3 Nights In The Dark

Somehow I’ve managed to spend the last 3 nights in a row in the familiar darkness of a movie theater. I’m very much cinema obsessed, but even this was quite unusual for me, unless it’s catching as many films as I can stand during a film festival.

What I loved about this experience was not only hanging out with my guy and unwinding in one of my favorite ways;  it was also because all 3 films couldn’t be more different, more poignant, or more entertaining, and all three places had their own charm for watching them.

Venue: The Cinerama Dome

Location: 6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood

Film: The Master

The Master, widely acclaimed and a front runner to see a salute during the upcoming Oscar season in multiple categories, tackles the taboo subject of what is reportedly based loosely on the similar development of Scientology, by exploring “The Cause.” Joaquin Phoenix, the epitome of the lost soul, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as The Master, take the viewer on a journey of what is prescribed within “The Cause” to be of help to those in pain. In reality, it seemingly becomes a manipulation of how those in pain who seek peace fall into cult-like circumstances through a lacking solid spiritual foundation. The film is masterfully shot, well-written, and well-acted; though admittedly, might take more than one viewing to really absorb the intricacies of the plot. A special treat to catch this in Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome in 70mm.

Venue: Laemmle Music Hall

Location: 9036 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills

Film: Girl Model

I have to say that it’s pretty surprising how such an old, run-down, but charming theater stays open in Beverly Hills of all places. The following night, Girl Model became the cinematic experience of the evening. The 1 hour and 20 minute documentary follows the story of a 13 year-old Siberian girl, a former model turned scout who discovered her, and a small cast of supporting characters seeking success as they maneuver through what the film portrays to be a total scam in the over-seas modeling industry in Japan. The film was upsetting to me. From the young age of these girls being sent to another country with limited life experience and language skills, to the horrific measures girls go through to try to make it in the business. While I was already very much aware of the negative talk, harshness, and rejection models must endure as they build a career, I was surprised at how both main characters in the film seemed unhappy and completely depressed though they continued to push themselves further into the business that was creating these feelings. This film is not for those who seek the glamour in the modeling industry, but an honest and disturbing portrayal rarely shown to audiences.

Venue: Laemmle Town Center 5

Location: 17200 Ventura Boulevard, Encino

Film: Arbitrage

My second visit to the Laemmle in Encino, and final night at the movies this week, had me on the edge of my seat in Richard Gere’s Arbitrage. Gere is on top of his game as Robert Miller, a man of great power, influence, and wealth in the New York City business district. Unfortunately, he also a man who lacks integrity. Miller finds himself in a series of self-created circumstances forming a web of complications in his career and relationships. His continued influence and lack of integrity spin him not only deeper into his troubles, but guide him through the film unlike any ego you’ve seen recently on-screen. I was surprised to hear of possible Oscar buzz from Gere’s performance.  I was every ounce entertained and loved being in the shady labyrinth that Gere spearheads, but I would be shocked at an Oscar nomination. Typically, these pop-corn suspense films are overlooked and while I enjoyed his performance, I didn’t see what was “Oscar” about it. Then again, Jeremy Renner somehow got on the Academy’s good side in The Town a few years ago. I rate this one, a great time at the movies.

p.s. I was always struck by the uniqueness of the title of this film. I had to head to Dictionary.com for this one:

Arbitrage: 1) Finance. The simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices. 2) Authoritative decision or exercise of judgment.

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Side By Side in North Hollywood

Location: 5240 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood

It was so warm this past Saturday, I didn’t even bother putting on makeup. It would have just melted ten minutes later and that would probably be a worse look than scaring my fellow Angelenos by going au-natural. It also added 5 more minutes to my life by not sitting in front of a mirror waving makeup brushes and mascara wands across my face. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than feeling like your pores are clogging from the mixture of sweat and makeup. Yuck!

Back on topic…

In addition to this great tip for the ladies; another great way to beat the heat and kill two birds with one stone, man or woman? Spend some money to sit in public central air conditioning while catching a flick!

I crossed another Laemmle off my list this weekend when I went to enjoy the air conditioning, best popcorn ever, and Keanu Reeves’s new engaging documentary Side by Side at the Laemmle Theater in North Hollywood.

This facility is the most commercial and updated of all of the ones that I’ve been to (5 out of the 9 theaters). It features stadium-style seating, bathrooms where the door actually closes, digital monitors for everything from displaying showtimes to concession stand prices, and an all around cleanliness that – ahem – lacks somewhat at the other locations (but gives them lots of charisma anyway).

What I admire about the North Hollywood venue is that while it is updated, the theater still manages to hold its charm. There was only one ticket taker for all 7 theaters and the lobby and concessions area were relatively small, creating a quaintness that I like when choosing a Laemmle over say, an AMC. This location tends to play more mainstream films based on the programming I’ve seen, which is unusual in my experience from the other 4 theaters I go to that stick to independent and foreign cinema options only. The prices for popcorn are still reasonable and they even have Coke Zero, which always adds a touch of class. I spent $6.75 for a small popcorn AND and regular soda. I’d consider this a huge plus in this age of complete hijacking of movie-lovers’ wallets at the concession stand.

Side by Side is a film well-crafted and alluring to anyone who cares about the state of the movie-making business. It brings to light the question that the industry and filmmakers alike have debated for the last 20 years, yet with more urgency as the industry continues to change: will digital production techniques eventually replace the modus operandi of shooting on celluloid/film?

I walked out of the central air conditioning and into the summer heat feeling like I heard both sides of the story and got into the heads of those at the top of their game to offer their point of view. My opinion? At the end of the day I am a story lover and a believer in aesthetics first and foremost. I feel that the choice to shoot digitally or on film should be left up to the person who feels whichever method works for telling their story best. That being said, I do hope that we keep the option open for the filmmaker to decide and don’t create an environement that forces them to have to work in a digital format against their wishes. Part of the beauty of being an artist is the right to choose.

The Queen of Versailles

Location: 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino

I’m not a Monday kinda gal. In fact, I’ve been making every effort to bring some sparkle to this dreaded day by making plans with my boyfriend after work to have something to look forward to throughout the day as I get re-acclimated to the routine of the work week. This past Monday was especially filled with some “sparkle” to say the least.

Having been a patron of the historic Laemmle Theaters on the west side of the city for quite some time now, I was excited to finally visit The Town Center 5 in Encino to indulge in my OBSESSION for documentary and independent cinema. There’s something so endearing about actually having to buy tickets through a window, sitting in an old movie theater, and eating decently priced popcorn – with FREE parking, no less.

Tonight’s flick? The Queen of Versailles, one of the most fascinating cinematic experiences I’ve had this summer. 1 hour and 40 minutes of complete access to seeing how the other side lives.

The film chronicles the lifestyles of the rich and *semi* famous (I had never heard of them prior to the movie). Billionaire couple, David and Jackie Siegel, are in the midst of building the most expensive home in the United States, an astounding 90,000 square foot American castle modeled after their love of the Palace of Versailles in France.Talk about “champagne wishes and caviar dreams!” I could literally hear Robin Leach in my head during the first half hour of the film as director Lauren Greenfield takes us into a world filled with chauffeurs, maids, nannies, private planes, closets filled with high-end in designers, diamonds, and Jackie Siegel’s very obvious boob job.

Until…

…the economic meltdown that will forever be the Year of our Lord, 2008. Though David and Jackie struggle in their own right (but still seemed to be living the high life compared to us 99 “percent-ers”) we are instantly transitioned into how this time impacts their spending, their family dynamic, and their relationship. I wouldn’t call this a riches-to-rags story, because the Siegels still slept in a mansion every night and not under a freeway; but cutting their personal house staff from 19 to 4 (with 8 children), taking commercial flights when traveling, shopping for Christmas presents at Walmart, and getting into disagreements about not turning off the lights in the mansion to conserve electricity bills are the highlights of their difficulties.

What resonated about the film is that you’d assume that people this wealthy would be completely mean-spirited, spoiled, and disillusioned; but there is a humanity to them that doesn’t make you hate the Siegels as you exit the movie theater. Jackie might look like your typical blonde trying to battle the aging process, married to an affluent man 30 years her senior, who is somewhat unenlightened about what is going on with her family’s finances; but she has such a charm and presence on-screen that you’re drawn to her. She’s funny, has an honesty about her that’s refreshing, studied engineering (hello!?!), and shares her compassionate side by loaning a good friend $5,000 when her house is in jeopardy of foreclosure. The fact that she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her personal finances alludes more to her disconnection from her husband, who in contrast is taking their economic hardships with great strife. By the end of the film, David has gone from a jovial, hardcore supporter of the Miss America Pageant festivities and women in general; to a man who barricades himself inside of a cluttered man cave, completely ignorant (or uninterested) of the family life around him.

The film doesn’t end with things on the mend, instead it depicts what we’re all still dealing with nearly 4 years later: making compromises to deal with the changing economic climate and reassessing how we spend.

I walked away from this film with three feelings:

{1}. No matter where you are in life and your set-point in your lifestyle, it seems that it’s never enough. Prior to the financial crisis and even during it, the Siegels seem to have it all: Wealth (or at least still more money than most), health, family and friends. Perhaps this is the best example of “having it all” but still feeling it’s not enough. The takeaway being that if billionaires still need more, we’re all in trouble.

{2}. There is such a thing as “too much” and it doesn’t necessarily guarantee your continued success. David Siegel, despite his initial accomplishments, was not exempt from the happenings of 2008, nor did he seem to be prepared to deal with the day when his fortune might be threatened. And p.s. – Why would anyone want to live in a 90,000 square foot home?

{3}. I promise I paid attention to the film, but spent at least half the movie staring directly at Jackie’s chest wondering how she doesn’t experience severe daily back pain?

A sparkling Monday night indeed!