Hollywood studios are maintaining a miser’s grip on their unreleased new product in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until cinemas can be safely filled again. So as Manitoba multiplexes opened last week, the movie listings look like something unmoored in time.
Sure, many of the films on view for a reduced $5 admission at the Grant Park, Polo Park and St. Vital cinemas are early 2020 releases: The Invisible Man, The Gentlemen, The Hunt, 1917 and Trolls: World Tour.
Beyond those, the pickings are split, going back a few years (Interstellar, Gravity, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) or going back a few decades (Jaws, Back to the Future, The Exorcist).
The fare presents an interesting opportunity, since one can generally catch those older movies in rotation on cable or on Netflix.
But bear in mind that most younger folks may have never even seen a lot of these films on the big screen. Seeing familiar movies in that context is a lesson in the power of the theatre experience. With that in mind, here are a few recommendations.
The Movie: The Exorcist: The Director’s Cut
Where it’s playing: Grant Park Cinemas
Why it’s worth seeing: All horror movies are better in a movie theatre. You are compelled to stay seated. You can’t stop it when the going gets terrifying. You can’t fast-forward. You can’t change the channel. At best, you can only turn away from the screen or cover your face. It adds to whatever tension already exists.
And in the case of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, the tension is plentiful. In taking on William Peter Blatty’s bestselling potboiler, Friedkin does his best to ground the supernatural hoo-haw with dramatic gravitas, especially by the great Ellen Burstyn as the mother to Linda Blair’s demon-possessed child, and Jason Miller as Father Karras, a Jesuit priest facing his own crisis of faith. And let’s not forget the also-great Max Von Sydow as Father Merrin, the titular priest with haunting past experience staring down these shocking manifestations of pure evil.
It’s a bit of a pity Landmark is screening the "director’s cut" from 2000. The 1973 original, which had already been delivered without studio interference, is all anyone needs to see.
The Movie: Jaws
Where it’s playing: Grant Park, St. Vital
Why it’s worth seeing: I’m going to speak from experience here. The first time I saw Jaws was at a drive-in theatre in the summer of its original release, when the projected image was faded by our province’s persistent post-sunset daylight. The opening scene, in which a skinny-dipper is eaten on a lonely beach, was somehow all the more unnerving when you couldn’t really see what was going on. A few years later, I saw it on video, and a few years after that, I saw it in an indoor, hard-top theatre.
The latter was undoubtedly the best possible way to see it. (Shout-out to Toronto’s late lamented Roxy Theatre, where it was double-billed with Dario Argento’s Suspiria!) When Roy Scheider is throwing chum in the water and the shark rises behind him, I practically jumped out of my seat. The big-screen cinema, even more than the best home cinema, can create an unparallelled intimacy between the audience and the movie. Also, Steven Spielberg saw beyond the fear factor, creating a crackerjack adventure story that just sucks you in.
The Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Where it’s playing: Grant Park.
Why it’s worth seeing: If Steven Spielberg seems overrepresented in the current cinema schedule, it’s because he is one of those filmmakers whose work stands up to repeated viewings. So it is with his 1981 thriller Raiders of the Lost Ark, which announces Spielberg’s mastery of style in the opening sequence, in which two-fisted archeologist Indy (Harrison Ford) navigates his way through a booby-trapped temple in Peru to retrieve a priceless artifact.
While some of the content may be dated, Spielberg’s skill with an action sequence stands the test of time. And let’s not forget that scene on the tramp steamer in which the battered Indy gets kiss therapy from his feisty love interest Karen Allen (easily the best of the Indy leading ladies), a strangely erotic moment in an escapist PG adventure.
The Movie: Back to the Future
Where it’s playing: Grant Park, St. Vital
Why it’s worth seeing: Robert Zemeckis’s 1985 comedy-adventure (produced by Spielberg, of course) is now famously one of those movies that doesn’t bear close scrutiny, whether you’re talking about its time-travel paradoxes, or the fact that it involves a scene in which Marty McFly’s mom (Lea Thompson) attempts to seduce her future son (Michael J. Fox).
In fact, that is actually one of the reasons it’s worth seeing. Time travel gave Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale an excuse to run wild with ideas, whether it’s a son getting a startling perspective of his own parents at his age, or addressing the generational constants in life. One of the film’s funniest and most subtle gags is a high school principal who has not apparently aged in the 30 years between Marty’s time travel experience. But the movie is filled with stuff like that. There are more ideas popping around in five minutes of Back to the Future than there are in the entire running times of most Hollywood fantasy confections.
One other thing: Screenwriter Gale has said the character of bully Biff Tannen was inspired by Donald Trump. That explains so much.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.