Monday, July 28, 2008

YouTubeArt: Spider-Man Misshap at Comic-Con 08

Clearly, the man needs to rest.


Monday, July 21, 2008

An Intensely Personal Top Five Movie Theaters List

In concert with the upscale dames at Scarlett Cinema, I'm proffering a mid-year top five list of my own idiosyncratic choosing....of my favorite movie theaters. Cleanliness, screen size, and Dolby-osity are not under consideration, the palaces below are only the murky spaces that have had the most impact on my fragile psyche, now in its 27th year.

1. North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo, NY. (photo above)

Most importantly, there's the ticket booth. A smooth cylinder for one rocketed down into the middle of the lobby. Inhabited alternately by a pudgy smiler with a valiant combover or an elderly gent who seems nice enough. The bathroom's upstairs and to the left, with man-sized chinked urinals against the right wall (I think). I remember them being taller than normal, 6 ft. maybe. Or is it that I haven't visited in a few years and my impressionable childhood is telling tall tales? I need to go back and check. I saw Rear Window for the first time there, when the restoration was touring back in 2000 (I believe). Try to make out the painting on the ceiling. It's a challenge, covered as it is in years 88 years of sneezes. It looked like there were some angels. Maybe some horses. A sense of mystery, history, sweat. The concessions stand almost inside the theatre itself. My Mom told me there would be a restoration of the place soon. I think that was a decade ago. I want to go back as soon as possible, but I think I'll wait until Mamma Mia passes through.

2. Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St., Buffalo, NY.

Sensing a pattern? Part of the Dipson chain of art-house theaters that also includes the North Park, the Amherst Theater is where I worked in both high-school and the first few summer years of college. Where the North Park is an old palace, the Amherst is a puny multiplex, with two munchkin theaters and one regular sized schmo. In any case it's beautiful: red velvet ropes and "real" buttered popcorn and red paislied carpet and generic candies. We didn't have Sour Patch Kids. We had Sour Gummie Bears, or something like that. Pathetic and delicious. All of my friends saw free movies and ate free popcorn. I tried to direct a gorgeous co-ed to the seat adjoining theirs for the big Royal Tenenbaums premiere, but no dice. Before I worked there, I had my first official date (Taxi Driver) which ended awkwardly. My Dad took me to see the Touch of Evil restoration (1999?) there, which kicked off my Welles obsession, and I forced him and my uncle to see In The Mood For Love when it opened. I felt cool, in the know. My boss was a delightful fuck-up who lent me some Tom Waits albums (Blue Valentine was one) and let us have Nerf wars during breaks. Then he got fired and I quit soon after. My Big Fat Greek Wedding played for what seemed like an entire year.

3. Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St., New York, NY

It smells sometimes. They haven't heard of sightlines. I've also seen more movies there than at any other theater in NYC combined. Double bills of rare noirs, rare musicals, rare everything. Oh, and one night I took a girl to see a show. Something called Hold That Co-Ed from 1938, part of the B-Musical series a year back. John Barrymore acts insane while running for the Senate, football is involved. I married the girl, we still go to Film Forum, it still smells.

4. Lecture Hall 6, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY

Behind the trees there, it's Lecture Hall 6. Uncomfortable plastic chairs all welded together so one person's seat adjustments annoys all. Every semester the Harpur Film Series commenced in this unpleasant room. Every Saturday it was something intriguing - the only place to catch international cinema for miles around. The local arthouse burnt down - the result of an ill-fated BYOB policy. I was initiated into the Dardennes with Rosetta, and floored by Godard's Eloge de l'Amour. (the former still wows, the latter, I'm not so sure).

5. My Old Living Room, 203 Washington Hwy. Buffalo, NY.

Is this cheating? Probably. But it's more fun than writing about Lincoln Center. Anyway....just think of clutter. Unlabeled VHS tapes of Little League games and birthday parties abut my growing Turner Classic Movies library. Is that me striking out or von Sternberg's Shanghai Express? Hard to say, as each have their own romantic poetry - Dietrich's inscrutable face is certainly more ambiguous than my adolescent poutings, but not by much. L.A. Confidential was my first DVD. It looked great. I had my friends over to watch Ronin approximately 54 times. Eventually we broke it down shot-by-shot, Bordwell style, focusing on our much beloved "window scene", of DeNiro exhaling smoke while lowering a car window. Masculine posturing never looked so sharp!

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm already sick of Dark Knight reviews that...

...make vague, undocumented references to Frank Miller's so-called influence on Batman movies. David Edelstein mentions that Tim Burton's Batman was "partially inspired by Frank Miller and by the graphic novel The Killing Joke." Manohla Dargis says The Dark Knight "is closer to Bob Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s 1986 reinterpretation." Stephanie Zacharek says "the characters originally created by Bob Kane -- and further developed by the likes of Frank Miller -- were rich, fascinating ones," and so on.

Miller contributions to the Batman universe cannot be overstated but they're not as cut and dry as these tossed off mentions imply. Which Miller are we talking about? The Dark Knight Returns is set in the future with an sad, old Batman. Year One's Bats is young and prone to mistakes. His current book, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is like a Bizarro World version of Adam West - Burt Ward camp; bright colors, flashy gadgets, and Bat-profanity.

I'd welcome an in depth analysis of Miller's influence on the Batman movies but it irks me when people just auto-compare. Burton's Batman owes much of its story to a run in the 1970s by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers (truly outstanding comics collected in the trade paperback "Strange Apparitions"); Miller's contribution is, in my estimation, important but secondary (or tertiary after The Killing Joke). And frankly, I think Miller's work was much more important to Batman Begins, with it's obvious narrative parallels to Year One (and to several books, like The Long Halloween, in which other creators picked up Miller's interpretation and expanded it), than The Dark Knight. I saw the new film this morning and, to me, it's a whole new animal. This doesn't look or sound like any Batman comics I've read, any Batman movies I've seen and that includes Frank Miller's and director Christopher Nolan's own Batman Begins. Who cares if they talk about Gotham City; anyone watching the movie can see this Batman story is set in Chicago — not on a dressed-up backlot or garishly decorated soundstages but on the streets of the Windy City. There's no attempt to reconcile this Gotham with the one from Begins, with its impossible monorail transit system and computer fabricated skyline. Though this is a clear continuation of Begins, it's also a very different film with a very different visual style. This Batman is in a world that while not exactly our own is closer than anything that's come before.

I could write more but I'm hoping to get the opportunity to do so at length after I see it again. If that time comes, I promise I won't just name drop Miller or any other comic book author. We'll save that for Christmas and The Spirit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wong Kar-Wai, Wedding Planner

Tony Leung and Carina Lau are getting married after a 20-year relationship. So who better to plan such a grand occasion than the ultimate romantic:

"One of China's most famous star couples want their wedding to feel like a romantic movie. Tony Leung and Carina Lau have invited award-winning director Wong Kar-Wai to help them work out their wedding details".

But there's more! Ace production designer William Chang will also lend a hand:

"Art director William Chang, who took part in almost every film by Wong, has been invited to work with him again, the report says. Chang will be responsible for designing Lau's wedding gowns and ensuring that the wedding is "visually stunning.""

Will they make the wedding look like 60s Hong Kong? Will Carina Lau wear a variety of neck hugging cheongsams? The mind reels.

Who would you want to direct your wedding? I think I'd go with Jacques Demy.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Johnnie To Interview

An e-mail interview I did with Johnnie To in advance of the New York Asian Film Festival went up today at IFC News. I wish I has been able to speak with him over the phone for a more in-depth talk, but he's already knee deep in preparation for his Le Cercle Rouge remake. So while the interview is fairly choppy, rest assured it's for a good cause.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Untamed (1957)

It's worth easing into Mikio Naruse's Untamed, to settle in and soak up the atmosphere before the eccentric power of Hideko Takamine's mercurial lead performance dwarfs any other considerations. Set in Japan's Taisho period (1912 -1926) of continued Westernization and governmental liberalization, Hideko's character Oshima is still caught in the patriarchal web, and spends the film casting off her multiple suitors/lovers/husbands. The settings are uniformly lovely, with the lilting melodies of Tokyo's street vendors (a recurring motif) and the imposing grandeur of a mountain village. Oshima battles for primacy over these settings as she does in her relationships.

First she escapes from her handsome, chain-smoking (and adulterous) husband, only to find herself abandoned by her dissolute brother in a remote mountain village. Once again deceived, she pays off her sibling's debts by working as a housemaid at an inn, whose manager soon falls for her charms. Mild-mannered and gracious, this fella seems like a keeper, but his marriage shunts Oshima into the role of mistress, a part she is constitutionally incapable of performing. Regretfully, and necessarily, she moves onward into a series of sexual/business power plays, until the dynamic shifts irretrievably in her favor. Takamine is extraordinary throughout, her childlike insolence subtly shifting into unshakeable authority, until, when in the celebratory final shot, not even mother nature can dampen her newfound freedom.

UPDATE: Tativille's Mike Anderson posted a revealing quote from Naruse on the making of Untamed, which I'll reproduce up here, since it's more interesting than my ramblings:

"Thanks for the post on a very interesting film, Rob. Since few people likely have access to the following, uniquely revealing Naruse quote on the film, I have reproduced it in its entirety (from the Filmoteca Espanola text on the director)":

'It was my original intention to tell a story about a strong-willed, independent female character. However, I discovered that this theme wasn't too popular at the box office. Although Oshima's emotional flaws are in the original story, I did not want to emphasize them. I wanted to avoid a story about someone with peculiar traits. In my view Oshima is strong and industrious. To me she is the opposite of the Yukiko character in Floating Clouds. I wanted to emphasize that aspect of her character. Women today are strong-willed but in a different way from Oshima. I tried to put some of the more modern female attributes into Oshima's character.' (p. 269)"

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hollywood Hotel (1937)

A scaled down Busby Berkeley musical, Hollywood Hotel (1937) is a thoroughly charming Warner Brothers quickie. The ever-affable Dick Powell plays a starry-eyed sax player for the Benny Goodman band who gets an entry-level contract in Hollywood. Greeted not with laurels but by a cynical publicity agent and a variety of hangers-on, his dreams are soon deferred. But like a thunderbolt from the heavens, he's invited to attend a movie premiere as the escort of the biggest star in the land, the melodramatically inclined Mona Marshall ("Oh, my thyroids!", played by the equally alliterative Lola Lane). But alas! It's not actually Mona, but a stand-in who's covering for the tempestuous actress, who went on the lam over a casting snub. So we see the two above, the aspiring star and the disillusioned body-double, doing their bit for love. The world's a stage, etc.

The plot jumps to some unlikely places, dumping the mistaken identity bit about 40 minutes in and seguing into Singin' in the Rain territory, with Powell lending his gentle tenor to the bombastic gyrations of Mona's male co-star, Alexander DuPre (a delightfully unctuous Alan Mowbray). The scattershot plot relaxes its way to its inevitable conclusion, and the bit players deliver their zingers with relish. Especially insane is the schizo bit enacted by Hugh Herbert, who plays Mona's father as Groucho Marx on downers. Spackled with some lively numbers from the Benny Goodman band, Hollywood Hotel is a particularly pleasurable way to spend a Saturday night.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Best Movie Ever?

From Variety:

"Columbia Pictures has set an untitled comedy that will star Sacha Baron Cohen as master detective Sherlock Holmes and Will Ferrell as Watson, his crime-solving partner."


Cyd Charisse (1922-2008)

She was 86. Clips like this one, from Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon, will be around ten times that long.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More Gymkommentary has been posted

In case you haven't checked it recently, we've got two two new Gymkommentaries up, for two different episodes of Challenge of the Super Friends.