Flickchart Road Trip: Colorado
Welcome to the latest installment of Flickchart Road Trip, in which I’m starting in Los Angeles and “driving” across country, watching one movie from each state and posting about it once a week. The new movie I watch will go up against five movies from that state I’ve already seen, chosen from five distinct spots on my own Flickchart. Although I won’t tell you where the new movie actually lands in my chart (I don’t like to add new movies until I’ve had a month to think about them), I’ll let you know how it fared among the five I’ve chosen. Thanks for riding shotgun!
It’s been 17 states since I’ve encountered family on this trip, but that streaks ends with my arrival in Colorado. My aunt and uncle on my mom’s side live in Boulder, and I don’t get to see them all that often, so this was a treat. Adding to the coincidence factor, I was in town for my mom’s birthday, so we Skyped with her on her birthday. That required my sister (who lives in Boston, just 20 minutes from my mom) to actually go to my mom’s house and force her to understand how to use Skype. So, we got to see my sister too.
My timing wasn’t so great in that I was about a month early for what I really wanted to do in Colorado: go skiing. I’ve skied once before in the Rockies, sort of — I skied for about two hours in Park City, Utah when I was there for the Sundance Film Festival. That hardly counts, I’m thinking. I wanted a full day or possibly two at some place like Aspen. Unfortunately, neither some place like Aspen or Aspen itself opens until Thanksgiving. I suppose that makes sense, but I had a misplaced optimism that the ski industry was so essential to the local economy that they tried to make snow on those mountains before Halloween.
It turns out that I landed in Colorado during a real no man’s land on the schedule; it wasn’t yet winter, but it wasn’t summer either. The other thing I’ve been yearning to do for years is go to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the outdoor concert venue 10 miles west of Denver in Morrison, Colorado. A number of musical acts I’ve loved have sold live albums from concerts at Red Rocks, and I’m convinced it’s because they wanted to include the grand rock canyons that comprise the place as part of their album art. However, the last show at Red Rocks played on October 12th. I suppose it’s no fun if you have to wear a parka and a scarf to see your favorite band.
So what wasn’t closed in Colorado?
The Coors brewery in the town of Golden, that’s what.
My uncle spent over two decades as an executive at Coors, so I thought it would be fun to see what working at a big brewery was all about. He probably could have gotten me something behind the scenes, but he hasn’t worked there for at least ten years, so I just took the regular tour open to the public. The brewery claims to the be world’s largest single-site brewery, and you take yourself on a self-paced tour of it, with highlights including how the beer is malted, brewed and packaged. This leads to the “fresh beer room,” where you can have a cold sample while sitting on benches made of ice. I thought that was pretty cool — actually, I thought it was more cold than cool. At the end of the tour there were a bunch of old photos and memorabilia (the place has been around since 1873), as well as the opportunity for more sampling. So, sample I did. Coors proper is not one of my favorite beers, but Killian’s Irish Red — which was purchased by Coors back in the 1980s — is.
This was the perfect aperitif, as it were, for my Colorado movie, Broken Lizard’s Beerfest. Jay Chandrasekhar‘s 2006 film has its share of fans who consider it a cult comedy masterpiece, so I’m sure hoping it’s more Super Troopers than it is Dukes of Hazzard. Flickcharters have at least a limited fondness for it, ranking it #3156 globally.
What it’s about
At the funeral of their grandfather, a German-born owner of a Colorado sausage house (Donald Sutherland) who loved his beer, two thirtysomething brothers (Paul Soter and Erik Stohanske) learn that family tradition dictates they bring their grandfather’s ashes home to the motherland to scatter during Oktoberfest. While at the festival, they stumble across an underground beer-drinking competition that pits teams from numerous countries against each other in feats of unnatural beer consumption in a sort of Alcohol Olympics. The master of the festival, a distant relative (Jurgen Prochnow), tells the brothers their grandfather was the bastard son of a prostitute — their still-living great grandmother, Gam Gam (Cloris Leachman) — and that their grandfather stole their family’s recipe for the best beer in Germany. He unceremoniously boots them from Beerfest, accompanied by all sorts of cheering from other American-hating countries. Determined to fight for the honor of both their great grandmother and their country, the brothers assemble a team of three others (Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme and Kevin Heffernan) to join them in a year of practice, before returning to Munich intent on winning the next Beerfest.
How it uses the state
Although not hugely important as a geographical location, Colorado is where the Wolfhouse brothers live, and it’s the base of operations for the nascent American Beerfest squad as they train for the competition. The state appears as the starting point on a cartoon map that shows the brothers flying to Munich for Oktoberfest. It’s also where the Schnitzengiggle, the humorously named sausage restaurant owned by their late grandfather, is located.
What it’s up against
Before we get to my thoughts on the film, let’s duel it against five other Colorado movies I’ve already seen, shall we? As you know if you’ve ever added a film to Flickchart using the “By Title” feature, the new movie goes up first against the movie in the exact middle of your rankings. The outcome of that duel determines whether it faces the film at the 75th percentile or the 25th percentile, and so on, until it reaches its exact right place. With five movies, that means at least two and as many as three duels. Here are the films Beerfest will battle:
1) The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick). My Flickchart: #192/3581. Global: #27. Was there ever any doubt what would be my — what would be anyone’s — favorite Colorado movie? Even though Stephen King himself has another film that comes closer than you’d think (Misery), it’s gotta be The Shining. You can’t really say that King “has” this version of his story, though, since he never liked it. The vision in this film is famously all Stanley Kubrick’s, and it’s such a tricky and layered vision that there was a documentary (Room 237) devoted to unpacking the many things Kubrick is or could be doing here. The story of a winter caretaker at a remote Colorado hotel, his wife, his young boy, and how internal and possibly external demons drive the caretaker mad, is perhaps more rich with iconic images than any other horror movie. Which makes it pretty scary any time of the year, but especially at Halloween.
2) The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan). My Flickchart: #349/3581. Global: #260. Okay, okay, The Prestige takes place mostly in England. However, Hugh Jackman‘s Robert Angier does take a detour to Colorado Springs to meet the famous scientist Nikola Tesla (Davie Bowie), and it’s one of the film’s most interesting (and visually distinctive) passages. Besides, I like any opportunity to weigh in on the very Flickchart-appropriate “Which is better, The Prestige or The Illusitionist?” debate. (Answer: The Prestige.) Christopher Nolan’s epic puzzle of dueling, possibly murderous magicians is downright enthralling, as Christian Bale matches Jackman for his share of the professional nastiness that passes between them. If the Tesla scene doesn’t make you yearn for wonderfully wintry late 19th century Colorado, then you obviously aren’t a snow lover.
3) Cliffhanger (1993, Renny Harlin). My Flickchart: #1514/3581. Global: #3070. I think we were all prepared to hate Cliffhanger when we went to see it in theaters. It ended up being a mini-comeback for Sylvester Stallone, who had worked the Rocky and Rambo series as far as they would go and had most recently made Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot. Cliffhanger‘s considerable charm comes from being a good old-fashioned action movie set in a slightly new setting, as the Rocky Mountains not only make a great backdrop, but also allow all sorts of original set pieces — the bread and butter of any good action movie. Harlin’s film also has one of the more memorable tragic backstory openings, as well as a delicious turn from John Lithgow as the villain. What more do you need?
4) Aspen Extreme (1993, Patrick Hasburgh). My Flickchart: #2638/3581. Global: #19495. With Dumb and Dumber ineligible after appearing as my #1 Rhode Island movie, I needed a movie set in Aspen, and this one certainly fit the bill. It’s a fairly unremarkable story about best friends from Michigan who relocate to the famous Colorado resort town to pursue the ski lifestyle and train for “the big race.” I’m not even really sure why my friends and I rented it except that skiing wish fulfillment was the kind of thing we dug. The one remarkable thing about Aspen Extreme is this one scene involving Peter Berg‘s character, who gets in over his head with drugs and the local criminal element. We laughed at how this one scene makes a complete stylistic break from the rest of the movie, employing a number of twitchy cuts and visual flourishes as the character worries about a drug deal going bad. Then it just goes right back to being a vanilla ski movie again.
5) Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995, Gary Fleder). My Flickchart: #3053/3581. Global: #2811. If Aspen Extreme contained a few odd moments that seemed like they belonged in a Quentin Tarantino movie, then Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead is full of them. In fact, it may just be the poster child for movies that came into existence almost directly as a result of Tarantino’s body of work in the early 1990s. The character names alone might make a person’s eyes roll: The Man With the Plan, Jimmy the Saint, Critical Bill, Franchise, Pieces. Andy Garcia is one of these people; does it really matter which? He’s got a romance going with Gabrielle Anwar, who is always an illuminating screen presence, but there’s not much else illuminating in this tired plot involving low-level mobsters involved in a “one last job” type scenario. The one guy with worth singling out is Treat Williams, who adds much-needed comedy and menace to this otherwise dull affair.
First duel: Beerfest vs. Cliffhanger. I won’t leave you hanging. It’s Cliffhanger by a hair. Cliffhanger wins.
Second duel: Beerfest vs. Aspen Extreme. Extreme drinking beats extreme skiing. Beerfest wins.
Beerfest finishes fourth out of the six movies.
I got off on the wrong foot with Beerfest. The setup felt a bit rushed, and when the action relocates to Oktoberfest, everything is so loud and exaggerated that it quickly grated on me. Then, Eric Christian Olsen, Will Forte and Nat Faxon show up as a trio of brothers and expert drinkers, doing comedic German accents that make the old Saturday Night Live characters Hans and Franz seem like the work of reputable thespians.
Once I got a few beers in, as it were — speaking metaphorically, since I consumed only one actual beer while watching — I found myself falling in stride with Beerfest‘s rhythms. In fact, I think it was around the time that the director, Jay Chandrasekhar, showed up, that I start really digging the movie. Although I like all the members of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe to varying degrees, there’s something about Chandrasekhar’s shtick that works better for me than the rest. Here he plays a one-time beer-game whiz kid who has fallen on hard times — so hard, in fact, that he’s working as a male prostitute. Broken Lizard has a reputation for tiptoeing up to the outer edges of good taste — in the video played at his funeral, Donald Sutherland’s character pulls the plug on himself at the end of his own funeral speech — but the way Chandrasekhar sells this bit just made me laugh. Add in a surprisingly hilarious scene of a room of scientists extracting frog semen, and I was on board.
There’s nothing “smart,” per se, about the jokes here, but the movie works up a gleeful pace as it puts its characters through a gauntlet of beer-related training exercises. The spirit of no less than Animal House is alive and well in the scenes of alcohol consumption that follow, but the fact that they are preparing for a beer-drinking competition saves it from the realm of mere juvenile drinking excess. As questionable as that purpose may be, these guys have one, and they prepare with an earnestness that makes us love them more than if they were just unrepentant drunks.
The year of training for Beerfest is fun, but where the movie really drives home its clever concept is in the details of the competition itself. Anyone who’s played a college drinking game at any point in their lives will recognize the inherent justness of having those skills count for something — indeed, in having an epic competition that revolves around the successful execution of those skills in a state of massive intoxication. Shouldn’t beer pong be an Olympic sport? Shouldn’t “monkey chugging” (drinking a beer while hanging upside down) be an Olympic sport? The movie has some harmless fun with stereotypes — one of the Germans, when asked if they are any good, says “Well, we just beat the Irish, so yeah, I think we’re pretty good.” The wonderfully egalitarian thing about this international competition, and indeed, this movie, is that nearly any culture you can think is known in some way or another for being able to put back a drink with the best of ’em.