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The Great Canadian Digital Film Festival

StandeeI was reminded of why I make a point of regularly checking the listings at the Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall when some old favorite films randomly appeared up on their schedule this past week. It turned out the cinema was taking part in a one week only “Great Digital Film Festival” – spotlighting classic films centered on fantasy, science fiction and adventure all across Canada. It seems this event has become a tradition for Cineplex filmgoers in recent years, and the impressively quirky lineup shows that they are programming for film lovers and not just to make some money off ticket sales.

For me, the choice of Blade Runner and Dick Tracy stood out the most, and conveniently, they were both showing on the same day. This was an audacious trek over the border, given that it happened to be last Sunday, the day the metro Detroit area received one of its largest snowfalls in a 24 hour period ever. But I forged ahead. When I did reach the Devonshire Mall, the cinema was not surprisingly sparsely populated.

Blade Runner AdBlade Runner was up first, and I’d actually previously seen the film on the big screen at the Palm Theatre back in 2008. But (no offense to the charming and unique Palm) the Devonshire Mall has a much more substantial film viewing experience, so I knew this time would be a fuller sensory experience. And that was just the case, with a crystal – clear print, Vangelis’ unique soundtrack oozing over the speakers, and the moody cinematography gaining more depth in its onscreen presentation where it should be.

It was a sort of “oh, aha!” moment to remember that the film takes place in 2019, which, of course, isn’t that far away at this point in time. I’d forgotten that a few of the lines of dialogue concerning Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah and co.’s replicant characters reference 2016 and 2017, just around the corner. Cineplex realized this coincidence as well and humorously played on it with their in-house advertising, as seen at right.

A long-awaited sequel to the film is reportedly close to shooting, but I have to wonder if they’ll delay the release until 2019 itself? It’s great to see the original film continuing to hold up so well and become even more prescient about our increasingly digital – obsessed world.

Dick Tracy was the evening show, and this was a major cinematic update for me, as I clearly recall seeing that film during its original run almost 25 years ago at the Star Theatre in St. Johnsbury, VT, even though I was just shy of my sixth birthday at the time – maybe it was one of the first “event movies” I ever saw?

Looking at the film now was, needless to say, a different experience. There was Warren Beatty in the lead, entering the autumn years of his career and playing a role that could/should have been played by someone younger – I believe Beatty was in his early or mid 50’s at the time of filming. There was Madonna, coming off her stratospheric debut decade and beginning the first of many image transformations over her long career. There was Al Pacino, overacting as usual and made up to be heftier onscreen. There was a boat load of other character actors, perhaps having more fun than the main cast in various levels of makeup and elaborate guises.

I’m certain I didn’t notice the technical mastery of the film when I looked at it through younger eyes. Today’s comic book movies really ought to have looked more closely at Beatty and co.’s depiction of a fabled world, using a very specific color scheme and deliberate lighting and editing choices, leading to Academy Awards for best makeup and art direction. As well, acclaimed composer Stephen Sondheim lent his distinctive composition talents to the movie’s original songs, and that led to an Academy Award for the main theme, “Sooner or Later“.

I don’t think I would enjoy Dick Tracy if I saw it for the first time today – the cartoonish violence overwhelms the main story, and is surprising given the PG rating, the characterizations are way over the top, Beatty is perhaps too old for the main role, and so on. But it sure was a big event movie in the summer of 1990 – I remember acquiring several collectable cards and likely a few other “must have” items related to the movie – so I’ll always recall its impact on that particular summer, like the best type of time capsule.

Thanks are due to Cineplex Odeon for programming these classics. I’ll look forward to seeing what they have up their sleeves next year.

Rita Moreno visits Detroit (another classy evening at the Redford Theatre)

IMG_20140927_192324This past weekend, I was pleased to join a large and nearly sold out crowd at the Redford Theatre to welcome acclaimed actress Rita Moreno to Detroit. The theatre offered three opportunities to meet Moreno and watch her classic West Side Story on their beautiful screen, and I’m sure that the Saturday night screening I attended was the most popular. I first heard about this event over six months ago at the theatre’s similarly festive winter evening to honor Pam Grier (recapped in a blog post) and didn’t think I would attend. But a few days before the weekend, I thought about it again and figured it was worth it, especially since Moreno is a Bay Area resident who I had not encountered during my time there, though she appears semi – frequently at events related to Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I did not expect her to be so classy and elegant in all aspects of her presence, which was a wonderful surprise.

IMG_20140927_195123The theatre was packed as I scanned the main level for a place to sit. Surprisingly, there were several seats left in the first couple of rows, and so I snagged a spot in the second row. Once the lights went down and Ms. Moreno appeared alongside a local radio interviewer, I realized I’d gotten the best seat in the house! The two of them stayed in that far stage right area and did not move around the stage, which made for optimum photo taking from my seat just six feet away or so.

 

IMG_20140927_201336Moreno offered numerous past and present anecdotes from her career in a warm, honey silk tone of voice. When the two of them returned at the film’s intermission, she playfully used his sweaty state as a way to raise the tension and immediacy as they talked in full view of the audience. The interviewer (wish I’d written down his name, but he’s definitely based in Ann Arbor) guided Moreno through what seemed to be some repetition from the previous night’s topics and some new material. She seemed to particularly appreciate The Electric Company‘s historical place in her career, while also noting later roles such as her work in Oz and multiple series work with Fran Drescher.

Regarding West Side Story, Moreno’s stories focused on the understandably grueling process of learning difficult choreography from (the reportedly difficult) choreographer Jerome Robbins, who took no favorites among the cast and crew, and was reportedly not well liked by anyone involved in the production. But at the same time, she noted that his keen visual sense contributed to the film’s precise and enduring visual style. She also noted that her most well – known song, America, featured a style of dancing different than what she was accustomed to at the time.

The Redford later played a recap of her amazingly brief 1962 Academy Awards acceptance speech, and Moreno seemed slightly embarrassed to revisit the memory, saying that she had made peace with the moment in her past, but would have honored more of her Puerto Rican and Hispanic compatriots if she could do it again. She noted that her receipt of a SAG lifetime achievement award early this year, presented by her past co-star Morgan Freeman, felt like a more fitting tribute for her and opportunity to pay homage to her entire industry work as opposed to a single performance.

The Redford had a surprise up their sleeves for Ms. Moreno and those of us in the audience. The West Side Story intermission included a special performance by a local dance troupe perfuming new choreography to America, with Moreno watching in the audience from a seat specially engraved with her name. The troupe members appeared to be mid to late high school age, and deftly navigated the stage with style and flair in their movement. I’m sure it was a thrill for them to meet Moreno directly following their performance and get a photo with her, while being witnessed by those of us in the audience.

IMG_20140927_223540Ms. Moreno’s verbosity, appeal and good humor almost overshadowed the screening of West Side Story itself. She and the interviewer even left their pre-show conversation by saying “we’ve got to show this movie!”

I found it appealing and intense to see a classic in its rightful place on the big screen. Elements of the film, including its choreography and slightly psychedelic 1960s visual moments, seemed to POP more on the big screen. On the other hand, my more mature viewpoint observed various acting choices I most likely did not notice in my early viewings of the film as a pre-teen. And, later, I found myself wondering about the career trajectories of various members of the cast, most notably Natalie Wood, who died in 1981 under mysterious circumstances.

But Rita Moreno’s in-person presence and integrity stood out in the film viewing – the audience erupted into applause on several occasions when she appeared onscreen – and proved why she has been and continues to be an enduring legend in the entertainment world.

Kudos to the Redford Theatre for another memorable tribute evening. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing who they next line up to visit their movie palace.