Thursday, May 21, 2020

Two for One: CHEAP THRILLS & AFTER HOURS

by Anthony King
“You wouldn't believe what I've been through tonight.” – Paul Hackett

Like Patrick, I love programming movies. Double features especially. As a kid, my family would spend nearly every Friday evening at my grandma's for dinner and movies. Always two movies, and never kids' movies. After loading up on pizza and Sprite, we'd all gather round the big box Zenith and pop a tape in the top-loader. Dead Poets Society, Die Hard, A Fish Called Wanda, Lethal Weapon, The Naked Gun, Good Morning, Vietnam. Grandma would play the comedies or action movies first and save the dramas to put us kids to sleep.

Thanks to those memories, I spend a portion of almost every single day thinking about what two movies would play well together. And why. As many people will tell you, there's a formula to programming movies. It differs from person to person, but everyone has their own specific recipe. There's something special about choosing two films that complement each other perfectly that makes for a magical night at the movies.

Personally, I have four cardinal rules I try to follow when pairing movies:

1. Length. The perfect amount of time for a double feature comes in under 200 minutes. And try to shoot for around 180 minutes.

2. Mood. Genre films and comedies make for the best doubles. I love a good, thought-provoking drama that sends me swan diving into my emotions, but I don't want to spend three hours there and then go straight to bed.

3. Theme. Find something that connects both movies. The trick is that you don't want the two films to be too similar. Find a loose connection, however loose, and run with it.

4. Release dates. It's really fun to pair two films that have at least 10 years between them. The bigger the time span, the better. My favorite movie of all time is When Harry Met Sally... It pairs incredibly well with Casablanca for a number of reasons. (Although I break my “no drama” rule with the latter.)

So without further ado, may I present my first double.

Cheap Thrills (2013) dir. E.L. Katz, 88 min.
After Hours (1985) dir. Martin Scorsese, 97 min.
Since I already spent too much time explaining my double feature philosophy, I'll refer you to Patrick's review of Cheap Thrills. He and I share similar sentiments on this wonderfully dark (pitch black) comedy. This movie is the definition of efficiency – from the script level to Katz's direction. We're in and out under 90 minutes, we know the exact story progression within 20 minutes, and Katz's staging and camera placements define feelings not verbally expressed by the actors. Ethan Embry's foray into genre has been really exciting to see with films like The Guest, Late Phases, The Devil's Candy, and Convergence. Primarily set in one location, a cast of four strong leads, and plenty of WTF moments, Cheap Thrills will be considered a cult classic 10 years from now.

Most of my discoveries over that past three years have come from two men: Brian Saur and Elric Kane of the Pure Cinema Podcast. I'd seen the VHS box of After Hours at my local video store as a kid, but hadn't actually watched it until last year. The story follows Paul Hacket (Griffin Dunne), a simple, single man, leading a simple, single life as a word processor. One night he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) in a coffee shop, and she invites him over. She's temporarily rooming with an artist friend known for making plaster of Paris bagels and cream cheese. Marcy is carrying too much baggage for Paul's liking, though, and he tries to get home but doesn't have enough money. As the night progresses he meets character after character, all leading to a mob led by Catherine O'Hara as an owner/operator of a Mister Softee truck chasing him through the streets. The movie ends just as it begins: Paul, sitting at his desk at his office, but now covered in remnants of the plaster shell in which he was encased (I'm not explaining this; watch the movie).

This is just one example of the dozens of “One Crazy Night” doubles you could create. What I like here, though, is we have two men, Craig (Pat Healy) in Cheap Thrills and Paul in After Hours, who are dealing with the struggles and banality of a normal life. Craig, having recently lost his job and facing down an eviction notice, needs an escape. Paul, re-reading a Henry Miller novel in a coffee shop after yet another day at his meaningless job, needs an escape. At any point during their respective crazy nights, Craig or Paul could pull the plug and just head home. In Cheap Thrills, it's the money that keeps Craig coming back. In After Hours, Paul is prevented from getting home the later it gets, but it was his curiosity that kept him from just saying, “Fuck it! I'm walking home!” earlier in the night.
Both movies present fairy tale lands filled with interesting characters. In Cheap Thrills, you have the old high school buddy, Vince (Embry), and the rich, sadistic couple of Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) stuck in an upper middle class neighborhood overlooking Los Angeles. After Hours is overflowing with strange people. I mentioned O'Hara and Arquette, but you also have Linda Fiorentino as the artist and her boytoy Horst (Will Patton), Dick Miller and Vic Argo as waiters at diners, John Heard as the heartbroken boyfriend/friendly bartender, Terri Garr as the kooky/lonely waitress, and Cheech and Chong as less-stoned Cheech and Chong. The list goes on and on. And the whole time Paul is stuck in an eerily empty, nondescript neighborhood in Manhattan.

My original idea was to have After Hours play first. My wife and I had just watched it last year, though, and she hadn't seen Cheap Thrills. That left me with the pleasure of showing her this insane movie. After it ended, she said, “You need After Hours as a palate cleanser after that.” And wouldn't you know it, she was right. I wouldn't necessarily call it a palate cleanser, but the ethereal world Scorsese creates in After Hours plays extremely well after the tequila-guzzling-coke-snorting insanity of Cheap Thrills.

7 comments:

  1. Bravo, that is a fantastic pairing.

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  3. Interesting timing for this article, as I have purchased copies of each film in the last week.
    I'm thinking I'll do this double.

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  4. These two movies are SO good, and I love the idea of them as a double feature.

    I love Scorsese, and After Hours is in my top 2-3 of his movies for me. Cheap Thrills blew me away when I watched it, just insanely dark and awesome.

    Great article!

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  5. Recently watched both for the first time and agree this is a great double! Late night self pity party guys.

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  6. Really enjoyed this article man! I hope you continue this series, I love reading other people's film curation.

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