Sunday, December 30, 2007
2007 featured a lot of films unspooling which attempted to deal with our new long national nightmare, not be confused with the old one. When these films first started to appear, I would go and see them, leaving the theater feeling all topical and edgy. But then I saw Gunner Palace and realized you can make a terrible movie out of a terrible war very easily.
I did not attend these films as I do not think that popular entertainments about such topics have much of a chance of transcending the moment in which they were created. I will stick to Frontline, Bill Moyer's Journal, and other options to continue to explore the issues surrounding our nation's fantastic blunder.
This Brian De Palma film, savaged by Film Comment, was given only a six day bow at the Landmark. It may represent the film industry hitting rock bottom when it comes to its depiction of the war. I would not know, since I avoided it as one avoids an open sewer.
2. No End in Sight
Now, this one I should have been seen, and I may still rent it and digest it (with the help of some form of hard liquor). This lauded documentary, about our new eternal war in the Middle East and the corporations sponsoring it, hit Baltimore in the dog days of August. At that time, I was confronting another cycle in the edu-mill. There I was, sweating to death, at a historic personal low, and Baltimore's film exhibitors ask me to go see a movie called "No End in Sight?" Sorry, guys.
Why is Reese Witherspoon so emotively overacting in all the trailers for this film? I never found out. A serious and depressing topic made into a glossy Hollywood film. I chose not to Pick Flick, and I was not alone. This was one was technially not about Iraq, but what the heck...
4. In the Valley of Elah
Paul Haggis received an Oscar for his last film, which it did not deserve (ask anyone outside of LA). To not go to this film not only said you don't want to see any more lame movies about a deadly serious war, it also allowed you to have revenge on Paul Haggis. I, for one, could not pass that up.
5. The Kingdom
Jamie Foxx and the gang cook up another hot and sexy thriller, this time based on current events. This is the kind of film I often attend with my father on a lark, and even he didn't want to see this one.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
However, if you are a newly-minted fan of the Johnny Depp is hot variety, let me warn you: there will be blood. Lots of it. One fellow previewer commented that she would have never seen this film if it wasn't for free, I assume due to the gore-level. Finally, a musical for the Saw generation!
But how will the American popcorn purchasers (horror die-hards aside) react to such a film? It seems that Hollywood is betting that our nation's mood is best reflected by a holiday movie season filled with murderous barbers, apocalyptic visions of the last man on earth, and a fantasy epic initally penned by an Athiest. In my mind, there is a connection between the recession-bound Reagan-hangover late 80s and the dark times in various media (See Batman, Watchmen, Robocop, etc...), and I theorize that there may be a similar link here. Since the weak performance of one of these films at the box office, I do wonder if Hollywood is in the right place at the right time with this.
And what of the film, finally? It resonated with me and I recommend it (screenings begin at the Charles on Friday, a suprise to me, as I envisoned trudging out to the county to see this one). I feel that my deep appreciation of the film may have something to do with being raised on the stage by a musical-loving mother and my subsequent rejection of that world. This is a film both in tune with the history and tradition of the musical but also pushing hard against it. Outside of watching a college production of Assassins, I am not that familiar with Soundheim, and I walked away thinking of Victorian penny deadfuls, Poe's more clever "perfect crime" short stories, and the saga of Jack the Ripper, especially as brought to life by Alan Moore's From Hell (as opposed to the film by the Hughes brothers). How Soundheim had the audacity, nerve, gall and (dare I say it?) genius to create the source material for this film is beyond me.
Well, that is it for now. I am looking forward to seeing many more films this month, and will be adding a top five list or two to the site soon.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Landmark fully set up shop, adopting a "best of both worlds" strategy. If the pattern holds, they will play Harborplace-approved fare like Enchanted and they will play all the most lucrative of the "smaller" cinema. The Charles can only dream of playing a film like No Country for Old Men in the near future, and I have heard reports of near sold-out screening of the aforementioned excellent Cohen brothers film, despite the many obstacles to attending screenings in Harbor East.
Of course, the films the Charles made a point to grab early in the season have seemingly payed off, and the scraps from the table at this time of the year ("I'm Not There," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead") have been more than satisfying. Still, they can't play "The Darjeeling Limited" forever, and I wait hopefully for a solid strategy to emerge.
In light of the changes to the landscape and other factors, there have been experiments. The Charles has begun a series of live telecasts of operas, which is certainly a change in pace and may be a sign of the theater overcoming its long-standing ambivalence to digital screenings. The Senator seems to have also headed in a new direction, what with Chanukah themed screenings with local celebrities lighting the menorah and, finally, soon enough, a Blade Runner Reboot screening. I am very excited to see what plans they will make for Easter, Arbor Day, and St. Patrick's Day.
Another movie that is scheduled for local resurrection at the Rotunda (beginning this Friday, December 14th) is the Anton Corbjin directed "Control," a biopic of some merit about the band Joy Division, focusing on their lead singer Ian Curtis. It will probably play for another Friday through Thursday run, and I would say to mope on down to Hampden and check it out. News of an actual documentary sounds promising as well.
Also, a recent "lobby poster battle" seems to be resolved, with Juno going to the Rotunda and, one assumes, the Landmark as well. Still unresolved would be the battle over who will get to show There Will Be Blood. I just glanced at some headline about raptuous critical praise, so I imagine Landmark will continue its policy of picking up the shiniest marbles in the chalk circle and taking them to the bank.
Well, the new era has begun, and the changes have begun to slowly manifest. I predict tough sledding for Baltimore's independant movie houses, especially when we hit another patch of art house famine. It is staggering to imagine what havoc the writer's strike will cause somewhere down the line. Certainly, I enjoyed Crimson Gold when it made a local bow, but I don't think the "bluehairs" did.
So far, December screenings have been scant, save for another great free film at the BMA (for the last time, people, it was not "Paris Je t'aime" and you don't have it at home on DVD) and What Would Jesus Buy? which put a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Run, don't walk to see that one if you would like the answer to that question.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
89 Gator Mine
This is England
Lars and the Real Girl
Wristcutters: A Love Story
Talk to Me
No Country for Old Men
Beowulf (Digital 3-D)
House of D
Shrek the Third
I Am an Animal
I'm Not There
The Holy Mountain
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Other (DVD, BMA, suburban multiplex)
TOTAL: 19 (18 features, 1 short)
NOTES: The month started out pleasingly with Syndromes and a Century, another excellent choice for the BMA free film series. The series continues this Thursday, December 6th, at 8PM with Je t'aime, je t'aime. It certainly will be a busy night in Baltimore, but I would suggest making the time. For more on the film, read this here.
The month ended pleasingly with my first screening of Lawrence of Arabia, a film I have refused to sit down and watch until I could see it properly. I got to do so (thanks to the Senator) and I was not disappointed.
I enjoyed attending the premiere of local filmmaker Josh Slates' 89 Gator Mine. In the spirit of full editorial disclosure, I must say I am among the many financiers of the endeavor. I left the theater well satisfied. Josh and I are the same age, and I felt that he captured the insanity of post-Cold War proletariat America very accurately.
The Russian Fantastik revival series at The Charles wrapped up with an appendix of head-scratchers that were "Not Russian, but still Fantastik." It is always a pleasure to see films like Eraserhead or The Holy Mountain again, as each viewing reveals new details and layers. I must admit that seeing Jodorowsky's classics again and being prepared for what was about to unspool was not the same as being slapped in the face by them upon first viewing at a friend's house when we sat down to "watch some movies."
It is interesting to try to summarize my thoughts on the month's films after having the opportunity to express myself so frequently here. Many of the films I have not discussed are doing well and are receiving oodles of press (do you really want or need my thoughts on Shrek the Third?). The ones I probably enjoyed the most are dead and gone at this point in terms of seeing them in the theater. But that is what DVD is for, correct?
Speaking of DVD, I did finally rent and watch Talk to Me and found the film very compelling in a number of ways. I was especially struck by the sequences involving the riots in Washington DC following Dr. King's assassination, as these riots, rarely discussed publicly, seem to be remembered only in their continuing aftermath. I look forward to the coming exhibit at UB in regards to what happened in Baltimore in the same sad and tense times as a form of education on the subject.
Please let me know if you would like to discuss any of the above films in more depth. I will return shortly with my thoughts on film exhibition in Baltimore in general this past month.
Also, on an aesthetic note, I am a man of words primarily, and not so good with the graphic design. Let me know if my "color-coding" above is good, bad, or ugly (I am thinking it is a little of all three at the present moment). I will continue to tinker with the presentation of the page.
Monday, November 26, 2007
ITEM: Speaking of, if you were thinking about traveling down to the Landmark to see "Lions for Lambs," I would instead suggest seeing it at the dollar movie, where it is also playing for approximately half the price. This would imply that you, dear reader, want to see "Lions for Lambs" in the first place. This means that you like watching big stars talk a whole lot. I don't. I hope that the UA resurrection bears more intriguing fruit sometime soon. The studio has quite a legacy to live up to, and I am curious to see how it all plays out.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Date: Sunday. November 18th, 2007
Theater: Muvico Egyptian 24- Arundel Mills Mall
Cost of Ticket: 9.50 (matinée plus extra "3-D fee")
Cost of Concessions: 0.00 (it was ten in the morning)
Cost of Parking: 0.00
Total Cost: 9.50
Notes: Well, the time has finally arrived. After rumors that sounded too ludicrous to be true, a foreign live-action version that is not half-bad, a WTF? sci-fi version starring Christopher Lambert, and about a billion dollars worth of hype, Beowulf, the big-budget spectacular, is here. Fear not, it does what it needs to do.
I was initially boggled by all the choices. Beowulf 2-D? Beowulf Digital 3-D? Beowulf IMAX? Beowulf IMAX Digital 3-D? I chose the Digital 3-D, despite the fact that it meant a trip to the suburbs and a close encounter with Ravens fans and their tailgating. This Sunday's early box office reports suggest I was not alone, and may mean a new reason you have to see it on the big screen (not that you will, necessarily).
Another in a recent spate of manly man movies. the film attempts to re-tell the epic poem, performed by anonymous scops and written down by Christianizing monks, as if you are getting the "true story" behind the legend. Some critics have assumed it is a parody of the poem, others have given it a "C-"... I understand their angst, but have to disagree.
Yes, major changes were made to text that I think were necessary to have the story make some degree of sense to a modern audience. Disparate elements are connected and the clash of two religions illustrated (Jesus v. Odin). Despite my familiarity with the text due to teaching it, I could live with the changes, and have often played up the same elements the film does to make this ancient and at-times inscrutable poem interesting to the youth of today.
Speaking of those youth, it is very clear that the filmmakers' intention was to zero in and dead-on target teenage boys, and those guns are firing on all cylinders. Dragons, monsters, swords and sorcery, practically naked animated Angelina Jolie... it is fair to say that my inner teenager was having a heck of a time. My adult self was not so happy with the tendency of the film to assume all women are demons in some form or the other, but in this post-everything world, women may go to the film and not be offended at all. Statistically, women went to see 300 which, in part, gave the green light for the marketing push for this film.
I do wonder if the occasional anti-Christian touches in the film are just what the filmmakers thought they could get away with and still have the film play in the heartland. It could reflect a new trend which may question or criticize the tendencies of those who follow the "Christ God." It seems, in a general cultural sense, that films like 30 Days of Night (sold with the hook line "Oh, God..." followed by a vampire saying "No God.") and The Golden Compass are part of a new calibration of the Hollywood machine. It could be just as calculated as the "just on the edge of R" violence, nudity, and sexuality on display throughout the movie. I cannot wait for the "Beowulf: Unrated and Outrageous!" DVD. The digital possibilities are endless.
Well, in any case, there are many good reasons to go and see this film in the theaters. I would suggest seeing it in 3-D. Even someone with ocular difficulties like myself had a good time and enjoyed the effect. I left the film contented and entertained.
Well, I will be out of town for a few days, and will resume my film regimen upon my return. Until then...
Friday, November 16, 2007
Since then, the Senator's web site has changed. For a time it listed links to both the Landmark and the Charles, which I took to be a nod to some sort of begrudging equity. Now, only a link to the Charles' website is listed, under a banner exclaiming "Support Baltimore's Independent theaters!" The emphasis is my own.
Now, the Landmark is many things, but it not Independent, and perhaps there has been a shift in allegiance here. It is hard to believe that these two long-standing rivals are getting along, but desperate times may call for desperate measures. I am curious to see how this ongoing drama plays out in the next act.
In other news, opportunities to see El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen will be happening soon, and I would advise taking advantage of them.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Two "one week wonders" of note would be Control and This is England. Although "the Joy Division movie" was a standard biopic in many ways, I could not help but pump my fist every time the lads broke into another song (most played live). Forget all that mopey goth baggage, the movie is a must for anyone whose life or musical direction was touched by this group. Digging into some of the same time and territory, This is England states the case of some of the same types of angry young men. I would say to put both on your list when they come to DVD.
Pleasing notes were struck by Lars and the Real Girl, a humanist fable that is truly put across by the intuitive and daring acting of Ryan Gosling/ razor-sharp script combo, and Wristcutters: A Love Story, which was flawed but still pleasing both in terms of its cleverness and mordant wit. Terrible title, enjoyable film.
This is not all I have seen, and I will wrap up at the end of the month. On to Beowulf!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Date: Monday, November 5th, 2007
Cost of Ticket: 7.75 (matinée)
Cost of Concessions: 9.25 for medium popcorn, medium drink
Cost for Parking (off site): 4.00 (3.00 validated parking available)
Total cost: 21.00
Notes: I approached the new Landmark Harbor East theater complex from the low-lying scruffiness of the Fells Point area. I was admittedly afraid of venturing into this Forbidden City by car due to traffic, parking, and construction.
It was been called a “mini-city,” and I agree with this analogy. As you approach the new skyscrapers and upscale condos starting in the 500s, which take advantage of a zoning variance known as the “hole in the doughnut,” you see a new Manhattan-like skyline rising amidst the familiar industrial squalor and decay of Baltimore.
As rich people jogged by, itunes isolated, through the clang and dust of the seemingly eternal construction projects, I wondered who would fill these structures. Are we building a ghost town, as the poet once said?
There was a massive project underway right in front of the theater, shutting down the turnabout that surrounds a memorial to a war atrocity. I was glad once again that I had walked.
The theater is still missing a frontispiece that will be fancy, so it was a bit hard to figure out where to go in. Once I had bought my ticket from the booth, I was through the non-nondescript office building doors and on my way.
I was taken back by the modern opulence of the place. It was impressive on a number of levels, all praised by a recent column in the Sun.
The lobby steers you into a bar area. Since it was 11AM, the bar was closed, but the concession counter was not. Six, maybe seven concessionists sat there ready to go, a stark contrast to staff numbers at other area theaters during matinées.
Every helpful and friendly staff person I encountered was African-American, which is in contrast to the occasionally surly but usually on-point racially mixed MICA student workers at the Charles and the pimply Caucasian teenagers/grouchy elderly workers at the Senator. This better reflects the population of the city, and I thought it should be noted.
The lobby was sprinkled with books about movies and DVDs, all for the buying. The concession stand was deluxe, gourmet vegan cookies, specialty popcorn... the works. I was curious to see if I could really order a crabcake, but stuck with the standard medium popcorn, medium soda.
All the screening rooms are underground, like tombs. The auditorium was stadium style with real leather chairs. I wondered about the mechanics of cleaning them. As I sat down, one of two people in attendance, I reflected on all the posters for movies that the Charles would not be allowed to show bedecking the lobby.
Right before the previews started, I noticed my soda was leaking all over the place. Unfortunately, It was too late to do much about it without missing some of the film. As I sat there, trying to stop my soda from hemorrhaging all over the fancy leather seat, I pondered the future of this theater and film exhibition in Baltimore.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
When Bret McCabe writes "Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's fifth feature, 2006's Syndromes and a Century, has many a cinema nerd quickly knighting this hypnotically meditative experience a masterpiece. It isn't...," he places any viewer who has found something special in the film in a position of defense. This strategy is employed by the writer in order to distance himself from the average "cinema nerd."
Having qualified himself thusly, the writer then goes on to praise the film, using words that indicate that the writer had attended university, words and phrases like "stately" "enigmatic" "perplexing," and, my personal favorite, "jubilant serenity."
Now, the writer, having admitted that he committed the sin of liking something, must again repent and qualify the enjoyment, making it special and unique. In this case, the writer states that "... a one-time screening of this cinematic feast is really a tease. Syndromes and a Century is a movie that bountifully rewards repeating viewings." This means that the reader/viewer cannot really "get" the film unless he or she has seen it repeatedly. Since this is near impossible at the moment, (the film is currently unavailable on DVD and had only been screened perhaps three times in the area, twice at the 2007 MFF), the writer is now smugly in a position of superiority over the reader/viewer.
Althought we may not be able to understand the film on the level that Mr. McCabe does, I still highly recommend the film.
Up next, a detailed re-telling of my first encounter with the Landmark Harbor East.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Into the Wild
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Cameraman's Revenge
The Heaven's Call
Ruslan and Ludmilla
Nanette et Boni
The Amphibian Man
Planet of Storms
The Darjeeling Limited
Gone Baby Gone
The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
House of Wax (3-D)
TOTAL: 18 (16 features, 2 shorts)
NOTES: This list may be impartial as it was made from memory retrospectively after the idea of CCC was conceived. Sorry if you saw me at a screening I did not note. The list is also out of the order in which the films were viewed, a "problem" I will correct next month.
In terms of impressive Oscar-caliber salvos, both "Michael Clayton" and "Gone Baby Gone" were at the top of the pile: smart, well executed, and compelling. "The Assasination of Jesse James..." was disappointing to me, but others loved it. I felt that there was a good movie in there somewhere amidst the stunning cinematography and Brad Pitt's acting (he had an otherworldly quality I associate with the depiction of Beowulf in John Gardner's Grendel).
The "Russian Fantastik" series at the Charles has provided any number of odd Soviet films to ponder and enjoy. At the top of that pile would be "Stalker" and "Ruslan and Ludmilla," although I cannot think of two more opposite films in any number of ways.
Tarkovsky's"Stalker" is a disconsolate meander through a post-apocalyptic landscape that is both pleasingly hypnotic and formally challenging. The beautiful decay of the abandoned hydroelectric power plant that was used as a set was mesmerizing to a boy from the wrong side of Baltimore's industrial tracks, and I am sad to learn that members of the cast and crew may have developed cancer due to the shoot. At the intermission, some of the young people behind me were mystified as to what the film "meant." I would venture to say it is about religion and faith, but I may be overstepping my bounds there.
"Ruslan and Ludmilla" was an over the top ersatz-Disney romp that was a glittering piece of cinematic candy. Once it got going, it was one wild ride well worth taking. Speaking of Disney, watching "Snow White" after having read Uncle Walt's biography this summer (know your enemy) was both fascinating and exasperating, like examining a crack rock in great detail (ruthlessly efficient, ingenious and deadly).
There is more to say about these films, and if you want to know more/have a conversation contact me via comment or e-mail. My e-mail is the name of this blog (one word) at gmail dot com.
ITEM: "Four of the seven auditoriums at Landmark Theatres Harbor East are equipped with Sony SRX-R220 4K digital projectors, producing picture quality with resolution four times greater than a high-definition television." When I first read this I assumed that four out of seven screens were going to be all digital all the time, and my heart sank. Of the digital projections I have seen so far, I have not been impressed and prefer analog. I swear that Bergman's last film, "Saraband," lulled me into an agitated sleep due to its cold and clinical digital presentation.
Now, I can clearly see the word "equipped" in that sentence, which means pehaps good ol' celluloid is possible some of the time. I know that "Blade Runner: The Absolutely Final No We are Totally Serious About This Cut" is playing digitally. Hmm.... do I wait for the Senator or make another trip downtown?
Well, "Control" is first on my Landmark list, "Syndromes and a Century" is tonight at the BMA at eight, and a list of my October screenings is on the way. Until then...
SOURCE: Landmark Theatres Brings Seven New Screens to Baltimore- Baltimore Examiner
SEE ALSO: Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach's assesment of the current situation here. (You may need to log in/ subscribe to the Sun's site to see the article)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The times and films are up for Friday, and it is good and bad news in a number of ways, I believe.
To play "Bee Movie," potentially on two screens, says "Hey, tourists and families, after you stop by Harborplace... why not give us your money?" That makes sense on a number of levels and is an example of a film getting a chance to be screened in Baltimore city that otherwise would not be shown.
To play "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" and "Control" says "Hey, Charles theater, watch out. We are coming for you." I can still remember noticing the "Control" poster go up in the lobby of the Charles and then noticing that it had vanished (it can be a fun game to play, keeping track of all the posters the Charles puts up for movies that it does not wind up showing). This also places people like myself, who have been heard to say at parties that they shall never darken the door of this dreaded cineplex, in a serious bind. I desire very greatly to see "Control," and may do so Monday.
Now, to play the quite excellent film "American Gangster" is the most provocative move for a number of reasons. For one, the Senator will be playing this film, so that puts the two houses head to head on Friday night. For another, based on the preview screening that I attended, African-American people want to see "American Gangster." Not to be racist, but one must acknowledge the segregation that still plagues Baltimore. Will the Landmark become a place in which all races and classes of people are welcomed openly not just in legal theory but in reality, or will there be tension and divison? The last time there was a movie theater downtown, such tensions may have contributed to its closure. Has Baltimore "got in on it" enough, or are the old ugly prejudices and feelings still strong? Will Michael Olesker's fears be realized? Certainly, it could be argued that playing "American Gangster" is a move away from such elitism.
Well, having navigated that minefield, I shall move on. A list of all movies viewed in October (with commentary) is up next.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
"Date of doom," you may ask? On November 2nd, the Landmark Harbor East will arrive. This arthouse chain theater will have clearance over the Charles but not the Senator. This makes the Senator gleefully happy right now, to the point where their website links to the Landmark's page. However, the Senator has had to delay a run of the umpteenth cut of "Blade Runner" so that the Landmark can run it digitally first. I am curious to see how chummy the two entities will be as the Landmark contines to flex its corporate muscles and The Senator sees how damned difficult it is to keep independent film distributors happy with only three screens and a "No. 1 movie in America at all times" attitude. I predict the Senator's hopes to get the next "Brokeback Mountain" or "Little Miss Sunshine" may be dashed when they refuse to show this season's "Noi Albinoi" or "United States of Leland."
I imagine that the Charles in a bit of a pickle at the moment with this date, long delayed, now finally arrived. It is not just that there is a Starbucks opening next door, but a Starbucks that will not allow you to sell certain popular types of coffee since they already do. The Charles has not bemoaned its situation like the Senator did during the dust-up over who gets to show "Fahrenheit 9/11," and I respect them for that, but I am nervous about what will happen next. Does the Charles have a strategy, and, if so, what is it?
I do see hope in recent events coordinated by the Maryland Film Festival at the Charles which I believe have been big draws (free 3-D movies and the like). When I stopped by today, the place was being tricked out for a big fundraiser for the Festival with tables, tents, and all the trimmings. It seems as if the MFF and the Charles will remain friendly in the aftermath of the tragic events of November the Second and hopefully this relationship will benefit both. Still, I am curious to see if Landmark will make overtures towards the Festival as it begins to do what all good corporations due upon arriving in town (attempt to decimate all competition). We shall see...
Well, that's it for now. In my next entry I promise to talk about actual movies and what I thought of them. If I could offer two "off the cuff" recommendations it would be to check out the revival of "Stalker" at the Charles. playing Monday, October 29th at seven and Thursday, November 1st at nine. Also, consider "Syndromes and a Century" at the BMA on Thursday, November 1st at eight. If you have the time and temerity, I would say go for one or both. More on both films later.
The number of movie screens in Baltimore is about to double, and I would like to use this space as a place to capture this seismic event as it happens. I would also like to write about my own history with film and ponder the future of my habit of going into a dark box with strangers and watching talking pictures.
Again, I bid you welcome, and hope you enjoy.