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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

15. The Book of Eli

Century 16 Downtown Pleasant Hill
Located just across the freeway from their CinéArts theater, Cinemark's Century 16 Downtown Pleasant Hill theater opened in 2000 in conjunction with other buildings in a large renewal of the downtown area. According to this report, the theater was originally meant to be operated by Mann Theaters (perhaps the same chain that owns the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles), but changes in the movie distribution market during the project's development provided an opening for Cinemark to step in instead.

A large, free parking garage sits directly across the street from the theater.

In trying to find something interesting to say about yet another Cinemark theater, I've been lead to documents filed by them to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It will take me awhile to wade through these and digest them, though, so I'll report on them at a later date. For now, I'll leave you with these tidbits. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid appearance of a monopoly, the big exhibitor circuits (Regal, AMC, Cinemark) all represent themselves to the SEC as being under the thumb of and vulnerable to "deteriorating relationships" with the movie studios who distribute the films. Because these three are publicly-traded companies, their profits are also public, so I'll be able to compile more reliable statistics about what percentage of their ticket admissions go back to the studios (for Cinemark, it looks to be as low as 55% for the first nine months of 2009). Contrasted to what was reported for the Grand Lake, Cinemark earns twice as much from admissions as from concessions. More exciting details to come; I'm sure the anticipation will keep you awake tonight.


Hot Tub Time Machine
The title says it all. Your best chance for deriving enjoyment from this movie is to skip the trailer and head straight to the theater. John Cusack and three friends are swept away by the eponymous device to a ski resort in 1986. I love time travel movies. This, unfortunately, is not one; rather, the time machine is just a gimmick to get modern commentators into a bygone culture, with hilarious consequences. 123 cuts.

Clash of the Titans
This second trailer recycles the first. In 114+ cuts, it reveals nothing more of the plot, but does spoil some of the good visuals that the first trailer wisely kept secret. Avoid this and further trailers or you won't be surprised by the appearance of a single creature. That said, it's almost as exciting as the first trailer, utilizing the same intense music, bogged down only by a final reveal.

Repo Men
Jude Law and Forest Whitaker work for a corporation that leases artificial organs to those in need. If the leaser defaults on payments, Law and Whitaker stun them, cut them open, and take back the company's property. Quite bloody. I'm guessing we're meant to see this as a parable for rising health care costs that hold us hostage, whereby we'll die if we don't pay, but the brutality of Law's profession is too farfetched. The plot kicks into overdrive when Law, injured on the job, is himself the recipient of a life-saving organ he cannot afford. Predictably, he goes on the run. You've seen it before and better in Logan's Run and Minority Report. 133 cuts.

Piranha 3-D

The A-Team

From Paris with Love
This trailer changes tones from the first (if you saw the various trailers for Independence Day, you might have been left thinking it was either a comedy, romance, horror, or action). The first trailer makes the movie out to be a spy buddy comedy; in this second, more honest trailer, the movie is pure action, but it doesn't make me want to see the movie. 102 cuts.

Edge of Darkness
Detective Mel Gibson's daughter is murdered. At first, he thinks he was the target, but his investigation soon points toward a corporate cover-up, headed by Danny Huston, with Gibson's daughter as the original target. With the help of ex-shadowman Ray Winstone, Gibson goes on a rampage to avenge his daughter's death. Were it not Mel Gibson in the lead, I would think this trailer were for either a low-budget movie, or a spoof of cop thrillers, because it contains nothing that we haven't already seen before to great excess. 141+ cuts.

The Book of Eli
Do you remember the 1980s? If so, either World War III never materialized, or you are a cannibalistic survivor in a nuclear wasteland. Spurned on by a Cold War fear of global annihilation, the U.S. movie market saw its share of post-apocalyptic tales. Here's a rough chart, showing the genre peaking in the '80s (I culled this from tags on IMDB, so it is subject to user error and, more importantly, omission).

The genre all but disappeared in the mid-nineties, but thanks to a recent fascination with zombies (zombies and the apocalypse go together like Saint Peter and pearly gates), these dark, violent tales are again on the rise.

Denzel Washington is Eli (though for most of the movie he is referred to as the walker, or the traveler), a survivor of a nuclear war thirty years ago that has devastated the United States, if not all humankind. He survives on small game (birds, cats), but many have resorted to cannibalism, as evidenced by their shaky hands, ("too much human meat"). Eli has in his possession a book that, he believes, must be safely conducted to the West, and so he has been journeying that direction for the past thirty years. Along the way he contends with vicious highwaymen, and tough decisions to help the innocent or ignore their pleas in deference to his mission.

In a town that passes for civilized in these times, an obsessive despot, Carnegie (Gary Oldman) maintains order through employ of a small military force, and by controlling water rations dispersed from a secret store. Among those under his protection are his blind lover, Claudia (Jennifer Beals), and her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis). Carnegie is a visionary; he remembers the world from before the war (there are few left alive who do). Rather than be content with his tiny town, he wishes to branch out into an empire, to bring order to the savage land. He doubts his own oratory skills, and thus seeks a specific book that will gift him with the power of persuasion.

Eli comes to Carnegie's town for supplies. In a predictable sequences of events Carnegie learns of Eli's book and attempts to persuade then force Eli to give it up. The two men recognize the book's power, but disagree on where the tome would be utilized best, and to whose benefit.

The movie makes a few concessions to explain the war, the length of Eli's journey, and various adaptations that have allowed individuals to survive. An interesting moment arrises when Eli attempts to barter for an electrical charge (to resupply his iPod) from a local engineer (Tom Waits). Eli initially reveals a zippo lighter; the engineer counters, asking if Eli has any Chapstick; Eli doesn't, but he offers cat oil as a substitute, which he uses on his own lips; the engineer isn't interested; he asks for toys, but eventually settles on the lighter and some clean wipes. To Solara, Eli confides a folly of the past (i.e. of our present), that people just threw things away, having more than they wanted, but no idea of what was precious.

As action, the film succeeds. Eli quickly reveals himself to be a competent fighter, and there is no shortage of assailants to fend off. Be warned, the violence is brutal. The very idea of cannibalism makes me tense and uncomfortable, yet The Book of Eli never devolves into its grotesque implications, instead employing several lighting and editing tricks to keep the gore to a minimum.

This movie has strong similarities with the characters and plots of Waterworld and The Postman, both starring Kevin Costner, and both universally reviled. I enjoy those films (you heard it hear first, folks), but their heroes, like Mad Max, are of the reluctant variety: indifferent to suffering, surviving at the expense of others, the heroes only gradually develop a sense of moral responsibility. Refreshingly, Eli is already on the path of good; his struggle is whether to risk his higher mission for the sake of small conflicts, not whether to risk his own neck. In a genre that is otherwise bleak and depressing, this film manages to be hopeful. Eli has been traveling for thirty years, presumably enduring hardships the entire way, helping those he can, but remaining devoted to his cause. The film wasn't necessarily going for this, but by its end I had tears in my eyes thinking about all that Eli has endured, yet without despairing.

I had not planned to see this movie, and chose it only because I was too late in arriving for another film. But by the movie's very satisfying end, I actually wanted to see it again.


  1. You referred to 1986 as "a bygone culture" ...


    I need a drink.

  2. Its funny the difference 5 years can make. I was alive in the 80s, but below the sentience mark, espeically for recongizing the wider culture around me. I have lots of vague memories of the 80s but don't really start remembering being apart of it all until around 88 or so, Batman and Ninja Turtles.

    But I'll talk to somone in their mid to late thirties, now people I would group together as friends and collegues, and they have this whle 80s experience I didn't even know existed, complete with bands I have never heard of, music technology I thought was from the 50s, presidential leaders I thought were made up for history books, etc.

  3. Worse still than the 80s, I actually remember a fair amount about the tail-end of the 70s. Every now and then a sight, sound or smell will suddenly trigger a long-dormant Disco Era memory to unspool. But it's often choppy and fuzzy, as though played from tapes that were stored in a flooded basement. The effect leaves me feeling about like those artificial-memory-implant scenes in sci-fi films look.