March 05, 2014

Final Screening Double Feature Extravaganza! Rocking The Brattle With ALIENS And The Incredible MIAMI CONNECTION

"My father!  I found my father!  Oh my god!"
It's a little after midnight and the Oscars have just ended.  I'm standing alone on my back deck, puffing on a year-old cigar and listening to the sounds of the last Blue Line train rumbling towards Logan airport.  After that, stillness.  I may have spent the night watching Hollywood stars celebrate the best their industry has to offer, (ironically enough, the majority of the presenters and entertainers either fumbled their lines or blew their cues) but for the first time in 366 days, I have not watched a movie today.  It feels weird.  I throw back the last of my Glenmorangie and look out at the night sky, trying to wrap my head around exactly what it is I've accomplished.  But mostly I can't stop thinking about the previous night's misadventures at the Brattle Theatre.

If you made it out for my Final Screening Double Feature, first let me say thank you.  I was completely blown away by the turnout not just in terms of sheer numbers, (and oh boy were there a lot of you!) but also in the quality of the crowd.  As often as I may bitch about terrible theater audiences spoiling a movies with their immature or inconsiderate behavior, there's really nothing quite like the thrill that you can only find by sitting in a dark room with a group of friends and strangers who are all on the same page and ready to properly engage with a film, whether that means screaming at a scary monster, clapping along with the music or laughing at every word that comes out of Bill Paxton's mouth.  There was a palpable energy in the room that elevated the night beyond the bounds of just watching movies.  You guys came ready to fucking party and I love you for it.

Let's rewind.  Like any good birthday celebration, I started out the day with a pile of pancakes.

Actually no, that's incorrect.  I woke up at 8:30 AM, took the dog for a walk, made Jamie a big pot of coffee and then put on Ridley Scott's Alien to kick things into gear.  It was only my second time watching the movie and Jamie had never seen it, so it seemed like the best way to prepare ourselves for the madness yet to come.  As soon as it ended, we hopped in the car for brunch with our friends Justin and Phaea and their adorable ginger son Harvey.  We feasted on eggs, ham and pancakes with homemade fruit compote before little Harvey woke from his nap and the two of us spent the next hour blowing bubbles and bouncing a large green Ninja Turtles ball around the kitchen.  The last time I saw Harvey was his first birthday and in the seven some-odd months since then the little guy has matured a lot.  He walks, he jumps, he even knows some sign language.  It's like he's a little person.  Crazy.

After brunch, Jamie and I grabbed my sister Cait and jumped on the train to Harvard Square.  It was still hours before I had to be at the Brattle, but I had a plan.  You see, my friend Heather had recently published her first novel and she commemorated her release day with a new tattoo.  I'd been itching for some new ink myself and had been tossing around ideas for a few weeks, mostly variations on film reels and old-timey projectors.  But then Harold Ramis died and I started revisiting the idea of getting the Ghostbusters logo.  After all, I had tried to show Ghostbusters on my big night instead of Aliens but was foiled when the studio wouldn't make the print available.  (It's the film's 30th anniversary and they recently issued a 4K-mastered Blu-ray, so I expect we'll see a new DCP in theaters later this year.)  Once Jamie informed me that, as a gift to celebrate finishing my project, she was getting me the upcoming Ecto-1 Lego set, my mind was made up.

Due to some train delays, we walked into Chameleon, a tattoo shop a few blocks from the Brattle in Harvard Square, with very little time to spare.  The kind folks there were able to squeeze me in without an appointment, but by the time we got started I was already supposed to be meeting friends at the bar downstairs for dinner and drinks before the show.  Fortunately it's not a very complicated tattoo so I knew it wouldn't take long to finish, but the timing was such that Jamie and Cait weren't able to hang with me and take pictures of the process.  But John the tattoo artist was totally awesome and we chatted about comic books and superhero movies while he adorned my right arm with the infamous "no-ghost" symbol.

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.  I've already got my next one all planned out.

I met up with everyone at the bar only to discover that the place was PACKED.  We quickly decided to change venues to somewhere a little more low-key, so we went around the corner to Tasty Burger.  I didn't even know they had a bar downstairs, but it was exactly what we needed.  I threw back a few porters, some onion rings and a BBQ cheeseburger before running down the street to the Brattle to make sure everything was in order.

I'm not gonna lie, I was legitimately afraid that the only people in attendance would by my limited handful of friends.  But when I walked into the theater a little after 6:30, there were already about 25 people in the audience and I only knew three of them.  By the time we kicked things off around 7:15, the theater was about 2/3 full.  I gave a brief introduction for myself and the project to those who didn't know who the hell I was, I thanked some of the people who helped make it all happen, then we dove into the night's entertainment.  I hand selected a few trailers to get us in the mood for each film, so before Aliens I warmed up the crowd with trailers for the original Robocop, the upcoming Jodorowsky's Dune and Joe Cornish's incredible Attack The Block.  Then it was time to head back to LV-426.  I don't need to sing the praises of Aliens (obviously it's outstanding), but I will say that I was truly impressed at just how well it played on the big screen to an energized crowd.  The reason I chose Aliens was simple; a little over a year ago I stumbled upon the Alien box set on Blu-ray for about $20.  I bought it instantly, despite the fact that I had only ever seen the fourth and most ridiculous of the series.  I had always thought of them more as horror movies than as sci-fi movies, despite the fact that the word "alien" was right there in the title.  I was happy to be proved wrong and by the time I'd finished watching James Cameron's sequel, I was pretty much flabbergasted.  It made me realize that there were a lot of classic films that I had deprived myself of out of sheer stubbornness and/or laziness.  It was time to change all that, and a few weeks later the idea for The Daley Screening was born.  I'd been looking forward to revisiting Aliens ever since and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Between films I changed out of my green Nostromo shirt and into my red sleeveless Dragon Sound shirt.  But before we could indulge in those sweet, synth-rock rhythms, it was time for the intermission entertainment.  I'd planned to have the current members of my college a cappella group Noteworthy perform a few tunes for the crowd, including their killer cover of the theme from Skyfall.  Unfortunately some scheduling issues meant that only a few of the singers could make it.  (That might sound frustrating, but it's a classic Noteworthy move that hearkens all the way back to the group's founding so on some level I was kind of expecting it.)  So instead of a cappella, we were treated to a lovely acoustic set of movie tunes, including "Man Of Constant Sorrow" from O Brother Where Art Thou?, 500 Miles from Inside Llewyn Davis and the aforementioned Skyfall.

After that came movie trivia hosted by yours truly, which I decided to truncate since we'd started late and I knew that some people had trains to catch at the end of the night.  Instead of bringing up five players I only brought up three and after five or six rounds we crowned contestant Jason the winner and gave him his choice of prizes.  He ultimately selected a plush Slimer doll, leaving second place winner Andrew to snag a Brattle Double Date pass and third place winner Dan to take home a Godfather Blu-ray box set, which is pretty fucking good for third place.

Then it was time for more trailers.  I knew it would be hard to match the pure bugfuck crazy of Miami Connection, so I went for a collection of clips designed to make the audience say, "Wait, did that really happen?"  First came one of my favorite things in all the internet, this Japanese fried chicken ad featuring an Asian Robocop and (inexplicably) the score from Back To The Future Park III.  Then the trailers for Cheap Thrills (now available on VOD!) and Tammy And The T-Rex, a 90's relic featuring young Denise Richards as a girl whose boyfriend (Paul Walker) is mauled by a lion and gets his brain transplanted into the body of a (possibly mechanical?) tyrannosaurus.  Last but not least was the trailer for The Visitor, a movie I watched twice this year and simply must be seen to be believed.  (It's now available on Blu-ray!  Get it direct from Drafthouse Films and it's about $5 cheaper than Amazon plus you'll get your digital download instantly.)

Finally, it was time for my very last screening and the one I'd been looking forward to ever since Day 1 of this project.  I'd heard such incredible ravings about Miami Connection that I'd purchased it sight unseen over a year ago and it had been sitting on my shelf taunting me ever since.  My original intention was to invite a few friends over to watch it along with copious amounts of alcohol, but I eventually realized that this was exactly the kind of movie that I wanted to watch for the first time with a the largest crowd possible.

Sometimes patience pays off.

If you're unfamiliar with Miami Connection, here's all you need to know.  The film is the brainchild of successful motivational speaker and taekwondo Grandmaster Y.K. Kim.  A Korean immigrant, Kim made it big in the eighties with a chain of taekwondo studios and then rolled his fortune into a series of seminars and home videos designed to teach poor schmucks how to get rich like Kim.  But he also had dreams of Hollywood stardom, so Kim invested millions of his own money financing a film which he wrote, co-directed and even starred in.  (Remember Mr Nishi and his vanity film "Taste The Golden Spray" from The Big Hit?  Yeah, it's kind of like that.)  The film premiered in 1987, when it played in a mere eight theaters in Florida, met with disastrous reviews and quickly faded into obscurity where it remained for the next 22 years.  But in 2009, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson found a 35mm print of the film on eBay.  He'd never seen or even heard of Miami Connection, but Carlson managed to grab it for a paltry $50 and, a few months later, started showing the film to midnight audiences at the Alamo.  Miami Connection quickly became a cult favorite of the local Austin crowds, so when the Alamo later formed the Drafthouse Films distribution label and decided to resuscitate old movies that hadn't seen the light of day in decades, Miami Connection was the first such film they resurrected.

It's hard to describe exactly what makes Miami Connection so special, although simply stating the premise does a lot of the heavy lifting: Mark and his friends are all orphans, roommates, taekwondo blackbelts, and at night they form the synth-rock supergroup Dragon Sound!  But not everyone can handle their impossibly catchy beats, and the guys are forced to contend with a rival band, their lead singer's possessive brother and his lackeys, plus a clan of drug-dealing motorcycle ninjas.  Actually, all three of those groups might be the same people, it's honestly hard to tell sometimes.  But it's more than just that a premise.  Maybe it's that Y.K. Kim seems barely able to speak English on camera.  (Seriously, this guy was a motivational speaker?)  Maybe it's that Dragon Sound is made up entirely of Kim's taekwondo students and none of them can act their way out of a paper bag.  Maybe it's the movie's tendency to suddenly stop and give us an extended yet highly unimpressive display of martial arts prowess or a long, repetitive musical performance edited with a startling lack of rhythm.  At one point they start doing taekwondo demonstrations WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY ROCKING OUT and I thought my head was going to explode from too much awesome.  Hell, maybe it's just the sleeveless t-shirts.

But I think the key to what makes Miami Connection so incredibly endearing lies in Maurice Smith.

Maurice plays Jim, Dragon Sound's keyboard player and only black member.  He's my favorite.  The guy is a beacon of positivity, and his smooth dance groove throughout all the musical numbers are nothing short of hypnotic.  He gets an odd sub-plot concerning his missing soldier father.  He's not actually out chasing down leads trying to find the man, he's just waiting to get a letter from the Defense Department with all the relevant information.  Don't worry if that sounds dull, because we still get to see Jim have a big, sobbing, emotional breakdown as he tells his friends about his tortured family history and the harrowing plight of waiting for the mail.  And then there's unbridled joy when the sacred letter finally arrives and Jim utters one of the best lines in the movie.  (I say "one of" because Miami Connection is preposterously quotable.)  Jim's discovery sets in motion the film's big finale, where Jim stumbles into mortal danger and, against all odds, you actually find yourself genuinely giving a shit.

Is Jim gonna make it?  IS HE??  WHY DO I SUDDENLY CARE?

Maurice Smith encapsulates the film's unflinching earnestness, and at the end of the day it's hard not to fall in love with that.  (Drafthouse even ran "For Your Consideration" ads to get Maurice a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  I would have voted for him.)  All of Dragon Sound's songs are about friendship, loyalty and honesty, and by that I mean they sing a song called "Friends" where they sing that list verbatim.  At one point the band even talks about going on a world tour to visit all the countries their families hail from and teaching people taekwondo while also spreading a new dimension in rock and roll.  It sounds like the kind of idea you come up with when you're 8 years old and have no concept of the world outside your own backyard.  There's a charming naivete to the whole thing that's downright adorable.

Also, a guy gets his head chopped off.  So there's something for everybody.

When the credits finally rolled on Miami Connection, I lept up onto the stage (after having already done so in the middle of the movie to dance along with "Against The Ninja") and thanked everyone for coming out.  I put out my leftover event posters and watched as they were all snatched up in under a minute.  A few people came up to chat with me about the movie and the site and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like a bit of a rock star when it was all said and done.  My friends and I then retired to the Hong Kong for more drinks and some dancing.  It was a helluva night.

It seems fitting that, after a lazy day spent catching up on the contents of my DVR, the following night would wrap up the whole crazy adventure with the Academy Awards.  We made a pile of food and watched a show whose only real surprising aspect was how little anyone seemed to have rehearsed.  The more technical awards that Gravity won, the more I became convinced that 12 Years A Slave would take home Best Picture.  That feels right in a way; Gravity is a movie that rewrites the rules of filmmaking while 12 Years is not only incredibly well crafted, but also feels profoundly affecting on a human level.  The night's results may not seem mathematically fair, yet it still feels emotionally true.  I'm sad that Wolf Of Wall Street couldn't find a win anywhere and I'm happy that Spike Jonze was able to sneak in and grab an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, as I wanted Her to win all the awards.  But still, I have no real bone to pick with the Academy's choices this year.

And in the end I'm left alone on my porch, with my scotch and my cigar.

"Fuck," I whisper.

"What's next?"

Title: Miami Connection
Director: Richard Park, Y.K. Kim
Starring: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, Kathy Collier, William Ergle
Year Of Release: 1987
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Brattle Theatre

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