Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: Delusional Beauty Queens

Where we offer you Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema

    She Ain’t Pretty She Just Looks That Way.

    Drop Dead Gorgeous – 2:00pm
    The Queen of Versailles – 5:00pm
    Tabloid – 8:00pm

    With the internet still abuzz with the train-wreck of cluelessness, the boat-load of petty narcissism and the full blown crazy of chef Amy Bouzaglo, owner of Amy’s Baking Company as featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, we offer you a new triple bill at the Row Three Rep. Now Amy, to the best of my knowledge was no former beauty queen, but she seems to exhibit many of the foibles offered in these three films screening today. They involve some pretty, but nutty gals and the crazy hermetically sealed bubbles they build inside their own minds. To further drive home the ‘reality’ of the Bouzaglo imbroglio, the three films are in documentary format. The first one, stretches the notion a bit, being in a faux documentary with the aim satirical goofery, but the other two are shockingly real folks who are still walking the earth involved their curious little lives.

    Drop Dead Gorgeous
     
    A game female ensemble and a first time director very nearly pull off this Christopher Guest meets Fargo satire of American beauty contests, and the cut throat politics involved therein. There is a definite charm in Kirsten Dunst’s tap-dancing mortician’s assistant, Amber who dreams blowing the opportunity dry town of Mount Rose, Minnesota by winning the local beauty pageant and she is top billed. But really you come to a film like this for the true crazy, and that is the the over-privileged mother daughter team of Gladys and Becky Leeman. Mom (Kirstie Alley) is an ex-beauty queen who is the chief sponsor of the competition and is completely oblivious to that particular conflict of interest, of putting her Gun totin’ Jesus lovin’ daughter (Denise Richards) into the competition. When accidents start to pile up leaving a number of other contestants dead or injured, the townsfolk starts to suspect that Gladys may not be on the up and up.

    While the film plays things a little broader than your Guest styled mock-doc and kind of peters out after events leaves Mount Rose for bigger contests, that doesn’t negate all the kooky characters, including the film debut of Amy Adams as a sweet but slightly sleazy cheerleader, essayed by the film. Welcome support from the always great Alison Janney, as well as Ellen Barkin and Brittany Murphy insure that things are never boring, but ultimately, this is Kirstie Alley’s show and ex-barmaid, ex-Vulcan owns every minute of her screen time as a colourful crazy person.

    The Queen of Versailles
     
    Meet Jackie Siegel, ex-computer engineer, ex-beauty queen and now mother of 8 with time-share Magnate David Siegel. Because their 26,000 square foot home is ‘bursting at the seams’ with all the ‘stuff’ that they have, Jackie and David are in the process of building a 90,000 square foot home. This new home would be the largest personal domicile in the United States, being about 10,000 times the size of your average urban apartment unit. Modeled on the famous French palace of Versailles, and to have it’s hundreds of rooms furnished with the best that money can buy, and a staff of over 20 people to help out Jackie, who is a ‘stay at home mom,’ in the middle of all of this, the Great Recession of 2008 hits the United States. Being located in the heart of the hurt, Orlando Florida, David’s business dries up and even more critically, he cannot get the credit to handle all of his resort building projects, let alone the families personal Xanadu which still has millions of dollars in construction to go. What’s an ex-billionaire to do when he is mortgaged up the wazoo with no rainy-day fund? Credit was cheap until it wasn’t and the sky was the limit until it was falling…

    Proving that even the rich were strongly affected by the Recession, and more importantly, that husbands should let their wives in on the financial picture to, you know, stop spending when times are tough. But Queen of Versailles goes even further in documenting the Siegel family, who without their staff of 20 house keepers, are incapable of caring for the multitude of pets (may die) or even keeping the place in a state of the barest hygiene. This documentary paints a very scary picture of this particular family and their disconnect from reality (and realty) that walks the line between sympathy and schadenfreude, but certainly leans healthily towards the latter.

    Tabloid
     
    Bondage, Beauty Queens, Kidnapping, Mormons and Dog Cloning! Dubbed “A Love Story” by documentary master Errol Morris, it is the strange tale as told Joyce McKinney, the former Miss Wyoming with a way above average I.Q. and a streak of unabashed romantic delusion. She was also the biggest tabloid story in England in 1977 when she tracked down her former lover, escorted him from his Mormon mission to a small secluded cottage and allegedly shackled him to the bed (as one excited Mirror reporter exclaims, “Spread Eagled!”) and had three days of sex to get him free of the hooks and mind control of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints. The story gets stranger, and Morris has nearly all of the original players recount those events of the late 1970s directly to the camera, while he splashes sensational text headlines on the screen and tries to unpack the headspace of McKinney who is still fully in love with her Mormon, even as he has a wife and kids and wants nothing to do with her (or this film.)

    Morris gives Joyce enough rope to hang herself, while thematically he dives into themes on the ambiguity and duality of the factual and anecdotal evidence. McKinney remains endearing at a distance. Things meander into the ridiculous with corn-pone expressions such as “You can’t stuff a marshmallow into a parking meter!” Joyce’s particular way of describing non-consensual male sex. The film is righteously entertaining, but has a fair bit of depth. It was woefully ignored at the box office, and critically was often sloughed off as lightweight mocking on the part of the filmmaker. But there is something magnetic at the center of McKinney’s performance, the film grows on, and as the same Mirror Journo exclaims, “There is something in this story for everyone!”

Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: Biohazard Night!

Where we offer you Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema

    New Millennial Infection

Contagion – 8:00pm
The Bay – 10:00pm
28 Weeks Later – midnight

One primal fear which has replaced the threat of nuclear war (and possibly terrorism) as something to keep a person awake at night in this new century is the constant threat of would-be pandemics. We beat The Bubonic Plague in the late middle ages, Tuberculosis and Polio in the 19th century, Cholera and Spanish Flu in the 20th century, but new super-diseases constantly emerge in both reality and the public consciousness. Of course, this collection of previous centuries worth of viral outbreaks are orders of magnitude worse than the deaths caused by West Nile, H1N1 and SARS – particularly when you consider the proportion of the human population affected and that the number of people on earth was significantly smaller prior to the onset of the 20th century.

But.

Prior to the late 1990s, there was no 24 hour news coverage or internet to feed the fear. Even in the 1970s the Mayor of fictional Amity Island in Jaws knew that the spread of fear (and panic) was always equal to or worse than the ‘Shark in the Water’. From the days of the Irwin Allen disaster movie, we’ve seen large scale panic in the face of big disasters, but there is something far more effective with the current crop of infection horror films. An aim for realism, body fluids and the medicine of desperation practiced to stay on top of something that is in most cases impossible to contain. Here are three films all from the last 5 years that, if you were to program them at a rep cinema triple bill, would do a fine job of creating an escalation of pure panic and brackish body fluids.

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Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: The Nazi Occupation Triple Bill

[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

The Nazi Occupation Triple Bill

Rome Open City – 5pm
The Last Metro – 7pm
Army of Shadows – 9:30pm

Europe in the earlier half of the 1940s was thick with uncertainty, fear, and violence, gripped by the ever-spreading menace of Nazi Germany. The cities and countries that fell before it – not least of all portions of Italy and France – were forced to confront the new, stifling conditions of occupation. The civilians who chose to stay carried on as best they could while others rose to new challenges in their tireless efforts to evade, thwart, and defeat the invaders. This time of soldiers, spies, traitors, and heroes has become the stuff of many great films that span a gamut of genres from action to romance to tragic drama. The three films chosen for this triple bill come from some of Europe’s most renowned arthouse legends, each of whom produced their own distinct and personal chronicle of life under Nazi occupation. Through strikingly different cinematic styles and perspectives, viewers will be led along a winding path of tense situations, deep emotions, and ethical conflicts brought about by this dramatic chapter of history.
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Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: Ripped from the Headlines!

[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

Ripped From The Headlines!

Stuck – 5:00pm
Compliance – 8:00pm
10 Rillington Place – 10:00pm

Some of you may recall that scene from Robert Altman’s The Player, where rising film executive Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher, oily) demonstrates to the rest of the suits at the board room table how easy it is to come up with screenplay ideas by going through the newspaper headlines. Sure, Altman is poking fun at the disconnect and friction between the studio business folk and the writers and directors, but there have actually been a fair number of films that have been pulled from the headlines (and not just documentaries The Thin Blue Line or The Imposter.) There are a large variety of ways to approach the subject matter: Exaggerate things for dramatic effect, turn the proceeding into a full out horror picture, use it as allegory for political or social commentary, or even make a pitch black comedy. Some films manage to do all of this simultaneously. Still, this type of filmmaking can be a tough proposition, as the audience often knows the end, particularly if the incidents portrayed are recent or very high profile. This can diffuse the sense of mystery or tension associated with a purely fictional story or something that happened but was obscure. Of course, this is far from an insurmountable obstacle for a good filmmaker armed with a good screenplay and smart actors. Below (after the break) in the ongoing program your own evening at the rep cinema column, I have gone and narrowed things further. There are no bio-pics or famous people in the news. All three of these films are anonymous everyday citizens that are caught up in, or instigate, unusual criminal circumstances that prove (not that it ever needed proving) that truth is stranger than fiction. Even if these films are fiction based on true events.

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Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: What is Human?

[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

Blurring the Line Between Android and Human

Metropolis – 5:00pm
Blade Runner – 8:00pm
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – 10:00pm
bonus: Battlestar Galactica – all night and the next week :)

With the concept of mankind creating sentient robots and androids inevitably follows the question of how we are to treat them – since we made them, can we do with them what we want, treating them as disposable slaves? Or by creating something that can think like us, and eventually react and feel like us, are we bound to treat them the same as we would (or should) treat other human beings? And faced with such a potential reality, what does it really mean to be human? These are the kind of questions that cerebral sci-fi has always asked, with robots and now clones being among the most appropriate catalysts to spark such explorations of ethics, morality, and ontology itself. There are many films (and TV series) I could’ve chosen for such a triple feature; I chose these partially to tie in with our ongoing Ridley Scott marathon, and also because these films also specifically feature androids, that is, robots that appear to be human, who fool humans into thinking they are human, and who may not even themselves be aware that they are androids. Of course, all of these works use androids to explore the issue of “otherness,” or what happens when a dominant group comes into contact with a group they deem “different.”

Note: Scott’s Alien also features a human-fooling android, but questions of human-android ethics are not really explored in that film.

Taken on the surface, there’s not a whole lot of inquiry into the robot-human question in Metropolis; the human Maria is unequivocally good, almost angelic, while the robot Maria is evil and destructive. But I wanted to include it because it is really the first iconic cinematic depiction of a robot, and it’s telling that the first use of a robot in cinematic science fiction is to mislead and misdirect a humanity that believes the robot to be human – and not only to be human, but to be somebody they know and trust. It would be many years before sci-fi would have good human-mimicking robots – even the robots in Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still are distinctly non-human in appearance. In Metropolis, that question of whether robots should be treated as humans is superficially irrelevant, because the only robot we see is given the role of enacting the worst that humanity has to offer. On the other hand, the Complete cut of Metropolis fleshes out (so to speak) the back story surrounding the creation of the robot, which inventor Rotwang created as a substitute for Hel, the woman he loved and Joh Frederson took from him. So before the robot was commandeered by Frederson as a means to put down the undercity rebellion, Rotwang already intended it to be a human stand-in. Deeper questions are begged – would Rotwang have found comfort in this shadow of Hel? Would the robot have been an adequate substitute? Are robot-Maria’s evil excesses solely due to Frederson’s mission for her, or is a mechanical creation of man inevitably going to disappoint and betray, and if it does, is that because if its mechanical nature or the humans who built it? Would (should) Rotwang have treated robot-Hel as human, or would he simply have enslaved her, a helpless puppet to his desires? It’s unclear from the film whether robot-Maria had full sentience or autonomy, so the questions may be moot. But they’re there, nascent even from the very first cinematic depiction of a human-mimicking android.

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Rep Cinemagoing: Modern Times

The thing that makes me happiest in the world is seeing audiences respond to classic films with joy and wonder, and that’s exactly what I saw last week when Cinefamily screened Modern Times to a nearly full audience. First off, it’s awesome that 150 people will choose a Chaplin silent film over the hoards of other entertainment options in this city, but it’s proven to me again and again that Chaplin (or Keaton) will still pack them in at Cinefamily, as they run these films every year or so to delighted audiences. Last time they ran Modern Times, though, I think I wasn’t able to go. This time it coincided with my volunteering night, so once I finished taking tickets, seating people, and clearing up a minor popcorn vs gravity issue, I settled in just as the credits finished to watch my favorite Chaplin film with a wonderfully receptive audience.

I’ve seen Modern Times probably five or six times, but never before with an audience, and it added an awful lot to the experience. The film itself is incredible, and falls squarely within my top twenty of all time. Chaplin’s tramp starts off as a cog in the machine (literally, at one point) of a steel factory, spending his days tightening bolts on an endless stream of conveyor-belt carried steel plates. Slowing down piles him into the workers further down the assembly line, and stopping (for lunch) puts him into spasms as his muscles try to continue the tightening motions. After being put into an automatic lunch machine to test it – with hilarious results – he ends up having a nervous breakdown, losing his job, getting arrested by accident, meeting up with an orphan waif from the docks, trying to find a job to support her and protect her from the child services authorities, etc.

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Fighting for 35mm…and Our Cinematic Heritage

There’s no doubt that the future of cinema is going to be digital rather than film (as a physical format). Theatres are converting to digital projection right and left, with fewer and fewer 35mm film prints struck all the time, and the major camera manufacturers are ceasing production of film cameras to focus solely on digital cameras instead. It’s where the demand is. But this shift to digital doesn’t only affect new films, which are likely to be shot, edited, and projected digitally, never spending any phase of their creation on physical film – it also affects older films, which were shot on 35mm and meant to be projected on 35mm. Many Hollywood studios have declared their intention to stop producing 35mm prints of older films for use in repertory cinemas, museums, film forums, universities, etc, instead presenting those films only in digital formats as well.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see why this makes sense to them. Digital copies are much easier and cheaper to store and transfer to theatres than bulky 35mm film prints. And many people will argue that digital looks better anyway, or at least consumers won’t be able to tell the difference. I heartily disagree with that – I love the tactile, physical look that 35mm has vs. the sterility of digital. But my point of view is quickly labeled romantic and old-fashioned in a world where cinema is a business and 35mm is antiquated technology. To some degree, it is a romantic perspective. I certainly get a rush of emotion every time I walk into the Silent Movie Theatre and see the film canisters sitting there, ready to be lovingly threaded through the projector by the seasoned projectionist for the evening’s screening. I smile when I see the cigarette burns signalling a reel change. I feel a connection to other audiences when a print is flawed through its many uses in other cinemas, screened for other audiences in other places. But what do my emotions, certainly the emotions of a minority of cinemagoers, matter in this equation?

I’m definitely not alone in my love for seeing films projected on 35mm (or 70mm or whatever format was originally used to shoot them) – Julia Marchese of Los Angeles’s New Beverly Cinema, one of the foremost repertory cinemas in the country and one that would certainly feel the loss of 35mm prints, has started an online petition to Fight for 35mm. It currently has nearly 6,000 signatures of a hoped-for 10,000. Here’s the bulk of her plea:

I firmly believe that when you go out to the cinema, the film should be shown in 35mm. At the New Beverly, we have never been about making money – a double feature ticket costs only $8. We are passionate about cinema and film lovers. We still use a reel to reel projection system, and our projectionists care dearly about film, checking each print carefully before it screens and monitoring the film as it runs to ensure the best projection possible. With digital screenings, the projectionists will become obsolete and the film will be run by ushers pushing a button – they don’t ever have to even enter the theater.

The human touch will be entirely taken away. The New Beverly Cinema tries our hardest to be a timeless establishment that represents the best that the art of cinema has to offer. We want to remain a haven where true film lovers can watch a film as it was meant to be seen – in 35mm. Revival houses perform an undeniable service to movie watchers – a chance to watch films with an audience that would otherwise only be available for home viewing. Film is meant to be a communal experience, and nothing can surpass watching a film with a receptive audience, in a cinema, projected from a film print.

I feel very strongly about this issue and cannot stand idly by and let digital projection destroy the art that I live for. As one voice I cannot change the future, but hopefully if enough film lovers speak up, we can prove to the studios that repertory cinema is important and that we want 35mm to remain available to screen.

Would you like to know more…?

Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: One Room Does It All

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[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

One Room Does It All

Tape – 7:30pm
Fermat’s Room – 9:15pm
Exam – 11pm

Sometimes you don’t need a lot of locations to make a movie. Often a handful or even just a single location suffices to sell the story at hand. All three of these films are set primarily within a single room, give or take a scene or two out with. The obvious choices would have been the likes of 12 Angry Men, Saw, Rear Window and Reservoir Dogs but I thought I’d highlight some perhaps lesser known (modern) films.

Richard Linklater is a fairly prolific director, having made a film every 1-3 years throughout his career, and is most known for films like Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and A Scanner Darkly. Tape is one of his lesser known films, despite starring a couple of (now) huge names. Set entirely within a motel room, it centers on Jon (Robert Sean Leonard) who visits his old friend Vince (Ethan Hawke) at his motel before the premiere of his film at a festival. To kill time the two get into often heated discussions about their friendship and their regrettable past actions. Uma Thurman joins the two of them later on to amp up the tension as Amy, a past girlfriend of Jon’s. A real gem filled with terrific performances, a great sense of realism in the conversations and a palpable urgency, helped not least by the fact that it’s shot in DV and done entirely in real-time.

Fermat’s Room (or La habitación de Fermat, to use its original Spanish name) is one of those movies where you’re presented with a mysterious situation and that mystery unravels as it progresses. In this case it centers on an unknown person inviting a group of people to a secluded house far away from the city. Once they enter and end up in a main living room-type area the door’s lock shut and they soon learn they have to continually solve math puzzles and text the answer to a cell phone number before the timer runs out. Each time one of the timers counts down to zero before the puzzle is solved the walls of the room start to close in on them. Talk about a plot hook. There’s been an English-language remake in the development stage for a while (no wonder with a plot as good as that) but this Cube-esque mystery-thriller is well worth checking out.

The last film of the night is also the most recent, the compelling single room mystery that is Exam. Eight total strangers are brought together by a mysterious job offer. They are sat down in a room with a desk and a piece of paper in front of them. An invigilator tells them the rules such as not leaving the room and whoever wins gets the job. The timer starts and the group is left to begin the exam, which consists of a single question. The trouble is when they turn over their papers they are completely blank. And the mystery begins. This is a sneaky, intriguing mystery-thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. You’ll be sure of a certain thing one minute but then something else will happen which will turn your suspicions elsewhere. And since each of the characters are so different from one another (each with their own morals and motivations) you can find at least one to identify with – “what would I do?” is a question that often runs through your mind. The inevitable twist ending perhaps doesn’t live up to what has come before but while you are being kept in the dark (sometimes quite literally) this is a very fun watch indeed.

Heavenly Creatures 15th Anniversary Re-Release (UK only)

 
 

Thanks to Andrew for bringing this item to my attention, even if it is a bit of a tease. To coincide with an upcoming 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray release of Heavenly Creatures, small British distributor Peccadillo Pictures is going to give it a limited theatrical re-release. Peter Jackson’s Oscar nominated departure from splatter comedies (Braindead, Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles) is likely the main reason (along with The Frighteners) why New Line Cinema gave him the massive, in budget and scope, Lord of the Rings project (after the Kiwi director campaigned for actively.) Of course, it being Kate Winslet’s film debut is also of interest to many fans and admirers of her work over the past decade and a half. The fact that she is an excellent and nuanced performer right out of the gate should come as no surprise. Here she plays one of two girls accused and convicted of patricide. Melanie Lynskey (Up in the Air, The Informant!) has the role of narrator Pauline Parker, from whose diary the film is adapted. The girls obsessive relationship around literature and popular culture in 1950s New Zealand is compelling stuff when combined with Jackson’s flair for whimsical (and gritty) visuals.

Considering the similarly themed (and titled) The Lovely Bones which ended up more or less a popular and critical failure, it is safe to call Heavenly Creatures his best written film, but despite it being more of a drama, it doesn’t eschew his penchant for high-fantasy and big special effects, only they are used much more sparingly here. Coupled with some nice film and musical hommages, this makes for great viewing on the big screen, so you folks across the pond should head out to your cinema on September 12th if it is playing in your neighborhood. We’ll overlook the math on this announcement, considering the film original came out in 1994, perhaps it took it an additional two years to get to the UK while Miramax (at their peak in terms of indie prestige) in the US jumped on it pretty fast.

On a side note, this film seems to be plagued with poor and half-assed DVD releases, I know my early Miramax release is possibly the worst looking film I have in my collection (inexcusable for such a handsomely shot picture) and while it has been out in Canada on Blu Ray for some time, apparently that release is pretty bare bones and in the wrong aspect ratio to boot. We will see if Peccadillo’s eventual release is done with as much TLC as them giving the film a theatrical repertory release.

For much more on the film, you can go back into the MOVIE CLUB PODCAST archives for the Heavenly Creatures episode.