My month in movies theatres

You’ve probably been noticing that I’ve been writing a lot more recently. I was inspired by Sarah Lyall’s piece in the New York Times last month — where she saw 12 movies in 12 different NYC theaters in a span of 48 hours — and decided to try my own version of the social experiment.

My own personal goal: See as many of the 2015 Academy Award-nominated films in different Western New York theaters while spending as little money as possible. With those paramenters in mind, I gave myself a month. Here are the results:

feb 17:10 p.m.: 2015 Oscar-nominated live action shorts at the DIPSON EASTERN HILLS CINEMA 3 (Williamsville, N.Y.)

I’ve always felt at home in indie theaters (Cinemapolis was one of my favorite haunts when I lived in Ithaca, N.Y.) and the Eastern Hills Dipson is one of my favorites. Just off the I-90 East and a few blocks from the Regal Transit Center Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Eastern Hills Dipson has always felt welcoming in its familiarity. Perhaps it’s the comforting pastel-green walls or their array of intelligent and intriguing films, which includes this year’s Oscar-nominated shorts. Or perhaps I enjoy how empty the Eastern Hills Mall usually is, giving me cover in the darkness. It certainly wasn’t empty Sunday night. The slush-filled parking lot was packed with cars and there was even a queue to buy tickets.

With my student ID, $7.50 granted me passage to five foreign films that may made me laugh, cry and think. “Parvaneh” made me feel contemplative; “Butter Lamp” made me feel reflective; “The Phone Call” was sad; “Aya” was perplexing; and “Boogaloo and Graham” made me feel happy and nostalgic. That’s the power of cinema, well-worth the cost.

feb 31:50 p.m.: “Boyhood” at the DIPSON MCKINLEY MALL 6 (Hamburg, N.Y.)

The McKinley Mall Dipson is a little hard to find if you don’t know exactly where to look. It’s located at the McKinley Mall plaza — right off the Mile Strip Road/Blasdell/Orchard Park exit off the I-90 West. That’s the easy part. The theatre isn’t connected to the mall, but located all the way in the back (yes, past the J.C. Penney’s and Sears). Its marquee sign is missing a couple of its letters and its selection is a little old, but this theatre does have a parking lot. It also happens to offer some of the cheapest prices in Western New York. $2 granted me access to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated time capsule, “Boyhood,” a film that transported me to my childhood and made me re-examine things from an adult’s perspective. Oh, so, this is what parenting sort-of feels like.

feb 7 1:30 p.m.: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” at the NORTH PARK ART CINEMA (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Located on Hertel Avenue just past North Park Street, the gorgeous North Park Art Cinema fits in well with the Buffalo revival. The 1920s-era theatre was just restored last year. The result: a work of art. A red, white, blue and yellow marquee protrudes in front of the building, reminding you of the streets of the theatre district in New York City. Across the street, sits a Spot Coffee and (if you’re lucky) the unmistakable bright green of a Lloyd’s Taco truck. The only downside is that it’s hard to find parking — especially on a Saturday afternoon. I ended up finding parking a block away on one of the side streets and had a lovely walk over the unshoveled sidewalks.

Inside, $5 transported me to Asia, where I learned “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” directed and co-written by Isao Takahata. The theatre itself was fit for a princess. It’s elegant with red walls, high ceilings, and heavy wooden doors. The centerpiece, though, is its celestial domed ceiling — beautifully painted with horses, carriages and angels. In my jeans, sweatshirt and winter coat, I felt underdressed.

feb 1012:35 p.m.: “Birdman” at the REGAL TRANSIT CENTER STADIUM & IMAX (Williamsville, N.Y.)

This is where I went for midnight premieres of “The Hobbit,” “Skyfall,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Ender’s Game,” and other big blockbusters. You can get lost in new dimensions when staring at the Regal Transit’s incredibly large IMAX screen. It’s so big that it’s hard to look at the full picture without sitting in the back rows.

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

Photo Credit: Qina Liu

The theatre itself is very modern, resembling a space ship. The 3D IMAX theatre towers over the red Regal marquee. It’s lobby is bathed in neon lines: red, yellow, purple. There’s even an air hockey table in the corner. This is the type of place I think of when I picture a stereotypical movie theatre.

So it was interesting to experience theatre at the movies. “Birdman,” after all, is a movie about a play, and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu transcends definitions. While movies can be pricey these days (it’s close to $20 bucks for an IMAX screening), they’re still much cheaper than a Broadway ticket. Yet Michael Keaton’s phenomenal in “Birdman,” displaying himself nakedly (both literally and figuratively) on the stage. My cost to see his performance: $5.

feb167:40 p.m.: “Still Alice” at the DIPSON AMHERST THEATRE (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Photo Credit Qina Liu

Photo Credit Qina Liu

The Amherst Dipson sits across from UB South campus next to a McDonald’s (here, student tickets cost $7.50). It’s a cozy theatre that has a selection of Tazo tea at their snack stand. You can just sink into their plushy lounge seats in their lobby, staring at the beautiful painted mural on their wall. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplain greet you when you walk in. Their likeness emerge from a painted film strip and projector. Meanwhile, their portraits hang in the bathrooms. Marlon Brando leans against a tree. A motorcycle is about a foot away. James Dean is staring off into space with the collar of his peacoat flipped up. “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today,” the quote reads below him.  That’s how Julianne Moore’s character in “Still Alice” lived. She desperately tried to hold onto her dreams as her memories were disappearing to Alzheimers:

“I am not suffering,” she says in the film. “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing.”

feb1711:55 p.m.: “Selma” at the REGAL ELMWOOD CENTER 16 (Buffalo, N.Y.)

The Elmwood Regal looks exactly the same as the Transit Regal. The only thing they’re missing is the Transit’s big IMAX tower (but they do offer 3D screenings). Of course, there’s nothing like Oscar season to drive up box office movie sales. “Selma” ticket sales rose 200 percent after they got the Oscar nomination. There was a line when I went to buy my ticket ($5). The people in front of me braved the cold Buffalo weather to go see “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” But the spacious theatre for “Selma” was also packed. I wondered what they thought as they watched the on-screen battle between David Oyelowo’s MLK and Tom Wilkinson’s LJB. Was this how they remembered this part of history? How many of them lived through the the march from Selma to Washington and saw the massacre on their black and white TV screens firsthand? While “Selma” ended with the inevitable signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight felt unfinished.

feb194 p.m.: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” at the FOUR SEASONS CINEMA (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)

Although the Four Seasons Cinema in Niagara Falls, N.Y., sounds like a hotel, it is a museum, filled with the history of classic Hollywood. A Big Lots and other factory stores hide it from view, but you can see remnants of its former glory. Housing six theaters, the cinema’s halls are like Hollywood’s walk of stars. The oak walls are adorned with iconic posters of old-time movies and its stars: Orson Welles “Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” the Marx brothers in “Duck Soup,” Humphrey Bogart in “Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”; Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind”; and Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil. Next to them rest black and white portraits of Shirley Temple, Aubrey Hepburn as well as a shrine dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. This is part of its charm. The theatre may look a little old and its floor tiles may yellow with age, but these stars will be stay forever young on the silver screen. Perhaps someday, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” franchise will join them.

Four Seasons Cinema

Photo Credit Qina Liu

9 p.m.: “Whiplash” at the AURORA THEATRE (East Aurora, N.Y.)

Aurora Theatre

Photo Credit Qina Liu

Against the -6°F Buffalo temperatures (which froze Niagara Falls), the Aurora Theatre’s marquee sign was a bright blinking beacon — like a lighthouse calling all who were lost. Tickets here cost $8 (they’re slightly cheaper for seniors) and with one, you can enter this 1925-era theatre.

The theatre’s gorgeous, with heavy mahogany doors and two indoor concession stands. There’s one stage with a theatre that can seat 650 people.

What we got was a concert, conducted by director Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller were the main artists, performing an 107-minute duet called “Whiplash.” There were no intermissions within this concert, but when the music finally stopped, they got a standing ovation.

feb26

4 p.m.: “McFarland, USA” at the AMC MAPLE RIDGE 8 (Amherst, N.Y.)

I’m not used to being asked if I have a preference for where I want to sit when buying my movie ticket ($5.99), but that’s what makes the local AMC unique. This theatre also contains red plushy recliner loveseats, which makes you feel like you’re at home. Of course, I was far from home. “McFarland, USA” director Niki Caro takes you to the poor mostly-Hispanic California town of McFarland, daring us to dream bigger.

7:30 p.m.: “Wild” at the MOVIELAND 8 THEATRES (Cheektowaga, N.Y.)

The projectors at the Movieland 8 theatre don’t always work. (Full disclosure, I tried to see “The Wolf of Wall Street” here last year and the film quit without getting past the first 20 minutes. “Unbroken” also wasn’t working when I stopped here to see it earlier this month.) But despite that and the older movie selection, the movie prices here are cheap (ranging from $2-$4). It’s one of the reasons I come here. Thursday night, I got lost in the deserts and woods with Reese Witherspoon, who starred as author Cheryl Strayed in the memoir-to-movie “Wild.” She reminded me of how empowering it can be to be out on your own — whether it’s to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or to see 14 movies in theatres within a month.

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Imperfections by Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954-1966

At first glance, the “Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954 – 1966” exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery looks like child’s play. Large geometrical figures hang on bright pastel canvases spread across five rooms in the South Galleries of the 1905 Albright building.

Curated by Albright-Knox Chief Curator Emeritus Douglas Dreishpoon; Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén; and Tyler Cann, associate curator of contemporary art at the Columbus Museum of Art; “Imperfections By Chance” is a delightful dip into some of Feeley’s (1910-1966) later works.

"The Other Side" (1957) by Paul Feeley

“The Other Side” (1957)

Some, like a 1958 untitled piece, resemble a thought bubble. Others are more scientific or earthy. “Cassius” (1957) looks like pink fleshy gums within a dark navy lava lamp. “The Other Side” (1957) shows two connected aqueous planets competing for the warm navel-orange embers of a neighboring sun. “Red Blotch” (1954) features an fiery-red blob surrounded by its complement: a rich pine green.

As simplistic as this looks, the complementary colors in Feeley’s paintings hold your attention. Like a Rorschach test, shapes and textures begin to emerge within the inkblot. “Red Blotch” could be a red bow or the aerial view of a Christmas tree in infrared. The white canvas bleeds through in some spots, giving tiny veins within the red. It looks unfinished, but these little imperfections give this blotch its layers and form.

That’s what makes Feeley’s abstract expressionism fascinating. “Kilroy” (1957) — a 101.5 by 92 in. oil-based enamel painting on canvas — resembles a giant red tear drop against a bright yellow background. The red and yellow blend — looking opaque and translucent in different spots. But the most interesting part is where the spots fray — resembling blood splatters speckling pristine yellow wallpaper. It’s a work of art — and one that Showtime’s “Dexter” would appreciate. 

“Imperfections by Chance” allows the viewer to experience the world through another lens. It’s as if the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s handed you a microscope to map Feeley’s evolution. In “Red Blotch” (one of the earliest paintings in this gallery), Feeley’s signature’s is printed in big black block letters, almost blending into its green backdrop. His watercolors (circa 1958 – 1959) features big loopy cursive scribbles, mirroring the bulbous figures of his paintings.

The playfulness is evident in Feeley’s works.”Gomelza” (1965) resemble a game of pick up jacks; “Minoa” (1962) looks like bowling pins orbiting a helix; and “Alioth” (1964) repeats a pattern of kidney beans over a light blue background.

Meanwhile, the precise orange, white and blue figures in “Asellus” (1964) — a 101 by 101 in. oil-based enamel painting on canvas — seem like the overlooked organisms that one might see under a microscope. These repeating figures of little significance are prominently displayed like the famous subjects of Andy Warhol’s pop art. Later, Feeley reprises the figure of “Asellus” in “Electra” (1965) and “El Rakis” (1965) — three-dimensional oil-based enamel on wood sculptures.

As abstract as some of these works are, some are more recognizable. A watercolor of “Pelikes, Greece,” — dated June 28, 1961 — looks like a cubist version of El Greco’s “View of Toledo.” “Pelikes, Greece” is displayed next to another cubist watercolor landscape. This one, an untitled piece painted in 1962, shows the washed-out blue of a nondescript body of water next to a sandy coastline and it’s bubbly green vegetation.

It’s flat and other-worldly, yet oh-so familiar — like those misshapen heads on stick-figure bodies that your mother used to frame on the fridge a lifetime ago. Feeley reminds us that these “imperfections by chance” could be beautiful and worth staring at.

“Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954 – 1966” was initiated by Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén and organized by Albright-Knox Chief Curator Emeritus Douglas Dreishpoon and Tyler Cann, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Columbus Museum of Art. The exhibit was displayed from Nov. 9, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. 

Country a cappella heartthrobs ‘Home Free’ perform at UB

They’re a little bit silly, a little bit sappy and very, very skilled. Not a bad combination, especially when these attributes landed them a Columbia Record deal.

Of course, I’m talking about Home Free, the Minnesota-based country a cappella group that won the fourth season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” Last night, Home Free performed a potpourri of a cappella country and pop covers at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts stage — their third last stop on their “Crazy Life” CD tour.

While this is their first national tour since “The Sing-Off,” these boys are polished and professional performers. And they should be. They have years of technical musical training and on-the-road practice above their cowboy boots.

Brothers Chris (baritone) and Adam Rupp (percussion) started the group during their years at Gustavus Adolphus College 14 years ago. With the addition of tenor Rob Lundquist, bassist Tim Foust and high tenor Austin Brown, they’ve sang at hundreds of concerts — through fairs, colleges and cruise ships.

They know their audience too.

Although last night’s show was their second time at Center for the Arts (they were here last year on “The Sing-Off” tour), most of the audience was seeing them live for the first time.

“How many people are here because your wives dragged you here?” they asked, followed by a showing of hands.

This opprotunity allowed them to showcase their strengths while addressing the skeptics. Adam Rupp, the group’s resident beat-box, performed a one-man drum solo, mixing and re-mixing sounds and genres with his lips.

It rivals the technical genius of Bo Burnham’s “We Think We Know You.”

Foust showed off his impressive almost five-octave range with a cover of Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” During a particularly high note, Lundquist and Brown berate Foust for overstepping and dipping into their range as tenors.

What makes Home Free hit home is beyond their vocal range though. It’s their performance, self-aware talent, and maybe a little bit of their looks too. Brown and Foust shamelessly give the crowd smoldering stares before the intermission break, hoping to sell some CDs. (Their Holiday CD, “Full of Cheer,” was released on iTunes Sept. 30; “Crazy Life” was released Jan. 13.)

Foust demonstrates his skills as a lyricist. The group performed a few original songs, penned by Foust, including the sweet and sentimental country crooner “I’ve Seen”; and the comedic hit “Champagne Taste (On A Beer Budget).” Foust’s low voice and the high backup vocals makes the latter song seem like a slower musical parody of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (minus the violin, of course).

Like fellow country star Taylor Swift, they can effortlessly cover everything from country to pop, adding their unique country twang. This includes One Direction’s “The Story of My Life,” Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and Bobby Day’s 1957 single “Rockin’ Robin.”

Their specialty, of course, is their country harmonies, and they showcase them with Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids,” Scotty McCreery’s “Feelin’ It,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” Rascal Flatts’ “Life Is A Highway,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” the Zac Brown Band’s “Warmer Weather,” and ending with the most ‘country’ classic of all, “God Bless America.”

Now that’s something America can love.

Why should we care about celebrities?

When Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to spend 90 days in jail this summer, it coincided with news of the BP oil leakage stopping as well as the decision for the appointment of Buffalo’s new police commissioner.

 

Qina Liu

Her sobs in the courtroom — claiming, “It wasn’t a vacation” — filled local half-hour news segments on WGRZ Channel 2 On Your Side and WIVB Channel 4. Yet while I understand why news of Lohan’s arrest may be covered on TMZ, I do not understand why news networks were also covering her episodes with authority — especially since her arrest does not affect anyone from Buffalo, N.Y.

However, information and interest in Lohan’s arrest should not be surprising. As Jill Neimark of Psychology Today wrote in a May 1, 1995 article, “Whether it’s a hero-turned-murderer or a rock star committing suicide, the media brings us together in a global society.” She argues that we put celebrities such as Lohan in the limelight so that we can collectively criticize them — we put them down to feel better about ourselves.

“Though fractured into bits of gossip, celebrities, of course, still bring us real meaning,” Neimark writes. Neimark claims that Paris Hilton’s reality television show, “The Simple Life,” may simply give our lives meaning, and that Lohan’s escapades serve their purpose as entertainment.

While Neimark’s comments may validate why Lohan appears in on local news channels — and why people are interested in watching — using bad celebrity press is demeaning, especially when there is real news to be told. Don’t people deserve to know about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf or about the cholera outbreak in Haiti? Don’t people deserve to learn about real news? Why is our culture so focused on celebrity and not politics or government? Don’t people understand that politics matter — that legislation and opinion affect what one can and cannot do?

Amy Henderson, a historian in the Smithsonian Institution, wrote that people used to value “military heroes” and “eminent statesmen.” People used to look up to people who actually mattered — and perhaps talked about and covered things that actually mattered too. While I am not saying that Lohan does not matter, she certainly matters a whole lot less next to the BP oil spill disaster.

Although Lohan’s claim-to-fame in The Parent Trap and Mean Girls make her a modern celebrity, and she may have been good at what she does, it is overshadowed by the coverage of the press. Her flops of recent movies, such as I Know Who Killed Me, and her stints in jail do not help her image either. In fact, her DWI arrests and her crying incident make her more laughable than credible.

But it is not Lohan’s fault. Perhaps her childhood stardom put her on the media radar in the first place. Still, as Henderson describes, the modern celebrity is “celebrated not for achievement, but simply for ‘well-knowness.’” This explains how a character like “Snooki” has ever entered American households, and why people return to the Jersey Shore. But don’t you see something wrong with that picture?

Should Lindsay Lohan be more famous — or infamous — than the crooks on Wall Street or than those responsible for the oil disaster in the Gulf?

It saddens me that ten years after the U.S. war with Afghanistan began, nobody can name how many soldiers died for our nation in either Iraq or Afghanistan. At the same time, however, everyone knows that Jon and Kate had eight kids, and that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the Ken and Barbie of the celebrity generation. Everyone knows about Lohan’s misadventures in and out of jail and rehab, but we do not know offhand that according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty count, there were 4,427 and counting fatalities in Iraq and 1,380 similar cases in Afghanistan.

However, I am not here to underscore the importance of celebrity culture and its ability to make a societal impact. I applaud Sean Penn — and not just his ability as an actor — for camping in Haiti and trying to help a good cause. I was happy to see him report to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about the conditions in Haiti this summer, and I am pleased that he corresponded with The New York Times about what it was like on the island after Hurricane Tomas swept the country. I am glad that Lady Gaga voiced her opinion about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. At the same time, I am just asking society to be more mindful of important political and social issues.   

While I will be the first to admit that I found Lohan’s breakdown laughable, I do not understand why mainstream media will highlight Lohan, especially when more time and energy could be devoted to disasters such as the Indonesia tsunami which killed at least 113 people and left 502 missing, or solving the problems exposed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The BP oil spill, called the “worst in U.S. history” by organizations such as The Los Angeles Times, caused a lasting ecological effect and will affect the area for years. Travis Walter Donovan of the Huffington Post compiled a list of seven long-term effects of the gulf oil spill, which is continuing to affect factors such as tourism and the seafood industry and the economy along the Gulf coast. As for talk of Lohan’s jail time — it will only last until the next time Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift at the VMA awards or until Janet Jackson flashes her cleavage at the Superbowl.

But do both events really merit the same amount of back-to-back coverage? After all, media reflects a society, and if all we care about is which celebrities are doing drugs, sex and booze, what does that say about us as a culture?

Lohan, although a celebrity, does not deserve to fill the shoes of the 24-hour news cycles of the mainstream media. After all, if issues in the press were not overshadowed by Lindsay’s jail time, perhaps these issues will last longer than 24 hours.

Qina Liu is an Ithaca College journalism major from Buffalo, N.Y.