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

Saturday, February 13, 2010

29. Valentine's Day

Chabot Cinema

Castro Valley's lone theater, Chabot Cinema is operated by CineLux Theatres, a circuit unique to the Bay Area (I visited another of their theaters for Did You Hear About the Morgans?). The theater was built in 1948 yet still features an old-style façade (marred only by the retail space on either side of the entrance).

The theater's lobby is rather shallow; take just a few steps through the door and you're already at the candy counter. During off hours tickets are sold inside rather than at the box office. This lead to an amusing purchasing experience, where I asked for a ticket and the attendant seemed surprised at my solitary purchase, and asked, "No food? Drinks?" Perhaps from his perspective it was unusual for someone to come to the concession stand but not buy any concessions, and from my perspective it was strange to try to buy a ticket but be offered popcorn and soda as well. The concession stand offers free refills on large soda and large popcorn, and self-serve butter.

The auditorium holds 431 in an interesting variety of seating options. The lower half of the theater, though lacking in legroom, is extremely raked. I had started out sitting in the upper seating, but found that to be too far away; after moving down to the back of the lower seating, I had no trouble seeing over the people in front of me. Even in my new seat I felt too far away; somewhere around row ten is probably the theater's sweet spot.

Some of the seats in the theater's loge area have legroom to spare. The loge is not accessible by wheelchair, so I can't account for why each row is so far apart. Strangely, I found these seats to be too spacious. The loge was overrun with noisy teens, but, to my surprise, they quieted down when the movie started.

Also in the loge are four single seats, each in their own private balcony. Unless a theater is packed, I typically have no one (whom I don't know) sitting on either side of me. So sitting alone is common for me. But sitting in one of these seats, especially for a movie like Valentine's Day? No thanks. I can't tell if the seats are meant to convey elitism or punishment.

The onscreen pre-show was quite unusual. A CineLux reporter interviewed patrons in and around various CineLux theaters, allowing them to give Valentine's Day shout-outs to their sweethearts. The screen also displayed pictures of local pets dressed up. Some short amateur videos played from local talent, including a teen taking pictures of his hand, a small boy using a wish to give away free ice-cream to everyone in an ice-cream shop (this was bizarre), and an excellent short by Mike Horn called Imperial Fleet Week.


Letters to Juliet
The end of the trailer says "The greatest love story ever told . . . is your own." This is both surprisingly genuine (instead of trying to say that the advertised film is the greatest), and apologetic, as if to say "this may not be the greatest love story you have ever seen, but to our character it's the best thing she's experienced", an argument that could be used to get us to watch any old romance.

The Last Song

Sex and the City 2

(Previously reviewed)

Valentine's Day
Part of the joy of watching a collection of semi-related vignettes is trying to keep track of all the different ways the stories intersect. Just a fair warning: at the end of this review I'm including a relationship diagram that shows most of the important relationships in Valentine's Day (excluding a few that come as a surprise during the film). Shield your eyes if you don't want the web of mystery unwoven.

Valentine's Day tells the story of the tiny dramas that unfold for twenty characters on the day of love. Though there is no cohesive plot nor a central character, Ashton Kutcher, as the proprietor of an upscale flower shop, seems to be at the center of it all. He begins the day by proposing to and being accepted by his girlfriend, Jessica Alba. Throughout the rest of the day he is met by constant surprise by his friends and coworkers who, having been prepared to console Kutcher after Alba's rejection, are quite surprised to learn that she said yes.

Let's talk about Kutcher for a moment. Though I have seen very little of That '70s Show or of Dude, Where's My Car?, they both made a lasting impression on me that Kutcher plays a doofus. His intense role in The Butterfly Effect could not dispel this notion, and throughout Valentine's Day I could not believe that Kutcher is responsible and ambitious enough to be running his own (enormous and successful) flower shop in Los Angeles, with several employees at his command, and still, on his business's busiest day, have time to drive around and interact with other characters.

Jamie Foxx is a television station's number two sports reporter. Being second in line on a slow sports day means he is dispatched by producer Kathy Bates to interview people around the city and solicit their Valentine stories. In one of the movie's funnier moments, Bates tells Foxx that she needs him to get in the van, get out there, and interview people, and she needs it now. Foxx looks at her with shocked pity and replies, "You need Jesus." Foxx reluctantly obeys, but also conspires to sneak in an interview with footballer Eric Dane by sweet-talking Dane's anxious publicist Jessica Biel.

It may be improbable that Ashton Kutcher could have his own flower shop, but it is impossible to believe that Jessica Biel, one of the most beautiful people alive, and who constantly plays fun and likable characters, could be alone on not just one Valentine's Day, but on so many of them that she hosts an annual "I Hate Valentine's Day" party where she and her lonely friends brutalize a heart-shaped piñata. I once dated someone who looks like Biel (we broke up the day after Valentine's Day); good looks are intoxicating. Biel's character might be a bit jittery, but there's just no way she wouldn't have her pick of L.A.'s finest.

In a more believably awkward romance, Anne Hathaway and Topher Grace (another veteran of That '70s Show) have been dating for just a few weeks when the 14th rolls around. Hathaway is a temp secretary for tough-as-nails boss Queen Latifah, and moonlights as a sex phone operator. Grace is more of a blah cog type character; they're a good fit because he balances out Hathaway's erratic emotions.

I'm leaving out what end up being the most enduring and satisfying relationships. There are numerous other characters, and they bump into each other all over town. By the end of the movie, nearly everyone has a valentine of one sort or another. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite live up to my expectations. Partly it suffers from so great and attractive a cast, many of whom I like well enough to see a movie just for them. Put them all together and I expect something amazing to happen. Nearly all of the relationships have enough chemistry that I wanted to spend more time with them, but the movie, always in a hurry to tell so many stories, spends very little time with anyone. Each scene typically features two characters; at 125 minutes, the film has only enough time to devote about twelve minutes to each of its twenty substantial characters. Considering that each character must then split its screen time across numerous relationships (3.5 on average), we're left with four minutes per relationship, resulting in a superficial and dissatisfying film.

There are many good moments, and plenty of sage advice. One person, in defense of the delivery of flowers, says that "for some people, love doesn't exist unless you acknowledge it in front of other people." There are a few good surprises, and some of the relationships I actually cared about. But for the most part I was kept at arm's length from everyone. A few cliches intrude (trying to tell someone something important, but being interrupted), and a few romances just fall flat (like that between Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins). The movie also seems to suggest that men like Valentine's Day, but women stress out about it. That latter part might be true, but my experience as a man is that Valentine's Day is very stressful (a dear friend and I still celebrate it as the day of our breakup over a decade ago), putting a lot of pressure on everyone to be impressively romantic. It's the equivalent of a Great Sex Day, whereby on the day afterward everyone is going to ask you bluntly, "So, did you have great sex yesterday?"

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