Thursday, August 9, 2018

Reserved Seating: Ticket Stub Time Machine (2007 Edition)

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who think Lucy McClane broke Matt Farrell’s heart.

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: It’s time for another round of Ticket Stub Time Machine, where we dig into my movie ticket stubs from years gone by and see what we can say about what I saw. In this special edition, we’ll talk about 2007, a year in which Will Smith fought the undead, Tobey Maguire took his final web spin, and an ambitious rat developed a taste for fine cuisine. Let’s start at 2:00 AM on Sunday, September 2nd, when — according to my stub, anyway — I was at the AMC Marple 10 watching James Wan’s Death Sentence. Adam, what did you think of this Kevin Bacon-led revenge jawn?

Adam: Oh, Death Sentence. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting a movie called Death Sentence to go all the way. And boy does Death Sentence maximize the ugliness inherent in its premise. I saw it opening day in theaters, and from the murder that sets the rest of the story into motion, I wanted to hurl and be anywhere else. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t walk out of this movie; it upset me a lot (again, I know that’s by design). I rewatched the trailer just now because I haven’t seen a frame of this movie since August 31, 2007, and it brought back those dormant feelings I had on my one theatrical viewing. I love Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund is next-level terrifying in the movie, and it features an outstanding parking garage chase sequence, but I dunno...I have a lot of trouble with this one despite thinking it’s actually pretty good. It’s the perfect movie to see at 2:00 AM and then call in sick the next day because you can’t face the world. What are/were your thoughts on Death Sentence?
Rob: I didn’t remember Death Sentence or anything about it when I pulled out this ticket stub. In fact, since the stub just says “DEATH SE,” I had to look up movies from Fall 2007 and match up the rest of the title. I revisited it earlier today, and I agree that it is an ugly, angry movie with a few bright spots. It’s got that washed-out, handheld thing going, and every single actor is turning their performance up to 11 (including John Goodman, whose Bossman Heavy character is borderline goofy), but I agree that it’s decent enough for what it sets out to do. I don’t think the movie ever gives Bacon a chance to develop anything more than a generic Good Guy before he goes all Bronson (which dilutes that transition down to, essentially, “I shaved my head, so watch out!”), but I like seeing James Wan mature as a filmmaker, and I like Death Sentence as part of Bacon’s weird-ass early 2000s filmography.

Adam: The best thing about the Bruce Willis Death Wish remake is that it makes James Wan’s Death Sentence look even better. What’s the next stub, yo?

Rob: At 1:30 PM on Wednesday, July 11th, I pulled on my best dress robes and sat down in Auditorium #1 for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Adam: This is maybe the Reserved Seating we can title “Adam is a Lightweight.” I don’t especially like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix despite being a huge fan of this film series. It’s my least favorite of the movies by far. Of the films, this one felt the most like middle chapter padding and it features the most unsettling and excruciating character in the franchise (Dolores Umbridge, played too well by Imelda Staunton). She bothers me so much because her brand of evil is very realistic. I had teachers who crossed lines in ways that, in hindsight, remind me of Umbridge. She really gets under my skin (no pun intended). That being said, I think I still saw Order of the Phoenix two or three times during the summer of 2007. I remember the final action sequence (the best part of the movie) was in IMAX 3D back when entire movies were not in IMAX 3D (Superman Returns is another example). It’s weird to think back on, like they thought it was a treat for us instead of a giant distraction.

Rob: I’ve been reading the Harry Potter novels with my son over the last year, and we actually just finished The Order of the Phoenix and watched the movie a few weeks ago. I really, really just...don’t like it at all, honestly. It takes an already convoluted story — Rowling was expanding and reshaping the mythos through retconning at that point in the series — and dilutes it down to a very shaky set of scenes that might be borderline incomprehensible to those who haven’t read the source material. At the very least, nearly all of the emotional texture is gone. There’s so much excised and so many narrative gaps that I was actively angry watching it.
There are at least some memorable performances (Staunton’s Umbridge and Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange are about as iconic as blockbuster roles get), and the flashier moments are brought to life as creatively and compellingly as ever. I just can’t get past how much it feels like an adaptation done with a copy of the novel that a dog had ripped to shreds. I’m well aware that every book-to-movie adaptation has its issues and that all this, “Well, if you read the book…” talk makes me sound like a huge douche, but Reserved Seating is a safe space to say what we feel. I have a lot of feelings about The Order of the Phoenix.

Adam: What’s your ranking of the movies? I’ll go 1, 6, 3, 4, 7 Part 2, 2, 7 Part 1, 5.

Rob: So, here’s the thing: I’ve still never seen Deathly Hallows Part 2. I know, I know, but I just never got to it for some reason. Right now, I’ll go 3, 4, 1, 6, 7 Part 1, 5, 2. That’s just off the top of my head. I’ll come back to that when we revisit Half-Blood Prince.

Adam: I hope you like Half-Blood Prince on your revisit. I appreciate that it pauses for a lot of great smaller moments with characters I love. It feels more sentimental, which is a relief after the coldness of Order of the Phoenix.

Rob: I’ll keep you posted. Let’s keep the franchise train moving and jump to Saturday, June 30th. At 12:30 AM, I actually threw down eight hard-earned American dollars to see Bruce Willis, Justin Long, and Timothy Olyphant in Live Free or Die Hard.

Adam: 12:30am is late! I used to be a defender of Live Free or Die Hard, maybe even an apologist. I thought it was about as good as you could do with a PG-13 Die Hard movie. Then again, why the hell is there a PG-13 Die Hard movie? Nowadays, I don’t particularly like Live Free or Die Hard for many reasons. I’m aware this is the beginning of the end for Bruce Willis, where he really stopped caring. The ADR over the cursing and the bloodless violence is distracting. The plot is full-on superhero nonsense. The color scheme is ugly and all the hacker-speak is dated and annoying in 2018 in ways the first three films aren’t. I like Justin Long, so I like him in this movie. He might be my favorite part of it. Maggie Q is a good henchwoman (remember when she was a thing?). I remember the speech Willis gives in the car to Long about how being a hero isn’t a good thing and that he eats a lot of meals alone. It’s an unusually interesting detail about what it must be like to live as John McClane in an otherwise uninteresting movie. Lastly, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is maybe at peak cuteness here in 2007 (see also: Death Proof). I think I remember hearing once that Willis asked Kevin Smith to rewrite pages of the screenplay to make Timothy Olyphant tougher because T.O. was playing him as too much of a lightweight (Willis didn’t use that word).
Rob: I’m on record as a fan of Die Hard with a Vengeance. I agree with those who say that it’s not a great Die Hard movie (the first two adhere to the formula and are more or less untouchable), but I think it hangs together well enough to be a charming outlier. Live Free, though. Live Free is rough. I’m actually watching it while we’re working on this, and it’s almost fascinating how hard Hollywood was working to figure out what post-9/11, post-Katrina America was and what audiences wanted from their movies at the time. Hacking (“Fire sale! Prep the downloads!”) was scarier and more mainstream than ever, and there was that sense that one guy on a laptop really could bring the whole thing crashing down. John McClane versus virtual terrorists? It writes itself!

Adam: “He’s an analog cop in a digital world.”

Rob: Yikes. Interesting bit of trivia: Like most Die Hard sequels, this one came from a repurposed script already in development. The title? Nothing says early 2000s like a movie called

Adam: “For more, visit AOL Keyword” I want to talk to Justin Long about Live Free or Die Hard at the Monster-Mania convention. I wish he had taken over the franchise from Bruce Willis because I’d pay to see A Long Day to Die Hard.

Rob: It’s better than whatever “Young John McClane” reboot idea they have planned. I’m a Justin Long guy, too (his stuff with Brandon Routh in Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the best part of that movie), but Willis does little more than patiently tolerate him. He’s the boss, everyone knows it, and the kid is just here to do what he says. Spoilers, I suppose, but how long do you think his relationship with Lucy McClane lasted?

Adam: Two months and then Lucy dumped him and he never recovered.

Rob: For sure. It might have lasted longer if she was rebelling against dad by dating him. You know once he approved of the match, it was over.

Let’s move on to the first of two multi-feature entries, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse (also starring Willis and Winstead), which I saw at 11:00 PM on Friday, April 13th. Man, I could really hang late in those days. A 191-minute movie at 11:00 PM? What the hell was I thinking?
Adam: I miss being able to stay awake past midnight. I was obsessed with Grindhouse when it was briefly in theaters. I know I saw it at least three times and I had a bunch of merch for it (books, the Death Proof soundtrack, etc.). I haven’t revisited the movie in a while. I think I will again during Scary Movie Month. My preference has always been Death Proof over Planet Terror and the Grindhouse cuts over the extended cuts. I think the extended cut of Death Proof is vastly inferior, actually. It might be weird to revisit the film in 2018 with so many of its principals and the studio (The Weinstein Company) now in a worse light than they were in 2007. Grindhouse was a real one-of-a-kind theatrical experience. It’s too bad it failed at the box office. I know that Quentin Tarantino has dubbed other features as the unofficial Grindhouse 2 and Grindhouse 3. The next one is Machete and Hell Ride and the third was The Man with the Iron Fists and Machete Kills. Obviously the original Grindhouse is the best double bill of the bunch. I think it’s kind of amazing that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino helped (re)popularize exploitation cinema, but it all happened organically through DVD and Blu-ray and not in mainstream multiplexes like they may have intended. I wonder if boutique labels we love like Scream Factory would exist in their current form if not for the revival of genre cinema that Grindhouse helped bring back.

Rob: The first comment I was going to make about Grindhouse was along those lines; I just imagine the movie coming out during the age of Film Twitter and watching everyone go apeshit for it. I think it’s interesting that the movie failed at the box office, despite Rodriguez’s heat from Sin City and Tarantino’s from Kill Bill. With Tarantino especially, I think it speaks to the way his other films couch genre homage in an accessible frame (for example, you don’t have to know Game of Death to appreciate The Bride’s iconic yellow jumpsuit), whereas Death Proof leans so hard into the exploitation aesthetic that you’re either in on the joke or you’re not. A lot of his mainstream success came because those audiences didn’t know or care what he was referencing in Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. They were just cool, and being in the know was a bonus. Anyway, I’m just happy that Grindhouse’s box office failure has been mostly ignored in critical assessments.

I also had a great Grindhouse theatrical experience. I remember that my friends and I didn’t love it as much as we wanted to, but we knew we’d just seen something weird and special. I rarely revisit it, though. Something always feels off when I watch it at home. It doesn’t feel right. But Death Proof > Planet Terror, for sure. Planet Terror tries way too hard. Death Proof has Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson, and the exploitation elements are incorporated more organically. Do you have a favorite trailer? As an Edgar Wright guy, I’m partial to Don’t. It got me interested in Hammer horror.

Adam: I like Don’t a whole lot, but Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving (“White meat. Dark meat. All will be carved.”) is my personal choice. I used to talk in the Thanksgiving voice with my friends sometimes back in the day. It has since been replaced with Pacino and Divoff. It’s a real shame Eli Roth never got to turn this into a feature. Now he’s doing a family horror movie with Jack Black and Cate Blanchett (The House with a Clock in Its Walls). I never saw that coming.

Rob: That trailer is something else. What do you think of the Grindhouse-adjacent movies like Machete? I’ve never seen any of them.

Adam: You’re fine. I’ve never seen The Man with the Iron Fists. Machete is okay but runs out of steam. Machete Kills and Hell Ride are very terrible.
I forgot to mention I like Grindhouse so much that I made a point of seeking out Guero’s and Texas Chilli Parlor when I went to Austin for the first time. Both are terrific restaurants. I want to go back to Austin right now. Sigh.

Rob: I’ve never been. I hear it’s a fun place for fun people! Let’s move on to a movie almost as long as Grindhouse, David Fincher’s Zodiac, which I saw at 10:30 PM on Saturday, March 3rd in Auditorium 10.

Adam: Why in the hell...I mean, Zodiac is long...10:30 PM? You were a real night owl.

Rob: I was reckless in my college days! I didn’t always check running times before I bought a ticket.

Adam: Zodiac is the best movie of the 2000s. The only other choice, I think, is Mulholland Dr. It’s a perfect movie that I can’t do justice right here. It needs its own podcast or Reserved Seating.
Rob: The only thing I can add is that Zodiac is an anywhere, anytime movie. Early morning, late night. On a plane, on a train. Green eggs, blue eggs. Any eggs. No eggs at all! It’s the kind of immersive, all-consuming movie you lose your entire day to. I’ve been a little uncomfortable singing Fincher’s praises lately because his gender issues can be so problematic, but there are very few one-two punches like Zodiac and The Social Network, the latter of which ends up commenting on those gender issues, anyway. But Zodiac is perfect. I might start it once we finish here, and I guarantee you that I’ll stay up as late as it takes to finish it. Maybe I can get some of that old night owl mojo back.

Adam: Oh, you should definitely do that. I’ll be busy watching my White Sox give up runs to the Yankees.

Rob: You check those new MLB power rankings? Phillies in fifth. #BeBold

Okay, one more to close things out. AMC Theaters does a Best Picture showcase in the weeks preceding the Oscars. For one fee, you get to see a marathon of all the nominees, with free refills of popcorn and soda all day. I haven’t been since the Academy increased the number of nominees, but my friends and I went three or four years in a row back in the day and had a blast. Let’s finish by ranking the nominees from 2007, all of which I saw beginning at 11:00 AM on Saturday, February 28, 2008. In no particular order:

1. Atonement
2. No Country for Old Men
3. Juno
4. Michael Clayton
5. There Will Be Blood

Adam: I’ll go Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Atonement. I bet our readers are scratching their heads at this ranking. I loved Juno in its initial release and still do after revisiting it about a year or two ago. Michael Clayton is fantastic and very rewatchable. Just a great lawyer/fixer drama. No Country For Old Men is a really strong crime thriller. One of my favorite Coen Brothers flicks. There Will Be Blood is a movie I respect more than enjoy and bums me out more than a little because it marked the beginning of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie becoming a different thing. Atonement stunk. I might like it more now because of Saoirse Ronan growing into one of my favorite actresses, but I’s Joe Wright and he has a very spotty track record. I think Pride & Prejudice might still be my favorite of his movies.

How was seeing these five movies in a row? I’ve never done this marathon because I figured it would feel really long. I get a horror marathon. Those become parties, but an Oscar nominee marathon sounds draining.
Rob: We don’t get a lot of marathons or repertory festivals in Philly the way you do in Chicago, so this was a big event. It was a little exhausting, if I remember correctly, but there were short breathers built in and a long dinner break before the last two movies. I think 2006 was the first year we went, and that’s my favorite. I still have all my lanyards.

I’m also a huge and unapologetic Juno fan, but I’m going to go There Will Be Blood, Juno, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Atonement. I should be fair and say that I haven’t seen Atonement since that day and that I’d probably appreciate it more now, but I’m pretty comfortable with this ranking. No Country is that “respect more than enjoy” movie for me, and while I’ll always put Juno on before any of these, it’s hard for me to deny how deeply There Will Be Blood gets under my skin. That’s another movie that your whole day becomes about, whether you like it or not.

This was really fun. What do you want to hit next week?


Rob: Because you’ll be seeing it in 3-D while I suffer through my standard-def multi-pack DVD! Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. Grindhouse was by far was one of the most fun theater experiences I've ever had, much because the only people there were people that knew what they were seeing.

    Death Sentence kicks ass! I loved the violent throwback vibe of it at the time where the story was super simple and the violence was turned up to ludicrous speed.

    When my brother and I saw Live Free or Die Hard, I looked over to him about 30 minutes in and said "man, there's a lot of fuckin' fast typing action in this movie". That pretty much sums that flick up to me. I didn't enjoy it at all although the unrated cut is a little more watchable because McClane actually curses because that what John Fucking McClane does.

  2. i like these time machine articles

    you'd have to pay me to go to a Oscar movie marathon. not that they're bad movies, but they're usually not fun and light movies, so i feel i'd be depressed by the end