Monday, December 28, 2009

the Cineaste Comes of Age (1987-1994)

My family had just moved into our new home in Dundalk, an eastern suburb of Baltimore City. It was late at night, and I was keeping my usual night owl hours. It was probably 1987. It could have been 1988.

I had a room in the basement, where our latest monster projection television had been placed. I came out of my room after some quality time with Mad Magazine and Pro Wrestling Illustrated to discover my younger brother sitting in front of the television, transfixed. He had the weird clunky controller on the floor in front of him, its thick cord snaking back to the cable box. He was watching channel three, a pay channel. It was a freeview weekend, and Cinemax's Friday After Dark had been discovered. Things were never the same.

Through some quirk of fate, that "freeview weekend" never ended and the wide world of pay movie channels remained open to me from mddle school into high school.

I spent many a summer and weekend night foraging through the offerings. I knew I had something good playing out in front of me when it would keep my attention into the wee hours. A Clockwork Orange blew me entirely away. Near Dark had me up until 5AM, leaving me as raw as those freewheeling southern vampires. Raising Arizona, Blue Velvet, Roger and Me, Do the Right Thing, Edward Scissorhands, Jacob's Ladder... they all rolled by, uncut films streaming into the world of a young man who was far from the arthouse. This was thanks in part to the Cinemax Vanguard programming, which was what the channel ran late at night when it wasn't busy being skinemax.

But that wasn't the only way movies were entering into my world. My family's healthy film habit was supported by Sunday post-church trips to the suburban multiplexes and our membership at the Video Attractions down the road. We were often at the rental limit, and my brother and I continually attempted to sneak films like Basic Instinct out of the store and into the basement with limited success.

You will notice once again that the physical act of going to the movie theater was not a big deal, nor was it the only way I saw a film. Still, amidst the mega-doses of Spielburgs and Robocops and Batmen, I began digging deeper, paying attention to directors, looking for envelope-pushing materials. I was unafraid of black and white, interested in foreign cinema.

As high school dawned, my social world opened up, and so did my filmic horizons. One friend to whom I am particualry endebted to for may reasons enjoyed envelope-pushing music and cinema with equal fervor. He made sure I was treated to a steady diet of Tarantino, Lynch, Bakshi, and Kubrick when we weren't playing/attending shows.

After I graduated from high school and entered college, something happened that sealed my fate. It is perhaps best summed up in cliche. For soon, there is a darkening of the screen and a pause in the vhs tape as we reach the Lost Years of the Cineaste (1995-1997). Before that, Films Viewed (December 2009).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Films Viewed (November 2009)

Good Hair
A Woman in Berlin
Disney's A Christmas Carol
The Third Generation
Coco Before Chanel
Branded to Kill
The Killer
A Real Young Girl
It is Fine. Everything is Fine!
Duck Soup
Spies Like Us
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Even Dwarfs Stated Small
Lady Vengeance
The Road
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

The Charles
The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (Video Americain, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 19 films (11 in theaters)

Notes: I feel very good about this month. I feel very good indeed.

Still, there was one notable stinker among the bunch. I cannot abide the newest A Christmas Carol. It features a character that is my namesake, and holds a special place in my family's holiday traditions. An encapsulation of my opinion would be thus: the wizz-bang CGI 3D effects cannot hide a barren, threadbare retelling of a usually warm and fuzzy fable. The film fails to locate the central humanity of the story. This is an essential part of any filmed Dickens adaptation of merit. Grade: F-.

Moving on, the clear highlight of the month was attending Crispin Glover's Big Slide Show, which featured a screening of It is Fine. Everything is Fine!, the second film in the It trilogy. This was a unique evening with a gifted and eccentric artist. I would say more, but it is clear that he wishes for people to experience his films for themselves, with the director present to explain. I recommend going to this if the occasion arises.

The filmed comedies ran the gamut, from perennial favorites to the unintentionally hysterical to "nice try, guys." In general, there were compelling historical dramas, free-spirited biopics, wacked-out Yazuka films, women seeking vengance, nightmare dystopias big and small, clear Oscar contenders, revealing documentaries... it is hard ot know where to begin or what to recommend, honestly.

Well, that's about it. The Charles seems to be coming up aces at the moment. Let's hope that this continues. Up next... the Cineaste Comes of Age (1987-1994).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

the Youth of the Cineaste (1976-1987)

I was born in 1976.

I mention this since the year in which you were born determines a great deal about how you encountered film in your American youth. In my case, I was born at the dawn of the summer blockbuster, which I think still imparts a soft spot in me each year for the ultra-mega summer films.

I have hazy memories of the anticipation of the opening weekend of The Empire Strikes Back, as I was firmly under Mr. Lucas' spell at that time. The tickets were purchased in advance and pinned on the bulletin board next to the lone telephone in our Bayview rowhome. Seeing that the tickets had perforations similar to the ones in my activity books, I got up on a chair stacked with phone books and tore them. I was in big trouble then, but a call to the theater confirmed that we could still get in.

Well... at any rate, I spent my childhood in Baltimore city.

I mention this as Baltimore city did not have cable television available in the standard form until some time after my family moved just over the line into Baltimore county. Outside of occasional trips across that city/county line to "see a picture" at Golden Ring Mall, the television was the main way I encountered film. I harbor no cherished memories of the film palaces of Baltimore (which were firmly in decline at the time). Sorry.

Most of my "film on television" experiences came from broadcast television via the big three networks and the UHF affiliates. There were about seven channels to choose from, with a few more available if the DC stations were coming through on that particular day.

I harbor vivid memories of Kung-Fu Theater showing and re-showing terrible transfers of sub-Shaw Brother chop sockey flicks heavily edited to fit the running time, of midnight movie programs lulling me to sleep at slumber parties which gave the same rough treatment to the Universal Horror Creature Features and their attendant parodies, of WBFF TV45 having New Year's Eve marathons of Marx Brothers films. I am fairly certain I had more fun as a kid staying up watching old movies with my family on New Year's Eve than I do today running the Mount Vernon bar gauntlet.

Our "big screen" projection television was on almost constantly as my brother and sister and I played in the basement. My dad always insisted that he wanted to be able to "see what's on the television from the kitchen", and so we always had one of these monsters somewhere in the house. Despite the "big screen," these films on television were almost always poorly transferred, leading me to believe that the 1970s in America was a murky, badly-lit, washed out time in our nation's history. This was in sharp contrast to the eye-popping, sharply colored world of the 1980's situation comedy. Diff'rnt Strokes, indeed!

Despite our lack of standard cable at the time, we did have the outlet of VHS video rental and a Pay Television channel called SuperTV, which was sort of like being able to get just HBO. I remember waiting in vain for E.T. to come out on VHS, of watching and re-watching the Star Trek, Star Wars and Superman movies we had made copies of (my father, an electrical engineer, employed the system one used for making tape copies that defeated the Macrovision copy protection system). I used to leaf through the monthly SuperTV schedule booklet, looking for things to watch, wondering about the movies being listed, having no idea about the awesomeness of Z Channel and its then-unfolding impact on the world of "film on television" on the other side of the country.

It is clear from the outset of my existence that I liked watching movies. It was a part of what my family did together. Our tastes were admittedly mainstream, with the exception perhaps of my mother's love of all things musical theater-related. Those 90 to 120 minutes we spent together were often free of bickering and fights. I remember these times fondly but dimly, and consider them formative.

To be honest, things didn't get left-of-center for me in terms of my film tastes until we moved to the county. Because then we got cable.

More on that next time, after an update of films viewed in November. Until then, this is the Charm City Cineaste, signing off...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Films Viewed (October 2009)

The Informant!
The Baader Meinhof Complex
Big Fan
Leave Her to Heaven
Whip It
Touch of Evil
Where the Wild Things Are
Gate of Flesh
A Serious Man
Capitalism: A Love Story
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

The Charles
The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (Video Americain, suburban muliplex)
Total: 13 films (10 in theaters)

Notes: Well, I am prety much keeping up with my average, and ten films in theaters is a rarer event these days, but it's the time of the season for movies.

My absolute knocked-it-out-the-park favorite was The Baader Meinhof Complex. Finally, a big-budget action bloodbath suited to my sensibilities, Can blaring in background! As a political organ or as an accurate account it could be lacking, but as an adrenalized rush the film was most effective. After months of reading about Godard's sterile exercises in dialectical filmmaking, my inner-teenage radical dude was most pleased.

My underdog why-didn't-anybody-see this-movie favorite was Whip It, which was frothy fun but still worth watching. I don't know how true-to-rollergirl it is, but I had a good time. I would consider renting it when released to disc.

My dear-God-we're-all-screwed pick would be A Serious Man. One exiting filmgoer remarked that the film was "too dark" and was "like having surgery for two hours." I found the film's bleak sensibility and nervous-hand-wringing right up my alley.

The "grab bag" revivals at the Charles have continued, all over the map. The prints have been stellar. It was interesting to realize that most of my vivid childhood memories of the Universal monster movies came not from the originals but from a gentle spoof of them. I guess that was all I was allowed to watch as a kid.

Speaking of which, I plan to finally launch into the story of how I got into this mess in the first place later this month. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (October 2009)

First, it should be noted that this week marks the two year anniversary of this blog. Others have come and gone, but the Cineaste abides.

In that light, it is a good time to check in on the "big three." The Senator has become a sad mess of karaoke and one-off screenings. Although it has been possible to see films there occasionally, I will officially remove it from the "key" this month. I wash my hands of this business, and will try to avoid any more than the most minimal reporting on the next round of shenanigans. Does the Rotunda have its own website yet?

In terms of the other two, it seems like a things have stabilized. The Landmark Harbor East spends most of its time playing whatever will make the most money. This seems to be the settled mission of the chain in this area. In DC, things skew way more "arthouse" for the chain and the LHE seems more than happy to let the Charles handle that business locally, especially if the subject matter is controversial or LGBT (Milk, Bruno, and Capitalism: A Love Story being recent examples).

Could this be how things stay? What does the future hold? There may be little to report on this front for some time, although with the precarious state of the economy, one never knows.

Perhaps it is time to quit the monthly updates on the state of things in general and focus more on specific film-going experiences. I have also toyed with the idea of explaining just how I came to my affliction via this blog. Maybe it is time.

Up next, films viewed in October, a month that still affords viewing opportunities. Until then...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Films Viewed (September 2009)

Le Doulos
The September Issue
Fists in the Pocket
Bright Star
Notorious (2009)
Heavy Metal Parking Lot
The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years
Lorna's Silence

The Charles
The Senator
The Landmark Harbor East
The Rotunda
Other (Video Americain, Enoch Pratt Free Library)
Total: 10 films, 1 short film (7 in theaters)

Notes: For me, a slow month. The films I did view (save one) have already exited the big screen. This is perhaps symptomatic of the month, which is filled with summer leftovers and odd ducks. The two standouts for me were Teorema and Tetro, which I suspect are not for many viewers. Teorema channeled a deep Catholic vein in a highly theoretical and unconventional way, and Tetro was perhaps too operatic to cross over. I enjoyed both.

It was also good to catch a decent-quality digital screening of two underground classics, Decline... Part II and Heavy Metal Parking Lot, both of which are bootlegger's delights (although it is true the HMPL has received a proper DVD release in recent years). As I lived through the era and was babysat by many Heavy Metal enthusiasts, it is sometimes interesting to look back. My life and choices may have taken me far away from that world, but I will never forget where I'm from.

So, that is that. The new Dardenne brothers film was brutal but moving, Notorious was Biggie-sized, and Le Doulos was good but not "big-g" Great. Up next, film exhibition in Baltimore in general.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (September 2009)

It is a little hard to expend more words on the Senator. Even the City Paper has deemed it "Best Local Issue We're Sick Of" in their recent Best of Baltimore issue. At this moment, the City of Baltimore can presumably accept request-for-proposals for the property. There are excited whispers among those who are hoping for the best from this situation, the best presumably being a non-profit dedicated to showing films taking over at the location. The Baltimore Development Corporation is now officially in the mix. At the moment, the new Tyler Perry film is playing, and the next scheduled event is Jokes and Jazz. Things, as usual, seem far from resolved.

The Landmark Harbor East, having run out of summer blockbuster wares to hawk, is switching tracks, heading for more rom-com/odds and ends territory, dutifully changing with the seasons, grabbing anything with instant legs or big stars or perceived heat. In my attendance of matinees at this leather-seated movie palace, I am often by myself. I imagine the opposite is true on a Friday evening. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to try to find parking down there.

The Charles has adopted a "throw it to the wall" theory, seeing if mixed-review indies or odd docs or sci-fi movies or foreign fare or second run will stick. Doesn't stick? End it Thursday! This week, almost everything is ending to make way for the next great hope(s). Having seen Bright Star in previews and having thorougly enjoyed it, I would say to check it out (after it opens Friday) if you really liked the recent Pride and Prejudice or if you were an English Major in college. Before then, try to catch Tetro is you are interested in seeing an old master return to form.

The Rotunda seems to be getting the hang of things, switching up their offerings on a more regular basis. I have always enjoyed the echoing emptiness of the Rotunda Mall, and never have a problem visiting thanks to its ample parking and roomy theater chairs. I hope that it continues to be a viable option. I will forgive its' missteps for the time being.

Up next, what is looking to be a scant September of Films Viewed. The back to school time of the year has a tendency to do that to me...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Films Viewed (August 2009)

Bigger than Life
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo
Eloge De L'Amour (In Praise of Love)
Bicycle Thieves
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Nollywood Babylon
Daytime Drinking
Paper Heart
Children of Paradise
The Cove
Funny People
Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!
Inglourious Basterds
A Place in the Sun
In the Loop
District 9
Summer with Monika

The Charles
The Senator
Toronto-area Theaters
The Landmark Harbor East
The Rotunda
Other (DVD, DC E Street Landmark, On Demand)
Total: 21 films (19 in theaters)

Notes: As is often the case, August was a month spent avoiding the heat by taking in as many films as possible. My count was boosted by my trip up north, which I covered in my last post.

Looking back over the list, I am pleased by the diversity of high and low, the hard to see and the widely available. Two films that were direct hits on my sensibilities were District 9 and In the Loop, the former of which hearkened back to my early love of Robocop dystopias and grimy gritty special effects. the latter of which spoke to my love of British people insulting each other and Dr. Strangelove-style political black comedy.

Sadly, I have not gotten on board with the Basterds. In discussion, it seems as if I am the only one of my friends who did not enjoy it thoroughly. The best analogy that I can come up with would be that Tarantino's films were revelvatory, magical experiences during my initiation into film culture. Now, for some reason, the magic is gone. Perhaps it is because I have changed, more films viewed, my pallette tweaked. All I know is all that lengthy dialogue leading up to a brief violent payoff isn't doing it for me, even when said dialogue is delivered brilliantly by Christoph Waltz.

Otherwise, it was early Bergman, teen wizards, uneven mis-fires, and excellent enviro-docs that deserved more local screentime. Up next, film exhibition in Baltimore in general.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Film Exhibition in Toronto (August 2009)

No, that's not a typo...

As I have just spent a week in Toronto, I thought it would be interesting to document my impressions of the film exhibition landscape there, especially since the landscape back home has had only one troubling proposed addition to its fragile ecosystem and is otherwise the same. In my time up north, I had the opportunity to see six films at five different theaters (and yes, I did other things as well).

I caught Amelie and Bicycle Thieves at the Bloor Cinema, a single-screen older theater that ran arthouse and second-run films, varying what was shown each day. There was something nice and comfortable about the Bloor, and I felt right at home. I didn't go and watch a film from the balcony, perhaps due to my culture shock over the Canadian candy situation (I kept defaulting to Coffee Crisp since the Kit-Kats looked different and the other choices seemed exotic... European). It was sort of like if the Senator was run like the Charles.

After reviewing all their impressive screening options, I settled on seeing In Praise of Love at the Cinemateque Ontario. This hard-to-see Godard film's screening was packed. To read the chapter about the film later that evening as I finished up my summer reading added a nice rejoinder to this rare opportunity. The theater's screening room, which is attached to the Art Gallery of Ontario, was nothing amazing, but the quality of the films they were offering (thorough retrospectives of European filmmakers and movements via rare, restored, and archival prints) was extremely impressive. Apparently, the Cinemateque is slated to move to some sort of movie-themed luxury condo site and to become the official home of the Toronto International Film Festival in the future.

I had great hopes that seeing GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra in Canada would offer some difference from seeing it at a multiplex stateside, but there wasn't one that I could detect in the crowd at the AMC Younge. The decor of this multiplex was focused on "great" films and directors (like Steven Speilberg and Ron Howard), which made me wonder if it is used for TIFF screenings.

The oddest experience for certain was a digital screening of Zatoichi meets Yojimbo at the Cineforum, which is located in Reg Hartt's house. Reg is a long standing film buff and archivist, and he held forth before the screening in a scattershot but welcoming matter before a videotaped introduction to the film by a "guest lecturer." Warm sake was offered as well.

As was also the case at the Bloor, you paid more for your first screening at Cineforum in order to become a member of "the club." Future screenings are then offered at a reduced rate. Was this some sort of Canadian scam or a viable model for a film club in Baltimore? In the case of myself and my traveling companion, we did not have a chance to truly utilize our memberships.

I got to view a film I missed at the 2009 Maryland Film Festival, Nollywood Babylon, which was engaging on several levels. The screening was held at the National Film Board of Canada's Mediatheque, which offered private screening rooms in which you could watch thousands of films (the catch: they were all NFBC-affiliated ventures). Something about the whole experience felt like the efforts of the uncool kids to be cooler, but this could be based on an inferiority complex that Canadians sometimes regretably possess in regard to certain aspects of their home culture.

All in all, I left Toronto very impressed with the diversity of their film exhibition landscape, and can only imagine what the same landscape looks like in the grips of TIFF. To be in a city that looks at things through a more European prisim was a welcome break from things back home, and allowed me to return to a familar landscape with a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Films Viewed (July 2009)

Sex and Lucia
Food Inc.
(500) Days of Summer
Connor Kizer's Cosmology
Margot at the Wedding
Une Femme Mariee (A Married Woman)
Chungking Express
Il Divo

The Charles
The Senator
The Landmark Harbor East
The Rotunda
Other (On Demand, Video Americain, suburban multiplex)
Total: 15 films (9 in theaters)

Notes: It is interesting to envision a time when this blog will nothing more than my report of what I saw at the Charles this month. It seems to be the case in Baltimore that if you wait long enough, any non-mall-skewing film you want to see at the Landmark Harbor East will make it to the Charles (Up and Away We Go being recent examples). Will (500) Days of Summer be the next print to be passed from downtown to mid-town? We shall see.

This month I have been doing my usual summer homework at Video Americain, Von Trier and Godard and Wong Kar-Wai being some subjects covered. A Charles theater patron asked more than a few questions about my between-shift reading of Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, her topper being "And this is the kind of thing that is summer reading for you?"

Well, the answer is yes. Sorry, lady.

One film off the beaten path that should be noted would be Connor Kizer's Cosmology, a free rental at Video Americain. His theories and musings on various topics relating to Cosmology were engagingly presented. I found especially useful his explanation of time travel, which places a very important franchise re-boot trick in a more understandable context for me.

Otherwise, it was disapointing comedies, animated films everybody saw two months ago, and crazy Italian movies that deserved more that a six day bow. Up next, a trip to Toronto. Perhaps I will have reports to make on the state of film exhibiton in Canada.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (July 2009)

(getting this in just under the wire... apologies)

Clearly, the auction of the Senator was the dominating event of the month. So many moments and pieces of information... the owner's startling admission that he may suffer from a form of objectophilia when it comes to the building in part one of the interview The Senator's Lover Bares All, the circus-like atmosphere of an auction that was clearly meant to be a formality, having a chance to personally say goodbye to the theater for a third time via a screening of a pristine restored print of Rashomon, watching mornful montages of vanished Baltimore theaters online... it really is quite a lot to take in. As of right now, the city refused the highest bidder (via the Ebay-style reserve not met option) and is now the official owner of the Senator. Within 60 to 90 days of the auction (Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009), the original owner will be sent packing and his screenings of The Yellow Submarine will cease. At the moment, Rashomon continues to play, and no new film has been announced for Friday. At least six months will pass before the city reviews requests to operate the theater and "awards" some entity the power to re-open the doors. Resolution and a second act still seems far away.

In other news, the Landmark continues to quietly dominate the city's exhibtion landscape from the dark heart of Harbor East, the Charles plugs along, having only been tossed the Bruno bone in recent months, the Rotunda occasionally gets around to changing its movies, and the summer blockbuster season marches headlong into the dumping grounds of August. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, anyone? I think I will prefer the original animated movie, when all is said and done...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Films Viewed (June 2009)

The Limits of Control
Moscow, Belgium
Angels and Demons
The Room
Captain Ahab
Black Cat, White Cat
Goodbye Solo
The Pornographers
Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream
Every Little Step
Escape from New York
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Away We Go

The Charles
The Senator
The Landmark Harbor East
The Rotunda
Other (The Enoch Pratt, Video Americain)
Total: 16 films (9 in theaters)

Notes: First, it should be noted that the Senator, after sneaking in a few more screenings of The Yellow Submarine, has scheduled Rashomon as its last attraction before the theater's auction. The 1950 Kurosawa film is an art house stand-by, but is will be worth seeing again due to a new high-quality digitally restored print. This will be yet another opportunity to say goodbye to the Senator, and one that does not involve Michael Jackson tributes.

The month was filled with highs and lows. Godard blanks have been getting filled in to accompany my reading of Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. The book is very well written and exhaustively researched. However, in pulling back the curtain, it does take away something from his films, that magic of the small revival house and too much coffee and Breathless unspooling on the screen.

Films like Captain Ahab and a few others made a powerful impact, while others were more of a dutiful cultural observance, a way to make sure I can still make small talk in the fall with my charges. The Rotunda will prove indispensible for this exercise, although to see such scant attendance at the #1 Movie in the World does make one question how long the theater will stay open in its new incarnation.

As always, feel free to ask about any of the films viewed I did not mention. Up next, film exhibition in Baltimore in general.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (June 2009)

(revised and with links, as an earlier draft was posted without polishing)

First of all, kudos to City Paper's Lee Gardner on his recent article on the state of film distribution and exhibition in America's increasingly On Demand digital marketplace. Worth a read.

The Senator theater will be sold at auction on Wednesday, July 22nd. The screenings of The Yellow Submarine have stopped, and the most recent updates have raised the (purely speculative) specter of the theater being turned into a church by a potential buyer. The most recent e-mails have called for volunteers to help re-paint the many iconic commemorative sidewalk blocks outside the theater. Let us hope that the participants have artistic abilities that match their volunteer zeal.

Several years ago, the summer was a slow time for the Charles theater. It seems that this slowness has returned, with the era of the fake indie summer hit award-winner loss-leader coming to an end (the most recent casualty seems to be Paramount Vantage, which appears to be going through a significant shake-up). You combine the reality of the marketplace with the Landmark Harbor East's poaching of anything with any potential for profit, and Away We Go into a particularity slow season for the theater. Recent screenings of the entries for the Baltimore edition of The 48 Hour Film Project were packed-lobby frenetic and a reminder of a different time. Here's hoping that something comes along soon to bring in some business.

For this author, there is a feeling of exhaustion, a dourness about the state of things. It is hard to embrace the changes that seem to be coming at an ever-accelerating rate. The future is unwritten, but it is hard not to see the writing on the wall.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Films Viewed (May 2009)

The Player
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
X-men Origins: Wolverine
La Cicatrice Interieure
Star Trek
Tokyo Sonata
Kansas City
The Girlfriend Experience
Hoop Dreams
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Drag Me to Hell

The Charles
The Senator
The Landmark Harbor East
The Rotunda
Other (DVD, On Demand, cable)
Total: 16 films (10 in theaters)

Notes: This month, I welcome the independent Rotunda to the key. I imagine I will be seeing films there soon enough.

The summer movie season began, which means it's time to go to the Landmark. I was surprised about their recent decision to actually play two smaller films. I figured they didn't have the room with all the blockbusters rolling in.

Quite a mix of high and low this month. I particularly enjoyed Tokyo Sonata, a film which, in my view, captured the angst of recent times note-perfectly (although opinion was divided). It was one of many films the Charles has run for a week or two, hoping that something sticks.

It was surprising to have the opportunity to see Drag Me to Hell at the Charles. I had a lot of fun, as the film hearkens back to when Sam Rami made Sam Rami movies. Still, it was odd not to see it at the mall in 1987.

The Altman retrospective came to an end, and so did the revival series. It seems that instead of "grab bag" stop-gaps, the revival series is taking a break. I hope it is a brief one.

Up next, film exhibition in Baltimore in general (including an auction date for the Senator). Until then...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (May 2009)

As usual, the Senator dominates the month's news. An article in the Sun newspaper claimed that the City now owns the theater (there is no online link to be found to the article, which I read). The Senator claims that this is not true, and there is an important meeting of some kind going on at the Senator this evening to "set the record straight," as it were. This sad situation is beginning to remind me of the title of a recent Iraq War documentary. In the meantime, continue to enjoy Beatles films, digitally projected, until somebody puts a padlock on the place.

The Rotunda, assumed dead, has returned under new management. One could go there this very evening and see a first-run movie. This new management is not affiliated with the Senator, but the film times and other information is available at the Senator's website for some reason.

The Charles theater hosted the 2009 Maryland Film Festival, which was a successful and enjoyable weekend by all accounts. It was odd not to be caught up in my yearly weekend of cinema immersion, but I am glad to hear that all went well, and hope to be there next year.

Despite this high point, it does seem like the Charles has had trouble finding its next Slumdog Millionaire. This is typical at this time of the year for the theater, but it is always the cause of some hand-wringing, especially since the Landmark Harbor East still finds a way to squeeze in indie crowd-pleasers between screenings of every single popular mainstream Hollywood film. Oh well...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Films Viewed (April 2009)

Everlasting Moments
Thieves Like Us
Conan the Barbarian (w/commentary)
Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains
Dernier Maquis
The K-Swift Story
California Split
Sin Nombre
Ann Everton Videos, volume two
Buffalo Bill and the Indians

The Charles
The Senator
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (DVD, This-TV, Video Americain)
Total: 12 features, 1 collection of short films (8 in theaters)

Notes: All in all, a pleasingly diverse month, with some new adventures.

I rented a film for the first time with the sole intention of watching it with commentary. To listen to a seemingly drunk Ah-nold and director John Milius wax poetic about their muscle-bound classic is indeed something to hear.

Against my better instincts I went to the Senator see an old classic long on the list. The place was depressing, drafty, and drab. It could have been my personal opinions coloring the experience, but there is no doubt that someone forgot to turn the heat on.

It was good to catch Dernier Maquis, a fascinating take on the experiences of working class Muslims in France, at the Charles as part of their Cinemateque Francais series. This monthly screening series continues on into June, ending with another film I want to see, Captain Ahab. The Charles also allowed me to see more Altman films, many for the first time, and the sublime Everlasting Moments, which was like a hearty filmic meal, what Berlin Alexanderplatz could have been without all that cold intellectual calculation. What would I do without that place?

I guess I would watch more this-tv. This new digital variant of WBFF is a true 21st century shlockfest, playing anything they can digitze in its vast catalog of holdings. It is odd to see a truly goofy eco-horror flick like Frogs digitally re-mastered and crystal clear, but it also a break from the static of typical cable film channel programming.

Of course, tomorrow begins the 2009 Maryland Film Festival, and this year's schedule looks as top-notch as ever. For the first time since I began attending the festival ten years ago, I am looking at a weekend without the possiblity of attending screenings due to various obligations I cannot break. For recommendations, I would point towards Eric Hatch and Skizz Cyzyk's insider's guides (with trailers), and highly encourage you to get down there and see some movies. Screen one for the Cineaste!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (April 2009)

Well, needless to say, the Senator's dramatic finale continues to unfold. Unlike a Hollywood drama, no one following this story is going to walk out of the theater with any kind of satisfying resolution. The most recent development is that the auction has been canceled, as Baltimore city works on plans to acquire the theater. In the meantime, the owner continues to show classic films and do what he does best these days. Eventually, it seems that the Senator will be added to Baltimore city's vast collection of vacant properties. Let's hope they do something with this one.

But perhaps to be concerned with such matters is old-fashioned of me. I have spent some time exploring what may be the future for lovers of film recently. One way looks forward and another way looks to the past.

Apparently, there are people on this here Interweb that collect and trade ultra-rare films. In doing so, they allow those who are let into their circles see some of the most sought-after and obscure films out there. Via a friend of a friend, I have been lent such a film, and look forward to viewing it on some bleak afternoon soon. It is both illicit and firmly in the gray area of copyright control, two things I enjoy a great deal. As the vaults get emptied out during DVD's long, languorous swandive, these anonymous traders fill in the blanks. Let's hope they don't keep company with the Pirate Bay gang.

In another development, I stumbled upon a private video library that is trading films on an honor system to those that which to see them. This bodes well for the future. As the video stores slowly die, it is clear that Netflix cannot satisfy all comers. It is a reality that films go in and out of print, some never making it to digital realm at all. As we move into the post-object culture, it is nice to see something analog happening that harkens back to the beginning of the entire concept of the library. Ben Franklin would approve, I think.

And, finally, the entire roster for the 2009 Maryland Film Festival should be up and running. It looks like another great year for the fest, and I look forward to partaking in what the festival has to offer. See you there!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Films Viewed (March 2009)

The International
Another State of Mind
Heavy Traffic
The Big Lebowski
The Class
Brewster McCloud
I Love You, Man
Waltz with Bashir
Rumble Fish
Two Lovers
The Secret of the Grain
42nd Street Forever, Volume Three
The Long Goodbye
The Charles
The Senator/The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (The Zodiac, Some Dude's Personal Library, Video Americain)
Total: 15 features, 1 collection of trailers (12 in theaters/spaces)

Notes: In local news, the Senator's impending 4/20 auction seems more and more like a reality. Despite claims that he would declare bankruptcy and forestall the auction, the owner of the Senator, in his most recent public remarks, appears to have given up the ghost. The Senator is showing a slate of seemingly random classic movies until the auction and selling every conceivable scrap and tittle in a very depressing yard sale/auction taking place in the lobby. Check it out if you want to say goodbye.

In suburban multiplex news, the Muvico Egyptian 24 became the Cinemark Egyptian 24 seemingly overnight. I am doing some reasearch into what this means, if anything. I believe I was mistaken on some things in an earlier draft of this post. My apologies. I did discover this, which does not seem like a promising sign. More later, after some more research.

But isn't the above all fodder for my Film Exhibition in Baltimore posts? True. I did see some movies recently.

The Altman retrospective has rolled on at the Charles, allowing me to see several of his highly-recommended films for the first time. I also had the opportunity to enjoy some highly touted festival films during their brief runs at the Charles. I engaged in a private film lending library for the first time, and am still sitting on a rare film I borrowed from a friend that was downloaded from the Internet. I will write more about these new frontiers in my next post.

It was fun to attend a screening of a fondly-remembered comedy from my childhood at the Zodiac. I hope the practice continues and that the opportunities to see film in Baltimore continue to diversify, despite the economic cold front coming at us from all sides.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (March 2009)

It seems only logical to spend this post ruminating on the loss of the Senator. As of this writing, the Rotunda Cinemateque has closed its doors, the Senator is scheduled to be auctioned on April 20th, and all sorts of people are pointing fingers, making plans, and trying to figure out what is next. The entire affair is sad and messy. No clear second act has emerged to follow the seventy years of continuous operation of the Senator as a movie house.

These events give me pause to reflect on my scant year or so of keeping this weblog. I created Charm City Cineaste to chronicle film exhibition in Baltimore following the opening of the Landmark Harbor East. It is interesting to think back on that time (Fall 2007) and see how things have changed.

When the Landmark Harbor East opened, the Senator's owner seemed very pleased. Having fought long and hard with first the Loews chain (now subsumed by AMC) and then The Charles over the Senator's right to show the No. 1 movie in America at all times, it looked like clearance was finally going to go the Senator's way. At the time, many people were concerned that the Charles would close it doors once it lost the ability to show the indie mega-hits that were the theater's bread and butter. I assumed that things were going to change in a big way in Baltimore, and that, soon enough, my second home would be in serious trouble.

Instead, Baltimore has lost it's premiere showcase. The patient on life support had died. The Senator has hit the bricks. The recent economic decline, usually a boon for movie houses, was the knockout punch.

Say what you will about the last minute effort to form a non-profit (as I know I did), Baltimore has lost three movie screens, making my weekends and afternoons less interesting. I can no longer park on the street that runs alongside the Senator (a spot I discovered during Star Wars re-issue mania), catch dinner at Saigon Remembered, browse Daedalus, and go see something I want to see. I can no longer enjoy the roomy air conditioned echoplex that is the Rotunda, browse the Amazing Spiral (formerly Comics Kingdom), conduct some cell phone/electronics business at the Radio Shack and go see something on my list. The March movies this month will be the last time for the foreseeable future that the Senator and the Rotunda will appear, and the list is poorer for it.

Despite my air of jaded resignation, losing the Senator and the Rotunda hurts. I will miss both places.

In more upbeat news, the Charles soldiers on, and was doing a brisk business this recent rainy weekend based on my own personal observation. Despite the economic collapse and the foreshortening of the condo projects in the Harbor East development, there is no news on any problems at LHE or in Cuban-land that I have heard. Perhaps now that three have become two, there will be peace in the valley. Of course, if the Charles buys the Senator at auction and suddenly has a clearance-free screen, I imagine this blogger will have a lot to type about.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Films Viewed (February 2009)

Gran Torino
White Dog
American Teen
Wendy and Lucy
A Woman is a Woman
Vivre Sa Vie
Coraline (in 3D)
Pierrot le Fou
Made in U.S.A.

The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (Video Americain, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 10 (7 in theaters)

Notes: A quick month in which I only managed to catch a few things.

I meant to trumpet Medicine for Melancholy at some point during its recent run, but it was a "one week wonder," and has already closed at the Charles. I advise a rental when it is released on DVD, if you have not already caught it.

Che has made it into a second week at the Landmark. I hope to find the four plus hours required to see this two-part film, despite the tepid reviews. The clock is clearly running on that opportunity.

It is sad to consider a future in which there is no Senator or Rotunda to attend. Some who are planning on bidding on the theater at the impending auction wish to continue showing films there, including the owner of the Charles. It is interesting to consider the possibilities and limitations of having one (perhaps three) screens outside of the clearance zone of the Landmark. Could this be the beginning of a "two party system" in Baltimore film exhibition?

The Charles' bumpy run through Godard concluded with Made in U.S.A., an eliptical, messy film with moments. It was good to have the chance to see it at all, and the series was, overall, illuminating and enjoyable. The Charles revival series is now engaged in a multi-month Robert Altman retrospective.

All in all, a slow month, with some great opportunities and some truly enjoyable 3D filmgoing experiences. The Oscar films have lost steam quickly as they have headed to DVD, and the strange gap between this season and the dawm of the Summer blockbusters is being bridged by a wierd little film called Watchmen. More on that soon. I will try to time my next update to some fresh news on that impending seismic shift.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Senator Theater is Going To Close

Well, what has seemed grimly inevitable is now, apparently, a reality. The theater will close soon and will be sold at auction in a few weeks. For more, see an article here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (February 2009)

A day late and a dollar short. Apologies.

This past month I have been plotting out a simple exercise, a look at the major Oscar winning films (and one highly touted contender) and their exhibition history in Baltimore.

Slumdog Millionaire (8 Academy Awards including Best Picture)

How the Charles got this one will remain a mystery, but the theater did and has held onto the film ever since, from its start as a crowd-pleasing upstart with strong word of mouth this fall to its current status as a box office barnstorming, award winning Bollywood-lite hit. My bet is that it will play locally until the week it makes it to DVD.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (3 Academy Awards for technical achievements)

This weird, smart Forrest Gump do-over really made its bones around Christmas time, riding some critical hype into the Landmark and the Senator. But even Brad Pitt could not keep this old man boy three hour curiosity from losing serious steam. The lack of big wins was the final straw. By the evening of the Academy Awards, the Senator had moved on to Madea Goes to Jail. The Landmark is shutting 'er down tomorrow.

The Wrestler (Zero Academy Awards)

The one seemed like a gimmie, a clear climax to a narrative arc. Granted, an audience that wants to see some wrasslin' probably could care less. But still it was not the outcome that was expected for this worthwhile but flawed film. The film soldiers on at the Landamark Harbor East for now.

Milk (Two Academy Awards- Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay)

It is hard to be upset about this one winning. The Charles had the film exclusively very early on, for a time on two screens, and continues to show it. I hope that an Oscar-bump, which some claim is a myth,. helps to encourage more people to see and enjoy this moving film.

The Dark Knight (Two Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor)

It was interesting to see what was made of this box office juggernaut getting some Academy love. I believe an effort to bring it back to area theaters to wring more bat-money out of it was about as successful as the unrated, milder re-cut of the Passion of the Christ. It played in the summertime at the expected placea, helping the Landmark Harbor East win Best Movie Theater, Suburbs in this year's City Paper Best of Baltimore.

The Reader (One Academy Award for Best Actress)

This one has had just the right run, opening when you wanted to see it and sticking around to be checked out after the awards season by those who are looking for a real bummer of an afternoon or evening at the Harbor East. I would expect no less from the Harvey Weinstein Oscar Winning Machine.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (One Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress)

Ah, yes... the official Film that Would Not Die of the 2008 Baltimore exhibition season! I half-suspected that it would return once again to take up valuable real estate despite its release on DVD before the Academy Awards were given out. It just would not leave Baltimore theaters, for good or for ill

Man on Wire (One Academy Award for Best Documentary)

This one was a switcheroo, managing to appear to be heading to the Landmark before detouring into a welcomed run at the Charles. The film skirted my top ten films 0f 2008 list and has become a bit of a rallying point for many of my friends who aspire to such audacious and radical acts. Worth renting, maybe even owning.

Well, that's it for now. The Senator stands at the precipice of implosion, with various parties looking like they are willing to duke it out to the death. I found the article linked here to be instructive as to where things stand. When I see Watchmen at the Senator sometime soon, I will try to keep the faint sound of The End from playing in my mind througout.

Up next, the movies I watched in February of 2009.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Film Viewed (January 2009)

Last Year at Marienbad
Rachel Getting Married
Masculine Feminine
I've Loved You So Long
One or Two Things I Know about Her
Revolutionary Road
The Exiles
The Wrestler
Band of Outsiders

The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (Video Americain, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 11 (all in theaters)

Notes: Firstly, It should be mentioned that the Senator is having a weekend where they will get down to the heart of the matter and have bands perform in a benefit to support the transition to a non-profit entity. Therefore, they will not screen any films this weekend. I would say it is best just to get used to this sort of thing.

It is increasingly clear that Baltimore-based lovers of film will have three less screens to choose from very shortly. Astrogirl gets it, but I am not so sure I do. Why would I want to throw good money after bad in supporting this endeavor?

The list this month is small but filled with films of quality. Certainly Oscar bait abounds, but in many cases the films would have been worth seeing in any case. I have this strange allergy to Oscar buzz and discussions of who should win and why. Forgive me if I decide not to pile on. If you would like to enter into this national conversation, may I suggest the following sentence starters: "Mickey Rourke's masterful performance...", "The film, despite being set in the past, has many parallels to today's political...," or "Will the Academy finally recognize ________ ________, whose contributions have for too long..." Have at it!

The revival series at the Charles has been especially enjoyable, moving in every which way for a time, screening powerful/seminal docs like the Exiles along with what appears to be the remnants of a French film series. The series has now stumbled into Godard, out of sequence and without a map. I can't think of a more appropriate way to delve into these films.

That about wraps it up for this past month. Up next, Film Exhibition in Baltimore. I will try to wait until the next headline hits regarding the fate of the Senator to update.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Film Exhibition in Baltimore (January 2009)

First of all, a petition to bring back the gone but not forgotten BMA film series has been started. I would say to go here and sign, if you have not done so already. The BMA is offering a free African film festival over two days. Go here for more.

So much has happened on other fronts it is hard to keep up. The Senator theater held a town hall meeting on December 18th, 2008, to announce it was in transition to be turned into a not-for-profit organization, ending any speculation regarding the cryptic messages the theater has been placing in the Sunpapers.

The meeting was all glad tidings and cheer on the part of the presenters. We were wowed with bg names like Tony Bennett, Kenny Rogers, and Wynona Judd. We were told that this was going to be our place, a community center and venue kept alive by dedicated volunteers. We were told that we would get to see out children dance on the stage of the Senator theater.

BUT this dream, in order to become a reality, was going to take a lot of time, effort, and, yes, donations. Sign up sheets for work teams were distributed. We were told to write down what we wanted the Senator to do on distributed index cards, and then to share it with the group. During the Q and A, and a Sun Reader Rewards group who had waiting long enough for their free screening of Marley and Me became an increasing presence, I decided to leave without speaking up.

Why? Well, they had no clear answers to any questions posted, just a lot of good intentions and big dreams to sell. And, I knew film at the Senator will soon be, essentially, a thing of the past.

I feel this way based on the orientation of the community in general and the current owner specifically. To them, an occasional screening of a DVD of The Wizard of Oz will be enough to keep film alive at the Senator. That is not enough for me.

I don't care about Tony Bennett. I care about adventurous film (projected from film stock). And, if the Senator starts a film society dedicated to regular screening of such fare, count me in. I can see blockbusters at the Landmark Harbor East. I can watch the Wizard of Oz at my mom's house over the holidays.

Could the Rotunda be a film venue for the place? Possibly, But I could also see the Rotunda being sold and turned into a Starbucks or a church.

In any case, since this meeting, a press conference was called at which it was announced that the Senator's efforts to transition has stalled, and that they needed cash yet again (as I mentioned in my previous post). Now, in the latest development, the city of Baltimore has offered to buy the debt of the Senator if the owner signs over the theater to a non-profit organization. In other words, the Senator has an opportunity to truly become the people's theater. Let's hope the owner can swallow his pride and give up on his quixotic mission. As John Lind, the CEO of Venuetech said, single screen single owner movie theaters "don't work." Even Lyndon B. Johnson couldn't keep one afloat.

A great resource on all of this is the new Google group "Friends of the Senator Theater." I may defer to them until all of this settles down and is sorted out.

In other developments, MICA cancelled the long running film series I was just championing. It is going forward with an unrelated French film series. The series is scheduled for mid-February and looks promising. I will update when there is more on the web about it.

The Charles has messed with many a patron's mind over the holidays, changing its screening schedule several times. During the holidays things were running full bore like in the good ol' days, then the nine o'clock round was cut Monday-Wednesday again, but the two o'clock round was kept. I would say the best thing to do is call, check the paper (as well as the website) before you go, making sure you are tuned in to that exact day when you look at the listings. The theater is still profiting from screeing Oscar contenders, but there is a long, hard winter ahead, so I imagine things will change up once more.

Well, that is about it. Apologies on the delay in posting. Forgive spelling and grammar. I will fix as time allows, as my laptop just went to that great computer graveyard in the sky. Things also got all inaugural and I got really busy. Up next, the films I viewed in January 2009. Until then...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Senator Press Conference Today

This morning, at 10:30 AM, a press conference will be held at the Senator. Entitled "The Senator Theater's Endangered Future" and billed as a "call to action," it appears to be a way for the Senator to make its transition to not-for-profit status more public and to play on the narrative ("Save our Senator") that got so much cash out of people's pockets before.

The economic downturn has clearly hit the Senator hard, as it has hit most local businesses. Since the Senator is already in debt up to its eyeballs, I imagine the loan is coming due soon, and that the creditors are ready to take over before the transition can occur (I thought it was already occurring, based on the town hall meeting, but oh well...).

The question is, will people be willing to throw their money once again at a problem that they were assured was "fixed" by their last donation? Fool me once...

Up next, a criminally overdue update on film exhibition in Baltimore.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Films Viewed (December 2008)

Role Models
Please Vote for Me (excerpt)
Ashes of Time- Redux
Lola Montes
A Christmas Tale
Raging Bull
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2012: Science or Superstition
Love in the Afternoon
The Reader
The Spirit
Baby Mama

The Charles
The Senator/ The Rotunda
The Landmark Harbor East
Other (Tarantula Hill, Video Americain, MICA Brown Center, Suburban Multiplex)
Total: 16 features, 1 feature excerpt (13 in theaters)

Notes: This month offered a variety of screening experiences, from the mysteries of December 21st, 2012 on the west side to an otherwise unavailable Victor Fleming film in Falvey Hall. It is nice to have these added screening options in the city.

It is also clearly awards/top ten season, and the Oscar Bait is being trotted out all over town. Since these are films for which there is always provided a great deal of critical verbiage, I shall stay out if it for now.

Despite my strange ambivalence about lists, I overcame it enough to compose a "Top Ten Films I Saw in Theaters in Baltimore in 2008" list for The Mobtown Shank, to be published shortly. I shall quote myself from said list about some films of note from the past month:

"A brutal take on family dysfunction, A Christmas Tale is misleadingly titled. Two and half hours long and very French, the film somehow manages to paint a sympathetic portrait of a group of the some of the meanest and messiest people put on screen in recent memory. Still, the viewing experience was ultimately a rewarding one, akin to getting through a weighty and satisfying tome."

"Shall we call this one the anti-Marley and Me? The Reader is a complex and brutal take on Holocaust guilt, statutory rape, and all kinds of dark Germanic mess. Kate Winslet is brilliant in the film. I am a long-standing fan of hers, so she could read the phone book and I would probably watch, but the praise for her performance is not mine alone. The film offers no easy answers, leaving the viewer in a confused melancholy, stumbling out into a world that seems somehow bleaker. Any film with that kind of power is clearly worth noting."

Otherwise, my usual routine remained unbroken. Up next, a great deal to say about another round of seismic shifts in the film exhibition landscape in Baltimore.