Monthly Archives: April 2014

Farewell to the Mamaroneck Playhouse

On Thursday April 17th my hometown movie theater, the Mamaroneck Playhouse, closed its doors and will eventually be torn down for condos.  Built in 1925 as a vaudeville theater, it’s been the center of Mamaroneck’s business district for 89 years.  The news was a surprise to everyone back home, with property owner Bow Tie Cinemas breaking the news to local officials only the night before.  According to the company, the playhouse wasn’t economically sustainable, but Mamaroneck residents (and former residents such as myself) are skeptical of that claim considering it’s a first run theater in a vibrant business district, surrounded by a variety of restaurants and parking.

The films I’ve seen there over my lifetime range from blockbusters (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), to the obscure (Raise the Titanic), to some titles better forgotten (lest I be judged…).  Even though the last film I saw there was back in 2001 (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion), most of the films I’ve written about on Fante’s Inferno were originally screened at the Mamaroneck Playhouse.

I’ve seen the theater evolve from a single screen with balcony seating to a four screen multiplex almost 35 years ago.  Most of the films I’ve seen there were in the 80’s, but my favorite era of the Mamaroneck Playhouse was the mid-to-late 70’s when it was still only one screen.  Not necessarily because the movies were better, but because of the old school memories of the ushers walking up and down the aisles, shining their flashlights into the faces of anyone who dared to talk during the movie or put their feet up on the seats.  At one point in my early years attending that theater, they actually sold comic books on a spinner rack in the lobby.  By 1980 it was chopped up into four separate theaters, a crime in and of itself for altering the classic interior.

In honor of the now closed Mamaroneck Playhouse, here are a few of my favorite films screened there over the last 42 years:

Jaws (1975)

Released in theaters in 1975, but screened as part of a double feature with Jaws 2 at the Mamaroneck Playhouse in the Summer of 1978.

Airplane! (1980)

When I think back to the night I saw this film back in 1980, I’m reminded of how even the greatest comedy is funnier with the laughter of others around you.

Flash Gordon (1980)

This was a fun movie to see in the theater back in 1980.  A lot of folks in the theater didn’t quite “get” it, but those of us in the sci-fi/D&D crowd appreciated it on every level, from the production design and special effects to Queen’s still amazing score.

Time Bandits (1981)

My introduction to the films and genius of Terry Gilliam.  Still one of my all time favorite films.

The Goonies (1985)

A fun movie, and a great movie memory.  Four friends sitting in the front row of a matinee in an empty theater during the start of summer vacation.  A coke in one hand, a bag of Twizzlers in the other.  When I think of summer moviegoing, that’s the first memory that comes to mind.

X-Men (2000)

By the time my brother and I were finally able to see the X-Men on the big screen, we had waited about 20 years from when an X-Men film was first announced.  It was worth the wait.

Mamaroneck Playhouse

Mamaroneck Playhouse, 1980 (Photo by Tom Kennedy; used with permission under the Creative Commons license)

The picture above is how I will always remember the Mamaroneck Playhouse.  My main concerns over the theater closing its doors are less nostalgic than they are cultural.  The business district lost its book shop several years back, and now its movie theater is gone.  Sure, higher ticket prices, home video/theater systems and the lower standards of movie theater etiquette have kept people home in recent years, but one element of moviegoing enjoyment has been the sense of community.  I remember one Saturday night back in the early 80’s when it seemed like half of the audience was made up of our friends and neighbors.  Despite the access to many amazing and obscure films since I’ve moved to New York City, that’s one feeling I haven’t been able to experience as a moviegoer here.

I haven’t seen a movie at the Mamaroneck Playhouse in over a decade, so I can’t attest to the recent condition of the theater (though recent reports on the closing reference less than ideal conditions in the theater).  With 20+ years of cinematic memories there I feel a sense of personal loss, but I also feel the loss for the current and future residents of Mamaroneck who won’t be able to experience seeing a movie there followed by a slice of pizza at Sal’s Pizzeria across the street.  At least Sal’s is still there.

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Thoughts on Captain America: The Winter Soldier (SPOILERS)

Captain America The Winter Soldier Poster

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johanssen (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier)

Directed by Joe Russo and Anthony Russo; Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley; Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

With each major comic themed film that’s been released over the last year, I couldn’t help but think about when the tide would turn and the genre’s popularity might start to wane.  But with over $400 million in worldwide box office since it’s April 4th opening weekend, Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves the comic book film is still popular among U.S. and international audiences.

Anyone who knows me knows that Captain America is one of my all time favorite comic book characters (see The Captain America Project in my previous posts), so The Winter Soldier is one of the films I’ve been looking forward to the  most this year.  The character really is timeless, with each generation of creators since Joe Simon and Jack Kirby creating stories of pure comic book fantasy (The Silver Age Avengers comic books) and weaving issues and events of the last 70 years into storylines to keep Cap relevant over the years (World War II, Communism, distrust of government in the 70’s, the post 9/11 world).  During the film’s opening weekend I caught a screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with two of my amazing friends (I’ll call them Wonder Woman and Phoenix), and the movie didn’t disappoint.

SPOILERS BELOW

Positives:

Chris Evans as Captain America

Steve Rogers doesn’t lose his soul or his hope for America when Project Insight and Pierce’s true motives are exposed.  As a man out of his time with 70 lost years to make up, he retains his ideals and moral compass without being jaded or effected by the modern era.  The fish-out-of-water element of his character doesn’t overpower the story, and it’s his introduction to the returned veterans in Sam Wilson’s support group that provides Cap with a sense of familiarity in a complicated world.

The Winter Soldier

I have to admit, when it was first announced this sequel would focus on the return of Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan) as HYDRA’s walking death machine The Winter Soldier, my first reaction was mixed.  Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting crafted an amazing run with The Winter Soldier in the Captain America comic book, but there was a part of me that was put off by the “resurrection” of Bucky Barnes.  In my opinion, Bucky was one of the Marvel characters (along with Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy) that should not have been brought back from the dead.  But after seeing the film, I’m sold on bringing Bucky back.

Anthony Mackie as Falcon 

Falcon/Sam Wilson brought me back to the Bronze Age Cap/Falcon stories I grew up with, and actor Anthony Mackie was great in the role.  Sam Wilson was more than Cap’s wingman (sorry for the pun), he’s a leader that holds his own.  His backstory as an Air Force veteran of the War on Terror was the perfect origin for a contemporary Falcon, and his empathy for Steve Rogers as a veteran struggling with a return to normalcy is the backbone of their friendship.

Robert Reford as Alexander Pierce

Going into the film it was Robert Redford’s performance as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Anthony Pierce that I was looking forward to the most.  This inspired casting elevated Winter Soldier from a high octane comic book/superhero film to an engaging political thriller.  Redford’s portrayal of Pierce and his true motives for Project Insight within S.H.I.E.L.D. was reminiscent of the ambiguous government characters in Alan Pakula’s conspiracy films of the 70’s.  Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley referenced the classic films Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View as influences on their story.

Easter Eggs

I won’t name all of them because the fun is in discovering them.  But one name dropped in the film got me thinking about the future of Marvel’s films: Stephen Strange.   I’ve been saying Doctor Strange was deserving of his own feature film for years.  Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Different tone from Captain America: The First Avenger

The first film (directed by Joe Johnston) had a look and feel that showed direct inspiration from the pages of the comic books.  Winter Soldier had less of this tone, but I felt it was appropriate for this film.  To me it was representative of how comic book stories have evolved over the last seventy years.  First Avenger was the Golden/Silver Age comic book, but Winter Soldier was the modern age comic book.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more than a comic book film, it’s an action film/political thriller with comic book characters.

Negatives:

For me, there weren’t any.

When I first read that part of the story was influenced  by current events, particularly a government “kill list,” I was concerned the film would be too heavily focused on the idea of government as evil/untrustworthy and possibly insert a sucker punch or two.  But I was happy to see the film did not take that route and instead showed the honorable, patriotic members of S.H.I.E.L.D. putting their lives on the line (with many making the ultimate sacrifice) to fight a HYDRA infiltration of their organization.  Great job by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley and directors Joe and Anthony Russo.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a solid film with equal parts adrenaline and emotion that raises the bar for comic book movies as Marvel Studios works toward The Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015.  Last week Marvel announced that Captain America 3 will be slated for May 6, 2016, the same weekend as Zack Snyder’s Superman/Batman film.  We’ll see who blinks.

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