No, there's no logical reason for the title to this post; this is going to be strictly emotion-based. Next Friday The Expendables – a B-level action movie that seems to be so retro that it has no place being released in theaters in 2010, but rather, it would be more appropriate to have it be shown between the hours of 12:45am and 4am on Showtime – will be released nationwide. Sylvester Stallone's recent labor of love is an attempt to bring people back to the action movie; people who have become disillusioned with the shaky-cam, CGI-fests that plague theaters and call themselves "real" or "gritty" action films. Stallone is trying to tap into a sense of nostalgia, too, with his latest film by casting virtually every action star from 80's and 90's (and more recent tough guys like the always great Jason Statham) from the likes of Dolph Lundgren to Bruce Willis to Jet Li to a cameo by the Govenator himself. Sadly Steven Seagal (my personal favorite of the 90's action stars) and Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the opportunity to be in the film; the former because of a dislike for the producer (seems fair enough), and the latter because – and I'm not joking here – he felt like his character wasn't developed enough. You know, like his well developed characters from such classics as Nowhere to Run, Double Impact, or Hard Target. But I digress...
When the film comes out next Friday I plan on seeing it in the theater. No, not with my brother to make fun of it (although I'm sure we'll do that at some point), but I plan on shelling out 10 dollars for a movie that could just as easily be a straight-to-DVD movie because I want to see it with my dad. You see, my dad and I used to go see bad action movies every Monday night when I was a kid (Monday night was the all day matinee here in Oregon). Yup, every Monday my dad and I would head out to one of our three favorite theaters (a total of about 15 screens combined) depending on where the movie we wanted to see was playing. You had Southgate Cinema, a small, rundown theater with four screens and really bad popcorn – they mostly played horror flicks; you had Lancaster Cinema, a bigger theater (it had a large main auditorium that played family films) that catered to families, but always held a few auditoriums (again only about four or five total) for smaller films, sci-fi/horror, or blockbusters that had been out for more than a few months. My favorite though was Keizer Cinema. This tiny theater in my small hometown of Keizer was home to every bad action movie and horror film, this was my preferred spot (over the newer theater that had been built downtown) as I fell in love with the dinginess of the theater which appropriately reflected the kinds of films they showed. My favorite feature of Keizer Cinema was their wallpaper; yes, wallpaper…lined throughout the theater was a collage of old movie posters for B-grade horror films and action films. When you waited to go into their "main" auditorium you could look to your left and see shrunken posters for films like Jaws 3-D, Visiting Hours, Time After Time, Xtro, The Vindicator, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 all pasted together. As an adolescent these images (and the movie posters they would display throughout the theater) were not at all unlike my love for roving through the video store and studying coverboxes...trying to decide which movie I was going to take home with me; I ate that stuff up (I was easily pleased).
The best part, obviously, was the movie-watching. Each Monday my dad and I would decide on what to go see: should it be the latest Van Damme, or a sci-fi flick? Do we venture into horror, or stick with a bad action movie? We ran the gamut in those handful of years, as off the top of my head I can think of going to see the following films with him: Sudden Death, Demolition Man, Stargate, Species, Under Siege, Under Siege 2, True Lies, Speed, The Arrival, Alien 3, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Judge Dredd, Independence Day, New Nightmare, The Shadow Conspiracy (yeah, look THAT one up), Executive Decision, The Last Action Hero, On Deadly Ground, Universal Soldier, Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Timecop, Eraser, and (I'll end the list here) Passenger 57. Yes, that's quite the list of films, and even though I enjoyed these as a kid (and some of them I still love: for nostalgic purposes, but also because it points to a time when action films were simple formulas and could be entertaining, 90 min. popcorn films instead of 120+ min. chores) I would obviously grow out of these films as my palate would be fine-tuned over the years, leading to me becoming a full-fledged cinephile (I told that story a little over a year ago).
What's interesting about the release of The Expendables is that is that it didn't just bring back a flood of memories that my dad and I used to share (my parents live in the same city as me, and we're extremely close, so it isn't like this is my only link to my dad), but made me think about how awesome my dad was in nurturing my love for cinema. My dad always let us choose movies to rent at the video store, or he let us kids (there were three Olson boys in that house growing up, each of us very opinionated…I don't know how my parents negotiated those times) have input on what movie we should see as a family, and if one disagreed, then more often than not they would let us go see a movie by ourselves at the same theater, as long as it would get out around the same time as the movie the rest of the family was seeing. My parents gave us options at the cinema, and I think that's a big reason why I have the love for film that I have today.
The Monday night excursions my dad and I would go on (not to mention the movie "festivals" we would have when my mom went out of town with her friends, where we would rent tons of movies for the weekend) definitely led to my further interest in "serious" film. After we would watch the latest action movie, we would dissect it in the car ride on the way home; talking about the best action scenes and how cool they were. I would go home and write mock reviews to those movies. I didn't realize it at the time, but my dad was a major influence on me forming opinions about movies. I remember the both of us laughing and groaning through Species, a film that this youngster had to close his eyes throughout because my dad was unaware that it was essentially a softcore porno; I remember having to sift through some emotions after a viewing of Edward Scissorhands because I didn't understand why they hated him because he was different (hey, I was young!), and my dad sitting in the car with me in the parking lot talking about the film and what happened in it; I remember us beginning to see the end for aging action stars like Van Damme (we were both unimpressed with Sudden Death) and Seagal (On Deadly Ground) and discussing the various way we would make their films better. All of that led to me giving my input on us maybe seeing other movies. When I got older I still loved action movies, but I started to explore the cinema more, and I started reading more (Ebert's review books and Glenn Kenney's reviews in Premier Magazine were huge influences) and watching shows like Siskel & Ebert; so, what started out as going out to the theater to see something like Under Siege 2, now became an experiment of sorts: I would try to up the cinematic ante.
I was always good at convincing my dad – a very agreeable fellow – that maybe we should try seeing something different. I owe a lot to his agreeable nature and innate ability to be a good sport, because I convinced my dad one night to head to Keizer Cinema, and instead of seeing the latest action movie, to try out Jackie Brown. I knew the film had crime elements and interesting characters my dad would enjoy, but I also knew it was a gamble because it was a 140+ min. film with very little conventional action; let me put it this way: it wasn't whatever the alternative was (which was probably the last theatrical release of a Van Damme movie, or something along those lines). I was a freshman in high school at this point, and my love for action films evolved into my love for a different kind of cinema (the link: an interview I read with John Woo where he claimed that the inspiration for his The Killer – my favorite action film – was Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai; from that moment on I started seeking out a different kind of film), and I was more than happy to have my dad along for the ride; however, as most things do when you're growing up as teenager, the family tradition fizzled out. I still loved my dad, of course (I was never one of those teenagers who was embarrassed by their parents), but the Monday night trips slowly died down.
Shortly after seeing Jackie Brown, Keizer Cinema closed for good. Sadly, they turned our favorite movie spot into a freaking car dealership. It was definitely an apt omen for what was happening to the Monday nights my dad and I looked forward to. It sucked. And to add to the suckiness, our favorite local video store, Video Rama, had to shut their doors because the owner, who was looking to build a new store, got duped by a crooked contractor who took her money to build that new building and left town. I saw how my parents reacted to this news, and it helped me realize how I should react, too. My parents were not happy and they felt incredibly sorry for Betty, the owner of the video store. I thought it curious that they would feel so strongly about a video store, but I soon realized why they reacted the way they did: Betty had been the purveyor of our family entertainment for so many years, and now that role had been taken away from her. Her store was the place that our family would often decide how we were going to spend the next 2-4 hours together on a Saturday night. Around that time I began to see, as cheesy as it sounds, the power of movies.
It wasn't the same after that. My junior and senior years in high school were a perfect storm of my old movie-life dying and my newfound enthusiasm for art films and independent features (more "challenging" work, you could say) growing. As I was getting older my tastes were definitely changing, and it just so happened that as I began driving out of town to see movies that now interested me, the cathedrals of my adolescence were all closing down (Southgate would close at the same time as Keizer, and Lancaster would close down a few years later).
That was in 1999, my senior in high school, and even though I still went to theater a lot with my parents (that year I convinced them that we should go see The Insider and Magnolia), those are usually the years of teenage independence, and it was no different for me as I began driving myself to different kinds of theaters (there was only one, single screen, art house theater in Salem when I was growing up) to find a different kind of film. I started driving to Portland more and more, and with that independence – as great as it was – came the death knell for the Monday night traditions that I held so dearly and treasured so greatly; the traditions with my dad that definitely had an impact on the kind of filmgoer I am today. The last movie I remember heading out to theater to see with him on a Monday night was Wes Anderson's Rushmore; yes, I had successfully transitioned (my dad loved that movie) from On Deadly Ground to Rushmore.
There were other action films that my dad and I would go see in the "nicer" theater in Salem (the new theater downtown had 7 auditoriums!), films like, Speed, The Rock and Con Air, but it wasn't the same as when we saw them at Keizer Cinema. Besides, the aforementioned films were too polished; sure, looking at them now it's easy to say "they don't make 'em like they used to", but back in 1995/96 you could see the difference between a Seagal or Arnie action film and the Bruckheimer/Simpson brand that was churning out stuff like The Rock. I remember initially watching The Rock in the theater on a Saturday afternoon, and being bored to tears. Why was an action film so long and filled with so much unnecessary stuff? Subsequent viewings have more than warmed me up to the film's "charms", but I remember thinking back during the film's theatrical run that it was a different kind of action film. And sure enough I think you can point to those early Michael Bay action films as the sign of the genre changing (of course, September 11th was the major culprit in the shift in tone of modern action films). It was also the sign of everything else changing, and even though that change was wonderful, it was bittersweet, too, because I knew that the kind of films I would sharing with my dad were better than anything we had watched on those Monday nights; the films may have been better, but the experience of seeing those films was certainly different.
Kudos to my dad for putting up with me during those formative years. I'm not sure what he always thought about the kind of movies I recommended we go see, but he was always a trooper (my mom, too), and it was always a fun experience to sit in a theater with him and know that I get to share the experience with the one person who most nurtured the obsession I had with film at a young age (I used to get told by teachers in elementary school that I couldn't write or talk about movies all the time). I never thought I would be able to take my dad to another action movie and have it feel the same as it did during those oh-so-prolific years between 1989-1996. But when I heard about The Expendables being in the works last year I was giddy with excitement. I knew at that moment that is was going to be my favorite movie of whatever season it was going to be released during. Finally there was a movie that was going to have the right casting, the right tone, and the right look that justified taking my dad to the theater to see a film that would transport us back to those wonderful, action-packed and blood-soaked Monday nights in Keizer.
So, on Friday night when The Expendables hits theaters, I will have the biggest grin on my face; oh, not just because I'll be able to enjoy it on some tongue-in-cheek, postmodern level, but because I can't wait to take my dad to see it Monday night. No action movie released in the last 10 years has compelled me enough to think back on those Monday night trips to the theater with my dad, and even though I'm sure Stallone's film will be goofy, inane, and perhaps even tedious I won't care because I'll be reliving one of my fondest memories with my dad. It'll be a blast walking into that theater on Monday night, watching my dad get a much-too-large tub of popcorn, and plopping down in our seats to watch a classic action film that will no doubt remind us of the mid-90's when those very films acted as the catalyst for my love of cinema. Thanks, dad, I'll always appreciate it, and I can't wait for next Monday and the subsequent conversation we'll have on the drive home (where we will no doubt rehash the better action movies the actors of The Expendables were in). I know that this is a personal anecdote that for everyone not related to me still doesn't really justify the claim of this post's title; but seriously, there is no other movie that I am more looking forward to this year than The Expendables. I have no doubts that it will be the best movie I see this summer.