Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sin City

Sin City
first seen @ Pavillion Park Slope, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY

When Sin City came out I was working in a comic book store. It was both the best job I've ever had and the worst. The best in that I've loved comics most of my life, and I saw this as an opportunity to not only meet more fans like me, but to shill for them to an audience slowly re-discovering the medium. The worst in that my boss was, to put it bluntly, not a good guy. There's a reason why the comic shop owner character on The Simpsons has struck a chord with so many fans - he's not very far removed from reality. My boss wasn't as snobbish when it came to comics trivia and lore, but he did exhibit a similar level of disdain and indifference to many of his customers.

I did my best to try to improve the atmosphere of the place. I recommended buying popular titles that weren't corporate superhero comics. I created a "staff suggestions" shelf. I rearranged the order of the new releases on the shelves to make it easier for the customers to find what they want. I held contests. I booked local artists for in-store signings and promoted them around the neighborhood with money out of my own pocket. All of this was done singlehandedly, and while my boss consented to it, I never felt I had his support. He was content to push the toys and gaming cards - the bigger moneymakers - and do nothing towards bringing in new customers or even making the store more inviting for non-fans. You can imagine how that would make someone like me - as big a cheerleader for comics as you'd find anywhere - feel.

For all its inroads into the mainstream through works in other genres, the comics industry continues to be dominated by a single one - superheroes. Imagine if 90% of the movies Hollywood pumps out every week were romantic comedies: some of them genuinely entertaining and even artistic, but most of them rehashes of the same old thing. Imagine if moviegoers consumed them voraciously to the extent of everything else; filmmakers like Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers dictated the look and feel of American movies by example; and actors like Katherine Heigl and Paul Rudd were A-level superstars, while the Scorseses and Eastwoods and Bigelows had to struggle to get their work noticed simply because they choose not to make romantic comedies all the time - or at all. That's what the comics industry is like - and it has shown absolutely no signs of changing.

I saw Sin City after work at the Pavillion in Brooklyn's Park Slope. This theater gets a bad rap from the locals for a number of reasons, and yeah, while the seats are threadbare and the sound isn't always perfect, it's not the worst theater I've ever been to. The last movie I saw there was Precious, last year, and the theater wasn't unpleasant. Then again, I don't live in Park Slope, so maybe I'm not the best one to judge. It's the only theater in the otherwise delightful neighborhood, unless you wanna walk all the way over to Carroll Gardens or downtown Brooklyn, so I could see how locals who have been going there for years might be much more critical.

I never liked the idea of recreating the Sin City graphic novels to near-perfection in the movie. It's one thing to hear author Frank Miller's purple prose in your head as you're reading it, another altogether to hear it spoken aloud by Bruce Willis and Clive Owen. And shooting everything in front of a green screen made the movie look artificial and synthetic in a way that I found off-putting. Afterwards I wrote a "review" of the movie if it had been made in 1952. I cast Robert Mitchum in the Mickey Roarke role and Lauren Bacall in the Jamie King role. I still like my version better.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Bogdanovich helped preserve 'Stagecoach'

...Suddenly, here before me, were 35mm prints of an awful lot of John Wayne movies: mostly brand-new-looking cases, boldly marked “RED RIVER,” “THE QUIET MAN,” “SANDS OF IWO JIMA,” “RIO BRAVO,” “SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON,” etc. For a movie buff, it was a heady moment. I said something like, “Jesus Christ, Duke, do you have 35mm prints of all your pictures!?” He said, “No, but just about. It’s been part of my regular deal for a long time—the studio’s gotta give me a print off the original negative.” A light went on in my head. I looked around and saw quite near me a canister marked “STAGECOACH.” Knowing the original negative of that classic film—-the one which turned Wayne into a major star—-had been lost or destroyed, I got excited: “Is that print of Stagecoach from the original negative?”

Veteran filmmaker and film historian Peter Bogdanovich recently started a blog at IndieWire, and in this installment he talks about one of my all-time favorite Westerns - and certainly one of my favorite movies - Stagecoach, and how an interview with its star, John Wayne, led to the film being kept in print. I first saw Stagecoach on video during my video store job in the late 90s, and was immediately taken by it. My father had always loved Westerns, though as a kid I thought they were cheesy, the way all kids scorn the stuff their parents like. This was one of the first films that made me really appreciate the genre.

Monday, September 27, 2010


seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, Jersey City, NJ

I was out all day Saturday, with some of my plans for the day coming through and some not. I spent the morning and early afternoon at a huge art festival in Brooklyn. From there, I had planned on going to a smaller art exhibit also in Brooklyn, but the trains made it difficult. It was partly my fault; I probably could've left DUMBO a half-hour earlier (that's Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass to you non-New Yorkers), but I was enjoying the day too much. Still, I had to take a completely roundabout trip to Greenpoint because the trains that would've gotten me there quicker weren't running normally. I knew when I got off the train that I wouldn't have had any time for this show, so I reluctantly chose to blow it off and head to Jersey City for the highlight of the day - a return to the Landmark Loews Jersey Theater.

I discovered the place completely by chance. I was in Jersey City a few years ago on other business, and when I got off the train, I couldn't help but see it, since it was across the street. You could say it was love at first sight. An old-style movie palace, still showing classic movies? How could it be anything else? The first time I went inside for a film was at a screening of All About Eve which must have been in either 2006 or 2007. They brought in Celeste Holm, the last surviving cast member at the time, as a special guest.

The Loews is the way you'd imagine a movie palace to look: a box office and marquee on the outside, followed by a carpeted lobby with a chandelier suspended from the ceiling, columns all around, and a grand staircase leading to the restrooms and the balcony (which is currently closed, pending repairs). The auditorium has a center aisle and two side aisles leading to the main stage, where off to the side there's a fancy old-style organ, and yes, a professional organist plays it prior to showtime. My descriptions don't do it justice; you need to go to the website and see the pictures for yourself, as well as the restoration process that the theater has undergone. If I lived closer, I'd probably volunteer to help keep it clean.

On Saturday the Loews had a double feature, Charade as the late show and Orson Welles' The Stranger as the early one. I would've gone to see both if not for the exhibit in Greenpoint, which I ended up missing anyway. To add further insult to injury, I forgot where to get off on the New Jersey PATH train! I got off one stop early, got out, didn't recognize the street or anything in it, went back inside the station and took the next train. It had been years since I'd last been to the theater, and it's not like I visit Jersey that much.

I'd only seen Charade once before, long ago. I had expected it to be a thriller in a similar vein to Notorious or Spellbound, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it's actually lighter than that. (Cary Grant taking a shower in his clothes? Definitely lighter.) Afterwards, there was a guy who came on stage to talk further about the film, but I left, thinking that the PATH was gonna stop running soon, when in fact it runs 24-7. I'm not always this unprepared when it comes to traveling, honest.

So that was my Saturday - fifteen and a half hours worth. Add to that hanging out at the San Gennaro Festival with friends Friday night and more of the art festival on Sunday and it was one of the busiest weekends I've had all year. Weather-wise, it felt like summer's last gasp, and sure enough, it's pouring rain today as I write this.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Soundtracks: Top Gun

I bought the Top Gun soundtrack (vinyl) even though I hadn't seen the movie at the time. "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away" were all over the radio, and me being a Top 40 nerd as a kid, I couldn't resist. I still love the soundtrack, cheesy and over-the-top as it is. What can I say? I'm a child of the 80s.

Cheap Trick, "Mighty Wings"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Town

The Town
seen @ Center Cinema 5, Sunnyside, Queens, NY

One thing about Hollywood movies that can be a bit of a drawback is that it's sometimes hard to forget you're seeing a Movie Star when all you want to see is the character in the story. I had been reading about The Town for weeks leading up to its release, and the emphasis was naturally on director/co-writer/star Ben Affleck. I've always liked Affleck, going back to his appearances in Kevin Smith's films, like Chasing Amy and Mallrats, and I think it's awesome that he's building a new career for himself as a director, with both this and his previous film, Gone Baby Gone. When I actually saw his new film, though, it took a long time for me to see his character and not himself.

To be honest, that happens a lot with most Hollywood movies, although it's not always a negative. There can be a comfort in seeing a favorite actor doing his or her thing in a movie you enjoy. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't need to submerge deep into a character, Method-style, in order for you to better appreciate his movies; he could more or less be "himself" and that would be enough. Other times, though, the role is as important or more so, and you wanna forget who the actor is so you can more readily give in to the fantasy.

Occasionally an actor's reputation precedes them even if you've never seen them before. This will come as a great shock, I'm sure, but I hardly watch television at all, and therefore have yet to see the hit series Mad Men. So I was seeing Jon Hamm for the first time in The Town - and yet, in the beginning, he only registered to me as the guy from Mad Men, even though I've never watched the show! (Which is not meant to be a knock against the show; like I said, I just don't watch a lot of TV.)

Fortunately, The Town was so good that I was eventually able to get caught up in the story. But that's not always the case with some movies and some movie stars.

I saw this with Reid. The theater is a tiny little neighborhood one, but they insist on checking your bags upon arrival. If they do have a history of violent activity there, I've never been witness to it, but then, I've only been here a handful of times. When the matinee showing began, the theater had maybe a half-dozen people; within the first ten minutes, maybe a dozen more showed up. Why aren't people able to arrive on time? Plus, Reid said he saw one person leave the theater five or six times. If those were all bathroom breaks, then that guy's got some serious problems.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Secret of NIMH

The Secret of NIMH
seen online via Hulu

I don't usually watch many movies online. I only found out about streaming websites like Hulu a couple of years ago, ever since I bought a laptop computer. Before that I had a desktop that was still on (ugh!) dial-up. When I lived in Ohio, I'd take my laptop everywhere, but now I try not to do that as much. For one thing, it's heavy enough to be cumbersome at times. For another, it seems like too many people have become wedded to technology these days. Everywhere you look, you see somebody yakking on their cellphone or Bluetooth, or texting on their Blackberry, or fiddling around with their iPod, and they forget about the world around them. I'm afraid of being like that. I wanna avoid it if I can.

That said, it's nice to watch a movie in the comfort of one's own bed, late at night. I had my laptop literally propped up on my lap, so I could easily hit the mute button whenever a commercial came on. I can accept the necessity of commercials - it's like watching a movie on network television - though in the past, there would be times when commercials would come at odd, disruptive moments in the story. That wasn't the case last night with The Secret of NIMH. The commercials came at more appropriate times, in-between scenes.

I can't watch a movie about mice and rats without thinking of my friend Jenny. She's absolutely crazy for them, has been for as long as I've known her. She's kept a number of them as pets over the years. She's moved a bunch of different places, but they've always come with her. She loves animation, too, so I'm sure this is her kind of movie.

I read the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH as a kid many years ago, although the version I have is the movie re-release version, which is actually re-titled The Secret of NIMH and has a still from the film on the cover. It's one of the few books from my childhood that I still have. Not sure why. It's a cool book, but I've never had any special attachment to it.

Friday, September 17, 2010


first seen in Chicago, IL

I saw Face/Off when I was vacationing in Chicago in the summer of 1997. (I don't remember what theater it was in.) It was my first time in the Windy City, and I did most of the tourist-type things - a boat ride on Lake Michigan, a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, visiting the art museum, even eating at the original Pizzeria Uno's. (Love Uno's. Love it.) But I'm going to cheat a little bit and talk about the second time I went to Chi-town, because it's a much more interesting story.

This would've been in 1999, I believe. It was in March, and I was going to a comic book convention. In '97, I went by bus to Chicago, if you can believe that - 17 hours straight! So this time I decided to take Amtrak. I probably would've made better time, except I left in the middle of a snowstorm that ultimately turned into a blizzard! I distinctly remember looking out my window at night and seeing the snow fall through the pale yellow light of a track signal, piling up all around. It continued that way as we slowly trudged through Ohio and Indiana. Naturally, I was pissed, but I remained hopeful that we might arrive before the end of the Saturday portion of the show.

At least I was comfortable on the train. Take it from someone who has done his fair share of cross-country traveling: riding by train can be so relaxing. With a bus, you've got people packed in close together, in seats that sometimes have fixed armrests, with people yacking on their cellphones or scolding screaming babies, and if you're big like me there's never enough legroom, and getting enough sleep is always a tenuous proposition at best. I could do an entire post on this.

Train cars are wider, have plenty of legroom, you can lean back in your seat without bumping the legs of the guy behind you (and vice versa), there's food available, and they travel faster. Not to get too political, but the Obama administration supports high-speed rail in this country, and it's an idea whose time has long since come. More trains means fewer cars on the highways, and when you're talking high-speed, there's really no comparison when it comes to longer trips.

So back to my train ride. We made it into Chicago too late for the Saturday part of the show and I was pretty tired. I went to the hotel, checked in, and saw a bunch of my friends at the bar. I went over to them, we talked for a bit, I told them I'd join them shortly, and went to my room to set my bags down. Then I returned to the bar.

Someone bought me a drink and I started talking about my agonizing trip, saying something like, "Oh, man, it was horrible, I was on the train for 18 hours in a raging blizzard," and so on. Some other people join us and I get handed another beer, and I have to retell the story for the newcomers: "Yeah, man, I was on the train for 20 hours and I didn't think I'd ever get here," et cetera. Another beer and suddenly my ride lasted 21 hours. By this time I was feeling pretty good and it showed, if you know what I mean. The impromptu party soon retired upstairs where this one guy broke out a cooler of beer, and of course, I had another one and my trip was now up to 22 hours, and so on and so on all through the night! I don't recall how conscious I was of my ever-expanding fish tale; I don't think I was deliberately exaggerating in order to get more beer, but I might have. Regardless, it was just what I needed, so I didn't care.

The show itself was a bust. Very few people turned out on Saturday, from what I was told, and Sunday was worse. The less said, the better.

I spent Monday in the art museum before getting on my return train, but when I got out it snowed again, and hard. I thought I knew where the train station was, but the snow was coming down so hard I got lost. I remember walking up a bridge thinking I was going the right way, but after awhile it was clear I wasn't. In desperation, I asked a passerby where the train station was, and of course, it turned out I was going in the opposite direction, which is what I had suspected. My train was delayed, and I knew I'd miss a day of work.

I did share a nice conversation with a pregnant Chinese girl who was going to New York to be with her fiancee. She wasn't familiar with the city, so I made sure to tell her all the places to go. I remember playing Hangman with her to pass the time.

So that was the second and last time I've been to Chicago (so far). I don't recall much about seeing Face/Off during my first trip there (beyond the film itself), except that it was with a big, pumped-up audience (it was a big summer movie, after all) in a fairly largish theater. Of course, I've seen it plenty of times since then, on home video.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sketches: Leonardo DiCaprio

I'm an artist, as I may have mentioned, so I'm starting a new feature where I draw some famous movie stars for you. This first one is of Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island. Don't expect photo-realism; I tend to lean towards the cartoonish side, though this is a little more rendered in terms of light and shadow than normal for me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Logan's Run

Logan's Run
last seen @ The Ohio 24 Hour Science Fiction Marathon, Drexel East Theater, Bexley, OH

I recently spent some time living in the Midwest - Columbus, Ohio, to be precise. It's way more than Ohio State football; it's got a thriving art scene, fine food, lively music, and lots of other cool stuff. It's a wonderful little town that I still miss. When it comes to movies, Columbus has a good selection of theaters to choose from - obviously, nothing can compare to New York, but if you don't mind waiting a few extra weeks, many of the top new independent and foreign films make it there. In addition, there are venues for classic revivals, mostly during the summer.

The Drexel East Theater in suburban Bexley was perhaps my favorite theater in the Columbus area. There used to be several other locations, but they closed. The Bexley is the last one. Located on a tree-lined Main Street just outside of downtown Columbus, it's got an old-fashioned marquis with lettering put up by hand (just the way I like it) and a distinctive art-deco vertical sign. Next door is a cafe that's also part of the Drexel; one can go to it directly from the theater without going out the front door.

I used to love riding my bicycle down to Bexley. It was easy to get to and it's a beautiful neighborhood. There are more national and regional franchise eateries than local ones, but many of them at least were places I'd never heard of before coming to Columbus - and the local ones are choice. (I particularly loved eating at a joint called Bexley Pizza Plus that served the most delicious personal pan pizzas.) One drawback to the area, however, is the intolerance for bike riders that many car drivers seemed to have, especially when I'd ride up Main Street. Columbus, like many American cities lately, supports biking with increasing frequency, however a lot of other people still think driving a car gives them the right to rule the road... but that's a rant for another time.

In addition to movies, the Drexel hosts special events from time to time, and one of them is the annual Ohio 24 Hour Science Fiction Marathon. The films generally run the gamut from well-known hits to lost treasures and foreign imports, and if you can stay up the entire 24 hours, it can be a lotta fun. I was quite fortunate to have won a ticket to the 2009 edition (the 26th one). Logan's Run was one of the many films screened at the session; there was also Star Trek II, Robocop, The Thing From Another World, some Japanese stuff, a horror film from Spain, and more.

I can't say I care much for Logan's Run. It never struck me as visually appealing, the lead characters are bland, and the story loses interest for me after awhile. (And then there's the fact that this supposed future world is filled with nothing but straight white people, but let's not get into that...) I picked it as the feature for this post, though, because I may want to write about films like Star Trek II and Robocop at some future point.

I pedaled to the theater about a half hour or so before the noon start and the line was out the door and down the block. I thought I could sneak food in, but I couldn't. I had to leave my chips and hero sandwiches at the box office - but at least I got them back! (Food wasn't a problem; the cafe supplemented the concession stand for the marathon.) To say the crowd was lively and upbeat would be an understatement. This is an Ohio tradition and every year it's treated as an event almost as big as a Buckeye game.

I started dozing off sometime around one or two in the morning, but it was always in brief spurts, and besides, whatever was playing at the time didn't interest me. I was determined to stay up for Thing and Trek II, though (Trek II was the last film). I made it, but man, was it a challenge! I was a bit afraid afterwards to bike home, bleary-eyed and sluggish as I was, but somehow I made it. Would I do it again? I suppose so... though I might prepare for it a little better.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love
first seen @ Angelika Film Center, New York, NY

I've been to lots of other art-house theaters in New York and beyond, but the Angelika Film Center is where I got an education on independent film, particularly during the mid-to-late 90s. I first heard about the place through an article in the paper about it. I remember thinking at the time how novel it seemed that a movie theater would also double as an upscale cafe (even though I rarely partake of it). I was working in video retail at this time, and I had taken it upon myself to attempt to learn as much as I could about film. Part of that, I knew, would inevitably include indy and foreign cinema, since our store was well-stocked in those kinds of films.

The Angelika always seemed a cut above most movie houses, especially in the first few years I started going there. It's not an old-school palace; it's relatively small, but the flight of stairs leading up to the box office gives it a slight sense of grandeur, I've always thought. The cafe is to the right as one enters, and the screening rooms are downstairs, where popcorn and other snacks are sold.

Long lines for opening-weekend shows are common - and you never know who you'll see there. When I saw In the Mood for Love opening night, there was the usual line wrapped around the center of the lobby - and who should be standing right behind me, happily chatting with a friend, but Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand! (It's a cliche, but it's true: she's shorter than I thought she'd be.)

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the Angelika is the one everyone always brings up: the rumble of the subway can be heard and felt while you're watching a movie. It can be annoying at times, but after awhile you get used to it. Anyway, it's not as loud as you'd think, and I don't see what they could do about it, so one has no choice but to accept it. I can't recall ever letting the muffled sound of the subway interfere with my movie-watching experience.

The Angelika is, of course, one of many art-house theaters in the Greenwich Village-SoHo area of Manhattan, and I consider myself fortunate to have gone to all of them at one time or another. In recent years, they've raised their ticket prices, as have theaters everywhere, which led me to the Kew Gardens Cinemas in Queens (where I saw Get Low). Of course, the trade-off means a longer wait for a cheaper ticket, but I can live with that. I've patronized the Angelika less, but I would never abandon it altogether. I've had too many good times there.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
second seen @ AMC Loews 84th Street 6

I was on vacation on September 11. I hadn't left town yet. I was working in a video store at the time, and I had taken that week off in order to attend a comic book convention in Maryland. I was planning to leave on Friday and spend the weekend there. I was looking forward to the trip, as I have a lot of cartoonist friends and many of them would be at the show.

It had been almost a year since I had gotten my desktop computer and the Internet still felt new to me. There were lots of things I still hadn't fully acclimated myself with yet, but I felt I could learn as I go. That morning I was online, surfing or something, when I got an instant message from my friend Tim, telling me to turn on the TV, quick...

It didn't seem real to me. As I watched it unfold, it seemed like some bizarre Orson-Welles-War-of-the-Worlds-style hoax. As the reality of it slowly started sinking in, I still had trouble processing it, accepting it as something that will affect countless innocent lives. I had to shake off thoughts about whether my vacation would be ruined.

I talked to my parents. I talked to Vija, who lives in Manhattan and works in Midtown, so I was scared for her, but she was alright. A little later on, I went to a comics website that many of my friends frequented and checked in with them on the message board. I don't remember too much of the rest of the day other than laying in my bed at night playing my Tori Amos CDs over and over again.

The rest of that week was excruciating, as you might imagine. The convention was cancelled, as I suspected. Talking on the phone to my friends at work, I was told that business actually picked up tremendously that day. The store apparently was jam packed that evening with customers coming in non-stop to rent movies - anything to get their minds off what happened, I suppose. I couldn't help but feel lucky to be on vacation. I'm not sure how I would've been able to handle working that day - and as a manager, I really would've needed to stay focused.

The customers may have had the right idea, though. The television, the papers, the 'Net, everyone everywhere was talking about the attacks and after awhile one needed some relief, some way to escape it all, even temporarily. My buddy John agreed, which is why we and a bunch of other friends went to see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back that Saturday.

I had already seen it when it first came out weeks ago, me being a big Kevin Smith fan, but I had no problem with seeing it again. As I recall, the theater wasn't that packed, since the movie wasn't new anymore. We took up half a row near the front, bought our popcorn, and proceeded to laugh our asses off for the next 90 minutes or so... and it felt so good.

I was already predisposed to like this movie, having already seen the other "View Askewniverse" films - Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy - and this was kind of a reunion for all the familiar characters in those films. I already loved it - but seeing it four days after one of the worst days in modern history, when everyone was still struggling to bear the weight of this unimaginable tragedy... that made it special, at least for me. It made bearing that weight a little easier, if only for a little while. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back may not rank among the greatest movies ever made, but I'll always be grateful to Kevin Smith for it, because it was exactly what I needed at a time when I needed to laugh again.


H'wood eager to kill Bin Laden all over again

Thursday, September 9, 2010


seen @ 25 Kingsland Avenue (backyard), Brooklyn NY

I almost wasn't going to go see this. I'd heard about this film before, but from the reviews I'd read on IMDB - which were glowing, but also made clear that this was unconventional - I wasn't completely sold on it. I almost went to see Inception a second time (which I'll probably do anyway). Plus, I hadn't gotten a lot of sleep the previous night and wasn't looking forward to coming home late. I decided to give it a chance, however.

The screening was presented by a local film-lovers club called the Kings County Cinema Society. The screening of Top Hat I went to last month was theirs. At first I thought the website was just a resource for free screenings - which of course, it is - but it wasn't until after the fact that I realized that they're the ones that show these films they list.

The screening was also being presented by a local filmmaker named Jason Tallon. The apartment we were watching Performance at belonged to some friends of his and the movie was projected on one wall, through a laptop computer with separate speakers, as was the case at the Top Hat showing. In addition to the main event, Tallon showed a couple of his shorts. While visually stunning, they didn't have much in the way of narrative, but I suspect that was probably intentional.

This felt more like a private party that I had crashed rather than a film screening. I talked to a few people, but I couldn't help feeling more than a little anxious and out of place - which wasn't anyone's fault really, but that's how it is when you're surrounded by total strangers. The hosts made cookies and other snacks and offered wine, and the audience, many of which looked like friends of Tallon, congregated either outside in the backyard or in the kitchen. The backyard was terrific - a concrete patio with a garden off to one side and a tree swaying in the chilly breeze. Christmas lights ran like runway lights along one side of the patio, with 70s-ish canvas-and-wire chairs mixed with wooden ones. I'm somewhat large, and I had to settle into the canvas chair slowly, for fear of busting right through it. It held, but it made me fearful of getting up again!

While the editing, cinematography and especially sound was remarkable and must have seemed cutting-edge in 1970, I honestly couldn't make heads or tails of Performance. It didn't help that it was getting colder as the night progressed. At one point I slipped my arms out of my short sleeves in an attempt to keep warm. The wind was steady and at one point it blew hard enough to sway the branches on the tree considerably. I was yawning off and on, though I never fell asleep. I switched from the canvas-and-wire chair to a wooden one and I kept shifting back and forth in it, desperately trying to maintain a level of comfort. Some people were laid out on the concrete in the front. One chick sitting next to me was fiddling with her Blackberry. I suppose I couldn't blame her if she was bored.

This must sound like I had a terrible time, but I want to make clear that I think the KCCS does a good job at organizing these screenings. I'm certainly grateful to have the opportunity to see free movies, especially now that summer's just about over.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waiting to Exhale

Waiting to Exhale
first seen @ Roosevelt Field Mall, Garden City, NY

I happen to be black. As a result, being a movie fan can sometimes be an exercise in frustration, because the few films with black stars and/or themes that permeate the mainstream tend to conform to a very narrow preconception of the black experience in America. This has begun to incrementally change within the past decade or so, and I try to support the films that appear to be quality, but one aspect in particular appears to have stagnated completely, and this has been a major pet peeve of mine: the dearth of mature black romantic films.

The overwhelming majority of black romantic comedies tend to be of the lowbrow variety - bawdy jokes and two-dimensional characters in the silliest of situations. There's nothing inherently wrong with material like this, but when it's all we get, time and again, that's a serious problem. Almost no one is willing or capable of making a black romantic drama on a grand scale. Love him or hate him, Tyler Perry has valiantly attempted to fill this void, but he seems to stick to a comfortable pattern with his films that he may only now be beginning to break. Still, I have difficulty seeing him make something comparable to, say, Shakespeare in Love or Moulin Rouge.

I remember the excitement over Terry McMillan's book Waiting to Exhale, although I never read it. When the film came out, though, I decided to take a leap of faith and see it, as a show of solidarity more than anything else (it was directed by a black man, Forest Whitaker). I was working out on Long Island at the time, and I saw it opening night at the theater at the Roosevelt Field Mall (it's now the AMC Loews Roosevelt Field 8; I'm not sure if that's what it was then).

The place was packed, and there was a strong vibe of eagerness present. I was certainly looking forward to seeing Angela Bassett, whom I adored in What's Love Got to Do With It and Malcolm X. From the beginning she was fierce, and the crowd responded with enthusiastic whoops and hollers, particularly in the famous car-burning scene.

Of course, I got caught up in it as much as everyone else - with a pumped-up crowd, it's hard not to - but I also recall a sense of detachment to the film in general that had nothing to do with its quality. I didn't think it was man-hating, but it was hard not to squirm a little in the presence of so much estrogen-fueled righteous rage.

I freely admit, most contemporary chick flicks are not my thing, though naturally, there are exceptions. I think Exhale is as much about friendship between women as it is "looking-for-Mister-Right" - indeed, I think a comparison between this and Sex and the City could provide some useful insights. But Exhale is more relevant to me as a mainstream black romantic film that found a wide audience, a feat that has been duplicated so rarely as to be almost non-existent - and that's sad.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot
seen @ "Movies With a View," Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn NY

The first time I saw a Billy Wilder film was when I was in college. I took a Film History class on a whim, and it was there that I gained a true appreciation for classic cinema. The teacher screened Sunset Boulevard. I'd never seen anything quite like that before; an old movie with such a bleak, cynical sense of humor, and complicated characters that aren't entirely likable, yet still strangely sympathetic. And such dialogue!

After college, I worked in a video store with an extensive catalog of titles dating back to the silent era, and I was able to watch more Wilder films on my own, including his earlier work as a writer only, before he became a writer-director. His ability to mix comedy with drama in the same story, even to the point of mixing genres, is remarkable. Some Like It Hot is part screwball comedy, musical, and gangster action, and yet it somehow fits together, even if the seams show in places. Wilder's dramas plumb the depths of human frailty in unsettling ways, while his comedies draw much of their humor from the characters themselves, to the point where even those on the periphery are memorable. And of course, the array of acting talent he assembled can't be beat: William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Matthau, Shirley MacLaine, Kirk Douglas, Fred MacMurray, Jimmy Cagney, and so many more. I don't love everything he did, but his overall body of work makes him my all-time favorite director.

Last night was only the second time I'd been to the expanded Brooklyn Bridge Park. It's nice. The lawn on which the film was shown was dog-free this time, but that's by design, and because it was a lawn and not just a grassy knoll strewn with dirt and rocks, I could lie back on my side and relax. There were lampposts as well, so after the movie ended we weren't all stumbling through the dark, which I find a bit disorienting after watching a film outdoors. I saw one group of people from far off who were simply chatting with each other throughout the film. One woman actually had her back to the screen. Why come to an outdoor movie if you're not even gonna watch it?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Olivia de Havilland interview

"...I feel like a survivor from an age that people no longer understand. I want to try to explain what the 1930s – the golden age of Hollywood – was truly like. People forget that America was such a different place then, not yet the dominant force in the world. I also want to explain how different the sexual mores of those times were.

"And to recall what it was like to be a star in the studio system. How you were a great celebrity but also a slave. How I had to present myself to make-up by 6.30 am and work until late in the evening. How I had to make five movies in my first year. How whatever private life you had left to you didn't belong to you but the studio publicists."

Every once in awhile I'll post some interviews I like. Here's an absolute must-read conversation from last year with one of the last silver screen legends from the Golden Age, Olivia de Havilland, as she talks about, among other things, the studio system, the making of Gone With the Wind, and her relationship with Errol Flynn.

The Heiress

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Batman (1989)

Batman (1989)
first seen in New York, NY

Times Square started going through its dramatic overhaul during my teen years, approximately, but I'm old enough to remember how it used to be. I was way too young to appreciate it - if that can be the proper word - during the Taxi Driver-era 70s, but one thing I remember well about the neighborhood was the greater amount of movie theaters - and not just the X-rated ones.

You can see them in lots of old black and white Hollywood movies, of course - the ones that lined Seventh Avenue and Broadway. When I was in my pre-teens, the porno houses on West 42nd were still around, but I recall with greater clarity the ones on Seventh, about where the Toys-R-Us is now. Since I went to high school in Manhattan, my friends and I often saw movies here, among other places around the city, and it was here that we saw Tim Burton's original Batman film on opening day in 1989. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the theater itself. I believe it had only two screens but was quite big. We went to see Batman after school, of course, and I vividly recall the line that was wrapped around the corner on which we gleefully waited.

Of course, Bat-mania was everywhere that year, and we knew this movie was not to be missed, even though I hadn't read comics in years to that point - and I had never even collected the actual Batman comic. It's strange; I loved the first two Superman movies and the first two Batman movies passionately as a kid even though I never read the comics. Marvel, the home of Spider-Man and the X-Men, made the only comics for me growing up, and everything else might as well have not existed. That's how it was back then - you read either Marvel or DC, and once you made your choice you were loyal to a fault. (It still is this way to a lesser extent, but that's another post.)

Getting back to Times Square, though - I can't deny that the renaissance it has undergone has been striking, to say the least. I speak not so much of the mega-retail businesses and the family-friendly tourist attractions and Broadway shows as I do of the pedestrian plazas and the reorganization of traffic lanes. While I certainly have done my share of shopping in the new Times Square, I can't recall ever thinking of the area as a place to simply hang out and relax until now. I'm still unused to the feeling of sitting in the middle of what once was a street full of cars. Similar changes are being made city-wide now, and it's an idea whose time has come. Cars have dominated the cityscape for far too long, and when some drivers get out of control, the consequences can be, and often are, fatal. It's good to see that places like Times Square have become safer to walk around in.

Man of Steel
'Man of Steel' must escape Reeve's shadow
The Dark Knight Rises