In the following reviews I will hit a number of movies that we have enjoyed, but I omit movies that I think were not worth seeing, unless they are quite recent or have some noteworthy features.
The Jefferson Theater (formerly the Movie Palace) is one of our favorite theaters. It is inexpensive ($2.00), and they show second-run movies, frequently immediately after they leave a first-run theater. You also have the advantage of sitting in elegant turn-of-the century decor, which is still being refurbished. (see below).
The origins of these reviews was in my summer Undergraduate Research Program. Most of the students were out of towners with no knowledge of Charlottesville. So on my weekly memo, I would point out local activities. Since movies are my primary form of town entertainment, thumb nail sketches of what was showing in town featured prominently. After a while, the movie component just took over. The title, The Mallet Reviews, comes from when I became a Friend of Monroe Hill Resident College (now known as Brown College) and carried over the reviewing to this activity. I was first formally associated with students in Mallet Portal, a sub unit of Monroe Hill. Since Mallet was also a famous UVA scientist, it seemed like an appropriate title. The title has stuck even though I am no longer associated with the Mallet Portal.
Rating Scale: ****+= one of my top 20 films of all time. ****= outstanding, a must see; ***= highly recommended, **1/2= worth a look depending on your taste. **= a possible. Read the review and go at your own risk. *= bomb. Avoid like the plague. There are a few special movies that are so appallingly bad that they are unintentionally funny; for these little gems we have a turkey (Turkey Symbol) rating. When you are in the right mood these are good for an evening of laughs, although the director and cast would probably be highly put out by this.
Unwatched and "Unrated" Movies: I get questions from students as to whether I have seen certain movies. In some cases I started the movies but couldn't finish them, usually because they did not fit my personal tastes. It would be unfair to review them under those conditions; however, in answer to the question, I list the movies and tell why I didn't finish them. I give them "unrated' ratings. (2-28-95)
I make no claims to having an inside track. The title Mallet Reviews, A Personal Look at the Movies sums it up. I am giving you my personal opinion along with occasional interesting facts. Do with it as you will. Calibrate yourself against me as you would with any critic. I do the same with other critics. For example, there are some critics I generally can trust on everything except comedies. Maltin's and my tastes generally pretty well agree; in my opinion, he has a tendency to way over rate some classics, especially if they got Academy Awards.
I try to explain why I rate movies the way I do. Sometimes what to you may seem like a minor item may cause an unusually high or low rating. Also, some movies that I may rate poorly overall may have items that I just loved. So don't just go by the number of stars.
Reference Material: I have two primary sources of information. Cinemania, Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide, which comes out yearly, and MicroSoft's Cinemania movie guide on CD ROM. Cinemania contains Maltin, and some of Ebert's and Kael's reviews as well as some Cinebook reviews. It also includes dialogue, motion picture clips, and still shots from many movies. Cinemania is updated yearly and I am currently using Cinemania '95. I generally find that Maltin's tastes and mine are very similar, so if he likes a movie it is certainly worth a look unless it falls into a class of movies that I intrinsically dislike (e.g., musicals). Ebert is alway insightful, but I frequently do not especially like movies that he raves about. Kael is Kael, and seems never to have seen a movie that she didn't dislike--generally in complete disagreement with me. Many of my special effects comments come from a marvelous little book from Movie Magic, The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema , John Brosnan, New American Library, 1976, a kind gift from Mark at Sneak Reviews. Unfortunately, it is out of print.
You will notice that I review a significant number of old films including silents. I must confess that until I started watching films in a more systematic fashion in the past few years, I believed that virtually all old movies were dogs that should be avoided like the plague. There were a number of reasons for this attitude but the most compelling was the fact that so many of the earlier movies I had seen only on late-night TV where they were hacked to pieces with more ads than movie, large portions of the original were probably missing, and they appeared on a tiny TV screen. In short, this ain't any way to judge a movie. Yes, many of the early movies were dogs. Many of the current movies are dogs. Yes, given the difficulties of early film making and modern tastes, there are probably a higher percentage of old dogs than new dogs. Ah, but the old gems!
Fortunately, with the advent of specialty cable networks such as American Movie Classics (AMC) or Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and the ready availability of huge numbers of early films on tape or disc at reasonable rates, we now have the opportunity to view many of the early films more or less as intended. Indeed, many of them are being restored and released with footage originally omitted or censored from the theatrical releasesclose to our directors cut. While you must view selectively, many of these films were stellar. In many cases they hold their own against top modern movies. Of course, if you want really bad, view an early film that has an awful plot and terrible cinematography and editing; there is probably a place in Hell where some unfortunates must watch these for eternity. But for the good ones, enjoy. (4-3-95)
In October of 1992 (its 80th anniverary), they took down the marquee for the long running Movie Palace and replaced it with the original name, The Jefferson Theater.
For those of you not familiar with the Jefferson, let me give you a bit of history. The Jefferson was originally the Jefferson Bank. The large safe currently used for proceeds in the main office is believed to be the original bank safe.
Charlottesville businessman F. W. Twyman remodeled the bank into the Jefferson Theater in 1912 for a total cost of $26,477.35 including $150 to "Hobo Bill" for decorating the ceiling. In 1915, a massive downtown fire razed two blocks including the Jefferson. The fire stopped just short of the classic Hardware Store. If you have never been in the Hardware Store, check out the interior. Much of the old Hardware Store (and Timberlake's drugstore) has been preserved. But I digress.
The Jefferson Theater was rebuilt and resumed operation showing a mixture of vaudeville, plays (live plays) and photo plays (movies). When the Jefferson was rebuilt, the architect, C. K. Howell, took the opportunity to make it more appropriate for a theater, but he did like the massive Grecian columns from the bank. So as not to interfere with the box office, the first floor columns were realigned and moved up to the second floorcheck it out. As part of the name change, they removed the carpet in the entrance. You can now see the orignal tiles and the outline for the old ticket box.
If you think movie rates are bad now, plays and movies were amazingly expensive earlier in the century. Rates depended on what was showing. In 1919, one live play ran $0.50-1.50. A photo play was $0.15-0.30 for adults and $0.10 for children. In 1925, one play was a staggering $1-3. In the same year, photo plays were $0.30-0.40, but one Chaplin movie cost $0.75. Remember, these were the years of the silent movies, and live orchestra accompanied the photo plays. The orchestra pit was there until recently when the stage was expanded for modern live shows.
The rates depended on where you sat. There were actually two balconies; one is the current second floor theater while the other, known as the gallery, was above that and is now closed off. There were also theater boxes (loges) along the front side walls. These have long been blocked off because of fire regulations and are curtained off, but you can see them and, as part of the renovation, see the stairways leading to them. The view was also very poor, so they may have had other problems.
Twice UVA students stormed the Jefferson. The first time in 1922 was just to get in free, and they were beaten back. The second time in 1930 was to protest the latest price increase. In this they were successful, and the rate was rolled back to $0.50 from $0.75. See, UVA students can be politically active when something directly affects them.
During the 70's, the Jefferson fell into disrepair. In spite of bad economic times for theaters, especially downtown, Mr. Alton Martin managed to keep the Jefferson afloat; he was responsible for sealing off the balcony to make it an early twin theater. This can be removed easily. His son, Mr. Alton Martin, Jr., the last owner, was responsible for enormously revamping it. It isn't perfect, but it is much closer to its original grandeur. The interior gargoyles, bas relief, the two theater masks peering at each other from beside the loges, and the column work have been largely restored. The current owner, Mr. Hawes Spencer, is slowly doing a superb job of restoration. The lobby now looks like a prime 30's theater. Unfortunately, because of the restoration they don't alway have the main theater lit up and you may not be able to see the gargoyles.
Although you cannot see it, there is a large asbestos curtain behind the screen in the main theater. The curtain was designed to be dropped in front of the original stage in the event of a fire, so as to protect the audience. Indeed, this curtain saved part of the theater during the fire. In the live theater days, the curtain was down before the show and had advertisements for upcoming shows plastered across itearly previews. The original mammoth stage is behind this, and very few people have been privileged to see it in recent years. Also not visible is a real rabbit's warren of tunnels and rooms under the theater and behind the stage for the live actors and actresses and the orchestra. The interior circular lobby area is known as the rotunda. There was a fountain in the rotunda for many years and then it graced Mr. Martin's garden; during the restoration it returned, over the strong objections of his wife, but it disappeared again when he sold the theater. There is no other theater in Charlottesville that has such marvelous plaster work and imposing presence as the Jefferson. If you haven't ever gone, pick out any movie and blow the $3 just to get in. You won't regret it. What a bargain. Just imagine what $0.75 in 1930 dollars would be now (eg. women's leather heels sold for $4-6, and an imported, white English broadcloth men's long sleeved dress shirt sold for $1, although the ad assures you that "not one of them was worth less than $1.50).
The Jefferson does come with some heavy baggage. It has a ghost in the form of an usher who fell to his death from a balcony. His pale ghostly presence is aperiodically reported. I personally know one person who claims to have seen him. Take it or leave it, but it does give the theater a quaint touch.
So, save a gargoyle and help preserve part of Charlottesville's heritage, check out a flic at the Jefferson.
References. This information was taken in part from Albemarle Magazine and the Daily Progress (dating back to 1915).
Vinegar Hill Theater off of downtown is our only art theater. All the other theaters cater to majority rule. If it is even a little bit out of the mainstream, either it will not appear at the other theaters or will be gone before you realize that it was in town.
Vinegar Hill shows a wealth of foreign films (in the original language whenever possible) and films from small independent studios that the other theaters don't even acknowledge much less show. Since you have probably never heard of most of these films, the newspaper ads are usually worthless. Vinegar Hill publishes a four-page newsletter that contains their schedule for the next couple of months. You can drop by and pick one up or, for a dollar, you can get on their mailing list. When I am familiar with an upcoming movie, I'll try to give you warning.
The theater is small with a small screen, but given the size of the town we should consider ourselves lucky to have an art theater at all. In keeping with the clientele, they do have a more interesting assortment of eats than the other theaters. Check it out.
Video stores like people have personalities. Three of my favorites near the Grounds are Beyond Video, Sneak Reviews, and Videos, Etc. All have interesting staff or unusal selections of material or both. Sneak Reviews is owned by Mark Tramotin and Halsey Blake-Scott, while Halsey owns Beyond Video. Both are two extremely knowledgeable film buffs. Both can usually be found during the day on week days at their stores. If you want to talk films, these men will bend your ear.
Sneak Reviews Video (on Ivy above the Vivace restaurant and next to the Townside shopping complex--about a mile west of Alderman on 250 W). They are awesomely appointed--a real class act. Check it out. They have a great collection of hard to find movies, old horror film, vintage Hitchcock, foreign movies, documentaries, animation, and English comedy including Fawlty Towers. Their stock includes Aguirre: The Wrath of God, If..., Modern Times, The Stunt Man, Double Indemnity, and The Last Wave. If you want the latest Schwarzenneger, it probably isn't here.The have an excellent collection of loanable film books. Sneak Reviews has an exeptional collections of DVD.
Beyond Video (in Willoughby Shopping Center on 5th Street near I-64, across from the new Taco Bell and old Hardees). A good collection of recent films including the hot, popular ones. Along with Sneak Review they have a good collection of DVD. Just an all around good collection of movies. The owner and the staff get to pick their favorite films each month and you'll notice the cards on the films. New releases are set aside, and Academy Award winners are clustered together. They have a solid collection of classic films including Keaton's silent comedy classic The General and much vintage Hitchcock; Halsey gets these because he like them, not because he ever makes money on them.
Videos, Etc. (across from Durty Nells on Fontaine). Videos, Etc. is the Joe Bob Briggs of video stores. The finest selection and highest concentration of horror, sci fi, slasher, kung fu, and low comedy to be found anywhere. They also have the latest hot releases. All their new films are set out on separate stands, which is very convenient. They also have some old classics and an excellent collection of vintage Hitchcock. Convenient and worth a visit.
Clemons Undergraduate Reading Library. While not a video store as such, Clemons has a superb collection of tapes and video discs. In keeping with what you would expect in a University, their selections run from current hot releases to theory of films. You can check them out. The collection is on the library computer system so you can see what is available on the computerized card catalogue on VIRGO. Their have herds of VHS players and DVD/Video Video Disk (the giant economy sides old style last disks) player. If you get a foreign film, you will sometimes find that it doesn't play your VHS at home, but does on the Clemons' players. There were purchased from Europe and have a different video format than the US. The Clemons's players are designed to accept both, recognize the type, and automatically adjust.
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