GOIN’ TO THE MOVIES 2.0

One of the many duties this writer has to curtail to present a decent edition of this here newsletter is to place a review or two of some sort of visual element, be it a theater production, a television/video program, a book title, or a feature film. And for many years, I used to attend a lot of screenings of a new movie title for the purpose of reviewing the thing as a journalist.

A few of these screenings would take place at a screening room, a place that is really a mini theater that might hold as little as ten people (or have ten seats anyway) to as many as fifty. These screening rooms would be located within an office complex in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, perhaps in Burbank, or wherever one would have a room for rent to show a film. But most of the movies I would attend were at an actual movie theater where those on the movie studio mailing list would obtain a notice to view a film scheduled a week or so before its intended release date. (Movies are normally released on a Friday so it could capture the weekend attendance–the criterial period that could spell out how successful the movie would become in terms of box office receipts.)

For many years, the movies would be screened in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, not to far off from the UCLA campus. Up until the turn of the 21st century, this area of Westwood, usually north of Wilshire Blvd. East of the 405 freeway, and just at the southern edge of UCLA, had the biggest concentration of single screen movie theaters in town. A studio would rent out the theater for the evening just to show that film off to those on the mailing list, rather than to the public at large.

Over time, the screening should also be held at the AMC Theater complex at the Century City mall, the Pacific Theater inside The Grove shopping area, or at The Arclight Theater in Hollywood, set just right behind the Cinearama Dome that Pacific Theaters operated since its opening in 1963.

Of course, this was from the 1990’s well into the start of the 2020s. Thanks to a load of factors ranging from the closing of the many movie house in Westwood, to the ever lovin’ pandemic, movie screenings of this nature has been far off and rather limited. Thanks to technology, many of these advance screenings have been arranged through secure online streaming portals, where anyone that needed to view the feature title would be able to do so in the comfort and privacy of one’s home base. And yes, I have been part of that ordeal of late.

Also, especially around what’s called “Awards Season”, usually running between November 1st through the end of February, I would obtain dozens of DVDs that would offer a selection of movies released from the previous year that would be as “For Your Consideration” a.k.a. FYC, where I was supposed to view these titles to place whatever element the movie held as a ballot entry so that movie in question can be eligible to win some award for the best in whatever the movie itself was pushing for, from costume design, film/picture editing, acting, and of course, for a best picture slot. Most of these movies would usually be of the “art house” or “independent film” variety that would be of something that holds a greatness to it, but not necessarily something that would be of the “popcorn movie” type. That is, unless an action/adventure picture that has a lot of special effects would be up for a “best special effects” category, rather than for a best actor or best supporting actress slot. But as always, I digress!

Anyway, back to going to the movies. It has been some time that yours truly has been inside a real theater, be it a screening room or commercial theater complex, to view a movie projected onto a big sized screen with a load of perfect strangers seated within that would react to whatever was going on within the movie, such as laughing, crying, screaming in horror, or even applauding at the end of the movie right around where the end titles would roll for the next five minutes(!) with selections of the movie soundtrack (or the “hit single”) playing along with the said rolling titles.

And with all of this said and done, the musical question arrises. Do I, a writer of film reviews, really miss going out to a movie to see a film as originally intended for my own personal entertainment?

The answer to that question is…no!

Let’s back it up for a moment. Granted, as a movie theater attendee for over fifty years(!!) I always enjoyed to see a feature film inside of a huge darken room with a load of those people I don’t know that would laugh, cry, yell, applaud, and react otherwise to the sound and movement coming from that huge screen. I would have memories of attending a special theater with a second person or perhaps just as myself to view this movie for whatever reason I would be there. I would recall the general atmosphere of being in that movie house watching the crowd attending, looking at those working within the theater such as the staff at the concession stand, seeing the items available at the concession stand, as well as taking a gander of the staff cleaning up the joint after the final roll of the end credits, and seeing how many people would remain to actually sit through those credits. Here in Los Angeles, that was a very common act as many of those attending these screenings were involved in the industry, and perhaps they were looking for names of those that might have been part of the film’s creation. (This writer once recalled attending a movie’s closing credits to hear somebody say to the person they were with such things as “Hey, this guy’s still working!”, or “I though he was long dead!” to even “I have to call this guy because he still owes me fifty dollars!” But I still digress!)

That is what makes movie going appealing! One could experience such sights and sounds that one would otherwise never be exposed to if one sees a flick inside of a home, or perhaps through any electronic device that sports a video screen. Of course, this would really ring true of one would be attending a movie showing of a title that the attendee would really want to see, verses a movie that may hold limited interest (if any at all) to the movie goer. Unless or course, the viewer desires to attend the film for various reasons, the best one of these reasons is that the movie is with free admission, or something to that effect!

I have had many memorable moments of attending a movie showing at a theater. Those reasons behind those memorable moments do vary. If would be based on where I saw the film such as a huge theater place that no longer exists. (The late Mann’s National Theater in Westwood comes to mind!) Of even who came along with me. I have had many a date with girlfriends, all presently long forgotten, to take them out for the evening at the expense of the movie studio showcasing the film. I have attended movies as a single person as well. If I were at a multiplex, I would see what other movies were playing. And if there was a title that I was interesting in seeing, I would check the starting time of that film, usually as the last showing of the evening. And when the movie I intended to see was over with (usually ending between 9:00 and 9:30 PM, depending on the starting time of the intended screening and how long that screening ran), I would sneak in to the other theater room to take a “double feature”. Sometimes the movie I snuck inside to see was better than the flick I was intended to view! At least I would get my money’s worth!

But those days and my intentions are long past. I don’t watch a lot of new releases as I once did. And the ones I do see are based upon selection, availability, and unless I have a time based deadline, when I would get eventually around to viewing the thing! I became rather picky on sitting myself down plopped on my Herman Miller office chair to view the movie on a 27” video screen. Yes, there isn’t much of a theater atmosphere involved in these kind of viewings. However, I know I could take a peek of the flick at my convenience, rather than somebody’s else’s, and I don’t have to shelp myself to the location of the screening. (This is rather important based on traffic patterns experienced in the Los Angeles region!)

Also, if I do have to write a review, I can do so as the feature plays. If I have to stop the action for whatever reason, I would place the film on “pause”, jot down a note or two, then resume the film as normal. I have seen a few reviewers attending movie theater screenings taking along note pads along with then, only to see those writers place notes while seated in the dark. One person I used to see would bring a penlight along. As the film played, he would turn on the pen light to shine a light onto the page so he could see what he was writing. Of course, that irked the people sitting around this guy bringing a slight distraction to the real movie going experience.

Will yours truly ever go back to a real theater to see a movie as intended? I will. However, it has to be for a special reason. Perhaps next year (2022), I will be attending the Turner Classic Movies film festival in Hollywood where I would be able to view older titles on the big screen with a load of people that share the same reason why I am there in the first place! (Cuz we like to watch older movies, that’s why!!) But that isn’t until the next Spring. Hopefully, the pandemic we have been going through will wind up for the history books, and everything will be back to near normal. However, those movies will still remain, and as long as Hollywood keeps churning them out, there will always be movies, movie theaters, and those that still enjoy a flick or two as seen far away from their home base. And yes, I’ll be there seated along until the end credits roll to its final verbiage. After all, somebody’s gotta know who was in charge of the lighting, who was the assistant set supervisor, as well as the name of the driver who hauled the leading star to and from the set! (Yep! The screen credit “Driver for name of star” has been placed on film credits on a number of recent releases!) Anything for a IMDB listing!!

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The Sierra Madre Playhouse makes its triumph return in presenting live stage productions with its kick off, the evergreen classic musical YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN, based upon another evergreen source, Charles Schultz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip.

In this stage production, Hamilton Davis Weaver is Charlie Brown, the lovable loser that tries to success in everything he faces, from flying a kite, pitching for his sandlot baseball team, kicking a football, and even feeding his dog Snoopy (Alexander Mashikian) who upstages Charlie with his ever present happy-go-lucky life.

With with every good man there are those that stand besides him, with Lucy (Mary Zastrow), the resident Fussbudget, her younger sibling Linus (Melvin Biteng), always handy with a security blanket, Schroder, (Luke Sweeney) seated behind the piano knocking off a Beethoven sonata or two, and Marcha Kia as Sally, Charlie’s younger sis. They make up the neighborhood kids that have been charming millions of their fans for generations.

This musical, with book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner with additional dialog by Michael Mayer and additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa was first performed off-Broadway in 1967 and revised twice in 1971 and again in 1999 (The SMP’s presentation), and has been a staple in regional and community theater for those same generations. And no wonder why! It still has all of the charm and grace that the Peanuts strip has offered to readers the world over, and this production as presented by the Sierra Madre Playhouse is no exception to that rule! With musical direction by Sean Paxton, choreography by Palmer Davis, scenic direction by Nicolas Santiago, and under the stage direction by SMP’s artistic director Christian Lebano, this show is perfect for those of all ages that can once again experience live theater the way it should be–live and in person!

And with the weather being as ideal, this performance is presently outdoors at the Sierra Madre Memorial Park, located a block or so away from the actual Sierra Madre Playhouse. Bring your own lawn chair or a blanket and make a whole evening of it. (There will be a limited number of lawn chairs available for rent for those that forgo their own seating arrangements.) Of course, the regional mandate for social distancing and face mask protection will still apply. But for those that desire real face time rather than “FaceTime” (among other teleconferencing applications), this show will be a supreme treat to experience out in the open!

For the fall season, the SMP will present its next two show indoors at the Playhouse. Stay tuned for further updates!

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN, presented by The Sierra Madre Playhouse and co-presented with the City of Sierra Madre, performs outdoors at Sierra Madre Memorial Park, 222 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., downtown Sierra Madre, until August 29th. Showtimes are Friday through Sunday evenings at 7:00 PM. Additional Thursday evening performance take place on August 12th and 26th at 7:00 PM. No performances on Friday, August 6th and 13th.

For tickets or for more information, call (626) 355-4318 or visit online at http://sierramadreplayhouse.org

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JUNGLE CRUISE (Disney) is an adventure yarn about a person’s quest to find a living treasure located deep in the heart of the jungles of Brazil, and the ideal person that could lead the way.

The year is 1916. At a prestigious archaeology society based in London, some recent artifacts were obtained that came from a lost expectation that occurred centuries before by Spanish explorers, seeking a tree located deep within the Brazilian jungles along the Amazon River that could cure all illnesses from its leaves and petals. Some say this tree is a legion, while other state it does exist, thanks to an artifact the society holds, an arrowhead given to the Spanish explorers by the leader of the indian tribe of people that lived within these jungles–just before they were executed as part of the Spanish Inquisition’s way of dealing with native citizens. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) whose father was once a professor within this society, holds interest in finding this tree long sought for yet never found. She is determined to find this tree of life. So with this determination, she decides to head off to Brazil and find this tree, knowing that she faces the odds of getting into danger, and the fact that she is a woman–not a person to get into such assignments.

Meanwhile, Frank Wolff (Dwaine Johnson) an expat American, is a skipper that charters tours of this region for tourists that desire to see this part of the river. With his tolerable wit and using bad jokes and puns within his delivery, he is just scraping by owing everyone money for something. Things start to change from Frank when Lily hears that Frank is very keen with this part of the jungle. He becomes the flawless man to take her on this quest to find the healing tree. So with his good spirits and the fact that Lily is willing to pay him a lot of money, the two embark on this journey to find the tree, with a lot of dangers that lie ahead of them, both natural and otherwise!i

This feature film as the title implies, is based upon (or actually, “inspired”) by one of Disneyland’s (and Disney World, along with its other parks) most beloved attractions, The Jungle Cruise, a staple of Disneyland since it opened back in 1955, witch in turn was inspired by The African Queen, a feature film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

In this movie, Dwaine Johnson is more of the comical free spirit as one could expect, while Emily Blunt is more of a no-nonsense type who doesn’t care of being a “lady” in the traditional since, but is willing to put on pants (so to speak) to get along with this man that is getting into his real thrill. (Traveling along the Amazon that is!) The story and screenplay, created by a team of five (count ‘em!) writers consisting of Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville, and Josh Goldstein, and based on a screen story by Ficarra and Requa, has all of the elements found in a Disney title of this sort. It features action (violent in nature, but nothing graphic of course), comedy (with the for noted puns along with other elements extracted from the ride itself), as well as having a strong female lead as portrayed by the British star Emily Blunt. Of course, Dwaine comes from films that range from action/adventure to comedy, so his depiction of a carefree (or careless) jungle cruise skipper and tour guide fits this intellectual property from the The Walt Disney Company quite well.

In addition to its leading stars and its cast of characters (too many to list by name right now, but look ‘em up through IMDB.com), it features lots of special effects since it would be rather difficult (if not costly) to actually shoot this flick in the Amazon jungles, as well as to wangle a load of jungle type animals! (CGI took care of that aspect!) Much of the interiors and exteriors were actually shot in Hawaii and in Georgia(!!) where the Peach State gives back lots of tax incentives to shoot moving imagery down there! Jaume Collet-Serra, who started in the film biz directing TV commercials with an occasional music video, is on helm to direct this flick that is very amusing and entertaining to say the least

This isn’t the first time that this studio has taken its more popular attentions and rides from the Disney Parks to perhaps create another franchise movie series. It did well with Pirates of the Caribbean, but not so hot with The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy as its lead, although rumors state that Disney may give it another shot with another movie starring its haunted house loaded with 999 lonesome ghosts.

Nevertheless, JUNGLE CRUISE is a film that is ideal to take part in for summertime entertainment, be it as seen in a theater setting or via Disney+, the streaming portal that saved the studio from folks staying home due to the Pandemic. And just like the namesake’s park attraction that was recently revised, this film won’t offend anyone in particular..or so this reviewer believes!

This feature film is rated “PG-13” for adventure-esque (and cartoonish) violence. Now playing in physical theaters where available, and through video on-demand (premium) streaming on Disney+

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