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Sam North
Why Going to the Movies Can Still be A Pleasure

I was struck by a report on the National Post (Toronto) the other day by a journalist (McLaren) who said after going to see ‘The Matrix’ she never wanted to go to the movies again. Staying at home watching The West Wing and ER was more intellectually stimulating and she hated the kind of people who go to the movies, eat and talk and generally behave like the general public.

Well I am sure European royalty used to say the same thing when attending the ‘Theatre’. There’s only so much contact one can make with ones ‘subjects’. One suspects that working for a right-wing newspaper like The Post would help develop those kind of attitudes. Of course I am not defending ‘The Matrix’. They made their money but essentially many of us were disappointed with their lack of dedication to the art of storytelling. It seems as if they cribbed the script off a very bad video-game then poured a $100 million bucks at it in the hopes it wouldn’t stink. It does, but then again, it is exciting to watch, so I wouldn’t exactly say it is the kind of film that should turn someone off cinema forever. For that you need Al Pacino whose onerous conditions in his divorce settlement is forcing him to make bad film after bad film until he becomes as big a joke as Robert De Nero who blew his rep years ago. (Avoid Pacino's film ‘People Like Us’ if you want to remember him well).

We are very lucky in Vancouver to have one cinema that actually does cater for the selective audience, where it is unlikely the hoi poloi will cough up their dough and spill megasize popcorn over your cocktail dress. The Fifth Avenue Cinema on Burrard is very particular about who it lets in, you can even buy membership and they tend to show art films. Neeedless to say it is my favourite cinema in Canada (despite the number of darn Al Pacino films that turn up there). (My all time favourite cinema is The Chelsea on the King’s Road, London.)

Right now June 1st - the Fifth are offering Winged Migration, by Jacques Perrin, Jacques Ciuzard & Michel Debats - an Oscar nominated feature length documentary about migrating birds. It is wonderful, funny, sad, lyrical and probably a vivid demonstration on why cinema was actually invented! Go see it now. They also have ‘Man on a train.’ Directed by Patrice Laconte (who made the wonderful ‘Girl On a Bridge’ this film is more subdued and closer in feeling to his earlier Monsieur Hire, (with Jean Rochefort again). This is a simple tale that tells of a lonely older man bored with his life being fascinated by another man, a bank robber and wishing he had the strength and courage to swop lives with him. The bank robber is played by Johnny Hallyday, a perennial French ‘Rock Star’ and although the film fared badly in France, it travels well because, of course, we have not heard of Hallyday or seen him doing his Elvis impersonations (merci pour cette). Man on the Train is a sweet, comfortable film that takes time to build character and it’s a nice antidote to much of the recent American fare.

The Fifth is also carrying ‘Spellbound’ this week, the brilliant documentary by Jeff Blitz. He follows kids across America who enter for the annual Spelling Bee contest. It’s amazing, riveting and often hilarious as well as tragic for the kids who study so hard yet lose. Is it child abuse? Probably, but then every parent should drag their kids to see it and make them realise just how easy they have it. (You can fit it in with a double bill with Winged Migration). The Fifth also has ‘Down With Love’ and ‘A Mighty Wind’. I haven’t seen ‘Down with Love’ but Carine reports that is wonderful, very pink and doesn’t take itself very seriously, a genuine ‘chic flick’; whereas we both saw ‘A Mighty Wind.’ Directed by Christopher Guest, it is funny and although a one joke film, has some arresting moments and neat digs at the whole folk movement and ‘revivals’. Last week the Fifth had ‘Russian Ark’, the extraordinary film by Alexander Sokurov about St Petersburg Palace (currently celebrating its 200th year) -art and time travel - a genuine masterpiece of filmmaking. It was also home to ‘Flower and Garnet’ by Keith Behrman, winner of 8 Leos two weeks ago and the best film to have come out of BC in years.

So, if you think you don’t want to see another comic book brought to life such as ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ (with all the rumours of strife on set and Sean Connery re-editing it personally), or ‘Incredible Hulk’ (that has preview audiences jeering), or a remake of ‘The Italian Job’ or indeed ‘Terminator’, then seek out The Fifth Avenue Cinema when in Vancouver and find an oasis of cinema culture. (If you are a regular you will also get used to seeing trailers for films that never actually arrive there such as ‘Morvern Callar’ and ‘Whale Rider’. I feel I have already seen Morven Callar I have seen the trailer so many times and why do American and Canadian trailers have be so long? Can nothing be left to the imagination?)
(Update: Whale Rider begins showing there on 20th June and after seeing a preview it really is a sweet film full of wonderful characters. New Zealand movies always surprise and this written and driected by Niki Caro is well worth seeing. Take the kids. It concerns one girls determination to matter in the eyes of her Grandfather who can only see a future chief for his people in the local young boys. He has no time for girls. She knows better and her determination is inspiring.)

Outside the Fifth around the side is an excellent friendly coffee bar 'The Elysian Room ' 1778 West 5th (with downtempo funky music) and Incendio Pasta bar on the other side for dinner after. Is it better than staying at home and watching TV? Heck yes and it doesn’t stop the drama every five minutes for commercials. That’s why we go to the movies. Sure rent a movie, but your home screen is smaller, the company is boring and the whole point of movie watching is the experience. If in Vancouver take the Fifth, you won’t regret it. Is there an art house near you? Start frequenting it. Better yet get to know the manager and tell him that there really are films made elsewhere in this world and they do deserve to be seen. Save the art house from extinction, only you can do it.

© Sam North June 2003
The Fifth Avenue Cinema
2110 Burrard Street Tel 604 7347469

PS: On the strength of this article we were invited to see 2Fast2Furious last week.
Appalling acting, dumb diaglogue, implausible plotline but why then was it so enjoyable?
John Singleton knows how to make an action movie and I guess above all, he knows his audience. A fun film- not at all surprised it's number one this week. Catch it on the big screen, enjoy the noise.

The program changes every Friday. Check the Georgia Straight for what's on this week.



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