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Alamo Drafthouse Opens in Lake Highlands

Five years ago, the idea of a movie theater that also served food was not a new concept in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. When the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema opened its first location in Richardson, in fact, a Studio Movie Grill stood barely a mile away.

Overcoming the initial reluctance of many moviegoers in the area, who didn’t particularly like the idea of anyone telling them they couldn’t talk during the movie — a long-standing and steadfast rule of the Alamo Drafthouse chain — the Richardson multiplex steadily developed its own audience, a growing mass of people who appreciated a movie theater that made watching movies in a respectful environment a priority. And if you wanted a burger or pizza or beer, too, that’s fine.

The Alamo Drafthouse chain originated in Austin, but the North Texas franchise is owned locally. A location near downtown, known as Cedars, opened just over two years ago, and now a long-promised expansion is happening all over the area, with locations in Las Colinas and Denton opening later this year.

First, though, comes Lake Highlands, located at 6770 Abrams Road in Dallas, at the intersection of Abrams Road and Skillman Street. It’s near a Top Golf and across the street from the low-income, low-regarded Vickery Meadows neighborhood, where I live.

What a difference a street makes, though! The Drafthouse was formerly a somewhat run-down grocery store that has been beautifully transformed into a multiplex, complete with an attached bar known as the Vetted Well. The shopping center which it anchors looks far better now than it has in years past; like the Richardson multiplex, the new theater promises to attract more retailers who will help spruce up the center and enliven that part of the neighborhood.

The Lake Highlands location distinguishes itself immediately with its foyer, which should be helpful during rainy season. The lobby itself is not huge — it looks smaller even than the Cedars location — but it’s fitted out with cashier stations and multiple ticket vending machines that should help accommodate the expected crowds.

The individual theaters are spread out nicely, and several feature two entrances; again, that’s a new feature for the chain locally. During an advance media tour last week, we were able to visit several theaters.

The two smallest auditoriums, Theater 2 and Theater 3, both feature 30 seats, but feel more spacious than the smallest Richardson theaters. In part, that’s because of more space between the rows, which is to make room for — the reclining seats! Yes, the seats recline and are definitely more comfortable and well-padded.

The layout follows the Cedars example rather than the old-school style Richardson. In other words, while Richardson features a long row-length bench on which you can park any food or drinks you order, Cedars and now Lake Highlands feature small tables at each seat. That makes it more convenient to get into and out of your seat. In the small theaters, each row is elevated above the row below, which improves sight lines over the smallest Richardson auditoriums.

We also toured the largest auditorium, Theater 6, which has 191 seats and feels absolutely gigantic. Again, that’s because of greater distance between the rows.

Lake Highlands can also boast of the first U.S. installation of the new Sony 4K Digital Cinema Laser Phosphor Projectors (DCLPP). I’ve yet to try that out, but it sounds very … new.

Our media preview concluded with a visit to the Vetted Well, which features 31 craft beers on tap, including 17 local Dallas brews, according to the press materials. For me, it’s best feature were the windows that face the White Rock Trail, as well as a balcony with seating outside. That should look spectacular once the trees bloom. The bar also has bike racks located along the Vetted Well patio, so perhaps that will encourage more people to ride their bicycles to watch a movie.

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Lake Highland has tremendous potential to help the neighborhood, which has definitely seen better days. I love the Richardson location, which I’ve visited many, many times, but having a new theater so close by is an irresistible temptation. And being able to see new movies in a new, friendly, theatrical environment is, in a word, fantastic.

The theater opens today on a limited basis with staff training days scheduled to run through next week. The grand opening will be held next Wednesday, March 28, with Ready Player One. Visit the official site for more information.

Review: ‘Belladonna of Sadness’

dfn-belladonna-of-sadness-300The 70’s is one of my favorite decades of cinema for several reasons. Not only did the New Brat pack of Hollywood (Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, etc.) fully hone their skills and chart exciting territory in an ancient-feeling Tinseltown that would reverberate still today, but films like Eiichi Yamamoto’s ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ (1973) existed. Adult-oriented animation, based in folk fairy tale, and sprayed across the screen with complete seriousness in imagery and tone. If anything tops the phantasmagoric visual style of the film, its the swooning psychedelic rock soundtrack that accompanies its narrative. Basically, ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ is the complete trip and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Presented in a new restoration courtesy of Cinelicious Pics, Belladonna of Sadness concerns beautiful Jeanne and her desire to wed strong Jean, a literal trick that is just the first of many double entendres and allusions. When they can’t afford the taxation imposed by the local feudal lord, he proceeds to cast out Jean and rape Jeanne, an act that quickly alienates her desirability to her proposed husband.

Shunned by the village, Jeanne’s domestic trouble seems over once a vision appears to her and promises her wealth and power if she succumbs to his wishes. In straight order, Jeanne makes a pact with the visitor and does indeed become wealthy from further village taxation. That is, until the village turns on her and almost kills her, sending her fleeing into the woods where she lives out the life of a succubus, imbued with the Devil, practicing witchcraft and conducting orgies. 

All of this is represented in fascinating and mind-melting animation from artist Kuni Fukai. At once abstract and violent, ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ imparts its feelings through a variety of styles. Flames are represented as tiny wisps of color that curl up around white legs. The bubonic plague is shown to turn ordinary people into shifting charcoal gray forms. And, perhaps most startling, the impacts of forced sexual aggression and a body being pierced by arrows are rendered with blinding streaks of throbbing red. Fukai’s animation works on a primal level. We feel the colors and sense the violence. It’s something I haven’t quite felt from an “animated” film in a long time.

Yet all this artistry would ring hollow if not for something more, which filmmaker Yamamoto applies through his use of movement within each delicately realized hand-drawn frame to maximum effect. Like legendary auteur Nagisa Oshima did a few years earlier with his film ‘Band of Ninja’ (1967), the camera pans and tracks across a storyboard of images that not only creates action, but implies time passing and memory. It’s a conceit that wonderfully compliments the base animation and breathes life into its characters.

Based on a mid-nineteenth century book by Jules Michelet about witchcraft, ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ does indeed use these arcane mysteries and old wives tales to weave a seductive and dark story. But its the flashes of humanity- the sadly drawn eyes of Jeanne, the quivering lips as she wonders what her life might have been and, at the end of the film a passage that alludes to further real life history- that provide Yamamoto’s daring film with a pulsing heart beyond the simplistic label of ‘adult oriented cartoon’. Go see this and prepare to be dazzled, puzzled, and eventually heartbroken.

Belladonna of Sadness will have a limited engagement in the Dallas/Fort Worth area beginning Friday, May 13 at Alamo Drafthouse cinemas. Go to http://www.drafthouse.com for information.

Review: ‘R100’

'R100' (Drafthouse Films)
‘R100’ (Drafthouse Films)

Hitoshi Matsumoto’s expectation bending and quite insane R100 could only exist in the sub genre known affectionately as ‘Japanese craziness’, and only a daredevil company like Drafthouse Films would even think of playing this film on American screens. It’s crude, at times repellant, and mordantly funny, ratcheting up the sexual deviancy to levels that would make even Luis Bunuel blush.

The mild-mannered Takafumi (Nao Omuri) is leading a droll, stagnant life. He works as a furniture salesman in a multi-level retail store. His daily routine consists of work, arranging for take-out dinner to haul home to his young son, and visiting his comatose wife in the hospital. He desperately yearns for something more, which comes in the form of a company called “Bondage.”

Not only does the company provide him with a release from his humdrum existence, but it satisfies his dark desires of sadomasochism. See, Takafumi enters into a year-long agreement with the company, wherein any time of the day, a female dominatrix appears and either humiliates him, whips him, or beats him silly in public. Now one can see why I mentioned the words sexual deviancy.

Initially, the actions soothe Takafumi’s hidden proclivities, but things rapidly evolve into something deranged when the “no rules” policy not only involves his father-in-law (Gin Maeda) but his young son as well, and the procession of dominatrix figures become increasingly degrading and even harmful. The playtime turns frighteningly real, which very well may be the point of R100.

Yet finding any other buried messages within the film is pointless, something filmmaker Matsumoto toys with himself in the emergence of a very “meta” subplot, breaking up the film we’re watching with several static shots of five people in a nondescript room discussing the film and their mounting problems with the sex, violence and downright illogical narrative swerves. Acting as a Greek chorus for our own possible ruminations about the on-screen excess, they then adroitly return to the screening room and the film reel of R100 begins again for them. Unfortunately for us, there’s no such respite.

Even the title itself is an acknowledged mockery as one stunned chorus members states “the director said no one under the age of 100 will understand this film.” With that type of logic, R100 sets the stage for a weird, uncompromising jaunt through the dark corridors of some unstable individuals.

Despite all this, R100 is a comedy, albeit a disturbed one. There are moments of unhinged humor and outrageous scenes, amped up to intense levels when the CEO of the Bondage company arrives and wages war with Takafumi for reasons best not discussed here. Add to that an army of dominatrix ninjas, secret government agents and something called the Queen of Gobblers and R100 firmly establishes itself as a future midnight classic.

R100 is currently in release at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson.

Retro Scene: ‘The Long Goodbye’ at the Alamo Drafthouse

Elliott Gould in Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye'
Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s ‘The Long Goodbye’

The paradigm of the film noir private investigator is tossed violently out the window in Robert Altman’s 1973 classic The Long Goodbye. Needless to say, this film would make for a dizzying double bill with Paul Thomas Anderson’s newly released Inherent Vice.

Starring Elliott Gould as the classic Philip Marlowe character, that’s the only familiar trait of Altman’s neo modernist whodunit. The film establishes a mystery to be solved — namely, the disappearance of his best friend — then spends the rest of its running time creating a unique, rambling series of interactions between naked hippie neighbors, a cantankerous writer (Sterling Hayden), his beautiful wife (Nina van Pallandt), a persistent psychiatrist (Henry Gibson) and a hungry cat. Just how it all connects is part of the joy.

Saturated in Altman’s typical style including a roving camera and his predilection for overlapping dialogue, The Long Goodbye is a stalwart of the revisionist cinema of the 70’s, completely entertaining and truly deserving of the term “classic.”

The Long Goodbye screens Sunday January 18th, 12 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson. (Click the poster to see it in all its glorious, detailed beauty.)

Alamo Drafthouse Coming to Richardson

This time, the rumors are true. The Alamo Drafthouse will be expanding into Dallas / Fort Worth, with the first location set for Richardson.

The renowned movie chain, based in Austin, has entered into a franchise partnership with Iced Tea With Lemon LLC, which plans to pursue other locations in the Metroplex. The one in Richardson will be located at the southwest corner of Central Expressway (I-75) and Beltline Road, which is a great location. Not only will those in Richardson benefit — no other state-of-the-art multiplex exists in Richardson — but it’s ideally positioned about midway between Plano and Dallas, so it should draw more discerning moviegoers in search of excellent sound, projection, and the possibilities of a more respectful experience.

Here’s the press release:

Austin, TX— Thursday, May 3, 2012— Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas is pleased to announce plans to open their first Dallas/Forth Worth area location with new franchise partner Iced Tea With Lemon LLC. The first location being opened by Iced Tea With Lemon LLC is Alamo Richardson in the Richardson Heights Shopping Center on the Southwest corner of Central Expressway and Beltline Rd. in Richardson, TX.  The Alamo Richardson location will be a state of the art location with seven screens. Each of the auditoriums will be equipped with high-tech 100 percent digital projection as well as excellent screen size to room ratio and amazing sound. In addition to the superior AV equipment, the layout of each screening room will eliminate the traditional front row, ensuring every seat in the house allows for a great viewing experience. Alamo Richardson will also feature a lounge offering an extensive menu of draft and bottled beers, wine, cocktails and food. The lounge will offer patrons an inviting place to socialize whether they are waiting for a movie or not.

Alamo Drafthouse signed a development agreement with Iced Tea With Lemon LLC that includes all of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Iced Tea With Lemon LLC has plans to pursue additional locations to expand the presence of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema within Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

“We are very excited to be bringing Alamo Drafthouse to the metroplex and to the City of Richardson,” said Bill C. DiGaetano, COO of Iced Tea with Lemon LLC. “The City and the Richardson Heights neighborhood have been great supporters of this project and we can’t think of a better location for the first Alamo in DFW. With the great sense of community within Richardson’s neighborhoods we plan to tweak our initial renderings to reflect the mid-century modern architecture so prevalent in the surrounding areas. Being an Austinite for 14 years and a huge Alamo fan it was important that we find an area where the theater could flourish. With the amount of ex University of Texas students, fans already familiar with the theater and the proximity to University of Texas Dallas this area is a natural place for Alamo to land. The ease of access from Central Expressway will allow fans from all over the metroplex to experience Alamo Drafthouse Richardson.”

Source: Alamo Drafthouse