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.