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The Eclipse of Seattle’s Neptune and the Best Film Corner in America

The Eclipse of Seattle’s Neptune and the Best Film Corner in America   (photo)

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There’s been enough heartbreak over the past few days without learning that the Neptune Theatre in Seattle will be shut down as a first-run theater for films in February, which like the similarly historic (and single-screen) Clay in San Francisco has been abandoned by the Landmark Theater chain, which operated the theater since 1981. By then, it was already 60 years into its lease, with the high ceilings, stained glass and all the other movie palace opulence one would expect.

Unfortunately for me, I would only have the opportunity to go to the Neptune during this year’s Seattle Film Festival, but I strongly concur with everything Film Essent‘s Kim Voynar says in her eulogy for the theater and what it might mean for the area’s film scene as a whole; it’s the rare city where many of the theaters offer a true experience beyond the film you’re seeing. Over the course of the weekend I was in Seattle, I ran up the wave-shaped ramp that led to the film’s balcony four times — true to its name, the theater has a maritime theme.

11302010_ScarecrowVideo.jpgThis is a particularly jarring development since I came away from the Northwest believing I had found America’s closest thing to a mecca for movie lovers in Seattle’s University District, an area that included the Neptune and the unassuming street corner of 50th Street and Roosevelt Way just a few blocks away.

Sure, there are grand old theaters and certain streets that are destinations for passionate filmgoers: Hollywood Boulevard is one such obvious place, where the street isn’t just named after the dream factory, but still can claim hallowed halls like the Chinese, the El Capitan and the Egyptian as tenants, as well as the exhaustive Larry Edmunds Bookshop, with the Walk of Fame as its sidewalk; Houston Street in New York is home to arthouse landmarks, Film Forum and the Angelika, not to mention the still-relatively new kid on the block, the Sunshine; and of course in Austin, you will not only be able to snack on some queso while watching something at the Alamo Drafthouse, but they’ll also be able to clothe you in proper film geek attire at their adjoining Mondo Tees. Yet within 500 feet of each other, Scarecrow Video, the Seven Gables Theater and Cinema Books exist in perfect harmony, balancing out each other as a place to rent movies, see them on the big screen and read about them.

If there was a heavy in this relationship, it would have to be Scarecrow, a legendary video store that houses over 100,000 tapes and DVDs under its roof and is the biggest such store I’ve ever seen in the U.S., if not the world. (In nearby Portland, the equally incredible Movie Madness Video has a mere 70,000-strong collection, but compensates with an indoor gallery of props and costumes from classic movies like Norman Bates’ knife from “Psycho.”)

Of course, these are troubled times for brick-and-mortar stores, but I suspect Seattle is a weaker spot for Netflix than other places in the country. Here, it’s superfluous when the selection isn’t only bigger than the online giant, but more specific — the foreign categories aren’t limited to the usual superpowers such as Italy and China, but Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua and Slovakia, and demarcations well beyond genre constraints. Want “Bullitt”? Head to the “Vroom! Section,” comprised entirely of biker and car-chase-heavy flicks. And if a film was picked by Roger Ebert as one of the best films of the ’90s, its box will bear that distinction and an excerpt from his review. (Mostly, the well-heeled staff will offer their own – example: “Goodfellas” – “Should have won for best picture…cause it’s the best picture. OK?”)

11302010_SevenGables.jpgAcross the intersection from Scarecrow, Cinema Books sits underneath the Seven Gables Theatre, along with an Italian restaurant (Mamma Melina’s) that posts the theater’s times in its windows, so people can ensure they won’t miss their movie after the lasagna. Incidentally, the new book section at the front of Cinema Books resembled a pastrami sandwich stacked high. When I was there, Seattle native Vern’s “Yippie Ki-Yay Moviegoer” shared space with a book of Atom Egoyan interviews and Shawn Levy’s biography of Paul Newman, while a carousel of birthday cards featuring Cary Grant and a collection of film magazines from around the world stood off to the side. Unlike Scarecrow, all this was inside a store not much bigger than a shoebox, but it was nonetheless impressive.

Still, it might not have been as impressive as the Seven Gables upstairs, a place every bit as homey, literally, as the Neptune feels grand. Like the Harvard Exit on the other side of town, the Seven Gables was actually built in 1925 as a meeting hall that was converted into a theater, with the resulting theater feeling like you’ve walked into the private screening room of Hearst Castle. As one walks in from the street, it’s not entirely obvious where the actual auditorium is since there’s a huge living room off to the left filled with plush chairs and reading material, though the shaggy lobby belies a theater full of art deco touches, including boxy chandeliers that ascend into the ceiling when the curtain rises.

With the curtain falling on the Neptune – at least as a film venue since word is it’ll become a live performance venue – it’s an acknowledgment that even in places where there are enough passionate cinephiles to sustain gargantuan video stores and cinema bookstores, there’s still been an erosion of the film experience as a whole, where fewer people appreciate their theaters having as much character as what they see onscreen. I don’t live in Seattle, so I’m certainly not as qualified to talk as native Northwesterners, but this news should hit home for film fans the world over.

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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