Almost Needed a Life Raft

I pride myself on a superior film collection. Most weekends you will find me in front of my home theater screen watching an old favorite. If you are lucky, you will get invited. I have great equipment and spent whatever was necessary to get quality parts. I researched everything carefully and sought the best prices. Everything is state of the art. A recent occurrence, however, put it all in jeopardy. Water is the enemy of wood and electronics. Don’t let any get near your valuable stuff. There is no remedy or instant solution I know of. The wood may warp or show stains while the equipment goes on the fritz. It is a nightmare situation so check your roof before the next storm. I know this for a fact after having a bit of a home flood for another reason. Rain was not the culprit.

The old water heater in the room adjacent to my home theater broke and leaked big time. I should have bought that tankless model I saw on Water Heater Watch. Because I didn’t, water seeped from its storage area and ran seriously close to my speakers since they are placed on the floor. I rushed to mop up the old-fashioned way. I joked with my friends on Twitter that I had almost needed a life raft. Fortunately, I had a large dry mop and bucket set in the garage. I had the foresight to buy some essential accident clean up supplies a few weeks ago. Take a tip from me and get this stuff. You never know when you will need it.

After ridding the floor of all traces of water, I went into quick action to save the day. I rented some large fans to dry the area more thoroughly and to dissipate any lingering residue. I kept them on for an entire day. Then I had the task of replacing anything that didn’t work. After doing a trial run with all my equipment, and a close-range inspection, I found only a bit of dry wood on the trim of my speakers. I didn’t need to buy new ones, only replace the trim. This wasn’t a major expense for which I was very grateful.

After the flood, if you can call it that (it was more “leakage”), I wanted to celebrate and so I invited some friends over for a new movie viewing. They all came loaded with cases of beer and a few bottles of chilled wine. I provided cheese, crackers, and assorted other snacks. I was indeed a happy camper. It could have been a lot worse. My friends know how I feel and offered appropriate remarks. “You lucked out, dude.” “Not a trace of water!” “Your quick thinking saved the day.” I got the message. I had just missed a major catastrophe. They had all loved the bit about the life raft when I called them, and one joker brought one over to make us smile.

Classic Sports Movies: Basketball

I go to the movies often, but I like to control the environment when I watch a great film. Thus, I have installed a stellar home entertainment center in my basement with compartments that house the flat screen giant TV, the stereo, receiver, etc. not to mention spaces for my vast movie collection. It is growing daily. People always know what to give me for holidays or my birthday. I have had to print out my inventory for everyone. It is sorted by subject and then alphabetically. The actual home center is a paradigm of organization. For example, the first group are “action” films followed by basketball and comedy.

Within basketball, you will find Basketball Diaries, Fast Break, Ballers Guide and Hoosiers. Be sure to put them on your “must see” list if you love the sport as I do. My collection has every genre and includes classics, spoofs, remakes, sequels, and more. It is probably light on romance and heavy on crime, horror, and documentaries. I have animation including anime. You could say that I am well rounded in my tastes. Because of the variety, I can invite the guys over for any kind of movie night and serve appropriate refreshments. I do it once a week so there is plenty of material for years to come. Come on over, watch, and have a snack. Yes, beer and pretzels for sports films. Women can come when I show tear jerkers and fantasy. They get cupcakes and tissues. Kids get candy and popcorn and often have to fight off the adults who want in.

Oddly enough, the friends I include for a movie like Hoosiers aren’t actual basketball players. You don’t have to participate on a team to appreciate all the right moves. The same goes for football, baseball, skiing and surfing. If you are a Kevin Costner fan, you get invited to Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. If you never tire of Dan Aykroyd, let’s watch for Celtic Pride. As for Nick Nolte, I have his great Blue Chips. Let’s not forget Love and Basketball, a personal favorite, starring Omar Epps. I could go on and on with movies like White Men Can’t Jump, Coach Carter, Space Jam (great for kids) and Above the Rim. How many have you seen? It would be all if you lived in my neighborhood. You would bring over Hoop Dreams or He Got Game. You would be in my inner circle for sure.

Let’s give a shout out for basketball as a movie genre and a major American sport. Anyone who has dribbled a ball gets hooked. The playoffs are exhilarating and uplifting, even for a casual fan. Fascination with the sport doesn’t stop here. Its appeal as you can easily see stretches into the world of movies. Its genre is a prominent one on the silver screen. Every kid pretends to be his favorite player as he shoots his feeble shots. In short, basketball in person or on celluloid is a world of magic and joy.

Color or Black and White?

Do you have a preference in your films? Would you watch a film in black and white, or do you insist on them having to be in color? Does it really matter to you? Would it make a difference if it was an old black and white film or a more recent one like Schindler’s List? Do you watch old, colorized movies and cringe at the lack of tone and depth in the picture or do you like the way it looked?

Well, here are some of my thoughts.

Black and white film was a no-brainerfor early filmmakers, when either color film was unavailable or the process too costly for common use. But some films seemed to take that limitation and elevate it. You don’t even miss the color when it is done properly. For example, in the movie Psycho, you don’t need to color to make that shower scene more scary or believable! I can’t imagine watching a movie like Casablanca and having it in color. There is just something about the black and white that makes it complex, classic, and romantic. Just like the movie itself.

However, color can make a movie magical and more realistic. For many people, The Wizard of Oz was the first time they were seeing a film in color; as a matter of fact, I know people who first saw the movie on a black and white tv and didn’t get the significance of The Horse of a Different Color or some of the other effects in the movie. The colored portions of the film really set the fantasy world apart from that of Kansas. It was almost like a character in its own right.

There was also a phase where older films were colorized. This was a misguided attempt to make them appeal to a larger audience. While I do know people who claim not to like black and white movies, the colorization process seems unnecessary to me. If you aren’t going to be able to appreciate Citizen Kane because it is in black and white, 1) I don’t really want you as a friend, and 2) you probably wouldn’t appreciate it regardless. I am kind of glad that colorization is not really a thing anymore.

Personally, I don’t have much preference, other than to say that I am glad colorization isn’t really a thing anymore. I don’t mind film restorations because that isn’t messing with the original, it is more like an enhancement. I do kind of like technicolor, because of the warm tones it achieved. Although it was a common technique used for many years, it was a difficult process. Studios had to rent the technicolor cameras as well as hire people to operate them. It also required much more lighting, which made filming people in costume and certain makeup difficult. There also had to be a “color supervisor” on set to make sure that everything would look good on the film. In addition, there was a complicated exposure and dye process that took a long time. With all these additions to the film budget, it got quite expensive to use technicolor. Eventually, it gave way to the much more budget friendly Eastman 35 mm film.

Now, color is the norm. You can watch movies on ultra-high definition televisions and see colors that are so true to life, you feel like you are really there. I wonder what old-time movie makers would think of that if they could see how far we have come!

A Dream of Mine

One day, I’d like to open a movie theater of my own. I think it would be about the best job ever. I would like to incorporate ideas from modern-day theaters, like digital film and surround sound, but also incorporate more of the old-school theatergoing experience. Basically, a throwback but with a modern day twist. All of the comforts of the newtheaters but with all the charm and interesting touches of a fancy, old-style theater.

While stadium seating is great because it allows more people to have good sightlines, I would like to do more.Make it more unique. More reminiscent of the good old days of theatergoing, when people would get dressed up to come watch the latest film from their favorite actors. I really love the idea of balcony seating. I think it might be good for parents of little kids or for people celebrating person events. I think some people who might be self-conscious about their need for things like closed captioning devices might enjoy the relative privacy of being in a balcony as well. I like the idea of a place where people can sit and feel special, even if it is for a few hours. You wouldn’t be disturbing anyone if your child likes to kick his feet out or if you want to go to the concession stand a few times.

I also really miss actual ushers. I am not talking about the people nowadays who pretty much just walk through the theater to make sure that nobody is illegally filming the movie. I am talking about employees in uniforms that would help you find an available seat. With the little hat and the flashlights. Those people. I think little touches like that can really make a movie feel like a magical experience, and that is the kind of thing I am looking for. Classy looking uniformed employees would be a great touch.

Obviously, my theater would show current films because that would definitely help get people through the doors. But I would also like to show classic movies like The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. Movies that good always look great on a big screen. I would pick a night of the week or a specific date once a month—depending on how popular this idea would be—and run a classic film. Maybe I would charge a ‘classic’ amount, too. Like a dollar a ticket and offer specific concessions for cheap prices. A quarter for a soda or something like that. If the idea became really successful, I might even hire some musicians to play the score live during the film. Anything to make it feel like an event, you know?

I really don’t have the money or the location to do something like that at this point in my life. But a guy can dream, can’t he? Until then, I can upgrade my home theater equipment until it sort of feels like I am in my own personal theater.

Where Have all the Musicals Gone?

Some of my favorite movies feature classic song-and-dance numbers. Studios used to put together a dream cast of their performers in Broadway revivals and themed productions. People used to flock to the theater to watch these big-budget and glamorous musicals.

So why don’t they get made anymore unless it involves a cartoon princess singing with animals?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and have come up with a pretty decent theory. The first involves actors themselves. Stars like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had to be able to act, sing, and dance. You don’t need the same skillset anymore. All we ask of our actors now is that they be good looking and semi-believable. We don’t require them to be all that talented. Case in point: just about anybody with a phone or a laptop can broadcast themselves all over the internet for a few minutes of notoriety.

In that same vein, more movies are made now—and by more companies, large and small—than back in the heyday of the musical. In the early days, only huge movie studios could make films. They signed contracts with their performing talent so that they could not work for competing studios (except on loan). This created both exclusivity and the desire to make films that would cater to your performer’s talents. In other words, if you have Gene Kelly working for your studio, you’re going to want him to sing and dance. So you are going to make a musical. Before the advent of the home television, if you wanted to see a film, you had to go to the theater. Back then, there was a much smaller pool of films to choose from (many theaters showed only one film, once or twice a day, for weeks at a time), which meant people had fewer options. It is possible that musicals were not really what people wanted so much as what Hollywood was making. When you don’t have a choice, you’ll see what is available, right? If you look at the box office receipts for a film like Into the Woods vs a Star Wars movie, you’ll see where I am going. When people finally had other choices, they went other ways. And musicals cost a lot of money, all things considered. There was a huge ensemble cast, choreographers, lengthy rehearsal times, costumes, large sets, and full orchestras. If a star got injured while performing, they were difficult to replace. One thing movie studios hate is putting money into a movie and not making a profit. Fewer musicals got made and people didn’t seem to miss them. That meant even less got made. Studios had to stop owning the rights to the performers themselves, and that also had an impact on what was being produced.

And here we are. We’ll occasionally get a movie like Grease or Hairspray, but for every one of those, we’re stuck with a Momma Mia!  Here’s hoping that we get another good one soon.

Sci-Fi Before CGI

Computer generated graphics continue to get better and better. Movies that could not possibly have been made even 30 years ago can now be made on a high-quality home computer. What can now be done with a green screen and some software used to require costumes, effects makeup, special lighting, and elaborate sets. While I can appreciate the huge advances CGI has made in the way of effects and animation, I feel that they are often used as a crutch to support uninteresting movies with bad plots and even worse acting. This is especially evident in the science fiction genre. There are so many films pre-CGI that were well done and are still impressive in this computerized era. Here are some of my favorites.

This first one is quite the golden oldie, considered one of the first full-length movies in the genre. It is a  film without spoken dialog called Metropolis, and it was released in 1927. Some of the techniques used in the film were incredibly uncommon, including what became known as the Schüfftan process—named after the effects expert who worked on the film—where mirrors are used to make miniature sets look the correct size in relation to the actors. The reason most of the effects look real is because they are. In the scenewhere the city is being flooded, those people were really in water. And at the end when Maria is tied to a stake and is being burned to death,that’s not special effects; it really is fire, arranged in such a way to look like she is being burned.

The original Planet of the Apes is one of the torchbearers of the genre pre-CGI. Because it could not rely on dizzying effects or computerized characters who weren’t really there, the film actually required good production and acting. Through believable acting, skilled effects makeup and costumes, convincing sets and locations, as well as a talented director and a well-crafted musical score, they proved that you could transport an audience into a completely imaginative and alien world.

What about the creature from Alien? Would it have been as scary or impressive if it had been computer generated? I doubt they would have gone that route even if they could have: the director, Ridley Scott, was quoted by David McIntee as saying, “It’s a man in a suit, but then it would be, wouldn’t it? It takes on elements of the host—in this case, a man.” He makes a good point. Their use of models, puppets, animatronics, costumes, and camera tricks (like filming scenes in reverse) made for a highly effective combination.

I would talk about Star Wars here as well, since the saga has been ongoing and both pre- and post- dated CGI (as did the Star Trek series) but I feel like that might be another post for another time.

Do you have any favorite sci-fi movies that lack computer generated graphics?

My Favorite Classic Films

There are just some movies that I never get tired of watching. Do you have movies like that? Sometimes they feel like old friends to me. They never fail to cheer me up. I think my favorite movies are my favorites because they get even better the more I watch them. Sometimes, even after seeing them ten or fifteen times, I will see something that I never noticed before. I love looking them up and reading bits of trivia as well as interviews with the cast and director. It makes me appreciate films in a whole new way.

For me, it just doesn’t feel like the holidays unless I watch Miracle on 34th Street. It made me want to visit the Macy’s Santa when I was young and I never miss their Thanksgiving parade. My mom was the one who first sat me down to watch it with her and I always think of her when I see it, even though she has been gone for a number of years now. Other must-see holiday movies are It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas.They are also movies that I started watching when I was young. They were annual holiday events growing up and I enjoy keeping the tradition alive. It doesn’t get much better than George Bailey or Bing Crosby crooning, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Perfect song to decorate your tree to, in my opinion.

My favorite musical is Singin’ in the Rain.It had a great cast performing some incredibly iconic songs. They are some of my favorites. However, that scene where Kelly is performing in the rain? Probably one of the most perfect moments ever captured on film. It’s fun, it’s catchy, it’s perfectly choreographed. And it’s even more impressive considering that it was filmed in one take—the first one—and Kelly was ill the day it was shot.

But my all-time favorite movie is Grapes of Wrath. I had to read the book in school and it wasn’t all that interesting to me. I remember being angry that there was a whole chapter about a turtle crossing the road (it was something like three pages, but as a teenager, I was still outraged. The things we remember, right?) However, our teacher knew a great way to get us to care. She let us watch the movie during class and everything changed for me. The characters and their struggles came to life and I found myself really understanding what Steinbeck had been trying to say. Henry Fonda was amazing. That speech he gives when he says, “I’ll be there in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry…” when he’s talking to his mother is about as great as you can get. Nobody else could have played Tom Joad. He was perfect in the part. John Ford was an odd choice for the direction, and by all accounts, he was difficult to work for. But he really got the best out of his cast and the movie—even after all this time—holds up incredibly well.

So those are some of my all-time favorites. What are your favorite movies?