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.