Friday, December 19, 2008

Changes at the Senator

It was announced via town hall meeting last evening that the Senator theater as we know it is coming to an end. I will post a link to this article for now, and will update and revise as time warrants with my notes from the meeting as well as my thoughts on yet another seismic shift in the film exhibition landscape in Baltimore.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (December 2008)

You will note that I have decided to change the month by which I track this post, as it tends to reflect the current moment as opposed to the past. There shall be no November 2008 post.

Three things on my mind, currently:

Topic One: Is the Landmark Harbor East homophobic?

There has been an interesting change in the pattern at the new theater in town, the Landmark Harbor East. Apparently, they will show any film that will maximize their profit share unless it deals with homosexuality (and the attendant and ongoing struggle for equal rights in that community) in a frank and open way.

Once you discount the fluke of the success of Slumdog Millionaire, which no movie suit predicted (it was apparently headed straight to DVD at one point), it makes no sense as to why Landmark would not be playing Milk. It is right up their alley in every way. It is another film for Mark Cuban to swipe from the Charles as he laughs and blow smoke from a cigar lit with a hundred dollar bill in the theater's face.

I am certainly not accusing the Landmark chain of being homophobic, as to look at their national exhibition picture shows several arthouses that are clearly gay friendly. So, my question is: was the decision not to play Milk based on having too many hits to handle already, or is there a policy of some kind in place at Landmark Harbor East?

It is certainly also possible that letting the Charles have Milk is based on its location near the heart of Baltimore's LGBT community. But something seems odd about the whole thing to me. I guess we shall see the next time a film like this comes down the pike. In any case, the film is having a successful run at the Charles, and this is a good thing for the theater.

Topic Two: Does the Arthouse have a future in Baltimore?

As discussed in a prior post, the Charles has cut the nine o'clock screenings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from the schedule, prime time for college kids and those of the cineaste stripe among us to catch the films they want to see. This is outrageous to some, and another clear sign that the theater is catering to and getting more support from the greatest generation and the boomers than the youth of today.

It is extremely unfortunate that these screenings were cut, but financial concerns were involved. I wish that the next generation of film lovers were coming out to see these films in enough numbers to justify the screenings, but I know in my heart that the next generation of film lovers is moving away from the arthouse.

In conversations with young (and gen-x) lovers of film, it is clear that they get their movies on their laptops and Netflix most of the time, and do not understand the need to sit with a group of people in a darkened room and watch something projected on film more than a few times a year. Of course, I get a true and resonant enjoyment from this regular communal experience, but, to them, it is as antiquated a practice as reading a daily newspaper.

It is then only logical that a new paradigm is needed, as this is a business without a future. Perhaps the Senator's current move to non-profit status is an acknowledgment that the need now is for preservation as opposed to profit.

Topic Three: Why the heck are so many films opening on Christmas day?

I don't get it. How am I supposed to choose between The Spirit, Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader, Valkyrie, and Frost/ Nixon, all scheduled to open in Baltimore on Christmas day? Outside of skipping out on my friends and family, I don't see options that allow me to take it all in over the holidays. Why is all this product is being dumped on this day into our market?

Of course, I must remember that some of these films will live on, being passed from theater to theater for months and months. Despite my warm memories of seeing the film back in August, I am beginning to think that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was about zombies, as it is clearly the film that will not die when it comes to Baltimore movie houses.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Films Viewed (November 2008)

Christmas in July
The Foot Fist Way
The Great Moment
Quantum of Solace
Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)
Let the Right One In
Joy Division
Trouble the Water
Rosemary's Baby
Youth of the Beast
Synecdoche, New York
Slumdog Millionaire
Wu: The Story of the Wu-tang Clan
The Charles
The Senator/The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (Enoch Pratt Free Library, Video Americain, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 16 features (12 in theaters)

Notes: It is hard not to notice that I did not darken the doors of the Senator or the Landmark for the entire month. I guess I have a profound lack of interest in Christmas comedies and teenage vampires.

Pre-teen Swedish vampires, on the other hand, were well worth checking out. Let the Right One In was a surprising, disturbing, subversive good time even for someone who explores the horror genre sparingly. I guess when it comes to scary premises (and realities), I am more interested in films like I.O.U.S.A.

Two music documentaries, Joy Division and Wu: The Story of the Wu-tang Clan, both benefited from reams of interesting, rarely seen footage and a personal connection with the places from which the artists came. The latter, especially, as the filmmaker grew up in the "slums of Shaolin." Perhaps not just "for fans only", these two.

Synecdoche, New York
was a head scratcher of the first order. Movies that push like this are why I still show up, and I thank the Charles for squeezing it in between screenings of Slumdog Millionaire and Milk (now playing on two screens).

Otherwise, it was revivals and Bond movies, starmaking turns and ugly realities. Not a bad time at the movies, all in all.

Up next, some commentary on film exhibition in general.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changes at the Charles (Redux)

(So much information to add that I felt it best to just re-post a revised version of the previous, with added CGI effects)

It should be noted that the nine o'clock round of film screenings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at the Charles has been cut. The screenings were cut for financial reasons, as too few patrons were showing up to justify keeping the theater open. The timing is particularly strange on this, as the theater has been especially busy recently thanks to the success of Slumdog Millionaire. A lively conversation on this controversial decision has been taking place over at Beatbots, which you may wish to join. Go here for more.

Also, Robocop, Back to the Future, and Home Alone have been chosen as midnight movies in an employee-led effort to bring this practice back. Each film will screen Friday at Midnight and Saturday at noon. Robocop will be projected digitally on December 5th and 6th. Back to the Future will screen on December 12th and 13th. Home Alone will screen on December 19th and 20th. I have heard there may be an actual print of one of the second two selections screened. I personally am hoping that the restored print of Home Alone, which the good people at the Criterion Collection have labored on so painstakingly, will make its way to Baltimore. For more information on their epic journey to save this classic film, click here.

Up next, my monthly films list for November.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Changes at the Charles

It should be noted that the nine o'clock round of film screenings on Mondays and Tuesdays at the Charles has been cut, starting this week. So, if you show up and the doors are locked, there is a reason.

Also, handmade posters for a series of midnight movies have been placed in the lobby of the theater. Robocop, Back to the Future, and Home Alone are the chosen films. They will be shown on Fridays and Saturdays at midnight over weekends in December. I did not jot down the order, but will edit when the information becomes available.

These three are certainly not traditional "midnight movie" picks. They may reflect the tastes of the current crop of college students who would be in a position to make it out to such screenings. Have such films been screened in New York and Los Angeles in such a way sucessfully? I am curious to know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (October 2008)

One thing I would like to improve upon in the future would be my coverage of other revivals and film series in Baltimore city. You would think that this aspect of Baltimore begins and ends with the Charles and the (gone but not forgotten) BMA series. There is more going around town, needless to say.

For example, there is a series at the Enoch Pratt Free Library which has been unearthing prints from their extensive archive and exhibiting them for free for some time. I have found the schedule a bit difficult to follow, but things seem to happen mostly on Saturdays, often putting the series in conflict with other things going on around town for me.

This Saturday, their "RARE REELS: The Best Films You've Never Seen" series will be showing a print of Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight), a film worth the time of any Orson Welles admirer or Shakespeare film buff. The film screens at the Central Branch on Saturday, November 15th at 2PM. Go here to learn more.

Another series I have been meaning to say more about would be the Fall Film series at MICA, with which the Maryland Film Festival is involved. I rarely make it out to this one as Tuesday nights are bad for me, but have made the time in the past for a Fassbinder series and the occasional film unavailable on the big screen anywhere else. The series this year has played a number of noteworthy films so far, and will be ending with two excellent selections.

I saw Medicine for Melancholy at the 2008 Maryland Film Festival, and have attempted to advocate heartily for the film ever since. Many more people know who Wyatt Cenac is now than they did then, as his star is clearly on the rise. The film is the best take on gentrification, modern love, and racial identity to come down the pike in a long time. The film screens Tuesday, November 18th, at 7:30.

The MICA series concludes on Tuesday, December 2nd at 7:30 with a screening of local gem Hamilton. The director, Matt Porterfield, will be in attendance. I have had the opportunity to see the film twice now, and have took away different things each time. As a former resident of that Baltimore neighborhood, I am astounded and inspired by the lyrical richness that the filmmaker has drawn from Baltimore workaday realities. As a filmgoer, I am proud that such an accomplished work has come from my hometown, something that can stand up next to the best work of Malick and Van Sant. If you haven't seen it yet, I say go for it.

In other news, the change at the Senator I spent so much time scrutinizing may be finally coming to some kind of frutiion. Several benefits are being held to help pay for the conversion of the Senator to a "not for profit" entity. The impact of this decision is hard to predict until the details emerge, but it hard for me to see the place operating in the manner that it has been once such a change comes to pass.

Also, we are back to "grab bag" revivals at the Charles, beginning with a screening of a restored print of Rosemary's Baby this Saturday, November 15th, at noon. After that, who knows?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Films Viewed (October 2008)

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
I Served the King of England
Hail the Conquering Hero
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Frozen River
Miracle at St. Anna
Momma's Man
Sunshine for Shady People
Easy Living
Passions Just Like Mine
Mall Crawlers
The Great McGinty
Sex Drive
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (DVD, Suburban Multiplex, Wind-Up Space)
Total: 14 features, 2 short films (13 in theaters)
Notes: September turned into October so quickly I almost marked off Bill Mahr's film essay Religulous on the ledger for last month. The film, a scathing indictment of organized religion, had me highly entertained until the last few minutes, when the gut punch was delivered in no uncertain terms.
I spent quite a lot of time at Charles taking in their retrospective of the films of Preston Sturges in which the greatest hits as well as lesser known works were screened. Many films were checked off the list over the course of the month. The last film in the series screens this Saturday, and I do wonder what is next. Will we be getting another series with a clear thesis, or are we in store for another "grab bag" of great prints? I am game for either.
Quality films like Frozen River, Momma's Man, and (the overlong, still worthwhile) Miracle at St. Anna made quick bows but were worth catching. Michael Sragow championed two other films that came and went without me getting a chance to check them out. His article on the realities of current arthouse economics was appreciated.
The Windup Space screened a documentary investigating the phenomenon of Morrissey's fervent Latino fanbase entitled Passions Just Like Mine. I was glad to get a chance to see it, and hope that film screenings continue at the Windup. I also checked out Mall Crawlers by local filmmaker N.O. Smith, which featured the music of Human Host. It is available for sale at local music shops, and I would say it is worth tracking down if you have ever felt profoundly alienated at Towson Town Center.
One true oddity was Quigley, a movie that defies description. Essentially, Gary Busey plays a mean person who is brought back to earth after his apparent death as a cute, furry dog whose mission it is to right the wrongs for which he was responsible. Maybe clips will help? Totally mind-bending and available for rent at the Charles Village Video Americain in the New (to Us) section, if it has not been moved to the Cult Film section yet.
Up next, something to say about film exhibition in general this past month, as well as some great opportunities to see some little-seen films making the rounds of distribution.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And then, one year later...

Well, it has been a year of trying to keep this blog up and running. It was started on the eve of a great seismic shift the moviegoing/film distribution landscape of Baltimore city. My goal was to keep track of the changes in my movie habits and the patterns of film exhibition around town.

Here we are one year later, and things are certainly looking a lot different. Perhaps the best example of this change is evident at the Charles. One year ago, the theater was showing films like Into the Wild and The Darjeeling Limited. Now it is showing films like Sex Drive and High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

Times have changed, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


So... today's City Paper announced that High School Musical 3: Senior Year is coming to the Charles theater this Friday. It will replace films like Before I Forget, a French film about an H.I.V. positive gay hustler contemplating his mortality.

HSM 3 at the Charles is certainly not the first sign of the end times, but still a shocking development, at least at first.

After some time to compose myself, I could see some precedent. The theater did show the musical version of Hairspray, which co-starred Zach Ephron, chief heartthrob of the series. It is also true that the theater has an opportunity to show a popular film in a time when clearance keeps most films of that stripe far away.

Still, with Sex Dive opening the same day at the Charles, is this an indicator of things to come?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Film Exhibition in Baltimore- September 2008

This month I will concentrate on some scant data involving two local theaters.

Someone I work with in my main job mentioned that the Charles theater had been sold. I found this pronouncement baffling, so I decided to investigate. I found the following article, which explained the situation.

John Standiford has sold his share of the Charles to James "Buzz" Cusack. John remains on as a projectionist and a programmer of the revival series. As I am a dedicated follower of that series, this is great news.

It does not seem like a deal is imminent, but it does give one pause to consider the next life cycle for the place. Buzz and John have had a heck of a run with it, but it has changed hands in the past, and seems clear it will do so again. The idea of the theater joining a chain of other independent theaters sounds promising, as it would give them some muscle against the Landmark.

Certainly, business has picked up, and based on the Charles theater website, there are operas, ballets, and even a contemporary French film series on the horizon. Still, we are left with the question of what the future holds for the Charles, a question that is not being asked for the first time.

Over at the Senator, they recently celebrated their sixty-ninth anniversary quietly, running a series of ads in the newspaper. There were several lines that stuck out, at least to me. Here is the text as it ran in the Sun on Sunday, October 5th. I have emphasized the lines I find most interesting:

Today is the Senator's Sixth-Ninth Anniversary!

On October 5th, 1939 a gala was held to celebrate the Senator's opening. The new theater's graceful, art-deco design, state-of-the-art amenities & technical sophistication was praised by all. It was an inspiring vision of the future at a time when our nation's future was threatened and uncertain.

During its 69 year history of family ownership & operation the Landmark Senator has achieved reknown as "the people's theatre."

As we celebrate the theater's illustrious past, the Senator's primary mission is the continue to project a bright & shining vision of the future.

A transition is underway at the Senator.

As the Senator approaches its 7oth anniversary it will evolve & expand its capabilities & become the premiere entertainment venue in the region.

After reading this statement, along with another one that differs in some key ways that ran in the Saturday paper, it dawned on me that maybe the Senator isn't going to show movies anymore.

I have no factual basis for this claim. Still, you have to notice that there is no mention of films or movies anywhere in the write-up, even when mentioning the original opening. It is also implied that any changes that are made are in alignment with the original vision of the theater. We are also living in a time when "our nation's future is threatened and uncertain," and a theater like the Senator, which has been noted as being in debt so severe at to warrant an analogy with a terminally ill patient on life support, mentioning this is to me interesting as well. Certainly, if you can't make money after your competition has been pushed aside by clearance and you are running the No. 1 movie in America at all times. how can you make money in the movie exhibtion business?

In the Saturday ad, there were some differences in an abbreviated version of the text I consider worth examining.

As we celebrate the Senator's rich history, its primary mission is to evolve with the times & remain a futuristic, innovative facility.

An operational transition is in progress at the Senator...

Certainly, an operational transition sounds more intense than just a simple transition, but I can't put my finger on why. I also think that to evolve with the times you need to stop going to the movies so much and watch movies you stole on your laptop, like most people.

Certainly, the Senator would make a top-notch music/ event hall, and I think once you go in that direction, it is hard to maintain a regular screening schedule, as exhibtion contracts state you have to show such and such a movie on so many occasions a day for such and such a length of time (for proof of this, look at some of the movies limping along at a screening a day at theaters like the Muvico 24). How can you do that if Garrison Keillor is dishing out his homespun wisdom at your place for the weekend?

Time will tell. Certainly, the movies did very well during the last depression. We shall see how they fare this time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Films Viewed (September 2008)

The Last Command
The Lady Eve

Tropic Thunder
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Cut)
The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume One
Who Gets to Call it Art?
Burn after Reading
The Palm Beach Story
Sweet Movie
Bombay Talkie
Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls
A Girl Cut in Two
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 13 features, 1 short film, 1 collection of short films (7 in theaters)

Notes: This month I got to see movies like The Last Command which was a silent film with live musical accompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra. I got to see movies like Towelhead and A Girl Cut in Two, which came and went without much fanfare (Towelhead clings to a screening a day at the Landmark). I got to see Burn after Reading which was funny and excellent once it got going (proximity to DC and exposure to that weird rarefied wealthy world may have helped a bit). I got to take in various Preston Sturges films at the Charles theater revival series. I got to rent a whole bunch of films from Video Americain, some wild, some woolly. In conclusion, these are the movies I got to see this month.

(The following was written in the style of my freshman composition students, who are currently struggling with the art of the paragraph.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Film Exhibtion in Baltimore- August 2008

This month, some passing observations from my filmgoing meanderings:

Seeing a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 Poster In the Lobby of the Charles

Although this did not come to pass, and may have been a joke on the part of the staff, I still was shocked to walk by this poster one evening. Was this a dream or a hallucination? I think it may reflect an interesting moment in the decision-making process on what to exhibit.

The Coming of Tyler Perry to the Senator

In the midst of the run of Tropic Thunder at the Senator, it became clear that the next feature, opening this weekend, was to be the new Tyler Perry film, The Family that Preys. I have nothing against the filmmaker or his films, but this is either a sign of his work earning a new cachet of respectability or of the Senator courting a new audience. Is it simply that this film is projected to be the No. 1 movie in America this weekend? It seems probable based on Perry's box office record, as the post-Batman pond drain that is the anemic weekend box office can have what are essentially flops as the No. 1 movie in America (Hello, Bangkok Dangerous!). In any case, I hope the Senator tucked away enough Bat-dollars to hunker down for a now Harry Potter-less fall movie season.

Poster Battle: Burn After Reading

When I first saw a poster for the new Coen brothers film up at the Charles, I thought "Yeah, Right." The Landmark had an epic run with the excellent film No Country for Old Men, and I was certain they would grab whatever was next. Then I found out it was a farce in the vein of their more out-there comedies, and that the reviews were coming in mixed at best. I then thought "Okay... Maybe." Then I started to catch the media blitz for the film, with the few stellar reviews plastered all over the paper and other media, and I knew that it was destined for the Landmark and the Senator. The Senator did decide to open it at the much smaller Rotunda, which may be a sign of lack of confidence in the film. If it does get bad word-of-mouth, it could get dropped and then be picked up by the Charles a la The Visitor. The big question: is this new film more The Big Lebowski or The Ladykillers? We shall see.

The End of the "Grab Bag" Revivals at the Charles

The grab bag revival series winded down with a micro-run of Kubrick (The Shining, Dr. Strangelove), some out-of-sequence early Bond (Goldfinger, Dr. No, From Russia with Love) and one remnant from the proposed (but apparently scrapped) French revival series (The Earrings of Madame De...). The Charles revival series is now on to a run of Preston Sturges films, and I, for one, am very pleased. The usual comprehensive list is available in the lobby.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Films Viewed (August 2008)

Super High Me
Unfaithfully Yours
La Collectioneuse
A Modern Coed
Underground (Kusturica)
The Dark Knight (IMAX)
Pineapple Express
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
The Edge of Heaven
Man on Wire
The Last Mistress
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Dr. No
Tell No One
Hamlet 2
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
Glengarry GlenRoss
Hissy Fits
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Wrong Man
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Cut)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Cut)
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (BMA, DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 24 features, 2 shorts (13 in theaters)

Notes: I must admit I am impressed by my volume this month! Of course, keeping a yearly August movies list on another (more personal) blog was the grain of the kernal of the idea of this one, so it comes as no suprise that I have seen a lot of movies this month, the dead end of summer, the dog days of August.

It is sad not to be able to note or look forward to another screening at the BMA. I wish Eric all possible success in finding a new venue for this great series, and point you in the direction of an interview with our fearless curator conducted by The Sun's Michael Sragow.

I guess I will let the list speak for itself this month. I went to Video Americain a great deal, filled in some blanks, made it out to the Charles for some great arthouse fare, and saw a not very good Star Wars movie. Up next will be film exhibition in general in Baltimore. As we move into the fall and the one year anniversary of this blog, I will be keeping my eye on things around town, needless to say.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On Seeing The Dark Knight in IMAX

Location: Johnson IMAX Theater: National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC
Date: August 8th, 2008
Cost of Ticket: 12.50 (plus service charge)
Cost of Concessions: None Available
Cost of Parking (off site): free (a minor miracle on the Mall in DC)

Total Cost: 14.50

Notes: Admittedly, I was not rushing out to see this film again. I had enjoyed my first viewing, but I also has some issues with the film in terms of pacing and plot logic that nagged at me. Still, it was an opportunity to spend the weekend in DC, visit my girlfriend's family, and see what all the IMAX hype was about.

The screening was sold out, causing many to settle, after fruitless searching, on the neck strain seats in the front of the house. It was interesting to note the obvious tensions of a museum theater putting on this sort of a show: there were no concessions for sale, there were only two showings a day (both sold out), the theater was located at the top of a staircase and had little to no hope of controlling well a crowd of this size... but the cash-strapped museums need the revenue, and the masses was to see their Batman big. Chris Kaltenbach provided a good overview of the situation in a recent article in the Sun.

Then the film began, in all its digital dome technologic glory. Was this an analog print or digital projection? What was up with that red text at the back of the theater underneath the projector (one fellow filmgoer at another screening swore it was closed captions)? Those questions aside, the Dark Knight in IMAX took on a scope and a depth that were, for the most part, breathtaking.

The film was projected letterboxed in non-IMAX filmed scenes, a full five stories tall in IMAX filmed scenes. This was not disorienting to me, but I may have been helped by my previous screening in terms of following along. It was interesting to see establishment shots take on a new magnificence and importance, and to also see the limitations of the form (I would say the major car chase "Harvey Dent transport" scene suffered in the IMAX format, the action becoming blurred to a large degree). But you haven't Batman jump off a roof in Hong Kong and fly around until you've seen it in IMAX.

All in all, I feel that my appreciation of the film has been deepened, but my problems with these recent incredibly popular and profitable summer films remain. In some recent reading, David Mamet may have put his finger on the problem: these films are not so much concerned with traditional dramatic form but rather with how fast they can move from thrill to thrill, set piece to set piece. This screening around, I "got" a lot more of what was going on (like what the heck the Scarecrow was up to in that early sequence). But I still wonder at my ability to keep up with these kids today with their youtube and faceplace and whatnot. Am I reaching a point where popular culture will no longer hold even a vestige of a thrill for me? Will I simply retreat into the Arthouse and shake my fist at the suburban multiplex?

It is funny how time passes. I can remember 1989 Batman (which I am certain I saw repeatedly at said multiplex) only distantly, but that summer was spent in the throes of Batmania, surrounded by merchandise and hype and a film that seemed grittier, darker, more in tune with its time than other releases of the day. It served as a milestone and an paradigm shift and a culmination of several years of comic book geekery for me. I doubt that my take would hold up if I watched Tim Burton's creation today, but I am also certain that this new film serves the same for a new generation of fans, and I look forward to discussing it with my students this fall, as there is no doubt that they saw The Dark Knight this summer. And hey... this old man's got one on them. He saw it in IMAX.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Film Exhibition in Baltimore- July 2008

This month, a simple exercise... let's call it Baltimore Landmark vs. DC Landmark(s).

Here are the movies playing at the Baltimore Landmark Harbor East as of Tuesday, August 5th, 2008:

Swing Vote
The Wackness
Step Brothers
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
The Dark Knight
Mama Mia! The Movie

Listed as Coming Soon:
Pineapple Express (Wednesday)
American Teen (Friday)
Cirque De Soleil: Delierium (special digital event- 4 screenings)
Vicky Christina Barcelona (August 15th)
Bottle Shock (August 15th)

Now, here are the films playing as of Tuesday, August 5th at the Landmark E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas:

(E Street)
Chris and Don: A Love Story
Water Lillies
Tell No One
American Teen
Brideshead Revisited
The Edge of Heaven
The Wackness
Encounters at the Edge of the World

(Bethesda Row)
American Teen
Tell No One
Brideshead Revisited
Brick Lane
Elsa & Fred
The Visitor
The Wackness

Coming Soon:
Bottle Shock (Wednesday)
Man on Wire (Friday)
Boy A (Friday)
Hellride (Friday)
Red (Friday)
Henry Poole is Here (August 15th)
Vicky Christina Barcelona (August 15th)
XXY (August 15th)

Notes: The first thing that becomes very clear (as one commenter already pointed out) is that the Landmark Harbor East is about as far from an arthouse as you can get, especially in comparison to other theaters in the chain in the area.

I especially liked the inclusion of Swing Vote at the local Landmark, as there could not be a clearer indication of who they think goes to the movies in Baltimore city. It is somehow hard for me to imagine a Ravens fan wandering over to catch Kevin Coster being all American following an exhibition game, but apparently it was not hard for them.

The most surprising thing to me is how many films the Landmarks in DC were showing that were playing at the Charles (Brideshead Revisited, Encounters at the End of the World, Tell No One) and how many of those films that were there on Tuesday opened at the Charles on Friday. Since the Charles has recently abandoned the Films Coming Soon section of their website, all of those films opening in Baltimore at the Charles on Friday (Chris and Don: A Love Story, Man on Wire, The Edge of Heaven) were not logical progressions from Tuesday to Friday in my mind. I assumed Man on Wire was a lock at the Landmark, in fact, but that did not turn out to be the case.

Most telling is that American Teen, the one with the most chance of breaking through and selling the most popcorn, was the only one kept by Landmark between the transition from DC to Baltimore. I guess the rest don't deliver on the level the Landmark can generate right now with mainstream fare, and I seriously doubt that gay-friendly films like Chris and Don: A Love Story will ever play the Harbor East, which is an interesting thing considering who is probably living in those expensive condos. I guess the next Brokeback Mountain will test the limits of the Landmark Harbor East in terms of being family friendly.

It is still hard, though, to understand at this point why movies still open in DC before Baltimore. The cities are more connected than ever before, and the world is a smaller place, ultimately. Why are we still considered "third tier" and DC still considered "second tier"? It always makes me feel a little inferior when a DC friend talks of how a film already opened there when we are still waiting for it here. In some recent reading, I heard tell of a time when film exhibitors in Baltimore had to trek up to DC to go to the film distro depot to haggle out which prints they were going to be showing the following week. Sometimes I assume a print "waiting game" is still going on between the two cities. There are only so many prints available in the case of smaller films, but the lag on bigger films is still a bit puzzling.

Well, I found this look at things eye-opening in some ways. Up next, my take on a five story tall Batman in IMAX. Until then...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Films Viewed (July 2008)

Hard Times at Douglass High
Mister Lonely
Falkenberg Farewell
Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not for Sale
Thursday's Children
Knife in the Water
Up the Yangtze
Roman Polanski: The Short Films
Mitchell (Mystery Science Theater 3000 version)
The Amazing Colossal Man (Mystery Science Theater 3000 version)
American Hardcore
The Ice Storm
The Dark Knight
Encounters at the End of the World
Harold and Maude
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (BMA, DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 18 features, 1 short film, 1 collection of short films (8 in theaters)

Notes: First of all, this coming month marks your last chance to enjoy the free film screenings at the BMA. The film, Together, chronicles the attempts of an idiosyncratic cast of characters to live communally in Sweden in the twilight of the hippie era. Directed by Lukas Moodysson and released in 2000, I can vouch for it, as I caught it during its original brief theatrical run at the Charles, and look forward to watching it again Thursday, August 7th at 8PM. To register your protest over the cancellation of the series, e-mail To their credit, they seem genuinely interested in discussing this matter.

I have been doing a bit of archive delving this month, roaming the stacks at Video Americain, plucking the films on my list and enjoying them as I chase away summer ennui. Roman Polanski. Nicolas Roeg, Lindsay Anderson... hard to go wrong with those names on the docket. I also continued my recent and growing appreciation of the films of Hal Ashby, finally seeing Harold and Maude at a "flicks from the hill" screening at the American Visionary Arts Museum. Outdoor summer screenings are an interesting animal, what with cars alarms going off, dogs barking, and that one (possibly) intoxicated lady that screamed "woooo!" every time Maude said something quotable and quirky. I can see why the film is considered a cult classic, and it is sort of amazing I haven't seen it until now.

I have also spent some time in recent months revisiting the work of the crew of the "satellite of love" to see if what they did holds up. It has passed with flying colors, and I got a big kick out of reliving those early days of cable access, trying to plan overnight adventures based on whose house got that exciting new cable channel, Comedy Central.

I feel like the films I have seen recently in theaters have not done much in terms of inspiring much comment here. Falkenberg Farewell was a elegiac downer and well worth checking out. A movie you could see right now that I would recommend would be Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, a ramshackle exploration of Antarctica with some truly astounding visuals. The director makes personalized film essays that I always enjoy, forgiving their flaws and enjoying their strengths. If there are any films on the list you would like to hear more about, please let me know.

The Dark Knight's detonation as the event film of the summer of 2008 has continued to echo into its third week of release. I found the film's breakneck pace to be perplexing at times, being as I am someone who increasingly appreciates languid takes and logical plot movements and whose following of comic book plotlines stopped in the early 1990s. I am of the original Batmania generation, though, and was surprised that I didn't just settle back and enjoy the ride like I did in 1989. Heath Ledger does give an amazing performance, and there were other things to enjoy along the way when the film didn't get tripped up in its hurried ruminations on the the nature of the hero. The plan tonight is to drive down to DC and see the thing in IMAX. I will report back on the experience. Perhaps my opinion of the film will change upon a second screening.

Also up next, film exhibition in Baltimore in general. Until then...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mister Lonely: Now Playing

After all my harrumphing and grousing, the new Harmony Korine film, Mister Lonely, is finally playing in Baltimore right now at the Landmark Harbor East. I doubt it will last past Thursday, what with Bat-mania about to descend, but it should be noted that it has finally arrived. As a reflection of the current perplexing state of film distribution and exhibition in Baltimore, I decided to watch the film via IFC In Theaters earlier this month after despairing that I would not be able to see it on the big screen. The price of the "download" of the film was less than the cost of a matinee ticket to the Landmark (not to mention parking and other costs), but more than a rental. I suspect this dilemma will become more common in the near future as the window between theatrical exhibition and home video is further collapsed. I enjoyed the film and would recommend it to anyone interested in an envelope-pushing film experience.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Film Exhibtion in Baltimore- June 2008

As a moviegoer in Baltimore city, I am aware at times only dimly of the national film exhibition picture. I see what is showing and opening here, and the series of events that led to that reality is often obscured.

I have attempted to pay more attention to the machinations that lead to what is opening on Friday at a theater near me as a natural extension of keeping this blog. I admit that my thoughts on these matters is biased, but I try to keep perspective.

Earlier, my razzing of the Landmark Harbor East for playing all mainstream Hollywood films was reflective of my desire to see the edgiest films out there play Baltimore. I am one person, one ticket, and it is clear that I am not the average filmgoer in many respects.

Still, it saddens me to see interesting films come and go without a Baltimore bow. Even without the Landmark, Mister Lonely's shot at playing Baltimore was slim at best, and a probable loss for whoever showed it. I will move on and rent the DVD when available (more on that below).

But back to Landmark going 100% Hollywood mainstream . It was a sad and interesting moment, but one that I now see is reflective of national trends. It is becoming clear that there is no clear "summer indie hit" this year.

Having worked in the popcorn trenches for five summers now, I can see that we just don't have a Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins, or An Inconvenient Truth in the marketplace. Even if the Landmark never happened, this would be a hard summer for smaller films in Baltimore.

Is this an after-effect of the writer's strike? Is it that several of the studio indie houses (Warner Independent, Picturehoue) are being shuttered? It is hard to say, as these films must have the right mixture of box office return, word of mouth, and critical praise to really hit the mark.

It is interesting that the only film we have close to that, The Visitor, played the Landmark perhaps too early to catch on and was pushed out by the usual Blockbuster-mania at the Senator, only to wind up slowly and steadily playing at the Charles, where is continues to have legs months after beginning its run in Baltimore. I wonder if this will happen with other films as time goes on in the new realities of film exhibition in Baltimore.

One other interesting, jarring note: Baltimore's Comcast digital cable has added the Independent Film Channel to its line-up. which is welcomed. However, it is odd to see many of the same films that just played or are playing at the theater down the street (The Flight of the Red Balloon, Paranoid Park, among others) available On Demand for a fee. In fact, I have just discovered that I can satisfy my Mister Lonely jones for $6.99 at this very moment. Is this the future of film exhibition in Baltimore, and, if so, what is the role of movie theaters in all of this?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Films Viewed (June 2008)

Because the Bible Tells Me So
The Fall
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Landlord
The Wild World of Batwoman (Mystery Science Theater 3000 version)
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
The Visitor
Mister Jealousy
The Love Guru
Mr. Freedom
Berlin Alexanderplatz (parts I, II, and III)
The Incredible Hulk
Constantine's Sword
Being There
Key Largo
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (BMA, DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 17 (10 in theaters)

Notes: First of all, it is important to note that the mighty BMA free film series, which has become such an enjoyable feature of filmgoing life in Baltimore, appears to be coming to an end. It is a sad thing to see it go, as it has provided opportunities to see so many great films on the big screen, some of which are impossible to see in any other way. Many kudos should be given to Eric Allen Hatch for a great run, and best wishes to whatever effort comes next to get worthwhile films screened for an appreciative public. The last two scheduled entries in the series are Falkenburg Farewell and Together. Falkenburg Farewell, a film by Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt, is unavailable in any format in the United States, and screens this Thursday, July 3rd, at 8PM. Together will be shown Thursday, August 7th. Enjoy these great free screenings while you can.

Another great Baltimore film series, the Charles theater's revival series, has concluded its six month run of Hitchcock and begun anew, starting with a seeming grab-bag of screenings, perhaps based on the availability of quality prints. Key Largo is playing this week. Rebel without a Cause begins Saturday, July 5th, followed by The Searchers (Saturday, July 12th), Two Lane Blacktop (Saturday, July 19th), and The Shining (Saturday, July 26th). Things seems to get decidedly French after that (titles like Contempt, Last Year at Marienbad, and Children of Paradise have been named but not given screening dates). Films screen at noon on Saturday, 7PM on Monday, and 9PM on Thursday of their respective week.

In terms of the rest of the month, I continued my ingestion of summer movies, spent time with some of my favorite directors, was pointed in the right direction in terms of some older films, and was introduced to some new filmmakers as well. I don't feel like I have a great deal to say about any of the films at this time, but will comment upon any if asked to do so. Up next, a shift in my perspective on film exhibition in general in Baltimore.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Congratulations to Landmark Harbor East!

I had a feeling this day was coming, and it has finally arrived.

The Landmark Harbor East, as of today and through at least Thursday, June 26th, is offically showing ONLY Hollywood Mainstream films! Congrats, guys!

Some people would have a hard time seeing the "edginess" of films like Get Smart and You Don't Mess with the Zohan, but you guys can see that playing these films is possible while still staying true to your arthouse roots.

Sure, maybe a few Mister Lonelys have to get cut from the schedule, but that is the price you have to pay to stay focused on profit goals this quarter.

I see Savage Grace coming soon at the bottom there, but isn't that also the release date of Wanted? Well, I know you guys will do the right thing. Right?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Film Exhibiton in Baltimore- April/May 2008

Instead of beating a dead horse, I shall offer a new observation.

People in Baltimore are adjusting to the new heirarchy of film exhibtion in Baltimore, for good or for bad.

All you have to do is wait and you can see your movie where you would prefer to see it, perhaps at a place that is cheaper, where you can find parking. It is a gamble, but it seems to be an emerging trend.

The Band's Visit? Played at both the Charles and the Landmark.

Iron Man? Played at both the Senator and the Charles.

The Visitor has managed to play all three local theaters, and is still going strong, perhaps due in part to an article that commented upon how strong it is going.

I just hope that my opportunity to see films like Mister Lonely (reviewed in the City Paper under the mistaken impression it was opening Friday. June 6th at the Landmark Harbor East) on the big screen in Baltimore is not taken away. Will more screens lead to less films?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fims Viewed (April-May 2008)

The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Manufactured Landscapes
The Counterfeiters
Smart People
Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood
Rear Window
The Grand
The Trouble with Harry
Planet B-boy
The Perverts Guide to Cinema (part one)
The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark
Other (BMA, DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 10 (7 in theaters)
Veronika Voss
Story of Women
Medicine for Melancholy
Chop Shop
89 Gator Mine
Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story
Iron Man
My Brother is an Only Child
The Last Sunset
Young at Heart
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
My Kid Could Paint That
The Charles
The Senator/The Rotunda
The Landmark
The Maryland Film Festival
Other (BMA, DVD, On Demand, Suburban Multiplex
Total: 12 features, 1 short (11 in theaters)

Notes: It is good to see both of the recent BMA free screenings coming up at the top of each month. I look forward to this Thursday's screening of Hal Ashby's The Landlord, the film he made before Harold and Maude. That's this Thursday, June 5th at 8PM for free at the BMA.

The most enjoyable few days of the past two months of my movie-going life is thanks to the 10th Annual Maryland Film Festival, which unspooled about a month ago. Although the dust is settled, many great films should be discussed, as they are still making the rounds and should be caught if possible.

Jon Waters has yet to disappoint me with his Friday night screening. I have been to eight of the last nine, and have enjoyed each. His choice of Story of Women was more proof of the length and breadth of quality films still waiting to be discovered out there, and I thank him for choosing it, as I doubt it would have crossed my path otherwise.

Films like Medicine for Melancholy are why I make time for the festival each year. Making an engaging polemic on the topic(s) of gentrification, racial identity, and modern post-everything relational malaise is not easy, and this film pulls it off. There are more stories to be told and new ways to tell these stories, and this film proves it, managing to nod to the past while keeping its sights set on the horizon. I hope that the film makes it out of the festival circuit with a means to be seen by the larger audience that it so richly deserves.

Chop Shop, another excellent film that I wrote about earlier, did get a "one week wonder" bow at the Charles. I had hopes it would make it further, but like Killer of Sheep before it, it did not stick around. I would say to consider it when it hits DVD.

Goliath, a film by the Zellner brothers, was preceded by a short film by Josh Slates, 89 Gator Mine. I have not had the opportunity to see the Zellner brothers other works, but this film made for an auspicious debut in feature filmmaking, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next. I was not as fired up about the film as others were, and I think I was a bit unhappy with some tonal inconsistencies that accumulated as the film progressed.

Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story was a fun and interesting look back at a lost era (my mother's favorite "scary movie" of all time is Castle's House on Haunted Hill). It did play like a "DVD extra" on steroids, but that was not necessarily displeasing. Perhaps the next generation of great documentarians will emerge from the "added bonus features" DVD salt mines.

It is also important to note that in the conversations following the festival, many people I talked to saw an entirely different group of films and were very happy with what they saw. This is a sign of the diversity and quality of films MFF brought to the festival this year. On to next year!

I "On Demanded" The Last Sunset after reading an article about it in Film Comment and can see the argument for adding it to the "Great Melodramas" cannon. I can also see why some of the key players disavowed the film so loudly.

Otherwise, the last two months have been filled with the first shots in the Summer film season, the new standard fare at the Charles, and one odious, terrible misfire. Please let me know if you would like more on any of the films listed. I should be writing on Film Distribution in General over the course of these two months shortly.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chop Shop now playing at the Charles

I saw Chop Shop during the Maryland Film Festival and was very impressed by it. The film is a tough, unsenitmental look at two young people scrapping and hustling, trying to survive in the midst of an industrial hell. Shades of the best work of Di Sicca and Kiarostami are present but not overt. The film is playing now at the Charles, and I would say to check it out if you have the time and opportunity.

In the past, I would have assumed that Chop Shop is closing this Thursday, but it may continue on for a week or two, considering the local screening situation.

Apologies for my recent silence. I owe two months of "films viewed" and "film distribution in general" (I will combine them, I think) and a report from the always glorious Maryland film festival. I will make amends soon.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tenth Annual Maryland Film Festival

The Tenth Annual Maryland Film Festival is just around the corner (May 1st through the 4th), and I planned to post a list of the fllms I wanted to see, based on their write-ups and a preview night I attended. I am gratified to see that Eric Allan Hatch's list is very close to mine, so I direct you there to get a "head's up" on some of the more interesting offerings (with Youtube clips).

It is often a bit of a problem to get a handle in advance on what is playing at the fest, and I feel that efforts this year to get information out have been much stronger. Attendees will walk into the merry melee of that block with a much clearer idea this year of what they would like to see, and that is a good thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Schedule Changes at the Charles

As of this Monday, the Charles has cut its first matinée screenings (the two o'clock round) from its weekday schedule. Weekend screenings should remain the same. The website currently implies that the two o'clock round will be cut from Saturdays and Sundays as well, but this is incorrect.

I know from experience that those were the least attended screenings of the week, and also that the theater has considered cutting them out before. It is certainly sad news for employees who worked those AM weekday shifts. I would say it is sad news for theater patrons, but outside of that handful of confused pensioners who will be staring into the lobby this week, waiting for a screening that no longer occurs, I don't foresee too much turmoil or lost business.

Still, I worked many a bustling weekday matinée in the summer there, and I am assuming the Charles has accepted the reality that there is no March of the Penguins surprise summer box office on the horizon.

It is hard not to let out a wistful sigh and wonder what's next for film exhibition in Baltimore. I do know what's up next for this blog: some thoughts on the Maryland Film Festival, which is a scant two weeks away.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Tale of Two Pettigrews


Do my eyes deceive me, or is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day playing at both the Rotunda and the Charles?

I have been watching this since Friday, online and in the paper, and it does not seem to be a mistake.

If one were to peruse the Senator's website, the friendly link to the Charles is intact, as well as a mention of the current Dial M for Murder 3-D revival screenings (is this the third or the fourth time the Charles has shown the film in this way? I have lost count).

Could the war be over? Or does this simply reflect that when the Landmark does not show a film, the Charles is allowed to do so? I would appreciate insight from anyone who can explain in more depth this vagary of the recent film exhibition landscape.

In any case, let us all pray for peace in this ongoing conflict.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Film Exbition in Baltimore in General- March 2008

I found myself this month trying to adjust to the disorienting new rhythm of film exhibiton in Baltimore. There is a much more frenzied aspect to it, with hair-pin turns and sudden stops and starts now the norm. There is also a new screening hierarchy emerging that must be noted.

Certainly I have seen this time of year look something like this before. Having been through more than one "film drought" between Oscar season and the Maryland Film Festival, I know the signs and portents. Strange things have been showing on local screens, films that at other times of the year would not have had a shot at playing Baltimore. It is also true that these days we are drawing more water from the well, and some of what we are drawing is getting pretty shallow.

Extended metaphors aside, there is a new counter-phenomenon hitting area screens: the film that will not die. I cite the case of Atonement, a film I rushed out to see before the end of 2007, assuming that the area run would be brief. Boy, was I wrong. Atonement, a flim that won no major Oscars (apologies to all you "original score" lovers), managed to play at every film house in the city between December and March, even playing past the "DVD barrier," or very close to it. I enjoyed the film, had read the book, but dearly wished for the film to make way for some fresh experience.

Of course, I speak of the "DVD barrier" as if it still exists. For a time, Baltimore movie houses (especially the Charles) seemed to follow this system, not showing a film if the release date for the theater fell past DVD. I cannot count the number of times I saw the clever trailer for Another Gay Movie, a film that did not play at the Charles, perhaps due to a rushed-forward DVD release date. The old "rules" seem to be eroding, however.

Upon contemplation, the situation is a bit paradoxical, with some films playing for what seems like six months (see No Country for Old Men), while others play for six days. Typically, a big film is out on DVD the week it closes locally. Others are already available to rent when they play. The old window has collapsed, and this adds a new complication to Friday night's film choice.

If one were to describe the new heirachy that is emerging, it might be this: Landmark does what it wants, the Senator does what it wants, and the Charles takes what it can get. If the Senator does not have the number one movie in the country and wants it, it just adds it. The Landmark looks at the entire broad world of film, and cherry picks the ones that fit the program. The Charles waits and gets a few scraps from the table. The Charles has recently exhibited films that are castoffs from the other two at a point when the revenue potential/ interest has decreased greatly. Still, from a filmgoer's perspective, this means that if one just waits, maybe it can be seen down the street. Patience is a virtue, right?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Films Viewed (March 2008)

Be Kind Rewind
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Paranoid Park
The Chicago Ten
Strangers on a Train
The Witnesses
Kurt Cobain About a Son
The Charles
The Landmark
The Senator/ The Rotunda
Other (BMA, DVD, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 10 (8 in theaters)

Notes: Sadly, I did not catch March's BMA screening of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, but I have heard it went well (for me, this past month was filled with one calamity after another). This Thursday, the free series continues at 8PM with Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which would be a great window into this surrealist filmmaker's work for those unfamiliar. For those for whom the film and the filmmaker are old friends, this is a chance to catch it on the big screen. More information can be found here.

Well, this is the lowest movie count for a month so far. I have been scraping by on a few staples.

On some level, tending to this blog makes me feel obligated to watch more films. I am certain that, in my recent past, there are months where even fewer films were screened, and they passed without note. Perhaps my fears that I am to become one of "those people" is unfounded, and the number of films will continue to drop until I just go to the movies twice a year, like an average American.

It was good to finally get through Hitchcock's Notorious, a film that puts me to sleep. I can't stand Cary Grant's acting in this particular film and the cinematography goes from pedestrian to daredevil so often that it feels uneven to me. I do understand, after discussion, why the film is so revered. There is no doubt that this retrospective, which gives me a chance to see Hitch's work evolve over time, certainly place the film in beter context.

Of the arthouse slate I digested, I would say that 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days was the champion. I did not leave the theater horrified or distrubed in ways that were not healthy. Be not afraid. Paranoid Park is also worth mentioning, and has made its way to the Charles (I caught it at a Maryland Film Festival screening earlier in the month). Van Sant's recent filmic experiments have not always paid off, but this film achieves a balance between abstraction and narrative that is admirable.

I had firm disagreements with Sragow's take on Be Kind Rewind, but it seems like reviews in general were mixed at best. It is understandable that one could miss the protest against the current copyright war contained in the film if one was not familiar, but I found the film to be witty and touching, perhaps due to my own involvement with amateur film productions. I'd say catch it when it hits the stacks.

Speaking of the stacks, it was good to finally sit down and absorb Mishima. It is amazing to me that this film was released in 1985, but I cannot articulate why (perhaps it has something to do with the output of some of its backers around the same time). It is a huge, beautful, thing (made with no intention of making back any of the budget) about an author whose themes and preoccupations are completely foreign to a Western reader in a number of ways. Mesmerizing.

The tale of woe that was Film Distribution in General in March is up next. I also hope to spotlight some of the other film series around town and speak of the upcoming Tenth Annual Maryland Film Festival. Until then...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Film Exhibtion in Baltimore in General- February 2008

As a moviegoer, I can read the movie page of the newspaper like the racing form. It often reveals interesting information to someone who knows how to read it. Which films are going strong, which are about to close, which are hanging on at the dollar movie, which are gone in the blink of an eye after a six day shot... it is all there to see.

On Friday, February 22nd, I picked up the "Sunpapers," as is my strange habit, and perused the Movies Today section. I could see clearly that the changes I have been awaiting have fully taken hold in terms of film exhibtion in Baltimore city.

Several films were opening that I wanted to see or had a degree of interest in: Be Kind Rewind, Charlie Bartlett, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, and Taxi to the Dark Side. In the past, almost all of the films could have found a home at the Charles. This time, only one did.

On this Friday, the Landmark had Vantage Point, Charlie Bartlett, Be Kind Rewind, Michael Clayton, Juno, No Country for Old Men, Atonement, The 2007 Academy Shorts Animated, and The 2007 Academy Shorts Live Action. All this fits into their business plan of courting the Harbor's tourists and residents, the yokels at the conventions and the impossibly rich in the penthouse suites. Many of the films being screened were nominated for Oscars (which were doled out that Sunday night to the lowest ratings for the show ever on record), and it was the first time in my memory that a progam of Oscar nominated shorts played Baltimore before the awards were given out and/or ever. Total domination, all the marbles, first pick.

On the same weekend, the Charles opened 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, another critically acclaimed film from Romania about abortion in a country where it is forbidden. Not exactly a date movie. They also re-opened I'm Not There and continued to play In Bruges, Persepolis, There Will Be Blood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and were trumpeting another entry in the La Scala Opera series. On a recent weekend pulling a shift there, the crowds seemed healthy enough, but it seems like more and more brass rings are passing the theater by. Sure, they had their share of Oscar-nominated films, but the luster faded after Sunday unless the films won in some way. Some did, some did not.

Atonement played on the big screen at the Senator theater, while Juno and Taxi to the Dark Side (doomed to be a one week wonder, like more than a few listed above) played at the Rotunda. The ad trumpeted the critical raves and the Oscar nominations in typical "Senator showman" style. I appreciate that the ads indicate the tenative run of each film, and wonder every time I see that a film has been "held over by popular demand" as to the story there. You will notice, however, that two of the three films are also playing at the Landmark.

Essentially, the clearance dynamic that was anticipated has come to pass. The Landmark and the Senator get to show what they wish to show, and the Charles does not. Suddenly, all of the Senator's complaints about clearance have stopped, and the Charles, which has never established a public presence on par with that of the Senator, loses out weekend after weekend, especially at times in the cycle when there are not that many quality or anticipated films in release.

Granted, the Charles is certainly not a ghost town on any given Saturday night, so maybe all of this gnashing of teeth is unwarranted. But still, the cold, mechanical business side of all of this is a bit depressing. Sure, I will go see the new Romanian art movie, but will Roland Park go, too?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Films Viewed (February 2008)

Night and Fog
Shadow of a Doubt
Shoot'em Up
The Naked City
Sans Soleil
Four Eyed Monsters
Epic Movie
Semi Pro

The Charles
The Landmark
The Senator/ The Rotunda
Other (BMA, DVD, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 15 (8 in theaters)

NOTES: It is always a treat to begin the month with another great free screening at the BMA. This time around, I became more properly exposed to the work of filmmaker Ousmane Sembene. Xala, a film that took more than one suprising turn, made you laugh while still containing a scathing critique of certain aspects of post-colonial Africa. I look forward to exploring more of his films in the future, if the stacks are yielding. Be sure to make a note of this Thursday's free BMA screening at 8:00 of the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Two words: Hugo Chavez. They report, you decide.

When I look over the month, I feel a bit predictable. I have wound up attending most screenings at the theater down the street, and have otherwise mostly wandered the stacks on the trail of some missed connections. I could make a case that my job in Real Life (TM) is keeping me pretty busy, but I do have a rep to uphold. I am the cineaste now, as friend pointed out, suprised that I had not seen Diary of the Dead.
Two films I must advocate for would be Sans Soleil and Innocence, both a bit hard to get through but totally worth the experience. The first film places Chris Marker so ahead of most people in 1983 it is a bit astounding. The film seemed to comment on what is happening right now in ways that left me wondering if I was just making my own connections in the film's free fall. The second was beautful, eerie, and a very insightful critique of the girl's private school world and culture. If you know that world and have a healthy tolerence for deliberate pacing, I would say to rent it sometime soon.
Of course, I also saw Shoot'em Up, which was the exact opposite of all of the above.
As indicated, I watched a few more films as well, but feel as if they have been discussed enough or are not worth extended comment. Please let me know if you would like to hear more about any of them. Up next, a rather grim report on film distribution in general in February. I believe the other shoe has dropped.