Monday, November 26, 2007


ITEM: For those who may have been scratching their heads over the Charles theater's decision to show the new Steven King adaptation "The Mist" and/or may have been interested in seeing it, please be advised that a projector is broken as of Sunday, November 25th, and the film will not shown again until repairs can be made. From what I have heard, which is by no means definitive, the film has not done well for the theater. It may be an attempt to court a new audience for the venue (see the brief run of "Superbad" earlier the year). This new audience will be essential for the establishment's health once it gets past this time of feast into one of the many famine periods in the art film cycle. The new Landmark imposed desert awaits.

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

First Thoughts on Beowulf

Film: Beowulf (Digital 3-D)
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

Signs of a Truce?

In a recent post, I spoke of the Senator listing a link to the Landmark on their webpage. I took it to be a sign of a cozy relationship between the two. I predicted this would sour, and the scuffle over who gets to show Blade Runner seemed prescient.

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

Quick Takes

I have just returned from a preview screening of No Country for Old Men, and I would say that it is a return to form for the Coen Brothers. After the abysmal mess that was their last film, it is good to see them returning to familiar territory in some ways while still being technically brilliant and boundary-pushing in others. Although the Joe Popcorns may leave shaking their heads, I was very pleased, and I highly recommend the film.

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

On My First Visit to a Local Landmark

Film: “Control”
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

Notes on Baltimore Most "Alt" Altweekly, part One

Once again, the City Paper has enraged me. Please see the following article for context.

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

Films Viewed (October 2007)

Michael Clayton
Into the Wild
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Cameraman's Revenge
The Heaven's Call
Eastern Promises
Ruslan and Ludmilla
Nanette et Boni
The Amphibian Man
Planet of Storms
Lust, Caution
The Darjeeling Limited
Hotel Chevalier
Gone Baby Gone
The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
American Gangster
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: "The Landmark's auditoriums range in size from about 100 to 200 seats." This gives the space, which only exists in my mind's eye, some definite proportions. The Senator and the Charles are both far bigger than this in their main auditioriums, but are compartive in the case of the Rotunda and the Charles' other four screens. Will the Landmark eschew films that are too "big" for it to handle? It does seems as if it is already putting movies in more than one theater based on the showtimes, so that may answer that question.

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)