Love unique theaters, different crowds, and even the different concession options

In the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, and one of my favorite things about being in a new place is going to the movies. I know, I’ve heard it all before, “You can go to a movie anywhere.” “Why do you want to sit in the dark on vacation.” The simple answer, I love the movies. I love the new and often unique theaters, the different crowds, and even the different concession options. The final “Harry Potter” was always going to be good, but nothing can beat seeing it with a British audience in a tiny little theater in the Cotswolds. (That may be the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written…) This summer I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico while my wife takes courses at the local university. Santa Fe is definitely an eclectic town. If you’ve never been here, imagine Homer on steroids. There are three independent theaters within five minutes of where I’m staying. One of them is in a mall, and the other indie venues almost seem to be saying, “Phhht. That mall theatre may be showing movies few people have ever heard of. We’re showing movies no one has ever heard of.” I’m pretty one of them was hosting a Bosnian Film Festival. In addition to the wide variety of cinematic choices in the theaters, I also have access to my wife’s classes, one of which deals with Shakespeare across different medias. The other day we watched a televised version of “Romeo and Juliet” done entirely in ballet. This week, I watched three different movies, with varying levels of success. One you can find on iTunes, one might be showing in Anchorage, and the other you won’t be able to see unless you have access to the German subtitled DVD and a Region 2 DVD player.

The first movie we watched was “Prospero’s Books,” an avant-garde version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” directed in 1991 by Peter Greenaway, who also gave us “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.” “Prospero’s Books” is easily one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. For those not familiar with Shakespeare’s work, the tale revolves around Prospero, once an aristocrat, who has been exiled to a remote island by his wicked brother. On the island, the recently widowed Prospero raises his beautiful daughter Miranda, commands a wild spirit, contends with a bitter monster, and eventually gets a kind of revenge on those who wronged him. It’s a good story, though one of Shakespeare’s more fantastical tales. The movie, while basically following the plot and retaining the Bard’s dialogue, is an almost hallucinatory visual experience, and not always in a good way. Greenaway, while creating a seemingly meticulous environment filled with magical beings and bizarre happenings, ends up with a chaotic, anything goes atmosphere. Bizarre choices, such as presenting everyone except Prospero and Miranda completely nude, or staging the sinking of a ship by having a naked little boy urinate on a toy boat leave the viewer a kind of a loss. These and other weirdnesses make a contextual sense, and with digging, they can be justified, but Greenaway seems as if he could care less about the audience. Convincing legendary thespian John Gielgud to play Prospero, his last role, by the way, was the extent of his interest in making an even vaguely conventional Shakespeare adaptation. His movie seems to say, “I’m smarter than you, so sit back and be quiet.” Grade: B- for being ambitious, audacious, and almost unwatchable.

Next up is the biopic of famed fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, cleverly titled “Saint Laurent.” This was a movie I had only vaguely heard of and knew absolutely nothing about. The film was beautifully shot, and the acting was very good, but what I saw of the film left me cold. There is no attempt to really get to know Saint Laurent, merely to chronicle what an ass he could be. There might have been a hint of fragility here and there, but almost nothing in the way of an arc. The movie is populated by one bored, rich, overindulged Frenchman after another. Female characters are introduced, but never used in any meaningful way. Saint Laurent can rival “Prospero’s Books” for nudity, if not in the number of naked people, but rather in the long, leisurely shots of full-frontal male nudity. And the movie is long. Really long. So long in fact, that when a sudden thunderstorm blew in, rattling the walls of the theatre and eventually blowing the circuits, I thought, “well, it was almost over – I got the gist of it.” Nope. There was still an hour left and we’d been there an hour and a half already. The most exciting thing to happen was when the lights went out and the usher shined her flashlight into the auditorium shouting, “Is anybody in here?!” The one other audience member in the theatre with us asked, “Will they be starting the movie again?” “I don’t know ma’am,” came the reply, “there’s water coming into the mall!” She led us to safety. Grade: I can’t really give this a grade having only seen half of it, but it wasn’t looking promising.

Finally I watched “What We Do in the Shadows,” a mockumentary about vampires from both “Funny or Die,” and the folks who made “Flight of the Conchords.” Starring Jemaine Clement as Vladislav, an 800-year old vampire, the film posits that a documentary crew has been granted access to film Vlad and his flat-mates, three other vampires who co-habitate a creepy house in New Zealand. It’s a funny gimmick, seeing how the vampires deal with ordinary issues, all the while seeing victims to sate their bloodlust. (Relative youngster Deacon at 183, hasn’t washed the dishes in five years. The huge bloodstained pile of plates and cups is peppered with “wash me!” signs.) I enjoyed “Shadows,” but it isn’t as uproarious as I was led to believe. There’s a melancholy aspect to it, both in the sad and gruesome fates of the victims, and in the characters of the “familiars,” human slaves who do the vampires’, often mundane, bidding. The film is mercifully short, ably maintaining its wacky concept for the full 90 minutes. Plotwise there’s not much to say, as the film is really a series of sketches rather than a complete story arc, but there are some nice heartwarming moments mixed in with the slapstick and gore. Mockumentaries may be experiencing their last gasp, the medium having been done to death by such single-camera TV shows as “The Office,” “Parks and Rec” and “Modern Family.” “What We Do in the Shadows” may not measure up to the Christopher Guest series of films, but it’s maintaining the tradition for as long as it can. Grade: B


“Prospero’s Books” is rated R for wall-to-wall full-frontal nudity and an extended sequence of urinating.


“Saint Laurent” is rated R for full-frontal nudity and language.


“What We Do in the Shadows” is rated R for bloody violence and language, but no full-frontal nudity that I can remember.


Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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