Sunday, June 28, 2009

Valentino: The Last Emperor

One of my favorite TV shows is Project Runway. I watch it religiously and don't think I've missed a single episode in the various seasons it has aired (the DVR is an amazing invention!). What I love about that show is seeing how creative unknowns can take a little bit of fabric, an idea, a sewing machine and make some wonderful (or disastrous) garment in a short amount of time. Watching Valentino: The Last Emperor make clothes is at the opposite end of the economic spectrum but is just as enjoyable and fascinating. It must be the clothes.

Valentino: The Last Emperor is a terrific documentary that follows Valintino as he prepares his 45th collection of clothes. Valentino, known for his celebrity connections, glamour and couture, might be making his last collection as age and the topsy-turvy business world are starting to take its toll on the fashion legend.

Three things jumped out at me while I watched Valentino: the endless array of beautiful clothes, the extravagant lifestyle he lived and the unique relationship between Valentino and his business partner/lover of 45 years Giancarlo Giammetti. The combination of these three things make Valentino very entertaining and it's my favorite documentary I've seen so far in 2009.

The clothes are a no-brainer. We see how Valentino works in his studio with models, aides, Giammetti and his team of seamstresses. The head seamstress is this great, cranky woman who has a fiery temper that she unleashes on others. I wanted to see more of her. These women allow Valentino's ideas (no matter how demanding) to come to fruition--usually done by hand, one stitch at a time.

Valentino, Giammetti and their five pugs live an unbelievably opulent lifestyle. Mansions in Paris, swanky apartments in Rome, yacht to take to Venice, private jets--this is Valentino's daily existence. Valentino talks about how he loves to be surrounded by beauty at all time and that looks like his life. This kind of lifestyle would be exhausting, to live in such a public way, but Valentino relishes it.

The most interesting thing about this documentary is the complex partnership between Valentino and Giammetti. The pair are so joined at the hip that the company could never have existed the way it has without Giammetti. He's been the invisible force behind the scenes since day one. The pair have differences of opinions about clothes or the runway show design--barbs about too much tanning (these two love to tan!) and getting fat occur--but there is never any doubt regarding the pair's attachment to one another. It's sweet and captivating.

If you miss Project Runway when it's of the air, like I always do, seek out Valentino: The Last Emperor. It will give you that dosage of beauty, creativity and glamour while lovingly delivering some glowing behind the scenes world of one of fashion's iconic figures.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Coleman

Last post I wrote a sad lament about all the lost movie palaces that no longer exist. Now, a happier post! In the Northeast Oklahoma town of Miami (pronounced Okie style: My-am-uh) exists such a movie palace that is still standing: The Coleman. It has never been torn down in any way, in fact, it has undergone an extensive renovation by the city and is now, by far, the most grand, beautiful theatre in Oklahoma.

The folks in Miami were fortunate to have a mining magnate in their midst--George Coleman. Thanks to Mr. Coleman's desire to have a world class entertainment facility in this small town, the Coleman was built and he spared no expense. Opened in 1929 with a lavish interior of Louis the XV furnishings, the theatre houses about 1,600, a large chunk of Miami's entire population.

The Coleman has gone the way of community playhouse but every so often they play a film. If you are really lucky it will be a silent with accompaniment from the original house Mighty Wurlitzer organ. I've seen two things recently at the Coleman--a Harold Lloyd comedy and a Roman Novarro two-hanky. It was magical for the experience of seeing something old with the organ booming away.

Seeing a film at the Coleman is the way all movie going should feel like--not like you feel in the standardized boxes of the modern multiplex. Movie going has become so homogenized and ordinary you could be in any city, any state, anyplace America. Not so with the Coleman. It is alive with a heart and pulse. When you watch a film here you can only be in one place in the world--Miami, Oklahoma.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lost movie palaces

There's absolutely nothing that compares to watching a film in one of the grand, opulent movie palaces. Most palaces were built in the 1920s as a way to attract audiences by replicating their theatre experiences and attracting a wider clientele. Think massive lobbies, chandeliers, sweeping staircases, huge balconies, gigantic neon marquees and a theatre large enough to see one to two thousand moviegoers. You think a multiplex is a real theatre--it's not, a palace is the only real movie theatre.

Sadly, there just aren't a lot of movie palaces showing films anymore. If the buildings were lucky, they survived the incredibly destructive period of the 1960s-70s known as urban renewal. This period saw most of the historic theatres razed to create surface parking for evaporating downtowns as city after city spread out to suburbia. Hundreds and hundreds of theatres have been erased in the name of surface parking. It breaks my heart.

The fortunate theatres survived by fluke, concerned benefactor or by their sheer stubbornness. These structures aren't movie houses anymore as they've gone the way of Broadway touring shows, musical acts and other fare. It's not movies but it's comforting they still stand and people seem to love them for their charms and beauty. Their popularity with audiences further vilifies the individuals across the nation who knocked these magnificent buildings down. No good bastards.

Every city of any size had at least one movie palace--many cities had two or three or more. Tulsa had its share with the Ritz (pictured in the 1950s--note the temperature on the bank clock on the right and the long line of patrons to escape into the air conditioned splendor of the Ritz), the Orpheum and the Majestic all fitting into a few square blocks downtown. Faux marble columns, twinkling ceilings of stars blinked overhead as you watched a film, glamorous fabric and gigantic mirrors hung everywhere you looked. All of these theatres and the many of smaller neighborhood theatres in Tulsa such as the Alhambra/Plaza, Will Rogers, Delman, Cozy and Brook are all parking lots or have been converted to something non-movie like a restaurant. Only the Circle still has hope at new life, although the recent structural damage cost its original theatre walls.

If I had a time machine I'd travel back to the 1930s (I love those '30s films!) and travel around the country for a few years, just watching movie after movie in these unbelievable theatres. What a pleasant dream that is.

***Photograph is Courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society***

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In case you get sick

I found this scan on my computer and realized I never posted it. Months ago Circle Cinema screened the film Tokyo Gore Police for the monthly midnight movie series. It is a recent Japanese film that has wall to wall mayhem--if you like arterial blood spraying, then this film is for you! You will see arterial spray from every possible appendage in Tokyo Gore Police. Neck, wrists, elbow, legs and more are all hacked off to unleash the blood feast. We decided to give away vomit bags to the audience as they entered the theatre--here is an image of the "Too much carnage I'm going to be sick bag" from that night.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

If you see the trailer for Drag Me To Hell there will be a mention of director Sam Raimi's previous films--little films you may have heard of: Spiderman, Spiderman II and Spiderman III. While that might get some people into the theatre--that doesn't do it for me. I'm old school when it comes to Raimi. That means one thing and one thing only--Sam Raimi has made a horror film again.

I first encountered Raimi when my dad took me and best friend Scott to see The Evil Dead in 1981. I was 12. I loved everything about that movie. Two more Evil Deads followed along with other genre stuff before Raimi started to branch out of that world--I loved the smart, tense, well-acted and underrated A Simple Plan in 1998. Then Peter Parker came knocking and I figured Raimi would never come back to the genre he was first known in.

Drag Me To Hell, a fun, charged up with visual hi-jinks horror film, is Raimi at his core. He may have adapted to the big budget world of CGI effects and green screens but Raimi and horror is a near perfect match. The man just understands how to scare, jolt, shock us while also making us laugh uncomfortably. His love of horror tactics blended with comedy comes pouring off the screen.

Drag Me To Hell's story involves a loan officer named Christine (Alison Lohman) who refuses a loan extension to an elderly gypsy-esque woman. Bad mistake. Always give a loan to a one eyed gypsy. Always. A curse is dished out and this curse is real. Old gypsies don't screw around, especially when it comes to their mortgages. Christine fights for her life/soul as some nasty demons come to kill her or to literally drag her to hell.

The script is sometimes silly, the acting has its bad moments (Lohman, her boyfriend is played by Justin Long and he should stick to his best work: the mac commercials as he's awful in this) but those aren't negative things. That's kind of a trademark to Raimi's self-penned (or with brother Ivan) low budget horror movies. This only adds to the film's charms as it is a thrill ride from start to finish.

Raimi certainly worked on his oral fixations with this one. Time after time some kind of substance was either vomited or ingested into or out of a character's mouth. If ten minutes went by without this happening I'd be surprised. Some of the objects were more gross than others--embalming liquid, bugs/worms being the worst and handkerchiefs being the least repugnant.

Drag Me To Hell is a great return to his roots for director Sam Raimi. He's probably off getting ready for Spiderman IV and while that might excite the masses, us old school Raimi fans wish he's just make more horror films. And I'm not talking about
the awful, awful, awful, awful idea to remake The Evil Dead with new cast and with more money--somebody please stop the madness! Bruce Campbell is Ash. No one else. But that's another post for another time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How did Samuel L. Jackson not win an Oscar in 1994?

I was recently watching Pulp Fiction for the first time in years. I love this film. It's one of my favorites that I've seen at least a half dozen times now. It's full of wonderful performances, from the leads to every member of the supporting cast (except for Tarantino's role as Jimmy as that's awful), but the one that always just blows me away is Samuel L. Jackson's Jules. All I can say about it: wow.

In the fifteen years since Pulp Fiction came out Jackson has kind of turned into an actor who delivers the same kind of performance each time out of the gate. We know what to expect from him as he dishes up variations of the same role again and again. In 1994, this was not the case. He was just exploding into a popular actor and this role is by far his most electric, charismatic, intense, humorous, dangerous and interesting. It's a wonderful, riveting performance that even has him sporting great facial hair and a throwback hairstyle.

Jackson was nominated for best supporting actor but didn't win. What a freakin' rip off! Looking at the list of fellow actors nominated, it is even clearer he was cheated for the award. The winner was Martin Landau for Ed Wood. Landau gave a good performance in a film from Tim Burton but let's be frank here--Landau's winning was a combination of role + age + reward for career achievement. While a fine job, I don't think Landau's individual performance was anywhere near what Jackson did in Pulp Fiction.

Other nominations were Chazz Palminteri for Bullets Over Broadway; Gary Sinise for Forrest Gump and Paul Scofield for Quiz Show. I'm kind of surprised Sinise didn't win because Forrest Gump was such a sentimental favorite that year. Maybe Tom Hanks took all the glory and credit in the title role? Palmenteri was solid and funny as a mobster with dreams of being a writer in Woody Allen's sharp comedy but Scofield I don't even remember so let's forget about him. That leaves Landau and Jackson as the two serious contenders.

Voters went for Landau. What a mistake that was--one that looks more glaring with every passing year. Watch Ed Wood and watch Pulp Fiction; Samuel L. Jackson is my choice every time between these two performances and it's not really even that close.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Movie tickets #7

Saturday, June 06, 2009

David Carradine 1936-2009

I have a fondness for the entire Carradine family. There's legendary character actor father John, underrated brother Keith (check out "I heart Keith Carradine" in November '08 archives) and lesser known brother Robert (Revenge of the Nerds!). David, the tall and lanky oldest brother, recently hung himself in Bangkok, Thailand at the age of 72 (at this time it isn't known whether it was accidental, suicide or if some sort of foul play was involved).

David Carradine first drew my attention, as he did from many others, on the cult early to mid 1970s show Kung Fu. His character Caine was a martial arts loving, philosophizing loner who dished out his special brand of justice. I loved this show when I'd see it in repeats in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I had a brief childhood interest in karate probably because of this show and Bruce Lee films.

From 1975 to 1980, Carradine was in three genre pictures I loved. I don't want to brag but I'm lucky I saw the ultimate drive-in movie Death Race 2000 at a drive-in. I was six years old! I should not have been watching Death Race 2000--thanks Dad--but it made quite an impression as any film should that is about a cross country race where you get points for running over and killing people. One year later he was in another film I loved--Cannonball!--and in 1980 he was in one of my favorite westerns of all time--The Long Riders. It doesn't get any better than The Long Riders for westerns of the past thirty years.

After The Long Riders Carradine drifted into the low budget abyss of VHS/DVD until he surfaced in the Kill Bill films in 2003. Seeing him back on screen after so many invisible years was one of the best things about that film. Kill Bill was directed by Quentin Tarantino and other prominent directors to cast Carradine were Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman, Hal Ashby and Walter Hill.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

May movies

It was a busy month thanks to the Seattle International Film Festival--33 films. That shot my yearly total up over 90 films so it looks like I'll see around my usual 200 films in 2009. I get antsy if I am not near the 200 mark! 22 films were from foreign countries, I saw a couple of really bad films while also rewatching one of my all-time favorites and I saw Star Trek two times!

Gomorrah---2008---italy ****
Grey Gardens---2009---usa ***1/2
8 Women---2002---france *1/2
The Soloist---2009---usa **1/2
Student Prince of Old Heidelberg---1927---usa ***1/2
Star Trek---2009---usa ****
You Kill Me---2007---usa **
Election---2005---hong kong ***1/2
The Pervert's Guide to Cinema---2008---canada ***
Backfire---1987---usa **
Pulp Fiction---1994---usa *****!
Kamikaze Girls---2005---japan ***
Shall We Kiss?---2008---france ***1/2
Dead Reckoning---1947---usa ***1/2
Martyrs---2008---france **1/2
Star Trek---2009---usa ****
Clorox, Ammonia and Coffee---2005---norway **1/2
Branded---1967---japan ***
My Dear Enemy---2008---south korea ***1/2
The Anarchist's Wife---2008---spain ***
We Live In Public---2009---usa ****
Terrible Happy---2008---denmark ***1/2
The Answer Man---2009---usa ***
Fear Me Not---2008---denmark ***
Small Crime---2008---cypress ***
Rudo y Cursi---2009---mexico **1/2
Beauties At War---2008---france ***1/2
Still Walking---2008---japan ****
Hansel and Gretel---2008---south korea **1/2
Daddy Cool---2008---france ***
The Beast Stalker---2008---hong kong ****
Carmo---2008---brazil ***
In July---2004---germany ***1/2