In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

10. Nine

AMC Loews Metreon 16
The Loews Metreon, located in San Francisco's Sony Metreon building, feels a bit like Disneyland. Amid all the lines, vendors, shops, and decorations, it's a bit difficult to find the rides. The building itself is attractive, in a modern sense, with steel and glass rising high above nearby Yerba Buena Gardens. It is across the street from the Century San Francisco Centre 9 theater, which I reviewed here.

Tickets are sold on the ground floor, with automated kiosks to the right of the box office for those not paying cash. I recommend using the kiosks; the lines for the box office snake around like at an airport. The Loews Metreon is owned by AMC, the second largest distributor in the country, operating 111 screens at 7 theaters in the Bay Area. AMC has a rewards card that will slowly dole out free sodas and popcorns as you buy tickets. After your fiftieth movie you will receive a free movie ticket (a feat that would take most of us years to accomplish, as I experienced with my Regal rewards card). I visited this theater on a very crowded Saturday; the electronic showtimes board displayed warnings that several showings of Avatar had sold out, and the staff was very pleasant despite the resulting groans from ticket buyers.

The Loews Metreon charges a very steep $4 extra for 3D movies, and $6 for IMAX, so bring your sacks of gold. Movies are only $6.00 before noon, for you early risers (and work shirkers). If you're aged 60 or over, and darn proud of it, you can storm the theater any time on Tuesday for 48 bits.

Once you get your ticket, you'll need to take the elevator or head up several flights of stairs to the third floor, which is mostly dedicated to a sprawling concession stand. Tucked away in a corner is the entrance to the actual theaters (the ticket taker will corral you left or right, depending on your destination). Inside the entrance is another concession stand, just in case. Overall, the layout of the structure is busy and confusing.

According to Cinema Treasures, the theater, with its 16 screens, seats between 3900 and 4416, and by these standards claims to be the largest theater in San Francisco. Contrast that to the Fox Theatre, a San Francisco landmark from 1929 to 1963, seating 4650 in one auditorium. If you've been itching all day to say "OMFG", now is the perfect time. It makes me sick to have missed such a great theater.


A Prophet (Un Prophete)

Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges is a down-on-his-luck song writer and guitarist, plying his craft to make ends meet. A reporter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, takes a personal interest in Bridges, who just might be sitting on his best song yet. Bridges and Gyllenhaal are both 100% emotionally present in all their performances, so this quiet, patient tale is sure to please, though perhaps not entertain. 84 cuts.

The Runaways

Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are members of the 1970's all-female punk rock band The Runaways. I've never heard of the band, though I do recognize some of their songs. I don't recall ever liking a music biopic; biopics in general tend to jump around from year to year without any sense of plot (whose life has a plot?), and music biopics in particular gravitate toward the depressing. Stewart and Fanning have both done good work to date, especially Stewart's Twilight and Fanning's The Secret Life of Bees. I suspect this film will provide an outlet for some more watchable acting, but to little effect. I am intrigued when a male character warns, "The Runaways have the most chance of any group I've seen to tear this world apart." 42 cuts.

Ego is at its most flamboyant with artists. Writers, painters, dancers, and directors imbue their art with topics of interest to themselves, which quite often include writing, painting, dancing, and directing. Nine, based on the Broadway musical of the same name, itself inspired by Fellini's film 8 1/2, centers on a director, Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis), who is mere days away from shooting his new movie, but he hasn't yet written a word of the movie's script. An Italian, Guido has charged himself with creating a film that captures the essence of Italy; he wants his leading lady, Claudia (Nicole Kidman) to be Italy. Guido's colleagues and fans never miss an opportunity to remind him that though he is a great director, his last several films have been flops. Assaulted with this pressure, and his own high standards, Guido is paralyzed and retreats to a villa with his mistress (Penélope Cruz) to collect himself, only to be accosted by his wife (Marion Cotillard).

There are many problems with this film, and I shall do my best to detail them here so that you might avoid it. Nine makes the mistake that many modern musical adaptations do by adhering too closely to the elements of theater. Each of the songs in the film (some of which do not come from the Broadway show) are performed in isolation from the plot, most on a staged set (ostensibly the same set Guido intends to use for his movie). Musicals like Grease and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are delightful in part because the characters suddenly break out into song, in unexpected places; soon everyone around them is singing and dancing; then, when the song is over, the performers integrate back into the crowd, as if nothing had happened. In Nine, the movie is put on hold for each song, each presented as a sort of nicotine-induced fantasy of Guido's. I feel like I'm in an audience, watching a musical on stage, rather than a witness to some magically-contrived outburst of singing. The songs seem to stall what little plot there is, rather than inject it with emotion and action.

Another effect of this disconnect between the songs and the movie is that the sets are sterile. The one breath of fresh air comes from "Be Italian", performed on the beach by a woman of ill repute (Fergie) whom Guido knew as a boy. But Fergie's solo, too, is stunted: the scene is intercut with a faux beach on the same staged set. Performances for the stage work within necessary limitations; they must physically bring the world to the audience, and squeeze that world into a tight space. Cinema, in contrast, has no natural limitation. Nine could have utilized any number of beautiful settings in Italy; it could have entranced us with hundreds of extras dancing up and down cobblestone streets. Instead, we spend more than half the movie crammed into a theater with exposed rigging.

The songs themselves, if they played well on the stage, are boorish in the movie. Another mistake in translation is to assume that what is exciting live will also be exciting pre-recorded (and dubbed). The songs sound like Broadway, not Hollywood. The one exception is Kate Hudson's "Cinema Italiano" (written especially for the movie), which is as entertaining as any music video. Each song is a solo, typically by one of the seven supporting women who seldom share screen time with each other. All the singers feel isolated, as if their only connection to our reality is through the director.

Guido is insufferable. He smokes in nearly every scene, is obsessed with himself, cannot make up his mind about whether he prefers his wife or his mistress, and complains about how difficult his job is. He reminds me of the guide in Russian Ark, a mumbling, waffling, limp man difficult to watch for more than a few moments. The rest of the cast is wasted in this picture. Nicole Kidman, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren are all buried in the background. Penélope Cruz is allowed a few moments. Only Marion Cotillard manages to penetrate the film's self-absorbed opacity to gain my sympathy. She has the benefit of two solos, and the sickening realization that her earliest moments with her husband, when he was so sweet to her, have been reenacted time and again with other up-and-coming actresses.

The movie's chief crime is that it bores. I was bored the entire time, even during the songs. I like musicals. As a kid, a few of my favorite movies just happened to be musicals, like The Great Race, Paint Your Wagon, Grease 2 (yes, the sequel), and the incredibly sexist Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Hollywood used to churn these movies out non-stop (India still does), but the genre slowly died out, kept on life support by Disney animation and the occasional Broadway adaptation. So dismal has the genre become that when I look at the titles for the fifty or so musicals to grace our screens this past decade, I only recognize the names of half of them, and of those, once I throw out the animated, foreign, and adapted-from-Broadway films, the list is whittled down to a measly ten. What's the most recent, live-action, good musical you can think of that comes from an original screenplay? I want my musicals to be joyous (The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band), funny (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), creepy (Little Shop of Horrors), or I at least want the movie to be punctuated by knock-em-dead solos (Jennifer Hudson's in Dreamgirls). With Nine, I just wanted it to be over.


  1. Daniel Day-Lewis is an incredible actor with whom I am almost constantly impressed, but I actually enjoy his films only occasionally.

    * * *

    Re music biopics, I enjoyed "Eddie and the Cruisers" (but, then, that had the competitive advantage of being fictional).

  2. Day-Lewis gifted us with The Last of the Mohicans. That's enough of a contribution for ten men. And for the most part he seems to have been highly selective since winning his first oscar in 1990 (only nine movies in twenty years). I don't know why this one merited his attention.