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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 3: Fifty Years a Fan

31 Mar

April 1, 2020, marks the centennial of the birth of Toshiro Mifune, Japan’s greatest film actor and, arguably, the greatest film actor who ever lived. I first became aware of Mifune when his films played New York arthouse theaters in the 1960s and were advertised widely in the newspapers and sometimes reviewed in the local press. A number of older Mifune films got released for the first time in the U.S. during this period as the arthouse crowd became enamored of Japanese films and those of Akira Kurosawa and Mifune in particular.

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Filming Across Cultures: Cowboys, Samurai and Kung Fu Champs in the 1970s

17 May

In the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood theater functioned as a Cinematheque of global genre films, offering Italian westerns, French crime thrillers, English horror, Soviet fantasy, Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong kung fu films, among other genres. I still marvel at the recollection of seeing such international movie icons as John Wayne, Jean Gabin and Toshiro Mifune in new movies at local theaters when I was still a teenager. I once wrote about this particular movie culture in a chapter for a proposed book on 42nd Street theaters. I’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter, after a few paragraphs of introduction.

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The Weirdest Double Feature Ever?

7 Oct

The above ad appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, March 30, 1969.

Imagine going to a movie theater and seeing these two posters advertising the evening’s double bill:

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Kung Fu on 42nd Street

28 Sep

I recently came across files of ads for kung fu movies that played New York theaters back in the 1970s, material I’d accumulated while researching a proposed book in the early 2000s on Manhattan’s 42nd Street and its movie culture. I had planned to include a chapter on kung fu movies and even questioned several friends who’d regularly attended these movies on 42nd street. Add these files to a couple of original newspaper ads I’d saved myself from 1973 and I see that 42nd Street theaters are listed in 95% of them. In fact, all eleven theaters on both sides of the legendary Deuce (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) are represented in the ads. What struck me as I researched the titles listed was how many I was unfamiliar with. No matter how much I think I know about kung fu movies of the 1970s and ’80s, there are always more to discover. And I never fail to be impressed by the sheer number of these movies that played in Deuce theaters in those years.

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Bronx Movie Theaters: A Scrapbook from the 1960s and ’70s

24 Jun

One of my big regrets as a lifelong moviegoer is that I never thought to take pictures of movie theaters I visited until all of the ones I remember most fondly were gone. When I think back to the varied theaters I attended in the Bronx from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, I wish I had pictures of them and the marquees displaying the films I saw. Granted, there was only a brief period when I had a good camera and the ability to photograph some of these theaters in the 1970s, but I could have gotten pictures of 13 of them while they were still functioning. Not to mention the theaters I visited in Manhattan during those years. And when I got another good camera in 1981, I could have photographed other theaters I attended in the Bronx as well as in Manhattan, particularly in Times Square and 42nd Street. Now all I can do is embark on Google searches and when I find photos of Bronx theaters, they tend to be quite old, from long before my time.

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2016: The Year in Film

30 Dec
The audience amasses for SHIN GODZILLA at the Village East Cinema on October 11.

The audience amasses for SHIN GODZILLA at the Village East Cinema on October 11.

2016 was my first full year of retirement. I made 33 trips to movie theaters, the most trips I’ve made in a single year in over two decades, and I saw 34 movies there. Ten were Hollywood films, 19 were foreign films, mostly from Japan, and the rest were indies. Five were documentaries and eight were animated.

I picked 15 films to highlight from the year, eight new films seen in New York theaters, three revivals, two films seen in theaters in Japan, and two more recent Japanese films seen on the airplane flight to Japan. One of the revivals is generally considered to be a masterpiece, while the film at the top of the list may one day be considered one. As for the others, their virtues outweighed their flaws enough to put them on such a list. Nine of the fifteen are Japanese. Four of the fifteen are documentaries. I only saw ten current Hollywood studio releases in theaters this year and only one is on this list. When the final tally for the U.S. boxoffice is announced, there’ll be very few films in the top ten—or the top 100—that I’ve seen. Since I’m no longer at the office discussing superhero and comic book movies with my younger co-workers, I no longer feel the need to rush out to see these films. My two favorites of the year are at the top of the list. The rest are grouped this way: films I saw in theaters in New York; revivals; films seen in Japan and on the flight to Japan. Most of these descriptions are taken from the notes I composed for my daily film log after seeing the films. Where applicable, I’ve included links to complete reviews I did, including blog entries and IMDB reviews.

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Scorsese Collects: Film Posters at MOMA

11 Oct

On Friday, June 12, 2015, I paid a trip to the Museum of Modern Art to see a 35mm showing of the 1929 two-color Technicolor silent film, REDSKIN. I was pleasantly surprised to see some spectacular film posters adorning the walls of the lobby area outside the theater and in other spaces in the museum. These posters were all from Martin Scorsese’s collection and were on display as part of an exhibit entitled, “Scorsese Collects.” The exhibit remains on display until October 25, 2015 and I urge interested parties in the New York area to visit the Museum (preferably on a Friday night when film screenings are free) and see them up close.

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Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 2

20 Jul

Sunday, my last full day in Paris, found me in the morning waiting on line in the rain to enter the Musee d’Orsay, where a Van Gogh exhibit awaited.

It was the last day of the exhibit, so I’m glad I got to see it even though I had to wait on line a second time inside the museum to see it. I’ve seen Van Gogh paintings before, but not so many of them in one exhibit–and in Paris where most of these paintings originally found their home! No photography was allowed in the exhibit, so I didn’t get any shots, but here’s a famous one that was included:

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Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 1

14 Jul

I spent a week in Paris, July 1-7, and even though I wasn’t there to see movies, I did photograph a number of theaters and movie posters and various locations attesting to the city’s ongoing cinephilia, including a visit to a treat-filled video store up the block from my hotel. And I did get to see one movie while I was there.

Me and Bette on a Paris street

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Welcome to my world…

12 Feb

I’m surrounded in this room by DVDs and VHS tapes containing, primarily, Japanese animation (films, TV series, made-for-video productions); Japanese live-action films and TV shows (think Godzilla, Ultraman, and Zatoichi); classic Hollywood movies, particularly westerns; Hong Kong movies, particularly kung fu; and plenty of other stuff (Italian westerns, classic cartoons, Criterion box sets, Japanese pop music concerts, etc.).  I’m a big believer in physical media. I like holding a film in my hand. I like knowing it’s on a shelf where I can get it and not have to depend on a TV station showing it or a website streaming it. (I once worked in a film library where everything was on 16mm film.)

Collection 1

One of my shelves

I created this blog so I can write about some of the stuff I watch, with the emphasis on classic film, anime and Japanese live-action entertainment. Much of it is pretty obscure, so there might not be many places to read about these titles. I like to write reviews for IMDB (Internet Movie Database) when I find something that no one’s yet reviewed or has only one or two comments. (I use my real name on all my reviews and have been submitting them since 2001.) A recent review I submitted was for “Ultra Q,” the 1966 Japanese TV series produced by special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya and the forerunner of “Ultraman.”

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