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

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

23. Youth in Revolt

Camera 12 Cinemas

Situated in the heart of downtown San Jose, Camera 12 Cinemas fills a lofty space previously occupied by a United Artists (now Regal Entertainment) theater. The marquee is a cool metal ribbon of celluloid film. Camera Cinemas operates twenty-four screens at four theaters in the South Bay; I would call this their flagship theater, both because of its size and its location.

The interior of the theater is a bit strange. The building is three stories tall, with theaters at all levels. The second floor is reached by a massive escalator filling most of the lobby, or an equally massive (but hidden) staircase behind the escalator. The third floor is another long escalator or stairway trip up from the second floor landing. The lobby has the appearance of a department store or exhibition hall.

The lofty space provides an enormous canvas for banners and cut-outs. At one end, beneath the escalators, the entire life-sized cast of Death at a Funeral stands guard in front of the restrooms. The windows are draped with translucent banners, seen in reverse from inside. There is no doubt, from the decorations, that the building is occupied by a movie theater. It just doesn't look like it was built to be a movie theater.

Freebies include the Camera Cinema News (a double-sided preview of upcoming movies), a postcard advertising the 2010 Social Issues DocFest, and the official guide for the Cinequest Film Festival, showcasing independent film for two weeks at various locations in San Jose, including at the Camera 12. As you can see below, there is no shortage of the guides.

I'm embarrassed to say that before embarking on my project this year I had no idea there were so many local film festivals, and so many opportunities to see movies not in wide release. January thru March seem to be particularly ripe with choice. I've begun collecting daily data about showtimes in the Bay Area; my initial gathering suggests that these independent offerings by just a few theaters more than double the number of titles available to us each year. With mainstream movies, we often know that they will be terrible; with independent movies, that we've heard nothing about, there is only a chance that they will be terrible.

Camera Cinemas offers a membership card ("Loyalty Program") that will yield a free ticket much quicker than its AMC or Regal counterpart. Just by buying tickets, you'll earn a free ticket in half as much time; but you can use your card when purchasing concessions as well. The circuit also offers a great bulk discount (the best I've seen): 10 tickets for $60, and with only a few restrictions. If you're local to these theaters, this is definitely worth looking into. In addition to the festivals mentioned above, the theater has other intermittent programming, like "Diaper Days" (bring your infant), midnight movies (cult films), and even sing-along nights (with lyric sheets handed out ahead of time). For what outwardly appears like a megaplex (and an unattractive one at that), the Camera 12 exerts much effort to provide a diverse selection to its patrons.

At the Alameda Theatre, electronic movie posters line the escalator and hallway walls; as you ascend to the second level and walk down the hall, you can watch a trailer, in increments; it's very surreal. At the Camera 12, the lobby has two kiosks, each displaying a movie poster and showing a trailer for the advertised film. What is remarkable about these machines is that if you stand in front of one, the sound is projected at you, and is not only audible, but quite loud. If you step a few feet to either side, though, the sound is inaudible. Thus two people can stand an arm's width apart, each in front of a kiosk, each listening to a different trailer, without having sound spill over from the other machine. I don't know how it's done, but it's cool.

My screen was on the first floor, past concessions, past posters for Kick-Ass and Inception, two of my most eagerly anticipated films of the year.

The theater's auditoriums seat between 75 and 300, according to Cinema Treasures. I don't know why a theater would do this, but I'd sure appreciate it if they would post their total seating capacity. The auditorium I sat in was on the ugly side, with seats that are a bit too tall and forward-leading.

So, the theater is in downtown San Jose, which, I was surprised to find, is quite pretty. The light rail is seamlessly integrated into the streets, such that if you don't watch where you're going, you might find that your sidewalk has just become the train tracks. The theater is conveniently located on the same block as train and bus stops.

The big downside to this urban setting is parking. There are actually several lots in the neighborhood, and the theater, if you mention the magic words, will be happy to validate your parking, reducing your total cost to $2.00. However, you'll need to know ahead of time which parking lots accept this validation, and I can tell you one that doesn't: on the corner of South Market St. and West San Carlos St. You've been warned!



The Bounty Hunter

Grown Ups
Five childhood friends (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade) are reunited for what looks like a funeral or perhaps a wedding. Each of those actors, on their own, can have their funny moments in otherwise not-so-funny movies (exhibits A and B: The Waterboy and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star). With all five together, I expect something magical to happen. Sandler co-writes; two of his other screenplays (Happy Gilmore, You Don't Mess with the Zohan) are among his most entertaining movies, so there is hope for this comedy. At 59 cuts, the trailer is restraining itself, and only shows clips from a few scenes. Unfortunately, those scenes are not funny. The great supporting cast (Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, and Maya Rudolph among them) suggest the film will be better than it looks. Eventually Sandler won't be owed any more favors, at which point we can be assured that his co-stars are signing on for the quality of the script, rather than because he twisted their arms. This movie could go either way, but I suspect it will disappoint.

Death at a Funeral

Piranha 3-D
I hate this preview more every time I see it, and not just because it starts out promising a bikini-clad romp at the beach but ultimately is about fish eating people. I hate it more because 'piranha' is a very difficult word to spell and I'm tired of typing it.

Youth in Revolt
If more people said, "Kiss me, you weenie", the world would be a better place. Being so commanded certainly ranks as the high point of Nick Twisp's life. Nick (Michael Cera) is a rather pathetic teen living right here in Oakland (though the film was shot in Michigan). His daily routine includes masturbating, leveling veiled insults at his mother's dead-beat boyfriend, and talking with his only friend about how much sex they each wish they were having. Underscoring his unfulfilled life, Nick is actually enthusiastic to spend a weekend away with his mother (Jean Smart) and her boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis), because, as lame as that sounds, it's still better than staying home. They end up 'vacationing' in a dilapidated trailer park near Willits. Nick is expected to do the dishes, while his elders test the shocks on the trailer.

Soon Nick meets permanent resident Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), who looks like a teenaged Jeri Ryan. Sheeni is sultry and sassy, and alternates between sincere disinterest in Nick, and exciting him more than he can visibly mask. Nick falls in love and Sheeni mostly reciprocates, but suddenly it's time for Nick to head back to the Bay Area. Desperate to be with Sheeni, and not without her devilish prodding, Nick concocts a plan to relocate his father (Steve Buscemi) to Willits, then get himself ousted from home, with nowhere to go but back to Willits to live with his father.

At this point, the plot kicks into high gear, developing from one absurd situation into the next, with changes of scenery, lapses of time, alternate personalities, and the late introduction of characters that all point to the movie being an adaptation from a book (which it is). Unfortunately, these events, strung together, detract from the movie's emotional core, the relationship between Nick and Sheeni. The problem of the movie is that they can't be together, but it becomes the viewer's problem when they don't actually get to share any screen time together. Suffice it to say that the meandering story line, and some very strange scenes involving Nick's father and a family friend (Fred Willard), among others, are enough to mar this otherwise excellent film.

This movie could have been great. Michael Cera plays a character similar to his roles in Superbad, Juno, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and, from the looks of it, Year One. Cera is being typecast, inheriting the mold vacated by Hugh Grant when Grant needed something with floppier hair. I can't get enough of Cera, whose characters are endearingly awkward and self-effacing. Nick's narration is humorous, his jibes at his mother and her string of boyfriends are funny, and while with Sheeni he shines. She asks him his last name; to be macho, he lies, but then immediately confesses; so sweet. In the film's best scene, Sheeni warns Nick that she already has a boyfriend, and after listing the he-man's dashing qualities, Nick counters with an equally astounding description of his own (fictional) girlfriend.

Other characters have their moments too. Sheeni, in addition to being funny, has her own motivations. She's a little bit crazy, I think, but she does seem like a real person, whose life now involves Nick, but doesn't revolve around him; she is the main character of her own plot. Her parents, Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh, are seen through Nick's eyes as religious nutjobs, but given the stunts he pulls, I'd say their behavior is right on. Nick tells the mom, "I can't live without Sheeni." The mom replies, "You can live without her, or die. We have no preference."

The movie is filled with enjoyable banter, and three different animated sequences, each in their own style. It's just that pesky plot, always getting in the way of things. Perhaps I'm too easy to please; I want the characters to hang out on the beach for two hours, exchanging quips, but instead the movie presents obstacles to their happiness. I'd gladly see this movie again. It is filled with four- and five-star moments, bogged down by a three-star narrative.

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