Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie Talk

My friend and fellow blogger Mark Verheiden has some interesting comments on the decline of movie theater audiences. His blog was sparked my Roger Eberts' column regarding the same subject (see Mark's link to read both).

I think the #1 reason, one that Ebert mentions, is 'choice'. For those of you old enough to remember, when megaplexes first appeared the idea was that they would show a 'variety' of movies. That is, they would have the current blockbuster (maybe on a couple of screens), a comedy, a love story AND one or two 'art house' flicks. But as we all know, the megaplexes only show a small number of 'art' films. It's usually around Oscar and Golden Globe time (like now) when something like Black Swan gets a bunch of nominations.

I live 12 miles from downtown San Francisco. There are a couple of megaplexes near my home, but I have to go to the City to see anything remotely 'arty'. It's no big deal, because I can be in the City in under 30 minutes minutes by car or take BART and pop out of the station in the middle of downtown in less than an hour (that's door-to-Market Street).

There used to be a theater nearby that would show foreign/art films, but it closed a few years ago. And it was a lousy theater anyway. One of those multi-screen jobs that had once been a single theater with crazy cock-eyed seats.

Mark Verheiden talks about going to an Imax theater in our home town of Portland and says it was a good experience. We have the Imax thing here and I don't dig them but I can see the appeal. I do like the 'grown-up' theaters (not sure what the industry term is). We have one in San Francisco, a Sundance theater, where you can reserve seats that are big and comfy and they show arty films as well as hits. They even sell cocktails that you can bring in and some of the seats have little tables (kinda like an old fashioned school chair/desk thingy) to sit your goodies on. If I had my druthers, I would go there for every movie I see. But it's too little too late.

Like the bricks-and-mortar book and record stores, movie theaters have already lost their audience. They're not coming back. I can buy a book on Barnes and Nobles website for less than they sell the same thing at the actual Barnes and Nobles store. The price should be the same (I don't mind or consider the extra sales tax I have to pay if I go to the store. That's fine. I'm not that much of a miser). But unless you need the book right now, you'd have to be a dolt to pay more to have to leave your house, drive to the store, hunt around for it and then wait in line to give them your money versus push a few buttons on your computer and a few days later have the book sitting in your mailbox.

What were they thinking? Do they actually want the bricks and mortar stores to go away? It kinda seems that way. The problem, as with record stores versus online, is that you no longer 'browse' or are 'surprised' by something. You only buy stuff you already know you want or like.

Movie theaters have a similar problem. I can stream or get the DVD through Netflix or do On Demand and watch movies on my giant Hi-Def TV sitting on my own couch for less than it costs to see it in a theater. Most people (especially older or sophisticated movie-goers who like grown-up/arty flicks) don't care if they have to wait weeks or even months to see it. They don't need to see it NOW. That's pretty much the only advantage to theaters. I can't watch The Artist at home this weekend, so I'll go to the theater. And I'll go to the Sundance theater where people behave themselves and I can reserve a seat.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fab Four

What if the Beatles had been five guys instead of four?

Four seems like the 'magic' number for groups. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Monkees...even the Rolling Stones had four core members while that fifth spot kept changing from Brian Jones to Mick Taylor to Ron Wood.

And it's not just rock bands. The most popular TV show of the 1960's, 'Bonanza', featured four characters. And when Pernell Roberts left, they even replaced him with the ranch hand Candy.

The most popular team comic book of the 1960's was 'The Fantastic Four'. Okay, maybe 'Justice League of America' sold more, but the FF fans were more devoted and Marvel's second biggest success ('Amazing Spider-Man' sold more).

I think one of the reasons for the success of having 'four' people/characters is because once you get to five or six, the audience loses track of them. If you have to name the Beach Boys, you stumble to remember the fifth. Same with 'Star Trek'...if you think of the principle characters, you pause after Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty. You have to actually 'think' about it. Whereas John, Paul, George and Ringo just rolls off the brain.

Maybe it has something to do with the four points of a compass. Or the four seasons.

I remember once reading that if you show somebody a group of objects, the maximum number they can count without actually 'counting' them is five. I suppose that means that a bunch of people can't do it beyond four.

Whatever the reason, I do know that when I'm trying to remember the characters in the Dirty Dozen or The Seven Dwarfs I have trouble. But the names Ed, Lewis, Bobby and Drew come right out when I think of Deliverance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Jerry Lewis Method to the Madness'...I don't see any method at all

Maybe I was misreading the promos or foolishly hopeful, but it seemed to me that this Jerry Lewis special on Encore was supposed to be a somewhat serious examination of his films. He is, after all, a truly gifted and successful director and there should be a decent retrospective of his work while he's still alive to discuss it.

I have no idea what the purpose of this documentary is. It told me nothing new and i don't care what Alec Baldwin or Richard Lewis think about Jerry. Although, I was surprised and pleased to see that Woody Harrelson is a HUGE Jerry fan, even to the point of saying, 'If you don't like Jerry Lewis, I have no interest in hanging out with you.', which is pretty cool. But it has nothing to do with Jerry Lewis. Woody Harrelson, yes.

I've read a lot of Jerry books and the best I've come across the 'The King of Comedy' by Shawn Levy. It came out about ten years ago. Read that and skip this thing.

That is unless you want to watch people talking about how great Jerry is and see recent footage of him telling jokes that are sexist and in bad taste and an embarrassment. To think I was actually looking forward to this stinker.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beach Boys 50 Year Reunion

I see the remaining members of the Beach Boys will be reuniting for a tour and are already recording an album. The line-up: Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnson.

Brian and Mike ARE the heart and soul of the band. Like John and Paul. A 'reunion' without those two isn't a true reunion. Although, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnson are HUGE talents. I don't know enough about David Marks to comment, but he is an 'original' member and was on the first few albums and I assume he must have some talent as a singer/guitar player or Brian would not have kept him around for long.

I've written about the Beach Boys here before, and I think they are not only one of the greatest bands, but really important. The Beach Boys did what few musicians do. They changed things. Like Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, The Sex Pistols, Ramones and Nirvana (and there are others), they upped the ante.

And their story and history is so damn interesting. Like the Beatles, it has a huge cast with all the ingredients: Heroes and villains, beautiful women, triumph and tragedy, death and madness, drugs and enlightenment, money and success...and unlike the Beatles, they also were 'real' family.

I'm looking forward to this reunion. Good or bad, it will be fun and exciting to see them together again.

Fifty years. Man, I feel old.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The other morning I turn on the TV. It's 5:30AM and 'Dobie Gillis' is on. And there's William Shallert, who I first saw as a kid playing 'Poppo' on the Patty Duke show. I always dig 'The Patty Duke Show'. It was a real tribute to early 60's teenage American life. 'Patty digs the rock 'n roll', the theme song said.

Later that night, I see Shallert again on a new TV movie, Stephen King's 'Bag of Bones'. A 45 year time warp!

I must admit, it's nice to see Shallert still around. A lot of the folks I grew up watching in movies and TV and musicians, too, seem to have died on me or vanished.

I Googled Shallert and he's 89, which kinda surprised me. I thought he'd be older!

One of the things I remember about him was that as a kid, I would scan the TV Guide and more than once saw that 'William Shallert' was guest starring on some show. So I would tune in expecting to see Captain Kirk. And then I'd go, 'Oh it's Poppo!' I no longer have that problem as I have figured out the difference between Shallert and Shatner, but HEY, I was just a kid!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

'Boardwalk Empire' Is Now

Popular culture has always reflected the tone of its society. Movies, especially genre oriented films like horror, science fiction and westerns are obvious examples. Lots of books have been written about how they mirror the mood of the times.

Music, too, is a reflection of us. The malt shop/doo-wop of the 50's sang simplistic songs of a post-war goody-goody suburban America. In the 60's, lead by Bob Dylan and The Beatles, we got serious, and the music more complex and adult.

Television is perhaps the most blatant mirror. It's disposable, mass produced, and unlike music, which can be murky and symbolic and poetic, television shows are more obvious statements than songs are.

In the 60's, during the height of the Cold War, we were inundated with 'spy' shows. In the 70's, during a rare liberal wave, we saw shows like 'All in the Family' and 'MASH' that not only exclaimed left-wing ideas, but portrayed right-wingers as fools and nincompoops (Archie Bunker and Frank Burns).

For the last decade or so, we have seen numerous shows depicting criminals, for example, 'The Sopranos'. But not only are these shows about criminals, they are criminals that are in cahoots with the government. Tony Soprano had politicians in his pocket.

In 'Breaking Bad', Gus, the king-pin drug dealer, has the Feds on his side. On 'Weeds', the mayor of Tijuana is a mobster. 'Boss' and 'Damages' and 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Big Love'...all these shows portray government officials as crooks and gangsters and killers.

In the 60's, we were lead to believe that 'spy' shows were fantasy and common sense told us that the adventures of our TV heroes was no reflection of the real CIA or KGB agents, who's jobs were probably more about pencil pushing than action. But in retrospect, the truth about what the CIA and KGB were up to is probably even more frightening than anything Napoleon Solo or Jim Phelps were doing.

The current theme of shows that tell us the world is run by crooks and that everything revolves around power and blackmail and money and violence seems outlandish. But I think that we'll look back and think how shows like 'Boss' were accurate in the ways of the world. Sure, they are overblown and simplistic compared to real life. But could it also explain the Wall Street crisis? And the scandals of Cain, Spitzer and Weiner? And how the President's hands are tied, no matter who he/she is? Just maybe.