Commentary

  • January 19, 2007

    The other Broadway

    When it comes to neighborhoods with potential, downtown Los Angeles is about as rich as it gets. In it houses the largest collection of pre-war movie theaters still standing anywhere. While cities like New York and San Francisco have all but done away with their treasures, their Los Angeles counterparts are still in existence, albeit most in a shuttered state.

    In this case, the area’s decline actually helped preserve the history. Instead of the land cost rising so enormously that supporting a theater seemed like bad business, the historic core of Los Angeles has yet to fully recover from its urban plight of the latter half of the last century. For that reason, keeping the theaters up for film shoots, special events or even storage is as practical a use as any these days.

    However, a revival has been slowly gaining speed. With the western business corridor of downtown already in the midst of its renaissance, eyes are starting to turn towards the entertainment center, Broadway. Numerous theaters are making a steady income, but one classic has yet to be revitalized, one of the earliest palaces still standing in its ranks, the Million Dollar Theater.

    This is the palace Sid Grauman built before the Chinese or even the Egyptian. Its opening on Broadway in 1918 ushered in a new age of extravagance in L.A. theaters. Since closing for movies, it’s had new life as a church but that even stopped years ago. Since, it’s one of the last large theaters intact on Broadway that’s still not operational for performances.

    Hearing conflicting rumors swirling around the past few years regarding its return, I figured it was about time I went straight to the source. I got on the phone with the Million Dollar’s owner, the Yellin Company, and they put me in touch with its current tenant Robert Voskanian. I’d heard that he had planned to reopen it again after some renovations but I wasn’t quite sure which stage they were in or the extent of their plans:

  • January 12, 2007

    Men-Crying-Movies

    I hate the feeling when I know it’s coming. The film is reaching its climax and some watershed moment turns into a sad realization. Then it happens. I feel the tears coming on and I discreetly make sure the people sitting next to me don’t notice. The blinking, excessive blinking takes over. Hopefully, I can widen my eyes enough to drown the tears or just think of something completely off subject like igloos to take my mind off things. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not.

    I have a little fear about crying during movies. Not that I think I’m any less of a man for doing it but I just get a little embarrassed. It’s just that I find watching movies to be a very personal endeavor. When you experience an intimate moment like that, it feels a bit odd to have all these strangers around you.

    There are plenty of plot developments that will get me a little teary-eyed. While a death certainly gets me most of the time, I am most helpless when it comes to reunions. “Forrest Gump”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Love Actually”, name your poison. I succumb to them all. But don’t tell anyone that.

  • January 5, 2007

    The Power of Reviews

    I used to be wooed by trailers, voluntarily sucked into the theater with just a glimpse of excitement. I used to give credence to word of mouth and make it over to the theater purely based on what other people said. Recently though however, specifically the last five years, I’ve thrown that all away and now base which movies I go out and see entirely on reviews.

    Maybe it’s the cost of movies. As evidence by our recent CT poll and comments made on the pages, it seems like all of us are getting a little fed up with the skyrocketing price of first run films these days. I’ve learned to get over it by simply choosing films more wisely. That way, if I’m going to spend that money on the movie, the parking and possibly concessions, at least I feel like I’m guaranteed to get something in return.

    It becomes obsessive though. I check sites like Rotten Tomatoes so often to see what everyone is saying that by the time the movie comes out, I’m a little sick of hearing about it. I just have to know the opinions though; the random opinions, the consensus opinion and of course the thoughts of my personal favorite journalists.

    There’s more at stake too by living this kind of life. How about compromising friendships? Frequently, I’ll receive enthusiastic recommendations from a peer urging me to see a certain picture but I’ll have to turn them down because of something I read. They’ll be in shock and think I’m kidding. Eventually, they’ll just be plain insulted.

  • December 29, 2006

    Moviegoing Rituals

    Whenever I go to ArcLight to see a movie, as long as I’m with a certain friend, we always buy their caramel corn in addition to their regular popcorn. We have this little routine that she came up with where we eat some of the popcorn first to get our fingertips a bit greasy. Once they’re sufficiently oily enough, we start munching on the caramel corn. One without the other would be just okay, but together they have an unbeatable synergy. I don’t know why it works and maybe it doesn’t entirely in the end, but it’s tradition and any trip to the ArcLight feels naked without it.

    Another friend and I regularly see event films together opening night. After lining up hours in advance, as soon as they let us into the theater, we race in quickly make our way to the most center row. At the point we begin counting seats. As if just being comfortable in the centermost seats weren’t enough, we have to be positive that we are at the true middle of the auditorium. Maybe we just revel in the sightlines or maybe we get a certain satisfaction of seeing the faces of the next moviegoers arriving that look for the best seats in the house and find us in them.

    Perhaps none is more important to me these days than of course, the theater listings. It used to be that I’d just get excited when I knew the actual times a new movie would be shown opening weekend. Like I care about times now. I want to know what’s playing where.

  • December 22, 2006

    The Midnight Movie Experience

    Waiting outside in the dark for hours and it’s below freezing. Flying cross country and then back in a two day span. Checking Fandango every ten minutes to see if they’ve announced the times yet.

    Before I found my love for movie theaters, I had my passion for movies. One of the extra special parts of moviegoing is when those big event films come out. You might have seen the trailer six months or even a year earlier. As the months go by, the anticipation only grows. And then finally, one day, it’s release day.

    For me, when it comes to big event films, there’s only one way to go; the midnight movie opening night. No matter how little sleep I got the night before, if it’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time, I am wired once the late evening comes around. There’s just something about seeing a movie like that when it’s just you and the hardcore fans. Plus, the guarantee of almost no children doesn’t hurt either.

    With one friend we even have this deal where each year one of us travels cross country to the other and we see the most highly-anticipated event film of the year. Of course, we see it at midnight at the most prime location in town. Sometimes, what we’re actually going to see is up for debate but never how we’re going to see it. Our parents to this day don’t quite understand why someone would take a vacation just to see a movie.

    While I seem to have years and years experience being that I have so many memories, that’s not quite true. My midnight movie memories are entirely restricted to the past ten years. I’m anxious to know how this tradition has changed over the years. Of course I’ve read about it in the 70’s but what about before that? For something so tied to the event films that have been such a huge part of moviegoing since “Jaws”, how does it translate to different genres and times?

  • December 15, 2006

    The importance of feedback

    We’ve all been there. The crying baby two rows back, the obnoxious teenagers that keep cracking jokes every five seconds oblivious to the fact that they’re surrounded by three hundred people, and of course the cell phone users that need no introduction. In a lot of ways, the moviegoing experience has really deteriorated lately.

    That doesn’t mean it has to go any further though. I know it’s a little intimidating sometimes but we ambassadors of all things that are good about cinema need to step up and let our voices be heard. If anything is going to change about movie theaters, it’s going to take an entire wave of public opinion to do it. But if we’re articulate and we possibly point out some positive notes too, maybe we can have some impact.

    Talking to your local theater is a good start. Nothing is more effective than telling someone your thoughts face to face. With the larger chains though, it might take a bit more convincing. However, we’re lucky enough to get some platforms for each(Regal, AMC, Cinemark). Search for the best way to contact the powers that be at your local theater and see how receptive they are.

  • December 8, 2006

    Theater parking lots and you

    We’ve all heard the story so many times. Wouldn’t it have been great to wakeup and be in the 1930’s. Not because of the economic conditions and not because of anyone in particular, but for the movie theaters. This was golden age and it was going well until the suburbs came along twenty years later by kneading the population across a much larger landscape.

    For the past decade, we’ve been at a new crossroads as well. A lot of our favorite triplexes and early multiplexes are getting phased out for new grander megaplexes. However, this transformation coincides with the last one. Just as people began going to smaller neighborhood theaters due to convenience, the same applies today. Not only because of the material amenities becoming more and more standard but because of the most precious commodity in some cities today, parking.

    How much has the amount of available parking doomed or celebrated your local theater? Expansive exterior parking lots seem to go hand in hand with the new stand alone megaplexes. One can hardly find a more irritating experience than circling around a tight lot for a prized space. As a result, huge pieces of property have been partitioned off to make sure this doesn’t happen, at least during anytime but the most high traffic days.

    The ease of parking has also been improved quite a bit. From different sized spaces to high tech lots that tell you the precise number of available spots on any given level. Let’s not forget about how much easier it’s gotten to get out of them. Prepay machines and lots where you in advance by space number are all the more common.

  • December 1, 2006

    The Wonderful Art of Seat Saving

    I can’t begin to tell you how much it pissed me off when my buddy told me we’d be saving seats for his sister when we saw “Munich” one Saturday night. Not just his sister but her husband and two of their friends. I didn’t even know any of these people and here I am sticking my neck out, letting them tarnish my perfect opening weekend experience.

    To understand exactly the degree to which this bothered me, you have to realize the tradition that was being jeopardized. For years, he and I have seen every Steven Spielberg film either opening night or opening weekend. Crossing state lines, going to the theater on no sleep; nothing ever stopped us from the event. Almost nothing, until his sister had to have dinner.

    So we were seeing this film the night after I’d just taken a red eye back from Los Angeles. Exhausted, I went to sleep until just before I had to drive to the theater. We only left time to get to the theater an hour in advance so we could procure the best seats in the house. Then I received the exciting news that we would have to save four prime seats next to us. I hadn’t planned on having dinner until afterwards. Some TGI Fridays chicken strips sounded pretty nice to me too at the time but I sacrificed them for my opening weekend experience. Not them though. Not the people that would end up watching the film from almost as good a sightline as I.

    As we came closer and closer to showtime, I became more and more well versed in spotting those eyeing our seats and waving them off. By the end, I didn’t even have to use any words cause I had the hand motions down to a science.

  • November 17, 2006

    The Mainstream/Indy Theater

    Going into Manhattan as a teenager was a special occasion. Before that, the extent of my travels into “the city” was the yearly trips in with my parents to see a show or go to an art museum. I was always mystified by all New York had to offer and once I had the chance to choose what to take from it, I was in heaven.

    As a fan of film and a budding screenwriter, Manhattan opened the door to more cinema opportunities than I ever thought possible. I’ll never forget my first trip to the Angelika. I was more than accustomed to the idea of a multiplex but never one that specifically showcased independent films. These weren’t just any indy films either. These were the hottest independent films of the day, many in exclusive engagements, playing nowhere else in the city at that time. From the moment I stepped inside the theater’s lobby, I knew this place was to become a regular addition to every trip into the city I made.

    As the 90’s came to a close, I would still frequent the Angelika along with the local theaters of my native Westchester like the Fine Arts and Greenburgh Cinema 100 whenever I wanted my indy flick fix. Something was happening though and I was starting to notice it even then.

    In 1996, four of the five Best Picture Nominees were independent films. The slate of directors like Mike Leigh and the Coen Brothers seemed better fit for Cannes than Hollywood. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but looking back on it, how was it not inevitable that the industry would cash in on this growing contingent. A couple years later, I saw “Rushmore” at my local multiplex thinking it would be a standard comedy. Only when it was over did I realize that Wes Anderson might have had his bills paid by Buena Vista, but he was very much an independent director.