Century San Francisco Centre 9
The San Francisco Centre 9 theater opened in 2006 in the new wing of the Westfield Mall on Market St. If you can navigate the mall's scattered system of escalators to get to the top floor, you'll be rewarded with a fun view looking down, and a concession stand (with seating) located in the theater lobby in front of the box office. This is most ideal, as one person could buy refreshments while the rest of the party are arriving or purchasing tickets. More theaters should incorporate this layout.
Most malls are a bit ugly, lending little in the way of aesthetic beauty to any adjoining theater. The Westfield Mall is an exception, creating a grand entrance to the San Francisco Centre 9. At the mall's core is a lofty, domed plaza that is just beautiful (below is a photo looking upward at the dome). At Christmas time, huge ornaments snake down from the ceiling.
The San Francisco Centre 9 is another Cinemark theater. The screens are off two hallways located on either side of the lobby. This was my fourth visit to the theater in just over three years, and all my screens have been on the same side.
You might want to arrive a few hours early to decode their pricing schedule, reproduced below from the Cinemark website.
Inside each auditorium you will find leather seats, an unfortunate choice in my opinion, not only because I'm vegan, but because leather sticks to the skin (the armrests are not leather).
A few notes about the pre-show. A pleasant woman onscreen yells, "Cut!", and entreats us to consider holding our next corporate meeting in the movie theater. Functionally, this makes perfect sense, but this ad and others like it suggest that theaters (rather than the movies shown in them) are exciting, and that by relocating your dull presentation to a Cinemark screen you'll suddenly get a standing ovation. Here's a tip: if an audience doesn't clap when rebel pilots blow up the Death Star, they won't clap for your pie charts.
There is a strange, surreal ad in which a youth presses giant buttons to teleport between various settings, some real, some straight from video games. The ad is part of a new campaign by Sony to increase overall awareness of its brand and various products. The campaign is called "make.believe", which, contrary to its formatting, is not a URL.
Finally, to convince you to advertise on the big screen, the pre-show makes the following dubious statement: "More people are going to the movies than ever before." I can see only three plausible meanings of this. The first is that more tickets are being sold per year (though not necessarily to unique customers). This is verifiably false. Here is a source citing an MPAA figure that "nearly 4.1 billion tickets" were sold in 1946. That was the heyday of movie-going, which puts more recent figures into stark perspective. But we needn't go back that far to disprove the claim. According to the 2008 MPAA Theatrical Statistics report (2009 is not yet available), 2008 saw the lowest number of admissions in the past ten years, bottoming out at 1.364 billion admissions (page 4). Various sources are reporting a slightly higher figure for 2009, but nothing that would top the decade. The second possibility is that more individual people are attending movies, even if, in aggregate, they are buying fewer tickets. This is possible, perhaps as a mere function of an increasing population, but it could only be supported by survey, since most ticket purchases are anonymous. And with more different people attending, but total admissions still dropping, that would mean that fewer people were coming back for a subsequent visit; not something to brag about to would-be advertisers. The third possibility is that the theater just made it up, perhaps inferring the statistic from the fact that box office receipts are at an all-time high (which speaks more to economic inflation than to increased attendance).
Alice in Wonderland
The movie is still two months away and we're already on the third trailer. This preview for Tim Burton's new film basically recycles the material from the previous trailer, but adds an opening sequence that reveals Alice, desperate to flee her family and unsuitable suitor, intentionally returns to Wonderland. We've already seen so many great shots of the film, you'll probably want to avoid any subsequent trailers attempting to out-do their predecessors. Cuts unknown (not yet available online).
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
I am lucky in having avoided the first film, featuring dogs as our secret protectors against a plot by cats to take over the world. The characters in this sequel, like in the original, are a disturbing mix of actual animals (with animated mouths), puppets, and digital creations. The sequel's twist is that a rogue cat, Kitty Galore, threatens the world in a way not even the other cats can stomach, and thus the cats and dogs must work together to defeat the feline mastermind. Roger Ebert gave a favorable review to the original, and it did well at the box office ($200 million worldwide on a budget of $60 million), but this movie looks terrible. I pity my best friend who will likely see it multiple times with his daughters. 107 cuts.
How to Train Your Dragon
Jay Baruchel voices a viking lad expected to become a slayer of dragons, like the others in his village, but a chance encounter with a sympathetic dragon leads Baruchel down a different path (sounds a bit similar to his upcoming She's Out of My League). The first trailer is quite amusing and beautiful. Digitally-animated films are mostly focused on animal characters, but I prefer their misshapen humans, like in The Incredibles, Hoodwinked, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Bee Movie, and even the otherwise boring Barnyard. The characters in this Norse tale look great. This particular trailer, which is either a teaser I had not yet seen, or a second trailer, is not nearly as good as the first. It prefixes the introduction with shots of other Dreamworks Animation films before rushing us into the plot with little time to meet our characters or understand the culture. Skip this trailer in favor of Trailer 1. Cuts unknown (not yet available online).
The Tooth Fairy
Dwayne Johnson is a hockey player, ruthless on the ice, insensitive off it. After nearly telling his daughter that there is no such thing as the tooth fairy (his wife, Ashley Judd, stops him), he is found guilty of "killing dreams" (what a great law!) and sentenced by Julie Andrews to serve as one of her many tooth fairies. Billy Crystal acts as Johnson's Q, equipping him with all the tools of the trade, and The Office writer Stephen Merchant is his handler, escorting him on his first missions. We'll get lots of laughs (most of which we've probably now seen) and a few good doses of sentimentality. Johnson, originally from nearby Hayward, is one charismatic guy, and apparently was next in line to play a tough man in a silly role. He has already cut his comedic teeth in Be Cool (not his fault), Southland Tales, and Get Smart, and looks to be charming here as well. 125 cuts.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Inspired by Roald Dahl's children's book of the same name, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows the schemes of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) to pilfer food from three nearby farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. His accomplices are Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), a Possum angler with a tendency to get talked into a trance, and Fox's athletic nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Fox's grand plans soon draw the attention of his wife (Meryl Streep), who reminds him that he swore to give up thievery and get a straight job. Many years as a newspaper columnist, however, have left Fox's "wild animal" nature unfulfilled. And the combined challenge of robbing the valley's three biggest casinos . . . er, farms, all at once, is irresistible.
The film is charming from start to finish. The characters are quirky, and their dialog unpredictable and fun. Clooney is charismatic, even as a talking fox. He gives grand speeches, and makes a signature gesture when he's pleased with himself. Everything revolves around Fox, including the attempts by the three farmers to outsmart him. Bean (Michael Gambon) clearly sees Fox as an arch nemesis, which only inspires Fox to ever greater plots. Occasionally someone tells Fox that his behavior is reckless, endangering everyone around him, but Fox is immune to criticism. The character most charmed by Fox is Fox.
Fox's son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) resents Fox's favoritism toward Kristofferson, and attempts to prove himself to his father. He thinks of himself as an athlete, but is shown to be otherwise. When an argument is not in his favor he spits and skulks away. He forces Kristofferson to sleep beneath a table, but in a moment of tenderness, activates the toy train on the table, so that he and his cousin can enjoy it together. Much like Schwartzman's role in I Heart Huckabees, Ash is ever oppressed, fighting, against low expectations, to obtain notice of his unique merits. His interactions with his father and cousin are always entertaining.
Several other supporting characters have fun moments. Willem Defoe is diabolical as Rat; Bill Murray as Badger is . . . well, Bill Murray. Gambon's farmer Bean is intimidating in every scene. Bean is the curmudgeonly byproduct of some war, and now employs siege tactics to outsmart Fox. The most obvious deficiency, as in many films, is with the female characters. Even Streep's Mrs. Fox is given little to do. There is a moment when we think she might give Rat some roughing up, but ultimately it's up to Fox to save the day.
Consistent with other stop-motion work I've seen, the characters, props, and sets are a delight to watch. They all come in fascinating, impossible forms, and are beautifully marred by aberrations in the filming process (like the way Fox's hair keeps moving in close-up shots). The animals are all a bit unsettling, because of their strange fur, reminding me more of the animated toys in Robot Chicken than the plasticine people of Corpse Bride. Stop-motion is so painstaking, it is understandable that few endeavor to employ it in their films, making me all the more appreciative when they do.