Tiburon Playhouse 3
Cinema West is a small, California-based circuit, with seven of its twelve theaters located in the Bay Area. Their Tiburon Playhouse 3 theater was built in 1948, on land fill covering what was once a lagoon populated by houseboats. The theater's exterior blends well with Tiburon's harbor identity. (That's my friend Mica standing in front.)
This marks my first trip to Tiburon. It has a bit of a Stepford quality to it, but is certainly picturesque, with beautiful views of Angel Island, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking is not convenient. A paid lot immediately adjacent to the theater offers no validation. Street parking is unmetered, but with two-hour limits. The theater's website identifies a Bank of America lot (several blocks away) as the nearest free parking. The theater is accessible by ferry from San Francisco, though at a steep price of $22 round trip!
The theater was twinned in 1989. A third screen was built to the side of the building in 1995. The structure of the lobby suggests that the glass-enclosed outer lobby is an extension of the theater's original front, allowing interior access to the new third screen. (Contrast the Tiburon Playouse's elegant solution, pictured below, to my description of yellow line cooked up by CinéArts @ Pleasant Hill.)
A stairway at the back suggests that at least one of the two twinned screens still has a balcony. Two screens have posted seating capacities of 184 (the left side of the twinned original auditorium) and 111 (the third, newer screen). Assuming the two twins are of equivalent size, the total capacity is approximately 479.
The Tiburon Playhouse hosts the Tiburon International Film Festival each March, showcasing over two hundred films and shorts from around the world. The 2010 schedule isn't yet available, but their site does list this year's entries.
Precious was showing in the third screen, where, unfortunately, every seat is at a slight angle to the screen; the only perpendicular spot is probably in the center aisle. The theater's website says that all screens have loveseats. In fact, these are seats with liftable armrests, which, to me, are not the same thing as a mini couch that encourages snuggling.
The film's opening credits seemed a bit blurry, and for the first time in my life I took action! I walked to the concession stand to let the attendant know, and he promptly (and mostly) adjusted the focus.
Letters to Juliet
I didn't have much interest in seeing this apparently gritty urban tale, because I don't typically seek out overtly depressing films, but Mica talked me into it. And I'm not sorry.
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is Precious, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, still in junior high, and pregnant for the second time with her father's child. She lives in a dilapidated Harlem apartment with her abusive mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). Mary's income is derived from welfare, increased by her supposed guardianship of Precious's first child, who actually lives with Precious's grandmother. Leaving the house only to play the lottery, Mary spends her days watching television and bossing about her daughter.
Precious is expelled from school for being pregnant (which seems a counterproductive punishment, but the expelling Principal has Precious's interests in mind). With the help of the Principal, and without Mary's knowledge (Mary pressures Precious to apply for welfare), Precious enrolls in an alternative class lead by Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). In all other aspects of her life, Precious is not only silent, but when being abused by her mother, her father, or even random strangers on the street, she retreats into an internal fantasy world of glamor and fame, disassociating herself from her body as a defense against pain. But in Ms. Rain's class, Precious begins to articulate her thoughts and feelings (her first such expression was only one of several scenes that made me cry), and build with her classmates her first healthy relationships. Her classmates come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring with them more than their share of attitude. They all seem to recognize that a basic education is a tool that can enable them to each escape their circumstances, and in that they are allied, despite their differences.
At home, Mary sulks in her easy chair, always watching her daughter, waiting for any opportunity to erupt in anger. There is nothing likable about Mary, but by the movie's end, and through interactions with Precious's welfare contact, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), we will at least understand Mary's ugliness, and why she mistreats her daughter, including forcing obesity upon her. (I think that even non-vegetarians will agree that the movie portrays Precious's diet as grotesque.)
I take one ethical exception to the film, during a scene in which Mary is verbally abusive and profane in front of Precious's young daughter. I see no evidence that the explicit dialog was added during ADR. Rather it seems that the child actor was actually present for this explosive tirade. Isn't there some governing body that ensures children are not mistreated for entertainment purposes? And if there is, why did this scene pass the test?
The author of the novel, named in the movie's burdensome title, writes partly from her experience in a role similar to that of Ms. Rain. It is horrifying to think that anyone could grow up with such a malevolent support network. The film is both devastating in its brutal treatment of Precious, but, because of this despair, also deeply satisfying when Precious ekes out tiny victories. The movie is not fun for a moment, but it is one of few films I've seen in recent years that is actually important.