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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

18. Legion

AMC Van Ness 14
AMC's Van Ness 14 (aka The AMC 1000, because of its address) inhabits the former Don Lee Cadillac Building, built in 1912, which was also home to the local KFRC radio station. Many decades ago, in the rush to open movie theaters, it was common to make use of existing structures. Modern theaters, with their many screens, are more difficult to accommodate, so it's nice that AMC was able to leverage this building's attractive architecture for their 1998 opening. A comment on Cinema Treasures lists the total seating capacity as 3146.

In the photo above, to the far right you can see the structure that actually houses the auditoriums. The original Cadillac building contains the theater's lobby and box office, and condominiums on the upper levels, but everything else is hidden away in that rear structure.

The lobby is lofty and attractive, with a wooden staircase (off limits) dominating its center. Unfortunately, the space is under-utilized; the staircase is for looks only, a third of the room is sealed off by a glass wall for unoccupied retail space, and a newcomer might look around and be confused about where exactly the theater is.

The box office sits to the left side of the lobby. I paid for my ticket using a gift card from my managers at work (thanks, Terri and Suzie!). There are electronic ticketing kiosks to the right of the box office.

I recently signed up for AMC's rewards card, and, pending receipt of my permanent card (I've been waiting 2+ weeks now), I printed out a temporary card. I was impressed that the young box office attendant actually recognized and knew what to do with my dinky home-made card. In 1998, at the height of my AMC patronage, I made 21 visits to their two theaters in San Francisco (the newly opened AMC 1000 and the Kabuki 8, now run by Sundance Cinemas). If I use my new rewards card to purchase 50 tickets, I will be rewarded with a free ticket. Even by 1998 standards that would have taken 2.5 years; at my current rate, my free ticket will . . . never . . . materialize.

According to this source, AMC sold the Kabuki 8 as a result of their merger with Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation in 2006 or so. We're fortunate that Sundance Cinemas kept the theater open, and that they now show more independent fare. When an old, single screen theater closed its doors in the past, the building could often be converted to a town hall, church, performing arts venue, or even retail space. But there's not much else one can do with a multiplex structure besides show movies there or tear it down. Is it the responsibility of the architect to see beyond the anticipated use of a structure, such that they are gifting to the community a versatile, enduring building, regardless of its tenant? When Grand Lake owner Allen Michaan converted that theater's balcony into its own screen, he spent extra money so that the barrier dividing the balcony from the lower auditorium would not damage the existing structure, ensuring that future generations could choose to rip it out. That is generous foresight.

This was my 23rd visit to the AMC 1000, beginning with Antz in October 1998. My favorite memory here is seeing Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on opening day in May 1999 with my brother and six close friends from college, and again the next day with my brother and my parents when they came to town for my college graduation. That was the first time I saw people queueing up more than a showing in advance to get into a theater. Also, I saw Playing by Heart at the AMC 1000, and by chance ran into and sat with some acquaintances from school. The movie is enjoyable, but super sappy, and nothing to see again in a hurry. A week later, an attractive young lady asked if I wanted to go see Playing by Heart. You bet I did! We enjoyed it together, and made it all the way back to campus without her knowing that I had seen it before, but then we ran into that same group of acquaintances; they asked where we were coming from; my date answered; and the rest, as they say, is embarrassment. The truth will out.

There is a parking garage in the same building as the theater, and you can pass between the two without going outside into the cold rain. Parking validation machines are located upstairs.

The ticket taker stands guard at the bottom of a long gauntlet of escalators that wind their way up seven levels, including landings. The auditoriums are on levels 2 (screens 1-4), 4 (screens 5-9), and 7 (screens 10-14). Movie posters hang like banners in the escalator shaft. Other than the posters for The Crazies, these are fun to look at. The banner for Kick-Ass shows each of the four super-heroes, along with each character's real name; hasn't the marketing department ever heard of a secret identity? You know how escalators in malls and stores are designed to make you walk past about twenty stores before you get to the next escalator? At the AMC 1000, the entrance to the continuing escalator is immediately adjacent to where you exit onto the landing; quite convenient.

Each main level has its own lobby with more posters, benches, an arcade on level 2, and increasingly better views from the south-facing windows the higher up you go. On this particular day, I could see the East Bay on my left, City Hall directly ahead, and Twin Peaks off to my right. (Down below is the motel where my parents and I stayed the night before I moved into my first year of college; all my precious belongings in the world were hidden beneath a tarp in the back of our truck, parked in the motel's parking lot. Polk St. can seem a bit seedy, especially to someone just moving to the city, but I was fortunate in that nothing was stolen.)

On each main level, there is a corridor leading to a concession area. Restrooms and the entrances to the individual auditoriums are accessed from the concession lobby. On the top level is a Nutritional Facts sheet detailing the relative health value of the various concession offerings. Not all ICEEs are created equal, you know; if you're looking to cut back on sodium, you'll save 2mg by downing a White Cherry or Blue Raspberry ICEE instead of a Coca-Cola ICEE.

The auditoriums themselves have stadium seating, and look like every other multiplex auditorium. Is a little theme too much to ask for? In board and card games, I almost always like an abstract game better if a theme is pasted onto it (it's more fun to collect chickens than spades, or to ask "do you have any squid?" instead of "do you have any sevens?"). In addition to being cheap, the theaters probably justify their auditoriums' theme neutrality by thinking that it won't interfere with a movie. But I have no problem watching a sci-fi movie in an Egyptian-themed auditorium. It's the same with exterior architecture; every time a new building is erected there is an opportunity to contribute something attractive to the skyline, but more often than not we get ugly concrete blocks.

Two cowboys meet on a dusty street to duel. One, smoking a cigarette, suddenly drops dead from cancer. The other guy wins the duel, without even drawing his pistol. I'm no fan of smoking, but the commercial made me wonder if there are any similarities between our anti-smoking campaigns now, and alcohol prohibition. In a way they seem like opposites. Although some powerful people obviously thought ill enough of alcohol to outlaw it, the national population turned steadily against the idea; it now seems ridiculous that a national prohibition would ever be considered, as everyone likes their drink. With cigarettes, the habit is being taxed and geographically limited (I don't mind this), but the smokers themselves are being marginalized to an extent, and portrayed as having a disgusting habit.

A commercial for Dove soap shows several women smearing various soaps onto mirrors, then rinsing the mirrors with water. The other soaps leave visible residue on the mirrors; Dove does not. The contention of the commercial is that other soaps leave that same residue on your skin, whereas Dove does not. Shampoo ads take the opposite approach, arguing that brand X strips your hair of its natural oils and coating, whereas brand Y replenishes your hair with nutrients (i.e. residue) to keep it healthy. One thing is for sure; if you run out of window cleaner, you can use Dove. Or, conversely, and as we've already seen in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, if you run out of soap, just spray on some Windex.

The new "silence your cell phones" add is disturbing. A woman tries to answer her cell phone, but a wild west shootout interrupts her. She evades the gunslingers, but is then caught in the middle of a World War II invasion. She sidesteps the G.I.s, still trying to answer her phone, only to be surrounded (and presumably devoured) by zombies. The punchline is that movies don't interrupt our phone calls, so don't let our phone calls interrupt the movie. But why is it funny that a woman trying to answer her phone is eaten by zombies? I hate zombies. Where is Happy the Hedgehog?


Piranha 3-D

From a series of Saturday Night Lives sketches comes an inept, MacGyver-esque super spy whose methods are unorthodox and usually result in a large explosion with him and his cohorts at the blast's center. From what little I've seen of the skits, MacGruber is juvenile but amusing. SNL regulars Will Forte and Kristen Wiig team with Ryan Phillippe to track down Val Kilmer before he can blow up Washington. The trailer has some funny moments, mostly delivered by Wiig. But there is a big difference between a funny cop/spy spoof (Get Smart, Naked Gun) and a boring one (Johnny English, Spy Hard). Unfortunately MacGruber looks to be the latter. 144 cuts.

Hot Tub Time Machine
As reported by someone sitting in front of me, "That looks super funny."

From Paris with Love (Trailer 2)
If you were going to blow up a car, and had a rocket launcher handy, would you aim underneath the car, to send it explosively into the sky but leaving the occupants relatively alive, or would you aim for the car's cabin, where the people are? Putting myself in the shoes of the typical rocket-launcher-holder, I would think the cabin. If someone's worth blowing up, they're worth blowing up good, right? But apparently not; movie demolition experts tend to focus on the undercarriage, that sinister conveyor of passengers. Yes, the enemy might escape from the wreckage, but it sends a clear message: we hate your car!

The Crazies (Trailer 2)
I'm glad I missed the first trailer. Some illness is infecting the inhabitants of a small town, turning them into disfigured, ruthless killers. It's up to sheriff Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell to . . . what? Survive? That's one of many problems with zombie movies; the outlook is so bleak that I would almost prefer my heroes to off themselves rather than try to persist in such a terrible world. This is a remake, though I've never heard of the original. It has an R rating, for "bloody violence", as opposed to the "strong bloody violence" of Daybreakers and Legion. But I'm not fooled: any movie where the chief weapons are pitchforks and bone saws is a definite skipper. 88 cuts.

Death at a Funeral (2010)
This is a remake of a film that was released in the U.S., in English, just two years ago. That's the fastest turnaround I've ever seen for a remake. (Hey, lets remake Leap Year; it's been out for two weeks now, and really needs to be updated with the latest styles!) Death at a Funeral stars Martin Lawrence (usually funny), Chris Rock (usually not), and a bevy of others at their father's funeral, with supposedly hilarious consequences, though all the jokes seem to be taken directly from the previous film. That movie was ridiculous and boring; this version looks only slightly better. Penélope Cruz reprised her own role when translating Abre los ojos into Vanilla Sky, getting to play the same character, but in different languages. In the two Death at a Funerals, Peter Dinklage, the blackmailing sex partner of the deceased, helps translate the film from British English to American English. Perhaps Broadway actors are accustomed to this, playing the same role in different productions. If this movie is more successful than the original, it might lend legitimacy for something akin to the production of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, except instead of filming three interrelated movies at the same time, studios will simultaneously film three versions of the same movie, each catered to a different audience. Finally Hollywood will offer a diversified viewing experience, and depending on your mood you'll be able to decide at the last minute if you want to see Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness, or Mel Brooks in the same role, or perhaps an all-child cast. 90 cuts.

Not to be outdone by When in Rome, this boring trailer clocks in at 166 cuts, the new record. A gang of bank robbers are talked into pulling one last heist. That's all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know. Hayden Christensen looks silly in a tiny hat, rapper T.I. is unbearably thuggish, and I found myself rooting for the cop, Matt Dillon, to catch the gang quickly before they destroy any more property. How am I supposed to cheer for protagonists who rob banks at gunpoint, blow up streets and helicopters, and act like jerks? Danny Ocean never hurt anyone, and in Heist Gene Hackman never hurt anyone nice. This looks like strictly direct-to-video fare that somehow has snuck into a theatrical release. Skip it and just watch Heat again. By the way, if you happen to fall from a building, and cushion your fall by cracking a car's windshield with your hands, in addition to breaking the windshield (which does look cool, so good job there), you'll also pulverize your hands, which could be a bummer if you're the gang's trigger man.

With a God like this, who needs the Devil? The Supreme One, tired of our folly and of movies like The Crazies, sends his legion of angels to exterminate humankind. A single angel, Michael (Paul Bettany), defects, and comes to the aid of a pregnant woman, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), at an isolated gas station. Also at the gas station, and therefore by good fortune under Michael's protection (though he makes it clear that he's there for Charlie, not them), are the diner's owner (Dennis Quaid), his son Jeep (Lucas Black), the cook (Charles S. Dutton), a traveler (Tyrese Gibson), and a family of three.

Charlie is central to the extermination plans, lest her child be born and somehow continue the human race (the details are vague), and so the gas station is targeted by multiple attacks, all of them gruesome. First, an elderly woman curses Charlie's baby, bites off a chunk of a man's neck, and crawls on the ceiling like a spider. At this moment I would have walked out if not for wanting to spare you, dear reader, the same horrible fate. Next comes an ice cream man with elongated limbs and a terrible shriek. And finally, hundreds of others, weak-willed people possessed by angels and transformed into hideous, violent, flesh eaters, all intent on killing Charlie (and everyone else). They arrive en masse and assault the diner, held at bay only by Michael's arsenal of weaponry, now in the hands of the eight terrified people he protects.

Though I avoid zombie movies, I somehow got tricked into seeing this one. You might think, from the poster, that Michael is an angel, fighting to defend his charges. In fact, he cuts off his wings in the first scene of the film and is thus just as mortal as the rest of them. His only weapons are machine guns. And although a frying pan to the skull doesn't kill the attackers, for some reason bullets do. God was apparently merciful when he killed everyone with a flood, because turning grandmothers, ice cream men, and six-year-olds into ravenous monsters is just cruel, and is not my idea of a fun apocalypse.

The trailer for this movie suggests that our heroes are fighting angels, and indeed they are, but the angels have infested human bodies, and therefore are indistinguishable from any other zombie or demon invasion. Right toward the end the angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand), having assumed Michael's command, arrives to finish the job, and finally we get some angel-on-(ex)angel action. There are a few moments where the the movie raises the big questions, like what does it mean to lose faith in one's own creation, and should an obedient servant give what the Master wants or what He needs? But mostly this is just a horror movie.

And like any horror movie, wherein flesh-eating zombies might burst into the diner at any moment from any of numerous access points, characters still make time to go off to dark corners to brood. Yes, the end of the world is a good time for reflection, but being separated from the group tends to encourage the end to come just a bit sooner.

The plot is identical to that of Maximum Overdrive (and very close to Tremors and I'm sure to any number of other horror movies). Monsters attack, trapping a rag-tag band of survivors in a deserted diner. Luckily someone happens to have automatic weapons handy (thank you, Second Amendment), and our heroes are able to repel the attack. For a time. Eventually, the diner is no longer safe, and our heroes determine that the time has come to escape (to where, in a world overrun by monsters?). Whereas before, when anyone who attempted to escape was immediately killed, now, thanks to the script (always read the script if you're caught in a zombie movie!), anyone who attempts to stay will be immediately killed. Our surviving characters, typically kept alive by the audience's ability to differentiate them from the other, nameless characters, somehow manage to make it somewhere else, and all is well. Nevermind that civilization as we know it has been razed and practically everyone on the planet is dead or evil or both.

Dennis Quaid, a very enjoyable actor, is totally wasted here. Charles S. Dutton, whom I first saw in the wonderful Cookie's Fortune, is wasted. Paul Bettany is wasted. I'll give the rest of the actors the benefit of the doubt and guess that their talents, if they have any, have been wasted too. Even the ice cream man could have done better. The only one who isn't wasted is Kevin Durand as Gabriel. I remember him most from the über-violent Smokin' Aces and recently as Blob in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He's brutish, but somehow conveys sensitivity and remorse for his crimes, even as he's committing them. As Gabriel, he doesn't seem to care much for humans, but he does miss being in the service of Michael, and as such is emotionally conflicted about taking down the former angel. That is the only arc you are going to get from this movie. The rest is rubbish.


  1. But but . . . . Gabriel fights Michael....

    I had already decided I wouldn't pursue this flick because I guessed it would be high on gore and low on lore (hey that rhymed) and your review here has solidified that. But friend, how were you tricked? Didn't you actually see the preview? I thought the demon grandma (whoops, I mean angel grandma) and demon ice cream man confirmed this movie was firmly grounded in the horror genre. My only interest was in the possible back story they might tell about angels, and didn't have my hopes to high.

    Are you telling me they don't even explain why the baby needs to be protected?

    Is the world really overrun by angels by the end of the movie? Well then what is the point?

    The fact that the angels are in human bodies is very disappointing. You're dead on that that removes any distinctive angelness of the characters and makes it a zombie movie. And flesh eating six year olds, no thank you! I guess it explains why bullets “kill” angels (when they die, do they go back to heaven?).

  2. I will give you all the disappointing details offline, if you'd like, but in short: no, no explanation about why that particular baby. At one point Michael reveals how it is that he alone among all the angels has not lost faith in humans, and his explanation is too banal to be believable.

    The angels in human bodies does not explain why they manifest in such different shapes. The grandmother and ice-cream man are quite different; was this like Halloween for the angels, and they each got to terrorize humans in their own unique way?

    There is a moment where a zombie teenaged girl bursts through the window and shouts, "Look what you made me do, mother!". Anyone unlucky enough to see this film, please explain to me this line of dialogue. Given that when the possessed speak, it is the possessing angel speaking through the vessel, I would like to know who the girl is addressing and what she means.

  3. Attending this movie with you in 1998 brought back a lot of memories to your mother and me. I think the first movie we ever took you to was the original Star Wars film, when you were just a baby. Wasn't that in Klamath Falls, Oregon? Love, Dad

  4. Warm ups: 1 free movie every 50 tickets(!), that's not even a sick tempting joke, that's just plain impossible. You think someone is going to be loyal to your particular brand of theater for several years (multiple years for most) to get ONE FREE TICKET!

    Occasionally a hair cut place or a sandwich shop will offer me a buy ten get one free card. I seldom take it, I don't eat out enough nor in the same location that keeping that card around in my wallet is worth it. Seriously, buy 5 get 1 free is pushing it. Haircuts are even more silly, as they want me to pay full price for ten cuts to get one off. But I follow the deals wherever they go. Haircuts are usually 12-15 dollars, but there is always a promotional or coupon from somewhere for $6.99 or so.

    The new "silence your cell phones" add is disturbing

    HATED IT! Zombies?!?! Thank you cinimark, I appreciated that the last thing my five and seven year old hear is a screaming woman as she is devoured by zombies. Bring back the hedgehog!

  5. Read the movie spoiler. Doesn't seem like saving the child has any relation to how the ending unfolds.

    That Gabriel sounds like a pretty tough dude.

  6. OSR, I'll give you five cents every time I quote you on "High on gore, low on lore" when describing how disappointed I am in some supernatural thriller.

    If enough of us chant "Bring back the hedgehog!", someone will listen. Yogi Bear didn't wear pants.