Archive for Ken Cinema

Emma Watson Shines in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Posted in Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on October 10, 2012 by davehurwitz
Is there anything more beautiful than Emma Watson?  I gotta say no.

Wallflowers: Logan Lerman & Emma Watson as Charlie & Sam

Kensington Cinema, midnight, sometime in the early nineties.  I’m sitting in lopsided theater seat near the front row, watching my first live-cast performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  A slice of Wonder Bread sits in my lap along with other equally inexplicable items.  I have no idea what it’s for, but I’ve been assured I’ll need it later.  Up on the screen, Brad and Janet abandon their stranded car to seek shelter for the night.  Meanwhile, on the concrete apron between the screen and the front row, a couple I met just a few minutes earlier reenacts the scene, word for word, with perfect timing.

Fast forward twenty years.  A different theater, a very different me.  My seat is more comfortable.  There’s nothing funky in my lap.  Up on the screen, Emma Watson, wearing nothing but her skivvies, lip-syncs “Touch Me” to an equally under-dressed Logan Lerman.  His face is a portrait of dumb-struck, terrified happiness.  And I’m taken back decades, to a night when my face probably looked much the same.

It’s a testament to Watson’s performance that at no point do I stop, like a swimmer bursting suddenly out of the water, and think “Holy crap.  Hermione’s in her underwear.”  For the duration of this film she is simply Sam, the generous, damaged love object of Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Although Perks is technically a high school movie, I’m not sure what the smart-phone generation would make of this film, which is set firmly in the technology-lite world their parents came of age in.  This is very much the time of my late adolescence.  A world I’d just about forgotten, but suddenly found myself missing.  A time when a manual typewriter was merely quaint, not absurd.  An era in which, if you heard a cool song on the radio, it might take you weeks to figure out who sang it.  A time when, if you really loved someone, you made them a mix-tape.

But it wasn’t merely the era or the familiar soundtrack tunes that had me waxing nostalgic.  Mostly, it was the characters, all of whom felt just as familiar.  Perks is the story of Charlie, a depressive high school freshman with memory issues, who is befriended by Patrick and Sam, eccentric step-sibling seniors, and the rest of their clique.  Each of these characters could have slid easily into familiar types–punker, klepto, recovering party girl, gay outcast–but the depth of the performances and the undeniable realism of the situations they are thrust into make them into complete human beings.  More than that.  They reminded me of people I liked and even loved when I was in high school.

No, school walls were never this shade of green.  Sorry.

Ezra Miller as Patrick with Watson and Lerman

Add to that a recurring sense of dejá vu, the feeling that I’d actually lived through some of these scenes myself, way back when.  Whether it was Charlie’s fist encounter with an out-of-the-closet homosexual (and his immediate, no-big-thing acceptance of it), his pop-eyed introduction to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a kiss with exactly the wrong person, or that perfect song on the car stereo, I knew just what he had to be feeling because I’d been there myself.

The events of my youth were neither as epic nor as sad as the things that happen to Charlie and company in this story.  But at the time, my smaller problems felt big as mountains, and all-consuming.  That teen self-seriousness is another thing this movie captures very well.  But most of all it conveys what it feels like to be taken in, to be accepted without questions or conditions, to be given a second family’s worth of friends at a time when you yourself aren’t sure you have anything to offer.

To conclude, if you grew up weird in the early nineties, this is a film you simply must see, because this is your life, or at least your youth.  I think you’ll find it’s worth reliving.

Finally, I should point out that some critics have chastised Chbosky, a man with no prior experience, for directing this adaptation himself.  Film Comment’s Violet Lucca went so far as to say that he “seems more skilled as a novelist than a visual storyteller.”  I beg to differ.  Perks is as well-made a film as any I’ve seen recently, and one of my favorites of this year.

Dave Hurwitz

Happy Birthday Ken Cinema

Posted in Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on August 30, 2012 by davehurwitz
The classic frontage of Ken Cinema is beautiful black and white.

The Ken

The San Diego Reader isn’t good for much.  This is probably because I’m not a wild twenty-something seeking medical marijuana, cheap breast augmentation, a new career in medical office administration, or beer in a boot.  I go long periods without looking at an issue.  When I do pick one up, I mostly read News of Weird during those moments alone in the bathroom.  But every once in a while The Reader will surprise me with something that I really do want to know.

For example, a brief rant by Scott Marks, slotted in with the movie reviews of the August 23 issue, informed me that my local single screen theater, known to regulars simply as The Ken, turns one-hundred this year.  Of course, I knew that The Ken had been around a while, but I had no idea it was one of the oldest surviving single screens in Southern California.  Marks himself is also something of local fixture, having been, for far too brief a period, Curator of Film at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts.  He had been planning a series of Val Lewton films when he got canned as part of a money-saving decimation of SD MOPA’s film offerings.  I sent the museum my shredded membership card in protest, but nobody seemed to care.

I’m not as old as The Ken, of course, but the theater and I do go back nearly twenty years.  I was a graduate student attending SDSU when I first moved into the neighborhood, mostly because of its proximity to the #11 bus route.  I quickly discovered The Ken and the adjacent Ken Video, the amazing family-run specialist video store right next door to the theater.  I spent a lot of time in The Ken’s somewhat shabby seats during its independent heyday.  I watched a lot of great movies, and more than a few that were enjoyably bad.  I first saw Reservoir Dogs there, double billed with Pulp Fiction.  Every summer brought the annual Hong Kong Action Festival, featuring chop-chop flicks with titles like Naked Killer 2 and Bullet in the Head.  My admiration for Wes Anderson began there with a screening of Rushmore.  The Ken showed me what Lawrence of Arabia was really supposed to look like, CinemaScope sand dunes tamed somewhat by an Italian soda from the concession stand.

These days, The Ken is no longer quite so grubby or quite so eclectic.  Like it or not, it’s now a part of the Landmark Theater Group, and as such shows the kind of middle-of-the-road art house and foreign films that appeal to the KPBS / AARP crowd.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve seen some pretty awesome flicks there in recent years.  I vividly remember sweating my way through a summertime screening of Chan-Wook Park’s Lady Vengeance.  The Ken’s air conditioning had conked out on one of the hottest days of the year, but the movie was so good I couldn’t make myself leave.  And the theater’s annual screening of Academy Award Nominated Animated Shorts has become a ritual for me and my boys.  But on the whole I don’t make the hike down to my local single screen nearly as often as I used to.

Which brings me back to Scott Marks, and his rant in the SD Reader.  Marks complains, rightfully so, I think, about the meager slate of revival films Landmark is offering to commemorate The Ken’s hundredth birthday.  It’s not just that the films are few–a mere ten movies, doled out on weekends through October–it’s the films themselves.  Between slightly dusty blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future and revival circuit warhorses like Some Like It Hot and Double Indemnity, there isn’t much to draw me to this ‘celebration.’  I might take in Charlie Chaplin in Gold Rush, which I’ve never seen on the big screen, at least.  But I’d rather see some of the films that drew me to The Ken in the first place.  I’d almost prefer Naked Killer 2.  Almost.

Luckily, revival is alive and well in San Diego.  It just doesn’t live at The Ken anymore.  Lately I’ve taken in a lot of the Forty Foot Films offered by Reading Cinema.  Coming up at their Gaslamp location:  The Omen and The Producers.  Soon to arrive in the Town Square theater:  Chinatown, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Young Frankenstein.  All to be followed by four weeks of ‘Hitchcocktober.’  It’s a cinematic feast.  And yeah, it’s DVD projection, and not Scott Mark’s beloved celluloid.  But the $5 ticket price more than assuages my inner film snob.

So I’ll see you at the movies.  While we’re there, maybe the muckety-mucks at the Landmark Theater Group should think about why I’ll be celebrating The Ken’s big birthday at a multiplex.

Dave Hurwitz