Category Archives: Entertainment

Let’s All Go to the Movies

 

Let’s All Go to the Movies!

It’s Saturday night. You and your significant other plan a night out at the movies. It’s tradition! Most of you plan to see a new release. Cinephiles may be seeing an old movie like “The Godfather” on the big screen. Maybe you’re out with friends, sharing a common interest in a particular movie. A part of the excitement is simply getting cozy in a dark theater with your favorite snacks and drinks. And then take a ‘most excellent adventure’ with the characters on the big screen. 

Since Thomas Edison sold a few Vitascope projectors to brothers Mitchell and Moe Mark in Buffalo, New York, movie-goers have been infatuated with seeing movies in the theaters. The Mark brothers called their storefront theater, Vitascope and opened their cinema with seventy-two seats to the public on October 19, 1896. 

The State Theater in Washington, Iowa is the oldest operating movie theater in the world, first showing films in 1897. The theater was entered into the Guinness Book of Records on April 21, 2016. It was still operating as of January 1, 2020. 

But as you are all unfortunately aware, all movie theaters around the world are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a society the entire world has looked to the cinema in good times and bad times. Movies help us escape the daily grind as well as to be informed in times of war and conflict. Technology has placed moving pictures and information into the palms of our hands, but our appreciation and excitement for the big screen will never fade away. 

In 1902, the first motion picture theater, Tally’s Electric Theater, popped up in a California storefront. One of the first and most popular films was “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. It was only twelve minutes long, but it captivated imaginations. 

John P. Harris and Harry Davis, in 1905, opened a movie theater in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania storefront, coining it Nickelodeon for its price of admission, five cents or a nickel. By 1908, thousands of Nickelodeons had opened up across North America. 

Aero Theater in Santa Monica

Before Nickelodeon theaters were all the rage, people flocked to theaters to watch actors perform vaudeville, a variety show and combination of burlesque, comedy, song and dance. One vaudeville veteran, Buster Keaton, was invited by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to play a small role in a two-reel comedy he was co-starring in and directing, “The Butcher Boy” in 1917. Keaton found his calling! 

Buster Keaton went on to direct and star in films he made famous, “The General,” “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” “Sherlock, Jr.,” “The Navigator,” “Go West,”, “The Scarecrow,” “The Paleface,” “Battling Butler” and “Seven Chances.” His deadpan face and humorous ways made us laugh at him and with him. He did anything for a laugh. He went to great lengths to perform the most incredible and dangerous stunts just for a laugh. He put his own body through a lot of damage. All in the name of entertainment.

Personally, I grew up admiring lots of characters that stemmed from the early days of cinema when everything was in black and white. Other favorites include Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges. 

I really liked Charlie Chaplin, but didn’t know the extent of his genius until I moved from New York to Los Angeles, California in 1992. And I barely knew of Buster Keaton really until I moved to LA. The Los Angeles County Museum was screening many of Keaton’s films for a few months in early 1994 I believe. Those screenings literally changed my life. I fell in deeper love and appreciation for the cinema and seeing movies on the big screen that I didn’t know was even possible. And I have Buster Keaton to thank for that. I even ended up making a few short silent films with a friend. 

Seeing "The Great Buster"

Seeing “The Great Buster” at The Aero with my friend, Sean Kinney, on the left.

Charlie Chaplin was someone I got a kick out of. While Keaton made audiences laugh at his expense, Chaplin’s humor was often politically motivated. “The Great Dictator” is an amazing accomplishment, poking fun at Adolf Hitler while Hitler was still in power. Both comedians took amazing risks in order to reach millions of viewers. Chaplin is known for “The Tramp,” “The Kid,” “The Gold Rush,” “Modern Times” and “City Lights” co-starring Buster Keaton. 

Both Keaton and Chaplin along with other film artists such as Harold Lloyd helped kick off the passion that is the cinema. These funny, creative, innovative brilliant minds took us from the days of silent films into ‘Talkies’ an era where sound was added, giving actors a more realistic human feel. Talkies may have ended the silent movie phenomenon at the time, but silent films are still inspiring entertainment today everywhere you look. Keaton’s house falling on top of him, just missing him in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” has been mimicked dozens of times in film,  television and commercials. 

Los Angeles also has the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. In the mid-90’s this place screened all sorts of silent films and with live organ accompaniment. It was a really hip thing to attend. There are still events today, but not as authentic as those days in the 90s.

Some of my earliest experiences with the cinema were in Minnesota where I lived as a kid. I recall seeing movies in a drive-in theater. I remember seeing “The Towering Inferno.” And my most endearing memories of cinema involve a gigantic dino-lizard named Godzilla, stomping through Japan and destroying Tokyo. Last year, 2019, The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, did a revival of Godzilla movies and played back-to-back films in 35mm. I…was…in…heaven. Seeing and hearing Godzilla ROAR on the big screen put me right back into my childhood days. 

Sidney Patrick Grauman built two of the most elaborate cinema landmarks in Hollywood; the Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theater. My favorite movie theater to see larger-than-life movies is by far The Chinese Theater. The Chinese Theater opened May 18, 1927. A lot of the elaborate decor is of Chinese nature. And Chinese artisans designed sculptures to enhance the theater’s look and feel. The TCL Chinese Theater, as it’s now called, is absolutely breathtaking! The Egyptian is also quite amazing. Both theaters have very high ceilings like buildings that could have belonged to the Greeks, Romans or even the Egyptians perhaps in between the Pyramids. 

When I was about six years old, my father took me to see “Star Wars, A New Hope” in 1977. I was FLOORED! What is this world of rebels, furry characters and dark figures breathing heavily into my face and psyche? I think my Dad, a huge movie fan was taken by it too, because we returned to the movie theaters to see it a second time. I believe we were going to see a different movie the third time, but whatever that movie was was sold out. No matter. I would spend the rest of my life seeing this movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” whenever the chance presents itself on the big screen. That’s where these George Lucas movies were intended to be seen and for generations to come with the new Star Wars adventures. 

My childhood was also very much influenced by Steven Spielberg. “Close Encounters,” although I didn’t quite understand it until years later, would have a profound affect on me. My sense of wonder about the world and the universe would blossom over the years. Soon it would be “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial” that warmed my heart. And my sense of adventure was catapulted into existence by “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” All these movies seen first on the big screen is how I’ll always remember and think of them. 

In my early adult years, Stanley Kubrick took over my mind. I think he stole it. Kubrick figuratively pulled back my eye-lids like in “A Clockwork Orange” and pulled me in to his worlds. “The Shining” is one of my favorite movies. “2001, A Space Odyssey” continues to affect me. The visual effects are absolutely dream-like and gorgeous. If anything was meant to be seen in 70mm IMAX, it’s “2001.” Much of Kubrick’s films, like Spielberg, were meant to be seen on large screens. Some of Kubrick’s larger-than-life films include “Paths of Glory,” “Spartacus,” “Lolita,” and “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Another wonderful film worth mentioning is “Full Metal Jacket.” Larger than life characters need to be seen and heard as big as the screens can be made. 

The bigger the better! That’s why we need to support the movie theaters when unforeseen events force them to close for a period of time. Los Angeles is especially full of cinema history. And there’s outdoor venues, cemetery screenings, movies in the park, etc. Go see them all, but don’t forget the movie theaters.

The Landmark

Movies That Matter movie Meetup at The Landmark.

When Laemmle Theater chain opens up again I plan to go see a movie to support bringing them back. They’re a smaller movie chain that often shows independent and/or foreign made feature films. Laemmle is just beginning to partner with a streaming company that will offer their movies on demand so they can survive in the meantime. Click here for more info., trailers and more. 

AMC Theaters recently started on-demand to coincide with the regular box office theater option. I’ve been a member of their popular AMC Plus Pass which allows you to see three movies a week for $19.95 a month. They’ve suspended the cost for now while the theaters are temporarily closed. 

For a few years I had a Meetup group called Movies That Matter LA. Usually I would pick a new release that involved a social issue related story. Often these movies were based on real people and true events. Some movies we saw were “Hidden Figures,” “Miles Ahead” “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “Snowden.” One of the documentaries we saw was “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power” about climate change. My group would see the movie and then we would discuss it afterwards at a restaurant or coffee shop. 

That’s me, Ross H. Martin, in the photo  holding a Golden Ticket from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” one of my favorite movies. This screening with a Q & A took place at the NoHo 7 Laemmle Theater. It was part of a month-long celebration of Gene Wilder films.

Laemmle NoHo 7

Laemmle NoHo 7

Originally called The Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome, it opened November 7, 1963 with the premiere of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in 70mm. Cinerama is a process that brings three synchronized movie projectors together displaying one-third of the picture on a wide, curved screen. The curved screen is an added touch to make the audience member feel more connected than watching on a plain flat screen.

What’s your chosen candy? I grew up eating anything chocolate. My go-to was Rasinets, Goobers or Nestle Crunch bars. And of course, popcorn. Although I can’t much popcorn anymore as it upsets my stomach. There’s nothing like kicking back and reclining in a stadium-made leather chair with a drink and snacks and watching a new movie release. I actually miss the old days when you could hear the plastic film running through the projector.

Today, projectors run digitally and very quiet. With technology getting better and better, movies are looking better and sounding better. Having worked at Fotokem post-production the past five years, I’ve witnessed the work being done on 70mm films still being produced by the likes of filmmakers Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Christopher Nolan. Just last night I watched “The Dark Knight” on my little TV screen. Yes, I need a bigger TV. But I recall first seeing “The Dark Knight” at the famous Arclight Cinemas in the Dome. Over 75 feet tall, the Cinerama Dome, another favorite theater of mine, is as impressive on the outside as it is on the inside.

The Dome w Godzilla

The Dome with Godzilla

Today, the Dome seats 800 people. At times, there is a display as a part of the giant white dome. When “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) was released you could see Godzilla’s face breaking out of the top and light shining from it symbolizing his nuclear energy zapping the heavens. The Arclight Theaters is also very big on quest speakers doing Q & As after screenings. 

And after writing about these movie theater icons and theater chains, I may have to attend them all once they open back up for business. I’ll go see a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (TCL Theater). Then maybe I’ll catch a movie at the Dome. I’ll definitely go support Laemmle Theaters. 

The Vista Theater

The Vista Theater playing “Wonder Woman.”

And now I’m reminded of another great movie theater in Hollywood. The Vista Theater, opened as early as 1923, holding 400 seats. It plays newly released movies as well as classic movies of the past. Last year, at the Vista I saw “Batman: The Movie” (1966). It was the first time I had seen it in a theater and it was wonderful. All the cheesy dialogue and action made me feel all warm and fuzzy. 

At Vista the manager or ‘epic manager’ as he is often referred to as, Victor Martinez, is very much like a showman, dressing up at his premieres. He even recruited Wonder Woman.

Vista Theater

Vista Theater Wonder Woman Premiere. My friend, Michael McLaughlin, is on the far right. Manager Victor Martinez, far left. 

And finally, with my re-instated AMC Plus Pass, I’ll return to doing what I love most, seeing movies in the theaters. 

We in our 40s grew up with so much change at the cinemas. We look forward to bigger and better. Younger people can look forward to those awkward first dates. The movies give them something to break the ice afterwards. Some hand-holding. Sharing popcorn. Maybe a scary horror film makes one lean on the other. These couples will have families and take their children to see the newest animated film and perhaps see them in 3-D. Enjoy! 

See you at the movies! 

Blinded By the Light

“Blinded By the Light” is a narrative feature film about a Pakistani male teenager trying to assimilate into British society in 1987. His strict father holds his Pakistani roots tightly and doesn’t let anyone else have independent views. Plagued by racism and pressured to become a lawyer or doctor, Javed, played wonderfully by Vivek Kalra, writing since an early age, wants to make a living as a writer. Javed abandons his Pakistani roots after being introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen. 

Why Bruce Springsteen? When Javed asks his new friend, Roops, ‘Who’s the boss?’ Roops responds, “He’s the boss of us all.” An American pop icon. And nothing says American pop culture more than Bruce Springsteen. Although the story takes place in England, Javed’s desire to break free from his surroundings is the American spirit. Writer-Director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) and additional writers, Paul Mayeda Berges, and Sarfraz Manzoor wrote about Manzoor’s experiences growing up Pakistani in England. Chandra was also a ‘Bruce’ fan. Springsteen’s songs were often about hard-working families getting through the tough times. 

The film follows a universal message inspired by Bruce Springsteen, ‘No one wins unless everybody wins.’ Bruce treats people equally and lifts them up. In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, Chadha says, “…we all stand side by side, and it’s not an us or them – we’re all in it together. And that’s what I think the majority of people want to raise their kids to know. That’s what makes us human. And Bruce is all about empathy.” 

There are a few scenes that break into song and transform into a musical with dance routines and it totally works. It’s not all Bruce songs. Javed makes a deal with his sister to take her to a club where everyone enters and changes out of their ‘school clothes’ and into sparkling club-wear. A disc jockey plays popular Middle Eastern 80’s music. It shocks Javed to see his sister all decked out. And then he learns she’s seeing this young boy. This becomes another secret these siblings keep from their family. Their older sister gets married through a traditional arrangement between families. 

Some liberalities were taken. Apparently, journalist Sarfraz Manzoor did not have a girlfriend at the time. He also never talked back to his father to the extent the character does in the film. These additional elements heighten the stakes and build deeper levels in the story. 

The film is also a sad reminder that racism and xenophobia were prevalent in the 80’s, but unfortunately that has not changed today. In the film, it’s mentioned how open and free America is or was. So much hatred has come out of the woodwork in America in the last few years that it’s a bit ironic. This is why more films about people from different backgrounds is vital to America and the world. The more the world sees that we’re all just people trying to find good jobs and live together in peace the less likely we’ll hate each other. Because…’Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.’

Rolling Stone Interview

 

Why is Comic Con So Serious?

The following blog is very old as I attended Comic Con the first and only time in 2008. This article was on my Hubpages site which I’m discontinuing. I thought this might be an interesting addition and timing as Comic Con 2019 is taking place this weekend. And no, I am not attending and miss this experience. I’ll have to plan on going next year.

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There’s Batman exiting the parking lot! And there’s the Joker crossing the street. And there’s another Joker. For years I heard about the Comic Convention or Comic Con as they like to call it. Every year seemed to pass by and I’d forget about it when it was time to get tickets. This year almost slipped through my fingers like a villain falling from a great high-rise. About a month before Comic Con it was nearly sold out. I got a ticket for just Sunday. I drove down to San Diego from Los Angeles. It only took 1-and a-half hours to get there.

I thought I might try to catch the “Smallville” panel upstairs, but a staff member told me it was sold out. So, I started walking along the great line of people waiting to get into “Smallville” and got on at the end of the line to think about attending the “Supernatural” panel in the same room afterwards. I mainly got in line to collect my thoughts. Am I going to wait in long lines all day on my first and only day of Comic Con? NO! I decided to check out and spend the whole day downstairs where all the booths are. Somehow I found myself on a long line there too. It wasn’t for a panel with celebrities talking about filmmaking. It wasn’t for a celebrity signing autographs either. The line was for picking up free stuff off of a table. That’s insane! The staff person said the line was about 5 minutes long. Twenty-five minutes later I was more relieved to be done standing in that line than whatever crap I got from the table. I’ll probably end up throwing most of it away. So, long lines leading nowhere is a part of Comic Con.

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You’d think by Sunday the convention would thin out a bit. No way! It was wall-to-wall people. Some were dressed as PREDATORS, STORMTROOPERS, GHOSTBUSTERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. The good thing I got about walking up and down the aisles was a warm, fuzzy feeling, a nostalgic heaven of sorts. There were toys I saw that I used to own. There were toys I saw I’d like to own. My budget was tiny, but there was one item I really wanted, a small figurine of a Cylon. I LOVE “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”! They were sold out of course. All the cool stuff is available early on in the convention. I did purchase a few items; One Batman tee shirt, 2 8x 10 photos of DARTH VADER and INDIANA JONES. The convention is jam- packed with figures of superheroes and villains of all sizes. The HULK and IRON MAN were bigger than life.

Various celebrities and artists were signing autographs throughout Comic Con. The actor that played the guy in the bunny suit in “DONNIE DARKO” was signing autographs. After walking all day long I took a little time to rest up at a table I found luckily. I ate my pretzel and water for 7 dollars and people watched. Well, some of them looked like people. Actually, sitting down, eating my pretzel and people watching was a highlight to my day. I was exhausted. It was nearly 4PM and I wasn’t sure how much more roaming around I could do. I got a tip from a fellow fan that Lou Ferrigno was there. That’s the real INCREDIBLE HULK! There he was with his arms the size of my head. I snapped a few photos. I didn’t want to take too many pictures as he was actually there to sign autographs and take pictures for cash. I currently don’t have $20 for an autographed picture with The Hulk and definitely not for the actor who’s name I don’t know who played that guy who wore the bunny suit. So, if you’re new to Comic Con and want to get the best out of your experience be prepared for

1) Long lines everywhere you go

2) Most wanted toys sell out early

3) Heavy crowds

4) Expensive food

5) Oh, and if you’re driving from LA, what took me 1-and-a-half hours to San Diego took me 3 hours to drive back. I felt like the Hulk. My body was even turning green. RRRRRRRRR!

Comic Con is a serious business. Somewhere the Joker is laughing. “Why so serious?” HA HA HA HA!

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