CinéArts @ Pleasant Hill
The CinéArts @ Pleasant Hill was built in 1966 as a single screen, domed theater seating 800+. According to Cinema Treasures, four additional screens were added to the back of the building in 1974. I haven't found an online source that names the film being shown in the Dome, but it is identified on the marquee, and you can call their number to inquire (I was greeted by a real live human being).
Unfortunately I had not called before arriving, and so was not destined to see a film in the Dome. Instead I was directed by the ticket taker at the front to instead walk around the side of the building, following a yellow line on the concrete. It snakes around the theater and into an ugly interior space that looks to have once been outside, but later roofed over. From this cavern, you can gain entrance to a pub, a store, or continue following the yellow line to the theater's rear entrance, where there waits another ticket taker and concession stand. I felt like I was a second class citizen being hidden away in the back. The aesthetic appeal of the rear theaters (and their approach) is low, thus the two-star rating. I might feel differently had I been in the Dome.
The rear auditoriums are medium to smallish. I was fortunate to be in one of medium size where there is plenty of legroom between the rows.
CinéArts is the art house extension of Cinemark. This particular theater hosts the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival in February. Their copy of the CinéArts Monthly, though cheaply produced, is at least legible, unlike the copy I obtained at the Century 16 Hilltop theater. Now that I can read it I can see that it shows upcoming films for the entire CinéArts circuit in the Bay Area, rather than for this particular theater. The theaters vary in screen number, so the smaller theaters might not necessarily show every film depicted in the guide.
While waiting for the film to start, one patron behind me asked her friend what Netflix was all about. Her friend didn't know, but knew that TiVo was a box that you put on top of your television. So if you're doing research and need to speak to the last two people who aren't Netflix subscribers, they're in Pleasant Hill.
The trailers were way too loud, but by the time the movie started, either they turned it down or I had sustained hearing damage, because the movie sounded fine. (The White Ribbon is not the sort of trailer that benefits from pounding bass.)
The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte)
Ben Stiller is approaching middle-age, and hasn't yet really done anything with his life, as his friends Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh politely point out. He begins a romance with Greta Gerwig, who seems to take pity on him, but also wants to keep her distance from his emotional fragility. Writer/Director Noah Baumbach caught my attention with The Squid and the Whale. In his delicate hands, I expect to also pity (rather than cringe at) Stiller's aimless, self-inflicted suffering. The trailer promises some quiet introspection, and an awkward romance. 82 cuts.
The Last Station
I haven't read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace; I imagine it is quite long, dull, and ultimately rewarding, otherwise it wouldn't be a classic. How fortunate that now, rather than read the work, I can instead watch it be written. Riveting. It is no wonder that writers are fascinated by the process of writing, and want to write about other writers, but it is quite a challenge to translate such an internal experience to the big screen. Paul Giamatti, a loyalist to the movement inspired by Tolstoy's works, inserts zealot James McAvoy into Tolstoy's inner circle to take notes. Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) likes McAvoy because Tolstoy likes being worshipped. His wife, Helen Mirren, is no so easily won over; she is tired of everyone but her family benefiting from the genius of her husband, and she begins to open McAvoy's eyes to a different side of the master's philosophy. 95 cuts.
The Young Victoria
The Young Victoria
So much power, for one so young. That is the great fear (and opportunity) that infects the minds of everyone with any connection to Princess Victoria (Emily Blunt), who, upon the death of her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent), will ascend to the throne of England. The year is 1837, a year before Victoria becomes a majority (that is, 18 years of age). Though she has known her destiny for but a few years, her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her mother's scheming advisor, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), have been anticipating Victoria's rise for most of her life, and, in a bid to fully control the young queen, have sequestered her from all contact, including from the King. Victoria's every movement is coerced and watched; she is forbidden from even descending the staircase without holding the hand of an adult (even in her seventeenth year!). Both the Duchess and Conroy pressure Victoria to approve a regency, whereby should King William die while Victoria is still a minor, her mother (and therefore Sir John Conroy) would rule in her stead, until she were 25.
But Victoria refuses to sign. In a sense, Conroy's plan has worked; the Princess has become immune to outside influence. Unfortunately, Victoria considers Conroy, beyond all others, to be external to herself. Conroy has forged a strong and defiant ruler, and made himself her first enemy. There is a pivotal moment when Victoria threatens him that is so satisfying I wanted to jump up and shout, "In your face, Conroy!".
With this rivalry as the film's foundation, The Young Victoria follows the Princess's life for a year on either side of her coronation. She attempts to "learn the rules of the game", as she is cautioned by her cousin, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), and to find the balance between accepting advice (in its many, often ill-intentioned forms) and asserting her independence.
If you enjoyed Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth, you'll find similar political maneuvering here. Characters enter the story via quick introductions, then are let loose to make mischief. They come with a dizzying assortment of titles, affiliations, and motivations, all intent on bending the Queen's ear toward their own cause. Fortunately, Victoria lives in a more civilized age; she must contend with struggles for power, as Elizabeth did, but nothing that would seem to tear her country apart.
This leaves Victoria time to fall in love. Many suppose themselves or those under their control to be a proper suitor to Victoria. Her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, takes pains to insert his Prince Albert into Victoria's court. Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), the Whig Prime Minister, has a high opinion of himself and leverages Victoria's dislike of Conroy to gain her trust. Prince Albert and Lord Melbourne both regard the other as exerting undue influence, and with delicate precision attempt to sway Victoria away from their rival. In a lovely contrast to Leap Year, it is Victoria who must propose to her prospective husband, which means it is her decision alone whom and when (if at all) to marry.
Every bit of this film is enjoyable. The political shenanigans are engaging, and the various antagonists are each given plausible motivations. Even Sir John Conroy, with his overt machinations, is humanized. Victoria makes mistakes and, at times, acts immaturely, but she is independent without being foolish, and works to earn the respect of counselors and politicians who see her as a child. Emily Blunt plays the role wonderfully; her Victoria is vulnerable and strong, obstinate and amiable, naive and clever. In her growing friendship with Prince Albert, much of which transpires via correspondence, we witness her emotional and moral growth. If she is to marry, it will be on her terms, for her own happiness, and yet still to the benefit of her nation.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Young Victoria was written by Julian Fellowes, the masterful screenwriter who also gave us the perfect Gosford Park. His commentary for the DVD release of that film is the most interesting commentary I've had the pleasure of hearing. He has more to say than there is room in the movie to say it. (Most screenwriters have too little to say, and fill up the dead time with car chases.) He has done a fine job with The Young Victoria, for which I hope he also provides a commentary.
(Inspired, I've begun reading Lytton Strachey's biography Queen Victoria. So far, the liberties I see that Fellowes takes are definitely to the benefit of the characters (and the story). Strachey is not nearly so kind.)