Saw LABYRINTH on the big screen, and it was better that way

The Paramount Theater showed Labyrinth tonight in honor of the late David Bowie, and we went to see it. It was one of my wife’s favorite childhood movies, so we’ve watched it together a lot of times, but all my viewings have been as an adult. I’ve never really loved it. The puppetry isn’t that impressive to my eye, director Jim Henson fails to bring much out of the teenaged Jennifer Connelly, and Bowie’s soundtrack is only intermittently catchy. It’s never a painful watch, but it’s the kind of movie I’m sometimes at risk of falling asleep during.

But not on the big screen, on film, the way the Paramount showed it tonight. The screening was marred by this summer’s recurring projector-outage bogeyman, but they got it back on track in fairly short order without switching to digital. I was genuinely impressed with Labyrinth. I certainly believe that all movies are better on the big screen, and many that were shot on film are better on film, but I would not have expected Labyrinth to provide such a clear illustration of those truisms. One of my major criticisms of the film, that the sets look like sets, is totally disarmed when high-definition isn’t an issue. Through the grain of film, the sets look pretty dang good! Classical and fantasy-like. I’m sure our DVD is in the original widescreen format, but seeing it at full scale showed me little Easter eggs I hadn’t noticed before, mostly in Connelly’s bedroom: she has an album or book cover with a drawing of the tunnel-cleaning machine that’s an early obstacle in the movie’s titular maze.

So, projection issues aside, the Paramount has given me yet another favorite viewing of an old familiar film.

Slow-turning ceiling fans

While I was watching Casablanca the other day, I noticed something I’ve always noticed and envied: the slow-turning ceiling fans in the Blue Parrot. I also notice the slow-turning fan in that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the monkey eats the bad dates. I’ve always wanted my ceiling fans to turn as slowly as the ones in these movies. It looks good, it wouldn’t be too cold, but it would keep the air moving a bit. Here in turn-of-the millennium Texas, our ceiling fans are always too high-powered even on the lowest setting. Nobody here can ever use a ceiling fan’s highest setting because it will shake itself loose from the ceiling and ricochet around the room, breaking windows and causing serious injury.

Someday I may hire an electrician to make the super-slow fan thing happen for me.

Saw CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON on the big screen

Random thoughts, because after a double feature this good, that’s all I can muster:

  1. During the opening credits of Casablanca, the music briefly becomes La Marseillaise, and someone in the crowd yelled out “Viva la France!” That was my favorite audience reaction, though of course everyone in the theater was highly appreciative of Claude Rains’ moments.
  2. The 35mm film print of Casablanca was gorgeous, in great condition, though the projector lightbulb went out during the third or fourth scene (something, anyway, went wrong and caused the screen to go dark). They fixed it in about a minute, though.
  3. I enjoyed Casablanca more than ever before, and that’s saying something, since it’s always been among my ten favorite movies. I could watch it again tomorrow, it’s that good and that enjoyable. I think I’ve noticed just about everything there is to notice at this point (including the fact that if Ilsa would have explained her situation to Rick in Paris, the whole movie would have been needless), but this time I more closely observed the running gag in the opening scenes with the French officer lecturing the Italian officer.
  4. The Maltese Falcon, well-cast and well-paced as it is, really is a silly little movie. It probably suffers from being watched immediately after the endlessly rich Casablanca, but on the other hand, it’s interesting to think about how its DNA found its way into later films. Other John Huston movies, Chinatown, and many of the Coen brothers’ movies all owe a lot to it. And Sydney Greenstreet’s comedic chops are all the more apparent when projected at a theatrical scale.
  5. The Paramount showed a digital restoration of Maltese Falcon, and for most or all of the double features during this year’s Summer Classic Film Series they’ll be pairing a film print with a digital restoration to show off their new digital projector. I always prefer film when possible, but the fact is that not all movies are readily available in that format, so I’m happy to expand the pool.

Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is starting this week!

I’ve had a lot of good experiences at the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series here in Austin, Texas. My first viewing of Woody Allen’s Sleeper was there, and it cemented my nascent Allen fandom. My fourth or fifth viewing of Lawrence of Arabia was there, but on 70mm film. I’ve seen great movies I might not have seen otherwise, like The Late Show, and thanks to double features I’ve made connections I might not have made otherwise, like between Pan’s Labyrinth and The Spirit of the Beehive.

Continue reading Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is starting this week!

Started watching BBC’s WOLF HALL

Last night we started watching Wolf Hall, the BBC television adaptation of the historical novels of Hilary Mantel. I haven’t read the books, but I’m interested in the topic (the reign of Henry VIII) and love the cast of this series. Mark Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell, Jonathan Pryce plays Cardinal Wolsey, Bernard Hill has a small role; I’m fans of theirs from Bridge of Spies, Brazil, and The Lord of the Rings, respectively.

The negative characterization of Thomas More is an interesting counterbalance to his hagiographic depiction in A Man for All Seasons, but there’s certainly some hero-worship at play in Wolf Hall — it’s just directed toward a different figure, Cromwell. The character with the most nuance so far is Wolsey, so it’s a shame he won’t be among the living for much longer. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler; it happens early, and this is 500-year-old history we’re talking about. I’m looking forward to seeing more, though, because the setting is so much up my alley, and Masterpiece productions and co-productions always seem to entertain me. Incidentally, I could swear I’ve seen Anne Boleyn’s rooms before in some movie or other. When you start seeing shooting locations repeated, you know you’ve watched a lot of British period pieces!

A good time to watch SHOAH

As a history buff who’s particularly fascinated by World War II, I’ve long known of the existence of an acclaimed 9-hour Holocaust documentary called Shoah. Now that I’ve defended my history dissertation (which is about the postwar period, and about Asia rather than Europe), I decided it would be a good time to knock this film off the to-watch list. After all, it’s considered by some “the most important Holocaust film ever made,” and I’ve already seen most of the contenders for the rest of that list.

Continue reading A good time to watch SHOAH

Watched TRUE DETECTIVE Season 1

I’m a couple years late to the party, but I watched True Detective‘s first season this week. It originally aired in 2014. It’s the only season I intend to watch, not only because I’ve heard universally negative things about the unrelated content of season 2, but because I couldn’t imagine a successful follow-up to this kind of story. The part-nihilistic, part-fantastical worldview of Matthew McConaughey’s character Rustin Cohle, a worldview I largely share, is the linchpin of the show, but to repeat it in a different character in season 2 would be ridiculous, and to try to craft a new but equally compelling worldview seems too great a challenge for one program. So no season 2 for me unless I get morbidly curious. But the first season was, aside from a few cheesy moments (the biker gang nonsense and some spoilery stuff in the finale), exceptionally intelligent and compelling television. An occult-influenced crime story set in the deep south and split into three layers of chronology, full of unapologetically stark discussions about the nature of existence, performed by two intense actors playing two well-rounded but rigorously defined characters — it was all very much up my alley, all excellently conceived and gorgeously executed. McConaughey may have had the best writing, but I think Woody Harrelson had the harder acting job, with lots of believable domestic drama in addition to his cop storyline. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga is on my radar now, as is writer Nic Pizzolato (who also wrote the show’s second season, for the record). So is The Handsome Family, who performed the theme song, seen above.

Watched Season 1 of the SyFy show THE EXPANSE

This isn’t movie-related, but tonight I finished the SyFy network show The Expanse, which premiered a ten-episode season at the beginning of this year. Season 2 doesn’t come out until January 2017. The futuristic story about Earth and colonies on Mars and asteroid belt workers can be hard to follow, but that’s preferable to being simplistic or spelling things out too much. It took me a while to become attached to the characters, who initially had a habit of dying off quickly, but by the end of the season I was pretty invested in Thomas Jane’s noir detective character and Dominique Tipper’s engineer/possible ex-terrorist character.

The show is based on a book series, and it’s gotten good critical feedback. Fans of smart, mysterious, complex sci-fi should check it out!