Blog Archives

Mastery of Merchant Ivory

In an attempt to blog more, I’m looking back at a blog post that I started just over a year ago. A bit embarrassing to realize that I never posted it, but why not do so now, with some more context added?

A year ago, the Merchant-Ivory classic film Howard’s End appeared at The Maple Theatre in Bloomfield, Michigan, for a one week re-release celebrating an impending 25th anniversary and digital restoration. Somehow I learned of the screenings, probably thanks to my regular scouting of film listings and moviegoing itself serving as a stress relief at that particular time.

I recall being retrospectively impressed by the film’s use of scale, most notably seen in the lush cinematography and music score. Most of the central cast – Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and others – felt like they are not as active in the present day, or more selective about their projects (probably a mixture of both) and so looking back at their previous work felt especially revelatory.

The theatre itself – one of my favorites in the metro Detroit area – contributed to my enjoyment as well, where it only has three screens with carefully crafted film choices and isn’t oriented towards mass market entertainment.

Howards End

It feels a bit funny to say that The Remains of The Day was one of my favorite films as a kid … but it was. Somehow I never got to see its immediate Merchant Ivory cinematic universe predecessor Howard’s End all the way through as a whole film … until today at The Maple Theater, which is screening it as part of a special limited run re-release.

I’d forgotten how intricate the Merchant Ivory world was, with elements bursting out of the frame and suggesting a wider visual and active world beyond the story. Such depth was particularly apparent in this narrative, with three parallel stories intertwining, intersecting and then branching out into their own narratives.

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Revisiting Into the Wild

In anticipation of my upcoming return to the West Coast, I decided to take a look, for the first time in several years, at a seminal “West Coast” film for me – Into the Wild, originally released in the fall of 2007. Hard to believe that is almost a decade ago at this point in time!

ABQ Movies

Revisiting the same cinema in Albuquerque, February, 2014

The circumstances of when and where I first saw the film likely contributed to its lasting impact. I was spending a few days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, accompanying my mom to a conference, but with an open-ended personal schedule, just like the main character in the film, to some extent. The New Mexico crisp quality of light, color and air was in full abundance in the late October time of year, and it was my first time ever seeing the state. I’d just had a phone interview, while on that trip, that led to my first job in California, and the prospect of that transition and opportunity was even more eye-opening, again in a more structured way to what the main character of the film anticipates with his journey to Alaska.

I saw the film again 4 or 5 months later at The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, still one of the friendliest movie theatres I’ve ever spent time in. By that time I had settled in to the California lifestyle and the film took on more of a “reinforcing” of the open road feeling, as opposed to the potential of the earlier screening in New Mexico. Still, there was a yearning there, and many possibilities existed for where my path could go at that time, in a way that I see now is characteristic of one’s early 20’s, and I was right in the same age bracket that the main character of the film was during the narrative.

For some reason I was less familiar with the original story and circumstances of Chris McCandless’ life at the time, probably because the main events took place when I was much younger. However, I was aware the author Jon Krakauer was a highly-regarded fellow Hampshire College alum – yet another personal connection to the story. And the director Sean Penn would later briefly be a down the street neighbor in Marin County.

So, in 2007 and 2008 the film made a lasting impact on me, with its wide vistas of Alaskan scenery and intense story of abandoning one’s personal possessions and family members for a back to the land life. Eddie Vedder’s original songs continue to be on my personal playlist from time to time, including one particular track (that I’d forgotten is not actually featured in the film) which feels emblematic of just driving around on the West Coast, and the sense of sky and open space that is so unique to the region.

In 2015 the film feels like a time capsule to me. First on the level of its featured actors professional trajectory, such as lead Emile Hirsch perhaps finding it difficult to top the performance he gives in this film, and running into some personal troubles with law enforcement earlier this year. Of the supporting actors in that age bracket, Kristen Stewart appears in a small role and looks noticeably younger, while Jena Malone has since branched out further into a mix of popular and independent fare. The older actors in the group soldier on  in the industry, but their fortunes have also varied, with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Marcia Gay Harden among the group. And IMDB tells me director Penn is preparing his first directed film since this one for release in 2016.

I guess I wasn’t expecting to feel the distance from the narrative that I felt on this re-viewing. I’ll still continue to regard it as a key film in my West Coast life, but … I also feel how time has passed.

Throwback Thursday: Reflecting on the Scream Series

Four years ago I was very excited that there was a new “Scream” film. I didn’t note at the time that it had coincidentally been filmed right here in Michigan. I wasn’t living here at the time but had learned of the filming from local friends.

I’m having some giddy enthusiasm over the prospect of seeing SCREAM 4 today at the movies. I’m sure this is due to the memory of the SCREAM series being a big deal “back in the day” and the curiosity of seeing if this film lives up to its predecessors. I’m deliberately holding off reading any reviews of the film and will do so after seeing it. In a few other recent film-going experiences (BLACK SWAN comes to mind) I regretted taking a close look at the publicity before seeing the film.

I never saw the original SCREAM in the cinemas …. in fact, I don’t think it was originally released to the North Shore. This was before the Danvers 20 screen megaplex opened, and screening options were limited. I do remember the runaway success of the film, and watching with interest as it continued to be shown well into mid 1997. I do miss those days of long running movie hits, as the screen to DVD window is so tight now, it’s almost better to wait for the video. I did find out recently that the original film was shot in my area of California. A friend of a friend had a small supporting role. The climax of the film was shot at a house which I have driven by a few times, without realizing its so-called historical significance.

SCREAM 2 was another story. This time, it was a big deal to see the film as soon as it came out, and I eagerly compared impressions with my classmates. My dad and I were regular visitors to the Solomon Pond Mall cinema in Marlborough, MA. This complex had achieved local acclaim as “New England’s first stadium seating megaplex” and was virtually unique for the first 6 months to 1 year of operations. Hoyts quickly opened similar complexes in nearby Westborough and Bellingham, but there was something special about the first space. Or it could have been “never as good as the first time” for film goers. I think I actually saw the film again a few weeks later in Vermont, either sneaking in to the R-rated movie or going with an accompanying adult. The “live” nature of seeing it on opening weekend, with a full sold out audience also looking at it for the first time, stands out very clearly in my memory. It also helped that it was on an enormous cinema screen with stadium seating and perfect presentation.

SCREAM 3 was also a unique experience. This time, we traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Randolph for my first (and still only) visit to that South Shore megaplex. I could tell from the start that the enthusiasm wasn’t there for the production team in this installment. Neve Campbell’s virtual absence from the story, and the overly tongue in cheek Hollywood nature of the script, suggested to me that there was not a lot of excitement in the tale.

What will SCREAM 4 bring? I’m looking forward to going over to the Larkspur Landing Cinema this afternoon to find out.

Live Long and Prosper

This month has been unintentionally quiet on the blog front, likely a combination of my self-imposed hiatus from social media and increased workload in the second semester of Grad School 2.0.

However, upon hearing today’s sad news of actor Leonard Nimoy’s death, I remembered that some of my most inspired recent writing here has been about Star Trek. And I realized that I’m paying tribute to Nimoy this afternoon and early evening by (once again) spending some time at Detroit Metro Airport, located in none other than Romulus, Michigan.

I was honored to share a hometown with Mr. Nimoy, and one time, my dad and I even got to see him live. In the fall of 1995 Nimoy underwent a book tour for his recently released second memoir, I Am Spock, and one of the stops was the Somerville Theatre. Oddly, this remains the only time I’ve ever been inside that locally acclaimed venue, although I’ve been outside it many times since that fall night.

Nimoy introduced a special screening of the two Trek films he directed – The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home – and gave an “intermission” talk about his new book. There was a raffle of just a few autographed pictures he’d signed that night, and to our surprise, we won one of them! The picture occupied a prominent home location for a number of years, and I still have it, somewhere…

Inevitably I feel a little bit of “I should have seen Nimoy live again at that Star Trek convention, that special screening, that art opening” – especially since he had a well rounded career with lots of diversity beneath the surface. But I’m grateful to have that one special memory and to have witnessed his gradual embracing in his later years of being a strong role model for the younger generation, as seen in many tributes today.

Film Flashback: Nemesis, and my first California filmgoing experience

NemesisposterMy Star Trek: The Next Generation film flashback series concludes with a look at the “generation’s final journey”, Star Trek: Nemesis, which was released 12 years ago tomorrow. The film was dropped into a very crowded 2002 holiday movie season, with other franchise releases including Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsDie Another Day and (just five days after NemesisThe Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Because of this, and a general increasing antipathy towards Star Trek at the time, Nemesis suffered the dubious distinction of becoming the lowest – grossing film in the franchise and not even debuting at #1 on its opening weekend, as every previous film had done prior to its release. It was beaten by the extremely forgettable Jennifer Lopez vehicle Maid in Manhattan, and disappeared from theatres quickly over the course of the holiday season and New Year into 2003.

But let’s rewind.

In the fall of 2002 I was a freshman at Hampshire College and (once again) increasingly excited about that year’s Star Trek movie. I was confused as to why the film was already being marketed as “a (the next) generation’s final journey”. Why had Paramount already decided to phase out my favorite cast? Surely the studio was being overly judgmental. The original cast had not faced that same tagline when The Undiscovered Country was released in 1991. There was a modest amount of pre – release buzz, and at some point I got my hands on a promotional CD that included the above image, and so I made it the backdrop on my computer for a time.

Thanks to a plan to tag along with my mom on business trip she would be making to Los Angeles, I was also VERY excited that I’d be seeing the new movie IN HOLLYWOOD not far from where The Next Generation was filmed ON THE OPENING WEEKEND of the new movie at the world famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, home of many celebrity handprints, unique architecture, and with Hollywood Boulevard right at its footsteps. Nemesis had its world premiere there on December 9, just three days before we arrived in town.

It was my first time in California, and I was awestruck by the palm trees and glamour. I also had no idea of the prominent role the state would eventually play in my life, with two encore visits in January 2004, additional teasers in the fall of 2006, and then a whole new and vibrant life starting in early 2008 and continuing in a modified form today.

And so once Friday the 13th rolled around, we worked our schedule out so that we (I) could attend an opening day matinee of the new film. We had swung by the theatre with some of our hosts the night before to see the area and the then-new adjacent Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards. Our host sent us some digital pictures from that evening, but I think they have been lost to the sands of time and the rapidly evolving digital age. Needless to say, it was eye-opening for this kid from New England to finally see the bright lights of Hollywood Boulevard, with a surprisingly grungy feel clearly visible not far from the main tourist sights. I’m sure I was quite insistent that we had to make the matinee on time, even though we were coming from Culver City over to Hollywood on one of those so close but so far LA trafficked afternoons, and we did.

(Interestingly, this came full circle from Star Trek: Generations eight years earlier, which I first saw with my mom, the non-fan parent, on opening day.)

We sat near the back of the auditorium so as to get the whole Grauman’s Chinese experience, with its lush red velvet seats, intricate aisles and large, but not enormous, cinema screen. I’m sure the surround sound was up to the current standards of the time.

As for the film itself…

The cast looked noticeably older, four years after their previous voyage with Insurrection. A sense of finality pervaded the atmosphere, with dark tones around the screen. Oddly, the early moments of the film also included several out of character moments, most egregiously seen when Picard, Data and Worf stop the whole plot to go for a car chase, which leads them to a heretofore undiscovered clone of Data (even though another “brother” android had become well-established during the run of the TV series) and it figures prominently in the plot, alongside a mysterious and clearly villainous Romulan man, played by a then-unknown British actor, Tom Hardy.

Oh, and longtime on-off couple Will Riker and Deanna Troi GET MARRIED, with a short wedding scene briefly drawing Wesley Crusher and Guinan back with their old crewmates.

The plot uncomfortably mirrors Trek’s best cinematic entry, The Wrath of Khan, and I’m sure I noticed some allusions on that first viewing. Mainly I wanted to spend more time with my favorite Trek characters and take in the experience of the movie. This “family” feeling made the film’s ending, when android Data sacrifices himself for the good of the crew, come as a brutal shock, and actually made me cry in the theatre, since my favorite character was gone. It seems a little silly to think about now, but it was devastating to know that iconic character was gone.

I got over it, and in spite of the movie’s poor box office and my mixed impressions, I saw it again two more times in the theatre.

The first time was less than a week later with my dad, back in Boston at the Fenway Theatre’s largest screen. It was obvious the film would be bumped from all the showplace screens with release of The Two Towers the next day. I don’t recall my specific impressions from that viewing, and the third time around, in early January 2003 at the Cinemark in Hadley, MA, stands out clearer. By that time it was clear the film had not been a hit and would put Trek into a downward spiral. And yet, watching it again, I felt appreciative to see my favorite characters have another adventure, and spend time with them, again, like being part of a family.

In subsequent years I have rarely revisited the film, but writing about it makes me curious to do so at some point. In the mean time, the cast has often gone on record about their dislike of director Stuart Baird, who was hired by Paramount with no knowledge of the television series, and contributed greatly to the film’s focus away from established canon and roles.

Looking at the film now, it is undeniably unfortunate that The Next Generation crew’s journey ended with such a thud. They still deserve one last adventure, the series has enjoyed renewed interest since its 25th anniversary two years ago, and the cast members still are fond of each other. The sky’s the limit.

Film Flashback: First Contact

Why not continue with what is clearly a theme for this week?

First ContactStar Trek: First Contact celebrates the 18th anniversary of its release tomorrow. Something about seeing that movie on the big screen must have been a formative experience for me (the first time I ever rushed out to see a movie on opening night, perhaps?) as I have continued to recall its anniversary on this day of the year. Last year, of course, it shared the date with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

I thought I had written an earlier LiveJournal flashback entry about seeing First Contact on the big screen, but I can’t find it. So I will attempt to recount the experience here.

I was very eager to discuss the movie throughout that Friday of 7th grade, and various Trek fans sites of the time – probably message boards and magazines – had been counting down to the release for a while. Once evening rolled around, my dad, a close friend and I traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, intending to catch First Contact. But (in this pre online and mobile ticketing era) it was SOLD OUT for the night! I was pleased that all signs seemed to indicate it would be a hit, but it wasn’t feasible for us to stay for the late show. Since we were there… we ended up at the premiere screening of the weekend’s other new release, Jingle All The Way, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing dueling fathers in the holiday shopping season. We drove back home to the North Shore with a slight sense of disappointment.

The next day, my dad and I traveled along with some family friends to the General CInema in Burlington to again attempt to catch First Contact. Unfortunately my friend who had come along the previous evening was not able to join us.. We succeeded in catching a matinee of the film along with a sold-out crowd at Burlington’s largest screen, cinema 5, right in the middle of the complex. I remember appreciating the synchronicity of seeing it there, as we’d seen the first trailer for First Contact when catching Independence Day at that same cinema during the summer of 1996.

My dad and I enjoyed the film so much we saw it again just a week later back at Woburn, and for a third time at the General Cinema in Framingham on a snowy night in early January 1997. In fact, I realize that “threepeat” viewing set a pattern that I followed for the subsequent two Next Generation films in 1998 and 2002… perhaps those can be “film flashbacks” in a few weeks.

The film was the perfect adrenaline rush for a die – hard Next Generation fan like myself. Its PG-13 rating signified that Trek had embraced a new edge, where all previous films had been rated PG, except the first one with an odd G rating. The Next Generation crew were solidly on their own in this adventure, and weren’t afraid to kick some ass with their longtime Borg arch-nemeses. My favorite character, Data, got a whole story arc of his own as a captive of the Borg Queen, and also got to assert himself as the film reached a climax. The music score showed veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith returning to the series with gusto, contributing a refreshed rendition of his title theme and many additional atmospheric and memorable cues. The special effects was very much au currant for 1996, most notably seen in an extended sequence on the new Enterprise’s deflector dish. Perhaps most importantly, each member of the Enterprise crew was given at least one moment to shine or show off a particular character trait, with results showing their range from devastating drama (Picard: “the line must be drawn HERE!”) to broad comedy (Troi: : “I don’t have the time… what was I saying?”) and with the sure hand of cast member Jonathan Frakes guiding them in his cinematic directorial debut, the sky was the limit and anything was possible in Star Trek’s 30th anniversary year.