow hallway shots might have been a bit heavy-handed, but I don’t know I guess the concern felt so central to Llewyn’s struggle that it was ok. One of my favorite scenes was the part where Llewyn makes the pilgrimage to perform for Mr. Grossman to see if he’s got what it takes to cut it as a musician and Mr. Grossman’s stony unreadable expression the whole time Llewyn is singing, and after he’s done how Mr. Grossman just says without mincing words, “I don’t see a lot of money here” and advises him to get back with his dead former partner and that’s that. Brutal! Then contrast that with a later scene where Llewyn visits his father in some kind of home-care facility and performs a song for him and his dad just says “Wow” and shits his pants. So nearly something of a validation for what he does creatively, but it’s taken away immediately by the need to call someone to wipe his dad’s ass. Another thing I really loved about the movie and Llewyn’s characterization is that you could really feel how much making it as a musician, and surviving on past his former partner, was seriously the only thing that mattered to him. It would have been so easy for the Coen Bros to muddy the plot by peppering in more romantic entanglements, more mishaps, and it would have made the whole film feel less single-minded, to its detriment I think. The last thing I’ll say about it is that it was funny to see Vinny from Doogie Howser in a movie.

Movie #2: 11:05am showing of Her, Cinema 7, Seat M23

I wasn’t hungry at this point, but felt compelled by the challenge to visit the concessions stand and make a purchase. You know, make some news. I took so long to order, the concessions employee asked me repeatedly if I was ready and after the third time I said, “Sorry, there’s just a lot of choices” even though there really weren’t and the guy apologized to me and said he understood it was overwhelming. Haha, apologized! Anyway, I thought for some reason I’d be able to find something brunchy, but of course did not. I settled on a Sausage Baguette, which was listed above a separate offering: Hot Dog. What I received was definitely a fucking hot dog so I don’t know what’s happening in their minds. Then with my membership, I got $5 off my first concessions purchase so the Sausage Baguette only cost a buck thirty five. I was making out like a bandit.

By this time, there were significantly more people streaming into the theater, milling about the lobby. The audience for Her was probably a little less than half full. I had an awkward thing happen in that I set down my Sausage Baguette, preloaded with ketchup, on top of my bag. I wanted to wait until I was actually hungry enough to eat it, but an hour into Her, I still hadn’t eaten it and it smelled exactly like a hot dog with ketchup. No one could see it but we all knew it was there. I guess I could have just eaten it and taken care of it, but then I would be taken out of my engagement with the movie, everyone would know I had the stinky hot dog, and they’d be listening to me chew. Pretty gross stuff, but such is the path of the warrior in battle. Joaquin Phoenix is theee face I could stare at all day. I’m not attracted to him, I just think his is a good weird face. Her is a great movie, very tight screenplay, a future so well-imagined, relevant, and credible that it just floors me. I really loved seeing Slightly Future LA, the city shots were some of my favorite moments in the film. A major theme of this movie was also empathy, though explored in a different way than in ILD. Dark, sweet, and funny. Definitely left the theater wanting to fall in love, which means it’s working.

I walked out, still carrying my Sausage Baguette, the realization of how weird it was to walk out of a theater with food slow-dawning on me. I walked out of the Arclight building, but keeping in mind the need to stay on theater grounds, took the glass elevator with my Sausage Baguette to the top level of the parking garage, which has this phenomenal view of Hollywood and the San Gabriel Mountains. It was 80 degrees and the sun blasted me, my Sausage Baguette, and a few parked cars into a whiteness that felt wholly appropriate for this particular lunchtime idyll. I ate my cold dog while walking the perimeter of the roof, took a few pics, then elected to take the stairs down to keep my circulation going.


Back inside, I went to the bar and ordered a Greyhound to also keep my circulation going. The bartender was a fresh-faced young man in all-black. He had a Columbus, OH vibe but was smoov as fuck. He was in the process of engaging this older woman, who prior to their conversation had just been looking around for kinda anyone to talk to, about having grown up with horses, but then a woman returned from a movie to thank him for his movie recommendation, and he gave her a slip of paper to write down her number, after which the first lady clammed right up. Wow.

Movie #3: 2:20pm Anchorman 2, Cinema 9, Seat K24

Before heading into Anchorman 2, I bought some peanut M&M’s that again I forgot to eat during the actual screening. This movie sucked. There were some minor saves–Kristen Wiig being one, the climactic melee scene was another. But if this was the worst part of the day, had to admit I was having a pretty good day.

Movie #4: 5pm American Hustle, Cinema 7, Seat L22

My entire American Hustle viewing was doomed (666!). First, I did a dumb thing in that I had accidentally purchased a ticket for the Dec 26th screening. I was sitting in the seat and then these people came along and said You’re in my seat. Ok. I went to the ticket counter and they were nice and gave me a new seat. But then there was a person in it and even another person standing there who also had been assigned the same seat. Three people all wanting to pile into X15. By now, the theater was completely sold out and previews were starting, so I stood to the side while the Greeter tried to solve the problem. He took care of the other people first and gave them tickets to see a different movie. I told him, Well I kinda have to see this movie and started to explain about my Christmas adventure, but he cut me off because he didn’t care even a little bit. He sat me down in a weird front row side seat that blurred out my eyes within 5 minutes, but the movie was great and got me hooked right from the start and I started to adjust and settle in. Then about 45 minutes in, the fire alarm went off.

It was insane to be in the crush of people that is all fourteen stadium-seating theaters emptying at once. We filled the entire lobby, people lifting their iPhones above their heads making vids of the spillage, and crammed into the courtyard. Some boner tried to start a round of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, but if it had caught on better I probably wouldn’t be calling him a boner, but singing the line about not being invited to play games with gusto. We were outside for maybe twenty minutes, watching through the tall platings of glass all the firemen stomp around on that nicely patterned thick movie carpet. It was clear from the way all the Arclight employees were readying themselves at the ticket counter we were going to be readmitted and dealt free passes, etc. Yours Truly tweeted at me that Andy Richter was somewhere in the masses with me. That felt good. A Greeter came out on a balcony and addressed the populace. Definitely an aspiring actor, he announced with kingdomly flair that we’d soon be readmitted, and all our movies would begin at the point 10 minutes prior to the fire alarm. The townspeople all cheered, even me, though I knew my schedule was totally fucked. My mission had failed. If I resumed American Hustle, I’d miss the first 30-45 minutes of my 7:30pm Wolf of Wall Street, which was definitely the movie I was most looking forward to seeing that day. I thought fast and got a free ticket for the 10:25pm screening of American Hustle, figuring that it didn’t matter if I missed the first 30-45 minutes since I’d just seen it. Plus, the movie lady threw in another free movie pass. At this point, I started to wonder if I was making money off this adventure.

Another plus of missing the rest of American Hustle was that I could enjoy some of the bar’s Wolf of Wall Street drink specials that were only available before Wolf screenings. I sat outside and drank a “Wall St. Julep” (Jim Beam maple, apple cider, sweet and sour). At this time, I realized I hadn’t eaten dinner so I opened my Peanut M&Ms and ate them. Also my phone died, and knowing I needed it to call a ride home at the end of the night, I hid myself in a handicapped, single-occupancy bathroom and charged my phone for like 10 minutes. Two people tried the door and I nearly died from guilt, but hopefully they used the one next door and got their needs attended to.

Movie #5, FINAL MOVIE: 7:30p Wolf of Wall Street, Cinerama Dome, Seat GG26

Before the movie started, the Greeter said her piece then called up to the stage a dude named Sergio to make a special announcement. Sergio got there and said Could my girlfriend Kathryn or however she spells it please come up here with me? Everyone ooohed because we all knew what was coming. She got up there and they clumsily, hastily went through a bended knee scenario and then Boom, they were engaged. It was rad but also kind of bizarre for Wolf to be their special remember when movie. But I do think it is pretty cool and efficient that they can just combine their anniversary and Christmas gifts into one easy exchange.

I loved this movie even though Yours Truly has correctly identified it as a glorifying-douchebag, Dad movie. It’s totally the kind of entertainment I desire. So weird to think of Leo’s career, my weird crush on him from when he was on Growing Pains and now he’s epicly great in Scorcese flicks. Jonah Hill was also so incredible, and I legitimately forgot he was Jonah Hill. I’m not going in any further than to say that because I think it’s too fun a movie to miss. Go see it now! I was thoroughly satisfied and getting out of the theater at 11pm, I chose to forego seeing AH. This might mean I failed Mike, but I had to make the decision in favor of the right climactic end note and Wolf was definitely that. All in all, my favorite movie of the day was ILD, but I bet you AH might have made it close had my experience of it had been full and purer. I called my Lyft and took it home, plenty tired from my visual workout, and the young man at the wheel played techno and gave me a tiny bottle of water, which I realized was the only water I drank all day.

Definitely going to do this again. It really wasn’t that hard and didn’t have any ill side-effects. I’ve tried to think of ways that it could have been harder. I think for one I should probably go to a grittier theater with fewer amenities next time. Also I am pretty sure I made it easy on myself by going it alone. There’s a pretty wide fear in our society of being alone–and seeing movies or eating dinner by yourself is too much an indication of that solitude for a lot of people, but I’m pretty good at seeing movies solo. It’d be much more difficult to have to undergo this experience with someone else, having to negotiate their sense of the passing time, their ideas on how to pass it, and perhaps their contrasting opinions about the movies seen. Like being stuck at an airport on a layover with someone is ten times more stressful than flying alone and getting screwed, right? The freedom to zone is a great freedom. I also think it should have been part of the challenge to not pick out my own movies, but you’ll notice I waited until after the challenge to say this out loud. So think of another person who’s game for this level of theater cruelty and have them call me up XMAS14 and we’ll see what happens when this Lamenter meets her match.

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