Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises
seen @ Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers, Yonkers NY
3.11.14

Even if you don't live in Texas (I don't), chances are that if you follow film at all, at some point you've heard of the Alamo Drafthouse chain of theaters. Simply put, they are the model by which all modern movie theaters should be judged. A lot has changed in the way we watch movies these days - Netflix, online streaming, video on demand; these have all become viable and profitable options when it comes to watching movies. For those of us who still prefer going to a theater and seeing a movie with a crowd, it's fair to say that nobody does it better than the Alamo. I've read about it, and now, I can finally say I've experienced it firsthand.

Next year, an Alamo theater will open in downtown Brooklyn, but for now, the closest one near me is the one in Yonkers, up in Westchester County. From where I live, it's a long trip: a bus to the subway to another bus, though I saved a little by walking to the subway. The 4 train, like its Lexington Avenue-line brothers the 5 and 6, traverses up the east side of Manhattan and deep into the Boogie Down Bronx, passing Y-nk-- Stadium along the way. It was the first time I had seen the new ballpark. I suppose it looks impressive enough, though it's not like I've been there very often.


Of course, once I got off the train, I took the wrong bus (actually, it was the right bus; it just didn't go as far as I needed it to) and got off at the wrong stop. I can't remember the last time I had been to Yonkers. I think it may have been back in my college days. I remember going to see Star Trek VI on opening night with friends in Yonkers, though where exactly, I couldn't tell you. It was dark and rainy and we had driven up there.

Anyway, from the outside, the Yonkers Alamo looks like any other theater in a strip mall, until you go inside. For one thing, there are the posters: reinterpretations of classic and contemporary movie posters with magnificent art, all of them much more imaginative and creative than the ones you normally see. 


Then there's something very peculiar: they have a re-creation of the bomb from the climax of the movie Dr. Strangelove - the one Slim Pickens giddily rides on the way down to destruction - and apparently you can climb on board it and have your picture taken on it. It even comes with a replica of the hat Pickens wore. I think all the Alamo theaters have something like this. If I had been with someone else, I suppose I would've had my picture taken, but I didn't, so I didn't. (And no, it didn't occur to me to use my cellphone to take a "selfie.")

The movie I saw was The Wind Rises, an animated film based on the true story of the Japanese guy who invented the zero wing airplane. The Alamo did something clever: before the film, they played videos and shorts related to it. (I assume they do this sort of thing for all their films.) They played WW2 newsreels, old footage of attempts to create flying machines, videos of Wind director Hayao Miyazaki, even a Simpsons clip that was an homage to the films of Miyazaki. Needless to say, all of this was much more entertaining than your average edition of "The 20."


Perhaps you've heard about how the Alamo offers restaurant-quality food in addition to traditional theater snacks. When you go into the auditorium, the aisles of seats each come with long shelves in front of them, on which you can eat, and underneath them are the menus. There are ushers who double as waiters, and you write down your order on a piece of paper, position it upright in a slot on the shelf in front of you, and that's how they take your order. The emphasis is on quiet, since you can do this during the movie as well as before it, though that wasn't an issue on Tuesday; it was a tiny crowd. I had a burger called a "royale with cheese," just like out of Pulp Fiction, with fries and a root beer, and it was great, though expensive. I think next time I may settle for an appetizer. Did I mention that the waiters here also expect tips?

And then, of course, there's perhaps the Alamo's most well-known element - their zero-tolerance policy on talking and texting. Again, it wasn't an issue on Tuesday because there were so few people, but I still got to see it in action: slides and video clips remind the audience - humorously but firmly - that if you talk or text during the film, you get a warning first, and then an ejection with no refund. I had read about this, of course, even wrote about it here, but actually seeing it for the first time, and knowing that the Alamo cares enough to enforce this policy, was a quite unusual feeling.


So that's what going to the Alamo is like. I also copped an issue of their in-house magazine Birth Movies Death, which had articles about the monthly features and current movies playing at the Alamo. I think if when I go again, I'd like to go for one of their special events, but again, getting there is a long trip. Still, I'm familiar with it now, so it won't be as intimidating... and I'll know which bus to get on!

As for the movie itself, well, I thought it was okay, but the problem I had with it was that it seemed a bit too rosy-colored. Jiro Horikoshi, the main character, keeps saying throughout the story that all he wants to do is make awesome planes for his country, yet he must have known that they would be used as weapons of war. There's some talk about Japan's political and economic situation leading up to WW2, but the war itself seems far away. Hitler is mentioned only once. And the second half of the story is dominated by Jiro's relationship with his girlfriend-turned-wife Nahoko and her illness. There wasn't enough war-related material to suit me, and I felt like there should have been.

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