CALLERI: Get out of your comfort zone when it comes to watching movies

Paramount PicturesShelley Duvall is Olive Oyl and Robin Williams plays the title character in the musical fantasy “Popeye.”

The first purpose-built movie theater in the United States – a space specifically created to show films – was the Edisonia Vitascope Hall at 305 Main Street in Buffalo, New York in the Ellicott Square Building, which had (and still has) its main entrance at 295 Main.

The 72-seat theater opened on October 18, 1896, selling 10-cent tickets to a reported 200,000 patrons its first year. Buffalo businessmen, the brothers Mitchell and Moe Mark, built the Vitascope Hall and made a deal with Thomas Edison, which resulted in the legendary inventor’s silent short films being its main attractions.

For more than a century, America’s love affair with films continued. However, last weekend, for the first time in history, ticket sales in the U.S. were statistically zero. In some states, there was still moviegoing, but nobody went.

The exhibition of motion pictures is just one of the many businesses devastated by the coronavirus. There is no guidebook to what has occurred, just as there is no guidebook for other American companies.

Many of you are watching movies at home; perhaps more in a week than you’ve watched in a year.

For some folks, the announcement that Universal Pictures is going to quickly stream two very recent new releases – “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt” – was good news. The studio is breaking the accepted 90-day theatrical window. It believes neither picture had the chance to succeed at the box office.

However, for many Americans looking at budget restrictions, the studio’s $19.99 fee for a 48-hour viewing window will be an economic deal breaker. A single adult who’s just been laid off probably shouldn’t be spending $19.99 per film.

I’ve read arguments on social media about whether or not the cost is reasonable. At this point in time, it is not. I wish Universal had given the nation a sensible $9.99 gift. These features aren’t taking in any money right now; therefore, $9.99 is better than zero. Neither movie is for children.

Everybody has films they love and genres they enjoy above all others. You’ve certainly been watching favorite stars, themes, and directors these past few weeks.

However, what if you watched something you wouldn’t even watch on a dare? What if you left your comfort zone and sought out something completely different, something alien to what you most appreciate?

Yes, I get it, you hate foreign-language movies, or horror movies, or, good grief, foreign-language horror movies.

Do formulaic romantic comedies bore you beyond belief? Never watch them, you say? How about action-thrillers that you believe strain credulity? They’re often unbelievable, you claim. Musicals? Not a chance, right? No singing and dancing for you. Especially a surreal musical.

I’m recommending four films I like that I think may change your accepted notion of what you could be watching. All are on Netflix.

THE PEACEMAKER: This 1997 entry about stolen Russian nukes is one of my go-to action films. This international thriller is directed by Mimi Leder and written by Michael Schiffer. The cast, including George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Randall Batinkoff, Michael Boatman, and Armin Mueller-Stahl, works feverishly to prevent a terrorist attack. There are slam-bang set-pieces, ripped-from-the-headlines plotting, and an almost wordless opening train sequence that breathlessly sets up the story. The next time you hear someone say that a woman can’t direct a good tense action movie, tell them about “The Peacemaker.”

THE BAR: My neighbor Colleen Culleton, a professor of Spanish at the University of Buffalo, told me about this film the other day. I’m glad she did. A group of mostly strangers are trapped in a bar in Madrid, Spain by a mysterious happening outside. They’re afraid to leave. The initial 15-minute sequence sets up the horror potential perfectly. Stay with the movie because it gets gloriously insane. Alternately frightening and wickedly funny, it brought to mind Luis Bunuel’s masterpiece, “The Exterminating Angel,” during which people are afraid to leave both a mansion and a church. “The Bar,” from 2017, is directed by Alex de la Iglesias and written by him and Jorge Guerricaechevarria. Subtitled.

POPEYE: Directed by the celebrated Robert Altman and written by counterculture cartoonist Jules Feiffer, here’s a magically daft and wonderfully surreal interpretation of the famed comic strip character Popeye the Sailor Man. Slow to get rolling (the first 20-minutes are a bit wobbly), the live-action musical comedy has music and lyrics by Harry Nilsson and a simple story about love and friendship set in the zany village of Sweethaven. Robin Williams is Popeye and Shelley Duvall is Olive Oyl. Wimpy and Bluto are involved. Yes, there’s spinach. “Popeye” is from 1980.

MONSTER-IN-LAW: Beautiful Charlotte (Jennifer Lopez) is a dog-walker and yoga instructor, who thinks she’s found the right man in Michael Vartan’s handsome doctor. Alas, the good doctor’s mother (Jane Fonda) is an older anchorwoman recently replaced by a younger reporter. The chip on her shoulder is fierce. She becomes the mother-in-law from hell. A happy wedding is doomed. Wonderfully acted by all, “Monster-In-Law,” from 2005, has plenty of laughs and romance. Robert Luketic directed from Anya Kochoff’s screenplay.

In addition to Netflix, some of these titles might be found on DVD and Blu-ray. They may also be available through On Demand, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, Prime, or Google Play.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at

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