8.25.2010

LIST: Memorable Movies With Dad

Though it may sound it at first, this is not a rundown of my favorite father/son movies. I glanced down the last Top 100 list I put together and the closest two to that sort I found were The Weather Man... and Pink Floyd's The Wall. Yeah. No, this is a lineup of films my father took me to see in theaters that I remember most fondly - or at least with the most clarity - and my stories of the experiences. I've always felt fortunate to have such a good family situation and, in turn, such a great father. Since I always seem to express myself through motion picture media (going back to eighth grade when I thought liking Bond flicks was a defining personality trait and I responded to everyone's personal stories with, "I can totally relate. You see, this one time, on The Drew Carey Show...") this seems an appropriate way to honor that paternal relationship.

Now, nothing against hitting a picture with the ol' lady. My mother and I have had a handful of remarkable theatrical experiences such as Kill Bill (both "volumes") and Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake. And as a whole family, naturally, we've shared experiences, for better or for worse, such as with Inside Man (that's what I did on my 21st birthday instead of getting trashed on Irish car bombs) and Ratatouille (for some reason it wasn't until then my parents realized "family movie" didn't have to mean "rated PG for mild peril" now that I was 22 and my sister was 17... suffice to say, not one of our more successful excursions). Getting out to the cinema with dad, though, has always been something special no matter what we're seeing. Always keeping himself busy in one way or another around the house, dad's tough to nail down for a whole movie. We'll watch Jeopardy together or reruns of old cowboy shows (just the other night we checked out a great episode of Gunsmoke) - and even within the past few months I managed home viewings of There Will Be Blood and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - but getting him in the theater with no distractions is where it's at.

The earliest film I can remember dad bringing me to is Ghostbusters 2. This one doesn't quite fit the criteria since mom was along, but is worth mentioning since I was but 4 years old and mom wasn't so sure about bringing me to a movie about ghosts with jokes sure to soar over my wee noggin. 108-minute(-plus-previews)-long story short: mom was right. We all look back and laugh (even at the movie itself - now that I'm "of age" it's quite hilarious), but for two years back then I refused to take a bath without supervision due to fear the "strawberry monster" would get me. Mom even recalls a similar apprehension regarding witches in the refrigerator.

When I turned 13, dad took me to Dante's Peak at a second-run theater. Having thoroughly enjoyed that and finally being certified to see a broader range of material by the evil, evil MPAA, that November I urged him to follow up with Starship Troopers. He was all for it, but at the last second I wimped out and we saw Disney's Hercules. I was probably the oldest kid in the auditorium but I still enjoyed the heck out of it, even if I didn't get up and dance to "A Star Is Born" like everyone else (and when I finally saw Starship Troopers a couple years later, I figured I had made the wise selection).

To provide an idea of what gets our butts in the seats, some titles we traversed once finally ready to traverse them (some of which dad himself helped me remember here) were Mission: Impossible, Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, The Haunting's remake, The Green MileThe MummyThe MatrixSwordfish and Tomorrow Never Dies. Later we would take in Jurassic Park III, A History of Violence, The Village, King Arthur and Rob Zombie's Halloween, the last of which was certainly an odd choice for father/son viewing (although I suppose you could also say Stabbing Westward's Wither Blister Burn & Peel would be an odd album for a father to gift a son, but then finding that very CD waiting on my middle school bed is one of the best gift-receiving moments I've been lucky enough to experience... and I'm still listening to the same disc... even now, as I write). Sheesh, and then I'm almost forgetting the utter hilarity of seeing Tropic Thunder together during dad's 2008 visit to my then-home of Orlando.

Most recently we went to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, which dad said was like a missing piece of his childhood, and Public Enemies. I felt Michael Mann fumbled the latter, but dad, typically appreciative of true biographies, loved what we saw. We discussed John Dillinger for days. A somewhat funny side-note about that Public Enemies screening: We initially went to a matinee with the whole family... but I was so dissatisfied with the tiny screen size and projection quality (as my local Regal tends to do on those smaller screens, they sliced the 16:9 ratio on either side) that I dragged everyone back home. By the time our better screening rolled around, only we guys felt like going anymore.

So, as you may have discerned, we don't necessarily aim for sure-fire classics or high-brow fare. No matter what we go to see together or what quality it exudes, though, it always winds up holding sentimental value simply for having seen it together. Here's a list of stories about the five most memorable outings:


Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)

We kick off with a film very similar to Public Enemies in the sense that I didn't particularly care for it but, it being a true biography and all, dad enjoyed it greatly. The Johnny Cash factor helps immensely, of course. Ever since he was young, since before his days in Yellowstone National Park as a gas station "pumper" (something I followed in his footsteps with in 2006) dad has been listening to and loving Cash.

As many surely recall, Cash and wife June Carter had recently died in 2003. With their names reentering headlines, I realized how unfamiliar I was with their music and bought compilation CD The Legend of Johnny Cash. The CD barely left my player for months. It primed me for what would be the theatrical Walk the Line experience at the AMC Veterans Expressway 24 in Tampa - an experience that made me feel like I was doing something nice for dad... even though he was paying... and doing the driving.

See, I'm not sure dad would have gone out of his way for the movie had I not mentioned it to him, and seeing him get into the music - even sing along to himself at certain points (Big River, as I remember, was a highlight) - was very special.

To reciprocate a meaningful movie purchase I'll mention later (at the very bottom of this list, actually), I bought dad the Walk the Line DVD when it was released. Then, in 2008, I brought a copy of Walk Hard along for Christmas vacation... I can't be sure, but I'd like to say dad at least found the parody to be amusing. He's certainly in its demographic regarding its more subtle, derivative humor, anyway.


The Spy Who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999)

This story will be informed by one told further down... but for now, the set-up. Dad's always been a biker of sorts. He may not sport a Hell's Angels tattoo and cruise to Sturgis every August with a motley crew of leather-for-lifers, but he loves his two-wheeled Hondas and has been riding since his late teens. In summer 1999 he sat me on the passenger's seat of his Goldwing. We left for a week-long motorcycle trip from our then-home in Woodstock, Connecticut to North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with plenty of pit-stops along the way including the homes of his grown daughters and old Yellowstone pumper buddies and the Luray Caverns in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

I have spectacular memories of the trip and feel I appreciated it as well as I could for the level of maturity I had at the time, but, being me, I was always thinking about specific examples of immersive media as opposed to the overall immersive experience I was embarking upon. At one point I even convinced dad to go halvsies on a Game Boy Pocket so I could play Wario Land 2 on the back of the bike (with the volume jacked all the way up so I could hear it through my helmet and, subsequently, rack up a big battery bill).

So with this perpetual distraction of media, of course I was constantly checking our motels' surrounding areas for cinemas. Now, I either hadn't seen the first Austin Powers at this point or I had seen it and not really cared for it (aside from the "Who does Number Two work for" scene, that is) but this one looked good. Honestly, I don't remember whose idea it was to see it, but the ultimate decision was definitely mutual.

We had an absolute blast. Rarely do I recall laughing that much at one time, let alone laughing that much with someone else. The shared hysteria made for possibly the first time I realized, "Hey, my dad is a real guy, too!" We later took the family to see Goldmember and still quote each movie to one another every great once in a while.


The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)

Somehow, perhaps due to 9/11 dominating public and private consciousness, I managed to remain ignorant to the fact someone was trying to make some Lord of the Rings movies. Well, sometime in December 2001 dad and I decided to hit the Regal at The Falls in Miami. It's one of the few occasions I've ever gone to a theater without a plan as to what movie, exactly, I was going to see (another time was just the year prior with Singer's X-Men, which again, for some reason, I had no idea had been made until I stood before its glowing title at the box office). Opting to give this Lordy, Ringy, Fellowshippy thing a shot was pretty adventurous for us (we're exciting folks), and I'm not sure we even expected it to be three hours long.

At a certain point I thought to myself, "This sure seems like that funky book that one family friend of ours lent me upon discovering my penchant for Piers Anthony's Xanth series..." Sure enough, I was vaguely familiar with the story already, but even still I was taken captive by surprise. I wasn't the only one - by the end my father confessed if the next installments were ready to screen he would have gladly sat there another six hours to devour them. I concurred.

When The Two Towers came out, I was with a fellow movie-buff girlfriend so dad and I didn't wind up seeing that one (or Return of the King, for that matter) together. It's just as well, though, because I have always found Fellowship to be by far the superior segment of the trilogy and the successors may have soured the original experience's memory. Besides, once I had my mitts on all three extended editions (purchases that began my thankfully-now-rectified descent into credit card hell), we pseudo-marathoned them over the course of a week.


October Sky (Joe Johnston, 1999)

Ah, October Sky. The few times I've inquired, dad has noted this as his favorite movie. It is indeed a very "dad" movie - an inspirational small town true story (a la Hoosiers or We Are Marshall) that involves a teacher. Oh, I suppose I haven't mentioned that yet. Dad's a teacher. So... definitely, without a doubt, a "dad" movie.

The first time we went to see this, I wasn't game for some drama about a kid building rockets. No, really, I wasn't. I pleaded with dad to just wait in the lobby to the point that he gave me the ticket price in quarters and let me take on the arcade while he went in to the auditorium (don't worry, this was rural Connecticut and I was - or like to think I was, anyway - a fairly sharp kid... I wasn't about to get turned into a lampshade in some creepy dude's basement).

Not surprisingly, I wore through the pile of quarters within ten minutes playing one of those Area 51 shooter games. The aliens had my virtual number... and I deserved as much, I suppose, for being selfish. Dad came out of the movie raving, though, and some time over the following week (perhaps even the next day... can't remember exactly) we returned... and I'm glad we did.

Sure, October Sky may be far from my favorite film (that's another kind of Sky, thankyouverymuch) but it's a worthy dose of inspiration with a bittersweet dessert of father/son drama (so hey, I managed a list entry meeting not only the intended criterium but the inadvertently implied one, too). Incidentally, Joe Johnston is the only director to repeat in the mutual moviegoing history what with Jurassic Park III entering the fray in July 2001.


The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999)

Wow, 1999 was a pretty memorable year for father/son movies, eh? While sitting in that lobby, after Area 51 whooped my lilly-white booty and before dad emerged beaming from October Sky, I watched the Phantom Menace trailer on nonstop rotation. I couldn't get enough of John Williams' new composition for the more intense scenes even if the visuals seemed suspiciously against the Star Wars grain I was such a fanboy for (oh yeah - novels, encyclopedias, video games, toys, trading cards, my own fan fiction...).

As established with the Spy Who Shagged Me entry, 1999 saw the summer motorcycle trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I mentioned I was always hunting for movie theaters near our motels. Well, with the Spy night as an exception, each motel stay was accompanied with a viewing of The Phantom Menace. We must have seen it at least four or five times. We typically lunched at KFC, too, and the fast food joint was running a promotional tie-in that yielded a few cheap Phantom Menace toys for yours truly.

Between the previously discussed Game Boy Pocket and all this Star Wars stuff, the whole trip pretty much became as much about bonding with dad over my interests as it was about bonding over his. I remember dad saying to mom before we left that, due to road conditions and what one might call "parental relationship cabin fever", he expected we would have a tiff or two and have to hash some issues out... but really, we just had a grand ol' time mixing nature and motorcycles with virtual reality and speeder bikes.

Sometimes I feel bad for having dragged the old man to the same movie over and over, but he always says it was a good time that didn't get old! Actually, the only movie I've seen more times in theaters is Attack of the Clones. Man, was I ever trying to convince myself that these new Star Wars movies were worth a damn beyond sentimental value... and shucks, there it is... here I was about to get through an entry involving Star Wars without blatantly ripping on the prequels. It's no use, I tell you! At least I didn't mention Revenge of the Sith... that would certainly have been a losing battle (and I know dad agrees - though at first when he took the family to see that third prequel I was grabbing at optimistic straws, he was very open about his dissatisfaction with it).

Oh yeah! That Christmas of 1999 dad's gift to me was the Phantom Menace VHS to commemorate our trip. Talk about things to actually feel bad about... I, having a tendency to think practically at the wrong times, said something to the effect of "Well, I was planning to wait until all three had come out so I could save money getting the box set... but this is cool, too." Silly me. I do still have that VHS, though, and think about dad and our most triumphant motorcycle adventure every time I look at it.

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