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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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Musings, Ramblings
  December 2011 / January 2012

Jim at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where films are shown
 Saturday nights.  Before the tomb of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. & Jr.
... with a cup of Francis Ford Coppola's '05 Cabernet.

      Blind dates pretty much suck.  The creative kind I’m talking about.  Someone knows you’re a writer or musician, an artist, filmmaker or designer, and they just have to introduce you to “someone I just know you’ll hit it off with”.  How it usually goes is kinda like that episode of FRAISER (Hey shut up! That show’s damned funny!) - the one where he and his producer / friend Roz set up their respective parents.  One of the parents found the date a crashing bore, the other had the time of their lives; then proverbial “antics” ensue as everyone tries to be polite, not hurt the other’s feelings … and maybe try to hook up with that other person over there across the room in whom they’re really  interested. 

     My manager Bob is aware of this.  As he’s also aware I’m something of workaholic, lone wolf and cinema history crack-baby,  I was a little surprised, after I’d go off on some film history jag,  when he’d say “Jeez! You and Delaney man! You guys have gotta talk!”.  I mean really, the only thing worse than being “hooked up creatively” with someone you have nothing in common with, is possibly to be locked in a room with someone with whom you do.  Another such celluloid crack-baby with film easing from every pore could be irritating - like that old Groucho Marx joke “I’d never want to be part of a club that would actually have me as a member”.  

      So I first checked out Jim's website, The Lunch Movie.  And wow, was I blown away!  It’s basic structure (and name) comes from the fact that as a young (he refers to it as) "jack-of-all-trades administrative wonk" at a large LA talent agency, he and others like him would have lunchtime “film festivals” of all kinds of cinema.  His site intro states it better than I ever could:

     In the spring of 1996, a few nerds working in a Los Angeles talent agency began spending our lunch hour watching movies. For the next 12 years we watched 1 or 2 movies per week, starting with the STAR WARS Trilogy, before that term required an "old or new" clarification. Thanks to imported DVDs, we watched Lars von Trier's DOGVILLE before it opened in the U.S. and Wong Kar Wai's 2046 the week before it secured U.S. distribution.

     We watched old & new, black-n-white & color, documentaries & silents, epics & the occasional short, dubbed foreign & subtitled, high art, low art and no art. We watched everything we could get our hands on, looking for that spark that made some writer, some producer, some director, some performer say "I gotta make this movie."

     This was a true lover of film here and not just a geek.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not hatin’ on the geeks; I’m one of ‘em.  But there is a difference.  Not all movie geeks are film lovers.  But you can’t be a movie lover without being a film geek.  See what I mean?  Here was a guy who enjoyed not just watching and digging the films, but enjoyed getting into the warp and weft of what made then work on an audience … as well as how and why they worked.  For a great example check out his recent posting (11/20/11) on Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING.  It’s a follow up “After Thought” on an original 2008 posting.  And hey, anyone who can use TOMBSTONE / WYATT EARP and THE RIGHT STUFF / APOLLO 13 analogies (with a smattering of Robert Bolt tossed in) when doing a breakdown of RIGHT THING is my kinda people.  

      This was confirmed upon our first chat, which ran the gamut from beloved old movies first seen in no-longer-existent grindhouse theaters, to the current industry experiment of “simultaneously releasing” films theatrically and via VOD (Video On Demand).  The later is the subject of his guest blog.  Take notes film students.  The guy knows his stuff. 

      I’ll let Jim take over.  But first “Thanks” to Bob Cho for the intro.  And a big “Thanks” to Jim for being a part of what goes on here at the Cottage, ... as well as having a saint's patience while I got this new issue done and posted.   Take a sip 'o that Coppola '05 Cab ...

                                                                        ... Here's to future collaborations. 

                                                                                                                                              CEJ - December 2011

Site Search Index:
                                          8 PAID ADMISSIONS, ...

                                               4 MOVIES, ...
                                                   2 FORMATS; ...
                                                      1 UNSPOKEN CONVERSATION!

by Jim Delaney

     A generation ago Paula Abdul observed while dancing with a cartoon cat that their opposites-attract relationship was based partly on his liking movies and her preference for TV. The rules of movie distribution were fairly cut and dry in those days: a studio releases a movie into theaters, followed roughly six months later by a home video release, with a broadcast premiere on a premium cable channel usually one year after the theatrical opening. In the 70’s you could almost set your watch by the two years it took for a major studio film to air on one of the three (no CW or FOX in the ol’ days!) major networks.
 Soderbergh's BUBBLE (2006)

     Those days are gone. Within the space of a few months in late 2005 / early 2006, three films introduced us to a distribution format which someone at Wikipedia has dubbed “Simultaneous Release” ... which sounds like a practice that every opposites-attract couple has aspired to. These films were released into theaters, for sale or rental on DVD, and on VOD (Video On Demand) via cable carriers, either all on the same day, or each format within days of the other. Those films included two crime thrillers, the U.K. indie EMR, and Steven Soderbergh’s BUBBLE; and Michael Winterbottom’s docudrama THE ROAD TO GUANTANOMO. The theory was that the simultaneous release schedule would reduce video piracy. Immediate blowback erupted from theater chain CEOs and some film directors. In the years since, film piracy has advanced unabated: .

     Major film studios have been reluctant to learn from the troubles experienced by the music industry due to emerging technology allowing fans to enjoy copyrighted material for free. In the past few years, smaller independent producers and distributors of foreign films have quietly begun exploring shortened DVD release windows, as well as simultaneous VOD releases. My local Landmark theater runs trailers for Mark Cuban’s HDTV channel, which in turn advertizes that they show current release movies, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the very same movie that I just walked a few miles to see showed up in my Comcast Xfinity menu. My initial reaction was “Screw that, I’m an old fashioned movie nerd, I want to see movies in a darkened theater with a Coke I could swim in and a popcorn bag so big I need to climb in and eat my way out!”

     The opportunity presented by writing for GullCottage Online seemed like a perfect time to test my devotion to the theatrical experience. In the past month I have watched four movies at home on VOD, and then went to see them in theaters. I saw TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL at home and then a few days later at a free screening at The Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA. I saw Kevin Smith's RED STATE at home and then at the Cape Anne Cinema in Gloucester, MA. At my aforementioned Landmark Kendall Sq. Cinema I saw Sam Shepard play aging Butch Cassidy in BLACKTHORN, and the Swedish documentary THE BLACK POWER MIX-TAPE about the early days of the Black Panther Party, after watching both from the comfort of my purple faux-velvet Futon couch.

     TUCKER & DALE VERSUS EVIL came out of the corner powerfully defending my personal status quo. I started watching it at home on TV while prepping a broiler pan full homemade nachos. Don’t get me started on nachos, or I’ll digress for 5,000 words. The movie was a moderately amusing horror comedy about two Appalachian good ol’ boys who butt heads and match wits with a car load of college kids on a camping trip. It had some good laughs, a few surprises, and decent acting. Maybe I would have enjoyed TUCKER & DALE more if I was less distracted; friends for whom I’ve made nachos can tell you how I lose myself in a nearly ritualistic process, but that illustrates a potential downside of watching a brand new film in your home. The suspension of disbelief that most genre movies require might be more difficult to come by when you are surrounded by reminders of your own life: the neighbors’ psycho cat Spike trying to sneak into your house, those bills you should have sent in today’s mail to avoid a late fee, that laundry that should have learned to fold itself by now. These diversions may be in the back of your mind in a dark theater, but they will never be starring you in the face.

      A few days later I received an emailed invitation from the generous folks at the Boston Independent Film Festival see TUCKER & DALE in The Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. This theater has been a home away from home for more than half my life, yet it comes with none of the distractions of home. I sat in the front row of the stage left wing of the balcony where I could keep an eye on the blue-lit neon clock overhanging the emergency exit. You might expect that clock to be a reminder of the outside, but in fact it draws me further into the film, helping me keep track of all those story beats that every Syd Field trained screenwriter watches for. A trip to The Brattle for me is nearly as precise a ritual as deep-frying my tortillas before making nachos. It was there in that space as familiar to me as any home, that I experienced a movie that I had seen just a few days earlier, and recognized something totally new in it.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine - TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (2011)   
    TUCKER & DALE is a hilarious and ambitious horror comedy that mines its best laughs and suspense by subverting our expectation of horror clichés. This yin-yang film will show you the unexpected good in the guys we automatically expect to be villains, and vice versa. At its core are three charming performances that simply did not resonate in my CFL-lit living room. I abhor the word “bromance,” but the friendship between Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine - in a performance that should become as iconic as Bruce Campbell’s in EVIL DEAD 2, but for totally different reasons) is unusual enough in films of any genre. These guys are fun. Their good nature has a Lou Costello type contagiousness that makes the audience genuinely happy when things go right for them. 


     Add in Dale’s budding romance with Allison (Katrina Bowden), a college girl separated from and mistaken for a hostage by her camping partners, and you have a huggable triangle that is unheard of in a film with horror elements. All of this was lost on me from the privacy of home. I laughed at a few gags on the couch, but in a theater packed with appreciative nerds, I laughed so hard that I came damn close to spitting up beer on more than one occasion! Oh yes, I had a pint of Jack D’Or Saison from the Pretty Things Ale Project, a beer that is hard enough to find in grocery stores and bars, let alone in a movie theater. That’s how damn cool The Brattle is. Score one for the theater.


     The following Sunday I drove out to Gloucester, MA, which you may recall as the town where George Clooney & Mark Wahlberg's characters sail from in A PERFECT STORM. I went to see a preview of Kevin Smith's RED STATE at the Cape Anne Community Cinema. This was my first time in this cool theater, but I can’t wait to go back. It's above a record store; yes friends an honest to God record store, with bins full of vinyl LPs! The Cape Anne is in a space that looks like it used to be a banquet hall. The floor is flat instead of sloped like a theater, a section of it wooden like a dance floor, with other parts carpeted where dinner tables might have stood. The screen is up on a bandstand, and the bar at the back has become the concession/box office. Instead of theater chairs they have rows of couches and La-Z-Boy chairs. Towards the back there are some folding tables with dinner table chairs in case you want to bring pizza or take-out -- they don't care if you bring your own food here. It almost felt redundant to have watched RED STATE in my living room first, as this fun theater run by super nice folks felt like a giant living room.

Michael Parks & John Goodman - RED STATE (2011)


    RED STATE is vaguely similar to the story format of the HOSTEL films, but despite a few jarringly violent moments, in has nothing on HOSTEL’s gore level. It is set in the world of extreme fringe Christians who use the Bible to justify their personal hatred while giving rational Christians a bad name. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church exist within this story. They are not seen, but they are spoken about, and regarded by law enforcement (John Goodman, Kevin Pollak) as lightweights compared to Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Cooper and his flock use internet ads promising a trailer park bordello to lure sinners to their doom.

     Watching RED STATE at home on demand I was left with the impression that it is not a great movie, that it misses more opportunities than it explores, though it is a damn site better than Smith’s COP OUT.  Smith goes rather easy on his zealot villains for a writer/director who has already experienced controversy from religious protestors (remember the ruckus over DOGMA, hilariously addressed in the film’s epilogue?) and family-value type censorship in general. Not that the film has to be loaded with social
commentary, but if not that, then it could have been funnier. Or scarier. Silent Bob is a way more interesting character than anyone here, which makes it rare that we care what happens to anyone in RED STATE.

     The added bonus of the evening at Cape Anne was supposed to be a Q&A with Kevin Smith, simulcast to theaters across the country, from the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. Something went wrong with the sound such that we could barely hear it, and the video feed needed to keep rebooting. Smith took questions from Twitter; we could see the Twitter feed running down the right side of the screen. 

     This is where the theatrical experience stepped in to enhance the movie. Though we couldn’t hear the Q&A, we could read the Twitter questions and comments. I have seen Smith at San Diego Comic Con, but clearly I was with an audience who has never seen the interaction between he and his fans. A bald man seated in the front row of the New Beverly had the unfortunate position from the simulcast camera of appearing to kneel before Kevin Smith. This poor gent received nearly as many Twitter comments and questions as Smith, even earning his own hash tag, which I probably should not repeat here. Apparently half the theaters in the country had sound trouble, so it was a problem from the source, not from Cape Anne. Here we had an average film with a few great moments (thanks mostly to Michael Parks), and a Q&A where we could read the questions but not hear the answers, and still people had fun and left the theater smiling. This is what a theater full of like-minded strangers can do: take a mediocre experience and make it something unique.

     Like RED STATE, the revisionist western BLACKTHORN is a passable movie with some great moments. Inasmuch as the audience elevated RED STATE, it can just as easily work against a decent movie and knock it into negative territory. BLACKTHORN is based on the premise that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did not die in a freeze-frame hail of bullets. They escaped, with Sundance and Etta Place settling in California, and Butch remaining in Bolivia to run a ranch under the name James Blackthorn. Sam Shepard plays aging Butch with a gravity that warmly reminded me of Willie Nelson in the under-rated BARBAROSA. The story follows Butch’s quest to California to begin a new life with a young man who had been raised by Sundance and Etta, but who could possibly be Butch’s son. Every well-laid plan Butch had is thrown into flux when novice highwayman Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega) manages to lose Butch’s horses and all his money while trying to rob him. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, Butch gets the upper hand, and forces a tenuous partnership with Eduardo to try to recover his property.
     Watching BLACKTHORN on TV was a mostly positive experience. I bought my 27” massively heavy Zenith in 1996, but it is still good enough to display Mateo Gil’s wonderful framing of Bolivian mountain and desert locations. Every time Shepard was on screen, it was a good ride, and therein lies the problem. At least a quarter of the film is taken up with flashbacks to the younger Butch & Sundance.

                Sam Shepard - BLACKTHORN (2011)

     Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who was very strong as Jamie Lannister in HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, neither captures the charm of Paul Newman’s Butch nor distinguishes Butch as his own. Irish actor Padraic Delaney, who played George Boleyn in Showtime’s THE TUDORS, makes a decent attempt at Robert Redford’s physicality as Sundance. This might have been acceptable if we were following these two into uncharted territory, but that is not the case here; too much of it is ground already covered in an iconic western. The information imparted in these flashbacks could have been just as well imparted with a couple of good monologues. If the goal was to not stop the story cold and film Shepard sitting on a rock by a campfire, then we could have cut away to much shorter flashbacks without dialogue, narrated by Shepard. Either option would have been better than drumming my fingers on the remote hoping for our main character to return.

  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as young James (Butch) - BLACKTHORN (2011)

     I was among the youngest people in the theater when I saw BLACKTHORN at the Landmark in Kendall Square. Most of the audience was probably old enough to have seen BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID in its initial theatrical run. If I was underwhelmed by the flashbacks, these folks were downright hostile, but this is also too polite a theater for many to vocally express their unhappiness over something like this. Instead, every time a flashback would go on over a minute, you could sense this intangible chill in the air. This audience paid to see Sam Shepard as old Butch, not to see some actors from shows they don’t watch perform weak revisions of moments we’ve already seen done better. You could hear it in clucked tongues, cleared throats, and a seat flopping closed as elderly patrons decided now is a good time to visit the restroom. Then Shepard would return and there would be rapt silence. But it didn’t matter. This mood had already been shaken so many times that was impossible for even Shepard’s presence to resonate as strongly as it did when I was alone. Score one for the purple Futon.


     The final film in my challenge to myself was THE BLACK POWER MIX-TAPE 1967-1975. This is a Swedish made documentary assembled from hours of recently discovered interview footage with men and women who were inspirations to or founders of The Black Panther Party. Swedish journalists also conducted the vintage interviews. If there is a downside to this film, it is only that I wish it was twice as long. Hardly the hagiography I was expecting, it explores many of the competing ideologies that created rifts within the Party, doing so in the words of the participants rather than relying on after-the-fact talking head interviews that might try to spin one way or another. There are contemporary interviews, with the likes of Harry Belafonte commenting on his work towards social justice, as well as Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli discussing their experiences being raised in families where parents and other adult relatives were active in The Black Panthers or similar movements. The core of the movie is rare interviews and news footage with Stokely Carmichael, Kathleen Cleaver, Bobby Seale, and perhaps most evocatively a jailhouse interview with Angela Davis.  This film succeeds regardless of whether we agree with the opinions presented; when the credits roll we damn sure understand these opinions better than if we relied solely on the American education system for history and Yahoo articles for news.

  Angela Davis

     My experience with this film at home was unique in that it was the only one I watched a second time during the 48-hour window I had purchased it. Not only did I watch it a second time, I watched it immediately after the first time. This is due as much to my being impressed as to my realizing that I had not paid it proper attention the first time. I was preparing dinner when I first watched THE BLACK POWER MIX-TAPE, as I was for at least some point during the other three films. My kitchen and living room are perfectly set up to where I can stand at the stove and hear the TV, and take one step to my left to peek around the corner at the screen. Since some of the interviewers speak Swedish, some of the questions are subtitled. I allowed myself to be distracted by my kitchen for nearly one third of the movie, but by then I had already made the decision to restart it when it finished. Hearing Angela Davis speak from the other room versus seeing the camera come invasively close to her eyes and her face was one of many moments that I would have lost had I not rewatched the film. As much as the second viewing galvanized my attention, it still pointed out a downside to my personal home viewing experience: my old clunker TV may have a clear enough screen for BLACKTHORN’s Bolivian wilderness, but the sound is done for. Many of these older interviews have scratchy audio to begin with, but the reverb I get from my TV’s speakers made imperfect sound worse. [Please don’t point out my reduced credibility as a movie nerd for owning such an out-dated TV; I’m already feeling it, and efforts are being made to remedy the situation. Thank you] *
                     Stokely Carmichael

     It sure sounded great in the Kendal Square theater! The interviews were not crystal clear, but they were as good as you could hope for given the source, and I was able to catch every word. I was among the younger people in the audience again. As negative as the vibe in the air was during the BLACKTHORN flashbacks, it was equally positive here. If you have never been to Cambridge, MA, it is referred to in surrounding towns as The People’s Republik of Cambridge. This was an audience that was mostly simpatico with the Black Panther Party. When a certain song would play, I could see the appreciating nods. When certain news clips were shown, I could almost hear the wheels spinning in the older folks’ heads, as they probably recalled exactly where they were the week that particular news story broke. This was not just the shared experience of the movie happening, it was also a shared history of which I had no part; the theatrical experience made me feel somewhat connected to this history that the audience was sharing in silence. It is difficult to say whether I preferred THE BLACK POWER MIX-TAPE more at home or on screen. It worked well in both locations, with each benefit uniquely suited to one place.

TOWER HEIST (2011)  

     In the weeks since I began this experiment, Universal Studios ran into a kerfuffle with the Cinemark and National Amusement theater chains for considering a VOD release in a few test markets of their new film TOWER HEIST within three weeks after it opened in theaters. The cost would be $60, which seems to assume that an entire family would watch at home rather than going to the theater, or that nerds like me would host TOWER HEIST parties. Other theater chains within the National Association of Theater Owners complained, but Cinemark and National Amusements threatened to pull the film from all of their theaters. Universal suspended their plan to release TOWER HEIST on VOD. For the immediate future, big studio movies somewhat remain hostage to big theater chains, but independent movies continue to experiment with new distribution, just as independent theaters like The Brattle and Cape Anne explore options like revival double features and screenings of smaller indie films that have yet to secure national distribution.


     If there are a few producers or distributors who could be said to be at the vanguard of experimental distribution, that list would be topped by The Independent Film Channel / IFC Films, Sundance Selects, and Lionsgate.  Don't take my word for it; look up their development slates on IMDb, and compare how many films they distribute "theatrically" versus how many they handle for "all media." Next, check your cable system's OnDemand menu, and see how many of those titles listed as "all media" are available for you to buy from the comfort of your own Futon. If I had to place a bet, I'd put my money on IFC to be the crew who figures out how to make a solid business model out of these divergent formats. I don't make this bet because IFC distributes more than the others, but because they seem to be most willing to try these options out on the widest variety of movies. In recent months they have given simultaneous releases to festival favorites like SUPER and critical favorites like CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS.

 Colin Farrell - LONDON BOULEVARD (2011)  


     Perhaps most telling is their release of LONDON BOULEVARD this month. This is a crime movie starring the easy-on-the-eyes Colin Farrell and Keira Knightly plus the ever cool Ray Winstone, written and directed by William Monahan, who adapted THE DEPARTED and EDGE OF DARKNESS and wrote KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and BODY OF LIES.  With a proper push LONDON BOULEVARD might have not only been a breakout import hit of the holiday season, but a limited theatrical release might have increased its hipster cache, which traditionally could have generated more awards season buzz.  Instead of going for exclusivity, IFC has chosen to make it available to as many people in as many locations at once as possible. I haven't decided where I am most looking forward to seeing LONDON BOULEVARD, but I definitely count it among the movies I want to see sooner rather than later.

  The beloved BRATTLE THEATER ...  
     A movie to me is similar to the way Scatman Crothers described Shining: an unspoken conversation between audience and filmmakers. The movie tells me its story; I bring to it my life as a frame of reference. A director attempts to communicate an idea to me via a single image; I bring my attention focused on both the context and subtext of that image. An actor uses his or her experience to illuminate what a character thinks or feels; I use my experience to either embrace or reject that character. Just as a conversation is a fragile entity that can be annihilated by one intrusion or misspoken comment, a movie is a fragile entity that can be wrecked by a ringing phone or the guy two rows away who should have left his shoes on. You can have a perfect conversation, and then never come near repeating it, no matter how closely you mimic the conditions. You could walk through the same park with the same date and stop at the same pretzel cart on another sunny day, but that will not guarantee another perfect conversation. While I will continue to prefer the theatrical experience, the list of caveats has become far more focused.

... vs. beloved home made nachos.  

      Each movie requires its own conditions, many of which are difficult to satisfy simultaneously, but each movie can be an epiphany if you find your personal space to Shine with it.

Jim Delaney - December 2011

* BTW - not long after finishing this article Jim's "old clunker TV" finally gave up the ghost

He's currently diggin' the HD / Blu-ray experience.

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