Sunday, December 30, 2007

Top Five Movies about Iraq that I didn't See in 2007

Well, it has become obligatory that we take our experiences and rank them in a subjective order so that others can "discover" them. Here is my attempt at such a list.

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.

1. Redacted
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.

3. Rendition
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

Quick Take- Sweeney Todd

I have just returned from a sneak preview screening of Sweeney Todd at the Senator theater, and I can verify a few things. If you hear "Tim Burton" and "Johnny Depp" in the same sentence and have no more questions, you will not be dissatisfied by this film. The sullen goths of our nation will packing the mall cineplexes without a doubt starting Friday (this is why they will briefly abandon their natural habitat).

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

Film Exhibtion in Baltimore in General- November 2007

Well, my plans to update "shortly" turned out to be optimistic at best. Here we are, well into December, with November a distant memory. I shall try to draw out some thoughts and impressions of the month that was.

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

Films Viewed (November 2007)

Syndromes and a Century
89 Gator Mine
This is England
Lars and the Real Girl
Wristcutters: A Love Story
Talk to Me
No Country for Old Men
El Topo
Beowulf (Digital 3-D)
House of D
Shrek the Third
I Am an Animal
I'm Not There
The Holy Mountain
Lawrence of Arabia
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

The Charles
The Landmark
The Senator
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.