Saturday, August 30, 2008

Less than ten films?

Chances are, since I've only seen seven films in August, I'm going to do something I've only done a few times in the past decade: watch less than ten films in a month! I might see one or two before September comes but there's no way I'm seeing the four I need to make that double digit mark. I'm going to blame the Olympics as I was watching a bunch of that during the nights when I was free of plans.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Man On Wire

I’ve always been attracted to dreamers, pranksters, rascals, radicals, oddballs, innovators, hoaxers, romantics, thrill seekers and people willing to ignore or bend the law to accomplish their aspirations. Man On Wire tells the story of such a group (who are a lot of the items just listed) who plot, plan and then do what they set out to do—string up a 200 foot wire between the World Trade Center’s twin towers to perform a wire walk in August of 1974. Madness? I think not!

The man who actually steps out onto the wire is an engaging, charismatic Frenchman named Phillipe Petit and this story of how this small band of French, Australian and American misfits pulled off this feat is one of my favorite documentaries I’ve seen recently. When Petit actually steps out onto that wire, with no safety harness or cables to save him if he missteps, is one of the most amazing and electrifying things I’ve watched in a while. My heart skipped a beat I was so in love with the idea of it.

Man On Wire combines films the crew made of the training and preparation, recreations of the pre-event (the smuggling in of nearly one ton of equipment the night of the walk for example), archival footage of the WTC being built, films of other wire walks by Petit (the Notre Dame in Paris and a bridge crossing in Australia were small time warm ups compared to the towers walk) and interviews with all the folks involved who were all in their mid 20s when the event occurred. The interviews are lively, passionate, honest, humorous as the people all bare their souls in what they realize was the “once in a lifetime” aspect of the act. A few times people break down they are so overcome with emotions at what they did or witnessed on this 1974 morning.

Petit is an engaging, quasi-philosophical romantic who stepped onto the wire and walked it (or “danced” on it according to the NYC cops who were on the 100+ floor rooftop) for over forty five minutes performing his act of kneeling, laying down and turns—he does eight complete walks of the wire while up there. It’s truly breathtaking thing to watch. To see Petit on the wire and then looking down at what is below him makes this act completely unbelievable to me.

It’s hard to watch the film without grappling with the future events of what would happen to the WTC but that actually makes the wire walk even more interesting. The building wasn’t even completely finished when the group performed their wire walk and seeing Petit speak of the structure with such reverence, as if it was built for his wire and his wire only, kind of makes you think of the towers as something other than that of jets, fires, death, terrorism and collapse.

Man On Wire is a stunner. It’s a mesmerizing and beautiful film. I had goosebumps and the sight of Petit on that wire filled my eyes with tears of joy. Magical. It’s about the possibility of dreamers and of the burning youthful desire to do something no one dares. It’s about looking death square in the face while living in the moment of your dream no matter how preposterous and dangerous it might seem to others. Highly recommended!

Man On Wire trailer

The trailer for this stunning documentary.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Allred

I enjoyed writing about the little movie theatres from my recent trip to Spain so I thought I’d do some new ones of theatres I love and have watched films at. I should start with the theatre that had the most impact on me as I was growing up and starting my love affair with movies. That theatre would be the Allred in Pryor Creek, Oklahoma.

Pryor Creek is a small town of about 9,000 mostly regular folks that lies 45 minutes northeast of Tulsa. Like most small towns, there’s not a lot to do around town. One of my favorite things about growing up in such a small place that was unlike the towns that surround Pryor Creek—we had a movie theatre. Trust me, that was a big advantage that we didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to see a movie.

Built in 1917 in the Art Deco style, the Allred that I knew and loved was a twin screen theatre that was likely very different than the original construction. I wish it held on to more of the original elements but someone chopped up the main auditorium pretty good at some point. The lobby does have a nice curving wall that lead into tiny restrooms with original tiled floors (which were there the last time I went there). The theatre still has the island ticket window in the middle of the marquee and any old theatre worth their salt should make use of that ticket island just off the street. If that island is just for show and sits there empty—you are cheating your movie going experience.

As a kid I was always entranced by the marquee—a solid red block ALLRED with blinking lights along the undercarriage of the marquee. I’ve seen a lot of places in cities and towns across America/Europe but one of the most magical, beautiful things to me is a lit up movie marquee on some small town main street. There’s something about the lights and the night and the fact you are about to enter a room with strangers and become lost in a story that makes me fall in love with the feeling time and time again.

I saw hundreds and hundreds of films at the Allred growing up. I saw horror films (Friday the 13th Part 2) and comedies (Airplane!) and thrillers (Jaws) and action films (The Road Warrior) and science fiction (Flash Gordon) and cartoons (The Lady and the Tramp) and R rated films I shouldn’t have been watching (Up In Smoke) and movies that I would revere until the day I die (Raging Bull or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). I saw everything I could.

When I moved away from Pryor Creek after high school the theatre had started to fall on hard times. The beloved marquee would be partially lit, chairs were broken or missing entirely from the row and the floor would be sticky with mysterious substances I hoped was crushed candy and popcorn. There was just the omnipresent feeling of no one caring from the management.

The theatre was then taken over by Gene Oliver whose family had an intimate history with the theatre as they owned it in the early 1960s. Oliver has attempted to bring the Allred back. New sound systems, new screens, new seats and even an “annex” a few doors down from the original theatre.

I’ve got a lot of hope that the Allred will make other people fall in love with cinema the way it helped cast a spell on me. As long as that marquee is lit up and movies are flickering across the screen there is always that possibility. Pryor Creek didn’t have a lot of things that I loved growing up but I now realize how lucky I was to have at least had the Allred.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Boycott an unwanted remake: Death Race

First bit of business: I've been lazy with the posts. Two weeks without a post is way too long. I'll try not to let it happen again for the rest of the year even thought not sure I can live up to that promise. At least one post a week will be my mantra.

Now to the serious business--another unwanted and ridiculous Hollywood remake of a cult classic film in the form of Death Race. These people will stoop to every level to ruin great films while grasping for that dollar and attracting clueless people who don't seem to realize these films have already been made.

Remakes have always been apart of Hollywood history but there is a big difference in remaking a film from the 1970s now versus when a film from the 1930s was remade in the 1950s or 1960s. Now, we can all rent the original films on DVD anytime we want, unlike audiences in the past who had to rise up off the couch and venture down to the single screen theatre to see whatever they wanted to see. Those were the days pre-IMDB, pre-video store, pre-Netflix, pre-video on demand, pre-dozens of movie channels on your TV. Remakes in that era made perfect sense because every twenty five years or so audiences were completely recycled for stories.

In 2008 it's a completely different ballgame and the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000 is a perfect example of a greedy Hollywood remake for a quick buck. The original, produced by that b-movie genius Roger Corman, was a perfect drive-in film. Set in the far future of the year 2000 and involving a cross country road race of carnage where drivers get points for not only speed but by running over and killing as many people along the route as possible (yes!). Death Race 2000 was a b-movie satire of car culture and America's emerging obsession with televised sporting events (and one might argue it was a harbinger of the looming reality TV craze a couple of decades away). The film was violent, silly, funny, naughty and offered just about anything you might want from a late night summer drive-in movie.

Granted, I haven't seen this woeful looking remake (I've sworn them off and I hope it is a box office bomb) but I promise you it will have none of the charm and lure of the original. It will be a loud, CGI'd to the max mess that will probably make the easy to please audiences of today happy and craving Death Race 2. The sad thing is other cult classic films I love such as Near Dark, The Warriors or Race With the Devil are all in development for some crappy remake that will make me cringe in horror. These remakes have got to stop!

Friday, August 01, 2008

July movies

As I wrote earlier--July was the month of old or foreign films. Of the nineteen I saw in July, fifteen would qualify as one of the two (I'm counting the films I saw from the 1980s--heck, that's twenty years old!). Five ***** star films might be a record for a month--it's the old films that I've seen and loved and was rewatching. For the Irene Dunne update--Theodora Goes Wild was the 6th film of hers I've seen this year. I heart Irene Dunne!

Only Angels Have Wings---1939---usa ***1/2
His Girl Friday---1940---usa *****!
Millennium Actress---2001---japan ***1/2
Reprise---2007---norway ****
Employee of the Month---2004---usa **1/2
Theodora Goes Wild---1936---usa ****
Time---2005---south korea ****
One Week---1920---usa *****!
Hancock---2008---usa ***
2 Days In Paris---2007---france ****
Cousins---1989---usa ****
Jean de Florette---1986---france *****!
Manon of the Spring---1986---france *****!
Tokyo Gore Police---2008---japan ***1/2
The Dark Knight---2008---usa ***1/2
Private Property---2006---france ***
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial---1983---usa *****!
Bigger, Stronger, Faster---2008---usa ***1/2
The Warriors---1979---usa ****