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 programs@artbma.com. 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...