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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

32. Shutter Island

Cinedome 8 Napa

Napa has seen few theaters in its ninety-year film history. The Fox Theatre, built in the 1920s, closed in the 1950s. The Uptown Theater, built in 1937, was split into four different screens, and finally closed in the late 1990s (currently undergoing renovation, the theater is scheduled to reopen in the near future). Napa's only surviving theater is the Cinedome 8 Napa, built in 1982, and now owned by Cinemark.

Like many multiplexes, the Cinedome 8 offers a variety of auditorium sizes (and shapes). On the arial shot below (from Google Maps) I've indicated that the two large domes are devoted to auditoriums 6 and 8, seating 327 and 353, respectively, nearly half of the theater's 1411 total seats. The remaining six auditoriums are left to carve out what space they can. I only poked around a little bit, so the other screen shapes I've marked below are my conjecture and thus subject to error.

I have found no online listing that identifies which films are playing in which auditoriums; if this matters to you, you should call ahead (the domed auditoriums appear to favor newer releases). This is a problem with multiplexes offering diverse viewing experiences. Avatar at the Big Fremont was the way to watch a sci-fi epic. Avatar in the side theater at the Grand Lake is not. However, the Grand Lake's website is very up front about which films are showing in which auditoriums, and for that I am very grateful (and there are some films which play better in the side auditoriums than in the large auditoriums). Even better, the Piedmont actually rotates their movies during the week, with each movie getting its shot on the big (wheelchair accessible) screen each week (call their number for a schedule). Other theaters make it more difficult. There is a huge difference between the Shattuck's ornate theater in the back and their tiny screening rooms to the side, so I'd appreciate a more convenient way to determine ahead of time what is playing where. I surmise that any multiplex with diverse seating options doesn't want to scare away customers from the smaller screens by promoting what is on the big screen. But not knowing what I'm in for is a deterrent for me to go at all.

From the theater's lobby a hallway snakes its way through the length of the building. Doors open from the hallway directly into the auditoriums, with no buffers for ambient light. Auditorium 1, whose door actually faces the lobby (and therefore direct light from the front doors), has a curtain draped outside the auditorium door in an attempt to reduce the light. It's easy to say this now, with hindsight, but what were they thinking? Here's a test: with the house lights down and the auditorium doors wide open, the only visible light should be from the emergency exit signs and very subtle runners in the aisles.

The Cinedome's architect, Vincent G. Raney, also gave us the Century 21 and 22 and the Retro Dome in San Jose, the now-closed Cindedome 8 Fremont, the Cinedome 7 Newark, and theCinéArts @ Pleasant Hill, all domed theaters. The theater I most frequented as a child was a Century complex of domes in Reno (now a parking lot). According to this Wikipedia article, domes can be built faster and cheaper than can conventional spaces. That might apply more to the geodesic variety described in the article, but I could believe it for the traditional Century domes as well. At least, I hope they cost less, because they are certainly less attractive and less conducive to watching a movie.

Is it cool to watch a movie inside a giant dome? Yes, actually. It feels futuristic. By 1970s standards anyway, and that makes the experience both futuristic and from an alternate timeline (a double-whammy for sci-fi fans). The problem with domed auditoriums, though, is that they are too wide. Ideally, a seat will face the center of the screen and be perpendicular to it; in this way, the screen's center is its nearest point to the viewer, and the left and right edges are equidistant from the viewer. This is a tall order to fill, and the reason why there are typically few sweet spots per screen. In the Cinedome 8, seats wrap too far on either side. This is acceptable for a stage theater, like this one, because the viewer is still looking at three-dimensional objects. The side seats are more problematic for film, though, because the images become distorted at angles. I've known people who have opted for a refund on their ticket rather than accept one of few remaining, undesirable seats in some theaters.

My seating counts are courtesy of the box office attendant, who actually took the time to write down for me the capacity of each auditorium.


Jerry Seinfeld is producing a reality show where we get to watch real married couples have real fights. A referee, having heard both sides, then makes some sort of ruling in favor of one spouse or the other. The show is supposed to be a comedy, but I think it will be a thriller, whereby we watch the losing party stalk the meddling ref and ultimately wail on him with some tangible symbol of the troubled marriage, like a flannel shirt or remote control.

I was very confused by a promo for Clash of the Titans. It was brief and choppy, the sort of commercial we see on television two weeks after the film has been in release, when the studio, assuming we've already seen the teaser, three trailers, the slushie cup, and perhaps even the movie itself, wants to gently remind us of the film's existence. I particularly like the ones that say, "The number one film in America is . . ." (an honor bestowed on about 25% of the wide releases each year), which is to say that everyone else was duped by the previews, so you should join them.

Southland is about L.A. cops on the beat. It looks tense, gritty, and just like every other cop show and movie I've ever seen. It returns this year with a "new season of never before seen episodes". I'm not sure what other sort of episodes a "new season" would contain (old episodes but in a different order?). And "never before seen" sounds like they uncovered some archives long thought lost. Or maybe this is truth in advertising, that these episodes are actually so bad that not even the directors or studio heads could stomach them. You, lucky viewer, could be the very first person to see them!

A man finds it easier to say he loves Miller Light than to tell his girlfriend that he loves her. The commercial is supposed to make me want to drink the beer, instead of hitting the guy over the head with the bottle, trying to knock some sense into him. It's a real toss up.

The 2010 Academy Awards are being touted with the tagline, "Something different is about to happen... You've never seen Oscar like this." Ten best picture nominees! Two hosts! For me, that's not quite enough to set it apart from all the others (though I have now seen half of the best picture nominees, which is a better percentage than I've had most years). Unless they cure cancer on stage, I think I'll be disappointed by whatever is supposedly 'different'.

A college kid, asleep after studying late into the night, is awoken by the sound of a Coke bottle opening (courtesy of tiny minions who have escaped from his text book). He's late for his exam, but there's nothing quite like a cold, refreshing Coke for breakfast at 11:30 in the morning before a test. In a separate spot, a young man bemoans that we don't yet have time travel; someone behind him, meanwhile, is using a time machine to prevent his past self from making stupid mistakes in the near past (moments before?). At the end, he's covered with writing from felt markers. I'm not sure why. This is perhaps the first commercial I've seen where I suspect there are missing scenes.

(I recently watched The Invention of Lying for the first time, which features an exceptional Coke commercial, which you can see here. Here's the transcript: "Hi, I'm Bob. I'm the spokesperson for the Coca-Cola Company. I'm here today to ask you to continue buying Coke. I'm sure it's the drink you've been drinking for years, and if it's still enjoyable I'd like to remind you to buy it again sometime soon. It's basically just brown sugar water. Haven't changed the ingredients much lately so there's nothing new I can tell you about that. Uh, changed the can around a little bit though. You can see the colors are different there, and we added a polar bear so the kids like us. Coke's very high in sugar and like any high calorie soda it can lead to obesity in children and adults and also stain a very healthy diet. And that's it. Coke. Very famous. Everyone knows it. And I'm Bob. I work for Coke. And I'm asking you to not stop buying Coke. That's all. [Takes a sip.] It's a bit sweet. Thank you." Now that's a commercial.

And finally, a commercial worth watching: this commercial for Old Spice is ridiculous and offensive, but funny. I could watch it several more times. "I'm on a horse."


Green Zone
In this fourth installment in the Jason Bourne series, Matt Damon is so deep undercover that he's not even called Jason Bourne anymore. But we're not fooled. He might be in a different branch of the military, and have a pared-down skill set, but only Jason Bourne would allow himself to be captured by a militant cell, tell the leader of that cell that Damon is there to kill him, and then carry out the threat. The omission of the name Jason Bourne from the script is probably an oversight, due to limited space from the many explosions and spent shell casings. 158 cuts, with seventeen dead bodies in each.

Death at a Funeral

Sorcerer's Apprentice
New York City has a nice skyline, but I don't need to see it in every single movie and trailer ever made. At 81 cuts, this trailer could have been half as long and been twice as good. Jay Baruchel will someday be a powerful sorcerer, but for now he is apprenticed to Nicolas Cage, in the fight against Alfred Molina and an evil butterfly man. Swap out Nicolas Cage for Clive Owen and Jay Baruchel for Patrick Fugit and you've got yourself a great movie. The effects are cool, but center-stage. This trailer doesn't pretend to do anything but dazzle.

Clash of the Titans (Trailer 2)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
When Carey Mulligan is in your life, don't screw it up by trying to bring her corrupt father, Michael Douglas, into the mix. But Shia LeBeouf, a wannabe high roller, does just that, with predictable results. He lives the good life, is tainted by Douglas, loses Mulligan, and ultimately learns the same lesson we did by watching the first movie in the series. This trailer doesn't know when to quit. It topped out at about sixty cuts in terms of showing new information and contributing to the story; after that, it's just a barrage, totaling 127 cuts.

Iron Man 2

Shutter Island
We love to be surprised, and we despise being tricked. Unfortunately, Martin Scorsese's film feels like a trick from the very first scene. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are U.S. marshals (partnered for the first time), on their way to Shutter Island, off the coast of 1950s Boston. Shutter Island is an institution for the "criminally insane", a phrase the film delights in repeating. And it needs to; other than a few broad strokes, the film never establishes that the inmates are particularly dangerous or insane. Instead, they like to chat and work diligently raking leaves (actually, I guess that is a bit crazy).

A dangerous inmate, Emily Mortimer, has gone missing, and it's up to the two marshals to find her. Mortimer's treating psychiatrist left for vacation just before the marshals arrived (suspicious), the head doctor, Ben Kingsley, is less than helpful (suspicious), and another doctor, Max von Sydow, is from Germany (suspicious!). No one on the island seems the slightest bit interested in finding Mortimer, which begs the question (that the marshals never ask) why were the marshals summoned in the first place? The whole island is locked up tight, and no one in the outside world would have ever known if a patient went missing, so why bring in two investigators, only to give them the cold shoulder?

DiCaprio, sensing that his hosts are hiding something, begins to dig deeper into the island's past, questioning people and going places he shouldn't. At the same time, he's on a personal quest, looking for the man who killed his wife, Michelle Williams. As his stay on the island is artificially prolonged (by a freak storm, among other things), DiCaprio begins to dream vividly about his dead wife, who coaches him about who's lying, and warns him away from many dangers.

Michelle Williams does a great job in her few scenes. She can crank up the emotion to eleven. DiCaprio is tolerable, and Ruffalo is enjoyable as always. The rest of the cast are more talented than their roles allow expression for.

Shutter Island is moody. Very moody. It employs overly-dramatic music to constantly remind us we should be tense. Everyone acts like they're hiding something, to constantly remind us to be suspicious. And every time our curiosity is piqued about what's behind the curtain, the movie jerks our attention toward something else. That is its greatest flaw. A good mystery sets the audience loose in a mire of clues, free to sift through them as best we can (though we always fall short of our hero's brilliant eye for detail). Shutter Island, on the other hand, maintains mystery by refusing to ask intelligent questions and by tightly controlling our perspective. I felt I was being lead around, manipulated, shown only what Scorsese wanted me to see. As a result, the twists come across as cons, rather than surprises. I wanted magic, but instead experienced sleight of hand.


  1. You SHOULD rewatch the Old Spice commercial, not only because it's funny (I actually snorted when I saw it during the Super Bowl), but also as a shining recent example of craft film-making:

    Except for a brief digital erase of a support that intruded into the camera view near the end, it was done without CGI (including a custom-built rig that slid the actor from the "boat" onto the horse while the camera tracked him in parallel).

  2. P.S. Last week I was on Winchester in San Jose, looking at the three theater domes and reminiscing about the [Syufy Theater / Peppermill parking lot].

    Weirdly, though we likely saw 100s of films there overall, for those few minutes I kept flashing back either to the bull in THE LAST UNICORN or the throwing-whatzit in KRULL (apparently, I've developed brain damage everywhere except wherever I store the winter of '82-'83).

  3. The Cinedome 8 Napa closed in 2012.