On Thursday night we went to Mankato to watch Iron Man 2. I missed much of the dialogue from the first 20 minutes as I discretely checked the Lakers score online. Yes, I hate those people who do that. We all do. I was ashamed (to be fair, I put my hands over it, blocking off the light and only let out a quiet yelp when I saw the Lakers won). But this was a Game 5 in a 2-2 series, always the most crucial game in a best of 7.
We try to get to Mankato for a movie on every trip home. We usually go during the week, almost always to a late show. Most times, the workers outnumber the customers, a welcome break from crowded New York City theaters. It feels like we rented out the whole theater to ourselves. Mankato was my movie home for 25 years. I've seen countless movies there. It's the go-to city in southern Minnesota for those who lived in towns that were often dismissed as places where kids "have nothing to do."
The first one I remember is Star Wars and I cried through most of it and people in the seats next to us probably looked at my parents - and their not-so-adorable baby - with the same looks people reserve for cell phone users in theaters today (the worst movie I ever saw a small child at has to be Saw II. I fully expect to read a story in 15 years about a young man who went on a killing rampage involving dynamite and cryptic clues and blames it on the fact his parents took him to the second Saw movie when he was 4 years old).
For years Mankato had two main theater spots: downtown and the Stadium theaters, across the street from the college formerly known as Mankato State University. Then in the early 1990s, River Hills mall opened and a dollar theater came along with it. The downtown theater - there used to be a fairly popular mall there as well - has always possessed a slightly creepy vibe. You usually parked in a garage, the type of dark structure often used as sets in movies involving serial killers or cities under siege from violent criminals. Something starring Charles Bronson, or Stallone in a Cobra remake.
As a teen we went to movies every weekend. We saw Home Alone in the downtown theater. Great movie for kids. Delightful for parents. Critics adored it, as did Macaulay Culkin's money-hungry parents. Unfortunately, we were all 16 years old. In the pre-Internet age, we didn't even know what the movie was about. One of our friends had heard it was really good. He insisted we go to it. He made it sound slightly dark: "Some kid gets left alone at home and two guys break in and chase him."
We realized it was a mistake - that we weren't quite the right demographic - early, but it probably didn't sink in for sure until the 23rd time Joe Pesci got hit in the head with a frying pan. We didn't listen to Martin's movie recommendations after that night.
But our main moviegoing days coincided with the opening of the dollar theater. A buck. They didn't get new releases, that was the catch. They were second-run movies, so the new ones appeared a month or two after they opened. Today, of course, movies are on DVD about two months after they open and the dollar theater long ago started charging normal prices. But we took full advantage of it as teens.
The dollar theaters kept their movies for weeks, months. As long as they made money, they stayed. Two movies held the record, I think, for longest stay: Wayne's World and Basic Instinct. And we saw each movie at least a dozen times. I'm pretty sure we saw Basic Instinct a few more times, probably around 16 or 17 viewings. Sharon Stone's crotch ultimately had more staying power than Mike Myers' catchphrases - insert obligatory Schwing joke. After the sixth or seventh viewing of Basic Instinct, it became a grim mission, almost as if it was our duty to watch it again. A week passed, we drove to Mankato, entered the theater and scanned the listings.
"Jesus, there's still nothing new."
"No, we can't."
We knew every horrific line, including the immortal "He got off before he got offed." We waited for Sharon Stone to uncross her legs while an aroused Newman from Seinfeld stared in glee. By the 13th or 14th viewing, there was nothing sexual about it, even if we were teens with runaway hormones. Oh, there's the crotch. Hot. Come on, get to the ludicrous car chases again. We were addicted to the damn movie. Seeing it that many times felt dirty; it probably made an appearance in one of my Catholic confessions that year. But for a buck, you couldn't beat it.
We mourned when Gus died. Again. We cheered Michael Douglas. We shook our heads at the ending (for years, I wasn't sure that Stone's character was the killer, until finally, one late night in Worthington, my friend John completely convinced me. "Why else would she have the ice pick under the bed? That was the point of that shot. She was the killer. Everyone knows this." But I didn't want her to be the killer, she seemed like such a decent woman caught up in a web of murder, mayhem and laughable dialogue.) To this day, if I see Basic Instinct on TV, I instantly drift back in time to the dollar theater and their overpriced but delicious popcorn.
The dollar theater could delight. One night I went with my cousin Matt. A movie called Fortress caught our eye. Neither of us had ever heard of it. We didn't know anything about the plot or who starred in it. This was always dangerous; we were both still bitter about our Home Alone experience. It turned out to be a futuristic prison movie with Christopher Lambert. He wants to have a baby with his wife, the authorities don't allow it, fighting ensues. We loved it.
We only saw Fortress once. In the end, as entertaining as it was, it was no Basic Instinct. Thank God.