The Magick Lantern–waiting to be reborn

The Magick Lantern, a tiny theater in Point Richmond, opened early this year, showing recent arthouse fare on weekends and classics Thursday night. I added it my Theaters link list immediately, but I never made it there to see a movie.

Then, in October, before I had a chance to visit the Magick Latern, it closed. Go to the website now, a simple wepage will tell you that

THE MAGICK LANTERN IS

CLOSED

WE ANTICIPATE RE-OPENING
VERY SOON UNDER DIFFERENT
AND BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES!
IF YOU’RE ON OUR EMAIL LIST,
WE’LL KEEP YOU POSTED ON
ALL THE DETAILS!

On Saturday afternoon, the Magick Lantern held an open house, and I finally got to visit.

Point Richmond is one of those corners of the Bay Area that feel like a small town. A handful of retail streets surround a city square, on the edge of hills.

The Magick Lantern is in the back of a modest building. The auditorium, such as it is, looks more like a small apartment living room without windows. I’d guess that it could sit 40 at most.

Apparently it looked and felt more like a theater in the months it was running. But the previous owner took the seats, the tiered platform for those seats, and the equipment when he left.

A group of determined people have formed a non-profit to bring the theater back. They’re raising money to buy the seats, the platforms, a screen, a concession stand, and a projector and sound system.

Even if they could afford it (and they can’t), I don’t think they’d have the room for a professional, DCI-compatible projector. But a modest, 1080p home projection system and a Blu-ray player would be fine in that small space. They wouldn’t be able to play new movies, but they could play almost new ones and a lot of classics.

If you want to help, send your check to:

Magick Lantern
115 Buena Vista Ave.
Richmond, CA 94801

You can also contact them at magick-lantern@att.net.

What’s Screening: December 5 – 11

If the lack of film festivals this time of year scares you, we’ve got a festival that will scare you even more. Another Hole in the Head opens tonight (Friday) and runs through this week and beyond.

A Wild, Kabuki, California, Guild, opens Friday. Judging from this adaptation of her memoirs, Cheryl Strayed led a pretty wild life before she walked into the real wild and got herself together. This film adaptation of Strayed’s memoir follows her as she imagehikes the Pacific Crest Trail and learns how to be a fully in-the-moment adult human being. She learns self-reliance and makes friends, and becomes physically stronger, but she also runs out of water, gets lost in the snow, and faces the very real possibility of rape. Interspersed with the hike, flashbacks show us what sort of person she was before the difficult and dangerous three-month voyage. We learn about her struggling but loving mother who died too soon, and the self-destructive streak that destroyed Cheryl’s marriage. Read my full review.

Found Footage Festival, New Parkway, Wednesday, 9:15; Roxie, Thursday and next Friday, 9:30. The world is full of unwanted VHS cassettes, which is a good thing for imageNick Prueher and Joe Pickett. They mine comic gold from the unwanted dregs of the video universe. I haven’t seen their seventh installment, but it promises to include "A new exercise video montage featuring a Christmas-themed workout, a martial arts fitness regimen called ‘Tiger Moves,’ and a tape called ‘Butt Camp’." Read my report on their sixth installment. .

B+ Aliens, New People Cinema, Thursday, 9:00. Like most sequels, James Cameron’s first big-budget movie isn’t as good as the original Alien, but it comes close.. Less of a horror film and more of an action imagepicture (or, arguably, a war movie), it strands a platoon of marines on a barely hospitable planet infested with the big, egg-laying predators. Sigourney Weaver stars again. Unfortunately, the New People will screen the original, 137-minute cut. Cameron’s 154-minute director’s cut, which to my knowledge has never been shown theatrically, goes into far more character detail and is a much better film. I’d give that version an A. Part of Another Hole in the Head film festival.

A+ Brazil, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. One of the best black comedies ever  filmed, and the best dystopian fantasy on celluloid. In a bizarre, repressive, anally brazilbureaucratic, andthoroughly dysfunctional society, one government worker (Jonathan Pryce) tries to escape into his own romantically heroic imagination. But when he finds a real woman who looks like the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), everything starts to fall apart. With Robert De Niro as a heroic plumber. This is the second and best of Gilliam’s three great fantasies of the 1980’s, and the only one clearly intended for adults. Read my Blu-ray review.

A A Hard Day’s Night, New Parkway, Sunday, 9:00. When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a suddenly popular British rock group, they wanted something fast and cheap. After all, the band’s popularity was limited to England and imageGermany, and could likely die before the film got into theaters. We all know now that UA had nothing to worry about. The Beatles are still popular all over the world. What’s more, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night still burns with outrageous camerawork and editing, subversive humor, and a sense of joy in life and especially in rock and roll.

A Boyhood, Castro, Thursday. Fifty years from now, people will still watch Richard Linklater’s intimate epic. Shot off and on over a period of 12 years, Boyhoodimage allows us to watch young Mason and his family grow up and older. It isn’t an easy childhood. His parents are divorced, neither of them has much money, Dad is immature and Mom has bad taste in men. But Boyhood avoids the sort of horrible situations that drive most narrative films, and it’s all the better for it. By using the same actors over such a long period of time, Linklater creates a far more realistic picture than could be done with aging makeup or switching from a child actor to an adult one. Read my full review.

A Spirited Away, New Parkway, Saturday, 2:25, Wednesday, 6:15. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I don’t know whether the film will be presented in the original Japanese with subtitles, or if it will be the English dubbed version.

C Sing-a-Long Sound of Music, Castro, Friday through Sunday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way. I have not actually experienced the sing-a-long version..

Wild: Hiking, Health, and Heroin

A drama

  • Written by Nick Hornby, from a memoir by Cheryl Strayed
  • Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Judging from this adaptation of her memoirs, Cheryl Strayed led a pretty wild life, until she walked into the real wild and got herself together. I don’t know or care whether the film is accurate to Strayed’s memoirs or experience. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that it’s a powerful story of loss, love, fear, and personal courage.

Cheryl’s three-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail makes up the film’s spine. (I’m calling the real person Strayed, and the character in the movie Cheryl.) As played by Reese Witherspoon (who also Executive Produced), Cheryl starts the journey woefully unprepared. She’s packed too much to carry. She bought the wrong stove fuel. Her shoes don’t fit properly.

Of course she learns along the way. Other hikers she meets give her help and advice. She becomes physically stronger. She learns through practice. She occasionally dips back into civilization, and especially enjoys a stop in Ashland, OR.

But the hike is largely pictured as difficult and dangerous. She runs out of water. She gets lost in the snow. More than once, she faces the very real possibility of rape.

The film never fully explains why she went on this arduous journey. But the flashbacks, which take up a good portion of the film’s running time, give us a clue. Unlike the main journey, the flashbacks are not told chronologically.

Many of the flashbacks involve her mother (Laura Dern), a woman who embraces life despite the many nasty turns it has given her. Poor and single, she loves her children deeply, and finds great joy in their company and in life itself. Her death by cancer at much too young an age clearly left a deep mark on Cheryl.

And then there’s the matter of her marriage, which Cheryl destroyed with her drug abuse–including a period of heroin addiction–and her habitual promiscuity. Her ex-husband is still her confidant and best friend. This is very much a young woman who needs to make a big change in her life.

One minor technical complaint: Wild was shot with the Arri Alexa XT, one of the best digital cameras around. For most movies, it’s all you need. But for capturing the beauty of the great outdoors, 35mm film still surpasses the best digital camera–even if the image is screened digitally.

And yet, I can understand the choice to use the Alexa. Much of Wild was shot in difficult locations, and carrying multiple thousand-foot-rolls of 35mm film would have made a difficult shoot much more difficult.

Besides, this film really isn’t about the beauty of the great outdoors. Only once does Cheryl stop to admire the view–and that time, the view includes full frontal male nudity.

Wild concentrates on something more basic than visual beauty. It’s really about the difficulties and dangers of those wild outdoors, and how a challenge can change a person for the better.

Watching Interstellar in 70mm

On director Christopher Nolan’s orders, Paramount released Interstellar on film as well as digitally. I believe this is the first new movie released in over a year.

And not just 35mm. it’s also being released in conventional 70mm and 70mm Imax, along with various digital formats.

I’ve already posted my review of the film. This article is about how it’s projected.

Imax–the original, 70mm version–is probably the right way to see Interstellar. It offers the biggest frame and the biggest screen. At least that’s the theory. More on Interstellar in Imax below.

I chose instead to see it in conventional 70mm at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater. It’s closer to my home, and much less expensive (matinee: $5). Besides, it’s the Grand Lake.

Unfortunately, I waited too long to catch it in their downstairs auditorium, with its spectacular design and huge screen.

Interstellar had by then moved upstairs, to the former balcony. The upstairs screen is still quite large, so it can still provide a good, immersive experience, especially when projecting 70mm film.

In one sense, it’s more immersive than the downstairs auditorium; the front row is much closer to the screen. So close, in fact, that even I chose the second row. Unfortunately, this auditorium has a center aisle; wherever you sit, it’s always going to be just a bit off center. When you sit near the front in a movie theater, you want to be dead center.

I hadn’t been in that theater in decades. The last time I saw a 70mm film on that screen was probably Poltergeist in 1982.

Before the movie started, I walked to the back of the auditorium to peer into the projection booth. On the left I saw a 2K digital projector. On the right, a 35/70mm film projector.

The show began with trailers, digitally projected. Actually, I was surprised that the second trailer, for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, wasn’t on 70mm film. Tarantino–like Nolan a major proselytizer for physical film–plans to release this western in 70mm. (The first trailer was for The Imitation Machine.)

But when the third trailer started, a slight vibration on the screen and a few flecks of dirt told me we were back to celluloid. The trailer was for Inherent Vice, a comedy by another cinematic luddite, Paul Thomas Anderson. And yes, the trailer was in 70mm.

And so was the movie I came to see–Interstellar.

There’s no question about it; 70mm provides a beautiful image, and Interstellar makes great use of it. The picture was bright, colorful, immersive, and detailed. Although I was disappointed by the movie, I loved the presentation.

image

But I can’t honestly say that it looked better this way than it would have looked with 4K digital projection. Watching a film on film provides a nostalgic effect for me now–I’ve been watching movies that way all of my life. The big advantages of 70mm, when compared to 35mm, is that there’s less vibration and a brighter image. Digital provides an even brighter image and has no vibration at all..

I understand that Nolan wants people to see Interstellar on film, preferably in a large format, and I respect his preference. But I doubt that what I saw looked better than a first-rate digital presentation.

Would it have been better in Imax? Gary Meyer attended an Imax press screening of Interstellar, and it was ruined by technical problems. It’s worth reading his report at Eat Drink Films.

One more quick thought about Interstellar

This didn’t get into my original review of Interstellar, but I wanted to share it anyway.

In the much less ambitious but far more enjoyable sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day (from 1996), evil aliens attack Earth with the intention to wipe out the human race and make our planet their own.

Their motive: They mistreated their home planet to the point where it was no longer livable ages ago. Since then, they colonized one life-supporting planet after another. They eventually use up their current planet’s natural resources. Then they move on to settle and eventually destroy another one.

In Interstellar, Christopher Nolan shows us the courageous astronauts making the heroic steps towards turning the human race into the Independence Day villains.

Physics Saturday: Interstellar and The Theory of Everything

I saw two very different movies on Saturday, but both were about physics. Well, sort of. Physics and fiction don’t blend together unless you can work in suspense, romance, tragedy, horrible diseases, and special effects.

Although one movie is a big, expensive Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, and the other a British Indiewood biopic, their titles are almost interchangeable.

C+ Interstellar
Christopher Nolan’s space epic tries hard to be another 2001: A Space Odyssey–plot points, individual shots, and at least one character comes straight from Kubrick’s work. But whereas Kubrick explained very little, Nolan fills his picture with badly-written expository dialog. And despite all that, the movie still confuses audiences. And when it’s not confusing, it’s often dumb.

image

Not that Interstellar is a complete loss. It’s visually stunning, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available. It’s often exciting and suspenseful. And for most of its runtime, it carries a strong sense of doom for both the main characters and the human race as a whole. It’s set in a near future where the few remaining people are facing eventual starvation (oddly, there’s no violence). NASA sends four humans (you guessed it; two white men, one white woman, and a black man–guess who dies) through a wormhole to find a habitable planet.

image

Despite the holes in the science and the plot, and despite a female astronaut (Anne Hathaway) who behaves in an offensively stereotypically female way, I still found the picture reasonably interesting and enjoyable. That is, until the interminable third act. In the last hour, everything slows down to a crawl, the story and scientific logic collapse into a black hole, and the whole thing makes no sense at all. It’s explained, but the explanation doesn’t hold up.

image

I saw Interstellar in 70mm at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater. I’ll write another post about the presentation.

B+ The Theory of Everything
No one in this Stephen Hawking biopic blasts into space and dives into a wormhole, but the theories that suggest such things are possible play an important supporting role. Far more important roles are played by love, romance, and disabilities.

The film concentrates on Hawking’s first marriage, to Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). She proposes to Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) soon after he’s diagnosed with motor neuron disease, with doctors giving him about two years to live. They broke up 25 years later, and he’s still working 24 years after that.

image

Like so many British pictures, Theory provides a showcase for great acting. Jones plays Jane from a young college girl to a middle-aged mother, still in love with her husband but frustrated with the responsibilities thrust upon her as her husband deteriorates. Other respected talents in the cast include David Thewlis and Emily Watson.

But Redmayne has the big, showy role, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t walk away with an Oscar next year. His Hawking doesn’t just age over the movie, he deteriorates. At first he’s just clumsy. Then his hands and feet don’t quite work properly. Slowly he becomes the Hawking we know, crumpled in his wheelchair, using a mouse-like device in his one good hand to communicate to the world via an electronic voice. Redmayne catches not only Hawking’s brilliance and his disability, but also his impish humor. I’m not quite ready to say this is the best performance of the year, but it’s certainly the most noticeable.

The Theory of Everything pushes no cinematic boundaries. If you’ve ever seen a 21st century British film set in the 20th century, you know exactly what you’re going to get. But that doesn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s a very good one. It’s just not exceptional.

What’s Screening: November 28 – December 4

No festivals this week. But we do have some movies.

B+ The Cranes Are Flying, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 5:30. War has a nasty way to interfering with true love. This sweet Russian story of young lovers separated by The imageGreat Patriotic War (AKA World War II) never comes off as Soviet propaganda (it was made during Khrushchev’s “thaw”), but as a clear-eyed look at the realities of romance in difficult times. This was one of the first post-Stalin Soviet films to get wide play in the West, where it helped remind at least some moviegoers that the Cold War enemies were just human beings. Part of the PFA’s series, Discovering Georgian Cinema.

B+ Holiday double bill: Christmas in July & Holiday Inn, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk.” The B+ goes to Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July, a Christmas in Julycharming yet bitter comedy about the American Dream. Dick Powell stars as a lowly clerk who thinks he has the makings of a brilliant adman. Curiously, Sturges appears to have borrowed some plot points and themes from King Vidor’s very serious masterpiece, The Crowd. On its own, the musical Holiday Inn earns only a C for putting the talents of Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and Irving Berlin to only modest use. It has one song that became a standard ("White Christmas"), and a very racist tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

A- A Christmas Story, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Sweet, sentimental Christmas movies–at least those not authored by Charles Dickens or Frank Capra–make me want to throw up. But writer Jean Shepherd’s look back at the Indiana Christmases of his youth comes with enough laughs and cynicism to make the nostalgia go down easy. A holiday gem for people who love, or hate, the holidays.

B- The Lost World, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Even though it’s over 85 years old, Hollywood’s first big man vs. dinosaur epic isn’t that different from today’s blockbusters. Like them, it uses amazing special effects to prop up what’s otherwise an extremely silly movie. Of course, the silliness is of the 1920s variety–overacting and fake-looking facial hair, and the FX are technically crude by today’s standards. But model animator Willis O’Brien (who would make King King eight years later) infused his dinosaurs with weight and thought, which sells them to the viewer. With Frederick Hodges on the piano. See my earlier report on The Lost World & Dengue Fever.

A Fruitvale Station, New Parkway, Friday, 9:10. Free. The experience of seeing this imageindependent feature is very much like waiting for a time bomb. You watch Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) go through the last day of 2008, knowing that he will be fatally shot by a BART cop in the early hours of the new year. Writer/director Ryan Coogler wisely avoids turning Grant into a saint, but makes us care very much for him. The last moments of the film–not including some documentary footage and the closing credits–will break your heart. Read my longer report.

A Spirited Away, New Parkway, Thursday, 9:30. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a beautiful, complex, and occasionally scary tale of a young girl cast into a strange and magical world. The intriguing and imaginative creatures, not to mention the moral dilemmas, are beyond anything that Dorothy ever had to deal with in Oz.. A truly amazing work of animation. I don’t know whether the film will be presented in the original Japanese with subtitles, or if it will be the English dubbed version.

Harold and Maude, Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30. After imageWoodstock, this comedy about a young man and a much older woman is the ultimate cinematic statement of the hippie generation. At least that’s how I remember it. I loved it passionately in the 1970s. But I haven’t seen it in a long time and I’m not sure how well it’s aged.

C Sound of Music, Lark, Friday and Sunday, 1:00; Castro, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, and dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And most of the songs give the impression that, by their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein had run out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies–in a picture postcard kind of way. The Castro presentation will be the Sing-Along version, which I have never seen.

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