Random Factoid #581 / A Remembrance

4 05 2017

I hope you’ll forgive me a brief personal aside here. Though my personality pervades just about every review I write to some extent, I rarely indulge in biographical babbling. (At least, not as much as I used to.) But sometimes I just need to write. It’s often times the best way I have of communicating thoughts that bubble up inside of me – especially ones that I find challenging to express emotionally or vocally.

Margaret Stratton died today. That name probably doesn’t mean a lot to you, if you’re reading this. (It might if you’re a friend of mine who’s been to see an advanced or press screening with me in Houston – which, granted, is probably the majority of my audience these days.) But she’s deeply woven into the fabric of this blog, and thus, my life.

I’ve hinted at it here and there, but when I’m not writing this blog, I’ve been pursuing a career in publicity, public relations and promotions. (I think it’s enhanced my writing innumerably and deepened my appreciation for how culture disseminates.) Margaret is a key figure in that career journey. She used to run the Houston publicity office where I had my first internship during high school, and though she had retired from most of her duties, she kept a large presence there. She could always be counted on to provide support for big events and activations – and, of course, serve as the screening rep for advanced screenings.

Some of my fondest memories come from working with her during the summer before I went to college. We were promoting “The Smurfs,” and even at my modest 5’8″, I was mercifully too tall to fit in the giant Smurf suits that Sony sent us to parade across town. Thankfully, Margaret was willing and able to pitch in. Bless her heart, she suited up in that costume in some of the hottest Houston heat I can remember. And these suits were THICK.

Yet even in what had to be a walking inferno, I cannot recall her complaining even once. In fact, I can barely even recall a moment when she didn’t have a grin from ear-to-ear. In typical teenager fashion, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s when I learned a pivotal lesson about work. If you’re going to do any task, even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant thing, it’s not worth doing unless you put your all into it. You can always affect someone for the better with it. The smiles (and, ok, the occasional terror) came about on the faces of so many young children because she was radiating enthusiasm through the costume.

And my gosh, I don’t even think I can count how many movies I saw with Margaret. It has to be well into the hundreds. Though I first knew her from publicity, our professional relationship later evolved into a more standard publicist-journalist one; I showed up at the screenings she worked, and she took my comments on them. Except it was anything but standard. From the beginning, when a young and timid 18-year-old me made his first forays into the big leagues of the entertainment press, Margaret believed in me. More than that, she championed me. In smaller venues, she’d introduce me to the more established members of the Houston press and sing my praises with the kind of enthusiasm you normally expect from family members. That vote of confidence meant more to me than I knew at the time.

During breaks in college (and the year and change after while I lived at home), I saw her countless times at screenings. She’d ask me all about what was going on in my life – I specifically remember her jubilation when I returned from Cannes – and then ask me what I thought about the movie afterwards. Margaret was such an optimist that she could find the good in just about any movie. I can probably count the number of films she outright rejected. So I always found it tough to tell her when I didn’t like something. After a few years, I found my cheat word to get around expressing outright disdain for a film: alright. Last September, she caught on after a string of particularly bad movies. I remember her putting her foot down and exhorting, “Oh Marshall, you and your alrights!”

Thankfully, the last movie we watched together was a great one: “Manchester by the Sea,” my favorite of 2016. We both walked out singing its praises and feeling emotionally invigorated. It’s now, in retrospect, a rather poetic final film given its subject matter of lives broken by a sudden death and how the living reassemble the pieces when they’re gone. You can never quite put it back together, and sometimes you can’t fill the lonely void. But the very act of trying opens up places in ourselves unbeknownst even to ourselves and lights the way to deeper and more meaningful relationships with the ones we love.

I’m in the middle of a screener for Oren Moverman’s “The Dinner” right now. It’s pretty dreadful. But darn it, I’m going to push myself to find something nice to say about it because that’s what Margaret would do. It’s now up to me, and the many people she touched, to keep her infectious optimism alive in a world that could sorely use it.

Random Factoid #580

5 01 2016

Given that North Korea may or may not have detonated a hydrogen bomb, I figured it was about time for this anecdote.

Back in December 2014, I was not afraid to get on my soapbox and decry what appeared to be cowardice in the face of a pernicious threat to free speech. In the wake of the Sony hack that nearly cancelled the release of “The Interview,” I even invoked Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” to express my disgust.

Trying to walk and not just talk, I immediately purchased tickets for the first Houston show once Sony rescheduled it for release. I even made the purchase confirmation my cover photo.

Longtime readers of this blog, or personal friends, are likely aware of my predilection for holding onto movie ticket stubs. I have made no secret of this collection, even making it the subject of my first random factoid back in July 2009. So surely the ticket stub for “The Interview” holds a treasured spot in the folder, right? Seeing a movie has rarely been such a political act.

Well, if that’s what you thought, you thought wrong. I left arguably the most important ticket in my collection at the theater. Since Alamo Drafthouse requires that stubs be placed on the table in front of the seat, for whatever reason, I simply walked off without it. Normally, I slide the stub into my wallet after it gets ripped. But in this case, I forgot it. Driving home, I realized what I had done. This pretty much summarized my mood:


Random Factoid #579

3 08 2015

I have an X-factor when it comes to hunkering down to get stuff done.  It’s the ringtone from “The Devil Wears Prada.”

If you’ve watched the film, then surely you cannot forget the shrill tone that animates Andy’s phone when she gets the latest request phoned in from dragon lady Miranda Priestly.  (But in case you have, here it is anyways.)

I downloaded this ringtone and installed it on my iPhone.  It serves two purposes.

  1. An alarm.  When I hear this ringtone in the morning, it snaps me to attention and (usually) forces me to get out of bed.  Am I not such a millennial, animated primarily by the fear of falling down on the job?  Thanks, Great Recession!
  2. The ringtone for my boss.  Anyone who I work for and would be calling me about a job-related matter gets this ringtone.  That way, if I hear that tone, I know that I need to pick up as soon as humanly possible.  Other people (*COUGH Google Plus offers that won’t go away COUGH*) might not receive such a speedy response.

That’s all.

Random Factoid #578

28 07 2015

Scorsese iphoneOf course I can’t find any pictures through Google Image searches to prove my point here, but I have a gripe that I need to get off my chest.

I absolutely CANNOT STAND when movies show characters using iPhones incorrectly.

Surely you’ve noticed that often times, when a character takes a call on their iPhone, they are very clearly NOT taking a call.  I can see the light on the screen, and I can tell when the phone is clearly on the main menu.  Getting the phone screen would not be hard to fake – just take a screenshot and open it up in the Photos app.  Or just leave a white screen up or something!

When I can tell that the character is not on a call, it highlights the artifice of the scene and disrupts the illusion.  I’m instantly taken out of the scene.

So, please, filmmakers.  This is not a hard thing to get right.  I’m not saying you should actually endure the hassle of making a call to the phone in the shot.  Just don’t presume the audience watching is stupid enough not to notice that the phone is clearly not making a call.

Random Factoid #576

29 06 2015

Freshman year

I recently graduated from college, and I will miss it for a number of reasons.  But one I did not realize until recently was how much I am going to miss the easy dorm room decor.  For me, it was all as simple as a movie poster and some sticky tack.  Now, I am actually going to have to buy frames … maybe even ones that match the color of the poster or the room.

(You might be asking how on earth I got these posters, and I’ll tell you that I was lucky to have a connection with a promoter and an exhibitor.  But if you don’t have those contacts, never fear!  Many iconic posters that you may well have seen in homes, bedrooms and offices now that they’re readily available through services like Fast Print posters.)

The posters in my room rotated from year to year, although I sadly only have pictures of freshman and senior year.

In my first year of college, I came armed with posters for two films that had yet to open, “Moneyball” and “The Ides of March.”  After the latter fell short of lofty expectations, I took it down.  For some odd reason, I turned down one of my hall-mates’ offer to buy the “Moneyball” poster for $10.  Why was I so stupid?  That would have paid for the ticket!

By sophomore year, I turned to a different mix: “The Social Network” and “Hitchcock,” with smaller posters for “Les Misérables,” “Black Swan,” “127 Hours,” and “Skyfall” adorning my radiator.  I mean, why have any white space?

I spent first semester of my junior year abroad in a dorm room where I was not allowed to hang anything on my walls.  That spirit, I suppose, came back home with me for second semester.  I hardly had any posters because most of them had torn and frayed from being well-loved.  When someone visited my room and saw the sparse decoration, they compared it to a prison cell.  I later added a “12 Years a Slave” poster, but that did little to alleviate things since it had a primarily white background.

Senior Year

Senior Year

Senior year, though, I went all out.  At one point, I had five 27×40 posters adorning the walls in my room, plus one in my closet and three smaller posters scattered throughout.  Oh, and a “22 Jump Street” poster in my suite common area.

The senior showcase included:

I only kept a few of these, knowing that the potential for them to actually hang in my apartment after graduation was slim.  Besides, I have much nicer framed Cannes Film Festival posters from my two years attending the event.

Movie posters served as a convenient expression of my taste in college, where no one cared if anything was ornate or fancy.  Now, I am going to have to step up my game to communicate the same thing about myself with pieces of paper that serve more as “art” than a piece of “marketing material.”

Random Factoid #575

24 06 2015

I have a problem.

Whenever I take Advil to relieve a headache, sometimes I act like I am Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine from “Blue Jasmine” tossing back a Xanax by way of a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon.

Jasmine 1

I don’t think that being an alcoholic or a manic depressive is something worth imitating, to be clear.  But somehow, I think acting as put up and frustrated as Jasmine will drive away my headache.  Or maybe it provides me some comfort to think that my life is playing out like some kind of scripted tragedy, like there is some grander plan to all these headaches.

Jasmine 2

And generally, I imagine this song is playing behind me:

Random Factoid #574

11 02 2015

50I’m trying to kill some time before a 7:30 P.M. press screening of “Fifty Shades of Grey” tonight (currently posted up with my laptop in Whole Foods), so I thought maybe a factoid was in order.

Yes, I am about to watch the cultural hot potato itself.  No, I didn’t pack an extra pair of underwear, pregame, bring toys, etc.  I’m simply curious to see what all the fuss is about.  When something like this comes along and gains such traction among the masses, it has to be hitting some kind of nerve.

Thanks to landing on a press list in North Carolina, I am now about to catch a free advanced screening.  That’s the ideal way to watch “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I assume – with no payment required.  But, due to the “anticipation” of the film, I was not allowed to bring a guest.  (The only other times I’ve had to roll solo to an event like this was when the screening was strictly held for critics’ eyes only.)

So, I am seeing “Fifty Shades of Grey” alone.  I won’t be able to live snark or make sassy comments to a friend.  Instead, I’ll just feel smutty knowing that I am living out a glorified version of what perverts did in the ’70s when they wanted to watch titillating pornography.  The only upside is that I am an hour away from anyone who would recognize me seeing this movie.

Oh, well – can’t win ’em all!