When I was younger (but a wee lad), I used to look forward to President’s Day weekend for two reasons. The first being that it meant to start of the winter break in the NJ school system, giving us impressionable youth a week off from school and an opportunity to laze around for a week or so, because lord knows it was too damn cold out to do anything fun (unless it snowed, which you didn’t want to happen during your vacation, lest you lose the opportunity to have a school-canceled snow day). For some reason my family would take advantage of this and spend a week down the Jersey shore at Long Beach Island, which was always fun but never meant I’d get a tan or anything. This only lasted until I hit junior high (we always rented the same house, which was then sold) but it made the week special. Yeah, I was normal once.
But the second reason was the more important one for me, the fact that by this weekend the Hollywood movie machine was finally getting its act together and was starting to release some decent product, instead of dealing with the previous year’s Oscar contenders and cast-offs. This is not to say that most of these President’s Day releases were classics or anything, but it meant that the movie year had finally begun for real and that I could start looking forward to seeing fun stuff again. I think in part because I had this holiday these releases took on an extra added sheen (for some reason I remember being really excited to see the Kevin Bacon epic QUICKSILVER on opening night), but it's always good when a bunch of good movies start opening after a qualitative drought. A few classics have actually been released on this weekend (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, GROUNDHOG DAY, LOCAL HERO, THE KING OF COMEDY) while several popular favorites (THE BREAKFAST CLUB, WITNESS, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, WAYNE’S WORLD, and Joseph Ruben’s TRUE BELIEVER, a personal fave) all made their debuts around this time. Yes, there actually was a time when the studios decided to release decent movies in February, showing some restraint by not jamming the end of the year with too many Oscar contenders. Now the decent Feb. flicks are all from other countries (THE LIVES OF OTHERS, HEAD ON) but there used to be a time when the likes of VIDEODROME (actually a Super Bowl weekend dump, but it’s now considered a classic) and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS would stand out like daisies in a garbage dump of crap. Hell, even the grindhouse product seemed to be more fun during the winter months. Seriously, where did the February film fun go?
This weekend’s release of GHOST RIDER proves that Hollywood still hasn’t forgotten the power of the President’s Day weekend and I’m sure it’s going to do very well, although I have my doubts about its quality. Billy Ray’s BREACH, on the other hand, I’m told is quite good and seems to follow the erratic tradition of putting out a quality dramatic flick after everyone’s caught up with the Oscar nominees. This is a solid weekend for retrospectives and special screenings all over, with the Film Comment Selects series at NYC’s Lincoln Center (I’m seeing PLAY IT AS IT LAYS and Kurosawa’s RETRIBUTION Saturday night), the American Cinematheque’s Gangster series in L.A., a rare screening of HICKEY & BOGGS (with Robert Culp in attendance!) at the Aero in Santa Monica on Sunday, the MOULIN ROUGE sing-a-long at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse the same day, and a whole lot of other cool stuff everywhere else. The weather sucks outside; if you’re not buried under 8 feet of snow in Oswego County, go see a movie this weekend and thank me later (unless you're seeing GHOST RIDER and in that case you're on your own).