Stepped out of the game for what was going to be a minute and turned into four months - four months in which I never visited the Lightbox, rarely went to the movies at all, and sat on the sidelines while the whole world flipped on its back like a drunken sea turtle. And then I went to New Zealand, and had one of the best moviegoing experiences of my whole life. And then I came back, and then the Substream died and then Ebert died, and absent an outlet or even a clear sense of what I’m doing, I’m a writer sorely in need of a content strategy; until then, though, there’s always the blog, and Watched, and here we are.Read more
Lake Ferry - Our Mount Doom hike has been scuttled, because the Tongariro crossing is in permanent nastiness, weather-wise, for the next several days. This has left a rather gaping crater in our final week in New Zealand. We’ve ended up in Lake Ferry - a bleak stretch of sand out near the pinnacles, where the hotel (a lovely, barren motel overlooking the sand spit) could be the gathering place for anyone within twenty miles.
Have I mentioned the food here - the food in New Zealand is one hell of a best-kept secret. With exactly one exception, we have not failed to find UNBELIEVABLY good food in every restaurant we’ve visited, largely sourced from local products, and always plated with an aesthetic solvency that would blow the hair off half the Food Network hags. Last night at the hotel restaurant it was prawns and fettuccine tossed in tomato sauce with chorizo sausage and pine nuts, and it was - yet again - one of the better meals I’ve had in my life. No one talks about this place as the culinary centre of the world? Is it because they’re too busy talking about the propensity to jump off bridges?
Have I mentioned the drought? It’s stunningly dry here, and all the highway “fire hazard” signs (of which there are many) are set to “EXTREME.” But more than that, you see it as you move through the land - driving down here, across mile after mile after mile of sun-blasted scrub land, one begins to worry. Demetre was saying that the country is within a stone’s throw of water rationing if they don’t get a good downpour soon. (They should go to Tongariro.)
Wellington turned out to be a compellingly livable, friendly city, with a solid strategy for public art, and walkable streets that are - for whatever reason - replete with pregnant women, suggesting that they have lots of sex there and/or are as fertile as the average fruit fly. Wellington also puts Chicago’s quaint notions of itself as “the windy city” in striking perspective - especially down by the bay, that town has WIND, man. But no one seems too bothered about it. Friday morning the folks heading to work did not seem in any particular rush about it, and Friday night the streets exploded with nightlife to a degree that was more than a bit startling.
We went to the Weta Cave and then I did my Obi-Wan Kenobi straight-line walk to Stone Street Studio without any plan or navigational assistance. The highlight of the stay, though, was going to the Embassy Theatre for a midnight screening of The Hobbit in 48/3-D/Atmos, which would have been a treat in itself, but… THIS THEATRE. Quite legitimately the best movie theatre I’ve ever been to a movie in, with a stunning lobby, tony nighttime bar under the screen (which creates the rather surreal visual of walking into the lobby and seeing no ticket counter or concession stand, but rather a vulva-ish tunnel leading to a brilliantly designed room full of flappers drinking Old Fashioneds), an upstairs cafe and lounge area, and then - of course - a brilliant theatre, with a gargantuan screen, the best sound system I’ve ever heard, and wide leather armchairs bearing the names of the benefactors who sponsored them. (I sat in Liv Tyler’s.) If they played Return of the Jedi on Saturday mornings, it would be like all of my life’s ambitions had crashed together in one place. The Embassy is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and puts Wellington near the top of the list of places in New Zealand now vying for my permanent residence.
The big draw out where we are right now are the pinnacles, which served as the Paths of the Dead and must be seen to be believed. Made up of dissolving towers of compacted scree, the pinnacles seem like a winding labyrinth of crumbling castle turrets and proud, erect penises stabbing the darkening sky. (Also: if the metaphors in this entry any indication, I’ve spent too long absent the company of a woman.) We were in the pinnacles as the sun went down, and the encroaching chill and preternatural silence - broken only by our exhausting efforts to scramble over the voluminous piles of skull-like stones - was immense. I would love to return with a good set of speakers, and bounce the Raiders march off every corner of that large, natural echo chamber.
Aoraki - It’s at the point now where we’re becoming playfully annoyed with the whole thing, coming around yet another corner to see yet another vista that must be witnessed and photographed and enthused over. Enough already, New Zealand - WE GET IT. Rocketing up from Wanaka through Twizel (Pelennor Fields - rah!), we arrived at the glacial valley in front of Mt. Cook to have our asses handed to us once again by the improbably astonishing landscape. It doesn’t suck here. It, apparently, never sucks here.
Having climbed more than enough mountains on our own power, thankyouverymuch, we booked a chopper to fly us to the Franz Joseph glacier in the mountain range near Mt. Cook; touching down on the snow field, the three of us pretty much turned into lunatics, running around throwing snowballs at each other and doing snow angels before tucking back into the chopper to fly around the peaks. Not inexpensive - actually, nothing around here is - but a real highlight of the voyage so far. I’ve never been in a helicopter till now, and having made a promise to be safe, don’t intend to do anything riskier than that - which in New Zealand is a challenging proposition, in that every regular activity seems to be available here in high-speed and on fire. What I don’t like about, say, skydiving or bungee jumping is the fact that while the margin for error might be incredibly small, the consequence of error is certain death. If my helicopter went down over the snowy peaks, I’d just take it as an opportunity to brush up on my survival skills. I’ve got things to get back to.
Last night in Wanaka we went to the Cinema Paradiso, which is a small cabin-like movie theatre with its own restaurant and bar (and the best - the actual BEST - fresh-baked cookies for intermission). The theatre itself is full of squashy armchairs, and one car. The feature was no great shakes, but the experience was enviable. It’d be worth moving to Wanaka just to run that place (in addition to all the other reasons it’d be worth it).
As we left the movie theatre a pack of younger folk heard us talking and an American girl ran over excitedly and asked, “Are you from the U.S.?” “Canada,” I replied. She slunk away dejectedly. “Oh.”
It wasn’t the show we were expecting to do, but here we are anyway: in the wake of the murders in Colorado, we discuss Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
“What was just five years ago a slightly unpleasant thing has turned into a Pavlovian act of outright self-harm wherein the exhibitor game’s guiding business model—absolute contempt for overpaying customers—is just the beginning of the worst show in town.”
“All this is happening because brick and mortar theatrical exhibition is moribund and going down.”
“The business model here is contempt: as long as a certain amount of people show up who are willing to have their wallets and handbags stripped, it’s all good.”
“This isn’t a business known for planning ahead. Or at all.”
“Putting aside the craziness that Hollywood might dislike anyone rich enough to pay for a ticket, what Salon is re-selling here is the common idea that it’s those damned big-budget CG action and superhero movies are ruining American cinema.”
“That’s exactly what the studios, theaters and culture organs like Salon are selling: time and exclusivity. The great water cooler discourse surrounding a new Woody Allen film when it comes out. Except now it’ll be about Game of Thrones or Girls. Because who wants to endure a platform in its final spasms when you can enjoy a Golden Age still being born?”
“As for traditional exhibition—it’ll stumble along for a while. Teens still need a ritual location to meet, text, and cell-talk.”
“…how lucky I am to live in this low cost, post-movie-theater Golden Age, away from the brick and mortar, and at home in the worlds of Breaking Bad, Alphas, and Mad Men, of Teen Wolf, Fringe, and Longmire, of Parks and Recreation, Doctor Who, and Justified.”
Oh yeah: the link.
Live from the Aroma Cafe in Champaign, IL, we continue to recap Ebertfest as it happens. Today we discuss the beautiful film Terri, a terrific program of shorts accompanied by the Alloy orchestra, and our thoughts on a panel about VOD vs. the future of theatrical moviegoing.
Oh, the internet.
(From the comments to Drew McWeeny’s open letter to the worst moviegoer in history.)
It goes like this: I find out, at around 4:30 on Thursday afternoon, that I’m going to the Woman in Black screening (screening time is 7:00), Daniel Radcliffe in attendance. The screening, hosted by Alliance-Atlantis and held at the Scotiabank theatre, is besieged upon my arrival by Radcliffe fangirls, but I encounter no trouble entering the theatre, proceeding to Alliance’s ticket desk, and exchanging my voucher for my ticket. I proceed upstairs to the theatre, text Sasha that I’m going inside, and - with my cell phone in the same hand as my ticket, mind you - hand an Intercon security guard my ticket and take my seat in the theatre.
Hours pass as Daniel Radcliffe is magically teleported from Hogwarts to the Scotiabank theatre, and he ends up taking the stage at around 7:35, preceded by Richard Crouse, who at that moment musta felt like Albert Brooks when he had to face a slathering crowd who were waiting for Richie Havens. “Richie! Richie! Richie!” “Oh, they gonna kill you.”
I’m on the aisle, second or third row of the ETX theatre, when another Intercon security guard charges into my space and demands that Corey Atad - sitting three seats over from me - get up and come to him immediately. Corey’s already wise to what’s gone wrong; he’s taken a picture, and cameras aren’t allowed. He gets up, apologizes to the guard and hands over his phone, and says “I’m going to get it back, right?”Read more