Kevin: It’s hard to remember a time when the Alamo Drafthouse wasn’t a vital part of the Austin film community, but anyone who has lived in the city long enough can recall the days of having to play Russian roulette at the multiplexes and not knowing whether a night at the movies would be ruined by crying kids, broken-down projectors, or rude staff. That began to change in 1997 with the launch of the first Alamo location near downtown, and as the theater chain expanded first in Austin and then throughout the country, it has been an oasis for people who love movies and love the moviegoing experience free of cell phones and talkative patrons.
The Alamo Drafthouse also helped popularize the “dinner and drinks” movie theater concept as well, but while a number of imitators have come up in its wake, they’ve never been able to match the obvious passion the Alamo staff and programmers have for introducing audiences to not just the newest Hollywood blockbusters, but also everything from obscure documentaries, to black-and-white film noirs, to awesomely cheesy ‘80s action flicks. On that note, this Sunday the Drafthouse is presenting “The Reevesolution,” a five-movie mystery marathon dedicated to the works of the one and only Keanu Reeves. CJ and I have our tickets, and obviously we’d be fine if they just showed “Point Break” five times in a row, but as we count down the excruciating hours until it kicks off, we thought we’d list a few of our previous Alamo Drafthouse highlights:
Anyone who knows us might wonder how my friend Mike and I ended up seeing Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s art-house hit “Amelie” together. Well it’s because we originally wanted to see a little movie getting some buzz called “Donnie Darko” that was playing at the original Alamo location in October of 2001. Unfortunately we happened to show up the one night that week they were showing “Amelie” instead, and while I was a bit drunk after having several margaritas at a Mexican restaurant earlier, I stayed and allowed the French whimsy to overtake me. Also I may have fallen asleep for a good bit of it, but Mike seemed to like it.
“School of Rock” and “Kill Bill Vol. 1”
Alamo had just opened a new location in North Austin, where my friend Rich and I saw Richard Linklater’s crowd-pleaser “School of Rock.” After it was over we were about to leave and realized that they were doing a special midnight screening of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vol. 1.” We quickly decided to buy the last remaining tickets and sat in the front row, and before the movie began we saw about 20 minutes of hilariously insane trailers for the kinds of movies that obviously inspired “Kill Bill.” It made us appreciate Tarantino’s gonzo Shaw Brothers-inspired revenge flick even more, and that’s why we loved the Alamo Drafthouse, because on any given night you could stumble in to something unexpected and awesome.
This movie was literally made for the Alamo, especially since one of the first shots of Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is a quick glimpse of the marquee for the Drafthouse’s original location. I can see why the movie bombed, because as far as I’m concerned the only way to watch it is how I did, with a packed house at the Alamo, drinking some beers and surrounded by film fans who appreciated the weird experiment that Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez put on screen seemingly just for us. Also, “Grindhouse” may turn out to be the best time capsule of an Austin that soon began changing – not always for the better – as more people discovered its charms.
Speaking of, CJ had just moved to Austin a week earlier when we heard there was an impromptu birthday celebration for Sylvester Stallone on July 5th with a secret “Rocky” movie. Of course we got tickets, and prayed that whoever was doing the programming that night wasn’t some masochist who would make us sit through “Rocky V.” When the Bill Conti music started blaring and we saw the “Rocky” name scroll across the screen only to end in “III,” we all burst into relief and applause, and my god what a great way to see what I consider the best of the sequels (not counting “Creed”). Everyone laughs at the end of Rocky’s final training session when he and Apollo embrace each other in slow-motion in the water, but you seriously can’t appreciate how hilariously homoerotic “Rocky III” is until you see it with a crowd and enjoy the numerous times Apollo ominously warns Rocky that he “owes” him a “favor.”
Sylvester Stallone Marathon
The Alamo likes to do five-movie marathons of certain stars where you don’t know the films in advance, as is the case with this weekend’s Keanu-palooza. Of course I was not going to miss Stallone’s, which ended up being a perfect mix of cheesy crowd-pleasers like “Tango & Cash,” underrated deep cuts like “Nighthawks,” and “Cobra” before people started catching on to how awesome “Cobra” is. If only the season finale of “Breaking Bad” wasn’t that night I would have stayed for the entire show, but when I heard the awesome sound effect of the helicopter seemingly flying over the audience at the beginning of “Cliffhanger” I had a hard time leaving.
“The Expendables” Sneak Preview
Yeah I know, Stallone again, well screw you he’s great, and if you love Sly the Alamo gives you plenty of chances to enjoy his oeuvre on the big screen. This time it was a week-early screening of the first “Expendables,” but before that we started at 10:00 p.m. with “Demolition Man,” “I Come in Peace,” and “Die Hard.” I think “The Expendables” started at like 4:30 a.m., and even though I was delirious I still loved it, although I was so exhausted that I bolted as soon as Eric Roberts took a knife to the chest. That means when I saw it again a week later in New York I didn’t know that Dolph Lundgren’s character wasn’t actually dead, so what a delightful surprise to see him at the end!
Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds
Two more marathons that demonstrated why Bronson and Reynolds were among the biggest stars of the ‘70s, despite neither being what you would call a traditional matinee idol. The best discovery for Chuck was “Hard Times,” a nice little gem directed by Walter Hill, in which he plays a Depression-era bare-knuckle brawler who lives by his own code. And while it was nice to be reminded that “Smokey and the Bandit” is just a funny damn movie propelled by Burt’s good ‘ole boy charisma, “Sharky’s Machine” showed that Reynolds was just as talented behind the camera, directing a seemingly conventional cop movie on the surface, but which likely had an influence on Tarantino due to the fact that it takes its time and lets you enjoy the camaraderie between Burt and an awesome supporting cast including Charles Durning, Bernie Casey, and Brian Keith.
An action movie as insane and insanely entertaining as the Cage/Travolta classic “Face/Off” will probably never come around again, which is why I was glad to see it on the big screen again for the first time in 20 years last summer at the Alamo. I think the passage of time has made the film even more enjoyable, if nothing else for the fact that the characters do the “hand running down face” move so many times it becomes transcendent.
Why the hell is this mediocre Bruce Willis sequel here? Honestly I still haven’t really seen it, but CJ was visiting Austin in 2013, and he already loved the Alamo so much that he wanted to see something there, even if this was all we could get. However, I couldn’t pay attention to the movie due to an obnoxious couple a few rows below us who spent the entire first 30 minutes eating and talking to themselves as if they were at a restaurant and not a dark theater.
I put the Alamo’s “no talking” policy to the test by summoning a waiter and letting him know how disruptive that couple was being. Within 20 minutes a manager came in to observe them and then gave them a warning, at which point I went to the restroom and when I came out the couple was in the lobby after apparently being ejected, with the guy saying, “Screw this place, I’m never coming here again!” On behalf of everyone in Austin who still love the moviegoing experience, thank you Alamo, and to that particular dude, thank you for not coming back to the Alamo. Oh and also, fuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuu!
CJ: On that last note, the staff was so good at kicking those assholes out I honestly had no idea it had happened until after the movie was over and Kevin told me about it. I laugh just imagining those people getting ready to rain holy hell down on the Drafthouse Twitter account. Or, more likely, do nothing but tell all their friends how they really gave the staff a good what-for. Either way, here are a few of my own Alamo memories:
This was the first time both Anthony and I had ever entered a Drafthouse, and I can’t recall how many times I had to ask Kevin, “So … you get to PICK your seats?” It was a concept that I couldn’t grasp, as all I’d been used to was a mad rush of people into a theater that was not unlike what happens when Italians are offered free t-shirts at sporting events (I’m Italian, so I’m allowed to make that joke). I also couldn’t believe my eyes seeing the warning that talking and cell phone use were strictly forbidden, as my typical New York cinema experience usually involved trying to make out the dialogue while people around me argued about the Jets while occasionally firing guns at the screen. By the time my milkshake had arrived I knew I could never see a movie any other way, and as for “Prometheus,” well that movie sucked but it didn’t matter, as the Drafthouse had swept me off my feet.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction”
I had moved to Austin a few days before and knew I wanted this to be my first movie as a local resident. I remember catching the 10 p.m. show and walking out knowing that my time in Austin would be akin to this movie: lacking in dinosaurs. Point is, after a stressful move and getting settled into a new area, there was something comforting about ordering a burger while watching Autobots and Decepticons battle for the fate of the Earth, which as we all know now is located squarely in China.
I didn’t actually see this at the Drafthouse, since a friend had to switch times on me at the last minute, so we ended up seeing it at the local Cinemark. There’s not much to say other than that within the first five minutes of the movie starting, some dick started using his phone and another couple wouldn’t stop talking. I should point out that there were only six people in the theater. A lesson was learned that day, and I’ve never ventured outside the Alamo since.
This was in one of the big theaters at the South Lamar location, but only about 18 people showed up. So when the host started the program by saying “Welcome to Cobra,” he was met with cheers from only one audience member, leading to a sad and despondent “Great, that’s what I always wanted to hear: one guy clapping.” Well Mr. Programmer, in case you are reading this, that one guy clapping was ME! I REGRET NOTHING! Also, “Cobra” rules.
Because it’s “Road House,” obviously (review coming next week by the way). Also, there is nothing quite like hearing a crowd react to “I used to fuck guys like you in prison” when it’s meant as a non-confusing threat on your life.