Save the Movieland 8!

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I have fond memories of going to the old Como 8 cinema at the Apple Tree Mall to see such second-run movies as “Backdraft.” That theater has been gone for years now, followed by the cheapie Super Saver Cinema on Elmwood, A few years ago, Dipson turned the McKinley Mall into a modernized second-run theater, and Movieland 8 is still chugging along at the old Thruway Mall site. But it needs some help. Here is a piece I wrote for the Buffalo News Gusto blog.

“As far as I’m concerned, digital projection is the death of cinema. The fact that most films aren’t presented in 35mm means that the world is lost. Digital projection is just television in cinema.”

Thus spaketh a typically hyperbolic Quentin Tarantino during a lengthy press conference at the recent Cannes Film Festival, as reported by Indiewire and just about every other outlet that covers cinema.

Cinephiles can debate the accuracy of QT’s statement, but the “Pulp Fiction” director is undoubtedly correct in asserting that this is a new, digital world. And for movie theaters in Buffalo and beyond, this is a costly, dangerous transition.

The Movieland 8 theater located at the old Thruway Mall site in Cheektowaga, posted an update on its digital conversion process on Facebook, and the news was mixed, at best:

“If you have been to visit us recently, you have seen that we have been able to obtain 3 digital projectors for the theater, but we are in need of 5 more. If we do not get the 5 projectors, our doors will be closed by fall at the latest, but there is a strong possibility it could happen earlier. We are doing all we can to try to make that not happen!”

The Movieland 8 is not the loveliest place to see a film — the sound during the last film I saw there, Sofia Coppola’s “Bling Ring,” seemed to be emanating from speakers ready to be euthanized — but with ticket prices continuing to rise, affordable options are more important than ever before.

Movieland 8 has started an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the projectors. We will keep an eye on how things progress over the summer.

“We are a small, locally owned business, and many of our employees have been dedicated to us for many, many years. We are working hard to make some changes and to obtain some funding, but we will also be releasing an Indiegogo Campaign later on today to help raise money towards the digital projectors. This money will go towards the projectors, but more importantly will keep our doors open, allowing us to bring discounted movies to the community and keeping jobs in WNY. We hope you’ll support us and help spread the word. Thanks for your support and your time, and PLEASE come see us at the movies!”

(Image from http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/18864)

Pondering William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer”

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I am endlessly fascinated by William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer.” Last week, it was presented at Amherst’s Screening Room, and I wrote a bit about the film, and its unique history, for the Buffalo News Gusto blog (buffalo.com).

William Friedkin released his autobiography a few months ago, and in it, the director of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” spends as much time on his more troubled efforts as he does on the successes that launched him to international prominence. Chief among these disappointments is the film that sent his career plummeting down from the stratosphere, “Sorcerer.”

Opening one month after “Star Wars” in 1977, Friedkin’s remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French classic “The Wages of Fear” was a colossal flop. It was a deliberately paced, downbeat story of four men hauling nitroglycerin in South America. It lacked a major star (Steve McQueen passed on the project; Roy Scheider was eventually cast). And then there was the title.

“I was listening to an album by Miles Davis called ‘Sorcerer,’ with driving rhythms and jagged horn solos that characterized Miles’s band in the late 1960s,” writes the director in “The Friedkin Connection.” “We painted the word Sorcier (French for ‘Sorcerer’) on the other truck, and I later decided to call the film ‘Sorcerer,’ an intentional but ill-advised reference to ‘The Exorcist.’ The original title I’d proposed was ‘Ballbreaker.’ ”

“Ballbreaker” might have been a better bet. But in the following decades, “Sorcerer” has been embraced in film geek circles as a neglected masterpiece. The difficulty in finding a quality version of it to watch only added to its allure.

Now, nearly 40 years after its release, “Sorcerer” is back with a Friedkin-approved Blu-ray, and the film screens at 9:15 p.m. on June 14 and at 7:30 p.m. on June 17 in the Screening Room Cinema Arts Cafe (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst). Like Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” it’s a film that deserves reassessment.

Adequate “Anna,” Retro Tuesdays, and “The Big Lebowski”: A round-up of recent work

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It has been another busy few weeks of blog posts and reviews for me. Here is some of my latest work:

I reviewed the “adequate” thriller “Anna, starring Taissa Farmiga and Mark Strong, for The Playlist.

As I posted last week, I reviewed Gia Coppola’s stunning “Palo Alto” for the Buffalo News.

I reviewed Rob Lowe’s second memoir, “Love Life,” for the News, and guess what? It enjoyed the heck out of it.

And I have continued my weekly Buffalo News Gusto blog/buffalo.com posts:

Review: Gia Coppola continues the family tradition with “Palo Alto”

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A film I was dying to see at TIFF but unable to catch was Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto.” I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review it recently for the Buffalo News. Here is my 3 ½ star review.

“Palo Alto” is a rarity in recent American high school cinema. It opens not with a raucous party or a messy make-out scene, but with two teenagers sitting in a beat-up old car, getting stoned, drinking and talking nonsense. Suddenly, the driver hits the gas, and the car smashes into a wall.

Such sudden, foolish accidents are often a reality of teenage life, and opening with a scene such as this makes it clear that first-time director Gia Coppola is aiming to create something greater than the typical high school drama.

Like her aunt Sofia, the already accomplished photographer has an eye for adolescent ennui, and in “Palo Alto,” she deftly captures how it feels to be young, bored, lustful and a little bit scared. In doing so, Gia Coppola has firmly established herself as a thrilling, intelligent young director, one every bit as unique and bright as her aunt Sofia, uncle Roman, grandmother Eleanor and grandfather Francis.

Yes, the Coppola dynasty continues to startle, and if the results were not so noteworthy, it might seem obnoxious. Interestingly, “Palo Alto” stars Emma Roberts, the daughter of Eric Roberts and niece of Julia, and Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whaley. Both stars are self-assured and wonderfully “real,” just like the film.

Based on actor James Franco’s short-story collection – yes, Franco is seemingly on a quest to win the award for busiest man in show business – this ensemble drama is centered on a group of realistically complex, often troubled teens.

April (Roberts) is a shy, introspective virgin with an odd home life and a crush on her soccer coach, “Mr. B,” played by … James Franco. She often baby-sits his young son, and finds herself the wide-eyed subject of his attention.

Things develop into an expected situation, but the performances of Roberts and Franco keep the clichéd student-teenager affair from feeling rote. Neither character is one-note, and under Coppola’s direction, both are memorably authentic.

Kilmer is Teddy, a quiet, floppy-haired youth who harbors a secret crush on April. After a post-party drive home results in a DUI, Teddy is forced to perform community service, and actually seems to take to it. However, the behavior of his best friend Fred (Nat Wolff) grows increasingly erratic and dangerous.

All of these sexual, drug-and-loneliness-fueled entanglements occur amid school days, parties and soccer games — the monotonous elements of high school life in suburbia. It is an emotional mosaic in which little “happens,” but every look, gesture and touch is bursting with desire.

“Palo Alto” is, then, clearly the work of a photographer, and there are shots of haunting beauty and bleak elegance. The film’s final third, especially, contains several startling moments, visually and thematically. Even the fate of Fred, a character who at first seems the dullest individual onscreen, becomes surprisingly involving.

What keeps “Palo Alto” from qualifying as a truly great film is the sense that it never arrives at any particularly new insight. Coppola’s findings about the teenage wasteland of high school are truthful and wise, but never quite surprising. This means that “Palo Alto” is a coming-of-age drama – period. But it is a successful one, and that is more than enough.

If the film heralds the arrival of a fine new director, it is also noteworthy for establishing that Franco is capable of subtlety as both an actor and a writer (who knew?), that Kilmer is a star in the making, and, most of all, that Roberts is one of her generation’s finest young actors.

The 23-year-old Roberts has perhaps the most perplexingly emotive eyes in recent cinema, coupled with a casual elegance and strength. She has now dabbled in indie films (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”), genre fare (“Scream 4”), and television (“American Horror Story”), but “Palo Alto” indicates that Roberts’ most fascinating work is yet to come.

As for Coppola, her maturation as a writer and director will certainly be intriguing. Remember that aunt Sofia followed her debut, “The Virgin Suicides,” with the startlingly wonderful “Lost in Translation.” Gia Coppola’s next cinematic effort should be just as memorable.

“The Immigrant” is one of 2014’s best … but good luck seeing it

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It took me a year to have the opportunity to see James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” but the film was worth the wait. What a shame that it has been seemingly buried in the United States, and Canada. (A Toronto friend told me it was actually released in Buffalo before Toronto. That never happens!)

I’m not sure why exactly the film has been treated so poorly. It is the newest work from a critically acclaimed director, stars an Oscar winner (Marion Cotillard) and two former nominees (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner), was shown to some acclaim at Cannes, and, at the very least, should be attractive to anyone who with even the slightest bit of interest in 20th century American history.

“The Immigrant” takes its time, plunging the viewer into Ellis Island and then letting events play out. It is anchored by the lovely Cotillard’s latest great performance, as Ewa, an immigrant seeking to reunite with her sister, who has been detained due to illness. Phoenix is the slightly seedy businessman who “saves” Ewa, but pushes her into prostitution. Renner is a charming magician perennially at odds with Phoenix’s Bruno.

It is a stunningly photographed, moving story of survival, and one that grows stronger upon contemplation. Its last shot might be the most memorable and perfectly composed of 2014.

But good luck seeing it at a theater near you. Hopefully, it will arrive soon on DVD/etc., and receive the audience it deserves.

Sam Mendes, Arthur Russell, and Cinema on the Hill highlight recent Buffalo News work

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It has been a busy month or so, personally and professionally, but I wanted to post some links to my recent Buffalo News work:

  • Squeaky Wheel screened “Wild Combination,” a documentary on the late musician Arthur Russell.
  • Sam Mendes’s “King Lear” screened at the Amherst Dipson.
  • Some very cool kids at City Honors recently completed the first season of a new film series, Cinema on the Hill. The final film was Billy Wilder’s great “Some Like it Hot.”
  • And the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival began with “Orchestra of Exiles.”

 

As always, more to come …