At present, Oakland has only four movie theaters: the Piedmont (1917), the Grand Lake (1926), the Paramount (1931), and the Jack London. This source puts the Jack London's build date in 1995, making it sixty-four years younger than Oakland's next oldest theater. (Of the six theaters the article names as the preferred single-screen venues in San Francisco, five are now closed.) The theater is accessible by bus, train, ferry, and car (with 3-hour validation for the garage across the street).
The Jack London takes its name from nearby Jack London Square, a revitalized shopping area at the end of Oakland's Broadway St. From the garage's topmost level one can enjoy a splendid view of Oakland. In the below photo, looking South, you can see Barnes & Noble (red building, green roof), Alameda in the distance, the Waterfront Hotel (blue roof), and nineteen American flags. Nearby, part of author Jack London's log cabin has been reconstructed. Jack London Square features many benches where one can sit looking out over the water, or up at the monstrous cranes of the Port of Oakland.
Beginning with Girlfight in 2000, this marks my twenty-eighth visit to the Jack London. The parking garage is a huge sell for me, on par with the free lot outside the Emery Bay 10. Once, in a hurry, I was able to get from my front door to buying my ticket at the Jack London in fifteen minutes, including parking.
Jack London was owned by Signature Theaters until that circuit was bought out by Regal Entertainment Group in 2004. Regal was founded in 2002 by merging Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theaters (including the Emery Bay 10), and Edwards Theaters (source: Wikipedia). Regal now stands as the nation's largest circuit with 545 theaters and 6,739 screens (the next largest are AMC with 307 theaters and Cinemark with 296). In the Bay Area both AMC and Cinemark have a greater number of screens, and Cinemark has three times as many theaters (when I first visited the Emery Bay 10 I took a liking to Regal because I thought it was the little guy trying to make it in AMC's shadow).
The circuit offers a rewards program that confers on its members free soda, popcorn, and tickets at fifty-point intervals (every dollar spent is worth a point). The free tickets, unfortunately, are not valid for recent releases. The circuit also offers bulk discounts. And I mean bulk. Buy fifty tickets (valid for any showing) and get them for $7.50 each. If all the theaters in the Bay Area were Regal, I could have completed my goal for a flat rate of $750.
Electronic ticketing kiosks are available to the right side of the entry way, and the parking validation is located just inside the doors to the right.
The lobby's permanent fixtures (refreshments stand, ice-cream parlor, condiments table, photo booth) are against the walls, leaving ample room in the middle for standees. Below you can see a standee for the upcoming Iron Man 2; no matter where you walk, Iron Man is ready to zap you with his repulsor rays. The Jack London is also where I saw the excellent standee for Step Brothers, described here.
A table to one side offers free half-sized movie posters. The bathrooms have an elegant, classic style to them. The lobby's ceiling, though composed of acoustic tiles, is divided into several curving tiers.
The rewards card is valid at the concession stand as well, where you can find the usual fare, but also bin candy and a several types of ice-cream at the "Critic's Corner". Candy is only $1 on Mondays.
Jack London doesn't sell Red Vines, but they do carry Twizzlers. I used to think Twizzlers were a form of licorice, but now I see that they are a different sort of snack: strawberry twists. Red Vines and Twizzlers are similar in many ways, but Red Vines have fewer ingredients, less sodium, and have a rubbery texture whereas Twizzlers feel like plastic. They're both vegan, but Red Vines have the added bonus of being produced locally in Union City. Taste-wise, I'd go for Red Vines; but I was able to eat more Twizzlers in one sitting without feeling sick to my stomach. And in the end, isn't that the real truth?
Large popcorns come with free refills. The concession stand also gives out little box lids, I think to carry drinks and candy in, but on this occasion they had given them out to a large group of youths to use in dividing up their popcorn, half of which ended up on the lobby floor. After the group had gone in to their movie, the manager apologized for the mess and he and his team began cleaning up. He offered to take the broom from his elderly ticket taker, who was sweeping up one side of the mess, but she jokingly quipped, "Don't you hit on me." (When I came out to get my Twizzlers, the popcorn brigade was already back for their free refills.)
Though the article I cited in the first paragraph, above, mentions thirteen screens, Jack London currently has nine screens, seating between 100 and 250. Some auditoriums, like #1 (pictured below, 110 seats), have a labyrinth of doors and turning hallways to protect them from ambient light. Others, like #9, are entered directly from the lobby (and nearest the building's front glass doors). In all the theater seats 1455, trailing the Grand Lake by just sixteen seats.
Note the faux curtains framing the walls, making the auditorium elegant instead of boxy. Touches like that tempt me to upgrade the rating to four stars, but I think I'm being swayed more by nostalgia, as I have a lot of good memories at this theater.
Television special America: The Story of Us is a recreation of the U.S.'s 400+ year history, crammed into twelve hours (six without the slo-mo). If this is America's response to the incredibly boring Russian Ark, it's no wonder that we won the Cold War. The trailer quickly glosses over such blights as extermination of the natives, slavery, and that single-sheet toilet paper available in public restrooms, instead focusing on what defines us as a nation: steel and rodeos. The trailer is really well done. It makes every American seem like a heroic athlete. Unfortunately, the trailer also glamorizes the unglamorous. When humans finally begin to settle another world, it will be interesting to see which of America's lesson's we apply to it. The most obvious (besides how rude it is to 'discover' someone else's land) is that, as always, land is precious. Whoever controls the new land controls an economy. If a country other than England had won out as the dominant presence in North America, the world could have a very different look today. (Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1997) is a fun exploration of this, fueled by post-colonial guilt.)
A commercial shows a hen-pecked husband indulging all of his wife's urges, but drawing the line at his car, saying that because he has given in on everything else, he will drive the car he wants to drive. Did women win the sexual revolution? Do they now control the government and the highest-paying jobs, and are they now waited upon by sensitive men? Do men now listen to what women say, stay home with the kids, vacuum the carpet, wash the laundry, plan the parties, and put smiley stickers on the lunch bags? (And no, I don't just mean twenty-eight specific men; I mean all men.) Was there a call to arms at the monthly Man Meeting instructing us to take refuge in that last, sacred encampment, the car? I didn't get the memo.
Band of Brothers (which I only recently saw for the first time) almost did what I've always wanted a history-based movie or show to do: switch protagonists. Our popular narratives almost always focus on the survivors, tracing their events back to times of peace, then following them forward as they dodge bullets and emerge from shipwrecks unscathed. Most people, and even most soldiers, do survive war. But so many don't that 'most' isn't much consolation. The first movie to kill off our main character every few minutes, only to replace them with another main character, who then dies as well, will make great strides in conveying the arbitrary violence of war. Band of Brothers approached this, by beginning with a small group of soldiers, and winnowing them down over the course of the series. There were some clear favorites, but otherwise most deaths came as an unsettling surprise to me, and the team by the end was quite different from the team at the beginning. The same team now brings us The Pacific, showing us the U.S.'s western war during WWII. If the war in Europe can be characterized by our brutal victory at Normandy, it seems that the war in the Pacific was defined by one Normandy-like invasion after another, with our forces repeatedly engaged in beach landings against a dug-in foe much more familiar with the terrain. I'm a sucker for war movies, so I'm looking forward to this special.
But I'm not looking forward to the return of V. The most boring thing an alien can do is try to eat my brains or take over my world. Seen it; move on. You've come all this way across the galaxy, from some unknown culture thousands if not millions of years old, in starships the machinations of which we can barely begin to understand, and here we are talking about my brains. How rude of me! Please, how was your trip?
Ashton Kutcher is a hitman or a C.I.A. assassin or just someone with a lot of enemies, and Katherine Heigl is his unsuspecting new girlfriend who is surprised, but not totally turned off, by her beau's profession. This trailer makes me want to watch True Lies, which did it all better, first. I find it difficult to enjoy comedies where people actually get killed, but on the off chance that Kutcher gets winged in a shoot-out, this might be worth it. 117 cuts.
Sex and the City 2
Eat Pray Love
My best friend gave me a daily calendar for Christmas called Stuff White People Like. Two entries in February detail how white people like first and third world travel: "What's amazing is that all white people have pretty much the same experience, but all of them believe theirs to be the first of its kind, so much so that they return home with ideas of writing novels and screenplays about it", and "by going to a country, riding around on a bus or train, staying at a hotel or hostel, and eating, they are doing something important for the world." I don't feel this way about my own experiences, of course, or about the experiences of my closest friends, but I do feel that way about Julia Roberts taking a long jaunt and having a relationship with her pizza. Perhaps it says something about the repetitive insularity of our lives that if we just go somewhere else for a few months, our entire philosophy as a human being gets rocked. Italy, India, or Bali can trigger these emotions. But so too can Ithaca, Indianapolis, or Barstow. 117 cuts.
The Bounty Hunter
One of my favorite film conceits is that of estranged lovers. I find it romantic to believe that two people who have lost their spark could find it again. It's more difficult to believe, though, when the lovers openly hate each other. Such is the case in The Bounty Hunter. Milo Boyd (Gerard Butler) and Nicole Hurley (Jennifer Aniston) dated for six months, were married for nine, and have been at each others' throats for the twelve months since the divorce.
The plot is very simple. Nicole is a reporter. Having debunked a so-called suicide and earned the ire of, rumor has it, some corrupt cops, she's running for her life. Milo is a bounty hunter, charged with bringing his ex to court for a moving violation. Milo, himself a law-abiding citizen, somehow feels wronged by the break-up, despite having gotten to marry Jennifer Aniston at all. In an act of diabolical chivalry, he gives her a ten second head start when he first accosts her at a race track. She's in heels and he can teleport like Nightcrawler, so after toying with her for a bit, he tosses her in the trunk of his car. There is a sort of symbolism at work: because she's the one in the trunk, and he's at the wheel, it's as if everything wrong in the marriage were her fault. (Personally, when I say that corrupt cops are trying to kill me, I expect everyone to believe me, immediatley. And unless we broke up because I used to say things like, "Oh, I didn't have time to put down the toilet lid, because some corrupt cops were trying to kill me!", I expect my ex to believe me too.)
Now, if Milo took Nicole to court, and she were convicted, sent to jail, then murdered in a picture perfect jailhouse snuff, this wouldn't be much of a romantic comedy. So the timeline needs a few holes. If you've seen the trailer, you already know one of the twists: rather than be immediately murdered, Nicole instead proves a more elusive catch than Milo anticipated. She gets out of the trunk, the hotel room, the handcuffs, and whatever else Milo tries to detain her with. Along the way comes twist number two: maybe these two only hate each other so much because they actually still love each other. What? No! But yes, it's true; dipping pigtails in the inkwell really is a sign of devotion.
Here's what doesn't work about this movie. Milo owes money to some not-nice people, and Nicole's effeminate would-be-suitor co-worker ends up in Milo's place at the hands of these friends with money. Very contrived. Next, there's the line where Nicole says she used to be a model, and an older woman jibes, "How long ago was that?" Nicole might not be super-thin like a super-model, but she is surprisingly attractive for someone who looks surprisingly like everyone else (you know, in that girl-next-door kind of way), so I don't know where this crotchety lade was coming from. Then there is a nice couple at a bed-and-breakfast who turn mean just to suit the plot. Milo has some friends who are given just enough personality to make them stand out as having none. Some of the jokes are funny, but none that I saw in the trailer were worth a second laugh.
Basically, the movie is predictable. But it isn't quite boring, because Milo and Nicole are on a level playing field. I'm uncomfortable when one character, clearly wanting to get back together with the other character, endures insults and humiliation. I end up resenting their insensitive ex, and wanting them to seek love elsewhere. Milo and Nicole seem to genuinely get on each others' nerves, so I didn't feel sorry for either of them when they were taking their beatings and dishing it out in kind. They're also both attractive people, so I could understand when they seemed to become attracted to each other, despite the animosity. And when the movie begins to suggest that these two might actually want to get back together, I sorta believed it, and I definitely enjoyed it. Who needs kneecap-breaking loan sharks and drug-dealing cops when we've got Milo and Nicole? Just stick them in a glass box, shake it up, and see what happens!