Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The Dude abides in Salem

August 8, 2010

The dude sitting next to me gets it.

He has watched The Big Lebowski 15-20 times already (his estimation) and is talking along with the movie, shouting out at the right parts, anticipating our audience cues, loving every minute of the first-ever live, interactive Big Lebowski movie spectacle.

I’m the gutter ball.  Taking a cult classic and experiencing it interactively can be fun, but for me, it’s a little awkward, since I have only seen this movie in snippets while it was playing at parties about ten years ago.

I can’t say I didn’t get the memo. When we arrived at High Street Cinema, we were handed a bag, a ticket with a rug on the back (stolen in the movie), and a handful of goodies and props to use at strategic points of the film.

  • Mustaches – to wear during any Sam Elliott scene
  • Badges – to wear when a police officer is in the shot
  • Sunglasses – to wear whenever the Dude is wearing them
  • A Rug Ticket – to hold up during the rug theft scene.
  • Bowling score cards – to hide behind and peek over during the Over the Line scene
  • Pretzels – to eat during the bar scene (yum! not enough!)
  • Bell – to ring when Walter throws the ringers from the car
  • Beaver picture – to throw into the air when Maude talks about movies
  • Leaf – to flick and dance with during the performance art scene
  • Larry’s homework – to shake during the Larry’s Living Room scene
  • Candy – to eat whenever

In all, a brilliant and inspired adventure. But I am always just a little behind —  a leaf late, a bowling score card short.

This, I think, is the challenge of taking something that is already out there in the culture (rabid fanboy obsession with The Big Lebowski) and taking it to the next step (mashing it up a la Rocky Horror Picture Show). There will always be curious people like me who go to a movie to watch a movie. The real experience starts when you have retained the kind of muscle memory necessary to interact with the film.

Throughout the movie, Culture Shock Community Project, who put on the event, had a crew of live actors performing the movie in the aisles and below the screen. I invite Ryan Rogers to explain in the comments section here how it is possible to find someone in Salem who:

1). looks like the Dude
2). has the Dude’s entire wardrobe

Word on the street is that this is just the first showing — and the first adaptation of an interactive film — to be launched in Salem. Next on the docket? The Princess Bride, which I have seen 20+ times and which I am actually in wuv with.

Wuv, twue wuv, fowever and ever…

Gotta start drop-kicking those R.O.U.S’s.


Don’t let the Salem Cinema fall on hard times

August 3, 2010

Here is a must-read open letter recently sent by Salem Cinema owner Loretta Miles to the members of her e-list. I had heard from a friend that there were problems brewing there and was sad to see them confirmed in today’s inbox.

I hope that more people in Salem will take notice and spend some money watching great films in addition to paying for cheap burgers.

Dear patrons, friends, movie lovers and fans of Salem Cinema;

Independent movie theaters, especially those like Salem Cinema specializing in art, foreign and independent film, are on the endangered species list. We do not have corporate money to see us through hard times and there is no fall back, other than to rely upon those who most appreciate our contributions to the communities that we enrich. We are a dying breed; Salem Cinema is not immune and, in fact, is currently at risk. The economic downturn could not have come at a more inopportune time than it did…as you recall, my beautiful new theater, built as much upon your wishes as my dreams, opened just 6 months after the great Wall Street collapse.

The film industry is down in general this summer, a time that film exhibitors like myself usually count on to see us through the slower months to come, and unfortunately once we lose that momentum it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain enough cash flow to cover our ever increasing cost of operation. The large chains compensate, in part, by continuing to raise prices. I, however, understand that the continuing sluggish economy has affected each and everyone of us and have not raised my prices in nearly 3 years. I have assumed that by showing you that I care about your pocket books that you, in turn, would continue to find value and worth in supporting Salem Cinema.

Unfortunately, this has not proven to be the case of late and it is with much sadness in my heart that I reach out to you, my loyal supporters, and ask that you step forward and become Salem Cinema’s guardians and emissaries. I am struggling. I know you love my theater, I know you appreciate my film selections but if Salem Cinema’s destiny is not to be the same as that of our once beloved Jackson’s Bookstore I need to see you more often.

Last Friday, after a conversation following the movie, one of my wonderful patrons posted the following on his blog. His loyalty not only brought tears to my eyes but made me realize that I could not have said it better myself. Please read what John, who now will always have a special place in my heart, had to say. I hope that you, too, will take this to heart and share it with others:

A Movie a Week: Expand Your World and Maintain Salem’s Best Cultural Feature

You already know that I love what I do. We both know you love movies and the magical escape they offer. Only with your contributions and support will I make through this crisis and be allowed to continue to enhance to your life one captivating movie moment after the next. I need you now more than ever.

Gratefully Yours,

On Julie and Julia

August 15, 2009


I am writing this from Menlo Park, CA, where my big sister Ashley is frantically shilling fava beans, icing mini cupcakes, wrapping a wheel of brie in puffed pastry, and in general running around like a crazy bride-to-be prepping for a foodie party to end all parties.

Naturally, as one who rules my own roost, I am feeling a little out-of-sorts. For much as I like to pretend that I am the one who is interested in all things food, someone who will travel all around Salem to put together decent meal for those I love, Ashley is the real queen of the kitchen.

Also, I have no idea where she keeps her vegetable oil.

Take, for example, the meal she had prepared for me when I arrived last Thursday night: Coq a vin with mashed potatoes, which I happily devoured at 11:30 p.m. while sitting on her couch watching Jon Stewart. In our family, you don’t show up without hunger. And in our family, you don’t have anyone arrive at your house without having some kind of slow-cooked meat and vegetable dish simmering on the stove.

Obviously, we were going to see Jule & Julia together. It is the kind of movie that touches our lives on a dozen different levels, most importantly, in the gut. We just didn’t realize we would see it together with a 500-person theater packed so tight we only found seats in the second row.

Is Julie Powell the world’s first blogger to get  her life turned into a movie? I really don’t know, but I can say for sure that I hope it never happens to me (make no mistake — I harbor no delusions that a publishing executive in New York City will read my place-based mini-essays on Salem, Oregon and think: High concept book and film project that capitalizes on the foodie craze!).

For a film that has so many charms, so many moments of sheer delight, and so much sexy looking food,  Julie & Julia left me feeling a little bit more in love with Julia Child and far less in love with the idea of being a blogger.

By the way… on our car ride to the airport, my husband and I had our requisite taking-separate-flights-if-our-planes-go-down talk.

My last words: “Please oh lord if I die do not let the paper publish an obit about me and say I was a blogger. Sure, say I blogged, but please call me a writer instead!”

His last words: “I hope you make good use of the life insurance policy.”

So, on to Julie & Julia: a film about a government worker who has terrible friends and a saintly husband and whose only respite from her disappointment with herself can be found in the kitchen. She sets out to make all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cooking Bible Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to do it in 365 days, and to write about it in a blog called The Julie & Julia Project.

Go see it. It’s pretty great. So why did it leave such a bad taste in my mouth?

I can pinpoint the moment in the film when Julie Powell’s character lost most of my empathy (spoiler alert!). It wasn’t when she let her new found popularity in the blogosphere go to her head. It wasn’t when said big head caused a rift in her marriage to an obviously swell and supporting dude.

My a-ha moment occurred finally at the celebratory dinner she held near the film’s end. Julie has finally completed all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and is serving a de-boned duck to a group of friends on a Queens rooftop when she lifts her glass and toasts her husband for supporting her along the way. But instead of coming up with something new to say, she says to him exactly the same words Julia Child’s husband once said in a toast to her.

What… she’s a writer and she can’t even come up with her own toast?

Now,  this is likely as much an error in Nora Ephron’s otherwise ebullient screenplay, but it got me thinking. Julie & Julia, the book upon which the movie is based, is essentially structured around a device. It leans on an already established celebrity presence — you could say it humanizes a celebrity crush by exploring the way people mythologize celebrities they will never meet as a way to get through the day. And looking back through the film, there are several hints that would remind us that Julie leans very heavily on Julia — perhaps a little too heavily. The Julie & Julia Project was a perfectly timed cultural force — celebrity crush, foodie obsession, blogging before everyone had a blog. But despite Amy Adams’s charms, Julie Powell comes across as practically histrionic, slightly pathetic and unoriginal.

What would Julie be without Julia?

Well, I can tell you the movie really would have sucked. I sure am glad my blog isn’t based on a celebrity that is far more interesting and lovable than I.

Gotta go — those fava beans are waiting…

Ruining dinner with Food Inc.

July 16, 2009


If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, or  the now classic  Diet for a New America by John Robbins, then the images and ideas in the latest documentary to take a swipe at the hidden ironies and dangers of our national food system, FOOD, INC.,  may seem like something of a review session.

Oh, but what a review it is. Laced throughout with interviews with both Pollan and Schlosser, and filled with the kind of gross-out film footage you’d expect from a food industry expose, Food, Inc. does an okay job of illuminating some of the nasty secrets of industrialized food processing. It calls viewers to action to “vote with every bite” by turning against the giant food conglomerates that are making us all sick.

In other words, for people who are new to these ideas, the film is a great introduction to what is wrong with our food systems and what we can do to change them.

Sadly, judging by the crowd of 30 or so people who joined us in the Salem’s Cinema‘s gorgeous new Majestic theatre, the film’s producers were speaking to the converted here in Salem.

I’m an imperfect foodie myself. I try to shop at local markets (and feature them here), I pick my own, I can, I grow things at home, I seek out information about nearly everything I buy. But even I get lazy and pop a can of Spaghettio’s in a nostalgic rush from time to time (sorry Mom — I know, gross).

I promise you at least two months of energy to combat grocery laziness if you see Food Inc. Actually, you may never eat again when you see:

– chickens being processed on a factory line
– hamburger “filler” being process from meat by-products
– genetically modified foods being created in labs
– a mother’s lament after he son dies of E. Coli.
– the evil web of interconnection that shows the cross-pollination going on between the USDA’s leadership and that of the nation’s top agri-processors
– little chicks being tagged and sent careening over the edge of an assembly belt (Weeee! uh-oh!)
– Purdue chickens kicking it, concentration-camp style, in a Kentucky feed lot

Sense a pattern? I think those Salem chicken keepers have another argument for backyard coops.

I kind of love movies like Food, Inc., at least the genre they fall into — independent films give big f-u to U.S. industry monopolies.  The same ideas are at work in some of my other favorite exposes: This Film is Not Yet Rated, a killer doc about the movie industry, and Ben Bagdikian’s The New Media Monopoly, the media scholar’s seminal work about the five media conglomerates that for so long controlled much of our information.

This works are empowering because they show how effective consumer choice can be if people educate themselves. Here’s to hoping the producers of Food, Inc. have reached a wider audience with this new film than the existing, if imperfect, converts.

Nostalgia and Nookie

July 2, 2009


I am a huge sucker for Americana, so I jumped at the chance to write a story about Dallas’s Motor-Vu Drive-in, which is included in the “PLAY” insert of the current issue of Salem Monthly in a story called “Drive-in Nostalgic for Many Patrons.”

I want you all to know that this is absolutely NOT the title I gave to the piece. When I turned it in a few weeks ago, I called it “Nostalgia and Nookie,” which I think is a better description of what actually goes on at drive-ins. It is a little understood fact that writers don’t really get to pick their headlines — that job generally goes to the copy-editors. Chalk this one up to Salem being such a family-friendly community, I guess.

****UPDATE: The paper issue has my headline, the online version has the lame one ****

But really, the Motor-Vu — is there any better drive-in in the United States? I’m a total Drive-in fetishist and have sought them out in every area of the country where I’ve lived. Thanks to the hard work of Jeff Mexico, the Motor-Vu is the best that I’ve seen: authentic, slightly kitschy in a 1950s nostalgia kind of way, eye-poppingly American.

Oh, and the movie line-ups are pretty damn fine. For $18 bucks per car, you can see a double feature of two generally well-paired summer flicks (recent line-ups have included “Up” and “Drag Me to Hell,” current lineup is “Ice Age” and “Year One.”

Here are two more pics from the Motor-Vu’s retro-fitted snack shop (you can see the scree through the back window).

I can smell the popcorn just looking at them.


Dude, sold-out Raisinettes? Seriously?


See you at the Drive-In! And don’t you dare peek in my car. I’ll be the one making out with my husband — in the back rooooowwwww…

Desperately Seeking: New Name

May 1, 2009


Give a neighborhood a boost, give it a new name. It’s worked for SoHo, and the Pearl, so why not for Salem’s burgeoning neighborhood to the north? You know, the little area north of downtown that is now becoming the Bermuda triangle of hipsterdom?

1. Salem Cinema’s new digs
2. Boon’s Treasury, one of our two McMinnamin’s
3. The Space. Enough said.

I have no idea what this area is called among the people, other than “that area north of downtown,” so I propose the following. How about putting together some ideas for renaming this area into something that speaks of its coolness:

Here are a two ideas:

The Carpet District (isn’t there that carpet place right near here?)

NoBro (as in, Northeast Salem on Broadway)

Put your suggestions in the comments section and we’ll do a contest to select the winner. Or, as it actually works in the great marketplace ideas, perhaps people will just start calling it that.

Oh, and if you’re a trendy wine bar or soap shop or combination cheese store/yarn store, there is an open storefront across from the Salem that is for rent right now. Get in before you can’t afford the rent, yo.

Coffee: Making to-do’s into to-done’s

April 29, 2009


It is a fairly well-known quandary that items at the end of the to-do list stay at the end of the to-do list.

Well, not today.

Today, I started my novel — a story that has been brewing within me for a few months now and which I have been telling  myself in the shower, when I go to bed, when I’m watching Highlander, when I’m supposed to be working on other things.

Here’s the thing: I do not see myself as a novelist. I read a lot of novels, and I review them, but I haven’t tried to write fiction for about five years. The leap from nonfiction to fiction requires something of an adjustment, and I’ve been breaking my head over how to do it.

One solution is to see it as an experiment. One best catalyzed by some major caffeine-infused coffee drinks.

Back in Iowa City, I used to frequent this place called Tarrapin, which was owned by these two humongous, sweaty brothers. They made great coffee, no one knew me there, and I could write for hours without being distracted by news.

I’ve found I do some of my best writing in coffee shops, but haven’t yet tried to write often in downtown Salem. So today marked day one of Operation Caffeine-Fueled Debut Novel. And at least today, it was a success!

I got about 600 words laid down today at the Beanery, the first Salem coffee house I ever visited. My plan is to put down about 500 words every day and just see what happens.

Get a load of that glowing screen! To me, that means some god-gifted inspiration, right? not the harrowing challenge of the blank page?

The first time I visited the Beanery it was November 2008, the rain was coming down to welcome us to Oregon, we had just driven from Portland for one of my husband’s interviews, and we were about six hours away from the next.

We ordered a 20 oz. latte and shared it while watching the passers-by duck and cover from the storm.

We congratulated ourselves for having chosen the Beanery over the two Starbucks that bookend the same street. (Good job! Way to consume! Sleep well tonight!)

We leafed through apartment guides and imagined our lives here. Then we went to see Madagascar 2 at the downtown movieplex.

Five months later, here I am, at the Beanery, writing, drinking, listening to conversations and wondering why all rooms can’t have 20+ foot ceilings.

I’m not sure if I’m set on the Beanery yet for this work-in-progress. Hopefully I can try out a handful of other coffeehouses downtown and see what fits best.

Then someday, when someone is interviewing me for a change, maybe I’ll tell the writer that I wrote the novel at the Beanery, or the Coffeehouse Cafe, or the Governor’s Cup, and the place will become a stomping ground for all levels of lit fans. Salem will rise in the hearts and minds of book-lovers as myths are created around the places where people in town create works of art.

How’s that for counting your beans before they’re roasted?

Salem Film Festival – Oscar’s Animated Shorts

April 20, 2009

I was first in line for leftover tickets for the showing of 2008’s Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts at the Salem Film Festival yesterday at 5:15 — and I knew the crowd was going to be packed. I had arrived about 4:35, expecting that half of Salem might decide to take their kids to the show.

I was wrong.

Much of Salem is a kid at heart — or at least appreciates a showing of short-form animation.The crowd was mostly older people, and they were starting to get a little ornery as they waited at the ticket counter.

A couple of hundred people with VIP passes and pre-bought tickets were lining up by 4:45. By 5:00, we were supposed to have a chance to buy tickets then. 5:11 trickles along… and I am getting nervous… and I’m wondering if I’m going to have to see the Inuit film instead… and kapow! Ticket time!

For tickets in the front row.

Seriously, we could see the pixels on the Salem Majestic’s gorgeous new screen.

What is it about the Academy that makes them always pick the short about the little old man who is alone and thoughtful and looking back on his life with nostalgia, sadness, and even hope?

This year’s Harvey Krumpet was a French entry called La Maison en Petit Cubes. It concerned, you guessed it, an old man who looks back on his life with nostalgia, sadness, and even hope. The turn is that he’s living in a house that is flooding, so he dons SCUBA gear and goes swimming with his memories. Very Jungian. It’s a very endearing character study.

But it is not Oktapodi, the best two-minute animation I’ve seen. Oktapodi is a love story of two Octopi set on the Greek island of Santorini. You can watch it all over the place, including on YouTube.

Second-runner-up in my book goes to This Way Up, a story of twin morticians who bungle the transportation of a coffin to its final resting place. It’s gorgeous, it’s hilarious, and it makes some bad turns in the last few minutes. It’s also on YouTube.

So why even go to the Salem Cinema and shoulder my way through throngs of retirees to see animated shorts when I can see them all on YouTube?

Well, if you haven’t been down there yet, you should definitely go. Owner Loretta Miles has decided on a feel that blends the artistry of early 20th century cinemas — art nouveau details in the glasswork–with the high-tech screening capabilities you’d expect at most cineplexes. The approach is a little strange, and completely post-modern in the way it borrows almost willy-nilly from periods past.

But the whole works, and the new theater’s a knockout.

As for Oscar-animated shorts, you can still see them all online. I kinda wish I had seen the Inuit film.

Salem Film Festival opens tonight!

April 17, 2009


Have no fear, Salem!

Now don’t get all depressed when you look at the Netflix ratings for what is popular in Salem:  Step Mom and 10 Things I Hate About You. That’s not where the cinema culture is happening.

Head on down to the local venue with the international focus: the Salem Cinema.

Salem Cinema’s 10-day film festival opens tonight with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the theater’s new space on Broadway NE.

Tonight’s main event opens with a mixer with local and visiting filmmakers at the new arthouse cinema.

Drawing on my special connections with the American Film Institute in Washington, D.C., I’ve put together a must-see list for the film festival.

But if you’re really a hardcore cineaste, you won’t take your advice from me. You’ll get the $125 VIP ten-day film & forum pass that gets you into all of the events.

And there sure are some real winners in the bunch this year.

April 17: Once More With Feeling

April 18: The Final Inch and Smile Pinki

April 19: Nickle and Dimin It

April 20: The Skyjacker

April 21: Andrus: The Man, The Mind and the Magic

April 22: On Paper Wings

April 23: The Linguists. Do NOT miss this chance to meet local man Greg Anderson and learn about his quest.

April 24: Sita Sings the Blues

April 25: Route 30. How could I not promo a film made in my hometown of Lancaster County?

April 26: Mermaid

Salem Oregon Must-do list

March 23, 2009

Just created what will soon be my constantly changing Salem Oregon must-do list. Here’s the current one, you’ll find the list on its own page on the right column under the F.A.Q.’s.


Top Ten Things to Do in Salem, Oregon

10.  Run, don’t walk past the Oregon State Hospital.

9.  Take in a flick at the Northern Lights Pub Theatre. Assuming they’re not still playing Twilight. (Don’t tell me it’s Theatre Pub. I say if the movie theater is serving beer, it’s going first).

8. Check out some consignment furniture at Encore on Commercial Street SE.

7. Pop in for a spin around the galleries (Tuesday is free) at Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art.

6. Chat up the booksellers at the Book Bin or Tea Party Bookshop.

5. Pick a wine off the wall at Morton’s Bistro in West Salem.

4. Stroll among the cherry trees at the State Capitol (they’re almost out!).

3. Chat with Jim Bernau at Willamette Valley Vineyards.

2. Gaze with wonder at how tchochkes can be stylish when grouped by color or theme at Engelberg Antiks.

1. Stop in for a make-your-own cannoli at the Little Cannoli Bakery in the Reed Opera House.