Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ice Age & Transformers (Redeux)

We're trying something new. Video blogging. I'm using my wife's camera, so bear with me as I struggle to use this technology in a creative way.

Nonetheless, here's our night at the drive-in, on the hottest day in recorded history in western Washington. Over 114 degrees it reached, just hours before our arrival. Box office temps were in the low nineties.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Drive-In Rituals

When she learned that the new Transformers movie was coming out this summer, my seven-point-five year old daughter sat down and composed a to-do list of preparation for our eventual going-to-the-drive-in-to-see-it. Then she promptly hung it up on the refrigerator:
pillows, blankets, soda, hamburgers, bug spray, pop corn, clean car, get candy, take flip-flops...

My daughter’s list was spontaneous, without prompting or help by me, or older sisters, and it made me smile. Getting ready for the drive-in when I was young was tantamount to a religious ritual, much the way a parachutist will pack his chute, Fox Sports will lead up to the Super Bowl kick off, or that guy you work with and his friend Steve prepare for their annual Oscar party.

An early memory I have is my father washing our station wagon in the driveway on the afternoon before we saw The Poseidon Adventure at the Vegas 4 Drive-In. I remember every door open and the tailgate down as my mom vacuumed out the interior and ever since then I've always associated going to the drive-in with dutiful preparation.

When you’re a kid, you have a personal responsibility to gather your supplies, and for me this entailed picking out the right pajamas to wear, grabbing my pillow and blanket, and making sure my butt was in the backseat when Dad said it was time to go. (No, we didn’t have seatbelts that I remember, and if we did…please, who wore them? It was the 70s!) Our red metallic Coleman ice chest we used for camping was loaded with chilled Pepsi on ice, and not those plastic bottles you get today. These were the long neck glass bottles that you needed a bottle opener to pries off the metal bottle cap. Say what you will about the convenience and safety of plastic, but glass bottles held the cold better and the taste was superior. (OK, mostly because they used pure cane sugar as a sweetener instead of today’s high fructose corn syrup. You can re-experience this retro flavor by trying Pepsi Throwback this summer, if you can still find it. Vastly superior taste.)

On our way to the drive-in we’d stop at The Pizza Hut on Decatur Avenue and pick up their Supreme Pizza on their traditional thin crust, and sometimes their Thick and Chewy (before Pan Crust’s greasy mess). Instead of boxes, the pizza was wrapped in a paper teepee, of sorts. Whenever I see Pizza Hut I always remember that fond association with the drive-in, and if I get a thin and crispy supreme pizza, its familiar taste resonates with me. Other than that, the Pizza Hut franchise is bollocks, having gone the way of overpriced franchise restaurants like Applebees and Outback.

Jump ahead a few years, now living in a new state, having new drive-in theaters to experience in the city of Yakima, Washington. Instead of pizza, we’d make pizza boats on French bread using spaghetti sauce, chopped onions, green peppers, hamburger, Canadian bacon, pepperoni and lots of cheese. Very filling and very scrumptious. We’d wrap them in foil, place them in a box. On our way to the drive-in, we’d stop at 7-11, or the AM-PM and get 32oz drinks, which at the time were a novelty item, and for me, the most soda I’d ever seen personalized for one person. (Today, 32 oz drinks are small compared with the 44oz and the jumbo 88ozers, if such a creature exists.)

Pillows and blankets and wearing pajamas obviously fall by the way side when you get older, but when you have your own kids, you take your own traditions, implement them, and gradually they evolve into new ones. While I was always envious of families who hit McDonald’s on the way in with their bags of fires and hamburgers, in the hot summers in the Yakima valley fruit basket it became a family tradition to pack in our ice chest with bags of big, fat bing cherries. Oh so crisp and delicious cold. We’d also pack nectarines and peaches to go with our pizza boats. And who among us NEVER stopped at Safeway and grabbed their candy bars that were always on sale two or sometimes three for a dollar? For me, it ain’t the drive-in unless I have my Snickers bar. On a recent venture to the drive-in my seven year-old and I packed root beer on ice with a big bag of Rainer cherries, popped a sack of popcorn, Nathan hot dogs (no mustard for her), jo-jo fries and chicken tenders. No sense starving, you know. We're Americans.

"Did you clean the windshield?" A lot of time this really isn’t an issue. I hardly remember staying in the car to watch a movie. If I’m not sitting on the tailgate or on a lawn chair, I’m in front of the car on a "bed" constructed out of half a dozen blankets and sleeping bags we packed away in the trunk. But as a matter of protocol I’d make sure the windows were scrubbed clean, inside and out, as I vacuumed out the car.

Prepardness for nighttime weather is a must. Thank goodness we packed light jackets and a blanket the other night as a layer of marine air came in and chilled us down. But right now the Pacific Northwest is pushing into a monster heatwave and with another venture to the drive-in coming up, weather forecasts put dusk temperatures around 94. Yeah. This might mean mucho-on-the-mosquito-repellent that night because all the windows are going to be down (if the little buggers can stand the heat). And mucho-on-the-bottled-water, too.

But you can see this obsession in every car when everyone lines up at the box office each night, the rear window of their cars piled high with folding chairs, blankets, pillows and several excited children. They've come prepared.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs & Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Here we are again at the Skyline Drive-In Theater. Tonight’s double feature is Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, followed by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. When we left home at 7:15 and stopped at the ATM for the entry cash, the temp was 81 degrees and clear skies. By the time we reached the drive-in forty some miles north, a marine air push covered us in clouds with brisk winds gusting seven to fifteen miles an hour. As you can imagine, it’s not 81 degrees anymore.

It’s a Wednesday, and unlike a Saturday it’s not that busy, for obvious reasons. I know full well that I will not get to bed until 2:30, and must get up between six and six-thirty to get ready for work. (Fortunately I only teach summer school from eight to eleven, so I’ll go straight home and crash.) With a half hour before the Ice Age 3 begins, the field is only filled one-thirds capacity. Lots of kids here and they’re tearing it up in front of the screen, which is an empty field roughly fifty yards long and twenty yards wide. My seven year old is leading the charge out there right now, and she’s my only passenger tonight. My fourteen year-old is at our church’s girl’s camp and the nineteen year old is vacationing with her aunt and cousins in SLC, Utah for a family reunion. They’re not thrilled to be missing out. My oldest went through this a few years back when she was at girl’s camp and missed out on the I, Robot and Spiderman 2 double feature, which was a great line up, you gotta admit.

Right now it’s ten after nine, and with this thick cloud cover, its getting dark extra quick. I’ve heard good things about Ice Age 3. Very good things. But I know very little about the plot. I know Simon Peg voices one of the characters and I’m a big fan of his. If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, you’ll know why. (And no, I haven’t seen Star Trek yet. But I have met the original Scottie, James Doohan, at a showing of Star Trek III in Tacoma the day after I graduated from High School. I’ll save that story for later. Trekkies will like it. Everyone else will be bored.)

Holy Crap! This big rock just hit my windshield! It bounced off, miraculously doing no damage! Little kid behind us got wild with a pitch. Father apologized profusely.

Oh! Showtime! A female voice is welcoming us. Here we go!

Previews! AstroBoy. And it seems there’s a ‘squeakweal’ to the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. They go to school and meet a new band made up of female chipmunks. Coming this Christmas. My daughter is excited. I’m…indifferent. I didn’t much care for the first film. Maybe this one will be better.

And here’s another preview for Aliens in the Attic. Ever get the feeling this trailer is showing us everything about the movie, leaving no surprises when it hits theaters? This film must really be terrible and the producers are hoping to get as many butts in the seat on their opening weekend before word of mouth spreads.

OK…Ice Age 3 is starting, and there’s Scrat, of course. My daughter is already giggling with anticipation.

10:46. pm. Ice Age 3 is over, and of the three Ice Age films, this was the best, hands down no contest. Wildly imaginative, and jammed packed with humorous sequences, in particular a scene involving a poisonous green mist you mustn’t breathe in. I’ll say no more. Go see the movie if you haven’t. And yes, if you love Simon Pegg, his character, a weasel, is not unlike Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, albeit with more courage, or chutzpah. His part is by the far the centerpiece of affection, and if you like Scrat the squirrel, this movie won’t disappoint you.

Next up is Transformers, the movie my seven year old has been waiting all these past months to see!

Right now they’re showing an old intermission film to open up intermission. The problem I have with this drive-in’s intermissions is that they go to a dark screen for five minutes with no music. Nothing. I’ve always enjoyed having music over the speakers, in this case the car radio, while the movie is on. The field is also very dark, and it wouldn’t hurt to cast some more spotlights over the front half of the field to help the mass of people heading to the bathrooms.

The movie is starting. Oh. It’s a trailer for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I’m dubious of films that open in August, although The Sixth Sense made such an opening many years back and became an instant classic. Even though it’s from the Stephen Sommers who did the Mummy movies, and it looks to have an epic quality to it, I’ll hold judgment. But history is none too kind… (OK, I know Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby also had an August debut, and it was very, very funny, but still… I’ll shut up.)

2:14. am. OK. I’m home. So, what did I, and my daughter, think of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? (How about that James Doohan story now! It’s pretty cool…)

Yeah. Unlike the first Transformers film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was disappointing. It starts off great, but halfway through it gets very tedious. Very. I can’t stress this enough. It just keeps going and going and going. It’s one adventure after another, and I found myself wanting it to end. That’s not good. I’m at the drive-in watching an explosive action adventure movie. Wanting the evening to end goes against the emotion of going to the drive-in in the first place.

But what’s wrong with one adventure after another? I don’t know, why don’t you go ask The Matrix sequels, huh? As I watched Transformers II I imagined Michael Bay, the film's director and executive producer, horsewhipping the screenwriters into one macho plot evolution after another.

“Let’s do this, then have them go here, then suddenly this’ll happen, and then we jump clear over here, then we’re way up here…”

The problem in coming up with ideas for movies and novels and plays is that it all has to make sense and what you have here are plot pieces randomly glued and stapled together like a four-year old's popsicle stick project. In fact, the friggin’ plot of this movie resembles the friggin’ robots themselves—parts and pieces all jammed together to resemble a movie, and when the movie moves it stomps and clanks and makes terrible noises. And man, that crap gets old, and old fast. Oh, so fast…

How do I know? Transformers’ biggest fan fell asleep in the middle of the endless climatic battle sequence. I tried to wake her. She’d pop her head up, look at the screen, then fall asleep. I was trying to stay awake as well. I kept rolling down the windows to wash cold air over us. But the movie wasn’t making me want to stay awake. (Don’t you think that’s a problem Mr. Bay, or should I direct my comments to Mr. Spielberg, who, of all people, should know better.) I stayed awake because I drove us forty some miles to see this movie, paid my money, and by God I was gonna see it through, clear to the end!

But would I do it again, pay this money, waste this gas, and go all that way to see Hollywood’s idiocy?

Oh yeah. It’s the drive-in, baby! See ya later.