Sitting Duck’s movie journey of 2021

While last year’s unpleasantness was a hard time for movie theaters everywhere, it was the mom-and-pop operations which truly suffered. And in my neck of the woods, that was the Hillside Cinema. Though it only had two screens, its passing will be mourned.

It was the site at which I first saw a movie (Superman III). When my movie attending experience was at its most active, the Hillside was my preferred choice of venue, only visiting another if it looked like they wouldn’t be screening a film I was keen on catching. It also had reasonable matinee prices and didn’t gouge you at the concessions. Like many of these small-time operations, they had their charming little quirks. The most notable was how they would often give out two-dollar bills and fifty cent coins when making change. At a rough guess, at least seventy-five percent of the mutant legal tender that circulated in the state originated at the Hillside.

Though like the Peter Graves character in Beginning of the End, I feel partially responsible for their demise. Around the beginning of the previous decade, my theater visits dropped off precipitously. And it’s not just from following the trend of viewing movies at home instead of the theater. I’ve been increasingly turned off by more current fare, with The Peanuts Movie from 2015 being the most recent one I could bother to watch.

Now intellectually, I understand that movie theaters are facing the same pressures as vaudeville did a century ago. It’s all a part of the cycle of nature in the entertainment ecology, and the entertainment venue shutdowns from last year have merely accelerated the process. My attendance (or lack thereof) of screenings at the Hillside wouldn’t have changed this at all. Yet that nagging guilt refuses to leave.

Which leads up to how my self-imposed exile from movie theaters (aside from RiffTrax Live shows) ended a couple months ago when my curiosity was piqued by two things. The first was the relatively recent opening of an entertainment complex in my neck of the woods. Among the various attractions (which includes a restaurant, an arcade, a miniature golf course, and a kart racing track) is a six-screen movie theater.

I got my impetus to visit when the latest attempt to adapt Dune came out a couple of months ago. It’s been a while since I’ve read the source novel, so I can’t fully vent on it one way or the other. However, I did have some positive and negative reactions. Pluses: The actor for Paul actually looks like a teenager. They feature proper ornithopters, and I’m loving the hummingbird style of propulsion. Minuses: The Harkonnens so far appear to be badly underdeveloped, and it look as if they’ll be making Rabban and Feyd-Rautha into a composite character. The way the actors failed to wear the stillsuit head coverings when they were in the desert bugged me to no end.

Other ways in which I have been enriching my movie viewing habits this year include watching old episodes of Siskel and Ebert on YouTube. This includes their very first time together in 1975, where Siskel had this terrifying lip fungus and both were clad in the most horrific fashions that decade could muster.

One review that particularly sticks with me is their panning of The Watcher in the Woods from 1980, starring the Bond Girl everyone pretends wasn’t a Bond Girl. Despite their negative reaction, the premise sounded awesome, and a clip they showed of a scene in a funhouse hall of mirrors made it look even more so. Turns out it wasn’t that great. Then again, they ripped apart The Wild Geese and, despite certain Unfortunate Implications, it was actually pretty good. Oh well, live and learn.

Of course, many folks go on about how they love it when the two of them disagree. Certainly they’re at their most entertaining, though the shouting match over Weird Science got a bit uncomfortable. Also, I’m still not sure whether Ebert’s thumbs up for Home Alone 3 was serious or if he was just trolling Siskel.

I’ve also started following a podcast called Reels of Justice, in which movies are put on trial to determine if they’re guilty of being bad. I was originally drawn to it when I heard that they have had people associated with MST3K as guests (including Mary Jo Pehl giving an impassioned defense of Ishtar). Like the Siskel and Ebert reviews, it’s been bringing my attention to movies I might not have noticed otherwise, both among those they put on trial and that they recommend during the conclusion.

So, here’s to a 2022 with the potential of many an unexpected discovery!

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