Cinema Toast

How to Be a Movie Criminal

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Being a movie villain is incredibly easy. There’s really nothing to it. You can get away with almost anything, and half the time, the audience will cheer for your wicked plans to succeed. The best part is, you don’t need any real education or skills, and most of your “bad guy supplies” can be found already lying around your house.

Need to steal a car? In movies, all you have to do is reach underneath the steering column and pull a handful of wires loose. Next, touch the ends of any two random wires together. This will easily start the car, and you’re free to drive away in mere seconds.

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Have a crack at safe-cracking? Twice as easy. Just grab a stethoscope and some duct tape. Now get to the nearest safe and tape the end of the scope to the side of the dial on the front of the safe. All you have to do is start turning the knob. Stop whenever you hear the tumblers click, and turn the other direction. Repeat until the locking mechanism makes one last big click, and the safe will pop open, revealing a huge stash of cash.

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What about just breaking into a building? Piece of cake. Just reach into your hair and pull out a bobby-pin. (Guys, if you don’t have a gal with you, find a paper clip.) Now pull the bobby-pin open a little and shove it into a door lock. Jiggle for a few seconds, and the door will fly right open.

Kidnapping isn’t very nice, but in movies it’s often part of the caper. Again, it’s pretty easy if you know how. First, get a white hanky and keep it folded in the palm of your hand. Next, follow your intended victim into a parking garage—all the best kidnap victims hang out in parking garages.Lastly, cover their mouth with the hanky. They will pass out immediately, without any struggle at all. This will also render them nearly weightless, making them easy to carry to your villain hide-out. Also, most kidnap victims in movies will succumb to Stockholm Syndrome in a matter of hours and fall hopelessly in love with you.

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Now for the big one—The Bank Heist. You’ll need at least two friends for this one, plus a getaway driver (see stealing a car, above). You all will need to dress completely in black. Don’t worry about the security guards noticing a group of armed men in black jumpsuits—they never notice details like that in the movies. Also, carry a can of shaving cream or spray-paint with you. This is for the security cameras. Spraying them with paint or cream completely disables them, even retro-actively, so nobody will see your faces. As far as the actual robbery goes, no need for handing the teller a note, just scream out that you’re robbing the place. The tellers will then throw bags of money at you and then you can leave quickly by your getaway car.

I’m sure you’ve noticed plenty of other fantastic ways to commit crime in the movies, most as easy as the ones I have mentioned. So why doesn’t everyone become a movie criminal? Well, there is one downside to the whole racket. It turns out that in most of the movies you see, the criminals get caught and sent to jail—if they’re lucky.

Who is your favorite movie criminal? Let me hear from you!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

Cinema Toast

The Old Theatres

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My hometown of Amarillo, Texas consists of nearly 200,000 residents who, at some point in their lives, have uttered the words, “There’s nothing to do in this place.” Perhaps this persisting theme is one of the reasons I spent a great many weekends at the movie theatres. Maybe that in itself is what prepared me for this blog adventure.

Over the years I visited almost every cinema in my city. Most of the movie houses I attended growing up are now gone. Only three indoor theatres and one drive-in remain.

The funny thing is that even the long-gone locations maintain their landmark status today. Paramount Theatre in downtown Amarillo

If you talk about Polk street downtown, any Amarilloan over the age of 45 will ask you whether you refer to a location north of the old Paramount Theatre or south. The building itself remains, but it now serves as offices.

Though a huge glass building now stands at the intersection of I-40 and Washington, plenty of locals recall the beautiful art-deco design of the Esquire Theatre. I remember walking to see the movie Midnight Madness there with a group of friends, just months before the iconic building met its demise.

I remember the lines that stretched out in front of the ABC Cinema on Western street when Star Wars premiered. That building is a church now.

The Plitt and the Showplace 4 both anchored strip malls on 45th street and 34th, respectively. The malls are still there, but the theatres have vanished.

I recall watching Superman 2 and Clue at the monolithic whitewashed Fox Twin. That building disappeared and a Barbecue joint now resides in its place.

A few blocks from my home at the time, Amarillo’s first “big city multiplex” sprang up. It was the UA. The six huge, high-tech screens stretched for blocks, it seemed. I saw dozens of movies there. The most memorable was Let’s Spend the Night Together. Actually, there’s a long story that goes with that movie—I’ll fill you in later. The last movie I saw before the UA was torn down was Spaceballs, so maybe the destruction was justified.

The two big enclosed shopping malls each had a theatre as well—gone now. The last surviving mall theatre shows the discounted, second-run films and the occasional indy flick. The once bragged-about rocker seats with cup holder armrests are dingy and tattered. The seat cushions wear stains and yawn open with exhausted hinge springs.

The Tascosa drive-in is still popular for its heritage and history. That’s where I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Silver Streak.

Today the two major Amarillo theatres are mega-plexes. The Hollywood boasts 16 screens and the UA Star offers 14, including an I-MAX.

Why do I bother mentioning, let alone writing a whole blog about buildings that don’t even exist anymore? They are just buildings.

For the last 27 years I have worked as a professional building designer, and I know what makes a building important. It isn’t usually the unique design or the technological innovations. Those are just the contributing factors to how the building is used and how the user feels when they are there. The events that take place within the walls change and mould you. The events imprint themselves into your memories. They become part of you.

The buildings are gone, but they still live in my memories, just as the new theatres will for future generations.

Maybe the new cinemas don’t dress with the same panache as the old ones, but in the “old days” we didn’t get fancy  3-D specs, either.

Storytellers maintain a revered place in every culture. Theatre, both the buildings and the medium, continues to capture our imaginations and stand prominent in our memories.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!

Cinema Toast

Where Do You Want to Go?

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The sun is high and warm. The car windows are coming down and the shorts are begging to come out to play. It’s time to think about vacation.

My only obstacle is cash. Face it: vacations are expensive. Whether you fly or drive, or even cruise, you must have a substantial stash of dough to go.

That’s another thing that I love about movies—world travel from the comfort of your own home or local theatre.

I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral inParis. I’ve been to the Moulin Rouge and the Louvre.

In Italy, I’ve visited the Trevi Roman fountains, the Venetian canals, the Coliseum, and the leaning tower of Pisa.

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I saw the great Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza. I’ve seen the Egyptian temples of Ramses and Abu Sembel. I’ve floated down the Nile on a luxury cruise and ridden camels through the Sahara.

In Australia, I’ve snorkeled around the Great Barrier Reef, hiked Ayres Rock, and gone walkabout in the Outback. I’ve enjoyed the man-made marvels of the Sydney Opera House framed by the Harbour Bridge. I’ve been whale watching off the coast of Perth.

I’ve climbed the steps of Indian temples and lain on the beaches of Thailand. I witnessed the Equinox at the pyramid at Chichen Itza. I’ve experienced Shangri La and Utopia.

I’ve enjoyed all of these wonders and seen places my grandparents never imagined through the magic of movies. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m satisfied with never traveling the globe. I long to visit far off destinations. The movies I see often help me to refine my “list.”

My point is that while I save up for that once-in-a-lifetime European tour, I can enjoy the rolling green hills of Irelandin films like Leap Year (2010) and The Quiet Man (1952). As my “Aussie Break” jar fills up with spare change, I can organize my packing while watching Crocodile Dundee (1986), Australia (2008), and Mad Max (1979).

Though the hotels and cars that I might rent on my real-life travels might not be as glamorous or luxurious as those in film, the trade off is that I probably won’t be attacked by post-apocalyptic savages. I hope.

Yes, it’s true that Cary Grant won’t be strolling at my side down the Seine river walk in Paris, but I also won’t be chased through the colonnade by Walter Matthau, like in Charade (1963).Click to see and purchase!

My trips might not be as adventurous as in the movies, but they’re almost never as dangerous, either. I’ve never been kidnapped by centuries-old mummies or attacked by werewolves on foggy moors. The worst thing I’ve ever really had to deal with is a nasty sunburn on my nose. Maybe next time…

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Toast

What Movies Do For Me

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I love movies! I do.

From the opening sequence of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, my very first movie outing, I was hooked. Forty years later, I still spend a considerable slice of my life watching, talking about, analyzing, quoting, and imagining movies.

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Movies give me hope, help me laugh and cry, and urge me to be a better person. They allow me to walk in others’ shoes for an hour or two. They give me the chance to travel to other parts of this world and worlds beyond. They reflect and influence the culture around us, for better or worse.

Movies capture moments in time, and hold them for us. They remind us of how our country has changed in just a few decades—fashion, music, technology, language—and how much it stays the same. Movies mark milestones in our own lives, too.

What was the first movie you saw on a real date? For me it was The Right Stuff, in 1983, starring Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, and Ed Harris. It was about Chuck Yeager and the first crew of American Astronauts. I saw it with Eric somebody. Obviously, the movie made a better impression than my date for the night.

Movies, like plays, books and radio shows, fill a niche in society once held by the revered Story Teller. They remind us that there is more to life than work. They encourage us to look beyond our own situation, our own boundaries, and see with someone else’s eyes. They teach us lessons from the past, and inspire us to move forward with strength. They offer us a little time away from our worries. They help us face fears, fight a good fight, find the hero within, and laugh until our cheeks are sore.

I’ve been a writer since I was a kid, but the longer I write and the more in-depth I study writing, I find myself thinking more critically about the films I watch, and so I decided to blog about that.

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I am by no means a film critic; I am too much in love with movies for that. Even films that leave me deflated usually have a redeeming quality upon which I can focus.

I also don’t consider myself a film buff. There are multitudes of people far more qualified for that moniker. I, like many of you, consider myself a fan.

When I speak of movies, I won’t limit myself to feature films that one can only see in theatres, because most of my very favorite films I saw first on TV. I love movies, television and books and I love the way they marry themselves to tell stories.

My blog doesn’t really review movies—well, maybe a little bit, but honestly, I’d rather just have a conversation and tell you how different films speak to me. For the most part, it’s just my opinion. My hope is that if you haven’t seen a film I write about, you’ll want to watch it. Moreover, if you have a film suggestion for me, I’d love to hear it!

And so begins my Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!