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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Places to see great films

The Gazette recently ran an editorial bemoaning the lack of good films shown at the Bow Tie Movieland in downtown Schenectady. The piece noted that city residents who want to see Oscar-nominated films will have to travel to Albany or Saratoga Springs, as the Bow Tie mostly shows poorly reviewed Hollywood fare.

I’m rather spoiled, as I live near the Spectrum movie theater in Albany, which specializes in showing more acclaimed, adult-oriented films.

But I do sympathize with Schenectady County residents who want to see good movies, because I think good movies make the world a better place. And judging from the letters the Gazette has received in response to its editorial, there are plenty of frustrated moviegoers in Schenectady — people who would rather see “The Wolf of Wall Street” (which has grossed over $107 million in the U.S., which suggests there’s an audience for it) than “That Awkward Moment” or “Vampire Academy.” In fairness, the Bow Tie theater is showing two new films geared toward adults: “Labor Day” and “The Monuments Men.” But these films have not been especially well-received, and I’m not really sure why I’d bother with them when there are so many better options. “American Hustle” is a good movie, and it is playing at the Bow Tie, but I saw that almost two months ago.

The hand-wringing over the Bow Tie comes at a time when the local movie options have never been better. Of course, to take full advantage of the region’s cinematic offerings, you often have to be willing to 1. pay close attention to venue calendars 2. drive a little bit out of your way and 3. take a risk.

Which raises the question: What does it mean to take a risk when you go to the movies? Well, it means being willing to go to a movie even though you don’t know exactly what to expect and it might be a little bit unusual. I’ve seen some pretty interesting things lately, and I thought I’d put together a short list of some alternative movie options for those who are interested.

Proctors — Proctors always has a pretty interesting mix of films on tap. Their cult film series, It Came From Schenectady, has brought some terrific films to Schenectady. Through them, I’ve seen the so-bad-it’s-good film “The Room,” the original Godzilla film, “Gojira,” which is terrific, and “Django,” the spaghetti western that influenced Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film “Django Unchained.”

On Feb. 20, ICFS will bring the fun John Carpenter film “Big Trouble in Little China” to Proctors, followed by the 1976 Taiwanese film “Master of the Flying Guillotine,” and on March 7 they are showing two Godzilla films, “Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla” and “Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus.”

If weird, cult films are not your thing, Proctors is also showing the American Film Institute’s top 100 films. New installments in this series get added to the Proctors schedule regularly, but here are a couple that are coming up: the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” on Feb. 24 and “My Fair Lady” on March 3. There are also a handful of recent releases on the Proctors schedule: “Kill Your Darlings,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “All is Lost.”

The Saratoga Film Forum — The Saratoga Film Forum has been showing some really interesting films of late, and if it didn’t involve a 45 minute drive, I’d probably go there all of the time. The Film Forum shows an eclectic mix of older films and current releases, some of which are considered too obscure for a run at the Spectrum. For instance, last year I caught the surreal French film “Holy Motors” at the Saratoga Film Forum. I haven’t been up to the film forum recently, but I’ve continued to be impressed by their schedule, which in recent weeks have included the acclaimed-yet-little-seen coming-of-age drama British film “The Selfish Giant,” the sports documentary “The Crash Reel,” about snowboarder Kevin Pearce and the controversial 1966 Japanese war film “Red Angel,” which screens on Wednesday.

The Spectrum in Albany — The Spectrum is well-known for its interesting programming. Less well-known is the fact that the theater has been hosting more special events — showing feature films and documentaries for one night only. Last month I saw the documentary “The Punk Singer,” about Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, at the Spectrum, and on Thursday the Spectrum is showing “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?” an animated film about Noam Chomsky from Michel Gondry, best known for helming the bittersweet sci-fi romance “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Kathleen Hanna and Noam Chomsky might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for those who are interested, the Spectrum is filling a valuable niche.

The Madison Theatre in Albany — The Madison Theatre recently reopened, and I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet. However, they are doing something new and different: showing older films only. These films often share a theme, or an actor.

For instance, the Madison reopened with a full-slate of Paul Newman films, and I’m still kicking myself for not getting over there to see “Cool Hand Luke,” one of my favorite films of all time. The calendar for February and March includes a few things that look fun and interesting, such as “Lawrence of Arabia,” which I’ve been dying to see on the big screen, and “The Last Dragon,” a Berry Gordy-produced guilty pleasure from 1985 that involves martial arts and breakdancing. Also, all tickets at the Madison are $5, which is awesome.

Time & Space Limited in Hudson — A bit of a drive, but always worth it. Time & Space has been the only place in the region to catch a number of movies I’ve really wanted to see, such as “Computer Chess,” “Leviathan” and “The Act of Killing.”

Also in Hudson is the music/film/arts venue the Basilica Hudson, which is closed for the winter but shows really interesting, sometimes-hard-to-find films in the spring, summer and fall, such as Polish director Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 horror film “Possession,” which totally blew my mind.

The New York State Writers Institute — Films sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute are usually shown at UAlbany’s Page Hall in downtown Albany, and they are always free. I saw the Vietnamese film “Cyclo” there earlier this month, and on Friday they are showing the 1952 Technicolor romance “Lovely to Look At.” Other films being shown this semester include “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Up in the Air” and “The Quiet Man.”

EMPAC in Troy — EMPAC shows interesting films every semester. Here are two events to look forward to: On Feb. 20, EMPAC will show the short films of experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, who was apparently a huge influence on George Lucas, and on April 3 the arts center will show the classic Jacques Tati film “Playtime,” which is one of those films you’re supposed to see on a big screen. And since I’ve only seen “Playtime” on a small screen, I’m really excited about this.

Screaming Chicken Tree Cinema — You might be wondering: What is Screaming Chicken Tree Cinema? Well, they are a couple of guys who show weird older films once a month at Upstate Artists Guild in Albany; to find out what they’re up to, you have to like their Facebook page.

Anyway, on Wednesday they are showing the Sun Ra movie “Space is the Place,” which will be followed by live synthesizer music. Over the past year, I’ve seen some truly memorable films at Screming Chicken Tree Cinema Events, including the infamous Italian production “Cannibal Holocaust,” the Mexican horror movie “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” and the new wave/sci-fi/alien film “Liquid Sky.”

In conclusion: If all of these places keep showing movies, I’ll never be bored.

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