Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015, My Year in Classic Film – I Wish I Had Done the Math

I don't see a lot of movies in the theater. Scratch that, I don't see a lot of new movies in the theater. This year, I saw a total of six new films in the theater:
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Avengers: Age Of Ultron
  • Jurassic World
  • Trumbo
  • Hitchcock Truffaut
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
It's almost new year, and unless I make it to The Hateful Eight before the 1st, I assume that number is going to hold. This is pretty typical for me. Seeing about six new movies in the theater in a year is probably what I've done every year for the last 10 or more years.

I actually saw over over 64 movies in the theater in 2015. The six new ones account for about 10% of the total. The rest (58) were classic films. I know the number 58 is not correct. I know that there are a few that I'm not thinking of. Hence, I wish I had done the math. My New Year's resolution is to write down all of the movies I see in the theater in 2016. That way, if I decide to do this silliness next year, I won't have to dredge through old schedules, tweets, and blog posts to figure it out. I did attend three classic film festivals in 2015, Universal Suspects, a year long festival showing 31 Universal Monster movies once a month (I saw 11 of them),  the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF, saw 13), and the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival (saw all 8).

If you exclude the films I saw at festivals, there were still 26 classics to 6 new films, not bad, considering I live in San Diego, not New York or Los Angeles. The 26 films were spread out over 9 venues. 

Four were traditional theaters, showing Fathom Events screenings, or one of their own special screenings where they show an old movie one or two times only. Three were Indy theaters, where they mostly show foreign and Indy films, and only have limited offerings of classic films. One is a tiny outside theater in the back of a restaurant, where you sit on reclining chairs patio chairs with blankets and heaters. This is the only one where they show mostly classics, but they are only open four nights a week during the summer, two or three nights the rest of the year. The last couple of months they switched to showing new movies and have yet to post a schedule for January. The last venue was the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion, The Phantom of the Opera (silent with live organ accompaniment) on Halloween night.

So you're probably wondering why I writing this. Is it just to brag about the movies I've seen? Well, partly. But the other reason is that I want people to know that even if you don't live in a town where they don't have a lot of theaters that show old movies, you should have access to some. I live in San Diego. I'm sure it's better than some cities, but I know for a fact that it is worse than others. 

Fathom Events brings classic films to theaters across the nation. I just checked half a dozen cities, Des Moine, IA, Mobile, AL, Hartford, CT, Omaha, NB, Anchorage, AK, and Medford, OR, and all had screenings scheduled for January. Their web site currently list the classics they will be showing through November 2016:
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Jan 17 and 20)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Feb 21 and 24)
  • The Ten Commandments (Mar 20 and 23)
  • On the Waterfront (Apr 24 and 27)
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off (May 15 and 18)
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Jun 26 and 29)
  • The Planet of the Apes (Jul 24 and 27)
  • The King and I (Aug 28 and 31)
  • Dr. Strangelove (Sep 18 and 21)
  • The Shining (Oct 23 and 26)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's (Nov 27 and 30)

Some pretty good stuff there. I'm most psyched on The Maltese Falcon, On the Waterfront, and The Planet of the Apes. The folks who did the Universal Suspects festival are planning a year-long Hammer Horror festival. And I have already bought my passes to TCMFF, so 2016 is looking pretty good.

About three months ago, I started keeping a calendar of all classic films I can find showing in San Diego. I update it once a month. It forces me to scour the internet for screenings. I made it public, but as far as I know I'm the only one using it. There's a link at the top of the page. Just knowing that something is coming up makes me more likely to go out and see it. I now have a number of places I know to look and occasionally I stumble on new ones. The Coronado Island Film Festival is coming up in January, and they will be showing at least some classics including Some Like It Hot

Seeing great old films in the theater is wonderful. I know that film festivals are expensive, TCMFF especially so. The cost of travel, hotel, and the festival itself might not be doable for a lot of people. I consider myself very lucky that I can do some. Still, you should be able to take in the Fathom Events screenings unless you live in the middle of nowhere. I can't help you with that. 

Look around, you never know what you may find. October tends to be a good month as a lot of places will show horror movies for Halloween. Summers you might be able to find movies in the park. The local library might show film noir or a university might show schlocky science fiction. It's worth the effort to see these films the way they were meant to be seen on the big screen with an audience. Even films, you don't like all that well tend to be better, and by supporting those who show them, you encourage them to do more.

In case you're wondering, the 26 films are listed below. Two are from the 1990s (The Iron Giant, 1999, is the newest, a classic in my book), four are from the 1980s, and two are from the 1970s. The rest are all 1960s or older:

  • Roman Holiday
  • The Good The Bad and The Ugly
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • All About Eve
  • The Phantom Of the Opera
  • Dracula
  • Dracula [Spanish Language version]
  • Duel
  • The Black Cat
  • Dial M for Murder
  • An American Werewolf in London
  • Rafifi
  • Dead Ringer
  • Strait Jacket
  • Duck Soup
  • Iron Giant
  • The Third Man
  • Jaws
  • Double Indemnity
  • Top Gun
  • Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Sunset Blvd.
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Blade Runner: The Final Cut
  • The Shawshank Redemption

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Prime Rib and Joan Crawford

Last night we went to dinner at a place I had never been to, despite having driven past hundreds of times. We used to live with my wife's mother in Southeast San Diego. This is a predominantly black and Latino area, and there really isn't much there other than the mom and pop liquor stores and taco shops (actually marginally better now than it used to be in that respect).

When we went shopping or wanted takeout food, we almost always went to National City, which borders San Diego to the south and was only about 8 blocks from where we lived.  The main north-south street in that part of National City is Highland Avenue. We used to call it eater's row, because it has every fast food known to man on it. About where all of the fast-food places start of give way to more normal businesses, there is a restaurant called Cafe La Maze, a place that looks like it's been there forever, because, well, it kinda has, at least by San Diego standards. 

I always assumed it was a sit-down Mexican place. La Maze to me sounds vaguely Spanish, and in San Diego, that usually means Mexican food. I would have never guessed that it was a steakhouse, nor that it was a haunt for old guard Hollywood. Cafe La Maze opened in 1940 and catered to Hollywood, stars such as  Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and Johnny Weissmuller. Back then, that stretch of Highland Avenue would have been the road you took south to the horse races at Agua Calliente in Tijuana. According to the web site, they even had a secret gambling room upstairs.

Our friend Anastasia suggested we go when she found out the place was classic film related. The place is definitely old school, red velvet wallpaper and pictures of classic film stars above each booth. The food was excellent. I had a rib eye and everyone else had prime rib in a booth with a young Joan Crawford watching us eat. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday night three days before Christmas. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Five Things I'm Expecting from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I haven't seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, so don't worry about spoilers. It's been out in theaters for about 48 hours now. Yeah, I know, what's wrong with me. I'm planning on seeing it in the next couple of weeks, and I'll do my best to avoid spoilers in that time. I spend way more time on Twitter than Facebook, so I kinda figure how bad can a spoiler be at 140 characters. I am not a huge fan of Star Wars, so if a spoiler or two sneak through my poorly constructed net, I'm probably not going to open any veins.

There are five things I'm expecting from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I honestly don't think I'm going to be disappointed:

1. Fun. At their best, Star Wars films are fun. I'm sure the J.J. Abrams understands this, has shot for that, and likely hit the mark.

2. Kind of a Stupid Story. This is the main reason I don't consider myself a fan of the franchise. At 14, when I saw the first film, Episode IV, Star Wars. I flatly refuse to use those three words to describe it. I came out of the theater pumped like the rest of the audience. The special effects were like nothing you had ever and still hold up almost 40 years later. But I was also kind of disappointed. I couldn't help comparing the story of Star Wars to other great films I had seen at that point in my life, and storywise it wasn't even close. Face it, Star Wars is only Science Fiction because it's set in space. The story could just as easily be a Western or Sword and Sorcery film. You really wouldn't have to change much. I guess If you want  Science Fiction, you should read a book. Or watch Twelve Monkeys, or any of a dozen other movies that have way better science fiction plots than Star Wars.

3. Cool Stuff. This is main reason I have what little affection I have for Star Wars. The films abound with cool stuff. Light sabers are cool. Blasters are cool. Force choke is cool. X-wing and Tie fighters are cool. The Millennium Falcon, way cool. I fully expect Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be full of cool stuff. That's the main reason I'm going to see it, and the only reason I'm even sort of worried about spoilers.

4. Annoying Characters.  In Star Wars, cool stuff and annoying characters walk hand in hand. I guess it's like the light and dark side of the Force. Do I need to explain? Whiny characters, Luke, Princess Leia, Anakin, .... Annoyingly cute characters, C-3PO, wookies, Jar-Jar, .... Lame villains, Darth Maul, General Grievous, I'm looking at you. Or cool villians, who evolve into lame. Yes, Darth, that would be you. It's too late to become a good dad. You have to do what all bad dads have done throughout history: remarry and screw up a new batch of kid. In any Star Wars movie, there's usually a small handful of characters who are not annoying, Han Solo, Chewy, Obie-Wan, the rest, forget about it.

5. A Movie Better Than the George Lucas Films. I know this is not setting the bar very high, but I do like to end on a positive note.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

µ-Blog – Breaking Bad Parenting

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

My 15-year-old daughter and I started binge watching Breaking Bad together. I've already seen the whole series all the way through. I'd watched every episode as they came out from the very beginning as they came out, back when hardly anyone was watching the show.

Going through the series again like this, there are a ton of things that you don't remember. Last night, my wife and I were talking, and I was telling her about one of those minor but really cool plot points (Walter making batteries to jump start the RV when it had died in the middle of nowhere).

My wife says, "You know, we really should have that girl watch something nice every now and then."

"Hey," I replied. "I had her watch Casablanca." My wife gives me a look. "Then, again I also had her watch Night of the Hunter."