Monday, June 23, 2008

The Movies Goes to the Movies: True Romance

True Romance (1993, Tony Scott)
Vista Theatre, Los Feliz/East Hollywood

"So we'd both fuck Elvis? It's nice to meet people with common interests."

The quality of these picture leaves something to be desired, especially since within the frame is a mistake worthy of the old Premiere Magazine "Gaffe Squad" feature. In the upper mid-frame, just left of the marquee, you can see that we are at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. An intersection I assume you won't find in Detroit; to wit: the first act of True Romance is set in Detroit (again, if this snapped shot came out better you could see Detroit written in the taxi light), but like many productions, certain scenes set in one place were shot elsewhere, in this case Los Angeles, including this exterior shot of the Vista Theatre's marquee.

While it doesn't have the world renowned reputation of the other still operating, first-run, one screen palaces in town, Grauman's Chinese and the Cinerama Dome, the Vista is just as worthy of your dime (a dime that will actually go further since admission for evening shows are $8, a full three or four dollars cheaper than those other ones) for many reasons: a.) Unlike those two, it is neither connected to a shopping center nor operated by a corporate chain. It is a bonafide neighborhood theatre and subject just as much to the whims of its clientele as it is the whims of the studios. {A personal note, it is the only movie theatre within walking distance from my place.} b.) Thanks to renovations between 1998-2000, the exterior and interior were restored to their former lavish Egytpian inspired decor. If you have been to the Vista, compare the current state of the auditorium to the framegrab below that predates the renovation. c.) This may apply only to taller readers, but your 6'3" author appreciates the legroom they offer, it appears as if every other row of seats have been removed. d.) Charm & Presentation--I get the feeling the Vista is aware that it is the red-headed stepchild to the Dome and Chinese, yet it embraces this stature. The front of the theatre features names in footprints, but you won't find Marilyn Monroe or Harrison Ford's prints, no, you get such B and cult movie luminaries as Forrest Auckerman, Bud Cort and Elvira. They still do the opening of the curtain before the feature. And the manager, who has been with the company for 20 years usually dressing in appropriate to the feature playing there costume when he takes your ticket. For example, he was dressed as a cowboy when I saw Brokeback Mountain there and in both a Superman and Iron Man outfit when those played.

The Vista Theater opened in 1923 on what was once the set of D.W. Griffith's silent epic Intolerance. It has gone through several identity changes in it's eighty plus years: it's served as a vaudevillian stage, a first-run premiere showcase, a second-run theatre, showed gay pornography in the 1970's, was a repertory theatre in the 1980's. Currently, once gain, it books first-run major studio and independent fare. It's many reinventions matching those of the neighborhood itself throughout the years.

As for the film, I was somewhat hesitant to revisit it for the first time in over a decade, it meant a lot to me as a teenager, and sometimes when nostalgia and reality collide, nostalgia is the worse for wear. However, True Romance has aged gracefully. Lover of the quick edit and over-the-top tinting, director Tony Scott shows remarkable restraint, allowing the script and the performances to the forefront, well, with the exception of the action sequences, where his penchant for theatrics reveals itself with his need for utter destruction of any and all peripheral objects in the room to amp the experience. To paraphrase a famous Navin Johnson quote "Aquariums. This guy hates aquariums!" The film still feels fresh, I especially appreciate the way it allows itself moments of distractions, most famously in the Dennis Hopper-Christopher Walken "Sicilian story" which is still a highlight even while it keeps us from the main storyline for a good five plus minutes. True Romance is the meeting point of two forces, where the independent an innovative film literate world of screenwriter Quentin Tarantino encounters the big blockbuster action milieu of director Scott, yet it is Scott's instincts, including employing a more basic structure than the fractured narrative in Tarantino's original script and adding an appropriate and earned happy ending, both of which are dead right for its dreamy cinematic tone. Its a loving tribute to and mosaic of American cinema: romance, road trip, action, comedy and fantasy, specifically male fantasy--a comic book store working, kung fu movie worshiping geek meets a beautiful woman who loves everything about him, and together he becomes the Elvis like badass of his own action story. Special note should be given to the actors who all give energetic and note perfect performances from the leads Christian Slater (who is so charismatic in this and Heathers yet so stilted and uninteresting in most other performances) and Patricia Arquette through the supporting cast many of whose roles equal little more than cameos, including the aforementioned Hopper and Walken as well as a brutal pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini, a post-Perfect Strangers Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapport, Val Kilmer (whose face is never even fully seen), a hilarious Brad Pitt, Saul Rubinek, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Kevin Corrigan and Paul Ben-Victor (character actor extraordinaire probably best known as the Greek's right-hand man in The Wire).

Simply put, True Romance and The Vista represent two of the reasons I love cinema.

For more information on the Vista Theatre, here's it's entry at Cinema Treasures.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oh the Things You Can Do in 48 Hours

This weekend, a few friends and myself took part in the annual 48 Hour Film Festival in Los Angeles. The concept is that in the span of two days a group of filmmakers conceive a short film of a length between four to seven minutes. Each group is given a genre (ours was thriller/mystery), a prop (three or more potatoes), a line of dialogue ("Leave it to me, I'm a professional") and a character (Ronald or Rhonda Donnellson) that all need to be incorporated into the film.

Was depriving ourselves of sleep and quality meals for a weekend worth it? I'll let you decide for yourself, I present thee with this link to The 1/2 Inch Paradox.

In case you are wondering, yes, it's supposed to be funny, and yes the word "potato" or it's plural, is misspelled twice, once on purpose, once not so much. My role in the production was kind of a jack of all trades, I helped a lot with the script, served as grip, shot and directed a couple of scenes (pretty much interchangeable in such a brief production timeline), served as an ad hoc script supervisor and yes, that taller and svelter than normal Santa Claus is none other than your humble author.

In case you feel the need to see this theatrically, the way god, Buddha, Lil' Baby Jesus and Sid Grauman intended you to see motion pictures, it will be shown (as well as several others groups' films) tomorrow at the Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles at 8:15 PM.

At the last we gave it more of an effort than the Lakers last night.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stan Winston (1946-2008)

In wake of the sad news of make-up and special effects designer (and director of Pumpkinhead!), Stan Winston, I would like to thank him, as well as the likes of Rob Bottin, Rick Baker and Tom Savini, for his lovingly detailed oriented approach in both handmade and digital effect rendering and instilling in me a predilection towards his ethic over the ever increasingly lazy and over saturated CGI approach that is all too common these days (see the new Indiana Jones film, the Star Wars prequels, Transformers, et cetera).

Here's a link to an appreciation at Ain't it Cool from some of the directors who he had collaborated with throughout his illustrious career, including James Cameron, Joe Dante and Frank Darabont.

And here are some of his most notable creations:

The Terminator:
Edward Scissorands:
Terminator 2 (The T-1000):
Jurassic Park (T-Rex):
Those last two creations particularly wowed this author in his teenage years.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Voorhees' Family Values

I'd be remiss if I skipped another Friday the 13th without paying homage to the film series that helped increase awareness of the peculiarities of this date.

The first experience I've ever had with the horror genre was at the age of seven, when late one night I snuck into the kitchen and caught a few minutes of Friday the 13th part III which my father was watching on Betamax in the living room. Obviously, my life was forever altered. It wasn't until part VII (The New Blood) in 1988 that I was able to see a Friday the 13th film theatrically, though I do remember catching some scenes from part VI by ever so slightly contorting my head in the direction of another screen at the Drive-In when I was ostensibly watching Howard the Duck. True story! What's more, I actually kind of liked Howard. Hey, I was 10.

So in tribute to the series that I had memorized as a teenager, I am posting this video I found on YouTube that features every kill scene from every Friday movie. This video is obviously not safe for work, unless, of course, you work as a counselor for Camp Crystal Lake, in which case, please study the footage and use it as an educational tool.

And because it wouldn't be Friday the 13th without a quickly produced follow-up, here for you title sequence enthusiasts are the opening titles to each film:

I particularly enjoy the fidelity in the usage of the boldly fonted title fast approaching the screen in the first three films (crashing into and breaking glass in part I, exploding in part II, comin' at you third dimensionally in part III). For part IV aka The Final Chapter, judging by the way the title is written, the graphic design budget must have been cut severely, however slight redemption comes by way of having the subtitle collide with Jason's hockey mask causing a dramatic explosion!?! (Kids remember, the combination of hockey masks and titles may cause combustion!) For part V aka The New Beginning, they bring back the original title font but the twist this time is that the hockey mask collides with the title causing the explosion (see, it is a new beginning after all). Part VI, Jason Lives, features the awesome Bond reference as well as two firsts: the first time the size of the subtitle is exponentially larger than the Friday the 13th portion as well as the first time the font in the title was represented in the scrawling manner matching the type on the posters. This would be replicated in the title sequences of part VII (which this time has the hockey mask crack in half) and part VIII, which is the first time the title is printed atop an actual filmed image, stock footage of Times Square circa 1989. The less said about the cheap computer graphics utilized in the three New Line films, the better.

Like any good zombified homicidal maniac, you can't keep Jason away for long, the series will get a reboot next year when Michael Bay's production company, Platinum Dunes, will release a remake. Yes, that's the same company that has released remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher and has remakes of The Birds (gasp!) and Rosemary's Baby (double gasp!!) in the pipeline. You may remember their company credo: "Original Thought? Yo, Fuck dat noize!"

Happy Friday the 13th!

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Movies Go to the Movies: Ed Wood

Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)
The Pantages Theatre, Hollywood, CA

"This is the one, this is the one I'll be remembered for"

Seeing as I am as much a movie theatre geek as I am a movie geek, I thought I'd add a new feature (because if there's one thing my blog needs-it's another rarely updated feature!) consisting of shots of movie theatres in movies. Caveat: I plan on focusing on theatres I've been to or whose locations (current or old) I am aware of, which pretty much consists entirely of those in Northern or Southern California, the former where I grew up and the latter where I currently live, though if I catch an image of a movie theatre I know from my travels, I will include that as well.

The inaugural entry is from one of my favorite films of the 1990s, Ed Wood, a film in which screenwriters Larry Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and director Tim Burton recontextualized their subject's life, the man considered the "worst director of all time", as a triumph, whilst not completely dismissing personal issues (alcoholism, exploitation of friends). The screenwriters accomplish this by structuring the film around Wood's friendship with Bela Lugosi and telling the story entirely from the director's perspective. In the DVD commentary the writers make mention of how Sarah Jessica Parker's character was seen by many a viewer as a villain, but in reality she was saintly to a fault and stayed with him long past the point most would.

Ed Wood also has a personal connection for me. In 1993, I was assisting my uncle, a low budget horror filmmaker in his own right, with a film shoot on a day when a few blocks down Burton and company were shooting a scene on Hollywood Blvd (a scene of Martin Landau and Johnny Depp walking and talking). I got to see a couple of takes and how much loving detail the filmmakers put into recreating the era, which is evident in the film with it's black and white cinematography and drunk in love with the B-movie ethic of the era tone.

The Pantages Theatre opened on June 4th, 1930. Howard Hughes purchased it in 1949 and in the fifties it served as home for the Academy Awards. In 1977 it shifted from a cinema to a live theatre venue. For the last two years Wicked has been in performance there. Three years ago, I saw a concert by a person with a slightly higher critical artistic reputation than Mr. Wood, Bob Dylan.

Just a guess, Plan 9 From Outer Space probably never played there.
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