Life, Camera, Action: Movie Hopping While Rome Burns

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David Lynch once called film “a magical medium that allows you to dream in the dark.” Walking the carpeted hallways and miniature lobbies of a Times Square megaplex, then, is like stealing between people's private visions. I've paid $12.50 for admission into a movie theater with lax security, giving me freedom to roam the various screenings, and the movies I see constitute a Lynchian avant-garde composite. I glance at the audience’s faces before I sit. It’s comforting to see people laugh at the same time at the same punchline; comforting that an emotional majority can still be measured inside a multiplex.

Knights of Rod, I misread the marquee ticker for the first film I sneak into. It’s about to start. But why does Rod get knights? Are they animated?

Bleached stock. A girl runs on the beach. Her father swings her in his arms. Nobody is in armor on horseback. The Warner Bros. logo appears, followed by jaunty folk-pop. Richard Gere and Diane Lane’s names appear in the credits. The odds of spontaneous jousting decrease by the frame. A title card reads, Nights in Rodanthe. Diane Lane’s husband is there. He asks for her back. Her husband is not Richard Gere. I see where this going. (Rodanthe, most likely.) At least I didn’t misread the marquee-ticker’s abbreviation as Nights in Rod. And, I’m out.

Up the escalator, I duck into The ?Duchesslike Natalie Portman, but isn't. She gazes meaningfully at something on a chair. The crowd has nearly audible conversations. “You must leave and be with me,” a dashing actor says to Nearly Natalie. I see. The game of discerning a plot and then leaving the theater is alarmingly short.  

In Flash of Genius, some guy in the ’60s has apparently just invented the windshield wiper. A crazy and mildly endearing notion. A true story, probably. Which means he will succumb to either corruption or a tragic fall (or both) before redemption. There is unmuffled yawning nearby. A card appears on screen: “Four months later.” “Ford wants out,” someone tells the Genius.

Eagle Eye, at least, engages. I walk in during a scene I remember from the preview. The writing is tight: A mysterious, totalitarian entity tells the leads to do stuff, wreaking havoc if they don't. A manic car chase begins. A classical trope, but still exhausting. After the chase, the filmmakers electrocute a character for good measure. This is the only film I’ve seen today that seems conscious of its own power.

self-contained preview for Gus Van Sant’s ?Harvey Milk biopic, I feel nothing. A nearby marquee-ticker announces  Miracle at Somethingsomething. I don’t bother to read the rest. I need a miracle, whatever it is.

?Hollywood's manipulations to my own needs, but after all these movies my emotions now run on shuffle.

Eventually, I find Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers’ latest. I’ve seen it already, but now their voice—all the broken sentences and borderline slapstick —shines through the smog. I stay for 20 minutes, laugh a lot and finally relax.

When I leave, there’s machine gun fire from inside the Miracle movie. It fades as I descend the empty escalator.

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