ThinkMovies: The double feature List

ThinkMovies: The double feature List

by Alan Grant
article from Monday 4, May, 2020

THE DOUBLE FEATURE, the showing of two full-length movies back-to-back, is a bit of a cinematic anachronism these days. To modern cinema goers, it belongs to a time of reasonably priced snacks, smoke-filled screens without stadium seating, and newsreels. As such, it is, more or less, completely divorced from today’s cinematic experience. This is neither good nor bad in itself, it’s just how things are.

However, the recent concatenation of COVID-19, streaming services, and wine-fuelled evenings has meant that double features have come roaring back. It’s the twenties again y’all! Bring on the flappers, fast-talking transatlantic accents and… I dunno, polio, I guess. 

Therefore, as the multiplexes remain closed, this week’s Think Movies looks at the double features you can enjoy at home as there’s even less chance that you’ll see one in a cinema at the moment.

As usual with these lists, a couple of notes are necessary before we begin. 

Firstly, direct sequels and franchises are excluded – the binge watch and the double feature are different and that is the hill they’ll have to drag my dead body from.

Secondly, these combos have been chosen because they have an intangible or thematic link rather than being from the same genre or possessing other, more overt, similarities. To simply pick couples of action, spy, or romance movies would be to miss the point of the double feature as I see it, which is to select a pair of movies that have something more nuanced, interesting, or subtle in common as part of a broader package of entertainment.

Thirdly, the COVID-19 thematic content of this list has been dialled back because…. dude, I’m tired of it and I’m sure you are too. 

Therefore, as this is already shaping up to be a bit of a long-read, 10 movies take a lot more words to discuss than five, let’s begin with…

The Miseducation of Cameron Post & But I’m A Cheerleader

The harrowing nature of so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ camps is, I grant you, a strong choice to open this list with but please bear with me because there’s a legitimate reason for recommending both these movies as a package deal. 

Both these films follow young women, Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame in the case of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne in But I’m A Cheerleader, who are sent to camps that purport to ‘cure’ them of their homosexuality and both movies tell stories of resistance, rebellion, and eventually rising up against the sinister forces against which they struggle. 

Personal passion aside, these movies are important and dealing with homophobia, both external and internal, is necessary work regardless of what else is going on in the world and both movies manage do to so masterfully.

However, while But I’m a Cheerleader and The Miseducation of Cameron Post are successful in sending essentially the same progressive message they do so in different ways, using different tools, and as such form useful counterexamples to one another.

The Miseducation of Cameron post is a serious film packed with some very hard to watch and emotionally tough moments, one in particular around a botched suicide attempt carries a necessary warning, and follows our likable cast of characters, led by Moretz’s titular Cameron, as they battle against John Gallagher Jr’s milksop Reverend Rick and Jennifer Ehle as the camp’s resident Mengele, Dr Lydia Marsh. The Miseducation of Cameron Post tackles its subject matter with the tension, drama, and stark horror, some scenes have more in common with slasher movie fare than anything starring the American Pie cast, that it needs and thus deserves the praise it has received for that reason.

But I’m A Cheerleader is, by contrast, a highly stylised, garish, blunt, and absolutely hilarious comedy that brings together some of the biggest figures in LGBT culture, including Ru Paul as campest ‘straight’ camp counsellor in history and Cathy Moriarty as the camp’s bright pink commandant Mary, for big laughs at the expense of the kind of bigots who would contemplate creating such a camp in the first place. The scenes in which Ru and the other boys are tempted by ultra-buff handyman Rock (Eddie Cibrian) are funny without having being gay ever being the joke. 

It is this contrast that makes The Miseducation of Cameron Post and But I’m A Cheerleader an excellent double feature because it demonstrates how the same subject matter can be tackled, and done so effectively, using two completely contrasting styles of movie. On one hand dark, sombre, tense, and serious, and on the other clashing, obvious, and very funny. Both work, both are excellent, and both are very much worth your time… but do so in the order suggested. 

Die Hard & The Matrix

The subject of why Die Hard and The Matrix are absolutely wonderful could form not only a whole edition of Think Movies in itself but, if this column ever spawned a book it would probably be on that subject. The individual successes of Die Hard and The Matrix are manifest and obvious, for good reason. References to red pills and blue pills, knowing jujitsu, possessing machine guns, and the phrase “yippee ki-yay” as well as the tropes embedded in both films are such well-worn parts of the popular culture, and our modern understanding of the movies, that they have become ubiquitous.

However, in terms of being an ideal double feature, what is remarkable about The Matrix and Die Hard is the main thing that they have in common – that they reinvented genres to the point that everything that followed in their stead aped them in some way, shape, or form.

Think about it for a moment. Die Hard is the reason that we think of Bruce Willis, who up until then had been a comedic actor and starred in a series of ultra-camp adverts for spritzers, as an action star. 

It’s why we think of the late great Alan Rickman as playing villains, or even as a movie star at all – Hans Gruber was his first motion picture role. 

Die Hard is also why you think of Reginald VelJohnson as the archetypal American cop character, perhaps the biggest and most enduring trend created by any movie ever. 

Moreover, it’s the reason that men who look like Willis, or his successors like Vin Diesel or Jason Statham, can be cast as action heroes as Die Hard was the movie that signalled the end of the vaguely European-looking musclebound meathead era (think Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Van Damme) in favour of a more shlubby and relatable paternalistic figure. In essence, Die Hard is the reason that modern action films are modern action films. 

And, what Die Hard did for action movies, The Matrix did for sci-fi. 

Prior to The Matrix, sci-fi was more or less all about space travel, aliens, and had a shiny, optimistic, future aesthetic to it. Not so, afterwards. Furthermore, it was resolutely American and had changed very little, certainly in aesthetic terms, since the Cold War. Then, this slick, sexy, vaguely European-looking (look at the clothes the main cast wear, it’s all leather and rubber designer-looking clobber), and set on Earth. Factor in the Wachowskis’ pioneering use of ‘bullet time’ and other mechanisms that so much sci-fi has since aped and, for better or worse, it’s really hard to argue that The Matrix didn’t just break the mould but created a new one in its shape for the rest of the genre to follow.

It would have been fair to ask, what could possibly link a ‘lone cop goes up against a team of bad guys’ 80s action movie immersed in the height of Reagan-era Americana with a cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi future flick that draws its inspiration from Hong Kong action cinema, Japanese animation, and nihilistic European techno culture? Well, the answer is that they left audiences with new expectations, new standards, and nothing was quite the same again after they were done.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show & Sucker Punch

I suspect most of my readers will be familiar with Richard O’Brien’s 1975 rock ‘n’ roll musical that follows “two young, ordinary, healthy kids”, Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss as they plunge into the shocking and sexy sing-along world of Tim Curry’s demented scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter, and his followers, but just in case you aren’t – it deserves its reputation. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is fun, dark, and beautiful in a kitsch, B-movie, low budget sci-fi kind of way that has never really been duplicated in any film I’ve seen since. The glam rock soundtrack combined with the wonderful costuming, deliciously gay stylings of Curry against the straight-lacedness of Janet and Brad, and a million other factors come together to make something uniquely special that can be enjoyed on a screen, or on stage, or just on your headphones. 

….besides, I couldn’t leave it out of this list, it’s got “double feature” right there in the wonderful opening number!..

Fewer people, I further suspect, will be familiar with Sucker Punch. From the oft-unreliable mind and pen of Zach Snyder, Sucker Punch’s Wikipedia rightfully says that it has “a small cult movie status” and for good reason.

Ostensibly the story of a young woman, Babydoll, played by Emily Browning of Ghost Ship fame, who is committed to a mental institution in a highly stylised comic book world a la Snyder’s other efforts like Watchmen and 300, by her murderous father, we follow her as she attempts to escape with the other inmates. However, Sucker Punch’s unique hook is that it exists on three levels of reality, the institution, from which Babydoll escapes into a bordello setting and then into a series of video game style levels… it sounds odd, but it really works. Anything that can be succinctly described as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”, as Snyder described the picture as, is at least interesting, surely?

This is another combination that is far more about what the movies do than what they are necessarily about. As a double feature, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Sucker Punch are two excellent analysis of the same phenomenon but from different directions. 

In Rocky Horror, there is what seems to be a perfectly normal reality that is slowly pulled back to reveal a more complicated one that becomes more interesting based on who and what we meet on the way. Sucker Punch, conversely, starts out with a series of different complexities that skilfully boil down to a simple reality and one big twist that, because I avoid spoilers, you’ll have to find out for yourself. They both play with reality and are both worth your time, one after the other if you’ve got the time… which you probably do, if you’re honest.

The Breakfast Club & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

Perhaps the most obvious and conventional pairing on the list, these two examples of American cinema at its very best nevertheless go together like red wine and steak. 

Some films become great by reputation, some through repeated conventional wisdom, but some rare examples, such as these two classics, are great from their component parts which are assembled by people who both know and love what they’re doing. There are many reasons that the cinema of the 1980s is my ‘gun to my head’ favourite but the one-two punch, wombo combo, of 1985 and 1986, with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Breakfast Club at their pinnacle, are certainly up there.

However, what makes this obvious double feature more suitable now than at other times is that they both look at the theme of freedom. The kids in The Breakfast Club, who find themselves stuck in Saturday detention with Paul Gleason’s delightfully stuck up Assistant Principal Vernon, are literally deprived of their freedom but each one, a testament to the film’s writing, goes on a personal journey of self-discovery to find that the stereotypes they have become comfortable with are trapping them both inside and outside of school. It is an essay on the virtues of working together to be yourself and should be studied by everyone with even a passing interest in cinema or even in self-determination.

Meanwhile, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a delightfully adorable Mathew Broderick stars in the title role that would make him a star flips off the authorities to take a simple day off school and gets one over on everyone who would stand in his way. A slowly building romp of a comedy, Ferris Bueller places the audience right on the titular cheeky chappy’s shoulder as he has the day of his life battling the suits and snobs of the world and coming out top. It is a movie that manages to do something incredible – to have tension while also having a protagonist who winks at us and says, “don’t worry, I got this”. 

The freedom that Ferris Bueller embodies and exemplifies is everything that is fun about cinema and comes recommended based on that. 

Plus, it’s delightfully cast, brilliantly paced, and marvellously involving. 

If you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic or in need of some liberty by proxy, stick these two flicks on and you’ll find it in abundance. They haven’t let us down in over 30 and they won’t now. 

RoboCop & Hot Fuzz

Who doesn’t love a cop movie huh? 

Well, me… mostly! 

Generally speaking, any feature that involves some grumpy policeman, a body in a drawer, and an enigmatic criminal will bore me to tears. I suppose it might be my residual libertarian tendencies (there are some barriers to entry at Think Scotland) that mean I dislike the glorification of those with a monopoly on force… that and the fact that they’re so tiresomely the same that once you’ve seen one then you don’t need to bother with the rest. In summary, as a general rule, I avoid anything about cops…

…unless of course they happen to be a scathing critique of the misuse of authority and the dangers of crony capitalism or the high point of the best trilogy of comedies this century. 

On the surface, RoboCop is a spectacular film. Not only has it held up incredibly well, the sequence in which Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy suffers the events that leads to him becoming RoboCop is still unpleasantly visceral and compelling as ever, but it is also a damming indictment of the dangers of conflating power, authority, and money. Moreover, it functions as a warning against the misuse of all those things that feels oddly relevant in our present situation.

It is this irreverent and mocking attitude towards authority that binds RoboCop with Edgar Wright’s 2007 whip smart comedy that takes aim at sanitised modern policing and the mentality of small-town Britain, Hot Fuzz. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are at their most hilarious and quotable (yep, even more so than in Sean of the Dead) and the script, direction, and other choices combine to make this cop-medy worth revisiting time and time again.

At a time in which we’re all locked down and the authorities seem more overbearing than they usually are, it is important to remember that they are flawed and are therefore worthy of scrutiny through blunt criticism, and RoboCop and Hot Fuzz are the perfect double feature of movies to do just that.

Well folks, there you have it; my picks for the pairs of pictures you should watch during this ongoing crisis. I hope they inspire you and you have as much fun with them as I did and continue to do.

Remember, this is only temporary and the more we stick together the better we’ll be. Also, remember that if you need to reach out, you can find me at @alangrantuk on Twitter. Feel free to say hi!

Until next time.

All the love,
Alan  

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